A Dialogue re: Conservatives v. Liberals

A carry-over of a debate in another place. I won’t provide any more context than that, but I think you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Over the last decade, one has heard repeated cries of bafflement from conservatives on why liberals are not willing to keep the debate civil. Although it’s incredulous how out-of-touch with brutal reality such a statement is, the repeated earnestness of the question makes me believe it is real and requires some addressing.

I can see we’re already off to a good start! It may seem magnanimous to respond to a question that is “out-of-touch with brutal reality,” but at the same time, it demonstrates an unwillingness to empathize with the other point of view. Essentially, you’re saying I’m nuts, but you’re willing to debate me anyway. Small comfort indeed.

One main difference between liberals and conservatives is empathy. Conservatives tend to reserve their empathy for their own family and personal circle, while liberals extend their empathy well beyond that.

Abject nonsense. This is the core of the problem. You’re unwilling to concede anything but base motives to those with whom you differ, whereas conservatives are happy to concede that liberal motives are pure, but the results of their behavior are not.

Ronald Reagan provides a great case in point. Reagan repeatedly said that he was trying to create a world where neither Russian nor American nor anyone else lived in fear of nuclear annihilation. Liberals refused to take him at his word and called him a warmonger, a dunce, a crazy zealot. They advocated a nuclear freeze and “détente” with a regime that had brutally slaughtered tens of millions of its own people. Reagan’s actions resulted in the end of the Cold War and the liberation of hundreds of millions of people living under totalitarianism. Yet he’s somehow not empathetic, whereas those who advocated looking the other way are?

For a conservative, to discuss injustices or atrocities outside their personal circle doesn’t tend to hit very deep in terms of their personal feelings. Thus, they cannot understand when liberals get so impassioned about events outside their personal circle.

What you’re outlining is not factual, but rather your theory as to how someone like me could be so monstrous. It demonstrates a fundamental inability or unwillingness to see things from my point of view and accept me at face value.

In contrast, I don’t question your motives. I question your methods. During the Cold War, your pure motives and questionable methods advocated leaving hundreds of millions of people in bondage to a totalitarian nightmare. Why should you be applauded and I be vilified for that?

On the other hand, liberals often deeply and painfully feel the suffering of others, often to the point where it can feel like it is happening to them personally. For such a person, dispassionately discussing the issue is out of the question, because anyone who is advocating a position of atrocity or injustice is advocating more pain.

Other than comic book supervillains, who advocates a position of atrocity or injustice? Even Satan himself, Dick Cheney, has never stated that he took us to war to spread injustice and commit atrocities. Has it crossed your mind that, possibly, his intentions were not to spread the will of Beelzebub?

The position you’ve taken here, which is ostensibly tolerant and understanding, is actually remarkably rigid. It assumes absolute definitions for “atrocity” and “injustice” which fail to account for all circumstances. Pacifism in the face of Saddam’s unwillingness to disarm would have meant millions more Iraqi people would have died in mass graves, and millions more would leave in the shadow of tyranny. It would have meant that a murderous dictator could flout the will of the international community, destabilize the Middle East, and arm and aid terrorism with impunity. How is that a more just and less atrocious outcome?

I think it would help liberals if they framed their debates with conservatives in terms of the conservative’s own family. You have to bring it back home. Make them imagine that these things are happening to their own neighborhood, their house, their children, their grandparents, and see how they feel.

What’s interesting about this is that conservatives are far more likely to enlist in the military than liberals are, which means that the things that are happening abroad are happening to them and their families. Conservatives are dying for these ideals, and the families they leave behind continue to support the war effort.

Engage empathy in that way. Things take on a different tone when you imagine them happening to the people you love. Conservatives need to be reminded that these are not academic questions. It’s not logical to expect that people can “reach across the aisle” when that side of the aisle is perpetrating injustice, slashing rights, invading other countries, and massacring people. It’s no longer an academic debate.

No, it’s not. The real-world consequences matter, and inaction means death, too. It’s stunning that we’re accused of “massacring people” when the evidence demonstrates that we’re doing everything in our power to protect and save lives. If we wanted to massacre Iraqis, Afghanis, or whatever else, we have a nuclear arsenal that could take care of that pretty quickly.

If someone publicly says, “I think it’s ok for hundreds of thousands of people to be killed”, when such events are presently happening, is it even reasonable for them to expect civil discussion? The question itself is not reasonable.

Who says that? By that logic, I could equally accuse you of saying “It’s OK for Saddam to murder millions of his own people.” But I wouldn’t, because, certainly, you don’t believe that.

I don’t want to hear debates. I want to see engagement with the pain. I want to see real, visceral connection to the pain. I want to see immersion in the effects of the atrocities : the screams, the mourning, the crying.

There’s a very easy way to do this. Enlist.

Y’know, unpleasant stuff. Stuff no one wants to engage. But if you’re going to justify pain, doesn’t it make sense to feel at least some of that pain? Because, y’know, feeling it might change your perspective on it. It takes a little risk to step into the shoes of someone else, while justification is cheap.

Again, enlist.

So that difference in empathy and the degree of its extension I think to a great degree addresses the question.

Not at all. What it demonstrates is your unwillingness to empathize with our point of view. You provide an alternative explanation instead. That’s condescension, not empathy.

There is another point, and I just am at wit’s end to be able to say it politely. It has to do with reality checks. And in that regard, for some time now, conservatives have — well, how to put this? — been swallowing the kool-aid. Meaning buying propaganda that is nothing but lies. And then putting forth those lies as if they were truths that are worthy of discussion. I know it hurts to be told that you’re out of touch with reality, but if conservatives really, really want a worthwhile discussion with liberals, they’re going to have to commit to losing some of their delusional connection to the world, and come back into the real world which lies outside the propaganda machine. I know that sounds insulting to conservatives, but there comes a point where you can’t pull punches just to avoid insulting someone if you want to get the truth across.

There’s nothing but empty accusation in this paragraph. Indeed, Glenn Beck can – and does – say exactly the same thing, only he swaps out the word “liberal” for “conservative.” If there’s something factual I’m missing, let’s address it specifically. If not, then the libelous generalizations aren’t helpful when they’re employed by either side.

And when it comes to the truth, I’m sorry, but there’s some things I’m just not going to debate. They’re not up for discussion. Just as I don’t sit on street corners trying to refute the propaganda of KKK members, I simply don’t have the time nor energy nor desire to refute all the propaganda that has come out of the right wing in the last ten years.

That’s an easy dodge. To equate the Republican Party with KKK propaganda is intellectually lazy. Again, swap it out. If I were to say, “Just as I don’t sit on street corners trying to refute the propaganda of Stalinistic communists and socialists, I simply don’t have the time nor energy nor desire to refute all the propaganda that has come out of the left wing in the last ten years,” I haven’t said anything objectively useful, other than the fact that I equate all Democrats with Stalin, which says far more about me than it does about Democrats.

So we’re not going to have a reasonable discussion about whether the Bush Administration thought there were WMD’s in Iraq. Sorry, no. They knew, as all intelligent people knew, that there weren’t any, it was a blatant lie, and an excuse to go to war to consolidate geopolitical strategy.

See, this is where this leads. By smearing us with generalities, you now feel justified in making a provably false statement. Every industrialized nation in the world had intelligence that Saddam had WMDs. So did the United Nations. Saddam was under obligation as part of his terms of surrender to demonstrate what he’d done with his stockpiles, and he refused to do so. George W. Bush drew the same conclusion about WMDs that France did, but Bush chose to act when France would not.

If the Bush administration was mendacious enough to lie us into war, then why didn’t they plant the weapons once they got there? We’ve been destroying America’s chemical weapons arsenal in Tooele, Utah for the past decade – why not take some mustard gas, fly it over, and stick it in a warehouse somewhere to be “discovered?”

I’m not going to have a discussion about its sincerity. There was never anything sincere about it. And if you think there was, no insult, but I mean this seriously — you may want to talk to your therapist about it.

How can that be taken in any way but an insult? Who lacks empathy here? You’re saying it is impossible for anyone to view these facts and not reach the same conclusions you have without being insane.

Because that’s the level of seriousness I’m going to give it. And if that makes it difficult for us to dialogue, c’lest la vie. Reasonable, intelligent conservation requires some footing in consensus reality.

Perhaps it does. If it’s helpful, I don’t think you live outside reality. It’s painful to accept that you think at least half of our nation does.

So that’s my attempt to address this question. Conservatives who wish greater civility from their opponents need to demonstrate : 1) More empathy, and 2) More connection with actual reality.

Hope this was helpful.

It was, but likely not in the way you anticipated.

Christmas Report/Movie Reviews
Dialogue Part II: Responding to apspitzer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.