Let’s begin with the large body of shared ground. Surveying the evidence with a fair mind, it is hard to deny that science is revealing a very inconvenient truth about left and right: long before they become members of different parties, liberals and conservatives appear to start out as different people. ‘Bedrock political orientations just naturally mesh with a broader set of orientations, tastes, and preferences because they are all part of the same biologically rooted inner self,’ write Hibbing et al. The research demonstrating this is so diverse, comes from so many fields, and shows so many points of overlap and consistency that you either have to accept that there’s really something going on here or else start spinning a conspiracy theory to explain it all away.
The most rock-solid finding, simply because it has been shown so many times in so many different studies, is that liberals and conservatives have different personalities. Again and again, when they take the widely accepted Big Five personality traits test, liberals tend to score higher on one of the five major dimensions—openness: the desire to explore, to try new things, to meet new people—and conservatives score higher on conscientiousness: the desire for order, structure, and stability. 
Although the specifics many not be clear to most of us, it’s difficult to challenge the intuitive confirmation of the above-stated observations.
No doubt most of us who are more than casual observers of national politics and public discourse have been exposed to a sampling of ideology or beliefs from the “other” party which leaves us absolutely dumbfounded at its: brazenness; hostility; illogic; irrelevance; sheer nonsense, or a host of other similar reactions. “Are they serious?!” has become more often than not the default response to almost any and every statement or proposal or assertion from those others.
The problem is that the default response more often than not then leads us away from a next step to bridge the divide or gain some understanding in order that problem-solving becomes the objective. Instead, we circle the wagons, hurl more accusations [with each side absolutely convinced is justified each and every time] coupled with some ridicule [guilty as charged] and then … nothing.
If solidifying our bona fides as a member of one political persuasion or the other is the primary objective, then these approaches—single or combined—succeed admirably. Who has the time or interest or means to pause and contemplate legitimate concerns and perspectives from those so-different others? If instead we can bolster our own credibility with peers and strengthen our own beliefs that we are right and they are … nuts, then why not choose that easier and more comfortable tactic? It works, obviously, since so many do so and so often.
But information such as that cited by Chris Mooney serves another purpose beyond psychological and emotional confirmation. We can actually use that for our mutual and collective benefits. An interesting concept perhaps, given that so little of what is said and done these days has even a passing familiarity with such possibilities. It shouldn’t be nearly so interesting or ground-breaking.
Actually, if peaceful co-existence, prosperity, respect, cooperation, and making tomorrow just a bit better than today matter to us, then that consideration should be the first motivation and not an afterthought.
Facts tell us that we have some problems now in place or soon-developing about our planet’s well-being, our energy supplies, the consequences of an ever-widening gap in income, wealth, and opportunity, and scores of other issues which deserve much more of our attention. None of those challenges lend themselves to quick or easy solutions—if a solution is even an option in some cases.
But if we can start to appreciate that the others (or at least most of them) aren’t hell-bent on destroying our side but are in fact seeking mostly what we on the Left are pursuing—albeit with different priorities owing to the inherent contrasts in how we think, perceive, believe, and feel—we might crack open a door or two. Conversations and cooperation remain options for all of us.
If we aren’t all thinking right now about what kind of a nation we choose to be and what kind of a nation we choose to leave for our children, we damn well ought to start soon. The ride affirming the soundness of our respective ideologies has been fun and all, but real-life beckons. We can’t even get within shouting distance of plans or solutions if we insist instead on waging ideological battles serving limited purposes today and tomorrow.
Idealistic to be sure, but if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll be doing the same things for years to come, with a collection of already-burdensome problems just that much worse and that much more difficult to address.
A choice of course, but not a very good one.
~ My Photo: Ground Zero, NYC – 10.06.09
Looking Left and Right:
Inspiring Different Ideas, Envisioning Better Tomorrows
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Life Will Answer – Thought-provoking inquiries & observations about how (and why) Life does … and does not, work for everyone. [Inspired by my book of the same name]
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The Middle Age Follies – A columnoffering a slightly skewed look at life for those of us on the north side of 50
Be the change you want in the world – Gandhi
This blog is offered to encourage more enlightened public discourse—by sharing observations about the ideologies which motivate our political, economic, and cultural debates. The simple hope: shedding light on current “strategies” will prompt more of us to realize a different approach is at least worth considering … assuming a better future is worth pursuing. (It is!)
The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because
of those who look at it without doing anything – Albert Einstein
 http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/march_april_may_2014/on_political_books/the_origin_of_ideology049295.php; The Origin of Ideology:
Are left and right a feature (or bug) of evolution? by Chris Mooney [review of
Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences by John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Alford, Routledge, 304 pp.
Our Political Nature: The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us by Avi Tuschman Prometheus Books, 500 pp.] – March/April/May 2014