Liberal arrogance alert: In promoting his new book (and Brent Bozell's attack on it, too), leftist Eric Alterman asks his fans at the Altercation blog to travel over to Daily Kos: "If Brent is not your cup of ideological tea, I came across this smart commentary on Daily Kos, which illustrates at least one of the reasons I wanted to write the book in the first place, and so I'm pleased to see it."
In it, the Daily Kos diarist "Killer of Sacred Cows" theorizes on the differences between liberals and conservatives in a post titled Liberalism: Reclaiming the Right to Think. First and foremost, conservatives are rigid and inflexible in their ideological rules, while liberals are more fluid in their means to achieve liberal ends. Why? Because liberals are the deep thinkers, while conservatives are naive, afraid, and allergic to thinking deeply. The Kosmonaut advises: Introduce some complexity to their mental diet, because their brains are starving:
Many progressives and liberals have real trouble understanding why the Republican base continues to support the Republican elite. One of the answers may be that they've been so trained into the simple, one-step thinking that they are having trouble figuring out why Mark Foley's and Larry Craig's homosexuality was tolerated by a group that claims to be against all gays. The answer is that of course they're shocked by the revelation that Foley was pursuing sixteen-year-old male pages, but they revert to the easy answer. They know that the party still stands against any rights for gays - after all, they're saying it all the time, from right-wing radio to national television - so the party must still be right, and Foley and Craig (and many others) get dismissed as aberrations, just blips on the conservative radar that will be quickly forgotten because thinking about them causes such cognitive dissonance and distress.
Am I saying that the base is stupid? No. But I am saying that they're naive, and afraid, and trained to think not simply, but easily. They're not looking for the simple answer, because that answer might still have several steps. They're looking for the easy answer, the one with no complications or annoying anomalies or dissonances. And conservative rhetoric happily provides it for them. Gays are bad. Immigrants are bad. Black people are bad. Women are bad, especially if they have an abortion or love another woman. And so on. That's one-step thinking, that's comfortable, that's easy, and that's safe.
Education is key to breaking out of this cycle. It's no accident that the rise of fundamentalism has come in tandem with the decline in educational standards, the disappearance of the civics and ethics classes that were commonplace in the 1950s, the dumbing-down of American politics, media, and news. Without the ability to think through a logical chain of thought, and without being continually challenged to use that ability, people have become inured to the tripe that Fox News spouts every time they turn on the tube. Resistance, for these folks, may indeed be futile... or impossible.
The answer? Simple, but not easy.
Talk to your Republican neighbors, family, and friends. Ease them into a simple, but not easy, discussion of the issues. Help them get comfortable with complex answers rather than easy ones. See if you can find some common ground. Barack's call for common ground isn't just for common ground among liberals and progressives, although that's certainly part of it. We also need to find common ground with the people who have never understood how to deal with complexity and make it familiar.
Add some complexity to your conversations. See where it leads. That may be our real saving grace as liberals and progressives: reclaiming the right of all persons to think.