Political liberals are “bleeding hearts” because they empathize so strongly with the sufferings of others. As Bill Clinton so succinctly phrased it, “I feel your pain.” When Republicans wanted to compete in the empathy department, they had to invent a new terminology to identify this strange bird. They called it a “compassionate conservative.”
One might ask why conservatives have, or are perceived as having, too little empathy. Why do liberals have too much? A widely-credited explanation is in terms of competing world views.
The conservative world view
Conservatives see the world as a challenging place in which there is always someone else who is ready to steal your lunch. Confronted by a potentially hostile environment, the best course is to take precautions and to ensure your own well-being and that of your family.
This precautionary stance helps to explain many of the distinctive traits of conservative Americans as well as right-wing politicians the world over. These traits may reflect either a proactive element, such as fighting to be winners in a competitive world. Or they can be defensive, involving measures to neutralize specific threats.
The threatening world view illuminates the conservative take on specific political issues in fairly obvious ways.
The liberal world view
The liberal world view is mostly the opposite. Liberals take a more optimistic view of the world as being somewhat more benign. Government is a vehicle through which the citizens of a democracy can solve problems and improve the well-being and happiness of most people.
Conservatives see the world as a more threatening place because their brains predispose them to being fearful (2). They are also predisposed by brain biology to hating complexity and compromise. That would help to explain why politics can be so polarized, particularly in a rather conservative era like the present.
It also explains many of the quirky differences between Democrats and Republicans. My favorite is the mind-blowing fact that four times as many Republicans as Democrats have mud rooms in their homes (3). Got to protect your home from that contaminating mud.
1. Barber, N. (2012). Why atheism will replace religion: The triumph of earthly pleasures over pie in the sky. E-book, available at: http://www.amazon.com/Atheism-Will-Replace-Religion-ebook/dp/B00886ZSJ6/
2. Barber, N. (2011, April 19). Conservatives big on fear, brain study finds. Blog post accessed at:
3. Garchick, L. (2000, November 5). Remodelers split along party lines. San Francisco Chronicle, accessed at:
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