A few days ago I commented on the fundamental different views of human nature that is at the core of differing liberal and conservative worldviews. The post is here. Basically, I argued that liberals see human nature as malleable and a product of society and institutions. If people are good, liberals believe it is because they were educated or guided to be good. If people are corrupt, poor or unhealthy, it is because society and institutions made them that way. McDonald’s makes fat people fat, Big Tobacco gives smokers lung cancer and gun manufacturers make murderers. People are not to blame, the institutions that corrupted them are to blame.
Conservatives, on the other hand, universally see human nature as constant and unchangeable. At the core of the human condition is self interest. Conservatives see this to be true of all people of all cultures throughout history. This cannot be trained away and is always present. People are fat because they overeat and don’t exercise, smokers smoke cigarettes because they enjoy it and criminals misuse the products of gun manufacturers in ways the manufacturers cannot control or be responsible for. Individuals are responsible for their own behavior. Institutions don’t corrupt people, conservatives will argue, people corrupt institutions.
These opposing views of human nature are are constantly at odds and are at the center of the political divide. The way each of us sees human nature defines how we see each other. I recently had a conversation with a Swiss national who is a resident of the United States. He was asking me my position on various issues. He asked me how I felt about homosexuals. I told I don’t think about them much but ultimately I don’t care what they do. What about Muslims? Again, if they leave me and my family alone, I don’t care what they do. Group after group and activity after activity my answer was the same: I don’t care what they do as long as they leave me and my family alone.
“Do other conservatives in America feel this way,” he asked me.
“Not all but I think most do”, I said. This surprised him. He had understood conservatives to be intolerant.
I believe that since conservatives see human nature as basically selfish, they expect to see that selfishness in all people. We look out for our self-interest and we expect other people to do the same. My answers to my Swiss friend’s questions again and again included the caveat, “…as long as they leave me and my family alone.” Since I expect to live my life in the manner I choose without interference, I expect other people to want to do the same. Therefore I don’t feel it any of my business to interfere with the activities of homosexuals, Satanists, Islamists or anybody else. Because I want to be left alone to pursue my self interest, it is easy for me to respect their desire to do the same. Sure they are being selfish but all people are, including me. I have no problem with what they do, just as long as they give me the same respect and space as I give them.
Liberals, on the other hand, don’t see human nature as selfish or of any any other constant. They see human nature as a blank slate waiting to be written on by society and institutions. They imagine their own nature to be that way and believe that their character and nature are progressive. They believe they have made progress to improve their nature and so, therefore, should everyone else. They believe that people who have not made the progress in character development that they have made should be encouraged, educated, prodded and cajoled into doing so. After all, why wouldn’t everyone want to advance to a higher, better more enlightened human condition? The problem for liberals is that some people neither want to “progress” or believe it is even possible to “progress”. These stubborn people are conservatives.
Conservatives see themselves and everyone else as basically selfish. Since we see ourselves that way, we don’t hold it against others when we see them that way as well. Liberals are doing their selfish thing and that is cool with us as long as they leave us alone to do our selfish thing. Unfortunately they won’t leave us alone. They are not content to let us wallow in our selfishness. If we insist on promoting our self interest and refuse to make progressive advances toward enlightenment, it can only be because we are stupid, evil or greedy. They become furious with our absolute unwillingness to advance out of what they see as ignorance, evil and greed. They grow to hate us for our retrograde, reactionary unwillingness to give up our greedy self interest.
So this is the conflict of vision. Conservatives see liberals as, like themselves, self interested and treat them like they believe self interested people want to be treated: with a shrug and noninterference. Liberals, on the other hand, see conservatives as stubborn, selfish, greedy and evil – retrograde Neanderthals who refuse to be enlightened. It is the height of irony that conservatives get tagged as “haters” and liberals are deemed “tolerant.” The truth is exactly the opposite. Conservatives are extremely tolerant of the selfishness they see in themselves when they judge other people. Liberals, on the other hand, are usually very intolerant of what they see as stubborn refusal by conservatives to be enlightened. Liberals will not suffer a conservative speaker on a college campus and will shout him down and drive him from the lectern. Conservatives shouting down a liberal speaker is virtually unheard of. It is liberals who are the intolerant haters, not conservatives.
The final irony is that the liberal view of human nature is horribly, profoundly flawed. Liberals are as self interested as everyone else. Their self image as progressively enlightened is an illusion of their own making that actually massages their own selfish psyches. Liberalism is the selfish desire to feel self righteous and morally superior. Unfortunately they don’t recognize their selfish nature and actually believe that they have it in their power to fix humanity by fixing society. That means that they don’t leave us alone and they aren’t tolerant. When they are in power, they are perfectly comfortable with forcibly enlightening their subjects by whatever means necessary. Liberals hate. Liberals are intolerant. Liberals will use whatever means necessary to “improve” humanity. That is why they are dangerous.