Saturday, November 5, 2016

Opposing Sides, Uniformity of Views

I had an interesting experience recently. While riding in the car with my mother, who I have previously described as politically liberal, if not entirely conventional in her beliefs, the discussion turned to the current election. It struck me as particularly interesting when my mother began to speak about third party votes. In her mind, she thought the third party voters were a problem, because, so she said, they were mostly those who would never vote for Trump, but who could not vote for Hillary, and thus, by voting third party, they risked letting Trump win.

What makes this interesting, is it is the opposite of what I have been hearing for a long time on conservative sites, where conventional wisdom is that Democrats always close ranks, and thus present a unified front, while conservatives are divided, and third party votes are mostly taken from Trump's side, making it easier for Hillary to win.

All of which reinforces something I have been noticing for a long time, that those who identify with one side of the political debate or the other tend to have unrealistic, but oddly similar, views of their opposite numbers. Both seem to think the other side is united, while theirs is divided. Both think the other side is unthinking in its support of candidates. Both think the other side is unprincipled and will do whatever it takes to win. And both think the other side is ideologically unified and extreme, while theirs is vacillating and inconsistent.

Now, I am not speaking here about the politicians, or the party leadership, we can debate the relative merits of those another time. Nor am I discussing ideology as such*. What I am discussing here is the rank and file, great masses of conservatives and liberals, and their general behavior. And it amuses me to think that both groups see one another in such similar ways.

And it is informative to see that each group is deluded about the other, and in the same ways. Neither side is any more unified than the other, nor do the rank and file seem an more or less prone to unprincipled behavior. Admittedly, differences in beliefs do make for differences in those principles, but within those limits, it seems both are about equally principled in terms of the rank and file.

I mention all of this because I want to destroy one of the most harmful illusions that have sprung up in modern times, that being the belief that the opposite side in political disputes is somehow completely alien, completely unprincipled and completely unlike us. (See "The Futility of Blame", "Technophobes and Conservatives -- The Risk of Assumptions", "In Defense of Civil Debate", "Both Sides Now") This is dangerous for two reasons.

First, as I mentioned before, believing the other side to be not just mistaken but actually evil, leads us to believe they are also beyond redemption. If the other side is confused or misled, they can be persuaded, and we will spend time to win them over. If they are evil, then we will not. And, as we have seen, a lot of modern contests do seem to shy away from trying to persuade the other side, spending almost all effort on either winning over a small handful of independents, or, more often, simply maximizing turnout. And these are valid goals, but we must not forget that, in the long run, we can also gain votes by changing minds, and, once we give up the illusion of our opposite numbers being evil, we can spend some effort on this worthwhile goal.

The second mistaken belief, and worse, as we have seen this election season, is the way that belief in an immoral, unprincipled and corrupt opposition leads some to suggest we must behave in the same way. Thanks to this belief, we see many suggesting we should give up our principles, forget our ethics and do whatever it takes to win regardless of consequences. Forgotten is the fact that in so doing, we simply end up electing unprincipled representatives who do not share our beliefs, which seems pretty far from victory, but, thanks to the belief our rivals are doing the same, some are willing to do so, regardless of the cost. (See "The Trouble With Tough Talk", "Look Out It's the End Times!", "Odds and Ends", "Trump, Obama, Cults and Authoritarianism")

And thus, though it goes contrary to many popular ideas in recent days, I want to emphasize again and again that, whatever the politicians may believe, most rank and file liberals are not much different from us, share many of our goals in broad outline, and are open to persuasion, and forgetting this can have disastrous consequences.


* I believe that liberalism, in general, is founded on a number of arrogant assumptions. This does not mean the vast majority of liberals are aware of that arrogance. In fact, most likely accept the basic premise that their beliefs are based on compassion and similar motives. But when one looks at the basis of those beliefs, there is definitely an arrogant set of beliefs underlying them. (Cf "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences", "Right Thinking and the All Encompassing State", "Ideological Entanglement", "Intellect and Politics") On the other hand, conservatives are a more mixed bag, both because the term is used in such confused ways (cf "The Problem With the Big Tent", "What Does Not Kill You...", "No More Double Standards") but also because the motives for endorsing those beliefs vary from a philosophical commitment to freedom, a belief in tradition or various religious views. To a degree, those reasons for believing correspond with the variety of conservatism one embraces, but not always, there is quite a bit of overlap between them all. Still, as I said, we are here discussing general practices, not overall philosophy.

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