It occurs to me that there is an interesting underlying paradox in the political divide in this country:

Those people with the greatest collective worldview are likely to have the most individualistic lives, while those people who stress individualism above all likely have the most collective social environments.

Let’s start with what passes for a Left in this country. Many who belong to this group have higher education of some kind, at least a bachelor’s degree. For my own part, many of my friends and co-workers have multiple degrees, and I myself hold a Ph.D. The process of getting such an education is highly individualized. One studies into the late hours, spends a lot of time alone with books, and communicates through writing rather than interpersonal interaction. And when you do defend your thesis or dissertation, you do it in front of a committee of other highly educated people who speak the same language. Very few Ph.D. programs even touch upon pedagogy, the art of teaching, despite the fact that most are expected to go into the field of higher education (and teaching, at its basic level, is interacting with other people). One likely comes to one’s convictions on an array of topics, including politics, through solitary study, and one more than likely expresses these convictions through writing that someone else reads in solitude.

Meanwhile, the Right tends not to be so educated. Skilled, working-class jobs are more likely than not group affairs, and one picks up these skills not through reading a text but a period of personal training with someone else, maybe even an apprenticeship. Just as higher education breeds an enjoyment of solitude (reading, contemplation), so does, perhaps, the work life of most blue-collar folk breed a love of company, be it at the bar or church. There lives are more collective, their communities bound more by a shared experience than by some disembodied ideology. Speaking of ideology, this collective experience only reinforces the American ideal of individualism because everyone around you shares it.

I’m not yet sure what to make of this, but I think this differential experience underlies many of the reasons why political groups in this country seem to be talking past each other.


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