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'Niceguy' Eddie

Political Talk Show Host and Internet Radio Personality. My show, In My Humble Opinion, aired on RainbowRadio from 2015-2017.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How Conservatives Think (~part 2)

A looong while back, I penned this piece pointing out what I thought was the central flaw in HOW Conservatives think. Not WHAT they think, mind you - because it's not like I always agree with Liberals anyway - but HOW they think and HOW the reach their positions and HOW they defend them. Because whether I disagree with them or not, I find HOW they think to be completely offensive, intellectually.

Before I argued that Liberals form their positions based on evidence, while Conservative form their positions and then evaluate any and all evidence accordingly. I still stand by that, but it's not really the ROOT of the problem. Nor is it really the difference in how Conservatives and Liberals think, at their cores. The biggest difference between is that Liberals have no sacred, dogmatic assumptions.

Conservatives go into every debate, and try to solve every problem, starting out with a sacred set of assumption. Tenets that they believe to be both sacred and self evident and that they simply CAN'T examine, or challenged in ANY WAY. These are things like...

1) Raising Taxes is always bad, lowering taxes is always good.
2) Increase [non-Defense] Spending and/or "Growing the Government" is always bad.
3) Christianity is always good, and can do no wrong, on the virtue of its Christianity.
4) America is always good, and can do no wrong, on the virtue of its being American.

This list is hardly exhaustive, but I think you get the idea. And the Conservative would likely look at that list and say, "Yeah, so? What's wrong with that?"

The then go on to ASSUME that the Liberal position MUST THEREFORE be the opposite. That...

1) Liberals want to raise taxes.
2) Liberals want to grow the Government
3) Liberals hate Christianity
4) Liberals hate America

The problem here, and where the conservative errs is that it's not the overall sentiment of the statement that we necessary disagree on: It's the "ALWAYS" part. It's in the assumption that these tenets can NEVER be challenged and NEVER be violated no matter what the situation or problem might call for! This is evidence of the "black and white" thinking that they engage in. They decide something is either ALL GOOD or ALL BAD and then never question or examine that assumption.

To the liberal, there ARE NO "sacred, dogmatic assumptions." The Liberal knows that just about EVERYTHING is both good AND bad. EVEYTHING has positives and negatives. NOTHING is black OR white. Some things are pretty dark grey, and somethings are a damned light shade of eggshell, but nothing is INHERENTLY good or bad to a liberal. Everything, every possible solution to a problem, is always on the table.

That's why (as I've been trying to hammer into Floyd's think, empty head these past couple days over on MMFA) Liberals, right or wrong, cannot be called "sheep." (Or "sheeple" as he tried tried to call [just] me, even though that would be plural.) We can be WRONG: I've disagreed with other Liberals right here on this very blog! And if two Liberals disagree, which happens ALL THE TIME, at least ONE of them has to be wrong! (OK, yeah, I know: not necessarily. Just think like a conservative for a moment.) So we can be WRONG. But in being wrong, we cannot be SHEEP. Because we don't follow a prescribed dogma. If someone were to ask me for something all liberals believe, I wouldn't have the slightest idea what to tell them, other than, "Make no assumptions, nothing is above examination or questions." There simply IS no other set of assumptions that a Liberal uses when forming his position. Evidence of this is the fact that Republicans almost alwasy vote in lockstep with each other, while the Democrats can't even order lunch without it looking like an excersise in herding cats.  So who's the sheep?  The ones who are always unified or the ones who are always bickering?

And THAT'S really where I think we need to attack the conservative mindset and where I think we might actually (eventually) WIN. Because you're not going to change WHAT people think very easily right now. They're just too misinformed, and too locked into their dogmatic world view.  But if you can change HOW they think - IOW: If you can get them to ACTUALLY think; to throw away their sacred dogmatic assumptions, to throw away the "black or white" view of the world, and get them to recognize that EVERYTHING has positives and negatives and that where the REAL debate is is over how we PRORITIZE our judgments, how we VALUE the various positive and negatives... If you can get them to do that... Shit, you've turned them into a liberal, right then and there, even if they don't even change their position!

And THAT is how I wish we were debating - not form the point of view of assuming mutually exclusive, binding assumptions - they way THEY want to argue, but from an AGREED upon set of FACTS - that tall tings have positive and negatice - and from the POV of prioritizing our various agendas and issues. If we could do THAT, then progress will be made. Because once people start question that which they used to take as sacred, it is inevitable that SOME of their positions - which were based upon little other than these sacred dogmatic assumptions - will start to change as well.

As I said in my previous post, WHAT they think is not nearly as frustrating or as damaging as HOW they think. (Or really... the fact that they DON'T.)


  1. There are a few ways of looking at this. It seems too imprecise to say that liberals don't work from dogmatic assumptions--that sounds as if liberals don't believe in anything at all. Liberal beliefs are humanistic. People-centric. Here's an essay on liberalism that, in the course of refuting the modern American "Libertarian" claim on the concept, manages to ably offer a general outline of liberal beliefs that's still good today:
    Broadly stated, liberals, in the beginning, argued that people agree to enter into societies and to build institutions in order to achieve certain ends, and they perpetually challenge institutions that don't serve people.

    Conservatives, on the other hand, put all their faith in established institutions, be it religion, capitalism, their odd notions of "America," of "morality," of "tradition," etc. Conservatism is centered on these artificially created institutions, rather than on people. Conservatives stand against challenges to those institutions--the kind of challenges liberals make all the time.

    There are, of course, a million ways to challenge an established institution, but only one basis for its defense (that it's worth keeping around, with as little change as possible). That's why you're correct about liberals being hilariously mislabeled "sheep" by conservatives (who, by and large, are sheep).

  2. Classic,

    I think you've put it perfectly. And it certainly is NOT true that Liberals have no principles or beliefs, not that they completely pragmatic (which can easily be morphed into a word I notice you like a lot: "machiavellian." LOL) I think you've got it right: LIberals are HUMAN-CENTRIC.

    The way I tried to contrast it here was to look at the degree of DOGMA involved in each school of thought. Global Warming might be another good example: Liberals don't buy into the AGW hypotheise becasue of a dogmatic hatred of oil & coal. We buy into it because that's what the evidence supports. (And we treat oil and coal accordingly.) If the world's scientists had a different conclusion tomorrow? We'd dump AGW and dump being anti-oil/coal and start going after the new culprit. But the conservatives have the DOGMATIC method of thinking which causes them to ONLY ACCEPT science when it support the Dogma. Like you said: They stand against chellenging the established institutions. (The dogma.) Where as, to you and me, if those institutions were worth a damn, it is self-evident to us that they should be able to withstand some scrutiny! Or: if the evidence doesn't support the position, you should throw out the position, not the evidence!

    I know of now better way to express how I feel about it than: "WHAT they think is not nearly as wrong as HOW they think."

    Thanks for your comment. Very interesting essay, BTW.

  3. I think you're missing a huge component in conservative thinking, Eddie, and that is emotion. It's not clear whether it's due to nature or nurture, but liberals place a higher value on rationality than conservatives do. To us, W's "thinking with his gut" was and is an absurdity. Not to his base. If conservatives held empirical evidence in as high a regard as we do, Glen Beck would be an unknown. Day after day he trumpets theories and conclusions which he freely admits are not fact-based, but "feel right." His followers lap this up, and we think they're idiots. (He does, too, but that's another story.)
    You're not going to get them to "throw away their sacred dogmas," because those dogmas are basic to their world view and their view of themselves. They will resist you to the death (Second Amendment Remedies, anyone?), because they feel that your "moral relativity" is immoral. You see, they have the "courage of their convictions," and you don't. Never mind that it often takes more courage to question your convictions (BTW if you've never seen Decision Before Dawn, you should. Netflix has it.) than to stand by them. Conservatives' dominant emotion seems to be fear, and they rally round their symbols, the flag, the cross, etc, like the troops around Custer. And they're quite comfortable with cognitive dissonance. How else could they simultaneously worship the "Founding Fathers," and want to roll back The Enlightenment, which gave said rebels the theories on which our exceptional (in the De Toqueville meaning) country is based?

    Now I'm going to track down that url that CL posted. I'm glad to see someone else, whose intellect I respect, is as computer illiterate as I am. Or perhaps we're not. Is there or is there not a way to make a link when we paste an url into a comment on this site?

  4. Con,

    "Liberals place a higher value on rationality than conservatives do."

    Now... I agree with this 100%. But howmany times have we heard the "conventional wisdom" staet otherwise? What's the stereotype?: That Conservative are all tough and hardy, and liberals are all a bungh of crying tree-huggers. Now... we both know that's nonsense, but where does that COME FROM?!

    I'm with you all the way on the rest of it... And for teh life of me I'll just never understand these people! How can anyone THINK like that?!

    Thanks for your comment.