Sunday, June 12, 2011

Across The Political Divide

I recently read something rather bizarre - that apparently while speaking to someone, you can tell their political persuasion merely by looking at something else while speaking. Apparently, the leftist will follow your gaze to see what you're looking at while the conservative will carry on unfazed.

Probably dodgy pop psychology at its finest. But it resonates with something that has been crossing my mind a lot lately - that a left-of-centre mindset and a right-of-centre mindset are merely incompatible mindsets that most people, some 'swing voters' in the centre notwithstanding, more or less subscribe to wholesale. That entire political philosophies can, in many cases, spring fully formed as a result of basic, fundamental approaches to the individual's place in society - approaches that are probably formed at a very young age and are more or less immutable, the rightward drift associated with aging notwithstanding.

Or let's look at it this way: when a leftist exasperatedly exclaims, 'I can't understand conservatives at all!', that's probably not mere hubris: it's probably the truth. Because complex political philosophies spring from simple perspectives on life, there probably is a fundamental disconnect between 'how lefties think' and 'how righties think'. Never the twain shall meet, except of course for those centrists, God love them, who can be persuaded one way or another.

If this is true, the implication would seem to be to 'draw battle lines' - most starkly of course in the resolutely bipartisan United States of America, where lately partisans on both sides are inclined to view politics as a battle between good and evil.

You could argue, though, that the opposite should happen: that one result of an incompatibility of ideology could be to put down weapons and learn to embrace difference. After all, if we have no chance at all of 'converting' a certain segment of the population - not due to stubbornness but merely due to this 'difference in mindset' - then we would do well to learn to accept them, to figure out how to accommodate 'both sides' to the extent possible. After all, 'they know not what they do' - people on both sides of the line are driven by a sense of righteousness that they believe fully in their hearts: it's not a lack of empathy that prevents them from walking a mile in the other side's shoes so much as a simple inability to make their minds grasp the fundamentals of the other side's philosophy.

I consider myself a perfect example of this. Conservative politics seem absolutely crazy to me - really. I've given a lot of thought to them and I can't for the life of me understand why people embrace them. And yet they do - intelligent, honest, decent people somehow manage to come to radically different conclusions about man's relationship to man and the importance of the individual in society than me. I get frustrated that people seem unable to see the world as it appears so crystal clear to me, and I gnash my teeth at what seems like a usurping of power whenever enough of the populace cast their lot with conservatives that they are able to form a government at one level or another.

Which, of course, is ridiculous: our winner-takes-all system of government not only is entirely the wrong system if people's political outlooks are more or less encoded within them in stone but additionally is probably the root cause behind the adversarial way we view politics.

Political outlook can't be 'genetic': people's politics change with time, and with geography too, in that some places are resolutely left-of-centre and others incurably right-of-centre. So there is a 'learned', environmental aspect to it. And it stands to reason that people can be swayed - gradually, over time. But it seems that the best way to sway someone's mind is by engaging with them, not by shouting at them over an insurmountable gulf.

After all, there's nothing wrong with conservatives or with progressives: they merely are who they are.

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