Any conservative who lives in Washington, D.C., has had the experience: you’re the only one of our ilk at the dinner table, and the other guests are trashing conservatives as “intolerant” and “close-minded.”

No, they haven consciously set out to be rude: they just don’t know that there are civilized people who hold views quite unlike theirs. This is because for the most part they live in a cocoon.

Andrew Biggs has a great piece on The American about this phenomenon as it relates to the new and much-discussed book by University of Virginia professor John Haidt, The Righteous Mind.

Biggs writes:

[U]niversity of Virginia Professor Jonathan Haidt’s new book The Righteous Mind doesn’t simply suggest that conservatives may not be as close-minded as they are portrayed. It proves that the opposite is the case, that conservatives understand their ideological opposite numbers far better than do liberals.

Haidt asked conservatives and liberals to fill out a questionnaire—then he asked them to do it again, pretending to be on the opposite side of the aisle. The conservatives, it turned out, were good at answering as liberals would, but liberals had very little understanding of how conservatives think.

According to Biggs, Haid has a theory on why this is true. It is that “conservatives speak a broader and more encompassing language of six moral values while liberals embrace three of the six in a narrow set of core values. I see nothing wrong with this explanation.”  Well, I have no idea what that means. But this from Biggs I do understand:

But let me present a complementary, more practical explanation: If you’re a conservative who lives in a major metropolitan area or who simply reads the New York Times, you get used to being outnumbered by liberals. Liberals, by contrast, get used to being surrounded by other liberals, both in person and in culture and the media. As a result, liberals speak their minds freely, often in ways that are harshly condemnatory of conservatives and their stands on issues. As a conservative, you can defend your values against friends and acquaintances who essentially just called you stupid and evil or you can keep quiet….

But during that time when conservatives’ mouths are shut, their ears are open. They’re listening and understanding what liberals think—and what liberals think of them. Conservatives understand their own world—whether it’s of religious organizations, talk radio, Fox News, or whatever—along with the New York Times, network news world of liberals.

One of the reasons political discourse is so acrimonious, I think, is that liberals, at least the ones in big cities, live in such an insular world that they don't actually rub elbows with conservatives. This leads to the self-righteous mind.

Of course, what liberals need is a liberal education, including bumping up against people whose ideas are different from theirs.