The Left’s Epidemic of Political Stereotyping

By Mason Mohon | @mohonofficial

Just as sure as the existence of Yin and Yang, the existence of left and right goes on. And seemingly, it is only getting worse in modern politics. Both sides of Western politics have become increasingly reactionary. The far right is fueled with hatred of far left-wing culture, going after all things “degenerate.” The far left is merely the other side of the exact same coin, hating all things “traditional.” They are both reactionary groups, and the result of these two reactionary groups reacting to one another is obvious: increased political polarization. Yet, while the far right has many issues, the far left may be more responsible for the destruction of contemporary politics.

When dealing with any social phenomenon, one thing is for sure: nothing is going to be perfect. The human mind has clear limitations, and because of this, it develops heuristics so as to save on thought processing. These heuristics act as mental shortcuts, so when the brain perceives something, it can quickly draw conclusions based on prior thoughts. These mental heuristics extend to politics.

When working in the political space, one must take mental shortcuts so as to reach conclusions, and these mental shortcuts are ideologies. We both self-identify and identify others using these ideological markers so as to easily signal to our potential friends and opponents where we stand ideologically. These take the forms of libertarian, conservative, liberal, capitalist, communist, leftist, etc.

We identify ourselves and others to the same time and mental energy. It is far easier to understand where someone stands politically if they simply label themselves as a “conservative,” rather than explaining the nuances of each and every political view that they have. As the economist F.A. Hayek explained when discussing knowledge surrounding social phenomena: “we group their actions, and the objects of their actions, into classes or categories which we know solely from the knowledge of our own mind.”

When anyone self-identifies politically towards us, the prior knowledge that we have comes instantly to mind. Someone who calls themselves conservative means that we assume they are probably pro-life, pro-gun, and against groups like Black Lives Matter. We then go further to adjust our mental representation of them based on further information that we are given, such as “I am actually a pro-choice conservative.” But from the get-go, political stereotyping is necessary and is usually very beneficial because it gives us a starting point for framing our political friend or foe in our own mind.

But this stereotyping can have a bad side. As Hayek continued, “the trouble is that we can never be sure.” These heuristics are simply heuristics – they will almost never be perfect representations. And more often then we would like, they can be far off from the target. As a 2012 study co-authored by Jonathan Haidt explained, everyone is pretty bad at getting these heuristics right, but the left is especially bad.

By looking at five moral foundations, the study was able to estimate approximately what values political groups hold as a priority. They found that:

Liberals endorsed the individualizing foundations (Harm, Fairness) more than conservatives did, whereas conservatives endorsed the binding foundations (Ingroup, Authority, Purity) more than liberals did. This pattern has been observed across a variety of samples and methods, including self-report measures of (un)willingness to violate the foundations for money, text analyses of sermons in liberal and conservative churches, content coding of life narratives, and facial muscle movements.

The study showed that:

Conservatives were most accurate about the individual-focused moral concerns of either side, and liberals were least accurate. Compared to actual group means of either data set, moral stereotypes about the typical conservative showed substantial underestimation of conservatives’ Harm and Fairness concerns.

Left-leaning individuals are not as capable as constructing and accurate heuristic of their political opponents. This has become increasingly problematic in 2017 and 2018, years after this study was done and published. The majority of the broader left tends to label anyone to the right of them as a “Nazi” and Donald Trump as “Hitler.” This stereotype is expected of a group that underestimates how much their opponents value harm and fairness. If one sees conservatives as fairness-hating empathy-lacking psychopaths against minority rights, then, of course, they would be seen as a Nazi.

Yet these stereotypes are obviously inaccurate. One could compare Trump to Hitler if they made the exception of mass murder of innocents and hatred of Jews. Yet in that case, and charismatic leader is just another Hitler. Trump is pretty far from Hitler, seeing as that there are few similarities. In somewhat ironic contrast, though, the left’s political hero FDR was adored by Mussolini and Hitler just prior to World War 2.

The problem becomes worse when the left decides how one should treat a Nazi. A real Nazi is a problem, clearly, because they are either advocating violent action or engaging in it. A Nazi pattern of behavior should be met with a strong response. Yet left-wingers want to treat right-wingers as they would treat a Nazi, even though the right by-and-large does not follow the same pattern of behavior.

This treatment of right-wingers through a totally inaccurate stereotype has become an epidemic. The left (as well as the right, but for different reasons) needs a reality check. Just as they would tell a straight white male to check their privilege and adjust for unconscious actions, they need to check their own mental heuristics and adjust for unconscious phenomenally inaccurate stereotyping.

We stereotype one another politically because it is impossible to give each and every political character their own fully fleshed out identity in our mind. We need to fix our political heuristics, though, if any meaningful and beneficial political dialogue is ever to come.

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