I’ve observed something. When I argue with hard line conservatives I can reach a level of frustration that is unparalleled. It can feel as if a large, gray mass of volcanic rock is growing in my sensory cortex . It is the exasperated resignation that I remember as a child on the playground when someone stuck their tongue out at me and whined, “I know you are but what am I?”
It can be like trying to get directions in a foreign country where no one shares a common language, and, in fact, one of us is mute and the other is blind.
But, I’ve noticed something about my conservative foes. Even when the argument degenerates into condescension, insults, or goes completely off point, they are always willing to keep the debate going. They’ll gladly jump in at the next opportunity, too. In fact, I’ve never heard one of them say, “Go away! I can’t deal with you anymore!”
Not so true with liberals. I’ve even been the liberal to banish some conservatives from my discourses and I’ve been banished myself by other liberals in those times when we don’t see eye to eye on an issue.
Why is this? Or is this even true? I asked some liberal friends and, coincidentally, they couldn’t agree. One was immediately defensive: “Conservatives are much worse!”
Another acquiesced: “Yeah, that kind of seems true.”
Another clarified: “It’s pointless to argue with most conservatives because they’re not interested in the truth, but when you argue with a liberal, well, we don’t like that. We kind of expect you to agree.”
I offered a conciliatory observation to placate the liberals who were now angry that I would suggest that they were less tolerant: “Conservatives are quicker to use insults.”
“You ‘libs,’” a conservative wrote, “want a Nanny State, because you don’t want to work.” This was his opening salvo to say “hello” and not even from the culmination of an argument.
Certainly, liberals use insults, as well, but I’ve been in plenty of arguments and usually it’s the conservative who draws first blood with the personal jab to discredit their opponent.
(I posted on this awhile back after a rather contentious debate: http://garyhasissues.com/?p=3275)
I went a little deeper and found a study from 2008 in the journal “Nature Neuroscience.” It concerned research that found that these differences in thinking may be traceable to brain differences. A New York University neuroscientist conducted an experiment on participants who ranked themselves on a scale ranging from Very Liberal to Very Conservative.
With sensors attached to their skulls, they played a computer game requiring them to press a button as fast as they could when a certain shape flashed on their screen. When a different shape randomly appeared, however, they were not supposed to hit the button.
Most made mistakes and hit their button when they weren’t supposed to, but, with each mistake, the researchers recorded a pulse coming from a region of the brain that signals the presence of conflicting information as if their brains were saying, “Oops—I meant to do one thing, but I did another.”
Results showed that the more liberal a participant claimed to be, the greater the “Oops” brain signal and the fewer the number of mistakes made. The researchers concluded that the “liberal’s brains were more sensitive to how accurate their ongoing responses were, and were more likely to adapt to changing demands.
Conservative brains, on the other hand, might be better equipped for tasks that require a more fixed response style.”
How would this apply to the Liberal Dismissal Syndrome that I’ve personally encountered?
Here’s my take: Liberals don’t like to be wrong. They may adapt more easily to changing circumstances, leading to fewer mistakes, but that also leads to intolerance for what they perceive as mistakes. Because the critical aspects of their thinking are heightened that leaves them with a lesser capacity for a pit fight. To conservatives, being correct isn’t as relevant as it is to outlast the conflict; confrontation is simply a byproduct of existence.
I could be wrong (although I don’t like to be) and clearly this is just a superficial analysis of the ideological conflict, but I also believe that from some reflection on how we argue, and think, that we might draw some personal conclusions that could bring both sides closer together.
We may never hug, but, perhaps an understanding of our different ways of thinking could lead us toward more moderate thinking, and, perhaps, create a breeding ground (as it has in the past) for better cooperation, better politics…and fewer banishments.
“Oops! I wasn’t supposed to hit that button!”