ThoughtStorms Wiki

Context : LeftAndRight

In this QuoraAnswer I recently found myself characterizing liberals and conservatives as Doctors vs Lawyers.

Which side has the stronger intellectuals? Conservatives or liberals?

Liberals and conservative intellectuals tend to see themselves very differently. And have very different styles of presenting their intellectual work. Which obviously speaks to, or fails to speak to, people differently.

Liberal intellectuals see themselves as "doctors". They think their job is to discover a bunch of symptoms - poverty, prejudice, disempowerment, war, terrorism, economic recessions etc. etc. -, pattern match them against other historical examples, and then come up with a diagnosis of the underlying disease based on their own theories and experience. They take it as more or less self-evident that this bunch of symptoms is problematic and demands a solution, so they don't spend much time trying to justify or argue for that. They also assume that people respect their expertise in both theory and history, and so, again, don't spend much effort trying to justify that.

Conservative intellectuals, OTOH, see themselves as "lawyers". They immediately recognise that their role is adversarial, and that their job is to win the case against the liberal. Their job is to stand on top of history, throwing a spanner in the works; to thwart the liberal's reckless medications by convincing the jury of public opinion that the symptoms are not problems and that the drugs don't work. Their arguments focus on undermining the Liberal's diagnosis and prescription. In any way that works. Challenging the credibility of the witness on grounds of intelligence, honesty, ulterior motive or whatever.

Both these kinds of activity can be intellectually rigorous, creative and logical. But they speak past each other. A conservative observer looks at a conservative debunking of the liberal's claims and thinks the conservative has won. The world has been found innocent. Case dismissed.

A liberal observer looks at the conservative's carping and thinks that the conservative has missed the point. The disease remains uncured.

Interestingly, I wrote this pre-Covid19

Covid made this metaphor concrete, by giving us a real medical emergency where most people on the left saw it as urgent to defeat the disease and do whatever measures (masks, lockdown etc.) that this took.

While the right quickly assembled as a team to defend the status quo (everyday life and practices, shopping, sports events, masklessness, restaurants) from all these restrictions, by finding whatever counter-argument or counter-evidence they could.

I sometimes accused them of being RightWingDeathCult. But perhaps the doctors and lawyers model is better.

It's certainly been corroborated by this event.