In my last post I vented my frustration with the sorry state of the left-right dialog.
I described the problem, but we are still left with a set of questions:
What is the basis of the differences? What makes them so predictable? What stands in the way of productive communication?
There could be several theories to explain why we cannot talk. We can start with political ideology.
We can blame it on Marx, the Frankfurt school, postmodernism, feminism or the baby boom generation. Any one of those would have a point if not many.
The left of the political spectrum is consistently working on its own empowerment – all over the world. They are importing tax and vote slaves.
They are dismantling the base of their potential opposition (the family and civil society).
They are taking over the command posts of ideology: education, the media and the regulatory bureaucracy.
It is a long struggle, and they are fighting it with a long view. Two steps forward one step back.
The right, at this point, is still on the defensive, but the tides may be turning. There is a growing rebellion against the centralization of power, multiculturalism and open borders; political correctness and identity politics, fake news and fake science. But pushing back, barely holding the line is not a winning strategy.
Unfortunately, the vision of the right is not as persuasive as that of the left.
The left wants a ‘better’ future, the right mainly wants to steer clear of the proven bad ones.
The left’s stance is relentless activism, while the right is reactive and their arguments tend to be negative: “socialism is bad, it doesn’t work, it produces misery, it is killing creativity and productivity; in the end it always produces very bad results.” It just does not sound as good as hope and change.
The left MEANS WELL, they have THE BEST INTENTIONS and they refuse to acknowledge the bad results of their ideas and policies.
The right DOES WELL, by any objective measurement, but they never get credit for their actual achievements.
The left projects. Anyone disagreeing with them must have bad intentions (by definition) and they project this belief onto the actions of their opponents. The right deflects. Most of its energy is spent on defending its actual record against the ridiculous accusations of the left.
The two sides are in a constant struggle of talking past each other.
The left talks about the morality of their intent, the right about its abysmal results.
The left talks about the equality of outcome, the right about the equality of opportunity.
The left talks about slicing the pie more equitably, the right talks about making it bigger.
The left talks about positive rights, the right insists on negative ones.
…and I could continue with a long list of fundamental disagreements that makes it impossible for the two sides to have a conversation about particular subjects.
While ideological differences can explain a lot, seeing the conflicts as purely political is cynical. It assumes that people on the two sides understand each other, they just choose the one that suits their personal interest the best. Even if they don’t deserve it, I want to give some credit to the left assuming that most people on either side of the political divide honestly believe in what they stand for. What separates them must be more than just political ideology. It is a difference in how they see the world.
Visions of reality
My all time favourite book on the subject, Thomas Sowell’s “A Conflict of Visions” lays out in detail the differences between the visions of reality of the left and the right.
His explanation of the constrained (conservative) and the unconstrained (socialist) visions is the best to date. You can find a short description of the two visions in this Wikipedia article. (Now really, go and read it)
The scope of the conflict of visions is far more universal than what is discussed in Sowell’s book.
The ideological differences run deep and go far back in history.
The dichotomy of today’s left and right can be seen in the differences between Lao Tze and Confucius, Plato and Aristoteles. From Platonism versus the empiricism of Aristotle or the heavenly order of Confucius versus the Tao of Lao Tze all the way to the differences between Marx and Mises or Keynes and Hayek.
But with all its amazing insight, Sowell’s book still does not answer the question: why?
Why are we choosing one vision over the other? Understanding the underlying visions of political ideology still does not answer the question of choice. Yes, the visions are distinctly and consistently different, but what makes us take the side we do? Although both sides rationalize their choices the answer must be beyond what we can consider purely rational choice.
Psychology and biology
There is a growing body of evidence that our political differences may be psychological, biological, even genetic. Yes, these three are basically the same, they just represent different degrees of predisposition, or dare I say: determinism.
When I say ‘a growing body of evidence’, I should also point out that there is some history involved as well. The communists of the Soviet Union considered any ideological opposition to their system a mental illness. Locking up dissidents in mental hospitals was not purely cynical. The attitude was and is echoed in the West. The left considers every left leaning politician a genius and every conservative a retard. Evidence to the contrary be damned. Conservatives are consistently pictured as stupid, primitive and backward on top of being selfish, uncaring and immoral. The ‘science’ of it started in the Frankfurt school with Adorno et. al’s ‘Authoritarian Personality’. Adorno’s main contribution was the introduction of the ‘F scale’ where the letter F stands for fascist. The book and the work behind it was heavily criticized for its lax scientific standards, but with its heavy Marxist bias it gave a big push to the Frankfurt school and its ideas.
The ‘growing body of evidence’ I was talking about is mostly based on work related to “The Big Five Personality Traits in the Political Arena.”
The correlation of political attitudes with the personality traits is undeniable and clearly stronger than the correlation with socio-economic status, which would be the Marxist supposition. Evidence seems to show that nature trumps nurture. You can read the whole paper here.
There is a lot of work to be done still; not only on the political aspects of personality, but on the biological nature of the Big Five as well. How much is predetermined and how much is environmental; how much is determined by genetics and how?
While this is the most credible research on the subject, it still does not match the explanatory power of the sociobiological r/K selection theory. Although the core of the theory is about reproductive strategies and the influence of resource availability on them, the lessons learned can be applied to the left-right differences with an exceptional explanatory power. The link above is to my own post on the subject with a long list of references at the end. Simply put, people of the left and right have different brains. A well-developed amygdala promotes ‘K’ selection strategy (the political right), while a well-developed prefrontal cingulate cortex correlates with ‘r’ selection strategy (the political left).
If we could put aside our differences long enough to assume that our opponents are not evil, we could say that what unites us is our ultimate aim, the creation of a healthy, moral society that empowers its members.
What divides us is our inability to agree on what health, morality, society or empowerment means, and we cannot possibly come to an agreement if we cannot even agree on the fundamental requirements of a dialog: the definition of our terms, the process of the dialog, civility and honesty.
In theory, we should be able to do that. In practice, we are on the brink of civil war and we can blame the left for it. The goal of the left is not to win the debate, but to win the war.
The left has no arguments, all they have at this point is coercion and violence or the threat of it.
Giving up on the dialog is a bad idea. Let me explain why in my next post.