Friday, April 8, 2011

Who are the nice guys? .. with a tie to public sector unions

For decades I voted a Democrat ticket and considered myself liberal, but even during that period I knew that it wasn't because I understood the issues. It was because I looked around and it seemed that "people like me" and "nice people" were liberal/Democrat. I think it's important to change that dynamic, and I have hopes that now that the mainstream media has lost control of the message, we may get to see a real preference cascade in some places, where people will look around and see that there's a *choice* for "people like me" and "nice people".

There's an old saw that I've seen repeated from time to time: "Liberals think that conservatives are evil, and conservatives think that liberals are stupid." Like all old saws it's only partially true, but there is a nugget of truth. The liberal outrage at "conservative" positions tends to be of the kind: how mean! how unfair! that's not nice! that's not compassionate!  Conservative outrage at "liberal" positions tends to be of the kind: and how do you think you're going to pay for that? have you even *thought* about the unintended consequences? what happens when the productive people stop producing?

So the two sides are not even having the same arguments most of the time. Out of a sort of morbid fascination, I actually read the comments on some of the political articles, hundreds and hundreds of them in some cases. And I never ever see liberals presenting arguments having to do with how something will be paid for or whether the cost is worth it. They just skip those issues, even when other commenters try over and over again to get them to respond.

But the right doesn't do a very good job of opposing the leftist attacks on their "niceness" and "compassion". Partly it's because those attacks just feel plain silly. If you are somebody who would be labeled "right" by the left (I've heard claims that the definition of "right" is just non-left, since there's a pretty far-ranging grab bag of positions lumped into "right") then you know that you *do* care whether people have a comfortable old age or are able to get health care when they need. So the leftist nastiness just seems like so much screechy background noise. The problem is that those in the leftist echo chamber *do* believe those characterizations, and really *do* think of non-leftists as evil, nasty, selfish people.

So non-leftists needs to oppose those attacks, in order to enable those people who might listen to non-leftist arguments to have the emotional room to change their positions. Because even if someone starts to think that some of the arguments are reasonable and sane, it's very difficult for people to change their identity to a group that they've accepted as evil. It makes for a wrenching change in self-identity, and many people are just not capable of doing it.

Legal Insurrection has a great article on how to frame the arguments about reducing the power of public-sector unions: It brings up how important it is to make it clear that the motivation for the changes in the way we deal with public sector unions is not to "make the rich richer" or "attack middle class families". The motivation is to preserve our society and our country in a way that make it *more* possible for people to live comfortable, fulfilling lives.

It's important to keep reminding people that both sides in most of these arguments have very similar goals. They just disagree on the best way to reach those goals. It's built into human (primate) psychology to naturally think the best of your "team" (us) and think the worst of the other "team" (them). The compulsion is so strong that it's difficult to look at these positions without the filter of partisanship. But we all should try.

I've seen so much prejudice and discrimination from liberals, the exact behavior that they condemn in others. It's just the target groups that change.  As far as I can tell, there is very little difference in this behavior between any one group and another. Some groups are just more delusional than others. And there's a social exchange that goes on, in which people trade back and forth talking points and platitudes, that feels very soothing when done with people of the "same" kind.

But when it comes to things like the deep, dark hole that we're driving into with the economy and the deficit, we have to be adults and try to save what's best in our society. That's going to require effort and personal attempts to reach across the red vs blue divide. Even though it may make you uncomfortable, talk to people who don't agree with you; talk without the barriers that filter out all the information. We all might learn something.

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