Looking Left and Right: Foundations of Conflict Pt 1



There’s a simple theory underlying much of American politics. It sits hopefully at the base of almost every speech, every op-ed, every article, and every panel discussion. It courses through the Constitution and is a constant in President Obama’s most stirring addresses. It’s what we might call the More Information Hypothesis: the belief that many of our most bitter political battles are mere misunderstandings. The cause of these misunderstandings? Too little information — be it about climate change, or taxes, or Iraq, or the budget deficit. If only the citizenry were more informed, the thinking goes, then there wouldn’t be all this fighting.

It’s a seductive model. It suggests our fellow countrymen aren’t wrong so much as they’re misguided, or ignorant, or — most appealingly — misled by scoundrels from the other party. It holds that our debates are tractable and that the answers to our toughest problems aren’t very controversial at all. The theory is particularly prevalent in Washington, where partisans devote enormous amounts of energy to persuading each other that there’s really a right answer to the difficult questions in American politics — and that they have it.
But the More Information Hypothesis isn’t just wrong. It’s backwards. Cutting-edge research shows that the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become. [1]

It becomes more obvious by the day that the consternation those on the Left experience when contemplating the tactics and electoral choices of those on the Right [and vice versa] might be alleviated at least a bit if we all accept the reality that there are profound differences in beliefs, motivations, emotional hot-buttons, and the expectations of and from government each side carries with them into political battle.

That solves almost nothing, of course. But if we are ever to bridge the ever-widening divide between Left and Right which now make even basic governing all but impossible [with resulting consequences unconcerned about the personality and ideological differences], we need to start somewhere.

A little bit of understanding might break down a barrier or two; or diminish the power of false characterizations of the motives from those on the opposite side of the political/cultural fence.

It’s of course part of the sport of electoral politics that we want our side to win, and thus we each and all will do whatever we can to ensure victory. More often than not these days, doing whatever we can means facts, evidence, and reality are all taking a back seat to encouraged fears, sparked emotions, and reinforced beliefs which too often bear at best tenuous connections to the real world.

There is another part to this game which will prove to be not nearly so much fun…

What happens when those whose buttons are being pushed find out their side has “won?”? What is the prize? What happens when the mindset of limited government, tax cuts for the wealthy, and program cuts for the needy are among the end results? Who “wins” then? What is lost?

When, for example, the irreversible consequences of climate change are obvious to even the most delusional, what happens when the realization strikes that it’s too late to do much of anything—once what is happening dawns on those who have denied all along?

Sliding away from providing factual information in favor of keeping supporters sufficiently agitated and fearful works, of course. But bad choices rarely lead to anything but bad outcomes. Contemplating the reasons why select officials or media personalities are inciting fear and anxiety might lead to some startling changes in how we conduct our politics—and whose voices gain prominence as a result.

Our realities are different, and we’re doing little to narrow the gap. We cannot solve common problems if we can’t agree on facts; the nature of problems; or whether we even have problems to begin with. The truth is we do have any number of challenges ahead. Ideologies afford no protection. Promoting fear has a short shelf-life. Mouthing the talking points without bothering to understand is a waste of time and breath, especially when outcomes and consequences are not even being considered.

And thus the dilemma….

Misrepresentation of fact is now more the norm than the exception. One must wonder what effects those tactics will have on the long-term well-being of us all. When lies and promoting manufactured fears are the foundations upon which voting and policy-making are built, what can be expected other than misguided results which will only create more hardships affecting more of us and in more significant ways?

The More Information Hypothesis may be wrong or even backwards. But if what happens the day after voting and the days and weeks and months and years thereafter matter at all once fear-based appeasement to the lowest of low information voters has been the only offering, more information and enlightenment is precisely what’s needed.

… [I]t’s worth realizing that uninformed voters make unwise decisions. The public has enormous responsibilities in our political system, and right now, far too many aren’t prepared to act on those responsibilities in an effective way. [2]

What happens then ought to start mattering. Soon would be a good time for that to begin.

To be continued….

~ My Photo: sunrise over Long Beach, Rockport MA – 10.16.15


Looking Left and Right:
Inspiring Different Ideas, Envisioning Better Tomorrows

Be the change you want in the world Gandhi

The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because
of those who look at it without doing anything Albert Einstein



[1] http://www.vox.com/2014/4/6/5556462/brain-dead-how-politics-makes-us-stupid; How politics makes us stupid by Ezra Klein – 04.06.14
[2] http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2010_10/026372.php; The Challenge of Overcoming Ignorance by Steve Benen – 10.29.10


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As I state in the “About Me” section, I’m driven by an intense commitment to learn why those on the conservative side of the fence view so many matters of great importance to us all so differently than do those of us on the progressive side. Those contrasting behaviors, beliefs, and ideologies are contributing factors to the very problems we’re trying to solve—the ones we must solve if our own ambitions and our hopes for a peaceful and prosperous world we leave to our children are to be well-served.

If we don’t recognize and accept that bitter partisanship is not always the wisest or most beneficial strategy, the goal of a better future will forever be as far away tomorrow as it is today.

The late Senator Paul Wellstone’s observation continues to hold far more truth and power than we give it credit:

We all do better when we all do better

Why make setting up inevitable and enduring conflict the primary objective of policy and planning?


* I invite you to enjoy my two books [here and here], and to view my other   blogs–at this website [see below] and also at Peak Oil Matters

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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 FolliesAn occasional column offering a slightly skewed look at life for those of us on the north side of 50 … far north.