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How Liberals and Conservatives Miscommunicate

by Bill Miller
(Palo Alto, CA)

After months of struggling with the political Right-Left tensions and the thought: “how could they think like that?!”, something became clear: Progressives/Liberals and Conservatives use language in fundamentally different ways. For the former, language is primarily a means to communicate information whereas for the latter it is a tool used to achieve an effect. The fact that we are all nominally communicating in English obscures this difference, but we are effectively speaking different languages. This is further obscured by the fact that a great many statements (“I’d like a sandwich”, “Tommy is a liar”, “Fetch the newspaper Rex!”) achieve the same result regardless of whether they are intended to convey information or simply elicit an operantly conditioned behavioral response.

Progressives consider deliberately false or inaccurate information to be a “lie” whereas for Conservatives, a statement either achieves the desired effect or it does not. If one statement does not work (“human activity does not contribute to climate change”), then it is perfectly legitimate to substitute another that does (“climate change is a hoax”). To the Conservative mind, truth or falsity, as understood by the Left, is not so relevant; achieving the desired outcome is the primary concern.

Accordingly, Progressives are then puzzled when they trot out lists of facts yet these seem to have little effect on Conservative thinking. On the other hand, Conservatives are puzzled when activated about some issue and the Left responds with “political correctness”.

In quite a literal way, we are talking past each other.

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Feb 02, 2017
"The Language Barrier"
by: John Burch

Hi Bill,

I agree with you, and wonder what we need to do if communication is so polarizing and we need to find common ground. So much, now, is up for grabs. It's almost as though every word matters. Maybe THAT is the point.


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