Why is it that liberals and conservatives so consistently and naturally disagree?
One reason: Liberals and conservatives operate with very different NARRATIVES. All of us move through life with a variety of narratives running through our minds. These narratives are the lenses through which we perceive the world. Someone holding a cynical narrative, for example, would see the co-worker being friendly to the boss and think “He just wants a promotion!”, the cab driver driving slowly (“running up the fare!”), and the clerk smiling as they enter the shop (“must work on commission here”).
We can’t avoid holding narratives, and they help us process and understand the things we see. But, as in the case of the cynic, the eagerness to support a particular narrative can sometimes get in the way of accurately perceiving what is going on (more on this shortly).
What are the differences between conservative and liberal narratives? A conservative narrative might include: The United States is a free country where a person’s success or failure has more to do with their individual actions than with their race or ethnicity or sex or economic class. Government control, however well-intended, is a potential menace to freedom and prosperity.
A liberal narrative might go something like this: The United States is plagued by inequality and by the racism and sexism which keep the privileged (especially white males) wealthy and powerful. Consequently, a person’s success or failure has more to do with their racial or ethnic or sex group than with their individual actions.
Know a person’s narrative – the story-line through which they process events and issues – and you can predict a person’s political position. Affirmative action? Liberals support the use of race- and sex-based quotas and other affirmative action to overcome the racism and sexism that is central to their narrative. Conservatives, though, are generally opposed, because their narrative is that individual effort is more significant than a person’s racial/ethnic/sex group.
Raise minimum wage to $15 an hour? Liberals want to see the privileged (business owners) share more wealth with the oppressed (poor, young, unskilled workers), reflecting their narrative that inequality is a significant problem. The conservative narrative’s emphasis on individualism, and aversion to government control, guides the conservative to oppose such “meddling in the economy.”
Interestingly, the conservative and liberal narratives create different levels of hostility toward each other. Since the conservative narrative does not call for lots of governmental action, there is less occasion for anger at an opposition “standing in the way” of progress.
The liberal narrative, in comparison, tends to generate anger at conservatives. In the liberal narrative, our unequal, racist, sexist society needs immediate action by government. But conservatives are not only the beneficiaries of the unjust systems (grrr!), they are also the very people blocking progress (GRRRR!). The liberal narrative all but requires animosity toward conservatives.
The liberal narrative took over recently when a group of high school students got into a confrontation with a black “Hebrew Israelite” group and a Native American group near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. The students were mostly white kids from a Christian school attending a pro-life rally, some of whom were wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats. The liberal narrative of rampant white racism rushed in to fill the gaps of the story, and it was nationally reported that a group of white pro-Trump racists were “mocking” Native Americans and Jews. The narrative, rather than the facts, produced the story.
The reality was more complex, and it didn’t quite fit the narrative. Videos show the students being subjected to a lengthy, expletive filled tirade by the Hebrew Israelite group, and the “mocking” cheers by the students turned out to be school chants intended to drown out the abuse.
Naturally we tend to see events in a way that supports our narrative. The danger is letting that wish overpower the facts, like the cynic who sees greed and selfishness even in a friendly smile. That is what the reporters did at the Lincoln Memorial when they twisted the facts in order to make a story fit their preferred narrative.