Conservatives are from Mars, Liberals are from Venus

My friend Matt M drew this interesting article by Tom Edsell in ‘The Atlantic’ to my attention at:

It includes this fascinating piece on the positive and negative ways of describing conservative and liberal stances. Just feel how threatening the different descriptions might be to a strong partisan of each side and that might even include you:

Recognizing the danger that “behavioral research . . . runs the risk of becoming an extension of the political struggle between left and right,” two other researchers, Philip Tetlock of the Wharton School, and Gregory Mitchell of the University of Virginia Law School, have tried to look objectively at “flattering and unflattering cognitive and motivational characterizations of liberals and conservatives,” and with the aim of producing a more balanced view of the competing value systems of left and right.

Four excerpts from their research paper, “Liberal and conservative approaches to justice: Conflicting psychological portraits,” are instructive: 28

1. Flattering liberal portrait:

“They [Liberals] do not equate downtrodden or impoverished status with inherent unworthiness or inability . . . In a nutshell, liberals are less selfish and more empathic and tolerant than conservatives. Their fear of aiding the undeserving is outweighed by their fear not helping the truly needy . . . Liberals do not need to bolster their self-esteem by living in a stratified society in which they can claim superiority over this or that group . . . Finally, liberals do not blame the victim or make defensive attributions . . . Liberals acknowledge that fate can be capricious and that bad things happen to good people.”

2. Flattering conservative portrait:

“Conservatives realize the importance of incentives and that no, or little, aid is often the best help of all. The conservative response to social problems avoids the simplistic first response of treating the symptom by creating a new and expensive government program . . . conservatives are more integratively complex than liberals because they understand how often well-intentioned political reforms have unintended consequences or perverse effects . . . Finally, conservatives understand how free markets work, [they] recognize that the invisible hand of free market competition leads in the long term to incentives to produce good at levels of quality and quantity that satisfy effective demand for those goods.”

3. Unflattering liberal portrait:

“They practice, in effect, a kind of social homeopathic medicine that treats symptoms rather than underlying causes . . . They fail to take into account the growing burden on the economy and the perverse incentives that dependency on public programs creates . . . Liberals not only exaggerate the efficacy of government; they underestimate the creativity of the free market. Many liberals mindlessly condemn capitalism as a culture of greed and ignore the power of the market to stimulate hard work, investment and entrepreneurship . . . [Liberalism] is a reflection of the widespread ‘psychology of dependency’ in which government, by transference, takes on the role of nurturant, powerful parent.”

4. Unflattering conservative portrait:

“[C]onservatives do not understand how prevalent situational constraints on achievement are and thus commit the fundamental attribution error when they hold the poor responsible for poverty . . . [C]onservatives are too prone to engage in zero-sum thinking, either I keep my money or the government takes it. They fail to appreciate the possibility of positive-sum resolutions of societal conflicts . . . Conservatives cling to the comforting moral illusion that there is a sharp distinction between allowing people to suffer and making people suffer. Finally, conservatives fail to recognize that even if each transaction in a free market meets their standards of fairness, the cumulative result could be colossally unfair. Some people will acquire enormous power over others . . . [C]onservatism and compassion are antithetical.” 29


About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Processes, Economic Conflict, Philosophy of Conflict, US Political Conflict, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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