We all form opinions, based on the first information we get, tempered by our basic assumptions, biases, prejudices. Once formed, we only change our opinion on the basis of personal experience, not new knowledge or other people’s experience. Nobodies opinion was ever changed by argument, and the endless stream of political and religious arguments are so much wasted breath. Oh, sure, sometimes you might, by sheer weight of logic, force somebody to agree that your opinion makes more sense than his, but you also earn his ill feeling, and by the time he gets home he has forgotten your relentless logic and happily fallen back to his old opinion, but now retains the thought that you are a jerk.
Why then, do people argue? Good question. In large groups, you might hope that some among the non-participants have not yet formed an opinion, and they might be persuaded to yours. One on one, it is pointless.
Political arguments have come down to the same kind of opinion split since the time of the Greeks, when Plato first wrote down the government-first ideas that conventional Canadian thinkers consider new and progressive and left or liberal and good. Opposing them are the set of ideas based on the notion that the family is the basic unit of society, backed up by classical religions and community traditions, which conventional Canadian thinkers call rightwing or conservative or uneducated (redneck) and evil.
It is 30 years since I was kicked out of my complacency and into an interest in our political life, during which I have read many journals and books, including many British and American ones. After all this study, I have come up with a startling conclusion, sort of the secret of the universe. This is not an original idea with me, I saw it written many times, it just wasn’t highlighted as the ultimate divider, the single difference between left-wing extremists and right-wing extremists. I am going to give it to you now, for free, and it is this.
Left wing extremists operate from the assumption that humans are born completely good , that is, all evil is learned. A perfect society will produce perfect people. Rightwing extremists operate from the assumption that we are after all animals, with all kinds of urges and desires and instincts, that is evil is born in us, and it is societies role to curb that evil.
So there it is. Nature (right) versus nurture (left).
Of course, when we take time to reflect in those terms, most of us would say that both nature and nurture play a role in how we turn out. Just because you are descended from a long line of bank robbers doesn’t mean you will be a bank robber, but it improves the odds. Similarly, growing up among bank robbers will make it more likely you will be one, but doesn’t make it a sure thing. Most of us say it is both nature and nurture, and most of us are not extremists.
But some are. Even though logically they would agree that both nature and nurture play a part, they tend to one or the other as a basic assumption colouring all their decisions and opinions. It is quite natural that the young would favour the left, nurture point of view – my failings are not my fault, but societies – the system made me do drugs, and so on. Raising a family is a powerful demonstration how different each of us is from birth, how each of our children has a distinct personality, and distinct aptitudes, interests, and abilities and so can change that opinion, nature does play a role. It is hardly surprising that older people then are conservative.
That is what is behind the statement by somebody famous that ‘he would not have much respect for anyone who was not a flaming radical in his youth, and a conservative in his middle years.’