Back in January, Time magazine’s online component used a quiz on its site, created using research on liberal and conservative identification, to determine partisan leanings.
Did it ask who you voted for or who you admired in the political world?
Naw … that would be far too easy.
Instead, it asked seemingly innocuous questions about whether you like cats, fusion cuisine and preferential treatment for citizens.
Time said the findings, published on the site last month, confirmed previous research that found differences between liberals and conservatives on things unrelated to politics. The big headline: “It’s true: Liberals like cats more than conservatives do.”
Well … that will come as a shock to my Republican friends with cats. I’m sure they had no idea they were traitors to the cause.
And wait a minute … cats are independent, aloof, fastidious and hate crowds. Shouldn’t conservatives prefer them?
And dogs are more dependent, easily distracted (Squirrel!) and hopelessly devoted to their people, so shouldn’t that be like catnip (yes, I said it) to liberals?
What’s the point here? It’s that these assumptions are all based on stereotypes, and most people (or animals, for that matter) don’t fit neatly into such boxes. Besides, the 12 questions in the quiz aren’t quite extensive enough to accurately gauge partisanship; they provide at best an indicator of leanings in broad strokes.
Regular readers of my blog know that my cat (Luke the Amazing Angora) tends to see himself more as a dog sometimes, and quite often co-opts “dog” behavior. So what does that make him (besides weird)—or me?
I’m reminded of this every time I see letters that paint all conservatives and all liberals with the same brushes, such as Democrats can’t be Christians, Republicans care only about business, etc. I think anyone who’s paid much attention to the world knows that stereotypes, while sometimes useful, especially when it comes to political rhetoric, aren’t necessarily reality.
For instance, I grew up in a supposedly “Republican” county in western Arkansas. However, that label really applied mostly to the northern, urban part of the county. Southward, however, elections tended to fall more moderate-to-liberal, with Republican primaries very sparsely attended. My mom, who’s worked elections at the polls, remembers years when only two Republican voters showed up at her precinct. That hasn’t really changed much over the years.
But wait … aren’t Republicans supposed to do better in rural settings (like the southern portion of my county) and Democrats in urban areas?
Well, darn it, there we go again, messing up expectations.
Political stereotypes simply sort everyone into little boxes rather than considering the wide array of individuals in the world, and yes, I’ve been guilty of it as well.
Can a Republican believe that legal abortion is sometimes a necessary evil (such as in cases of rape, incest or life-threatening conditions)? Yes, and Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois has faced backlash from his party and others for his pro-choice leanings.
Can a Democrat be against same-sex marriage? Certainly, and Arkansas’ own Sen. Mark Pryor is one of them.
The point is that while stereotypes may be convenient, they don’t necessarily apply to all the members of a specific group, and failing to acknowledge that leaves us poorer. Sure, there are definitely people who fit the stereotypes right down to the last freckle, but most don’t.
Anyway, the person, not the party, is who we should be electing. If that person turns out to not follow the stereotypical behavior assigned to him, we have no one to blame but ourselves if it bothers us.
Now excuse me as I move the dozing cat off the warm keyboard and toss him a catnip mouse before he grooms himself for an hour or so, jumps in boxes, then stares at birds.
Such a stereotypical cat!
Philip Warner of Garfield, whose letter appears in Wednesday’s edition (right under this column in the print edition), brings up a valid point related to my column last week and my comment that, among other things, we simply don’t have the space available to print every Voices letter received.
His solution is for me not to write a column, theorizing that the 26 inches he counted in that column could provide more space for letters.
True. Of course that would be only once a week and average just four to six letters.
Let’s look at the page, which is about 100 column inches total. Subtracting seven inches for the policy box that appears every day leaves us with 93 inches. Our longest letters are about 6.5 inches, which means about 14 would fit on the page if we ran nothing but letters (no columns or editorial cartoon at all), or 15 if we also ditched the policy box. Considering we usually get at least 20 emailed letters plus several snail-mail letters every day (the majority 150 words or more), we’d still not be able to print them all.
Now if all the letters had fewer than 100 words each, we’d be talking.
But thanks so much for the suggestion, as it’s from our critics that we learn the most.
However, since many readers have responded positively to my ramblings both here and at my blog (which preceded the column by about six months), I’ll keep it up. I’m kinda stubborn that way.
Philip may notice, though, that his final paragraph with a quite clever quip on numbers of words is not printed. Since I do fact-check and blooper0223 has never been the name of my blog (username and part of URL, yes; name, no), I had to edit that part out.
And by the way, give the ruler and calculator a rest and just enjoy what you read. It might change your mood a little.
And there’s always fuzzy-belly therapy.