AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
In the lead-up to the one-year anniversary of the January 6 Capitol riots last week, the American left worked themselves into a frenzy of manufactured moral panic and indignant outrage. CNN ran an entire special live from the Capitol. The New York Times published an op-ed bizarrely insisting that “every day is January 6 now.” Joe Biden and a host of other elected Democrats gave breathless speeches lamenting how democracy is still “under threat” from anyone who dares support the Republican Party or doesn’t submit to their attempted federal takeover of elections. But while analysis of the left’s alarmist and, at times, absurd statements is certainly warranted, the coverage of the event also underscored one broader observation about the American left that often goes unremarked: today’s liberals are a generally miserable bunch.
Steven Hayward at PowerLine reminded us of this fact late last month. As he detailed, conservatives generally derive greater pleasure and joy from their professional, personal, and spiritual lives by a wide margin. Contrary to the caricature liberals often promote Republicans as bitter, angry, “old white people” with an ax to grind, the data suggests that, in fact, that may be a mere projection.
In the past, left-leaning academics have dismissed this notion by asserting that conservatives’ greater happiness is a byproduct of their willingness to ignore the pain of others. According to one outdated but highly referenced study, which Hayward takes to task in his post, conservatives’ ability to “rationalize away social inequalities” is the source of their greater joy. The authors of the study, John Jost and Jamie Napier of New York University assert that conservative ideology, with its emphasis on “individualism” and “hard work,” grants a sort of blissful “ignorance.” In other words, if someone is happy, it must be because he or she is callous and indifferent to the suffering of others. In the rendering of these “researchers,” happiness is a sign of moral corruption.
The same study claims – in so many words – that liberals, by contrast, are simply too empathetic to be happy. Liberal ideology is overwhelmingly focused on collectivism and structural injustice. As a result, liberals are far more likely to see themselves less as individuals and more as the sum of whatever victimized race/class/gender structure they belong to – identity politics in a nutshell. According to the study, “conservatives (more than liberals) possess an ideological buffer against the negative hedonic effects of economic inequality.” The authors claim it would seem that liberals are just too kind-hearted and empathetic to tune out the pain of systemic injustice, and therefore their misery is a good thing.
While this narrative may provide liberals emotional comfort, the facts are less convenient. A recent academic study investigated that conclusion and found far more fantasy than fact underpinning it. This newer study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, noted that “Conservatives score higher than liberals on personality and attitude measures traditionally associated with positive adjustment and mental health, including personal agency, positive outlook, transcendent moral beliefs, and generalized beliefs in fairness.” Translation? A conservative worldview generally leads to a greater likelihood of living a healthy, well-adjusted life.
Furthermore, according to the new study, greater conservative happiness is grounded in “responsibility,” not “ignorance.” Conservatives believe in “the objectivity of moral principles,” and with “clear prescriptions for how to live, people can derive a sense of purpose and meaning in life.” Through a belief in self-reliance and moral clarity, conservatives feel more able to make positive change for themselves, their families, and their communities.
By contrast, the moral ambiguity and emphasis on systems of power that liberals have internalized diminish their ability to derive satisfaction from life. As the study states, “When moral codes lack clarity and promote flexibility, people may come to feel a sense of normlessness (lack of purpose in life) and alienation.” Liberal unhappiness, then, isn’t due to a greater sense of empathy. Instead, the study suggests that the ambiguity and lack of moral clarity with which most liberals perceive the world denies them feelings of power, purpose, and meaning in life.
Other studies seem to back this up. Last month, for example, a poll from Axios revealed that the most intellectually intolerant people in America are young liberals. 71% of young Democrats would not go on a date with someone who voted for a member of the opposite party, compared to only 31% of young Republicans. Over a third of young Democrats would also refuse to shop or work for a business supporting a cause they oppose. Lastly, 37% of Democrats outright refuse to be friends with someone from the opposite party, compared to only 5% Republicans. In short, it may be Democrats, not Republicans, who are really guilty of “intolerance.”
The left may be right about one thing – this country does need to find common ground and see past partisan divides. But the “science” shows that an important first step may be the need for the left to pause its systematic assault on the right long enough to look in the mirror and consider who may really be at fault for such divisions.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.
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