Myths to Ditch in 2014Posted: January 1, 2014
Goldberg writes: The Beltway consensus seems to be that 2013 was a bad year for the same reason nearly every other recent year was bad: polarization and partisanship. Personally, I can think of plenty of more important things to worry about than partisanship. Democracy is about disagreements, and partisanship is often a sign of healthy disagreement.
But polarization is a bit different. It speaks not just to a lack of basic agreement about what kind of society we should live in, but a breakdown in understanding and respect among Americans. There’s a lot of them-vs.-us talk these days on the left and the right. And while I’d never want to live in a country where we all join hands and sing “Kumbaya,” maybe a bit more understanding wouldn’t be all bad.
So I have small suggestions for New Year’s resolutions for both the Right and the Left in 2014. For liberals, maybe you should try to accept the fact that you’re not the non-conformists you think you are. And for conservatives, perhaps you should consider that you’re not necessarily the irrefutable voice of “normal” Americans.
The thought occurred to me while reading “The Liberal Illusion of Uniqueness” in the journal Psychological Science. Apparently it’s a well-established finding that liberals tend to think their views are more rebellious than they are. They feel a “need for uniqueness.” And that need can stand in the way of seeking commonality with other Americans.
Conservatives don’t crave uniqueness. In fact, they are more likely to overestimate the extent to which there is a consensus around their beliefs. In other words, liberals bristle at the notion that they’re conventional thinkers, while conservatives are too quick to assume everyone thinks like them.
I’m not a huge fan of subjecting politics to psychological analysis. It often lends itself to the pernicious idea that people with “healthy” minds have certain political views and that people with unpopular notions aren’t simply wrong — or have different preferences — but are somehow sick.
Still, something about this finding rings true to me. One of the most impressive achievements of liberalism is the perpetuation of the myth of liberal rebelliousness. One of my favorite things to do when speaking on college campuses is to point out to students how conformist they are. (College students are a lot like that mob in Monty Python’s Life of Brian who chant in unison, “We’re all individuals!”) I point out to the students that their professors are liberal. Their school administrators are liberal. Hollywood and the music and publishing industries are all overwhelmingly liberal. The mainstream media are liberal. “But,” I ask them, “you think you’re sticking it to the Man by agreeing with them?”
— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés, now on sale in paperback. You can write to him by e-mail at email@example.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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