A recent guest on Bill Maher’s HBO program, Real Time, made an interesting and critical observation about the current differences between liberals and conservatives. Whereas the talk of liberals is full of arrogance and sarcasm, the talk of conservatives is mean-spirited and full of violence. Assuming that the guest was correct, the question is why? And, what can we do about it, if anything?
Part of the answer can be found in the currently fashionable ideas of the U.C. Berkeley professor, George Lakoff. But other parts are found in ideas that are not as fashionable.
According to Lakoff, conservatives are guided by “The Stern Father”; liberals, by “The Nurturing Mother.” In the world-view of conservatives, the world is a tough place. If you don’t play by the rules, then you deserve to be punished. You deserve what you get. The job of The Stern Father is to make the child aware of the rules and to hand out punishment if the child breaks them. Anything less is coddling and produces children who are unprepared for the harshness of life.
In the world-view of liberals, the job of The Nurturing Mother is to provide a healthy, loving, and supportive environment so that the child can develop to the best of his or her abilities. The job of the parent is not to break the spirit of the child through harsh and unbending rules, but to foster creativity, kindness, and respect for others.
Of course, every child needs both kinds of parents. And ideally, every parent should be a healthy mixture of both. As helpful as Lakoff is, he provides only part of the answer. To understand more fully the differences between liberals and conservatives, we need a deeper understanding of human development. This is where the ideas of the Harvard psychologist William Pollack come to the fore. Pollack notes that something ominous occurs in the early development of boys. He refers to it as the Boy Code.
Around 5 or 6, young boys deliberately learn to turn off and to bury their feelings. It is as though a giant emotional switch has been permanently flipped to “Off.” Even worse, if boys don’t learn how to switch off and to suppress their feelings, then this can be utterly devastating. They will be picked on and bullied relentlessly by other boys for being sissies.
This situation is rendered all the more tragic because boy babies are actually more emotionally expressive when they are first born than girl babies. But mothers and fathers instinctively suppress their emotional responses so that their boy babies learn to suppress theirs as well.
To be sure, the feelings of young boys don’t vanish altogether. This is impossible. They merely go underground where they remain primitive and undeveloped. Society sends a clear and a strong message that while it is acceptable for girls to express and to talk about their emotions, it is not for boys. As young boys develop into adolescents, late teens, and early adulthood, they carry this numbing of their feelings with them, often for their entire lives. There is compelling evidence that nature finally comes to the rescue in the later years of men’s lives where men actively seek to recapture and to redevelop their lost feelings. But, for many men throughout the vast body of their lives, they remain estranged and alienated from their feelings.
But just something just as devastating happens to girls as well.
Too many young girls turn their greater sensitivities with regard to feelings and to human relationships into weapons for bullying and humiliating other girls. In turn, those who are bullied are often so desperate for relationships of any kind and extremely fearful of losing them that they will accept extremely harmful relationships over none at all. The phenomenon is akin to women who stay in abusive marriages. In short, those who are bullied often subordinate their needs for authentic relationships to those of any kind, however harmful they are.
If men are more prone to develop into Stern Fathers, then no wonder that they are more prone to use violence and mean-spiritedness as weapons. And if girls are more prone to develop into Nurturing Mothers, then no wonder they are more prone to use sarcasm and feelings as their primary weapons.
But notice how these ideas apply both to men and to women. To the extent that liberals naturally gravitate to The Nurturing Mother, we should expect liberals, men and women, to use feelings and sarcasm as their primary weapons of attack. In contrast, to the extent that conservatives gravitate to The Stern Father and traditional masculine ideas, we should expect them to exhibit mean-spiritedness and to use the threat of physical violence as their primary weapons.
But if this is so, then it shows why the differences between liberals and conservatives lie so deep. They run so deep that it is almost impossible to talk about them. In fact, don’t liberals endlessly love to talk about their feelings whereas conservatives despise it?
At the present time, I don’t know of any viable way to bridge this gap. How do you talk about that which only one side wants to talk about? Is divorce the only alternative possible?