You’re smart. You’re liberal. You’re well informed. You think conservatives are narrow-minded. You can’t understand why working-class Americans vote Republican. You figure they’re being duped. You’re wrong.
The rise of the far-right and its reactionary agendas is all around us—to the south in the US, to the west in Ontario, across the pond, and throughout Europe. Nova Scotian perhaps not as easily susceptible but not immune to this virus. Do we have the right antibodies? What can we learn from what’s going on in the States?
In this review of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, a new release by Jonathan Haidt, an American social psychologist, the author questions the received US liberal wisdom that if only ultra-conservatives “knew the facts,” and weren’t manipulated by deceptive news sources, they would have a more liberal perspective.
This doesn’t work because strong conservative worldviews differ at their root from that of liberals in focusing not on the individual, but on the narrow group—in the US, families, armies, and communities. They privilege members of their own group, prize a continuing order rather than equality, and are willing to suppress forms of self-expression that might weaken this social fabric. These traits of tribalism that evolved in a dispersed world are now problematic in an era of rapid globalization and inter-connectivity.
Not surprisingly, the author, a self-professed (small ‘l’) liberal the great part of his life, reports that when he talks about core conservative values like authority, loyalty and sanctity, many people in his audience spurn these ideas as the seeds of racism, sexism and homophobia. Partly true, but at that point there is no room for bridging the divide, which he calls for doing by valuing reason and intuition/feeling/instinct equally, and having them in dialogue.
Given that we in NS have a cultural legacy that includes, from a US point of view, both liberal attitudes and privileging the group and good order, what can we learn and what do we already know about this? And how do we best inoculate the province against the virus of reaction and authoritarianism that seems to be taking hold elsewhere?