What Are Those People Thinking?
By: Mark W Adams

I got sucked into a fascinating series of posts by Paul Rosenberg at Open Left.

It's deep, text-book level, have to concentrate, not for the timid, deep -- serious political science. He's analyzing just how the cognitive awareness of liberals and conservatives not only differ, but why, as a function of maturity and evolution, we perceive the universe differently.

Part One is highly technical, but necessary to lay the foundation for what's to come:
The Political Duality Of Rep and Dem

Bypassing all the analysis of the different levels of perception from the studies Rosenberg incorporates from Kegan and Kohlberg into his charts and graphs to explain the concept, essentially the liberal mind has evolved to a state of awareness that the conservative mind has not attained.

Liberals enjoy a perception beyond the idea of people merely having different points of view: my side/your side, but that there are systematic causes and effects that can be addressed wholely outside this bifurcated framework that can effect substantial and lasting solution. Unfortunately, the conservative/traditionalist perceiving the world as a struggle to promote their point of view over other's, anyone not agreeing with them must be against them from their perspective. However the liberal/modernist doesn't simply oppose the conservative's point of view, but challenges their entire reality, that this duality is a false choice and reject the "with us or against us" dichotomy entirely.

Liberals see the world as far more complex than conservatives, and have the ability to appreciate the nuances and subtleties without having to dumb it down into an either/or situation. That brings Rosenberg to his second post:

Part Two:
Why Conservatives Can't Govern

Essentially, Rosenberg explains that the complex systems involved in so many aspects of governing cannot be comprehended by conservatives clinging to a bipolar point of view. They cannot comprehend their solutions can be rejected by someone who is not also their enemy. Islamic extremists are the enemy, so if you do not endorse killing them everywhere and anywhere, by any means available, you too are the enemy and are a terrorist sympathizer.

This clicked for me. I often scoff at the demagoguery and jingoism from the right, their eliminationist rhetoric and false choices that anyone not supporting their policies were aiding the terrorists. But knowing why they think this way has cured me of my disbelief. They really believe this nonsense. They simply can't comprehend anything beyond the tribal.

They cannot fathom the idea of emphasizing a more methodical effort (call it the law-enforcement approach) of tracking down individual perpetrators instead of making war on the society that breeds the enemy. In fact, the more enlightened approach goes beyond that dichotomy, rejecting a choice between those two approaches and would prefer a more stable outcome than either the war/criminal justice choices would provide. Rather, the better solution would be to address the system of poverty, oppression, injustice and lack of understanding on both sides that are the underlying causes of Islamic extremism. This can be extended, Rosenberg shows, to the conflicts over abortion, same sex marriage or the "war on drugs."

They see the world as either/or, us vs. them, and have picked a side. We don't believe there are "sides" but problems to be solved. Naturally, since they don't or won't comprehend our rejection of their preferred world-view, we are on the other "side."

You know where we're going with this. They win elections because they see it as a battle for supremacy against "our" enemies -- liberals being especially insidious since we aren't helping them and block their efforts to save us from an enemy we must be in league with. They can't govern because they have no regard for the concerns of the healthy percentage of us who have progressed beyond such two-dimensional thinking. We aren't "real" Americans anyway. They feel perfectly justified in acting only for the benefit of their side. It's natural for them to feel, "If you're not with us, screw you."

Liberals, having a higher order of awareness don't consider it a battle at all, but the nature of elections as a winner-take-all, zero-sum game puts those that play that game by those rules at an advantage. They can present a stark choice between two people, one of whom is more patriotic/moral/resolute than thou. That's great for a simple check-mark on a ballot, but it does not carry over to governing something as complex as a superpower nation-state with a diverse population and intermingled relations with other nations involving an intricate, interdependent economic and cultural system.

As one of the commenters said, "Wow. I really blow though a lot of words trying to say: Lowest Common Denominator." A liberal, one who has progressed his/her thinking past the two-dimensional, can hear and understand the conservative's argument -- and rejected it as too simple, offering instead an approach that sounds, "like moonbat puffery. They simply make no sense."

Part Two concludes: [M]ovement conservative ideas are simply incapable of working in the real world because they are simply too primative. Furthermore, the primative nature of these ideas gets in the way of realizing that there is a substantially higher degree of agreement between liberals and conservatives. When liberals say or do things that conservatives find threatening or offensive, it is often because they are not hearing what the core intention of liberals is. This, in turn, suggests that liberals could be doing a lot better job of communicating to conservatives.
By insisting on disagreeing with a conservative without embracing their "other" choice, we threaten them in an existential manner. We don't just oppose their views, rather we shatter their world. That only makes them more defensive, more energized in their attempt to destroy liberalism entirely, fighting terrorists, drug lords, corruption, even gays and pro-choice activists when convenient -- convenient in eliminating the liberal perspective that seeks to destroy their universe as they understand it.

Part Three(a), Lib/Dem Political Ineptitude--A Prelude ostensively addresses the "obvious question: if they're so stupid, and we're so smart, then how come they're running everything?"
The simple answer is: wealth and power. But a secondary answer is that they're not all stupid (besides which, cognitive complexity and intelligence are two different things).. In this diary, I'm going to lay some groundwork, and then begin discussing how the lens of cognitive complexity can illuminate why conservatives have been so much better at politicking, when they suck soooo bad at governing.
In other words, while there are a lot of smart, college educated people whose minds have been developed to the point where they should be able to understand the complexity of the political universe, yet a good portion of them remain conservative republicans: "What are these people thinking?"

Conversely, why do their sophisticated, advanced liberals friends suck so bad at getting in a position to run things? It's not just that conservatives run the government, but are also the captains of industry, have the lion's share material wealth, power and influence.

Well, one answer is that they're just evil. No, really.

In the hierarchy of development, conservatives are usually at what Rosenberg refers to as a "level three" stage of development where someone "has" a point of vies and recognizes points of view within society's structure, defining it. Liberals reach a "level four" appreciation of society's structure itself as something that is open to interpretation and change. Conservatives who reach Level 4 of cognitive development use their powers for their own advantage instead of applying their knowledge to make the world better. Their priorities have not changed despite their enlightened awareness.
Level Four Republicans focus their attention and higher level cognitive skills on getting what they want, rather than trying to understand the world in a broadly objective manner. This is a rather straightforward consequence of their interests and values, which are not substantially changed by growing more conscious.

The notion that conscious evolution inherently equates to a similar growth in moral and ethical responsibility is just one of those liberal myths that comes from hanging around with people whose parents raised them right. Not everyone is like that.
So yes, they are the selfish bastards everyone intuitively knew they are. And yes, this is a conclusion born of a scientific, clinical approach and not just me mouthing off.

This is a good stepping off point to introduce Rosenberg's "supplemental" diary called, "The Big Lie And The Rightwing's Neo-Feudal Vision."

This explains the Newt Gingrichs, the really smart conservatives who have reached beyond even Level 4/Liberal awareness, and might even be at Level 5. There's no doubt there are some very intelligent conservatives. A Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly or Rose Esmay often show Level 4 awareness. Tony Snow might be a Level 5, but no doubt people like him and Bill Kristol have not changed their values despite full understanding of how most liberals perceive the world.

It's their goals. Self interest, advancement of them personally and providing a better life for their own family is certainly part of this. Interest in the subject matter contributes, as well as remaining within one's comfort zone. While not limited to more primitive thinking, it's where they "are grounded."

Rosenberg's Big Lie diary is a stand-alone examination of supply-side economic myths that have been foisted upon us as an example of the ideological battle conservatives are waging with goals not even their own constituency desire -- if they really knew what was going on. One of the reasons they win is that they are not playing the same game we are, and mask their true objectives with such skill they enlist hoards of followers to act directly against their own interests. The goals of those leading the conservative movement not only are something we don't understand or appreciate as liberals, not even most ordinary conservatives would approve -- because it's downright unAmerican.

It's no coincidence that so much effort and money have been put into their noise machine. It's to perpetuate the failed notion that cutting taxes on the wealthy is always a good thing, will always raise revenue and trickle down. Despite empirical evidence of the failure of this policy by examining the comparative economies of the Reagan/Bush years versus the more reality based policies of the Clinton Administration, Bush II, with a complicit media, perpetuates this lie.

Yet the goal behind their ridiculous fiscal policies is so nefarious that describing it is to border on sounding like a conspiracy-theorist. A hint that this is unfortunately a real goal is their introduction of Shock Capitalism both here and in Iraq in the wake of 9/11 and the invasion, imposing policies that are widely unpopular at the time the country is most vulnerable. Forcing something down a nation's throat that most of the people oppose is the essence of authoritarianism. It's undemocratic to create a prescription drug benefit that benefits pharmaceutical companies more than the people, to deny universal health care to a nation that wants it by 70%-80% -- the list goes on.

What they want is a return to life before the New Deal and it's reality based approach to a mixed economy where there are free markets but they are regulated and forced to behave as benevolent contributors to the general welfare in cooperation, not competition with society as a whole. The want a world that makes sense to them, gimme mine, the heck with you. Us versus them. The "good old days" of Robber Barons, Carpetbaggers and the neo-feudalism of "megacapitalist."

Ogliarchs that control the world through their commercial empires are simply not compatible with an informed democratic society, especially one that is enlightened enough to recognize what they are about and able to use the ballot box and free media to stop them. That's why the lies. That's why the resistance to the fairness doctrine. That's why people like O'Reilly and Limbaugh can repeat things proven absolutely false, completely debunked notions said again and again and again regardless of any objective truth of the matter. They must. Their very survival depends on it.

The manipulation of the public's emotions is an integral part of the strategy to keep us in a constant state of crisis, thus more susceptible to the erosion of our way of life, false enemies whose real danger is blown up beyond all observable evidence: that a bankrupt and starving Soviet Union posed such a threat that we had to double a nuclear arsenal already capable of destroying the entire planet ten times over, that a Star Wars inspired missile shield was more than simple fantasy but essential nonetheless against the threats of the future even as late as September 11, 2001, according to Condi Rice. Rosenberg adds, "We're attacked by a hermit in a cave, and this leads to a war against completely different people that lasts longer than WWII? What part of that is on the level?"

Rosenberg identifies a sad irony, that the liberal political class is willing to take money from Hollywood types, we don't use the best storytellers among us to tell our story.
While liberals and progressives have by far the greater number of storytellers, conservatives have gained an incredible strategic advantage by harnessing the storytellers the do have, and widely disseminating their stories. They have also inculcated storytelling into the activities of activists at all levels, and in all manner of different roles. Above all, conservative media figures, such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, are predominantly story-tellers. They routinely tell outrageous lies precisely because that is the purpose and their function: they are mythmakers. And liberals have an incredibly hard time dealing with this, in part because they do not understand that myths are absolutely vital for us as human beings-and that some myths can be absolutely true.
One myth that I hope we can begin to dispense with is that there is the least bit of redeeming or benevolent intent in the leadership of the conservative movement. I have a feeling Rosenberg will suggest the only thing I can think of to combat this situation. We have to get out of our ivory towers and fight fire with fire, be willing to get dirty and prove they're wrong face to face on their level. Us versus them, because they can't comprehend why they lose at our level of awareness from our perspective, and we won't be able to stop them unless we seize the reigns of power and beat them at their own game.

We fight them on the radio, on T.V, on the blogs, let not slur go unpunished, no lie un-debunked. If we do that, discredit them to their two-dimensional thinking followers on their turf through superior ideas and better storytelling, we educate an electorate that will not be fooled again. It's the battle I took up the first day I commented on a blog.

You think Al Franken is an unserious candidate? They've had Reagan and Sony Bono and even Clint Eastwood is a Republican. Jesus, they had Gopher from the Love Boat in Congress. And don't forget Arnold. We need more Al Frankens. George Clooney and Sean Penn and Brad Pitt are eloquent and good looking S.O.B.'s. They're wasting their time supporting candidates when the should be candidates, or at least speaking out day after day after day, from noon to three, every day until everyone forgets that Rush Limbaugh is even on the radio anymore.

Part Four will be out shortly (or 3b or part five, depending on how you are counting) I presume, at which point I'll update this fantastic analytical work Rosenberg is explaining, and see if I'm on the right track.