Getting inside their heads

Those of my readers who actually know something of neurology may stop here to roll their eyes, hyperventilate, or whatever they do when brazenly non-factual stuff about their specialty is displayed.  Relax, there’s more.

Here’s some material that purports to be somewhat factual, if you’re into that kind of speculation:

But what I’ll show here is the “pop” version of all this:  the polemical graphics that circulate when people want to make sweeping generalizations about their opponents.  It might be powerful propaganda, or just venting.  I’m not sure what effect it has on the viewer.

First, please note that I think the division into “liberal” and “conservative” that pudits in the U.S. use, and especially its translation into “Dem vs Rep” is so simplistic as to be laughable.  Unfortunately, it’s not viewed that way by most Americans.  I’m talking about the perceptions of the great unwashed here, not anyone with a clue.

So let’s take a little tour of graphics of this genre that I’ve collected from various places on the web.  Click on the picture if you need to see it full-size to read the text.  You might even have to use the zoom in your browser to read some of it.  I threw in one about Libertarians just for entertainment value.  Had to censor one of them a bit because I don’t know how WordPress feels about hosting such material.  I’ll continue at the bottom of the collection.

So let’s look at what each of these broad groupings says about the other.  I’ve collected things from the graphics above and put them into a table, putting somewhat comparable things in the same row with each other.
Many items are thrown back & forth by both.  They both accuse each other of being irresponsible, uneducated, uninformed or selectively informed.  They both consider the other hypocritical, illogical, and inclined to use name-calling in arguments.  No surprises
there.  This is standard polemical stuff that you’ll see with any pair of adversaries.

Then there are some differences that they seem to agree on, each with its own rhetorical spin:

(1)  “Liberals” call themselves willing to question conventional wisdom, while conservatives consider “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” a sensible way to go.

(2)  “Liberals” accuse “conservatives” of violent inclinations, and some “conservatives” might agree, even bragging about being armed.  They call “liberals” “soft, spineless bleeding hearts”, in their shorthand.

(3)  They each accuse the other of having unfounded or exaggerated fears:  “liberal” fears of environmental threats, “conservative” fears about national security or blue-collar crime.  Both attitudes supposedly lead into excessive state control, the one for environmental protection, the other for “national security” or law enforcement (on only certain kinds of crime).

(4)  “Liberals” are called un-patriotic while “conservatives are called jingos or American exceptionalists.

(5)  They each have extreme figureheads on the other side that they like to evoke with derision:  commies for the “liberal” side, the proudly selfish Rand for the “conservative” side.  Many variations on this, of course.

(6)  “Liberals” are accused of having no sense of humor, while “conservatives” are said to be only capable of making fun of “outsiders”.

Then there are some things that seem to stand alone, without anything very comparable on the other side:


– are incompetent
– always want to raise taxes
– are too tolerant in their “multiculturalism”
– have no work ethic
– are vegan


– are immature
– are religious fanatics



What’s the point of all this?

I’m trying to nail down what this popular shorthand of “liberal” and “conservative”, which most Americans seem to find useful, actually means, if anything.  Let’s start with what the two “sides” seem to agree on.  Go back to that numbered set of comparable accusations.

(1)  “Liberals” are portrayed as questioning things as they are, while “conservatives” want to keep things as they are.  Traditionally, the latter is the classic definition of “conservative”, but any U.S. politician who proudly calls himself “conservative”, such as the Republican leaders, is trying to make radical change, and has been doing so for some decades now.  The major moves toward regressive taxation, abolition of Social Security and Medicare, ending or defunding regulation of big business, criminalizing some sexual practices that are now ordinary, and expanding police powers have mostly come from people calling themselves “conservative”.

There was a time, back when the “Reagan revolution” was getting started in the 70’s, when there were people challenging what they called a “liberal conventional wisdom”.  That was after some reforms of the 1960’s were well-established, the Dems had ruled Congress for 15 years or so, and the right of the government to restrain potentially criminal businesses was seldom questioned.

It is a show of how the “Money for the rich, religion and jail for the rest!” camp has defined the terms of debate for the last thirty years that their attitude is now called “conservative”, rather than “reactionary”, a word that seems to have fallen out of use these days.

(2)  Violence:  “Conservatives” are sometimes proud to be violent, and even pretend to value the right of the people to rebel against an oppressive government (while claiming to be “patriotic”, whatever that means.  See below.)  It’s something you certainly don’t find in the “liberal” camp much, for good reason:  They learned back in COINTELPRO times, and throughout our history, really,  that anyone who threatens violence and doesn’t have wealthy, influential patrons will soon go to jail or worse.  Now that advocates for the less powerful have a well-established habit of talking “non-violently” to stay out of trouble, it lends an impression that there’s something ideological about it.

(3)  Expanding state power:  When it comes to using the state’s power of violence to “enforce law”, it all depends on which law you’re talking about for a difference between “liberal” and “conservative”.

There’s an interesting bit in that “Don’t talk to cops” lecture in my link collection where he points out that even the federal government itself has lost count of the number of acts that are federal crimes.  It’s pretty safe to assume that everyone is a criminal if you look hard enough.

The difference I see here is simply in which “criminals” one spends more time thinking about.  Is it the big company that poisons thousands of people with the products it sells, or the stupid kid who thinks mugging is the best job he can find?  The oil company that corrupts our whole political system, or the occasional bomb-planting fanatic?  I’m not too fond of any of them, nor are most people.  It really depends on what one’s personal nightmares might be.  Is there anyone who would say that any of the above criminals should be given free rein?

(4)  “Patriotism”:  This is clearly a general-purpose slur, and its meaning depends heavily on what one considers the distinguishing characteristics of one’s state or “nation”.  What is unique about the U.S.?  What should one identify with in order to call oneself “patriotic”?  That’s for another time, but the flag is clearly used more often for what are called “conservative” causes.  There’s a certain segment of what are called “conservatives” for whom the flag might be about all they know about the world outside their personal lives, but they have no monopoly on ignorance.

(5)  Extreme figureheads:  More insults to throw.  Each has its alienating features.  Very few who call themselves “liberal” would also call themselves”Marxist”, as very few who call themselves “conservative” would call themselves “objectivist”.  It’s an attempt to divide your enemies.

(6)  Sense of humor:  As I’ve observed in other posts, just about anything you joke about is “not funny” to someone.  It’s usually a question of personal involvement.  Drunks can be funny until you’ve known a couple of serious drunks.  Violent cartoons can be funny until you’ve actually been hit with a baseball bat or fallen off a cliff.  (See: for a little diversion.)  Ralph Cramden saying “One of these days, Alice…” was funny because, if you watched the series much, you knew that he would never really hit her, and that both characters knew it, but to a victim of domestic violence it’s not so obvious.

How this breaks down between “liberal” and “conservative” is not so clear, but those who identify with the suffering are likely to find less funny for that reason.  There are, of course, many kinds of suffering, and some of the greatest comics of our time would undoubtedly be called “liberal” or worse.

This is another slur that aims to identify a broad group with a rather narrow segment of that group.


Look over these six things that the “two sides” seem to agree are differences between “liberal” and “conservative”.

Have you ever known ANYONE who fulfills all of them, for one side or the other?

….not to mention the added slurs at the end where they don’t agree.

I’d be very interested in hearing about such a person.  If such people exist, I’ll bet they’re functionaries for one of the big parties.

Ok, you all know I’m a Green, but more importantly, there are few, if any electoral systems in the world outside the U.S. so carefully contrived by the laws to preserve a
“two-party” system.  There are one-party dictatorships, but everybody knows what they are, and there’s no illusion of choice in such systems.

Now do you get it?  This “one or the other” meme that has been around for many decades is contrived to support the “two” parties that are really the good cop/bad cop working
for our rulers.

We need more words.

I can think of any number of pejorative words for different segments of “lib” and “con”, but we need neutral words.  Ones that won’t appear partisan, and have some chance of being
accepted by the people to whom they apply.

We also need a political party to represent each, but that’s another story.

Give me some words, folks.  Comments welcome.

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1 Response to Getting inside their heads

  1. Pingback: Strategies for Changing the Story | Ponderings of a Perplexed Primate

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