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Why the Left and Right Are So Polarized

Updated on May 26, 2014

Signposts of the Times


Why the Left Can't Talk to the Right (and vice-versa)

If you listen to the great political debates of our time, you will soon come to realize that the two opposing sides are mostly talking at each other with little movement in any direction toward agreement on the great issues currently plaguing us. It;'s not that we don't agree on what the problem is. It's that we don't agree at all on what the solution should be. We have not been this divided as a country since 1859 and given the rising tide of emotion associated with the outcome of the coming elections, there is every chance some folk might do something foolish if things don't go their way. It happened in 1861 and it can happen again in 2013.

So why can't conservatives and progressives agree?

If you buy any of the rhetoric, you'd come to the conclusion that it's .because the other guys are stupid, greedy and power hungry.

That's not the reason. The thing that blocks conversation between the left and right comes down to two fundamental and opposing beliefs.

Belief 1 (Progressive Left): Man is basically good. It is only a lack of basic needs that drives him to crime and disruption. This belief takes Maslow's hierarchy of need and runs with it.

In 1954, Abraham Maslow presented his hierarchy of needs model. The model says that there are two types of needs to which all humans are subject. The first is basic need and includes food, water, shelter, safety, love and self-esteem (though not in that order). The other need includes so-called "growth" needs like mental stimulation, art, creativity and something called self-actualization. Maslow posited that people need to satisfy basic needs first before they are able to go after their growth needs and that if you can satisfy people's basic needs (food, water, housing, health care and employment, that people will move on to meet higher needs as a matter of course.

To reach the holy grail of self-actualization, one must first satisfy all his basic needs the theory goes. Once the basics are taken care of, it's easy to get the idea that Maslow was predicting that creativity, productivity and happiness will spontaneously break out.

To accept this idea, one must first believe that man is basically good and that the only reason he resorts to crime and violence is that his basic needs are not being met. That's where TV gets its ideas for stories where good men are driven to murder and bank robbery because their families are starving. You'd be surprised how seldom this sort of thing happens anywhere outside of television, but then, the belief in the innate goodness of man does require a significant level of credulity.

Belief 2 (Conservative Right): Among conservatives, even the Ayn Rand atheists, there is an almost exact opposite belief about human nature and though we recognize some of the truth in Maslow's model, we assume that man is by nature, no damned good. Christian conservatives believe in original sin - that man is born wicked and selfish and needs to spend some serious time with God to overcome his natural propensities toward evil. Ayn Rand conservatives on the other hand believe that dog eat dog evolution made us natural born greedy, self-centered killers and that the natural economic controls inherent in free market capitalism is the only reliable way to control the behavior of the beasts. While we may not like B.F. Skinner's behaviorism (no such thing as free will), we do recognize that a system of consistent rewards and punishments does discourage the more flagrant behavioral outragesin our society..

Both Christian and atheist conservatives believe that there need to be natural punishments and rewards to spur human beings along and make them good citizens. Conservatives recognize that capitalism is an imperfect system, but this side of heaven, we figure it's the only thing that works. After all, it is a wicked world. That's why conservatives would have let AIG, Goldman Sachs, Behr-Sterns, GM and the whole rotten over-extended, greed-soaked pile of corruption fall without lifting a finger to bail them out. That's the consequence of greed and corruption - your business crashes down around your ears and leaves you flat broke.

The Consequences: Because the two sides believe so strongly in their basic philosophical tenants, they will, I fear, never be able to step over the chasm that separates the two sides. Conservative think liberals are at best naive and at worst power hungry elitist tyrants. Liberals think conservatives are at best, store bought dupes and at worst, mean-spirited, greedy tyrants.

The belief that people are basically good, comforts liberals and makes them feel superior. It also causes them to think that if they could only guarantee a level of basic needs, food, housing, health care and what-not, everything would be lovely and we'd all become self-actualized which is the progressive idea of true freedom.

The belief that people are basically untrustworthy does trouble conservatives who think that if given freedom to work, strive and risk, people will learn to meet their own needs. They believe that the struggle to find a way to meet their own basic human needs is what best helps people to move beyond the grind of survival to acquire those "growth needs", to become self-actualized and to experience true freedom.

For all the undecideds out there, it's time to decide for yourself which camp is right and which is deluded. The issues are too important.

As a Christian, I leave it in God's hands. I figure if people choose the correct solution next November, the world will last a little while longer. If we choose poorly, It jonly means the whole thing is going to blow up in our faces that much sooner and Jesus will have to hurry up and come get us. That wouldn't be bad either, so I figure this next election is a win/win either way it comes out, as long as you've got a cloud reserved for the trip home.

Just my own opinion,

Tom King


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    • twayneking profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Puyallup, WA

      Education is an essential factor in improving the quality of human beings, but it isn't the whole story. There's education and there's education. What's being taught is the real issue. In American education, especially higher education, the professoriate leans heavily to the socialist/progressive agenda. That's fine if you want your kids taught to believe in collectivism. If, however, you believe collectivism will inevitably be corrupted by those who seek to use collectivism to seize power over other men, then that's not something you want your children taught.

      Universal education under a collectivist model inevitably winds up with a school system that teaches, not logic, reasoning and analysis, but ideology and rigid ideology seldom permits a difference of opinion.

      That's what's so unique about the U.S. constitution. It is a product of an ideology that says that all men are created equal and should be allowed the liberty to pursue a life of their choosing and run after happiness whatever that may mean to them.

      The irony is that this ideology, steeped in Christian philosophy, deliberately included a bill of rights that allows you not to believe in the very bedrock ideology that the country is founded on if you so choose. Including that was a gutsy call on the part of the founding fathers.

      I find the ideology behind the constitution to be a better ideology than the one that requires everyone to sacrifice their own interests, labor and effort to the collective. I'm a die hard individualist.

      I'm not saying everything's black and white and that only conservatives or Christians or Americans can be good people. I believe that what you are as a person all comes down to a choice that you make between free will, individual liberty and believing in some version of the golden rule or a belief that in the interest of the collective everyone should be the same and shut up about it.

      I find the idea that you can legislate morality to be the height of naiveity - that somehow, some perfect set of laws, some ideal government can make everyone similarly happy is laughable.

      I've never believed that we are only the sum total of our DNA and experiences. Two children raised under identical circumstances can grow up to be one a missionary and the other an ax murderer depending on the choices they make and the story they write for themselves.

      I don't believe anyone whether by intelligence or education is entitled to lead the rest of us. I may have a 139 IQ, but that in no way entitles me to a life of privilege or a position among the ruling class. Someone with a 110 IQ who works his butt off in business may wind up wealthier, more influential and powerful than me in society because of the path he chooses to follow and the amount of work he puts into it.

      I, then, have no right to complain. I made my choices. I'm not being kept down by the man. I'm being kept down by myself. I long ago chose to try to make the world better for my having been here. I spent three decades working in education and with nonprofits. I have little to show for a lifetime of hard work, but that's okay. I chose this path and I am content with it, tough as it is sometimes now that I'm getting older and my knees are giving out.

      That inimitable philosopher Yoda once said, "Do or do not. There is no try." While obviously there is a "try", ultimately it all comes down to do or do not. My objection to progressivism is the belief that everybody ought to get the same reward, no matter how hard they work. It encourages the Freudian fallacy that your behavior comes not from your choices or effort, but from your terrible childhood or from some incident or circumstance of your life that made you what you are, quite apart from any participation on your own part and therefore, if you don't get the same set of goodies as everyone else, the rest of us are obligated to make that up to you.

      Now as a Christian, I'm all about feeding the poor, clothing the naked and taking care of the widows and orphans don't get me wrong. I've been helping do that all my life. I just don't think we should artificially try to guarantee everyone's minimum level of comfort by creating a vast, unwieldy and powerful bureaucracy for redistributing the wealth of those who do manage to take care of themselves successfully to those who don't.

      Because I believe in original sin, I am certain such bureaucracies only tempt selfish people to use them to gather power for themselves. I've seen enough of how governments work to realize what a hotbed of corruption a standing bureaucracy can be. I fear a standing bureaucracy the way many fear a standing army. Both, I think, need to have their power to be strictly limited. The US military has a civilian commander in chief. The US government bureaucracy, unfortunately, has the same commander in chief and I think it's more of a danger to our liberties than the military. Nobody seems to be trying very hard to limit the bureaucracy's power, rather a whole lot of us want to give them even more power over us on the preposterous grounds that doing so will supply all those basic needs to "the people" and then all will be good and lovely.

      Don't bet on it!

    • profile image

      Sophia Angelique 

      7 years ago

      Well, both sides are ? in the head. As far as I'm concerned, from the evidence of my eyes, some inner inspection, and a reading of genetics, brain chemistry, a study of psychology, and other such stuff, here are the real components.

      Whether one is good or bad is a combination of DNA, brain chemistry, epigenetics, and environment. For the most part, a negative environment does not negatively affect people with 'good genes' and 'good brain chemistry.' And, for the most part, a positive environment seldom affects someone with a particular gene and a particular brain chemistry. Yes, that was the result of some research about a decade ago. It keeps coming up.

      I think, though, if humanity wants to solve its problems, it's essential to provide solid education for everybody.

    • undermyhat profile image


      7 years ago from Indianapolis, Indiana

      "Man is no damn good" may be putting it too strong but "we are not angels" or 'we are all flawed" would work better. I agree that a fundamental disagreement about human nature is one major point of very vital point separating statists and conservatives. The perfectability of human society by a body of experts versus each individual working out his own fate is another.

      The idea that society can be perfected by a powerful enough government smacks of fantasy to the conservative who thinks - 1) that society may evolve but cannot be perfected, 2) the more powerful government gets the less important the individual becomes, 3) to the statist individualism is an anathema, but if the individual is not vital can you name one person who isn't/wasn't an individual?


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