Recent studies reveal a strange truth about the nature of our societal divisions.
I got an email a few weeks ago from the Washington State Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission (NCQAC). As a Registered Nurse, I’m used to receiving occasional emails from them about various regulatory and public health matters. However, this email was different: “COVID-19 Information.” This appeared to be worth my click.
What followed was an official COVID “myth-buster” from the Washington DOH. For the most part, it was fairly benign, busting various myths such as “I should probably stock up on some more groceries” and “These wipes are flushable.” However, the second-to-last myth-bust stood out from the others.
The “Myth” was fine, if somewhat out-of-place for an email to the state’s nurses: “Myth: We’re going back to normal after this.” Most of the answer was also fine, centering around the acknowledgment that we won’t go back to “normal” again in the same way. The author went on to speculate regarding the possible ways in which our society might change.
“Maybe we’ll hug our people tighter, maybe we’ll savor our time together more.”
Yeah, maybe it will increase our appreciation for each other. No problem here. Sure thing.
“Maybe we’ll help to keep the air clean by working at home more often.”
Well, Washington already has very clean air . . . but working from home is a good thing. I don’t have an issue with this.
But then the other shoe dropped:
“Maybe we’ll decide it’s important for everyone to be able to get health care when they need it.”
Uh-huh, because right now, “we” don’t believe it’s important for people to be able to get health care when they need it. Sure.
The author’s subtext reads like a disapproving mother scolding her stubborn children. It is obvious who the author is talking about: Those evil conservatives, holding society back with their desire to maniacally withhold healthcare from poor people. What a perception to have about an entire side of the political spectrum, putting aside the fact that the biggest issue in our health care system is cost, not (as much) access or outcomes (more on that in a future post). And shouldn’t an official governmental regulatory body be above partisan political jabs?
In reality, the author almost certainly does not see herself (assuming the author is female) as a political partisan trying to prejudice the opinions of Washington nurses. Rather, she is falling prey to a filter bubble that cuts her off from a nuanced understanding of conservative political thought. This is increasingly the case for members of both sides of the political spectrum. But you already know that – there has been plenty of media attention on this reality over the last several years. What you might not know is that one aspect of this increasing polarization is unbalanced in its distribution.
You would think that increasing polarization would lead to an equal and mutual lack of understanding of divergent political views. A study by Dr. Jonathan Haidt (written about in his remarkable book “The Righteous Mind”), suggests this is not the case. In the study, participants were challenged to guess how a person of a differing political viewpoint would rate (agree vs disagree) a given moral statement, examples including, “One of the worst things a person could do is hurt a defenseless animal” or ”Justice is the most important requirement for a society.” Liberals assumed that conservatives would disagree with these statements.
The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.”
(Pg 334 of “The Righteous Mind”)
Bear in mind that Haidt and his co-authors are political liberals themselves. You can listen to Haidt argue with Ben Shapiro about Obama’s legacy if you need confirmation.
[There are many books to be written about Haidt’s contribution to the political landscape, particularly regarding his Moral Foundations Theory, but suffice it to say that Liberals base their moral decisions based on Care and Fairness, whereas Conservatives base theirs evenly across Care, Fairness, Purity/Sanctity, Authority (Respect for), and Loyalty (to one’s group).]
This liberal blind spot is a product of many overlapping factors, but none more so than their domination of our education and media spheres. Studies repeatedly show that liberals vastly outnumber conservatives in higher education, in some departments by ratios as high as 20:1 in Journalism and 11.5:1 overall. Similar ratios prevail for primary and secondary education. This unavoidably creates a scenario wherein children growing up in liberal families today might never encounter a single cogent conservative argument for the entirety of their education. So while the kids in conservative families are repeatedly exposed to both sides, liberal kids are not.
All of these factors combine to create a situation where left-leaning thought is automatically equated to “normal” opinion – an infuriating position for a moderate conservative to be in when he or she self-censors for fear of being labeled and shamed for a relatively benign opinion. I recall a situation back in 2016 wherein a leader of a scholarship program I had participated in during college, upon learning that my then-girlfriend was doing an internship with Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, narrowed her gaze and muttered with disgust ” . . . she’s a republican.”
What in the world? Did this person really think that her public scholarship program only sponsored left-leaning students? Apparently so, as I demurred “Well, uh, I mean we’re all pretty moderate . . .” and scurried away to end the tension.
My purpose in writing all of this isn’t to cast myself as a victim. I am far from victimized here, or in any other area of my life. Regardless, I think a path toward a society that prospers and remains united for another hundred years requires a dialogue set on equal footing. Both sides have their crazy radicals to police, but it is clear that the left has some unique work to do in regard to understanding moral foundations, especially considering their unique domination of academic and media spheres.
Now, perhaps I’m not the best mouthpiece for this message. As a conservative, a message from me is unlikely to be heard in quite the same way as it would from a good-faith liberal – who do, of course, exist. So, if you’re a left-leaning friend or co-worker of mine bristling at the idea that the party opposing Donald J Trump has the real soul-searching to do, I’d encourage you to ignore me, and go read Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind.” Seriously, if you’re interested, I will buy you a copy. I’ve already bought like 15 copies of this book for other people.