As I’ve stated in the past, I’m a pragmatic liberal. Some of that pragmatism comes from my experiences in various situations, while the rest of it comes from my background in science. Get involved in enough projects that end up being of the “up to your ass in alligators” type, finding out that the plans you were given won’t work or don’t do what they were supposed to, and you become a fan of “what works.” From the sciences, it was the times spent coming up with a great hypothesis, only to have the actual experimental data totally destroy it. The result is that I tend to be not quite cynical, but definitely willing to question things. I want to see the data, and I want to see if or how something works. If the data doesn’t back it up, or it’s not working, I’m willing to chuck it and go with something else. The opposite to that is … faith.
Early on in my military days, one of my barracks roommates “got religion.” He was a nice enough guy, but if you ever wanted an example of “over the top,” he was it. His zeal to spread the “good word” ended up with most of the others in the barracks doing their best to avoid him, but I couldn’t. We ended up in a number of debates, and I learned something about faith as opposed to reason. Every point on his part had the same starting assumption: The Bible was the inerrant Word of God. So his arguments would run along the lines of “The Bible says this, therefore...”. He had faith, and facts that conflicted with that were dismissed. I’ve been reminded about those days in watching conservatives over the past few years.
Last year about this time, I wrote about the “cult like” behavior I’ve been seeing from various conservatives. Just consider the statements you see out of them. Taxes are too high, the wealthy are job creators, government should be small, regulations are bad, poor people are poor because they’re lazy, the deficit is out of control, climate change is a myth, and on and on. You can write any conservative’s speech for them in about five minutes.
There’s just one problem with any of those statements: They don’t stand up to factual scrutiny. Taxes are at their lowest rate in over 50 years. The wealthy and corporations haven’t been creating jobs with their wealth. “Small” government is an ideal that gets thrown out the window when they need “government help.” Regulations are bad? Well, unless you’ve suddenly had a massive chemical or coal ash spill into your water supply, or had a train carrying crude oil explode near your town. The deficit has been dropping like a stone over the past few years. Poor people are poor because there aren’t enough jobs, and what few there are don’t pay very well. Climate change is a myth? Despite every scientist saying it’s not, and that the predictions from that are matching up with what’s actually happening.
It may be no surprise, given the religious right’s takeover of many parts of the Republican Party, but it’s apparent that what the Party’s adherents, the self-identified “conservatives,” are doing is substituting faith for reason. Not a religious faith, but a political faith. The dogma of that is all the things I stated earlier, and “not to be questioned.” That there are facts and an objective reality that contradicts that doesn’t matter, or is looked at as “a test of faith,” and rejection of their stances by the general electorate is simply because they weren’t … pure enough.
That’s why getting into discussions with conservatives often results in the feeling of “talking to a brick wall.” There was a time when there was a vigorous debate between the two parties, just as there was a time when I could debate with conservatives. Back then, we were arguing from the same reality. We had facts, and while we might disagree on how to deal (or not deal) with a given situation or with the conclusions we’d reached, we didn’t disagree on the facts. That’s no longer the case. As I discovered from my debates with my former roommate, they believe, and as a result anything has to fit (or be made to fit) that belief or be rejected. It’s something the political media hasn’t quite grasped, that they’re not covering a political party, but a faith structure. While various elected officials may only be cynically giving lip service to it, they are still locked into it by their Party’s base. The end result is that one side is talking from reason, the other is talking from faith. Two different realities.
Eventually reality and reason will win. It’s going to take some time, and even more, a lot of losses at the voting booth for that belief structure to crack. As observable reality keeps chipping away at their belief structure, there will start to be questions. Some will not change at all, while others will realize, reluctantly, that what they’re experiencing doesn’t match what they believe. But in the meantime, it’s necessary to realize that while facts and reality are important to us, it’s not important to Republicans. They have faith, after all.