Tuesday, March 30, 2010
The Liberal Mystery
Everyone eats the same fruit. But it tastes different to everyone.
IT MUST BE EASTER SEASON. Helen Smith (wife of InstaPundit) has an interesting essay up today at Pajamas Media. The lengthy title is an honest question: "How Should Conservatives Deal with the Left’s Disrespect and Lack of Empathy?"
She does a good job of establishing the basis of her argument.
Jonathan Haidt, a professor at the University of Virginia and author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, found that conservatives could more readily put themselves in the shoes of liberals and understand morally where they were coming from. The reverse was not true of liberals. They have little understanding of those with opposing views to their own. As Haidt states:
"I think of liberals as colorblind,” he says in a hushed tone that conveys the quiet intensity of a low-key crusader. “We have finely tuned sensors for harm and injustice but are blind to other moral dimensions. Look at the way the word ‘wall’ is used in liberal discourse. It’s almost always related to the idea that we have to knock them down.”
Why are liberals unable to sympathize with conservatives? I offer three possibilities.
The first one's a pip:
I often wonder if this “blind spot” for conservatives is similar to the psychopath who cannot comprehend the morality of those who are “normal.” At the present time, there is no known cure for treating the psychopath. Trying to get someone on the left to see where a conservative is coming from may be as difficult as trying to change the mind of a psychopath. Perhaps that will happen one day.
I am not saying here that liberals are psychopaths, for this would be incorrect for the most part.
Darn. Just when she was building up some promising momentum...
But seriously, she's right to register the disclaimer. Liberals are not psychopaths. I'm sure Dr. Smith could explain, if it suited her purpose, the real defining characteristic of psychopaths, which is certainly not that they "cannot comprehend the morality of those who are 'normal.'" It's rather that they fundamentally lack emotions of any kind. The clever ones can comprehend morality just fine; they just don't experience it themselves. They are driven by their appetites instead, which can be powerful indeed but are not the same thing as emotions. For example, they are capable of manifesting rage, but in their case it's not an explosion of outrage, the sense of being wronged. It's a simpler thing altogether, the fight part of the fight-or-flight response uninhibited by mitigating moral emotions. Hurt them or threaten them and they have no internal governor to prevent them from killing you. The "Rage to Live" is a nice sounding phrase, but it's also an outstanding description of the psychopath.
Why would Dr. Smith misrepresent a definition her professional training as a psychologist guarantees us she knows? The clue comes later in her essay:
Finally, and my third possibility, is it could be lack of education that allows the left to lack empathy. They are not exposed to right-leaning and libertarian ideas. For example, how many classes at school are teaching about the ideas of Hayek, Friedman, and Rand? If kids grow up without this information, they may turn into adults who lack the ability to understand other points of view.
This part of her argument is, of course, facile and empty. The left's unremitting focus on social justice and diversity are proofs that they are obsessed with other points of view, even to the point of denying their own in favor of every bomb-throwing minority that might have a grudge against their own culture and family tradition. The only interesting thing about Smith's point is the insistence on libertarians as part of the mix, with specific reference to Ayn Rand, who may be popular now, but she's popular for the plot of her most famous novel -- the able bailing out of a system intent on parastically sucking them dry -- not for her actual philosophy, which is a kind of psychopathy.
That's why seminal modern conservatives like William F. Buckley (not mentioned by Smith) went out of their way to read Ayn Rand out of the conservative movement. Ironically, it's also why so many traditionally raised Christians read, love, and applaud Rand without recognizing that the biography of their fountainhead bears a closer resemblance to that of Madalyn Murray O'Hair than, say, Clare Booth Luce, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, or Sarah Palin. They assume the existence of a basic human empathy that is nowhere to be found in Rand's writings, and so they find it easy to look past her atheism as if it were a kind of social tic. It isn't.
This is also why Dr. Smith's essay ultimately comes up short. It's like a movie with a great first act, a dud second, and a nonexistent third. She asks a great question, but she has in the end no answers. Which suggests that she has misunderstood the parameters of her own question.
I can correct that for you in a way that explains why Dr. Smith was destined to fail in her essay. I'm not being conceited here. The answer is obvious. So obvious that only smart people could miss it.
The United States is a Christian nation. Western civilization is a by-product of Christian consciousness. The real difference between conservatives and liberals has to do not with morality, per se, but the loss of faith in Christ himself.
Liberals are believers in Christian morality who can no longer bring themselves to believe in personal salvation. This is the explanation of their extraordinarily vindictive and hateful bile. They are all jilted lovers. (Why they excuse every manifestation of personal depravity in themselves and celebrate their politicial morality instead. "Teddy Kennedy was a GOOD man..." Really?) They believe in Christ's message but they hate Christ because he isn't there, didn't exist, didn't rise from the dead, didn't save them. It's that simple. Every dreaded liberal apocalypse from nuclear Armageddon to global warming is just one more variation on original sin. But for them, the new Adam never came and so they wait, like Noah at the high-tech helm of his impossible ark, for the annihiliating rains to come.
Interestingly, this is also the explanation of the rise of a kind of rigid fundamentalism that eschews the philosophy of Christianity in favor of Jesus as a kind of dashboard totem. I'm saved. You're not. End of story. The liberals think they're reacting to a simple-minded version of the faith they've graduated from in their infinite wisdom, but the truth is they're responsible for the bogeyman they see in every rural corner of a country they've learned to loathe. As they grew rigid and progressively more self-destructive, fundamentalism became the scar tissue of the common folk, a way of protecting themselves against the soul death created by doubt.
Everything else that's happened in the last hundred or so years flows from this elementary observation. Liberals are the people who became their own version of Christ to save the sinners from themselves. Socialism, fascism, communism are all attempts by human pretenders to the throne of Christ to fill what they perceive as a vaccuum. Their mistakes are all attributable to the fact that men and committees and political parties are no substitute for Christ. Show me a liberal, a leftist, a progressive, etc, and I'll show you someone who doesn't really believe, in his heart of hearts, in the salvation offered by Jesus Christ. Their hatred for the believers who oppose them is an irrational fury they cannot contain.
Conservatives are the people who choose to believe in the Christ, as either a human-divine superposition or a parable good enough to be the organizing principle of their lives. Again, it's that simple. They're the non-jilted lovers. Yes, they're also sinners, as we all are, but they accept that. They also accept that things like poverty, disease, misfortune, endless other awful things are inherent in life itself and not the fault of insufficient government control. That's why the most rigidly braindead of them tithe to their churches.
Men who do not believe in God nevertheless feel the need of God and seek to become God or one of his factotums. They're the danger. Their greatest fear is the lack of belief in their own Godhood. That's why they turn ugly, controlling, violent, and murderous. But they're all still Christians. That's why they keep trying to expand their power. Their awful, debilitating secret is that there's no Christ and so they have to fill in for him.
How should conservatives deal with the left's disrespect and lack of empathy? By spanking their ass. Like a disappointed Dad. Until it gets so hot and red they call out to God to make it stop. That's how you learn there are consequences for personal choices that can only be called, uh, poor.