The common thread of weak thinking in leftist opinions
Even in my teens, I noticed the seemingly odd phenomenon that the Swedish left disagreed with the right on more or less every issue—even when these issues had nothing to do with left and right in the political sense (and disregarding that the left–right scale likely does more harm than good), including e.g. issues relating to Israel or nuclear power. As time has gone by, I have noted the same phenomenon in other countries: While there are great variations (in particular with the right being far less homogeneous than the left), there is a strong correlation between e.g. being left and strongly disliking Israel or nuclear power, respectively being right and being more pro-Israel (note that, outside of the US and Israel, it self, the relative “more pro-” is usually necessary, while the absolute “anti-” can stand on its own) or being pro-nuclear power. Similarly, the left tends to be pro-feminism, pro-affirmative action, anti-globalization, pro-political correctness, whatnot—all things that are not (or very weakly) tied to the left–right scale. (If someone wants to counter e.g. that feminism is obviously left because both the feminists and the left wish for equality for everyone, or similar: You merely prove that you do not understand typical right-wing positions on equality—or, for that matter, what modern day feminism actually implies.)
Having considered these observations off-and-on for a few weeks, I see a pattern of contributing factors relating to lack of rational thought and a tendency to jump where feelings lead without investigating the facts, that explain various typically leftist opinions (including much of the original left–right divide) and why these are so often not shared by the right:
A weakness to emotional arguments; in particular, a tendency to believe whoever complains the loudest and has the best “sob story”. Prime examples are the anti-Israel and pro-feminism stances: On closer inspection, various militant Palestinian organisations are the greater villains in the drama, who just happen to be very good at painting themselves as victims (cf. the “Not touching! Can’t get mad!” stunt of the Mavi Marmara); while feminists rely on a mixture of lies, misinterpreted or falsified statistics, spreading of anti-male prejudice, whatnot (cf. any number of previous entries).
An inability or unwillingness to check the facts, think a few steps ahead to look at mid- and long-term consequences, etc.: Examples include believing the 77 cents on the dollar nonsense, banning child-labour (as opposed to merely condemning it) without first ensuring that the families can prevail without it, etc.
An illustrative non-political (and semi-fictitious) example: Assume that a plane has been hi-jacked and that the hi-jackers demand a ransom of 10 million dollars. A typical leftist-style reaction would be along the lines of “Oh! Those poor people, we have to save them no matter what the cost! It would be inhuman to think of money in a situation like this!”; while a rightist reaction would be “If we pay these hi-jackers, others will see that hi-jacking pays off—and we will see an increase in hi-jackings with more innocent people at risk.” (not the “Money is more important than people! Let them fend for themselves!” that the common leftist caricatures of the right would likely claim).
A view of the world based on offender–victim or oppressor–oppressee relationships. Consider pairings like Israel–Palestinians, men–women, the US–the World, Whites–non-Whites, … Of course, this is unsurprising with an eye on Marxism—and, indeed, the rich–poor pairing is fundamental to many leftist ideologists and voters. Statements even to the point of claiming that the rich would hate the poor are not unheard of in e.g. Sweden.
In reality, these pairings usually display misunderstandings, failures as per item 1, unfair generalizations, or are otherwise faulty or, at best, quarter-truths on closer inspection. In particular, the Swedish saying “Det är inte ens fel om två träter.”–“It is not the fault of the one [party], if two [parties] are feuding.” is too often neglected.
A fear of that one big, but unlikely, disaster over the certain continual and continuous destruction. Nuclear power vs. coal and oil is the paramount example, but other examples abound in the small, including politically correct language changes, where the fear of insulting someone leads to negative language changes or restrictions on freedom of speech. (See e.g. my discussion of gender-neutral language.)
Here it is vital to look at “opportunity cost” and “expectation value”—in particular when faced with situations like the recent Japanese nuclear scare: Note how few incidents there have been over the years, that Japan did not become a radioactive wasteland, that the earth-quake and tsunami did more damage on their own than the nuclear incidents/accidents did, …
To make matters worse, these fears are often combined with a poor understanding of the issue (as discussed above). For instance, I recently encountered a blog comment with the completely incorrect claim that this-or-that reactor had x thousand times the nuclear material of the Hiroshima bomb—and that it would explode with x thousand times the power. Well, if that was a risk, I would likely be anti-nuclear power too… In reality, it is extremely unlikely, bordering on the impossible, for a nuclear explosion to take place—and even if, by some extraordinary fluke, it did take place, the yield would not be even remotely proportional to the mass of the nuclear material. (Consider that the hypothetical explosion would throw most of the core out of reach from the chain reaction at a too early stage or that a localized sufficient criticality would not imply a core-wide criticality.)
Note: I do not claim that these sins are the sole property of the left. On the contrary, they are fairly wide-spread (including both Republicans and Democrats in the US and the European, severely misnamed, “extreme right”); however, in most countries that I have insight into, the left appears to be far worse than the right—most notably in Sweden.
The reader may observe that there is a similar tendency of different thinking between men and women—and, indeed, women tend to be more leftist than men.