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Blogs

Writers tend to the Left because they have imagination, not compassion

10 February 2014

2:00 PM

10 February 2014

2:00 PM

I apologise for writing a blogpost about a tweet, which can look a bit like over-analysis, but I was intrigued by a couple of things that writer Graham Linehan wrote last week.

 

 

He was responding to some complaints about bias on the BBC, and as Linehan has written some brilliant television comedy, his opinion is listened to.

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Our minds naturally respond in a hostile way to views we find opposed to ours, which is why I highly recommend Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind to anyone who strongly agrees, or disagrees, with Linehan’s statement (and Linehan himself, if he’s reading). Haidt, a liberal, found that people on the Left tend to have a very poor understanding of what their political opponents actually believed in, far poorer than their opponents’ understanding of them.

Conservatives did not lack compassion, he found, but had a wider array of ‘moral flavours’, some of which were not shared by the Left. (In fact studies in the US show that conservatives give more of their money to good causes than liberals, but I suppose that could reflect their attitude to the state, and I don’t know how else one might measure it – by blood donations?) If conservatives have any personality failing, it is a stronger sense of fear.

But Linehan’s view is fairly common, because people on the Left tend to stereotype conservatives. I’m not against the use of stereotypes, because although they can be a nuisance or injustice, stereotyping is a useful and necessary social shorthand and therefore impossible to eradicate. Stereotyping is only illogical when it is no longer useful, or too vague, but that it can be useful reflects the fact that reality has a Right-wing bias.

In drama, or at least in BBC drama, you see Christian fundamentalist terrorists, pro-life killers, Israeli terror plots in Britain, and lots of erudite, well-spoken murderers; in reality most crime and terrorism is fairly predictable, committed by rather boring and unintelligent criminals, mostly males aged 18-40.

But the main reason why people on the Left should read Haidt’s book is Linehan’s assumption that his side is moral. Moral people should never be comfortable in their righteousness. As Christopher Lasch observed, faith is not a comfort but a burden, and for those in positions of moral authority, as high-profile writers are, they should never feel content that they are the saved; they should feel confused, agonised even. On top of anything it leads to poor art; great drama and fiction tends to have a slight Left-wing bias, it is true, but bad drama has a much bigger one.

On top of this there is his contention that writers are compassionate; yet some of the best novelists in history have been extremely selfish, even unpleasant people, and artists in general are not especially moral. What writers are good at, and this is a personality trait that is far more common in people on the Left, is using their imagination to understand the views and motives of other people. Except, for some strange reason, when it comes to conservatives.

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