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Leah McLaren

Have your friends become closet conservatives? Add to ...

Winston Churchill was wrong when he said that any man under 30 who was not a liberal has no heart and any man over 30 who is not a conservative has no brain. The truth, as a new study has proven, is that most people under 30 are naive and the rest of us are mostly in denial.

Researchers at the University of Leicester recently examined the stated values of 136,000 people in 48 countries and found that well-educated people are most likely to misplace themselves on the political spectrum. In particular, there was a tendency for educated, upper-middle-class respondents to identify as and to vote left wing despite holding views on wealth distribution that place them firmly to the right.

Conclusion: The more brains you have, the less likely you are to admit to being conservative while privately holding right-wing views.

At the same time, this doesn't make you a liberal, but it does mean that you can meet your friends for sushi after yoga class, roll your eyes at the morons at BP and not feel like a total jerk for driving a Range Rover and sending your kids to private school. For some, that's a huge relief.

And it's champagne socialism, you might declare, wagging your finger like a smug undergraduate. Well, you're right. Personally, I am neither shocked nor horrified by the label. As flavours of socialism go, I've always felt champagne was among the nicest, although I'll make due with cava in a pinch. Certainly it's preferable to cheap chardonnay socialism or draft lager socialism or, worst of all, trendy mojito socialism, with its penchant for skinny jeans and vision-impairing retro shag haircuts. As socialisms go - smug undergraduates will note my use of the relativistic plural - champagne is indisputably the tastiest. However, it is expensive and, like all socialism, will leave you with a raging hangover and far too much Green Day on your iPod.

That's the trouble with politics: It is much more complicated than politicians would have us believe. Politics would do much better on television, I think, if it was more like hockey. With hockey, you choose a team and you root for it, win or lose, no matter which bunch of overpaid thugs are playing, until the franchise gets sold, goes bankrupt or you get old and die.

By comparison, politics is difficult, not only because it isn't just a brutish game that people play for money - although, more than often, it can be that too - but because, no matter which team you decide to support, someone will end up calling you a hypocrite in the end.

If you're a lefty and you don't give change to the homeless guy in the street, for instance, your lefty friends will ask you where your social conscience has gone. And if you're a conservative and you do give change to the homeless guy in the street, your conservative friends will say hurry up and stop being such bleeding heart, you're just feeding his drug habit and someone else is going to get our dinner reservation. And of course, both sets of friends are right.

So what's a reasonable, educated, conflict-adverse person to do? Behaving one way around your liberal friends and another way around your conservative friends brands you as spineless, a person without ideals or morals, a flip-flopper (and "flip-flopper," as we all know, is not a label anyone wants to get stuck with - it's a career-ending loser tag that's impossible to shake, like "hooker-shagger" or "girlfriend-and-baby-abusing-anti-Semite."

No, the way to approach politics is to take a stand you believe in and stick to it, whether it makes you popular or not. If you are smart, you will read all sorts of books and magazines and newspapers and blogs that reinforce your particular point of view so that, if anyone disagrees with it, you can shoot them down with pre-prepared diatribes on why, say, Muslim head scarves promote Islamofascism in schools or how factory-farmed chickens are systematically melting the polar ice cap.

But let's face it, most people aren't that smart and, even when they are, don't feel like reading books by Mark Levin or Elizabeth May. Most people want to watch Grey's Anatomy and snooze through The National because they're tired and busy and frankly who can blame them?

So here's what many people do instead: We subconsciously gravitate toward friends who happen to root for the same political teams that we do. This is convenient on all sorts of levels. For one thing, it makes dinner party conversations much more pleasant. For another, it means you and your friends can be hypocritical together without it being pointed out or, better yet, even noticed. For example, you can buy your daughter a Prius for her 16th birthday and all your friends will say "How ecological!" instead of "That's disgusting." Or you can cheat on your taxes just a bit on the grounds that everyone else you know cheats on them too because you all use the same high-priced accountant. Or you can get Botox 40 years after you burned your bra on the grounds that cosmetic surgery is "empowering." Or you can discourage your son from enrolling in theatre school on the grounds that "being a lawyer is a lot like acting."

More than anything, though, having like-minded friends means that you can sit in your nice house on a nice street and watch The National while nibbling on organic local cheese and secretly thinking to yourself that Stephen Harper isn't doing such a bad job (not that you'd ever vote for him) while safe in the knowledge that all your friends secretly feel the same way (not that they'd ever vote for him either). Or would they? As a good liberal, you'd never ask such a question of them or maybe even yourself. Now will someone pass the champagne?

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Follow on Twitter: @leahmclaren

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