Looking Left and Right: Foundations of Conflict Pt 2



The lack of ideological thinking among low-information, low-engagement voters has been known for at least 50 years, and was first cogently laid out by Philip E. Converse, a pioneer of public opinion research, in his 1964 article, ‘The nature of belief systems in mass publics.’ [1] [link in original] 

For those of us on the Left, “they don’t understand” or a variation thereof is an easy argument to make in ascribing reasons or offering explanations for the extreme contortions too many on the Right engage in to validate policy or the rationales expressed for some of  the more “curious” proposals.

Asserting that offers some comfort to us, of course. But that statement alone offers nothing else. Justifying low-information assessments or not, those same voters—whatever the explanation for their support of candidates untethered from concerns about integrity or the genuine best interests of the nation [hello, Donald Trump!], or policy rationales [“Obama is taking our guns away! Today! Okay, probably tomorrow! But definitely soon!”]—are actually then casting votes.

The primary consequence of casting votes for borderline crazy candidates or urging support for equally insane policy proposals is that all of us are then bound by the results. What happens then? is too often a question posed as an afterthought. Usually, that’s too late to consider the matter in any way which might make a difference.

So is that is the fault of voters, who should more fully understand their behaviors, reasoning, and the facts? Too much of our political dialogue has been diverted from factual discussions to ideological ones. Evidence, reality, and facts matter much less in the pure air of ideology, thus widening the divide. Keeping supporters agitated and anxious obviously reaps a lot of short-term advantages for candidates seeking to make their mark, and so What happens then? is pushed even farther away from public consideration.

‘The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,’ says political scientist Brendan Nyhan….The phenomenon — known as ‘backfire’ — is ‘a natural defense mechanism to avoid … cognitive dissonance….’
Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote. [2]

This phenomenon is not limited to low-info conservative voters, of course. We all adopt these same psychological tactics to one extent or another. Even those of us absolutely convinced of our impartiality and willingness to consider all opposing or contrary viewpoints are guilty. Reality remains unimpressed.

But an increased awareness of not just the methods used by those in positions of “authority” to strengthen support [politics is no different than questionable sales pitches in that regard], but consideration of how policies play out in the real-world is an important step to changing the tone and tenor of public conversation.

Appeals to low-info voters’ fears may have a purpose, but the shelf-life is limited. What happens then? remains a vital component of decision-making and voting. [And how many of the played-to fears have ever turned out to be correct?] The usefulness of promoting manufactured or overly-dramatized anxieties rather than focusing on the truth and/or greater understanding also has a limited shelf-life. Those efforts also set us onto unnecessary and damaging courses.

Beliefs matter. They often matter more when grounded on falsehoods of one sort or another.

Who actually “wins”—more to the point, how many of us do not—deserves more consideration pre-voting. That assessment requires information, not emotional/ideological appeals too often designed to serve the few at the expense of the many.

How much pointless and/or intentionally-manufactured conflict should we [can we afford to] tolerate in a world where moving forward is a better course than going back in time to how things used to be in the vivid imaginings of those whose motivations and interests have little room for the public good today and tomorrow?

To be continued….


~ My Photo: Long Beach, Rockport MA – 02.01.16


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.salon.com/2015/09/29/theyre_all_fking_nuts_donald_trumps_appeal_explained_in_five_simple_steps/;
They’re all f**king nuts: Donald Trump’s appeal explained in five simple steps by Paul Rosenberg – 09.29.15
[2] http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/11/how_facts_backfire/; How facts backfire – Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains by Joe Keohane – 07.11.10


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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.