Friday, September 23, 2005

Conservatives Believe, Liberals Think

Now, i know what you're thinking.

"Oh look, yet another post that deals with the philosophical differences between the primary political and cultural groups in our society..."

Well... uh, you're right. It is. Sorry 'bout that.

I figured people could probably use one, though. Recently things have been going even worse than before in the US and, barring a handful of new under-currents, it looks like the Aristocrats, Theocrats, and Corporatists will be able to keep their crooked fingers around the world's collective throat for a bit longer.

God help us all.

So let's step back and look at some big-picture stuff again. How do Republicans and Democrats differ in mode of thought? This has been discussed a lot and, i think, most people come to the same (or similar) conclusion even if they have to wrap it up in Conservative-speak in order to make sure their side comes out on top. (Maybe they should just embrace the fact that they're reactionaries with zero problem solving skills? Well, they probably wouldn't be very popular then...)

So here's my hypothesis:

Liberals believe, generally, that method is important. Just like your college introduction to logic: if the premises are legitimate and the reasoning is legitimate then the conclusion must be accepted as legitimate to the same degree--whether that conclusion is desired or not. The important part is not what a person believes, but how that person came to that belief.

This is partly why, as Armando was desparing of in that link earlier, Liberals tend to be coming from lots of different directions at once. They all have at least somewhat legitimate reaosning and so the diversity of opinion is inevitable.

If i had to sum it up in a sentence: Liberals believe "You are how you think."

Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that it's what you think that's important. The method doesn't matter so much (and can be manipulated for the "right ends") as that you believe things that are "normal" and "right". If you don't think or act or live the approved manner you get tossed out of the club. (I was trying to stay as neutral as possible here, but it's really difficult. Onward...)

For Conservatives "You are what you think."

A Liberal believes in reason, the scientific method, and logic; tolerance is valuable because intolerance ends thought, debate is willingly entered by two parties in order to find the ideal resolution to problems or questions. Liberals believe in the future, therefore how we come to new belief (looking ahead) is important.

A Conservative believes in dogma, obedience, and conformity; tolerance is not particularly valuable and intolerance begins with disagreement (if someone disagrees on what to think there is no problem solving tool--"the other person is always wrong"), debate is one party trying to force another to accept the first party's "right belief". Conservatives believe in the past, therefore what we believe (specifically: that we follow others who have come before us) is important.

Liberals value external input because that input allows refinement of the thinking process.

Conservatives consider external input challenges to their belief system--as though the input was aimed at imposing someone else's "right belief" on the Conservatives in question.

I'm coming very close to "relativism vs. absolutism" or "utilitarianism vs. deontology" here--and to a certain extent that makes sense, but i feel that debate is separate but similar. In some ways i feel this is the over-arching meta-debate that shaped these philosophies, but that does not really make sense. On the other hand it certainly shapes how we, today, view those debates.

For a conservative, facts are things to be massaged or outright altered with the aim that they create "right belief" in others. A lie is as useful as the truth so long as the end result is "right".

For a liberal, facts are of the utmost importance--without correct premises (facts) no amount of reasoning will result in a reliably correct conclusion.

Conservatives see Liberals as enslaved by their own imagination--they do not view science or reason as being superior to anti-science or bigotry, but merely different. Some apparently are incapable of seeing distinctions between the two. Witness, for example, the very popular modern tendency to (when accused, quite reasonably, of racism or homophobia) fire back with "You Liberals are the real racists because you want to destroy the white race." Not in a "white supremecist" sort of way (not necessarily), but rather an inability to distinguish between the two positions and also the fact that the "correct belief" is quite different. All the science and reason and sociology in the world doesn't make a bit of difference because the end result is not the "correct" end result.

Liberals see Conservatives as living in fantasy-land, or in an immature and child-like state from which they never grew out of. The ultimate expression of the Liberal view, most likely, can be found in Suskind's reporting of the "reality-based community" remark:
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
Liberals tend to feel the above is a rather eggregious example of the "naked emperor" fallacy.

(It's my own name, as far as i'm aware, so don't feel bad if you haven't heard it before. It goes, although i'm thinking about writing more about it soon, briefly: just because something is internally consistent does not make it true. The "Invisible Pink Unicorn" fallacy is a sub-set of this and circular logic is related. It comes from the famous story in which an incredibly implausible, but internally consistent lie makes a whole nation feel very foolish indeed. The other thing i would note about this story that most people seem to overlook: everyone but one person was willing to believe, or pretend to believe which is practically identical in this case, something blatantly and obviously untrue.)

In any case, i believe i have at least outlined some of the differences i have been seeing more and more in US politics.


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Blogger Mr. Natural said...

Thank you for a great post. you have managed to put important thoughts to words. Thanks again.

8:40 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

Thank you for helping us with our thoughts,
and our understanding.

Knowledge is power.

9:02 PM  
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