Liberals and conservatives don't just differ in their opinions, they have fundamentally different ways of processing information, which in turn leads them to hold markedly divergent sets of facts.
Even more frustrating for those who view politics as a rational pursuit of one's self-interest, facts don't actually matter that much. We begin evaluating policies emotionally, according to a deeply ingrained moral framework, and then our brains often work backward, filling in -- or inventing -- "facts" that conform to that framework.
Our identities are bound up with our social relationships and affiliations -- with our families, communities, alma maters, teams, churches, political parties. Our groups. In this context, an attack on one's group, or on some view with which the group is associated, can effectively operate like an attack on the self.
That's where politics comes in. Our political, ideological, partisan, and religious convictions -- because they are deeply held enough to comprise core parts of our personal identities, and because they link us to the groups that bulwark those identities and give us meaning -- can be key drivers of motivated reasoning. They can make us virtually impervious to facts, logic, and reason.
That suggests a wee bit of a problem--if problem-solving remains an objective. Locked in as each side is to their respective values, viewpoints, and beliefs, finding even a small bridge to cross to the middle is a major challenge. In the past, that great middle was usually the place where both political sides could find ample and acceptable compromises. That ability was essential to our nation's growth and pre-eminence on the world stage.
Accordingly, the short list of our most critical problems [our warming planet; fossil-fuel supply concerns; inequality; economic growth and prospects for prosperity; same-sex marriage; the NRA] aren't even understood or viewed the same way. The countless smaller differences can't even find room on the radar screen, or so it seems.
Not only are we not engaging in meaningful conversation--refusing to do so in the first instance makes it a wee bit more difficult--we can't even agree on the basic realities! And just to make certain we don't agree, we are interpreting information differently, based on a variety of largely unconscious psychological adaptations to meet needs we're for the most part also completely unaware of.
Quite the predicament....
[I]t has been proposed that political ideology may be associated with differences in cognitive style... Conservatives may come to understand and organize their world in a more structured and rigid way, whereas liberals appear to be more open to complexity... Moreover, conservatives have been found to be more rigid in their interpretation of situations and more severe in their judgments of others. (links/citations in original)
As adaptation to and resolution of the nation's cultural, economic, and political issues become increasingly complicated, this rigidity and simplistic approach becomes even less effective. Changes will continue to pass conservatives by if their only response is to obstruct when and however they can. Most of those issues are not amenable to the simple or the quick or the easy. [Not everyone abides by those same stylistic and personality predispositions, for starters.]
The more complex the issue and the more variables to be considered, the less likely it is that any beneficial outcomes will result if quick decisions after minimal deliberations are the mandate. The flash-card approach to creating meaningful policy in this day and age is not exactly the ideal strategy.
The question is whether we'll have enough appreciation for the need to change, and then act on that understanding, before the hole we're digging gets much, much deeper and harder to climb out from.
Adapted from a blog post of mine