I spend a lot of time thinking.
I write a lot about the things I’m thinking about.
People who think like me, read what I write, and they think it’s pretty okay.
People who don’t think like me, don’t read me, but if they did, they wouldn’t agree with me.
Which is curious, since much of what I think about and write about is pretty well substantiated by actual things called facts.
It would seem evident that my facts should trump your fact-less opinion. But it doesn’t. Because you dismiss my facts. You don’t even waste the time to think about them, you simple use your magic eraser and voilà they are gone.
My husband, the great thinker, The Contrarian, reminds me that people are on a continuum. People are not neatly packed into the left or right or middle. It’s all bleeding all over the place. But we are dealing with averages after all.
“Recent converging studies are showing that liberals tend to have a larger and/or more active anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC—useful in detecting and judging conflict and error—and conservatives are more likely to have an enlarged amygdala, where the development and storage of emotional memories takes place. More than one study has shown these same results, . . . .”
This has been known for some time. It ends up suggesting that these truisms are mostly true for liberals:
Liberals, according to this model, would be likely to engage in more flexible thinking, working through alternate possibilities before committing to a choice. Even after committing, if alternate contradicting data comes along, they would be more likely to consider it.
On the other hand, conservatives respond rather differently:
“. . .[W]hen faced with an ambiguous situation, conservatives would tend to process the information initially with a strong emotional response. This would make them less likely to lean towards change, and more likely to prefer stability. Stability means more predictability, which means more expected outcomes, and less of a trigger for anxiety.”
You see the dilemma?
Liberals continue to pepper conservatives with facts, and conservatives respond with concerns about values and things that affect them personally. They give you anecdotal information that they see as equally valuable in how they should respond.
Case in point. I know a person who is conservative and a fundamentalist. She is opposed to the ACA because it stems from President Obama, and pretty much is in agreement with all the known Tea Party positions regarding, abortion, gay marriage, guns, and so forth. I’ve never seen her seriously out of alignment with them on any issue.
At one point in her life, her health situation became serious enough that she applied for Medicaid. She was denied as “not eligible”. She self-reported that a “neighbor” couple got Medicaid however. She then went on to explain that God saw fit to have her denied because obviously He had other plans for her.
Let’s try to reconcile this. First, this woman has quoted her pastor as approving statements that call the American poor “akin to the rabble of Rome”. Her remark about her neighbors getting their Medicaid seemed offered as an example of people who got what they didn’t deserve at least as much as she did. Yet, her application for Medicaid doesn’t define her as a “taker,” because of course she felt that in her situation, she “deserved” it.
However, when Medicaid denied her, that would mean she was not deserving, and thus one of those who was trying to get what she didn’t deserve, thus a taker. Since she cannot see herself as a taker, she is a qualified applicant denied what she deserved by a loving God who had other plans for her.
That’s the way you twist the world to fit your beliefs. People who get government assistance are still takers because they are not deserving, while good people like herself are denied. God has a plan and someday she will understand.
The example is instructive. It will do no good for me to give her facts about how well Obamacare is actually doing now. She will not be impressed with knowing that in several states, competition between carriers has actually doubled, making it likely that premiums will come down even more in ensuing years. Eight million plus new insured will not do the trick either, since they are like her neighbor, people who shouldn’t get it, and could get their own if they would only get a job.
She might, on the other hand, be persuaded that it’s the Christian thing to do, that a healthier country means that everyone will benefit in myriad ways. Playing to her sense of Christian charity should work. But alas it does not to the fundamentalist. Jesus did in fact make it most clear that we were “our brother’s keeper” and he again and again emphasized to his disciples that here brother meant the truly marginalized. His examples of the marginalized he considered “brothers” were people of other nationalities, victims of disease, women, those in employment to the oppressors, and sexually active persons.
Some how Jesus’ teachings about carrying for the prisoner, the sick, the hungry, the unclothed, got mixed up. I would take another post to untease the tangle of Pauline and pseudo-Pauline doctrine that is both misunderstood and mis-applied to these teachings to get where we are today with the evangelical right, namely that government should not proffer programs for the needy, instead, they, the evangelicals should, so they can weed out all those who are not deserving, i.e., the lazy, the takers, the rabble, reserving charity for the “truly needy” which is essentially someone who has suddenly through no fault of their own, “fallen on hard times”, from which, if given just a little help for a short while, they will recover and once again be productive citizens.
That leaves us with appealing to self-interest and values, but here too we run into trouble. Let’s take the issues of food stamps and a living wage as examples. Regularly we are told that food stamps are misused by uncounted numbers of people who are “too lazy” to work. (Facts are to the contrary of course, but facts don’t matter.) These people are taking advantage of “us” through taxes when they could just as well get a job. But on the other hand, conservatives are essentially against any minimum wage, arguing that it impinges on an employers right to pay what he/she deems appropriate, and that such a law interferes with free markets. These are values conservatives hold dear: working and free markets.
However, if you wish people to work, but allow business owners to play unfair low wages, doesn’t that put us into the food stamp business? Logic says that if you want people to work you need to pay them enough to care for themselves and their families. So you should support a requirement of a fair living wage.
But again, logic is not the point. Conservatives can and do hold opinions on things that are in considerable conflict. Remember, it is liberals who have to reconcile conflicting beliefs, not conservatives.
While it is easy to say that the way to change the mind of a conservative is to forget facts and give them arguments that appeal to their self-interest and values, such is not always possible as we can see, or at least it requires a great deal more finesse than one would think.
It would seem then, that the answer lies in education. Only by teaching our youngsters that the mind has a way of creating reality to suit its own comfort zone, can we set about the business of giving them the tools that will allow them to avoid the pitfalls of their own predilections.
In this no doubt liberals also have something to learn. The focus in this essay has been on explaining why liberals can’t change the minds of conservatives with facts. But they too have positive points to contribute. In a stable compromising world, we could do what we have mostly always done, bring out the best in each other.
What is most important to remember, is that no individual can be utterly pigeon-holed by this analysis. We change over time as well. We do have free will, and the ability to overcome our own negative tendencies. These are generalities across a spectrum. Genetic predispositions are just that, predispositions, over come again and again by serious study, and life experiences. We would do well to remember that.
(Do read the link–it gives a lot more detail and links to further study)
“Liberals continue to pepper conservatives with facts, and conservatives respond with concerns about values and things that affect them personally.”
This likely explains why liberals and conservatives talk past each other all the time. We’re speaking two different languages and espousing two different standards of truth.
You put quite a bit of thought into this Sherry. Well done.
I would address one point that relates to your comment on my blog this morning.
There are those in the extreme camps that will hold onto their beliefs no matter what gets thrown their way. I’m okay with that. There is still however a core element of society out there that can be persuaded and are not entrenched in any ideals. They are still receptive to those who make the better case for their argument and its this group that both sides vie for.
When I make my arguments for or against an issue on my blog I do so with these people in mind, not the kind of people we both know will automatically reject us because they have labeled us as liberals, like your conservative friend whose application for Medicaid was rejected.
The more absurd and self-serving the Right becomes, their arguments begin to scare that group of people that are still willing to weigh the facts. Extremism may be considered okay for “the defense of freedom” as Goldwater said in ’64 but not all extremism is laudable and when gun nuts start flaunting what they feel are their 2nd amendment rights by carrying an assault style weapon into Target of Chipotle’s, they will ultimately scare off the less extreme element within conservatism.
Hopefully this works in our favor at the ballot box.
Could be not in the content over what you say, but perhaps in the delivery..