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The Political Divide is Between Linear and Complex thinking, not Left and Right

A comment by tomrossman2017 to my recent blog post The Left Has Jumped The Shark expressed concisely the concept I’ve been trying of late to convey:

“You are quite right that the unifying theory here is not one of left vs right, but of linear thinking versus complexity.”

“Linear versus complex”, or concrete versus abstract, thinking are more accessible terms than the ones I’ve been using – Platonic and Aristotelian – or the terms Haidt used in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and ReligionWEIRD and holistic – or in The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient WisdomFlatland and spaceland.  But all of those various terms refer to the same basic phenomenon.

I don’t mean to be pejorative but words apropos to concrete, linear thinking include pedantic, mechanical, rote, unimaginative (especially unimaginative). Trying to converse with such a person can be infuriating, in a bang-head-against-wall sort of way.  There’s simply no getting through.  Ironically they tend to be the same folks who think they have science and reason on their side and that whoever they’re talking with is the one who doesn’t get it.  You know, rationalists.   Based on some stories Liz (see below) has told me I think she can relate.

Once one becomes aware of the basic dichotomy of cognitive style it’s hard not to see it all around.  Four examples further below.

I think cognitive style is a moral foundation, but of a type that’s different from the others.  The best metaphor I’ve come up with comes from baking:  Flour, water, salt, sugar, and butter can make either cake or bread.   The difference between the two is in the catalyst.  Add yeast and you get bread, but add eggs instead and you get cake.

Linear and complex Cognitive style are the yeast and eggs of ideology that differentiate between left and right.

But not always.

There are left wing complex thinkers.  These are the exceptions that prove my theory that cognitive style is a separate layer, or ingredient, of world views beyond moral foundations.  I’m sure there are right wing linear thinkers too.

Among left wing complex thinkers are the following four individuals, whose thinking I submit as evidence that helps to make my case.  These are “liberals conservatives can love” because their brain types are the same as conservatives even if their moral foundations are not, and so communication with them is somehow just easier and more natural for conservatives.

1) Reverend Kate Braestrup. Listen to her 26 minute sermon, Tree and Fruit, you’ll see what I mean

2) Hollywood director Peter Berg

3) Jon Haidt

4) Liz Joyner, founder of The Village Square



  1. Pingback: Moral Capital is a Moral Foundation | The Independent Whig - January 13, 2017

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