Liberals are not insane, as many conservatives believe. Most liberals (I am not speaking here of the political or intellectual class) are ordinary human beings pursuing everyday human lives -- just like the rest of us. Here is a brief summary of why most liberals are liberal and what we can do to help at least some of them understand conservative thought:
1) Indoctrination, not education
Polls consistently find that over 70% of college professors identify themselves as liberal. The percentage of liberal faculty members is even higher if one removes responses from those teaching the "hard" sciences. In our prestigious universities, the figure approaches 90%. Both of these reported percentages are probably lower than the real figures [i].
The fact is that America's universities and colleges are no longer institutions that offer their students various political, social, and economic perspectives. There is no exploration of competing concepts, no real debate. Students are not taught how to think, but what to think. Our universities are indoctrination camps (and our public primary and secondary education systems are not much better) -- not campuses for learning and critical discussion.
Almost all of the students who emerge from these indoctrination camps have attended, for years, classes based upon moral, scientific, and epistemological relativism [ii]. Many of those students have never seriously considered, or even been exposed to, alternatives to the propaganda they receive during school. A person cannot change from position L to position C if that person doesn't know that position C is an alternative -- or if the student has been brainwashed into thinking that "C" stands for greed, racism, homophobia, etc. Yet the hard truth is that conservatives far outnumber liberals in America. It is our fault that we have allowed our educational systems to become indoctrination camps run by the left.
2) Imagination, not intelligence (or possibility, not probability)
One of the most egregious errors that our educational systems dish out, and that the students ingest, is that the imagination is more important than the intellect (or, from a slightly different angle, that possibility is more important than probability). In The Passions of the Soul, Descartes contended that the passion of imagination should be used to employ newly discovered mathematical principles (essentially what is now the calculus) and the scientific method to rule the intellect [iii]. Today's intellectual elites agree with Descartes that the imagination (and, thus, the possible) is more important than reason (and the probable). For instance, a favorite philosopher of intellectual left, Friedrich Nietzsche, claimed, "Art is worth more than truth" [iv].
Here is an extreme (but typical) example of how far out of hand this thinking has gotten in our culture: Many programs that deal with absurd legends on the Discovery, History, and various "science" channels will close the episode by playing spooky music while the narrator says something like this:
Even though we still lack hard evidence, the search for Bigfoot goes on. [Narrator's sonorous voice becomes deadly serious.] Too many questions remain unanswered. And no one can deny that the existence of Sasquatch is ... [momentary pause during musical crescendo] ... possible. [End scary music. Roll credits.]
This approach is banal, but it keeps the viewers coming back to see the next production on Bigfoot that, once again, proves nothing. These programs demonstrate that in our popular culture, imagination is more important than rational thought and possibility is held higher than probability.
Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth is the prime example of (bad) art masquerading as the truth. The movie is filled with factual errors and outright lies. But these distortions count for little in a society where "art is worth more than truth." (Commence creepy music. Roll credits. Stay tuned [v]!)
In making real-life decisions, probability is much more important than possibility. It is possible that I might win the lottery if I buy a ticket. It is more than 99.999% probable that I will not. Life tutors us in this truth -- this is one of the reasons why people tend to become more conservative as they grow older.
Because of our educational system, most liberals are never taught this basic fact of life. It is part of our job to help our liberal friends understand the simple and crucial truth: Just because something is possible does not make it probable.
3) Sympathy, not empathy
Liberals tend to be sympathetic. But sympathy is not empathy. Sympathy is a product of the imagination. Empathy is a result of knowledge acquired through personal experience. Because liberals tend to be sympathetic rather than empathetic, they see other people from two distorted (and imaginary) points of view:
First, liberals tend to see those for whom they have sympathy as victims. This is a natural (though irrational) way of perceiving those who are less fortunate -- or have an unconventional lifestyle. If I have not had the experience of being poor, then I cannot understand the causes of any particular poor person's poverty. I can imagine some causes, pity those who are destitute, desire to act to end my imaginary causes, and quell my sympathetic feelings of guilt. Since sympathy comes from what I imagine to be true (not from what I know to be true), I could be wrong. My "cure" for poverty could be worse than the disease.
Second, liberals tend to view people as groups or causes -- not as individuals. Because sympathy is based in the imagination instead of on experience, the poor are not seen as distinctive human beings -- rather the poor are viewed as a class. The same is true of other categories like homosexuals, women, illegal immigrants, etc. Imaginative sympathy distracts us from seeing the other (any other) person as a unique human being.
Empathy develops as a person matures. It is a visceral and legitimate emotion. We empathize with the individual (not with a make-believe category of people). Empathy drives us to specifically address a problem in the life of someone who needs our help. And we address the problem knowing something about it.
Many liberals are empathetic. But most of them do not or, because of their education and ideology, cannot differentiate between sympathy and empathy. A man who was born in poverty and later becomes successful has some idea of when a particular needy individual requires practical advice or a loan -- rather than a gift of money. The successful man is able to use his accumulated knowledge and/or wealth to specifically address a poor person's problems. The empathetic person knows the difference between a handout and a hand up.
If liberals were consistent in their ideology, they would voluntarily give their extra income to the government. Liberals, who really believe government can eliminate poverty, manage health care, save peoples' houses, etc., should be putting their money where their sympathy is.
But overwhelmingly they don't. Deep down, some liberals get it. The extra ten bucks in a liberal's wallet is better-spent on a friend who needs gasoline to get to work than donated to the DOE's green energy programs. Another of our tasks as conservatives is to explain to our liberal acquaintances what some of them already understand: Sympathy is not empathy.
4) Control, not freedom
As I have discussed at length in a couple of other articles, liberals generally prefer an outside power (the government) to fix those difficulties in life that they cannot personally control. I have used the desire of liberals to establish universal health care -- but not universal lawn care -- as an example.
When we put these four principles together, we begin to see a familiar pattern. The mindset of ordinary liberals begins with indoctrination. The world is primarily viewed through the imagination. Liberals favor sympathy over empathy and embrace possibility rather than probability. Liberals long for a utopia, or perfect world, and believe that some greater power (the government) can solve problems outside of their personal control.
Notice how similar the liberal mindset is to the belief systems of the pious -- with a crucial difference: Members of the various religions accept the fact that many of their theological principles are based upon belief. Knowledgeable practitioners of most religious sects willingly admit that the acceptance of a particular dogma is, in the final analysis, a matter of faith. This is why the catechism and the various professions of many denominations feature the words "We [or "I"] believe ..."
Liberal thought parallels religious belief -- except liberals do not understand (or are loath to admit) that their thought processes are, in effect, grounded in faith.
Let's reconsider an example given above. Instead of offering a friend ten dollars for gasoline, the liberal gives his "friend" a lecture on the evils of carbon dioxide, tells his associate to walk or ride a bike the thirty miles to work, and (being consistent in approach) donates the ten dollars to the Department of Energy. The danger for liberals, and for the rest of us, should be obvious: by avoiding close scrutiny of their Weltanschauung, liberals are is getting perilously close to sliding past liberalism's religious orientation and into the nightmare of...the cult.
Larrey Anderson is a writer, philosopher, and submissions editor for American Thinker. He is the author of The Order of the Beloved and the memoir Underground. His next book, The Idea of the Family, will examine the role of procreation in human self-awareness. [i] Professors in the hard sciences tend to be more conservative than those who teach the humanities or the "soft" sciences. If the polls did not include the professors from the small number of private universities (mostly Christian) where a majority of the faculty members are conservative, the percentage of liberals would be higher in these polls. [ii] I have discussed the myth of relativism in another article and will not readdress the issue here. [iii] In Descartes, the imagination is an expression of the free will and appears to be subordinated only to the highest passion: generosité (self-esteem). Notice that this connection -- between the free will and the imagination via self-esteem -- eventually leads to the intellectual narcissism that imbues modern thinking. For a full discussion of this decisive turn in modern philosophy, see Stanley Rosen's "A Central Ambiguity in Descartes" (Chapter 2 in Rosen's Ancients and Moderns, Yale University Press, 1989). [iv] In fact, philosophy's latest invention, modal logic, was specifically constructed to deal with uncharted territories in traditional logic, like possibility (not probability, which is a branch within mathematics and used in statistics). I have seen "technical" papers in philosophical journals use modal logic to argue, in effect, that abortion is "moral" because the unborn baby might (or might not -- the arguments I have read are not very consistent) exist in a chimerical possible world. See sections 4-7 in Stanley Rosen's The Limits of Analysis (Basic Books, 1980) for an in-depth discussion of imagination, possible worlds, and modal logic. Brandeis professor Palle Yourgrau has done groundbreaking work in debunking the fabrication of "moral" arguments utilizing modal logic and set in possible worlds. E.g., "The Dead," in Journal of Philosophy, 84, #2, pp. 84-101. [v] Employing overly generous percentages, I have shown elsewhere the probability is extraordinarily low that Gore's assertions are true. Gore's claims about global warming are possible -- much like the existence of Sasquatch is possible.