Why is it that liberals and conservatives fail to communicate? Aside from the obvious fact that they generally hate each others’ guts, why is it that they so frequently talk right past one another? It’s as if they live in separate universes.
Arnold Kling is an economist — he worked for the Fed and Freddie Mac — and an author, most recently of The Three Languages of Politics. Kling neatly encapsulates the different thinking styles of the main political parties. He explains, for example, that liberals see the world as divided between the oppressed and the oppressors, while conservatives see the divide as between the civilized and the barbaric.
Let that sink in for a moment. It’s an elegantly powerful idea. And it makes sense. Liberals tend to have less money and feel left out, so their focus falls on those who have more — those who, by rights, jolly well ought to hand some of it to them, thereby making society more fair. Meanwhile, conservatives tend to be somewhat more successful and/or feel a greater sense of belonging, so their biggest concern is that the heathens will storm the ramparts of their gated communities and pillage their lives.
How vastly different, then, can be the world views of people who share the same country. One side sees oppressors while the other sees barbarians. One side feels marginalized while the other side feels, well, civilized. These concepts aren’t just vaguely different, they’re entirely different. It’s not apples and oranges; it’s apples and bicycles.
No wonder liberals and conservatives don’t get each other.
If they could just see how understandable are their opponents’ viewpoints — Of course liberals would tend to feel treated unfairly! Of course conservatives would fear disruption of their carefully nurtured lives! — then maybe they can begin to address each others’ concerns at the bargaining table.
Anyway, in the spirit of boundless naive optimism, I’ve assembled a chart that sets out a number of additional differences between liberals and conservatives — contrasts in their personalities, preferences, peculiarities, prejudices, and several other dimensions that I bet could start with the letter “p”. I’ve arranged them below into two columns for your convenience.
By the way, some of you smarties are asking, “What’s the third language of politics?!?” You’re paying attention. Okay, I’ll tell you: Kling also discusses the libertarians, whose political worldview he defines as “freedom vs. coercion.” That sounds about right. In the interest of fairness, I’ll include them, too:
LIBERAL CONSERVATIVE LIBERTARIAN
rebellious obedient diligent
rogue stuffed shirt nerdy
whiny teenager cranky uncle eccentric neighbor
envious contemptuous aloof
weird boring really boring
mousy pugnacious intellectual
effeminate macho “Hey, whatever”
proudly gay secretly gay “Hey, whatever”
bad credit maxed-out credit always pays on time
is broke feels broke was broke
goes jogging lifts weights believes in “free” weights
visits museums visits bars visits state capitals
drinks wine drinks beer “Hey, whatever”
smokes weed smokes cigars smokes anything
likes Starbucks likes Chik-fil-A likes food competition
watches “Daily Show” watches “Swamp Loggers” watches “Meet the Press”
bad at math bad at art bad at getting dates
fears the NSA is spying knows the NSA is spying is spying on the NSA
wants legalized drugs wants legalized religion wants legalized everything
licentiously merry licensed to carry likes Dave Barry
hates conservatives hates liberals disapproves of everyone
…Come to think of it, maybe mutual understanding really is a pipe dream…