How many times have you heard a progressive say about conservatives, “They just don’t get it.” Or perhaps, “How can they possibly think that way?” These are natural things to say because for the most part liberals base their opinions on facts and logic; conservatives tend to place more value on gut instinct and loyalty. Research into this phenomenon is becoming the basis of a whole new field of study called political psychology. I have touched on this previously and will now make it an ongoing theme for future posts as I try to determine how liberals and conservatives differ from one another. Additionally, we’ll address the question, “Can anything be done to break the seemingly permanent state of gridlock?”
Chris Mooney, a writer of politics, science, and psychology has penned a book that explores some of the uniqueness of how Republicans think. It’s called The Republican Brain. Throughout this well-researched work he provides evidence of significant differences between Republicans and Democrats. What gives him credibility is that he provides considerable countervailing evidence, revealing numerous areas where Democrats defy their commitment to valuing research, logic, and empathy. As Mooney says,
Let’s be clear: This is not a claim about intelligence [of members of one party or the other]. Nor am I saying that conservatives are somehow worse people than liberals; the groups are just different. Liberals have their own weaknesses grounded in psychology, and conservatives are very aware of this.
But key to Mooney’s contention that Republicans “don’t get it” far more frequently than Democrats is,
Some of the differences between liberals and conservatives have clear implications for how they respond to evidence in political debates. Take, for instance, their divergence on a core personality measure called Openness to Experience (and the suite of characteristics that go along with it). The evidence here is quite strong: overall, liberals tend to be more open, flexible, curious and nuanced—and conservatives tend to be more closed, fixed and certain in their views.
What’s more, since Openness is a core aspect of personality, examining this difference points us toward the study of the political brain. The field is very young, but scientists are already showing that average “liberal” and “conservative” brains differ in suggestive ways. Indeed, as we’ll see, it’s even possible that these differences could be related to a large and still unidentified number of “political” genes—although to be sure, genes are only one influence out of very many upon our political views.
Whatever the reason, we find that liberals are much more open to divergent opinions on key issues. They’re better at tolerating ambiguity. A good example is the Keystone Pipeline. Liberals must deal with the dilemma of favoring it because it will bring more economic and energy strength to the United States, while recognizing that it will also run a considerable risk of environmental damage. Conversely, most conservatives simply dismiss the environmental concerns and see the issue as a “slam-dunk” decision to “drill, baby, drill and pump, baby, pump.”
Another indication of conservative closed-mindedness that recently came across the wire from the Huffington Post: Paul Ryan on abortion. “We Want a Country Where It Isn’t Even Considered.”
For progressives, at the very least abortion is a complicated issue. To not consider it as an option for a woman with an unwanted pregnancy is both closed-minded and unrealistic. Liberals tend to be uncomfortable with the moral dilemma involved in an unwanted pregnancy because it is difficult. However, they are much more comfortable than conservatives in the mental process that is needed to properly consider all the options. Ryan’s statement is first and foremost naïve. He might as well be saying that “we want a country where there are no unwanted pregnancies,” and make that the basis of all policy on reproductive decisions.
You might want to try to check out Mooney’s theory on open-mindedness for yourself. His contention is that liberals are more open-minded than conservatives. Again, it’s not foolproof. But if you’re comfortable taking the challenge, check out the open-mindedness of people you know or of others whom you come across, or even newsmakers you see on TV. Do you have any idea as to what their political beliefs are? If so, is there any pattern between broad-mindedness and being progressive? Remember, the research on this issue is a work in progress. For true progressives, the job is not to prove the theory that liberals are more open to new ideas; rather it is to gather evidence and try to see if a pattern evolves. This is not a controlled experiment, but it is part of the dialogue.
To be continued.