Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Scenes from a Marriage

Shankar Vedantam has a terrific piece up on Slate comparing the relationship between conservatives and liberals to that of a couple undergoing marriage counseling:
“Couples in marriage therapy invariably have loads of evidence to justify their feelings. If you could haul liberal and conservative America into a counselor's office, the left would produce loads of evidence showing that conservatism is regularly anti-intellectual when it comes to questions of evolution or global climate change. Sarah Palin really did evince a limited knowledge of foreign affairs during the 2008 election. George W. Bush really did say "misunderestimate." Conservatives would tell the counselor about how liberals are always slow to see threats to national security, always "blaming America" and always quick to support international institutions such as the U.N. and the International Court of Justice.

“What couples learn in counseling is that their conflicting visions are accurate, but accurate in the way caricatures are accurate. They miss nuance and fail to see how different underlying dreams prompt each side to value things differently. Surely underlying personality and different upbringing have much to do with the desire among so many liberals to see a president who is, first and foremost, smart, and the desire among so many conservatives to have a president who is, first and foremost, a patriot?”
“If marriage research were a guide to politics,” Vedantam concludes, “we could say that the scripts of the right and the left do us all harm—and that the left may be doing more harm to the relationship than the right.” In a nutshell, that’s because while conservatives think that liberals are wrong, liberals hold conservatives in contempt. Disagreement, even when it gets nasty, is compatible with the mutual respect that sustains a marriage, disdainful condescension isn’t.

Good analogies illuminate as much where they break down as where they hold up. Marital discord is different than ideological jousting in at least one crucial respect. Modern marriage is an at-will relationship between two parties.  That means any marriage can sustain itself only as long as there is a durable meeting of minds between them. No spouse committed to saving a marriage can afford to be indifferent to what his or her spouse thinks about it.

Representative democracy is a relationship among many people, most of whom aren’t doctrinaire ideologues. It holds together as long as a critical mass of citizens are ready, and known by each other to be ready, to discharge their civic obligations to each other despite their disagreements. Citizens don’t have to care about what a less-than-critical-mass of ideologues think about the state of the union. Ideologues marginalized by their own socially corrosive attitudes are easy to ignore.


Anonymous said...

If politics is like a marriage, then liberals and conservatives are like the demented aunt and uncle with rooms up in the attic

Anonymous said...

How weird. As a liberal, I could never marry a conservative.

Anonymous said...

Me neither. I have too much contempt for their anger.