There are two areas where people get really nasty—politics and religion. Those are the same two things you “should not discuss at the dinner table.”
Why are these two different from other topics? The difference lies in how people “know” they are right. We think in two ways:
- I’m right because it’s logical (most of life)
- I’m right because it’s immoral to think anything else (politics and religion)
People don’t completely trust their logic, but they trust their morals and think their moral conclusions are obvious. This becomes a serious problem when moralistic thinking runs into strategic thinking. Suppose Obama thinks the drug war is wrong, but he does not stop it.
- The moralistic person will conclude “He didn’t stop it, so he must not think it’s wrong. So he is a bad person.”
- The strategic person will give him the benefit of the doubt and say “He knows it’s wrong, so something must be getting in his way,” or perhaps, “he’s not very good at his job.”
The difference is that when Obama doesn’t meet a moralistic person’s expectations, they conclude he’s evil, while the strategic person concludes he’s mistaken or stuck. The moralistic conclusion is far harsher and turns friends into enemies.
This does not happen in other areas. If two football players disagree on the next play, one may think the other is stupid, but neither would ever conclude the other is trying to help the other side. The same holds true and business, the military, and most parts of life. When people disagree they don’t conclude the other one is evil and secretly working for the other side.
The bottom line
The hard right and the hard left both think moralistically, and consequently condemn everyone who doesn’t do what they think they should. Moralistic thinking makes them blind to the normal problems of getting things done — there are roadblocks and people make mistakes.