Understanding the Conservative Mind
I think the left-right spectrum is misleading. I prefer a freedom-statism spectrum, myself, as both aspects of the modern left and right embody statism and collectivism at their core philosophies, only to varying degrees and on different issues. Even when I agree with a traditional left or right stance on an issue, I find those who identify on the left-right spectrum agree with me for the wrong reasons. They all have terrible premises and sloppy thought processes, and when they're right about something, they're almost always right by accident. I know what liberal and conservative mean as modern American political terms, but I prefer to avoid the term "liberal". A hundred years ago, I'd be described as a classical liberal, the term sharing the root word with "liberty" and meaning a proponent of independence and freedom. Today, the political "liberal" is a statist at his core, regardless of whatever personal behavioral freedoms he lobbies for. Since they've turned to statism to push their agenda, they're no longer worthy of the term "liberal", and so I won't use it.
This is a very generalized description of the conservative thought process based on my personal experiences and discussions, both as a conservative in the past, and as an outsider in discussions of various contention. It's not applicable to all, of course. But I believe it most likely represents the thought processes of the majority of conservatives. They may disagree and recoil at being analyzed, but I can't help that. Any offense is unintentional, and one can rest assured that at least my own insight is more flattering than the juvenile "insight" into conservative cast by your average leftist.
The whole process toward putting this journal together got started when I noticed the reactions to the vote in North Carolina on this absurd amendment to the state constitution to prevent same-sex marriages. It's such a great issue to shed light on why they believe what they do. So that's what I'm going to use.
If you have the imaginative prowess at your disposal, I'd invite you to put yourself in the head of another person. This person grows up on a fairly ordinary American setting. There are hardships and there are good times. There is a sense of stability he finds in his family, or his community, or failing these things, at least in a vague "sense" of a society that's admittedly a great one compared to much of the rest of the world, and owes its high points to a legacy dating back to the European Enlightenment (though he doesn't take it that far in his conscious thoughts). He grows and witnesses an erosion of community cohesiveness and culture, and that erosion manifests in rising crime, failing schools, graduates with terrible work ethics, and a litany of other problems that if left unchecked, seem to be headed toward the future depicted in Robocop's Detroit, with OCP replaced by an entrenched government bureaucracy. In fact, the state of Detroit, today, is a classic example of what happens to a city that's almost completely beholden to the people who are lining up to be his ideological opponents (leftist Democrats, unions, etc). Even if he's not suffering these things in his own tight circles, he is hearing about them and noticing them on the news. He is beholding statistics that bear them out, and he may see glimpses in his daily life.
Unlike the average modern American leftist, his mind at least tries to integrate political perceptions and he tries to iron out stark contradictions in his principles. He's sloppy at this, and he's often not even fully conscious that he's doing this, so he integrates observations and knowledge incorrectly, deriving bad conclusions and forming a chimera of bad principles. Most importantly of all, the more subtle contradictions in his thinking slip by his conscious mind unnoticed. He forms associations that influence his views on issues. The Democratic party panders to everyone with a gripe, tossing out goody bags to their myriad of constituency groups, many of whom have contradictory aims. In either case, in his mind, the aims of these different constituency groups form the same colossal erosive force behind what his mind has nonchalantly called "societal decay". Issues that aren't even seemingly related to high crime, neighborhoods falling apart, high divorce rates, children who never know their fathers, poor work ethic, are nonetheless associated, even if vaguely, with what's behind these circumstances. He becomes naturally antagonistic to anything that smells of what he'd classify as stemming from an atmosphere of "willy nilly anything-goes permissiveness".
Just like how the leftist will flippantly equate freedom with "anarchy" and see personal economic freedom as "willy nilly anything-goes permissiveness" with the result of children starving in the streets, the conservative forms the same sloppy either-or code in his mind when it comes to the permissiveness toward "flaunted personal behavior" that doesn't quite fit the picture he had of society as he grew up. It doesn't fit in with his concept of stability. It leads, even if indirectly, to the erosion of our values, our cohesiveness, and somehow, therefor, breeds a flippant attitude about marriage, high divorce, single parents, high crime, urban decay, etc... etc... And at no point does the conservative or the leftist ever visit the tenuous threads of their arguments and wonder if the connections really exist. They never find a common principle. It's why our conservative will argue for economic "freedom" but turn into an ardent statist on issues like same-sex marriage. He doesn't see the contradiction, because he doesn't actually hold any principles. He may think he does, but he actually does not. He supports economic freedom for pragmatic reasons like growth and prosperity (which incidentally gives the moral high ground to the left, which isn't concerned with either growth or prosperity at its moral core [though leftists will argue on the surface that they do]). So it's no surprise that his opposition to certain personal freedoms, like same-sex marriage, is born of misguided pragmatic notions in his mind. He is, essentially, a philosophical pragmatist without a moral base. Even if he is religious and finds his moral base there, his arguments for the need for religion follow pragmatic lines: we need community cohesiveness, values, stability, etc... therefor, we need the moral foundation found in religion (and generally the more tender and loving New Testament).
Like the leftist, the conservative is starting to find government power an enticing weapon in his fight. The government possesses a monopoly on the initiation of coercive force against non-criminals. It writes all the laws and makes all the rules by which we must abide or be punished against our will. It's by this means that statism hijacked modern liberalism. It's a seductive instrument when your goal is societal change. You can force people to do things by law, instead of just changing the culture and persuading others, but otherwise leaving them free to do as they please with their own property. As the left can use the government to force change, the conservative can use it to attempt to stem the tide of what he sees as this erosion of society. He turns to legal mechanisms to prevent things he sees as "threats" to his vague sense of societal cohesiveness and normality, same-sex marriage included. He never once visits the premise of individual rights on the matter, and whether or not someone's rights are being violated by permitting same-sex marriage. And if the answer is "no" it should be a legally permitted act. He's looking for a big forceful hammer by which he can slay the conceptual enemies of societal functionality and values, never looking past the issue at hand and into any underlying principles. His connections are vague, nothing more than a "sense", so he can't explain them fully with words. Without the ability to explain, laws will have to suffice. He just knows. How? He can't quite explain. But to him, it's still very real.
This is why a conservative can say he's not homophobic, he doesn't hate homosexuals, he's not a bigot, but he must still oppose things like same-sex marriages. (Most are truly and sincerely not bigots. In my own life, I've encountered more bigotry from the modern left.) To the modern left, which lacks even the most rudimentary effort into insight, this can't make sense and the only explanation must lie with a deep seated bigotry. Without the ability to even understand each other, both sides end up at these rhetorical stalemates and end up using government power to beat each other over the head.
What really needs to happen is that both conservatives and modern leftists need to be dragged... kicking and screaming if necessary... to the irreducible premises behind their arguments on every issue, and have their noses rubbed in it like dogs. This needs to happen rhetorically, of course. They need to be flummoxed when they refuse to think any deeper than their own emotional reactions. They need to be debated into logical corners where their only means of escape are rhetorical slights and other evasions, so their focus is "winning an argument" in perception, if not learning anything about reality. The slightly smarter ones will think about your points when no one else is around, at least.
What can be taken away from this is that the more thoughtful conservative can at least be dealt with on this level. He can be taught the preliminary process of the introspection which will lead him to question his vague notions and unfounded convictions. It will take time, but so does anything that's worth it. He's not a Neanderthal, he's just incorrect.