Friday, February 14, 2014

Who is Ignorant?

A couple years ago, Nicholas Kristoff, a liberal writer for The New York Times, observed that conservatives know the left better than liberals know the right:
One academic study asked 2,000 Americans to fill out questionnaires about moral questions. In some cases, they were asked to fill them out as they thought a “typical liberal” or a “typical conservative” would respond. 
Moderates and conservatives were adept at guessing how liberals would answer questions. Liberals, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal,” were least able to put themselves in the minds of their adversaries and guess how conservatives would answer.
He then candidly confessed that he needed the help of a book to “demystify the right.” So why is it that conservatives understand liberals better than the reverse?

Part of the reason is that leftism dominates society, from early education through the university, on TV, on most news networks, and in Hollywood. In fact, with regard to higher education, sociologist Diane Muntz has found that “those with the highest level of education have the least exposure to those with conflicting points of view.”

Indeed it is quite possible for one to go through life and rarely, if ever, confront serious conservative arguments, though it is not uncommon to hear left-wing characterizations of right-wing points of view.

Jonathan Haidt, a University of Virginia psychology professor and former liberal, recently discussed his move rightward with talk show host Dennis Prager. At one point on the program, Haidt attributed his shift in ideology (he says he’s now a moderate) to the fact that he did not encounter good conservative ideas until he was in his 40s, when researching for his book, The Righteous Mind.

Yet, given the ubiquity of leftism throughout culture, insulating oneself from left-wing ideas today is virtually impossible.

The other part of the explanation is that the left often simply feels no need to try to comprehend the right. As Paul Krugman, arguably the most influential left-wing columnist in the country, revealingly boasted, “Some have asked if there aren’t conservative sites I read regularly. Well, no. I will read anything I’ve been informed about that’s either interesting or revealing; but I don’t know of any economics or politics sites on that side that regularly provide analysis or information I need to take seriously.”

Why no need to take the right seriously? Because the left regularly demonizes the right as sexist, intolerant, bigoted, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and Islamophobic, among other epithets. And who cares to understand the ideas of people who are such terrible things? Thus, such demonization reinforces insulation.

The same cannot be said of the right. Yes, there is some demonization—accusing the left of “socialism,” for instance—but it is neither as common nor as vicious. After all, society does not tolerate racists and bigots, but it does tolerate socialists (consider how many openly socialist professors teach in universities).

And that is why conservatives know the left better than liberals know the right.

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