Can We Stop Pretending Conservatives Are Stupid Yet?

I don’t want to say that some of my best friends are conservatives, but, really, some of my best friends are conservatives. I see no harm in admitting that; they’re all great people, they are all extremely sharp and thoughtful, they offer great political analysis, and they’re fascinating, delightful, wonderful friends. I’m honoured to number them among my friends, and I would hope that they say the same of me, though we may disagree on a number of political and sometimes even social issues — though I have no time for people who, for example, think that queer sexualities are an abomination or even something to just be revulsed by, I have no problem talking with people who have different views on tax policy than I do.

The thing is, as noted above, that my conservative friends are sharp. They’re not exceptional for conservatives: Lots of conservatives are excellent critical thinkers with a great deal of breadth and experience, many with degrees from excellent institutions of higher learning. There is nothing unusual about being a smart conservative, just as there isn’t really anything unusual about a person with liberal politics who is not very well informed, who doesn’t have a good grasp on issues, who is not good at critical thinking and logic.

Conservatives can have great minds. Liberals can have terrible ones. And I am really, really tired of liberals acting like they are saintly representatives of a universally well-educated, well-informed, logical group of people, opposing the forces of cluelessness and pathetically flopping ill-informed evil. While I may not like most conservative viewpoints, including those held by my beloved friends, that does not mean that I think they are poorly argued or poorly thought out. I have differing opinions on issues like the social safety net that make our views incompatible, but neither of us is failing to bring our full game to the court.

Many of the things we disagree on are issues of fundamental ethics: I believe that people who are struggling should be provided with assistance, they believe that people who are struggling should bootstrap their way out. I believe that this isn’t really possible, given the way society is stacked against people, they believe that maintaining people on the safety net disempowers them and makes it impossible for them to find their true potential. I believe that socioeconomics and class play a huge role in who is able to escape poverty, they believe that it’s a matter of will — but not necessarily, in all cases. Just like my left-leaning friends, my right-leaning friends have a pretty diverse array of opinions on the issues.

I oppose ill-informed conservatism, just as I oppose ill-informed liberalism. I’m not interested in engaging with people who don’t bother to research and understand the issues, who rely on the opinions of others so they can simply parrot, who aren’t interested in fully engaging with critical thought on a variety of subjects. I am not interested in wasting energy on people who aren’t interested in a genuine conversation, either; there are some conservative friends I just don’t talk to about politics, because we know that it’s going to be a frustrating and counterproductive conversation. There are lots of other things we can talk about.

I also oppose, I would say, the vast majority of conservative opinions on social, political, and infrastructural issues. I disagree about how we should use, distribute, and preserve common resources. I disagree on the use of regulation and policymaking. I disagree on regressive social attitudes about sexuality, gender, disability, race, religion, and other identities. I disagree on tax policy, on foreign relations, on how to identify the social issues of our era, on the treatment of Hillary Clinton (also, conservatives, please stop spelling her name with one ‘l’ as a deliberate slight, it’s offensive and boring). But I also disagree with a number of liberal perspectives, too, so it’s hardly as though I have picked my sandbox and stuck in it. I prefer to sit on the edge and dabble my toes in it, if you must know, because I’m well aware that the neighbourhood cats use it for something unsavoury.

But one thing I will not engage in is rhetoric claiming that conservatives are, across the board, ‘stupid.’ And I hate it when liberals do that, because it’s wrong, and it’s irritating, and it is a great way to needlessly set social groups against each other. Liberals may not believe that they have anything in common with conservatives, and may want to distance themselves in the way they think is most effective, but they may want to rethink that. Because every time people on either extreme of the political spectrum dismissively label those on the other end with an insult, it makes them look bad, and it provides more ammunition for their opponents.

Conservatives get to cry ‘liberal intolerance’ and complain about how people on the left don’t take the time to actually get to know conservative ideas and think about them. They get to suggest that people on the left are just being irrational, and a shouting match begins, as each side attempts to one-up the other in a mission to make opponents look as smeared as possible. As we face down a critical Presidential election, it’s time to grow the fuck up and deal with the fact that people across the political spectrum exhibit a huge range of cultural knowledge, skills, experience, and critical thinking abilities. Some of those people are conservatives, whether the left likes it or not, and the left can either acknowledge that, or pretend it’s not reality and look like a bunch of whiny toddlers.

Image: GOP Elephant — Caricature, DonkeyHotey, Flickr