I don't usually enjoy writing about rifts between conservatives and liberals. I realize that the rifts are out there (and my husband gets particularly incensed about conservative Christian bias, which he shares with me often). However, I choose not to concentrate on such differences too much, because, quite frankly, it makes me too upset inside.
Luckily, I inhabit a world primarily composed of other liberal individuals (if not always liberal-minded). I am surrounded with other sociologists and highly-educated people, and even if they disagree with me, we usually have quite similar views of big social issues.
This week, however, I have been pulled out of my safe little world three different times. And, as I have predicted in the past, thinking about these issues has caused quite a deal of stress.* I'll let these anecdotes speak for themselves.
To start, on Monday, a student of mine walked back to my office with me after class. Along the way, she was telling me how much she liked my class (which was nice to hear!), and how much she had hated taking a required freshman survey class that happened to be taught by an anthropology professor. Apparently, she didn't like this class because he made her memorize the fossil history of mankind. The nerve!
I was shocked because this student is quite bright and works hard, but I tried to use this as a teaching moment. So I said, "Well, maybe people in the U.S. would better understand each other if they understood each other's views. So, you had to learn about evolution, and perhaps it wouldn't be so bad for your professor to have to learn about creationism." She dismissed this with a "Yeah. It did make me more open-minded, though." Thank god for small favors.
This attitude was reinforced by an NPR story I heard yesterday afternoon. A reporter had gone to a Republican meeting in some small town in South Carolina. The members had representatives from different G.O.P. campaigns come talk about their candidates' platforms, and then there was a "fake" primary election. The leading candidate was Mike Huckabee, followed by Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson (I think McCain may have gotten a vote or two, but Giuliani got none). When asked why he "voted" for Huckabee, one man said (this is paraphrased), "Huckabee doesn't just say that he's going to consider his religion when creating policy. He says that his policy will be based on his faith. He's a strong Christian, and so am I."
Okay. I used to be a fundamentalist Christian (I'm not actually proud of that time in my life; I see nothing wrong with Christianity the way Jesus taught it, but I do take umbrage at how fundamentalists have bastardized the inherent good in the religion). I get what he's saying. But does he care at all about the separation of church and state? I would normally not worry too much about this, since there are some fiscal conservatives who I know are disillusioned about the Christian Right. But I also know that there are a lot of people like the man I quoted above (probably including my student!). I'm pretty much scared ****less.
So, that gets me to my next story, about the man who believes liberals are ruining the country. I sent out a letter about my dissertation study to a bunch of people yesterday. It included information about the study and the fact that subjects were chosen "randomly," etc... So, this man called this afternoon and wanted to know about the study. I basically repeated the information already included in the letter. Then he asked how his name came to be selected (in a nutshell, he believed that he had been chosen because he had a negative value on the dependent variable). I then explained to him how random assignment works (which he finally equated to a lottery, a good comparison, and one I will probably use in the future). So, after all of this, he finally said, "Well, I don't want to participate. If you ask me, this is just a bunch of liberal craziness. That's what's wrong with this country. Too much liberal craziness."
I feel privileged to have a job that allows me the freedom to "be a liberal." But, these three situations helped me remember that the United States is not as "free" as Thomas Jefferson hoped it could be (Habits of the Heart gives an excellent description of Jefferson's views of America, most of which I agree with). People cling so desperately to their own points of view, and confirmation bias allows such views to be perpetuated.
And I'm tired. I am tired of fanatical conservatives and fanatical liberals. If we truly want to understand the world, we're going to all have to be "liberal-minded," regardless of our political and religious convictions. Listen to others. You don't have to agree with them. Just please, for the love of god, listen.
*To be fair to myself, my dissertation has been going really badly this week, so I'm more prone to stress in general.