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Liberals and conservatives can’t connect

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Last night Twitter was ablaze with election results from Alabama. The beleaguered  Judge Moore lost his senate seat and a pro-abortion Democrat will take his seat soon, possibly before the start of the new year. I got into it with a few liberal Catholics who seem to think taking down a man with allegations was more important than protecting the pro-life majority in the senate.

A few years back Mr. Pete and I went with another couple for a rare weekend away.  After dinner and desert, in a cozy living room atmosphere, the conversation turned to current events and politics.  The talking got quite animated and passionate - still, I thought to myself that it was wonderful to be able to agree to disagree, stand your own ground, and still be good friends.

I was wrong.

The next day the atmosphere was so thick you could cut it with a knife and a distance had grown between us.  That was my first real experience in the schism between liberals and conservatives. Since starting this blog (see examples here, here and here)and particularly in participating on liberal forums such as the Huffington Post, it seems to me that that gulf is there and it is widening.

Nicholas D. Kristof wrote a fascinating article in 2012 entitled : "Why Liberals and Conservatives Can't Connect.

He got my attention right away with his thesis statement:

 Conservatives may not like liberals, but they seem to understand them. In contrast, many liberals find conservative voters not just wrong but also bewildering.

Indeed.  That was my observation with my friends so many years ago, and many, many times since then in online discussions - that no matter how carefully the argument was made, or how logical or calmly it was presented, frustration and eventually anger and possibly ad hominem attacks would ensue.  It's almost a familiar pattern now.  

And now according to Kristof, this has been somewhat proven!
One academic study asked 2,000 Americans to fill out questionnaires about moral questions. In some cases, they were asked to fill them out as they thought a “typical liberal” or a “typical conservative” would respond.
Moderates and conservatives were adept at guessing how liberals would answer questions. Liberals, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal,” were least able to put themselves in the minds of their adversaries and guess how conservatives would answer.
Now a fascinating new book comes along that, to a liberal like myself, helps demystify the right — and illuminates the kind of messaging that might connect with voters of all stripes. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt, a University of Virginia psychology professor, argues that, for liberals, morality is largely a matter of three values: caring for the weak, fairness and liberty. Conservatives share those concerns (although they think of fairness and liberty differently) and add three others: loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity.

I find this fascinating and it certainly explains a few things that have happened in my life.  For example, a few years ago  I had somewhat of an off and on debate with Carolyn Savage, the mom who had the wrong embryo implanted at a fertility clinic and then went on to rail at her bishop for defending church teaching regarding in vitro fertilization. You can read a bit of that debate here and here. She deleted many of my comments but it was as if she couldn't bear to even read them or if she did read them and replied it was as if we were talking past each other, in two different languages.

A few years ago I also got an email from a former liberal blogger who had had a political and religious conversion and was now conservative politically and more orthodox in her Catholicism.  She went over our past disagreements with brand new eyes, as if she was reading them for the first time.  She ended her e-mail simply with "You were right, and I was wrong. God Bless You."

Some other fascinating points in the editorial about the book: 
Another way of putting it is this: Americans speak about values in six languages, from care to sanctity. Conservatives speak all six, but liberals are fluent in only three. And some (me included) mostly use just one, care for victims.

In recent years, there has been growing research into the roots of political ideologies, and they seem to go deep. Adults who consider themselves liberals were said decades earlier by their nursery-school teachers to be curious, verbal novelty seekers but not very neat or obedient.
Some research suggests that conservatives are particularly attuned to threats, with a greater startle reflex when they hear loud noises. Conservatives also secrete more skin moisture when they see disgusting images, such as a person eating worms. Liberals feel disgust, too, but a bit less.
In short, moral and political judgments are complex and contradictory, shaped by a panoply of values, personalities — maybe even smells.
Little of this is a conscious or intellectual process. Indeed, Haidt cites research that a higher IQ doesn’t lead people to think through their moral positions in a more balanced, open way (although they are more eloquent in defending those positions).

Fascinating stuff to be sure.

Updated 2017