Consider the following thought experiment: Everyone in the world is given a detailed ideological survey covering multiple dimensions with multiple measures. Now assume a really good metric for calculating “ideological nearness.” This metric is used to put people into groups of 100 who have very similar ideological views—political soul mates, if you will.
Would you like the people in your group?
A few weeks ago I stumbled across a web page that appeared to be a coalition of Tea Party groups. The page I was looking at had a statement of principles—things like limited government, accountability, strict adherence to the Constitution, etc.—that I mostly agreed with. But for some reason I felt that I wouldn’t really enjoy hanging out with a random sample of people who shared those views.
I also find that there are people who frequently scare me with the words that come out of their mouths, even when they are words I might say myself (though I think my tone and delivery would be much different, and tone might be more important politically than substance). Similarly, I’ve always really liked Barak Obama, though I really detest many of his policy positions and almost all the positions of his vile political party. Still, I’d much rather hang with Barak than with George W., who usually made me want to stick my head in a meat grinder every time he opened his mouth.
So, I’m wondering if this makes me a nutjob. Many of the people who say things I believe are definitely nutjobs, and they scare me. Demagogues like Glenn Beck scare me. I saw a relative of my wife on TV when the Tea Party tour came through town a few weeks ago. She is a wonderfuI person who I like a lot, but now she scares me, too. This makes me wonder if maybe I should be scared of myself.
Obviously many people would respond that my politics aren’t nutty, it is just that I’m a snob. There is some truth to this. Even though I grew up in a very politically conservative culture, I was raised by educated, relatively liberal parents and went to an elite graduate school. I like to associate with thoughtful, intelligent people, even those I disagree with. Indeed, a shared ideological perspective is seldom an important criterion in pursuing friendships, though certain morally repugnant views can turn me off.
I’ve always hated the ignorance and racism of some on the Right, just as I’ve hated their indifference to the condition of the world’s poor and oppressed. I tend to dislike people who lack the capacity to see the world from the perspective of their opponents, who demonize people who don’t share their values, who are ignorant of the limitations in human understanding, who lack the capacity to forgive people for their human failings, or who are oblivious to any kind of nuance in political argument. These kinds of people are found in all ideological groupings, of course, but for some reason I think there would be quite a few of them in my group of 100.
I like to think that my political views are a result of careful consideration of alternatives and rest on a solid moral foundation. But maybe I’m just a nutjob.