From Volokh Conspiracy:
…One other point that I find really interesting and important about Haidt’s work is his findings on the ability of different groups to empathize across these ideological divides. So in his book (p. 287) Haidt reports on the following experiment: after determining whether someone is liberal or conservative, he then has each person answer the standard battery of questions as if he were the opposite ideology. So, he would ask a liberal to answer the questions as if he were a “typical conservative” and vice-versa. What he finds is quite striking: “The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who describe themselves as ‘very liberal.’ The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives.” In other words, moderates and conservatives can understand the liberal worldview and liberals are unable to relate to the conservative worldview, especially when it comes to questions of care and fairness.
In short, Haidt’s research suggests that many liberals really do believe that conservatives are heartless bastards–or as a friend of mine once remarked, “Conservatives think that liberals are good people with bad ideas, whereas liberals think conservatives are bad people”–and very liberal people think that especially strongly. Haidt suggests that there is some truth to this…
We see this all the time. First off, anyone who is right of center in any meaningful sense can usually with 100% accuracy determine what a liberal will think on any issue before the liberal is queried. This is why we don’t need to tune in to CNN, read the New York Times editorial page or watch the President’s State of the Union Address. We already know what they are going to say. There is never a surprise in a liberal.
Secondly, we know that liberals will not know what we think about any particular issue, even after they have asked us. Whatever we say will just go through the liberal’s mental filter and come out as us saying whatever the liberal believed we should have said, given that we are conservative. The most recent example of this absurdity is the way liberals treated Huckabee’s recent comments – whatever one wishes to think about them, all Huckabee said as that liberals treat women as if they are unable to control their libidos and need Uncle Sugar to take care of them. Once that went through the liberal filter, it came out in liberal thinking that Huckabee thinks that women cannot control their libidos and need Uncle Sugar to take care of them. I can assure one and all that if Huckabee is still prominent 20 years from now, liberals will be condemning him for having once upon a time said that women cannot control their libidos.
If you read the whole article linked from Volokh, you’ll see that it starts out describing how people originally come to their views – that we tend to take up views which meet our predispositions and then tend to concentrate on evidence which confirms us, rejecting that which denies our view. This is probably true to a certain extent. I can see why I was open to the conservative argument when I first started paying attention to politics in the late 1970’s – Carter’s liberalism was such a clear failure that I’d have had to be an idiot to think that liberalism had the answers. Any particular liberal out there can provide us with reasons why liberal twaddle appealed to them at the start. But I think there is this difference – when you start entering in to conservative thought, you’ll find a variety of views right from the get-go. Unlike the mindlessness of liberalism, conservatism has dissidents.
And because we have dissidents, we are forced to argue and when you argue (if you are to be at all successful) you have to get in to the mindset of your opponent. You have to accord their point of view some respect and assume that they want the same good end as you, even if their means of doing so are different (and perhaps incorrect). Liberals don’t have dissidents – the powers that be of liberalism decree that this or that is the only acceptable view and everyone must conform to it – and everyone who doesn’t is slandered as a hate-filled bigot. Naturally, all of us would urge liberals to try and understand our views, but that won’t really be successful – a liberal who enters in to the worldview of a conservative in order to understand it would very swiftly cease to be a liberal. Not saying that they’d go out and become TEA Party activists the next day, but they’d cease to be liberal because they’d cease to automatically accept whatever the liberal powers-that-be decree…and thus they would be ostracized by fellow liberals, and most people cannot tolerate ostracism (not for nothing did the ancient Greeks give you a choice between drinking hemlock and going in to exile; some choose hemlock as the preferable option).
What all this means is don’t expect liberals to be kind or merciful: they can’t be and remain liberals. To remain liberals they must remain ignorant of and fearful about us. Just keep that in mind as we battle it out.