The Left and Right Are Living in Different Realities
The way Washington’s spending grows, in libertarian mythos, goes like this: Republicans want to spend money on X but not Y, and Democrats want to spend money on Y but not X, so they reach a grand, bipartisan compromise to spend money on both X and Y, in ascending quantities, forever. It’s simplistic, as myths are wont to be, but it tells some truth.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about how divergent Americans’ risk assessments appear to be—how we seem to have increasingly different ideas of what endangers us and our way of life—and that little spending parable keeps coming to mind. If we can’t agree on what risks our government needs to address, if we operate from wildly varying ideas of reality and the dangers it contains, is this the sort of compromise we’ll make, agreeing to over-regulate everything to address everyone’s (often irrational) fears?
Gun violence is an obvious point of divergence right now. In recent weeks, especially after the horrific mass shooting in Illinois on the Fourth of July, a number of writers I follow have said they regularly fear becoming a victim of a mass shooter when they go to large, public events and expect to retain this sense of panic indefinitely. One spoke of experiencing a “background fear every time I’m out in any kind of crowd, also knowing it will probably never go away.” Another, Joel Mathis, worried that these shootings will exacerbate our national epidemic of loneliness, “[b]ecause the result of mass shootings is going to be that people (many of us, anyway) are going to do everything they can to reduce the chances of becoming a target.”
I’d be pretty jumpy if I heard what sounded like gunfire at a concert. But this worry they share with–as Mathis noted–a full third of American adults has literally never crossed my mind. I know being shot in public is a possibility, I suppose, but so are all sorts of terrible and objectively uncommon things which don’t influence my decisions day-to-day. I’m not even a gun enthusiast, but our risk assessments here are very far apart.
Or what about kidnapping? The desire to protect children—from being groomed, molested, abducted, and so on—is presently an animating force for much of the American right. An acquaintance recently told me her fear that her 12-year-old son, who “looks like a full-grown man,” will be kidnapped by a stranger if she drops him off at the mall with friends. She spent her own adolescence safely wandering the mall, but she can’t shake that worry, and 25 percent
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