There are a couple of primary levels to this kind of simplistic thinking. First, we see the inclination to put a big, common label on everybody who comes along, e.g., they’re either a Conservative or a Liberal. The next level comes in believing that this label tells you the Fundamental Truth about the individual, and that you now have the moral right to shun them or embrace them, to praise them or ridicule them.
This kind of thinking has a seductive appeal. It makes this big, complex world understandable. It must be a great feeling to suddenly see the world come into focus. The fact that this “focus” is completely illusory and has been imposed by the viewer – well, that fact is completely lost on them. They know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. They know who is out to take their money and who is down in the trenches fighting for them. And the only price they’ve paid for this wisdom is a virtual lobotomy.
While I will admit to some frustration with such attitudes, there is an entertainment factor present as well. Since I do not generally wear my political stripes on my sleeve, I find that I am described, depending on whom one should ask, as both a Liberal and a Conservative – except for those who describe me as Middle of the Road. I have also been told, alternately, that I am not only learned and wise, but also naïve and ignorant (the correct answer being, of course, either All of the Above or None of the Above).
One of the most remarkable aspects of many people is their mistaken belief that their religion is more important to them than their politics. I know people who would put religion at the top of their personal priorities list if you asked them, but when their politics come up, a flush of passion enlivens them such as no religious moment would, and any difference in religion or lapse in morals on the part of their political allies and heroes is either blithely disregarded or swiftly discarded as slander from the opposition. At best, the beliefs and foibles of their heroes are accepted as being far less damning than the appalling conduct of their opponents. Or perhaps such lapses are simply tolerated because their perpetrators hold the Correct Political Views. At the bottom line, it becomes absurdly obvious that the individual’s religious inclinations are entirely at the service of their political passions.
To be clear, there are also people who believe that their religion is a top priority and they behave accordingly, but I’m not talking about them; I’m talking about hypocrites.
I want to emphasize this point: The traits I’m talking about here exist across the political landscape. If you’re thinking that these traits are the exclusive province of some particular political wing, think again. I think they represent several weaknesses in human nature that work against our efforts to view the world honestly. As I suggested earlier, we want to make sense of our world, so when we come across a hypothesis that not only offers solid answers, but also promises to save us from the labor of constant critical thinking – well, that’s a pretty attractive package. On top of that, we are also offered a way of identifying a scapegoat, someone outside ourselves who can be blamed for the ills of the world. Embracing the scapegoat model not only makes further sense of the world, it also allows us to feel better about our own choices.
You may note that I have not explicitly pointed the finger at myself in this post. That is, I have not spoken of my own susceptibility to lazy thinking or my own prejudices. And I’m not going to, not today. Today I am satisfied to merely complain about others!