Darryl Paulson: The problem with ideologues

Let me start by acknowledging that I am an ideologue.  I have been a life-long Republican and have served as a Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, America’s leading conservative think tank.

Half of the people reading the opening paragraph, the conservatives, are anxious to read what their fellow conservative has to say.  The other half, the liberals, will probably have already moved on to something else.  To conservatives, I am one of them.  To liberals, I am one of those.  In fact, when one of my university colleagues read in the paper that I was a conservative, she dismissively said to me:  “Oh, you’re one of those.”  It was stated as if I had leprosy.

The above states the primary problem of ideologues.  Often considered as intellectuals, they can be among the most close-minded individuals.

Forty years ago, when I was working on my doctorate, one of the primary books at the time was The Closed Mind by Milton Rokeach.  Rokeach was primarily interested in studying authoritarian personalities, but much of what he described is applicable to ideologues.

If you are a liberal, chances are that you will dismiss information coming from conservatives.  The same thing applies to many conservatives who “tune out” anything that liberals have to offer.

Not only do we automatically reject what the other side has to say, but we also justify our actions by stereotyping our opponents.  Liberals view conservatives as Neanderthals who are homophobic and hate women and minorities.

To conservatives, liberals are intent on destroying the free market system, while driving the nation into bankruptcy through the creation of massive government spending programs like Obamacare.

Just as racial stereotyping was common in the American South to justify segregation, political stereotyping is used to justify our negative view of our political adversaries.  It is so much easier to hate our opponents if we dehumanize them.

Most intellectuals view themselves as open-minded and tolerant individuals.  In reality, they are some of the most close-minded people I know.  Spending 35 years in a university only reaffirmed that view.

Stereotyping is the lazy person’s way to justify their behavior and beliefs.  Instead of listening to the other side, stereotyping allows us to reject their views out if hand because we know they are bad individuals.

Our political stereotyping has closed the door to political discourse and closed off one half of the population from listening to the other side.

If you don’t think ideologues are close-minded, how do you explain the recent government shutdown?  Conservatives refused to compromise and held the government hostage; liberals refused to sit down and talk to the other side.  “My way or the highway” seems to be the governing principle of ideologues.

Merely conversing with the other side is viewed as weakness.  Voting with the other side is treasonous and will likely result in a primary challenge.

So, how can we end this political stereotyping, begin listening to our opponents and actually start to solve the problems facing our state and nation?  It will not be easy.

At no time in history have individuals had so many outlets to political information.  The web has created thousands of outlets for information and discussion.  We should be better informed than ever with the wide variety of information available.

I would argue that the explosion of political portals has not resulted in a better-informed citizenry.  It has created a more ideologically oriented citizen.  Political polarization has intensified as citizens turn to outlets that reinforce, rather than challenge, their preconceived political ideas.

Conservatives follow Fox News, The Drudge Report, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard and National Review.  Liberals turn to MSNBC, The New Republic, American Prospect and the Daily Kos.  Everyone we talk to and everything we read and watch tends to reinforce our existing beliefs.

Are ideologues so insecure in their beliefs that they are afraid to have them challenged?  Aren’t intellectuals supposed to be willing to be exposed to different views and have their own ideas challenged?

Whether conservative or liberal, make it your mission to listen to what the other side is saying.  You may actually find the opposition has something useful to offer.

Darryl Paulson

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg.


One comment

  • Jim McClellan

    October 18, 2013 at 7:16 am

    Great column and dead on!

Comments are closed.


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