Okay, we’ve been through this before. What in the world makes a conservative, well conservative, and a liberal, liberal.
We try to converse with each other, end up yelling, throwing down our respective hats, and screaming bloody murder. “What is wrong with you. It’s obvious to anybody with a brain!”
Yet, we fail, and we are wont, on both sides, it seems, to declare the other side simple-minded, irrational, self-indulgent, and any such collection of pejorative adjectives that come to mind.
Noted psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, author of “The Happiness Hypothesis,” has more to tell us on that score. Haidt, professor at the University of Virginia is also widely known for his essay entitled “Why People Vote Republican.” He will be getting out a new book in the fall of 2010.
His basic theory is that we are victims of rather different moral philosophies, gained as much from our peers than from our parents. We value different moral precepts and this makes it inevitable that we will fall on opposite sides of some very big issues.
The five moral impulses he discovered at work were these:
• Harm/care. It is wrong to hurt people; it is good to relieve suffering.
• Fairness/reciprocity. Justice and fairness are good; people have certain rights that need to be upheld in social interactions.
• In-group loyalty. People should be true to their group and be wary of threats from the outside. Allegiance, loyalty and patriotism are virtues; betrayal is bad.
• Authority/respect. People should respect social hierarchy; social order is necessary for human life.
• Purity/sanctity. The body and certain aspects of life are sacred. Cleanliness and health, as well as their derivatives of chastity and piety, are all good. Pollution, contamination and the associated character traits of lust and greed are all bad.
And of course, you guessed it. The first two are terribly important to liberals and the last two terribly important to conservatives. The middle one is vastly more important to conservatives than liberals as well. It takes little imagination to figure out where you fall, and as you examine the discussions you’ve had with conservatives, you can easily see the echoes of their moral priorities as well.
This of course translates rather excellently into religious liberal/conservative divisions as well. If one is religiously conservative, you can almost bet they are conservative as to all the various political issues they are concerned about. When you say, “how can you not care that millions of your fellow citizens don’t have basic health care?” they retort, “What is that up against the millions of babies we kill through abortion?”
Perhaps, just perhaps, neither side is being purposefully obtuse in refusing to see the point of the other side, their moral impulse just screams that something else is desperately more important before your issue comes to the fore.
What Haidt and others would argue, is that neither side would be good at being the sole group in control. Either would drive society in general into a hole. Liberals would end up with chaos and conservatives would install a sterile grey world of rules, killing creativity in the process.
That this is so is clear when you examine either party after serious losses. They devolve into a mess, kind of like the GOP is doing to itself today. It wasn’t all that long ago that the Democrats did the same thing, which of course led to the Bush fiasco, which in turn led to the latest Republican downfall.
By the way, you can determine your own particulars on this subject by going to http://www.yourmorals.org/.
Given that we are living in a more and more global world, we are going to continue to be faced with people who have radically different takes on this moral impulse ground. It becomes imperative that we learn this fact well, and work to appeal in our statements to as broad a range of the five as possible when framing our arguments.
One area as an example is that of the environment. Liberals support action because of their broad care for people and keeping them from harm. But evangelicals are being drawn toward action by appeals to authority–namely that God expects us to take care of what he has given us.
There is much to argue, for and against Haidt’s argument, no doubt. It is in its beginning stages of development and there will be plenty of critics. If you want to see some of them, then by all means look at the comments to the piece, which is linked up top. They are thoughtful and reasoned.
Yet, it seems Haidt is on to something here, and we desperately need an answer to this polarizing situation we find ourselves in. We cannot continue to address the severe and huge problems facing this country and globe without learning somehow to work together. That we have widely divergent ideologies is clear, but we have much at stake that is the same–our children for a start.