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Better Angels
Blue Said, Red Said

Why conservatives and liberals don’t talk to each other so good.

Published on: March 7, 2018
David Blankenhorn is president of Better Angels, a citizen’s initiative aimed at reducing polarization. Follow him on Twitter. For suggested wording and for help in thinking about this topic, the author is particularly grateful to Bill Doherty and April Lawson.
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  • D4x
  • ვეფხისტყაოსანი

    Allow me to help you with your wrinkles:

    1. While economics and religion have more than their share of quacks and mountebanks, one must go to the social sciences to find the motherlode of nonsense. Follow @RealPeerReview on Twitter for innumerable examples — or simply search for the social sciences’ reproducibility problem. But because the social sciences lack rigor, it is easy for a practitioner to ensure that the results of his research will always match his presuppositions. Since >95% of social scientists are deeply dyed Blues, it’s hardly surprising that they prefer social science and the Reds, economics and religion.

    2. Of course the Blues have a highly technical vocabulary. The politically correct language of social justice demands it: cisgender, transgender, genderqueer, differently abled, temporarily sighted, etc., etc., ad nauseum. If one is Blue, one must search always for euphemisms to describe aspects of reality that don’t fit the SJW model. Reds believe in plain speaking and accurate descriptions of the world. This contrast is sharpest in the two sides’ approaches to discussing Islamic terrorism. Note, by the way, that “social justice” is neither: It envisions society as an endless war of group against group — which is hardly social — and metes out justice entirely according to one’s group memberships — which is hardly the sort of justice the Western world has been working toward for centuries.

    3. My experience of speaking with folks from both sides is that the Red world accurately understands Blue arguments — after all, most Reds have been to school, and almost all American schools are thoroughly Blue. Blues will never encounter a Red argument in a classroom, except as a throwaway joke. So they have no way of understanding them and cannot argue against them. This is why the primary (indeed, only) model of Red argumentation is ridicule, as seen most notably on late-night TV and Twitter.

    • D4x

      Blues can’t understand Wal-Mart 🙂

    • Diana

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  • Anthony

    “…It permits us (wittingly or unwittingly) to use language for the dubious purpose of virtue signaling and in-group bonding….” (David Blankenhorn)

  • Joe Eagar

    David, I think you’re being overly optimistic. Reds and blues speak in different ways because otherwise they can’t deny how much they hate each other. The blues are especially bitter after being in the cultural minority for so long. When they win in politics they’ve done so as junior partners in a partisan coalition. They hate that.

    I don’t think there’s an easy way out. Blue and reds hate each other for perfectly rational reasons; they value different things and have different life preferences. They need a reason to make the ongoing emotional sacrifice of tolerating each other. Otherwise the U.S. is headed towards a Soviet-style crack up.

  • StudentZ

    A few questions:

    1. Why not just use Democrats and Republicans instead of blues and reds? Those populations are easier to define and you could use statistical data to analyze common trends among members of each group (instead of relying on personal observations).

    2. Why reinforce stereotypes with limited (and potentially inaccurate) generalizations that ignore differences within the two groups?

    3. At what point does each new article about our differences counterproductively solidify and exacerbate those differences?

    4. Do our differences actually matter or is the ideological divide superficial? For example, how many voters say, “I am voting for candidate A because he wants to implement policies B, C, and D, which, according to sources E, F, and G, could tackle problems H, I, and J more effectively than candidate K’s respective policies”? Are such voters as inclined to hate someone from K’s party for claiming his policies have merit? Are we debating real issues or simply reiterating simplified arguments that have no relevance in policy makers’ decisions?

    5. How do we deal with candidates or members of either party when they are wrong? Do we acknowledge that possibility at all, or is everything subjective? Is there no objective reality or objective decision-making involved? Should we be acknowledging views that have been popularly discredited or invalidated simply because they are commonly held? Should we treat all opinions as if they are of equal merit? If not, how do we judge ideas and at what point does giving equal attention to a less informed opinion become unfair to those who have invested time and effort learning about a given subject?

  • FriendlyGoat

    In order for a conservative to be respected by other conservatives, he or she must believe (or at least play that he or she believes) all or almost all of the following:

    1) High-end tax cuts create living-wage jobs on a net basis
    2) The militia mention in the Second Amendment has no meaning or relevance to the 21st Century
    3) Creationism as described by religion is a theory at least equally viable with evolutionary theory
    4) Abortion is a choice which women should not have in most (maybe all) circumstances
    5) Homosexuality is either sin or mental illness and should not be accommodated by legal marriage
    6) Large numbers of illegal votes are being cast in American elections and must be stopped by making it more inconvenient for people to register and cast votes in elections—-including that there is “no problem” with dissuading thousands of legal votes with the hurdles designed to prevent even one illegal vote.
    7) There is little to no likelihood that fossil fuels could be causing any detrimental climate change.
    8) The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is an example of big government overreach which should be terminated
    10) The Ten Commandments are, in fact, the foundation of the American legal system
    11) Government should just “get out of health care and health care financing”
    12) Unions are generally bad and should be discouraged (except for law enforcement and firefighting groups)
    13) There is more truth to be found at Church than in the sum of psychology, sociology, and anthropology at any university
    14) Citizens United was a good decision by the Supreme Court
    15) Corporations should have the exact same speech rights as provided to citizens in the First Amendment, because corporations of any kind are just associations of people
    16) Religious freedom is more important than laws designed to prevent discrimination
    17) Social Security and Medicare are unsustainable and we must do “entitlement reform” without telling voters that it will all be cuts

    Don’t take my word for it. Ask any conservative politician how many of these he or she can cross or waffle on if pressed at the old Republican Town Hall meeting. Meanwhile, lefties are justifiably blowing the Bullsh*t Whistle, and are routinely accused of having TDS if we do. Hell yes, the communications well is poisoned.

    • Anthony

      When you have an opportunity read this: https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/03/why-the-hell-are-we-standing-down/ Not enough was done and long-term interest of country was not given priority obviously, where it could have made a difference (but read it and conclude for yourself).

      • FriendlyGoat

        I conclude that not enough was done, and that it wasn’t done because a 1) Obama believed Clinton would win, and 2) That he could possibly CAUSE Clinton to lose if the Trump supporters had any visible fuel to gin up some story that Obama, himself, was interfering in the election using American intelligence agencies and such.

        • Anthony

          Plausible and reasonable but still the nation was denied crucial electoral interference information because “leaders” were both indecisive and partisan interested (McConnell/Ryan). How do the “Patriots” address this one sans Obama hatred.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Depends on how we are defining “Patriots” here. Some realizations are in order. First of all, the Russians deployed messaging similar to what our own Republicans are willing to deploy on any day. Our main vulnerability to that Russian messaging was social media which is out of control—–literally, no control, even by those who own it. The blame for the election results is on those who believed bad messaging, most particularly, Church.
            The “Russian thing” has no legs unless and until the irrefutable collusion is proven between American conservatives and operators in other nations. May still happen. May not.

            But, our political problem is rooted in who is stupid enough to believe what. We have to work on our own voters.

          • Anthony

            1) The Patriot label was my failed attempt at irony – those on our right side so ostensibly contemptible of behavior bordering on treason.

            2) Russians (FSB, former KGB operatives, Moscow, etc.) do what has been done to them (by us) and what has been historically utilized in geopolitical power engagements. The tactics, strategies, methods, etc. are not Republican (in the party sense) nor Russian exclusive – instruments have only been enhanced by digital development.

            3) There is no actual blame inferred or implied; the results identify themselves – fool me once shame on you; fool me twice (or more) shame on me. When You know better, then you ought to do better.

            4) Whether the Russian Thing (as you label it) has legs or not the reality is that conspiracy exists. Now, Mueller may evidence such but that fact remains ahead of us.

            5) Humans (our voters) do what we humans do: try to live and adjust our lives between the ordinary/routine experiences of daily life and the occasional diversion (entertainment) that makes the routine less boring. The work ought to be de rigueur.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I thought you might be speaking of the “Patriots” with irony, but wasn’t sure. We have those “Patriots” of whom you speak and then there is such a thing as those real “Patriots” we slightly lack in numbers these days.

            Mueller may surprise us yet with smoke leading to an actual fire. Getting the government of this country to respond appropriately to any such thing after it is identified may be more uphill than anyone thinks, though.

          • Anthony

            Yeah, though I was using irony initially, I wrote to a real patriot. Additionally, Mueller grew up like you – thus far he’s exhibited preference for country over individual glory – but that is said about him by those who know him best.

  • Jim__L

    “blues, particularly in recent decades, have become significantly more
    friendly than reds to explanatory models rooted in psychology and the
    other social sciences.”

    Nonsense. See: Jordan Peterson, who seems to be the only psychologist for a couple of centuries (or maybe, ever) who has benefited from his (extensive) education.

    “blue vocabulary strikes me as more specialized, with a longer list of technical terms. Again, why this is so, I’m not sure.”

    Easy. It’s because Blues speak mostly academic jargon. The farther you are from the ivory tower of academia and the more attached you are to reality, the less jargon you use.

    “Surely feeding on this meat all day every day deepens our problem.”

    Good observation.

    “In my experience, blues tend to understand their partisan dialect as
    mainly an expression of expertise, while reds tend to understand theirs
    as mainly a form of plain speaking.”

    Another good observation, although I’m not sure calling it a “dialect” leads to any kind of epiphany. Words are preferentially chosen to express thoughts, and value judgements are attached to those words because these are value-related discussions.

    Editorials have always trafficked in these sorts of value-related discussions. The spread of the editorial page onto the news pages occurred in the wake of Watergate, as Leftists looked to journalism as the field of honor of their heroes who took down a Conservative president. To these cubs reporters, taking Nixon down was the important part; curiosity, reporting facts, and neutrality just weren’t the point anymore.

    So, the media had a Leftward trend in the 80’s as these cubs grew up, and took a hard Left as they began to get into positions of power. Please note, this was in the 80’s and early 90’s; Fox News sprang up as a response to this trend in CNN (the “Clinton News Network”.) Things got more balanced, I suppose, when another hippo perched itself on the other side of the see-saw, but it had predictable effects the structural integrity of the center.

    And that’s how we got into this mess. How we get out? I like the idea of returning to (more) objective, (more) unbiased language, but in a world where The American Interest and Walter Russell Mead parted ways, where are we going to see that?

    Look, Conservatives base our worldview on observations we’ve made of our own personal lives (the good and the bad), as well as the collected, time-tested observations and experience of (literally) millennia of thinkers and observers before us. (Unless you’re willing to call that collection the Inspired Word of God, which I wouldn’t dispute.)

    Social “sciences” have always been notoriously squishy in terms of the highly interpretive nature of their data. How can it be otherwise? People are complex beasts — messy histories, deep and complex poems, scatterings of seemingly unrelated proverbs — basically everything kind of thing you find in the Bible, may be the only way to approach doing justice to the Truth, whether you capitalize it or not.

    The Classicists, the Romantics, the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Thomists, philosophers, sages, priests of varying types all have it more right than the Left can ever know.

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