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Flatland and Spaceland, Recommendations, The Partisan Divide

Yeah, about that (purple) cake

I posted a couple comments recently to a blog post entitled Let Them Eat (purple) Cake at The Village Square.

I love and support the ideals of The Village Square, which, if I understand them correctly, are to bring a more fact-based empirical reality and intellectual humility, and through these increased civility and friendship, to political debate.  Generally speaking, it looks like The Village Square wants to do the same sort of myth busting that I want to do.

It is in the spirit of those ideals, then, that I want to offer an idea for discussion that may be off-putting but, I think, precisely because of those ideals, must be on the table.    

Liberals seem tone deaf to the fact that “purple” is a very liberal concept that rankles many conservatives and may turn them off from The Village Square.  My understanding is that it can be difficult to get conservatives involved in efforts like The Village Square.    I think the concept of purple is at least partly why that’s true.  

Mind you, I think the article I commented on is right on the money.  This essay is ONLY about the baggage that comes with the concept expressed by the word purple in its title.

The concept of purple implies a 50/50 mix of blue and red; left and right; liberal and conservative.

It means meeting in the middle.  It means compromise.

It carries with it, therefore, the implicit assumption that left and right are right and wrong in equal measure, just about different things.

And that assumption is wrong.  It’s one of the myths that’s contributing to the Coming Apart that needs to be busted.

I accept that other people may see things and have insights that I don’t.  I accept that in some instances I may be wrong and they may be right.  I accept that for these reasons it is in my own best interest to listen with an open mind to the ideas of others, and to explain my own ideas with patience and humility.

But it does not follow from this that everyone is equally insightful and equally right and wrong.      

The fact is, if moral foundations theory and Haidt’s findings are generally correct in terms of the relative level of understanding of fundamental human nature, liberals and liberalism are more wrong than right, and conservatives and conservatism are more right than wrong.  And even if I’m wrong about that and both sides are more right than wrong, at the very least it’s undeniable that conservatism is more right about more things than is liberalism.

Given that, then why should I, or the country, turn purple?  Why should it move to the middle when doing so would, almost by definition, move it farther away from “more right than wrong” and closer to “more wrong than right”?   

This explains why conservatives are turned off by the incessant drumbeat of “compromise” from liberals and the supposed virtues of purpleness. Those things exemplify precisely the disconnectedness from basic facts about human nature, and the misguided policies which result, that conservatism is trying to stand athwart and stop.

And there’s another dilemma.  On one hand, we want to be able to have a civil, respectful, intellectually honest, conversation about politics and social issues.  But on the other hand, doing so necessarily requires, at some point along the way, that we examine the true nature of the left-right dynamic and the many causes of the Coming Apart, and doing THAT requires frank discussions about the elephant in the room: the Flatland-Spaceland nature of that dynamic.      

How do we handle that?  How do we break the bad news to the flatlanders and still keep them engaged and active in the conversation?  How do we NOT turn them off or worse, turn them against, the very concept of the conversation?      

I have a thought about that.

Since liberals are from flatland and conservatives are from spaceland, doesn’t it fall to conservatives to be the bigger person and, with patience and camaraderie, work with their one-eyed friends to lift the veil from their eyes in a way that maintains the friendship?

I suggest, yes.

And so here’s ANOTHER dilemma.  That’s really, REALLY, hard to do.  The reason it’s hard is that conservatives are human, and so are Our One-Eyed Friends.   We can get pissed off and say something stupid, and even if we don’t, they can miss-hear and conclude we’re jerks.

Being the bigger person requires a deft hand, a gentle touch, and almost infinite patience, often while being poked in the eye with the usual tired and false cliches about how conservatives don’t “care.”   It’s like being a parent. 

Conservatives need to be living embodiments of Dale Carnegie.  That’s really hard to do at all times in all situations.  Sure, we can all read How to Win Friends and Influence People and understand it intellectually, but since we’re human our reserves of patience and our ability to turn the other cheek are about the same as everybody else’s.

Haidt is great at speaking truth to power in a way that the power loves what it hears.  But not everyone has that gift.  And it really is a gift.  And it’s a Michael Jordan level gift at that.  Everybody and anybody who knew anything about basketball could plainly see how good Michael Jordan was, but nobody but him could actually pull it off on an every-day basis.  Same with Haidt’s ability to present controversial ideas in non-controversial ways.  I’ll do the best I can to learn from him and emulate him, but sometimes I’ll fail.  So please be patient when I do.

And besides, if the left is going to maintain the position it so often does of being the party of facts and reason then shouldn’t it be held to that standard?  Shouldn’t it do unto others what it demands that others do unto it and change its mind, and its path, when the facts and evidence warrant?  (Yes, yes I know all about why reason doesn’t change minds, but I think in terms of discussion in The Village Square you get my drift.)  Shouldn’t the left be open minded, and inclusive, and tolerant, not only of those who look different and have different sexual preferences but also of those think differently?  Shouldn’t it do that because ideological and intellectual diversity are the most important kinds?  Isn’t it precisely those particular diversities that make humans so great? Shouldn’t liberalism seek out intellectual and moral diversity and embrace it and grow from it?  If it can, then I’d say the sky’s the limit.  



  1. Pingback: Why “Compromise” Rankles | The Independent Whig - July 23, 2015

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