Like the crack in the Liberty Bell, there is a tremendous rift in our nation’s political ideology, and some opinion leaders are working to make it wider. I ran across this article by John Hawkins, 7 Non-Political Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives. I don’t remember what I was looking for, but I found this article, read it and immediately remembered a critical thinking exercise from a class I took wherein we picked apart news columns (or by today’s standards: the archaic version of blogs) to expose logical fallacies, poor reasoning and misleading information. Sorry, John, but your writing fit the bill perfectly, and I consider it a service to others that I should tear apart your article as an example of how too many “opinion leaders” exploit the ignorance of their readers – who, let’s face it, usually aren’t looking for compelling or persuasive information but for ideas that reinforce what they already think (see confirmation bias). Hence, most of Hawkins’ readers are conservatives looking for someone to justify their beliefs – and like any practiced entertainer, Hawkins gives his audience what they want (but not necessarily what they need).
If you don’t know, Hawkins runs rightwingnews.com and works on or contributes to several other sites. Somehow, he’s managed to interview some pretty famous conservatives and speaks at events for a fee of $1000 plus travel expenses.
Before I get into this critique of Hawkins’ article, I’d like to make a few things clear:
While I do hold some liberal social views, I am generally more aligned with conservative ideas. I’m not attacking Hawkins’ personality – I’m sure he’s a nice guy acting on genuine sentiments and that he is of at least average intelligence. As a wise man once told me, “People are stupid, no matter who they are.” And that’s the truth. I’ll give Mr. Hawkins credit for admitting that liberals and conservatives are more alike than different; but, if we truly want an informed society making decisions based on unbiased facts and upholding the Constitution through objective, nonpartisan interpretation and application of legislation so that We the People can move America forward and overcome our national difficulties, then we must learn to ignore tripe like this and hold our media to a higher standard. While Hawkins may be writing about those liberals and conservatives that are more politically active than your Average Joe, this article of his does nothing to bridge any of the gaps between these two political ideologies and serves more to create a misleading image of our political landscape. I won’t accuse Hawkins of playing on the fantasies of his readers purposefully to expand his fan-base, but one must wonder.
Since this article postulates 7 themes, I’ll follow the same sort of format, but if you’d like to see exactly what Mr. Hawkins wrote, please direct yourself to his original article. Before getting into each of the 7 points, I’d like to bring attention to Hawkins’ use of a straw-man argument to represent both liberals and conservatives (and he’s not by any means the only pundit guilty of this). When one reduces the makeup or viewpoint of such a broad entity to a single, simple generalized statement – well, it just becomes ridiculous and offensive to good sense as well as to those people who identify with such an ideological entity. Above all, it’s just plain lazy and insulting to the intelligence of the reader. Onward to reason!
1. Conservatives are more Patriotic
Say that to any Democrat Veteran or those currently enlisted. There are some out there, and I’m sure they do not appreciate having their patriotism questioned. Further, love of one’s country is not equal to focusing one’s attention on only the positive aspects of one’s country. Would you urge a woman with an abusive boyfriend to stay with that boyfriend because he’s really good-looking, has a high salary, and regularly makes charitable donations? I doubt it. Loving one’s country should include the ability to evaluate that country’s policies and its impact on the rest of the world, and to seek to improve those things that are not positive. If a liberal seems to dislike the USA, it’s not necessarily a lack of patriotism but dissatisfaction with the impact our government is making at home and abroad. To attack the patriotism of another American citizen, especially one expressing their American rights to criticize government and to work toward changing government policy, is just plain ridiculous on its face. It’s a classic ad hominem logical fallacy, regardless of the source and target of the attack. Give us an example, Mr. Hawkins, and show us how his/her point of view is incorrect or un-patriotic. Do not attack the patriotism of another citizen, especially one that doesn’t really exist.
2. It’s socially acceptable for liberals to lie about conservatives
Let’s get it straight: all people are capable of lying, and many of them do. People usually find it acceptable any time the lie supports what they already believe, liberal or otherwise. Take a look at this article by Michael Lind on salon.com for a few examples of lies told by conservatives. We shouldn’t be accusing one particular side of being more dishonest than the other, but calling out the lies being told by individuals representing each side.
3. Conservatives are results-oriented. Liberals are not.
I agree that any undertaking meant to make any sort of improvements should be measured by results, and abandoned if results are not made. But Hawkins offers no evidence whatsoever to back up this claim that conservatives are results-oriented – only another liberal straw-man to be burned and a pedestal for a conservative straw man to stand upon. By the way, Hawkins, I don’t see any psychology degrees listed in your credentials – did I miss something? What is the basis for believing that liberals propose programs just to feel good about themselves? If conservatives are results-oriented, then please explain the general conservative stance on the war on drugs, for example. Again, show us an example, John Hawkins. Don’t put the burden of proof on the reader – presenting proof is the job of the one presenting the argument! Lazy, lazy, lazy…
4. Conservatives care about the Constitution. Liberals don’t.
I agree with this statement when it comes to something like gun control. However, I find it inconsistent in consideration of several current topics as well as the Declaration of Independence that established the Spirit (and therefore the standard by which all legal policy within the United States should be judged) in which the Constitution was written.
The Declaration of Independence states clearly:
“All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it”
Yet in general, those identifying themselves as conservatives would, for example, deny American citizens the right to marry or join in civil union with the consenting adult citizen of their choice. One argument for this blatant disregard for another person’s right to liberty and to pursue his/her own happiness is religious, and must therefore be ignored as our Constitution decrees. The other sensible argument is from a legal standpoint, in that the legal definition of marriage is union between man and woman. This argument is moot because we can change the legal definition of any legal term so that it aligns with the Constitutional rights of each and every American citizen. It is up to the people to look past our own emotions regarding these issues and to not be swayed by the emotional and religious rhetoric of those with political agendas. But the conservative and the religiously-minded traditionally choose to ignore the Constitutional rights of others because it does not fit with the conservative or religious moral worldview.
5. Liberals are more misogynistic
This statement is a red herring, at best. Let me say this: liberal or conservative, men don’t get it. Any amount of misogyny is a bad thing; it’s absolutely absurd to argue that one side is “more” misogynistic than the other. I literally spit cranberry juice across the room when I read that statement. Anyone with a penis is prone to make a misogynist statement, but who is it that is trying to legislate misogyny? For another perspective, take a look at this blog article on thenation.com: The Conservative War on Women’s Sexuality.
6. Conservatives are happier
This is true, according to surveys performed by researchers. But correlation does not imply causation – happy people are not happy because they are conservatives, conservative people are not conservative because they are happy. Indeed, research has shown that genetics play a large part in happiness as well as other factors (see Are Stupid People Happier? and Psychologists Now Know What Makes People Happy).
However, even theories about differences in brain structure between liberals and conservatives are “best guesses” though research shows that liberals generally have a brain more developed toward decision-making whereas conservatives have a larger amygdala, which is more of an emotional center (see Liberal vs Conservative: Does the Difference Lie in the Brain?). Perhaps that sheds some light on why there’s no arguing with conservatives and also begs the question: who is more fit to lead – someone more prone to emotional rationalization or someone who’s brain can efficiently handle conflicting information?
Hawkins employs more of his amateur psychology here, and has even written an article specifically on this topic, but it all just paints a picture of a smug conservative in a life boat looking down on a liberal clinging to floating debris because he didn’t “earn” his own life boat because his liberal salary wouldn’t permit him to buy a spot on the sinking ship nearer to the life boats. I mean they’re both Americans, off the same crashed ship… Why not reach out and share the life boat? Are conservatives happier just because they’re jerks? I’d rather be a decent human being, but I digress.
7. Conservatives are better Christians
Here we find Hawkins presenting a false dilemma – never mind the fact that the statement cannot be quantifiably measured nor has any bearing on a person’s personal ethics or choice of morality. Hawkins gives the liberal Christian two choices here – alter your beliefs to become compatible with liberalism, or tolerate liberal insults to your faith. The language he uses is a bit more disparaging (spare us the guilt trip!), but that’s the gist.
This rigidity in thinking is primarily why I refuse to label myself a conservative. America is a land of religious (and other) freedom (“land of the free” ring a bell? a Liberty Bell, perhaps?). Many people seem to feel that this means Christian religious freedom – that if a law doesn’t conform to traditional Christian values, then we don’t have religious freedom. I say: keep your beliefs, don’t dilute them, but don’t impose them on other people who don’t share them – that’s religious freedom! If a law does not conform to your beliefs, but does not take away your freedom to have those beliefs, then you lose nothing. Not everyone shares your beliefs, just as you do not hold the same beliefs as everyone else. Why should a law take freedom from someone who wants it just because someone who does not exercise that freedom thinks that no one should have it? Allowing that freedom to all citizens may open the doors for Christians, but they retain the right to choose not to cross that threshold. The Constitution is not a document created to preserve Christianity – that’s the Church’s job! Deal with it!
I encourage everyone to take a look at this list of fallacies and see how many you can apply to the things that you absorb every day. Just pick out a few that you’ll remember easily, and it won’t be difficult to find them written in the newspapers, magazines, and TV shows you normally watch. If you don’t want to do the work, suggest a blog or article to me, and I’ll judge it by the same standards. If you familiarize yourself with these fallacies, it will transform your perspective into something clearer, more level-headed, and competent.
There was a time when the media was a means of disseminating information to be judged by rational minds – now it is the battleground in the fight for your mind. I do not leave myself out of this equation, but I’m not asking anyone to agree with me or adopt my opinions – just to arm themselves with knowledge and to hone the critical thinking skills that have been all but weeded out of our educational system. People are free to say what they want and to pander to whatever crowd they choose, but the media exploits the ignorant, emotionally-based opinions of their audience rather than letting people form their own opinions based on truthful, objective evidence. Question what you see- especially when you’re looking at what you want to see.
This is my biggest problem with John Hawkins’ article here. Rather than discuss issues or specific news-makers with the objective eye of reason, he panders to his audience by perpetuating a fantasy world and feeds the liberal/conservative stereotypes that are dividing this great nation and the ideological civil war that has been preventing us from seeing clearly. He does so with such juvenile caricatures of these ideologies that it hurts my brain to imagine people buying into it.
Both sides have got to stop this nonsense. To explore that sentiment, it’s funny to me that Hawkins mentions the positive impact of the USA, specifically the pride conservatives feel, through its participation in World Wars I and II. Who can remember anything at all of the differences between conservatives and liberals during this period in time? This country united to work toward a common goal. Our troops on the front lines were not the only people who felt the impact of the fighting, we banded together at home, and we suffered together. Why does that seem so impossible now, in our own time? It’s not because anyone here is not patriotic. It’s not because anyone here is unemployed. It’s not because gay people want to get married. It’s not because women want birth control to be covered by their medical insurance. It’s not because the majority of us are not Christian.
As Voltaire said, “Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.” So stop indulging yourself by staying in your comfort zone. Don’t let your mind rot. Think! Be a free human being, and respect other people by attacking their ideas (not their character) with logic! Occupy your self by analyzing everything with the objective eye of reason.