Liberals are a bunch of bike-riding, tree-hugging, whale-saving, big-government-promoting, tax-increasing, flip-flopping, wishy-washy, namby-pamby bedwetters. Conservatives are a bunch of meat-eating, game-hunting, tax-decreasing, hard-drinking, Bible-bashing, black-and-white-thinking, immigration-hating, oil-fracking-loving, morally dogmatic philistines.
These stereotypes are lifted from Michael Shermer’s book The Believing Brain, slightly altered for a New Zealand setting. Most people identify more with one side than the other. Choosing what you identify with should be a rational, personal decision, but it is actually highly likely that your political leanings are the same as your parents’.
A lot of us, myself included, go through most of our lives completely baffled by how members of the opposite political spectrum can believe that their version of the world is correct.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt proposes five innate and universal psychological systems that give humans a sense of what we believe is right and wrong. These are harm/care (the ability to empathise), fairness/reciprocity (a feeling of justice or injustice over exchanges), in-group loyalty (the prioritising of people close to you over strangers), authority/respect (the acceptance of social hierarchy), and purity/sanctity (the avoidance of things or behaviours we believe are unclean).
Liberal and conservative people seem to have priorities are that are irreconcilable because each group prizes different social values. Haidt has had over 300,000 people online rank these values in order of importance. His findings show consistent differences in the values of conservatives and liberals. Conservatives tend to value in-group loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity slightly more than harm/care and fairness/reciprocity, while liberals place the latter two at the top of their priorities.
Reading Isaac Yu’s feature “ACTlas Shrugged” was a reminder for me that people at the opposite end of the political spectrum aren’t necessarily polar opposites. One side isn’t entirely bad and the other entirely good. Each side has an ideology that doesn’t fit to the nuance of the real world. They choose the parts of the nuance that their ideology seems to be able to fix, and perhaps they are right.
In the ideology of libertarianism, the individual should be in charge of their own decisions with as little restriction from the government as possible. It sounds nice, and could be nice, if everybody started on an equal footing with everybody else. But that’s what a bike-riding, tree-hugging, whale-saving, big-government-promoting, tax-increasing, flip-flopping, wishy-washy, namby-pamby bedwetter would say.