So I recently read “Damnation Island,” by Stacy Horn.
In 1883 a charity worker named Josephine Shaw Lowell wrote a letter to a relative. She wrote:
I find this a depressing but common perspective. I have known many, many, many people in my life who believe that poverty is a moral defect, and the inevitable result of laziness, stupidity, or evil. And I very consistently encounter people who still believe that the best way to fix poverty is the cut people off from charity and welfare so that they will be forced to work for a living. And they describe this as love.
Josephine Lowell spent the next eleven years working with the poor and running charitable institutions. After over a decade of experience, she wrote again, but she had changed her tune:
In this, Lowell, has come to achieve a better understanding of the reality of poverty.
So my question to modern Conservatives is: * “If this lady figured it out over a century ago, what’s your excuse?”*
This is the point that causes me unending frustration. If I had to characterize the key problem of Conservatism, I would point to the absolute inability to reconcile contradictory information. I mean, when I was a Freshman in Psych 101, we learned about the Fundamental Attribution Error (eg poor people are poor because they are inherently lazy and stupid, rather than a victim of understandable or preventable circumstances). So when I hear Conservatives continue to utter the same mistaken ideas, I want to pull my hair out. In my mind, these theories are already so well understood and documented, I find it utterly baffling how anyone could persist in their mistaken understanding. If Josephine Lowell could figure it out a hundred years ago, why are we still having these same arguments today?
I despair of the idea that it is most likely the former. When a Liberal goes to school and learns about well-supported psychological or social theories that explain our cognitive errors, they accept it and try to rectify their thinking. And yet, I hear over and over from Conservative talking heads who insist that college professors have a ‘liberal bias’ to the point that students will assemble ‘watchlists’ of instructors who promote ‘the liberal agenda.’ And it’s not just poverty. It’s gays, or transgenders, or economics, or climate change, or immigration. Over and over and over, these people reject well-supported theories, because facts and conclusions which contradict Conservative thought is a ‘liberal agenda.’
So here’s the thing: The Fundamental Attribution Error tells me that Conservatives must not be inherently wicked, stupid, selfish, or ignorant. Rather, there are likely sound reasons for their misfortunes, which I could better understand through exercising compassion and empathy. For the the life of me, I can’t figure out what that might be. When I see Conservatives and Conservative leaders railing against education, against universities, against any teaching that would contradict the ideas they have already set in their minds, I can’t come to any other conclusion except that of willful ignorance.