There’s a fair chance that if you are reading this you’re only doing so because it’s better than talking to the relatives who invaded your home over the Christmas holidays.
In these days of political polarization any casual conversation can turn nuclear in an instant. The benign spark of, “I just couldn’t believe Charlie Rose did those things,” quickly turns into an inferno of bulging neck veins, people talking past one another and no one convincing anyone of anything. So, Merry Fricking Christmas.
But if you are willing to try something new, look at Arnold King’s work “The Three Languages of Politics” as a model to think about how and why we talk past each other and how to talk in a language even your entitled Bernie-ite nephew might hear.
For those of us who have strong political opinions, we generally fall into three tribes, progressives, conservatives and libertarians. I’m not talking about political parties. I’m talking about guiding moral philosophies. You already know your tribe and I’m guessing you’re comfortable in your moral superiority. I know I am.
Inside each of these tribes we use our own language and themes based on our world view. Somehow, we expect those in the other tribes to understand. They just don’t. Force an MSNBC viewer to watch Fox News and enjoy madness.
My philosophy is libertarian. I believe the human being is sovereign unto himself and only under the rarest circumstances should others, via government, have the power to coerce him. So, I see everything on a spectrum of liberty-to-coercion. Coercion being the ugliest sin.
This is why I don’t always understand my conservative friends. I mean we both hate taxes, gun control and support property rights, etc. And I agree with them when they say that God’s greatest gift to man is free will. Yet they then use the coercive power of government to strip away people’s God-given free will to take the drugs they want, sleep with whom they want, gamble if they choose and end their own life how they choose.
But that starts to make more sense when I learn that conservatives communicate their world view on a different axis than my liberty-to-coercion one. Their spectrum is civility-to-barbarism. Western civilization and the institutions of a civil society, which protect my beloved liberty, are under threat. Conservatives work to make sure those institutions of family and order don’t unravel.
Progressives use the words of their world view, which has an axis of oppressed-to-oppressor. They stand up for the under-privileged. They see the oppression of minorities, women and the poor in big and subtle ways. They work to correct it (and from my point of view, are often blind to the oppression, via coercion, many of their solutions create).
With King’s model the political battles our tribes fight have become a bit more predictable.
Take the Black Lives Matter movement. Progressives put white police, and white society, in the role of oppressor, African Americans in the role of the oppressed. Conservatives see criminal suspects and unruly demonstrators in the role of barbarian threats and police as the of defenders of civilization. Libertarians wonder why over-militarized police are coercing anyone.
Take the drug issue. Progressives see the drug war as tool of oppression, with racist laws that treat white users relatively lightly while sentencing minorities severely. Conservatives see drug use as a threat to families and the fabric of an orderly society, therefore we need a strong interdiction and punishment system. Libertarians scream, “get out of my body, it’s none of your damn business.”
So how do we talk to one another? It’s easy enough to deduce what “tribe” another person belongs to. The real task is to detach ourselves from our preferred language and challenge ourselves to re-shape our words to fit in the axis of the other tribes’ view.
When a Progressive starts jabbering about whatever victim du jour, my mind races to my happy place. If instead he described how that same victim’s liberty was stolen, he’d have me.
Would I have him if I showed how government over-reach is oppressing that under-privileged victim?
Here’s to Christmas miracles.
Jon Caldara, a Denver Post columnist, is president of the Independence Institute, a libertarian-conservative think tank in Denver, and host of “Devil’s Advocate” on Colorado Public Television.