I often feel bad for those on the right such as Jeff Goldstein who try to make sense of someone on the left who treats them with disdain and disgust. Goldstein received an email from an old creative writing professor recently saying that he was disturbed by Goldstein’s writings and wanted Goldstein to remove his name from his “about page.” When Goldstein called Brian Kiteley, the professor, up on the phone for clarification, Kiteley called him names:
So I dialed him up and he answered. When I told him who was calling, he let out a forced “laugh” — I presume to show his bemused exasperation with my gall at having contacted him — and, when pressed, he called me a “jerk”.
Initially, Goldstein says he was hurt by his professor’s intolerant attitude, but then, his hurt rightly turned to anger. This professor tolerated free speech only for liberal ideas. But shouldn’t we all have the right to free speech? Apparently, only if it’s left-leaning. And one would think a creative writing professor might be above this. But the problem is, he may have a blind spot when it comes to those on the right.
Jonathan Haidt, a professor at the University of Virginia and author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, found that conservatives could more readily put themselves in the shoes of liberals and understand morally where they were coming from. The reverse was not true of liberals. They have little understanding of those with opposing views to their own. As Haidt states:
“I think of liberals as colorblind,” he says in a hushed tone that conveys the quiet intensity of a low-key crusader. “We have finely tuned sensors for harm and injustice but are blind to other moral dimensions. Look at the way the word ‘wall’ is used in liberal discourse. It’s almost always related to the idea that we have to knock them down.”
Why are liberals unable to sympathize with conservatives? I offer three possibilities. First, I often wonder if this “blind spot” for conservatives is similar to the psychopath who cannot comprehend the morality of those who are “normal.” At the present time, there is no known cure for treating the psychopath. Trying to get someone on the left to see where a conservative is coming from may be as difficult as trying to change the mind of a psychopath. Perhaps that will happen one day.
I am not saying here that liberals are psychopaths, for this would be incorrect for the most part. What I am saying is that their inability to understand the morality of conservatives makes them unable to understand their point of view, just as a psychopath does not understand the morality of normal people.
So just remember that next time a liberal treats you poorly, it may not be his or her fault. Like the psychopath who has no empathy for his fellow human being, liberals may have a blind spot when it comes to having any empathy or understanding for their conservative brethren. It often makes a psychopath worse to show empathy for him, as he will take advantage of it.
The second possibility is that liberals do have the capacity to empathize with conservatives, but they do not have to do so because of the liberal bubble they mostly live in. Schools, the media, and many of the cities they live in lean left. This means that there is no incentive to understand other ideas and there are no consequences for showing disgust and ugly feelings towards conservatives. Thus, Goldstein’s ex-professor feels free to vent at him — knowing that few will care.
For example, if a Republican vents at a Democrat, he or she will be seen as a “hate-monger.” For an example of this, notice how Eric Cantor can have his office shot at and it is played down with all kinds of excuses, while if the tea partiers are said to have shouted at Democrats without any proof, it is taken as the gospel truth, with no video needed. The left are just “innocent victims.”
So what is the prescription here for those of us who are conservative or libertarian? There may be no way to get the “other side” to understand our views, for they may not have the capacity to do so. Until the lack of empathy for conservatives miraculously changes, we might do better to grow our own ranks, getting more of us involved, rather than trying to rationalize our own views to the other side. Giving in only wastes valuable time that could be put to better use and makes liberals more likely to treat us poorly.
At the same time, we should consider that it could be a lack of consequences that allows liberals to lack empathy or understanding for their fellow right-leaning citizens. Expanding right-leaning media and exposing liberals to ridicule and consequences (e.g., Andrew Breitbart) might then be the correct path to take, for the ease with which they attack may decrease once they realize that they will not get off scott-free as they once did.
Finally, and my third possibility, is it could be lack of education that allows the left to lack empathy. They are not exposed to right-leaning and libertarian ideas. For example, how many classes at school are teaching about the ideas of Hayek, Friedman, and Rand? If kids grow up without this information, they may turn into adults who lack the ability to understand other points of view.
Perhaps a combination of all three is needed: expanding right-leaning media, getting more people involved, and making sure consequences are dealt out to those liberals who lie and treat conservatives with disrespect. Yes, this means all of us speaking up wherever we are when we hear false, inflammatory, or just plain mean remarks made about conservatives. And finally, clamoring for more diverse educational topics and literature in the schools and media would be helpful.
Conservatives shouldn’t back down on any of this, ever. For it is persistence and consistency that will eventually win the day. The left did it for decades and it clearly works. The left’s advantage has been that the right caves and is so worried about appearing moral that they back down, conceding any power. The right’s advantage is that we understand how the other side thinks, while they do not. Keep this in mind when you think about strategies to keep our liberties and freedoms intact.
If you have some better or different ideas about strategies for conservatives or libertarians in dealing with the left’s disrespect and lack of empathy, drop it in the comment section.