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No, you evil, stupid idiots … well, maybe you’re right … but you’re still evil

by Greg Krehbiel on 11 July 2013

Remember that incredibly short period of time during which Obamacare was debated? Democrats had to rush the gargantuan mess through the legislature while they had the momentum and the political capital to do so.

Criticisms and concerns were brushed aide — not just as invalid concerns, but — as the left so loves to caricature things — as the evil, nasty, brutish strategies of wicked Republicans who hate everybody.

The right also demonizes the left, of course, but if Jonathan Haidt’s research is to be believed, the left does it a lot more. In fact, the left (generally speaking) isn’t able to understand why conservatives think the way they do, so their default explanation for the incomprehensible ideas of conservatives is that conservatives are full of hatred.

Conservatives are against immigration and same-sex marriage because they hate immigrants and gays. Once you get this basic dynamic, social media makes so much more sense.

P.J. O’Rourke tells a story about driving near a college campus and seeing some demonstration by a leftist group. He asked his friend why, when something offends the left, there’s an organized demonstration, people have nice signs with clever slogans, they have chants and cheers and whatnot, but when something offends the right, you see two college Republicans, one holding up a lame sign and the other waving a flag.

His friend said, “Because we have jobs.”

There’s probably something to that, but I think the larger explanation is that conservatives tend to see liberal policies as sincere but misguided. We can understand where liberals are coming from, we just disagree. It’s not some Great Moral Crisis.

Liberals, on the other hand, see conservative policies as the return of Adolf Hitler, the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the slave trade. They can’t understand or relate to conservative thinking, so they think it’s all hatred. The result is that liberals are far more offended at what conservatives believe than vice versa. That explains the demonstrations, the truly hateful memes you regularly see on Facebook, the totally crazy comments you see on blogs, etc.

I think this also explains why conservatives flock to talk radio. Conservatives are weary of the way their views are regularly pilloried in the media. When you see a conservative and a liberal “debate” something on TV, the conservative tries to argue on the merits and the liberal accuses the conservative of bad motives. It happens all the time.

Of course I’m painting with a broad brush. Some conservatives can’t understand liberals and attribute their motives to evil communist plots or demonic possession or whatever. And then you have the new generation of conservative commentators — like Ann Coulter — who basically turns liberal rhetorical tactics back on the liberals.

Anyway, something along these lines seems to be going on with health care, except that this time we’re dealing with things that can be measured — like actual costs — and Republican criticisms are being vindicated. At least some of them are.

From the time that the health care law was first making its way through Congress, Democrats have consistently dismissed reasonable criticisms of the law, only to see critics later vindicated by events. Time and again, the administration has had to acknowledge that many provisions of the law – minor and major — are unworkable.

Obamacare critics right, again

-- 2013-07-11  »  Greg Krehbiel

Talkback x 7

  1. John Krehbiel John Krehbiel
    12 July 2013 @ 11:00 am

    I wondered for a long time why liberals were so bad at predicting the moral intuitions of conservatives. Then I remembered a student we had at Westlake some time back.

    She saw unicorns. I mean that she literally saw unicorns.(correct definition of literally, BTW, not stupid “no-wrong-answers” dictionary definition)

    So if you were to ask her what I see in a classroom, she would very accurately describe what I see, by simply omitting the unicorns she saw. But if you asked me to describe what she saw, I would be clueless beyond those things in the room that actually exist.

    Besides, the reaction I see to anything Obama, even to policies that were originally suggested by conservatives, reminds me of Legolas in Moria–
    “Ai! ai! A Balrog! A Balrog is come!”

  2. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    12 July 2013 @ 11:30 am

    That might be a reasonable hypothesis if conservatives were seeing things that liberals were not seeing at all, but the research seems to show that liberals and conservatives both see the same “moral foundations,” they just rank them differently.

  3. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    12 July 2013 @ 3:11 pm

    Here’s an interesting article on this same general point.

    The video at the end is kinda funny also.

  4. DSM
    13 July 2013 @ 10:40 am

    John, I’m not sure I follow your analogy. You can’t understand people with moral intuitions different from your own because unicorns don’t exist? Wouldn’t that argument work to dismiss anything you don’t understand?

  5. Greg Krehbiel GregK
    13 July 2013 @ 11:29 am

    @DSM, the point John is trying to make — I think — is that conservatives base their moral feelings on things that don’t even exist. For example, some conservatives say that homosexuality offends God, and if God doesn’t exist, it’s a stupid standard.

    But his argument is not really to the point. Jonathan Haidt has six “moral foundations” that (he says) show the difference between the left and the right.

    The current American culture war, we have found, can be seen as arising from the fact that liberals try to create a morality relying primarily on the Care/harm foundation, with additional support from the Fairness/cheating and Liberty/oppression foundations. Conservatives, especially religious conservatives, use all six foundations, including Loyatly/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation.

    IOW, liberals use a smaller set of moral values.

    Note that of the three that distinguish conservatives — Loyatly/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation — John’s idea that conservatives rely on “things that don’t exist” can probably only be applied, and then even only partially, to the last of the three.

    It is certainly true that secularists are often befuddled when people base their moral views on God, and perhaps that would be similar to trying to make sense of a person who bases her opinions on unicorns. But the secularist / religious person divide is not the same as the liberal / conservative divide. There are liberal religious believers. And the differences between liberals and conservatives are more complicated than can be explained by any differences in religious beliefs.

    However, you should also read Norman Doering’s theory on this page. He tries to characterize all the differences in terms of a secular vs. a religious perspective.

  6. DSM
    13 July 2013 @ 12:21 pm

    But even if I didn’t believe in unicorns, I think I could understand the moral intuitions of people who did. I don’t believe in bodhisattvas and yet the actions and motivations of Buddhists aren’t incomprehensibly mysterious to me. Why would God’s nonexistence make it impossible for me to understand believers?

    The analogy makes more sense to me if he’s saying that *morality* doesn’t exist, and since John once admitted that he only understood the word “should” in a purely instrumental sense, and has several times explained he thinks the idea of a shared moral order is “crazy”, I don’t think that’s an impossible reading. In the past he’s suggested that other people are speaking in a dog-whistle code he can’t understand, which makes me think the problem is pretty fundamental.

    I defer to your much greater experience, however. :^)

  7. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    14 July 2013 @ 4:22 pm

    To some extent the reaction to the Zimmerman verdict makes my general point. Liberals have less ability to understand how the other side thinks. That’s why when something goes against them, they react with amazement.