When we consider some Arizona legislators these days, we might think, “I don’t believe they even live in the same world as me!” Guess what? They may not! They are so different in their views, beliefs and values that they may seem to be different kinds of people altogether. That’s not a desert mirage; it’s real! But what makes them so different?
When our ancestors lived in caves, they gathered in tribes. Survival often depended on it. For their safety, they learned to recognize both friend and foe. Those who looked like themselves were okay; those who didn’t were “others.” They were “other-ized,” with great satisfaction taken from their dehumanization. Identifying common enemies motivates and bonds tribe members.
Any members who strayed from the tribe, either socially or for other reasons, risked being ostracized. Sometimes, however, those who ventured from their tribes were rewarded for their courage. They discovered other likeminded people, less fearful and not preoccupied with safety. There was something different about them, more progressive in their thinking. They learned that trying new things often resulted in positive outcomes. Rather than remaining fixed in their mindsets (and in their caves), they discovered an alternative to replaying the tried and true – moving their lives and communities forward by planning and implementing new ideas.
To be sure, safety was important. Survival matters. Because each approach has its own advantages, they both prevailed to the present, each line handed down from one generation to another. One kind of individual is predisposed to leave the cave, while another kind is inclined to stay inside. A desire to explore new things vs. a need to play it safe. Opening a door vs. building a wall.
In so many ways, little has changed, including the presence of at least two major tribes whose members are wary of one another. Though sharing many traits, their deeply-rooted differences in how they view the world are unmistakable. Both mistrust the other intensely with what seems to be an innate suspicion. One of the tribes is especially wary, with fear-based instincts that never really escaped the caves. Those safety-first impulses govern their lives today.
All of this is embodied in the concept of worldview. We all have one kind of worldview, either “fixed” or “fluid.” It is both learned and hardwired, sort of a lens through which we see our world. It affects what we believe and what we value. We all see and experience the same things, but we view them very differently and often have conflicting beliefs about them. Worldview influences not only political views, but nearly everything: the brands of cars, coffee and beer we buy; whether we live in urban or rural settings; the kinds of restaurants we frequent; whether we value learning and the sciences, whether we are risk-averse and more things.
Our specific worldview has a bearing on the kind of world and community in which we want to live. Thus, it affects how politicians and other government officials choose to govern – the world they want to make for themselves and for us.
Understanding worldview helps to crack their code. That is, it reveals deep-seated motives, whether those of a lawmaker, judge or anyone else. It’s not just whether lawmakers – both legislative and judicial – see the world as fixed or fluid. It’s also whether they want to shape the world according to their view. If safety and isolation are prioritized – as those with a fixed worldview do – it influences the kinds of laws that they try to get passed.
The code lies within what these officials do and how they reveal their worldviews. Note, for example, whether a proposed bill is described through a lens of the past, a period to which they believe we should return. Do they wax nostalgic about the times the new law can restore? Are they trying to stop change with the law – sometimes inevitable change?
Fear is at the core of the fixed worldview. More than anything, it’s fear of change. Change carries with it ambiguity, unpredictability and risk. At some level, change is dangerous. It disrupts the revered status quo. The only tolerable change within the fixed worldview is reverting to what used to be – turning back the clock. Consider attempts to revive and apply Arizona’s 1864 abortion law, a law that was passed when conditions were (ironically) far more dangerous than today.
Returning a state or country to “simpler, safer” times is often a goal, stated or implicit, of the fixed worldview. Never mind that those were typically periods of worse health care, life expectancy, poverty and liberty for many Americans.
Today, the restriction of rights is often the result of narrow readings of precedent and the Constitution. This fixed worldview practice reflects an unwillingness to recognize that as society changes so should its laws.
Like our cave-dwelling ancestors, the fixed worldview is inclined to search for “others” – people to be feared – and then protecting our people from them. That can be accomplished with laws and policies to make the world safer by eliminating perceived threats.
But what threats? Arizona’s recent legislative session offers some answers. Given the attempts to restrict them, one of the state’s biggest problems, it appears, is books. Denying students access to some of them is the goal. In addition, efforts to erase “dangers” brought by “others” were common, led by more than a dozen measures targeting LGBTQ+ rights.
These endeavors are from the same playbook used by a national movement empowered and enforced by a fixed worldview supermajority on the U.S. Supreme Court. Followed by many states and just over the last year, it has scrubbed away long-standing American rights such as affirmative action in college admission, voting rights and reproductive rights. This is more than a trend. It’s a revolution.
Joseph Russomanno, Ph.D. wrote the thought-provoking book, The ‘Stench’ of Politics: Polarization and Worldview on the Supreme Court. With a deep passion for the roots of the Court’s troubling transformation from an institution of justice into one that prioritizes political outcomes, Dr. Russomanno focuses on how the divisions in the country and the Court mutually affect one another.