Friday, October 9, 2020
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The Villages

The politics of division

Conservative:  Someone who holds traditional values and is cautious about change or innovation….Merriam-Webster

Marsha Shearer
Marsha Shearer

Liberal: Someone open to new actions or opinion; values civil rights, individual freedom and thought….Merriam-Webster

Ever feel conservatives and liberals talk past each other and don’t really communicate? You’d be right; they look at a set of facts and arrive at very different impressions, reactions and conclusions.  Turns out we really do see the world differently and that serves as the backdrop for how we get, interpret, integrate and use information.

There have been numerous studies, summarized neatly by the Scientific American, Time, The Atlantic Magazine and even Business Insider among others, that verify these differences and their impact.

When it comes to individual views, we’re all on a continuum depending on particular issues and their importance to us.  So keep in mind what follows are generalizations, but they help provide a reference point when it comes to how we see the world and how the world sees us.

Here are the key differences researchers found on specific variables:

Fear: Conservatives tend to feel more threatened, anxious and afraid than liberals. Comments or events that generate fear will get attention from conservatives.  Researchers found that the reaction to fear and anxiety is the biggest psychological differentiator between conservatives and liberals.

Adaptability to change:  Conservatives are more resistant to new ideas and approaches; they tend to value the status quo.  Order and predictability are assets.  Liberals are more comfortable coping with change and adapting to it and, depending on the issue, actually welcome it. 

Problem solving:  Conservatives tend to rely on past practice and a step by step method to solving problems.  Trying new approaches doesn’t come naturally or easily; liberals are more open to even dramatic change if it solves a problem.  They also are more comfortable with the trial and error approach to learning.

View of the world: Conservatives tend to see things in black or white, all or nothing.  They value order and are uncomfortable with nuance and ambiguity.  The differing reaction to gun reform is a good example.  Liberals rarely see things in strict categories and are comfortable making exceptions to a rule. They tend to have larger social circles and are more interested in big issues, whether they are directly impacted by them or not.  Conservatives tend to focus on interests closer to home unless community or world issues affect them or their families directly. For conservatives, ‘others’ as defined by a different culture, race, ethnicity, religion, belief and sometimes even gender are often seen as a threat.  Liberals generally do not see differences as a concern and tend to welcome diversity in their personal environment.  Liberals have a ‘live and let live’ philosophy while conservatives value everyone adhering to the same set of rules…generally theirs.  An example might be the teaching of religion in public schools. Many conservatives would be happy with that as long as it was their religion.  Liberals would strongly object unless all religions were taught and without preference.

By any measure, these are big differences. And they have a big impact. So let’s look at Trump’s behavior and how he strategically appeals to the natural inclinations of his conservative base.

It began at the beginning.  Instead of an uplifting announcement declaring his candidacy, Trump primed the fear and anxiety reflex by introducing the issue that would be the hallmark of his campaign and the go-to of his administration. “Mexico isn’t sending their best.  They’re bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime.  They’re rapists.”  But it’s not enough to gin up fear – now it has to be alleviated.  “Elect me.  I’ll build a big beautiful wall.  Only I can solve the problem.”  Christians being executed, gangs operating with impunity, bad people with bad intentions flooding our airports…it goes on.  But here’s the solution: “Only I can keep you safe.” 

The other area deserving attention is a very different view of the world, writ large.  As an example, here’s a comment made in this on-line publication as a reaction to current teacher protests:  “We must teach our children that their teachers and professors lie and cannot be trusted.”  Another writer added, “everyone lies and can’t be trusted.” These statements are extreme examples of an ‘us against them’ mentality – the need to believe the worst of everyone that isn’t ‘us.’  There’s also a tendency to take selected examples and generalize to everyone in that religion, culture, race or gender. It keeps life simple but it also promotes fear, anger and hate. Trump preys on these fears and a world view that drives people apart.  That’s not a mistake.  It’s purposeful. 

Almost a century ago, H.L. Mencken wrote, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Perhaps Mr. Trump can read after all.  He certainly has this practice down pat.

Here’s another difference between the two views; while conservatives are generally 

pessimistic about the future, liberals tend to be more optimistic.  That view is especially handy these days.

I wonder if there’s ever been a study that measures the ‘happiness variable’ between conservatives and liberals.  I have a feeling which group would score higher.  It’s also been my personal experience that liberals prefer wine to other legal stimulants, so here’s to liberals and the conviction that things will get better, that this too shall pass and lessons will be learned.  But in the meantime, pass the Cabernet!  L’Chaim. Peace Out.

Villager Marsha Shearer is a frequent contributor to Villages-News.com

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