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Why Won't They Listen?
March 26, 2012 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Why Won't They Listen? Haidt diverges from other psychologists who have analyzed the left’s electoral failures. The usual argument of these psycho-­pundits is that conservative politicians manipulate voters’ neural roots — playing on our craving for authority, for example — to trick people into voting against their interests. But Haidt treats electoral success as a kind of evolutionary fitness test. He figures that if voters like Republican messages, there’s something in Republican messages worth liking. He chides psychologists who try to “explain away” conservatism, treating it as a pathology. Conservatism thrives because it fits how people think, and that’s what validates it. Workers who vote Republican aren’t fools. In Haidt’s words, they’re “voting for their moral interests.”
posted by shivohum (53 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hmmmm...I'm suspicious of the essentialism of this analysis. His model would have a tough time accounting for the large swings in the electorate's voting behavior that we have seen, historically.
posted by yoink at 10:03 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


To the question many people ask about politics — Why doesn’t the other side listen to reason? — Haidt replies: We were never designed to listen to reason.

What did you just call me?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:05 AM on March 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Differences in worldview are fine, except when they cause concrete harm to others. I'm not concerned about people caring about their local communities or having essential values that differ from mine. What worries me is when someone's values tell them that X group of people doesn't have the right to do what they're doing and Y group of people don't have a right to exist at all--that, because their actions/existence conflict with the held values, it's the actions/existence that need to stop.

Skimming the article (on lunch break, critical reading skills have been replaced with GOGOGONOTIMENOTIME), I'm not really seeing these kinds of distinctions being made, and that's sort of unsettling.
posted by byanyothername at 10:10 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Skimming the article (on lunch break, critical reading skills have been replaced with GOGOGONOTIMENOTIME)....

Maybe this is the problem right here.

Everyone in the country is so overworked we're all too tired to think critically.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:25 AM on March 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


Everyone in the country is so overworked we're all too tired to think critically.

I often wonder if we've just forgotten how to think critically. In a culture where the typical day might be: alarm clock wakes you up, microwave or toast a prepared food item, cruise control to work, sit at a computer all day, cruise control home, fast food or microwave a prepared meal, watch TV and go to bed.

It seems like part of the case in this "tell me what I think" scenario, is that we forget to even consider that perhaps none of the politicians, pundits or talking heads are speaking for us at all.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 10:36 AM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


This was made very obvious to me during a recent conversation with one of my tea party acquaintances. Regardless of the issue (immigration, abortion, etc.), the actual outcomes mattered less than his adherence to the moral truth. It didn't matter, for instance, that reducing access to contraception by attacking Planned Parenthood would lead to more abortions; he followed the rules, dammit, and everyone else should too. The fact that breaking his "rules" led to better outcomes didn't make him question them -- it merely made him even angrier that "they" were "getting away" with it.

I don't think he realized how bitter, miserable, and downright un-Christian he sounds.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:39 AM on March 26, 2012 [31 favorites]


Is Tea Partiers' opposition to a black President also based on sound moral principles?
posted by goethean at 10:43 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Workers who vote Republican aren’t fools. In Haidt’s words, they’re “voting for their moral interests.”

Piffle. These same workers voted for their actual moral interests in the 30s and 40s and we got FDR. Now they are voting for their perceived moral interests (e.g. someone who lies to them about gods, science and economics).
posted by DU at 10:43 AM on March 26, 2012 [14 favorites]


Haidt has read ethnographies,

Oh my goodness, he must be terribly clever.

traveled the world and surveyed tens of thousands of people online. He and his colleagues have compiled a catalog of six fundamental ideas that commonly undergird moral systems: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity.

But doesn't this imply, based on his assertion that we make moral judgments based on murky and perhaps unknowable neural tendencies, and then justify them later, that these six ideas are simply fundamental rationalizations for what people already are inclined to do? They don't undergird moral systems, they lie atop them.

Social conservatives see welfare and feminism as threats to responsibility and family stability.

And that's because they dislike out-group types and the idea of women correcting patriarchy. So I can only see hierarchy here.

The Tea Party hates redistribution because it interferes with letting people reap what they earn.

Well, they only really hate it when they think that people who don't deserve it are benefiting. They like it just fine when they're getting what they feel entitled to. Hierarchy, again.

I find his argument to be an incoherent mess of unexplored conclusions and unexamined premises. It's impossible to take anything he says about moral judgment seriously because he's anxious to advance the fact that he doesn't have any insight into its origin or causal factors. And it's equally difficult to seriously consider his assertions about the origins of political sentiment when he takes this ludicrously ahistorical, essentialist perspective on specific modern issues. It's like an undergraduate essay.
posted by clockzero at 10:44 AM on March 26, 2012 [21 favorites]


Everyone in the country is so overworked we're all too tired to think critically.

Yeah. I tirelessly make that point again and again whenever someone looks like they're about to climb up on their soapbox and accuse the ignorant, unwashed masses of just being lazy. I definitely agree, and it's nice to see someone else saying it.

Thinking about it a little more, part of what's bugging me is that it looks like Haidt might be ascribing validity to intuition, and I don't think that's something I want in my policymaking. Lots of people intuitively feel that homosexuality is a sin or disease, but the intuitiveness doesn't make those people any less wrong.

It's hard for me to get a clear picture of a lot of the ideas in this article. For instance:
Faith, patriotism, valor, chastity, law and order — these Republican themes touch all six moral foundations, whereas Democrats, in Haidt’s analysis, focus almost entirely on care and fighting oppression.
I'm pretty sure that "care and fighting oppression" mean "social services, infrastructure, opportunities and civil rights," but everything else needs to be unpacked before anyone can have a meaningful discussion. What faith, patriotism, valor (?), chastity (!) etc. mean varies far too wildly across different groups of people.

What's setting off my alarms are just specific instances like:
Social conservatives see welfare and feminism as threats to responsibility and family stability.
...whereas, concretely, they provide us with social services and civil rights.
The Tea Party hates redistribution because it interferes with letting people reap what they earn.
...individuals repaying into society to keep infrastructure, beneficial social services and opportunities healthy.

Like, I understand that a lot of political disagreements stem from essential values and philosophical points, and I can respect people whose fundamental assumptions about the world are totally different from mine, but I can't respect someone wanting to erode or remove the rights and abilities of people they disagree with. Even if that didn't violate my essential values, that's where you cross the line from morality and ethics into concrete harm against others.

I do think the point about right wing leaning individuals having more interest in local altruism is interesting, but many left wing leaning individuals (hi) argue for social safety nets that make personal altruism not necessary; so who has "more compassion" is a shaky argument either way.

Really, I don't like any "Conversatives" vs. "Liberals" stuff. For the most part, the US is pretty right wing overall.
posted by byanyothername at 10:48 AM on March 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


And in a survey of 2,000 Americans, Haidt found that self-described liberals, especially those who called themselves “very liberal,” were worse at predicting the moral judgments of moderates and conservatives than moderates and conservatives were at predicting the moral judgments of liberals.

This is the most interesting part. If other people can replicate this research it would add more weight to his argument that what seems like irrationality is actually a kind of moral reasoning that conservatives do that liberals don't understand or don't recognize.
posted by straight at 10:50 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


On post-posting, high five clockzero! Those two sentences really rankled my feathers, too.





Not that I have feathers.
posted by byanyothername at 10:51 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


You’re smart. ... You’re well informed. You think conservatives are narrow-minded.

If you think the last one, then you are not the first two.
posted by madajb at 10:52 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's imagine this from a right-wing viewpoint:

"Would you rather be absolutely richer in an unequal society (you're not at the top) or absolutely poorer in a more equal society (you're in the same relative position)? What's that, more equal?

Gee, the left is irrational! Why did you not want to be richer, since you keep going on about income and poverty?

Clearly you've been indoctrinated by the liberal elite! You've been confused as to your own best interests! Economics proves that the world has a conservative bias!"

I know the idea that the other guys would believe what you believe IF ONLY THEY COULD REASON LIKE ME!!!! is comforting, but the article suggests that your reason came AFTER your political viewpoint, not before.

Which rings really true to me, I must say.
posted by alasdair at 10:54 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I often wonder if we've just forgotten how to think critically.

I am yet to see any evidence that there has ever been any period or history in any country where "critical thinking" was a widely distributed trait to which any great number of political, social or moral decisions could be attributed. I think, at best, that we tend to think that periods where people popularly supported initiatives of which we approve demonstrated this ability. Our tendency to think this (whether we are on the right or the left) is hardly a counterinstance to Haidt's argument.
posted by yoink at 10:55 AM on March 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


The Tea Party hates redistribution because it interferes with letting people reap what they earn.

No, they hate it because a) they're racists and b) their leaders have never presented them with a fair case against "redistribution". In the arguments, it's always about ending welfare checks to "can't feed 'em don't breed 'em" moms (always moms, you'll notice, btw). In reality, it's about educational cuts. And fire departments. And roads.

In other words, the only "moral" argument being made here is illusory. It's all about lying.
posted by DU at 10:59 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity.

These are wiggle words that mean everything and nothing. As used by politicians they are cheap rhetorical devices and have little connection to their agenda.

Politicians can make messages that people like, but if you vote for them based upon these messages rather than how the policies effect you, then you are being tricked and it is not restricted to any one political party.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:02 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is it wrong to have sex with a dead chicken? How about with your sister? Is it O.K. to defecate in a urinal? If your dog dies, why not eat it? Under interrogation, most subjects in psychology experiments agree these things are wrong. But none can explain why.

Let me take a stab at it:

1. I guess not as long the chicken wasn't killed so that the person could have sex with it, I'd rather they didn't and I think they probably have some issues but I don't think it's wrong in an objective sense.

2. If brother and sister are both adults and competent to make decisions, I guess they could. Again, they shouldn't and there are probably some psychological issues there since everyone should be wired by evolution and society to have no desire to do this but I can't objectively say that it's wrong.

3. No, the urinal isn't designed for it and you're likely to clog the thing and end up making some poor plumber or custodian deal your poop.

4. I don't eat it because I'm emotionally attached to it. If I had a pet cow that died, I wouldn't eat that either. Beyond that, dogs evolved to exist along side humans as companions. In general, a dog's natural tendency is to be someone's friend and it's a bad idea to reward that behavior by eating them. That said, it feels wrong but I don't think I can come up with an objective reason as to why it would be wrong to eat a dog.

In each of these cases my gut reaction was "of course not!" but I, like I hope most of us who want to live in a rational world, examined that gut reaction and challenged it. I try to do that with everything, especially if I have a fast, solid gut reaction like that. It isn't something that I was taught but I think we should teach it more. It seems that Haidt wants us to give up on getting people to think critically and just deal with people's failings. I guess I understand his argument but I don't think that means we should stop trying to get people to think more critically. Just because most people don't critically examine their intuitive responses to things doesn't mean that we should stop trying to get them to start.
posted by VTX at 11:08 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Politicians can make messages that people like, but if you vote for them based upon these messages rather than how the policies effect you,

Political scientists can't claim to have "proven" many things, but I think one thing that they can say that they have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt is that people do not vote based on "policies"--in particular they do not vote based on how those policies "will affect them."

One of the most eye-opening jobs I ever had was administering an in-depth follow-up survey after a general election (going door to door, sitting down with people, administering a questionnaire that took about 30-40 minutes). I realized after doing that that the number of people who could give you even a rough sketch of the major policy proposals of either party was vanishingly small. The "puzzle" of why people vote against their interests (or what any particular analyst considers their interests to be) is not really a puzzle at all--people have no idea which party proposes to do what in relation to any of their specific "interests." They vote based on very abstract ideas about which party best fits their moral outlook.

This well-established political fact routinely gets discounted in political strategist and political junkie circles because the kinds of people who become political strategists and political junkies just cannot believe it is true; it's just too alien to their own way of thinking.
posted by yoink at 11:09 AM on March 26, 2012 [27 favorites]


This guy's argument sounds like every other argument from the reverse (but not quite) direction. People drift to conservatism because some of the talking points match their moral view whilst others fly over their heads in a gale of buzz words like:

care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity.

So its not a pathology because there's actually something they believe at the heart of the movement? That's still misdirection on the part of the policitican, given the morass of against-your-own-self-interest causes that surround that moral core.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:11 AM on March 26, 2012


The thing I find is, conservatives and liberals tend to use the same words to mean different things. And therein lies the rub.

Care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity:

liberals tend to see these in the context of a global community. Care for others, regardless of whether they are in a position to return the favour. Fairness in the context of broader knock-on effects of policy decisions. Liberty that does not do violence to others'. Loyalty to oneself and others. Authority gained through respect, and wielded with care. Sanctity of human dignity and rights.

Conservatives see these things in the context of a small town. Care for others, who in turn care for you. Definitions of "fair", "liberty" and "loyalty" that begin with the individual and define a strong set of rules by which to live. Authority to impose and enforce those rules, and the ability to set consequences when the rules are violated. Sanctity in the sense of purity, whether that is physical, moral or even communal.

My father refers to the conservative thinking as "tribal", and notes that it is the most effective way to manage in the corporate world. Cultivating loyalty by encouraging employees to "belong" to the tribe; strict enforcement of rules and consequences so that the "tribe" sees that justice is being done; and shunning or excommunication of those who refuse to adhere to the rules.
posted by LN at 11:17 AM on March 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


Much like the NEO-PI framework exists for the assessment of personality, Haidt has defined five "moral values" that help to indicate why someone's politics are what they are. For anyone interested, here he is at TED talking about it.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 11:25 AM on March 26, 2012


Someone get Satoshi Kanazawa in here so we could have an evo psych catfight!
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:31 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find his argument to be an incoherent mess of unexplored conclusions and unexamined premises.

So what you're saying is that you just read an article on evolutionary psychology?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:36 AM on March 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


"My father refers to the conservative thinking as "tribal", and notes that it is the most effective way to manage in the corporate world. Cultivating loyalty by encouraging employees to "belong" to the tribe; strict enforcement of rules and consequences so that the "tribe" sees that justice is being done; and shunning or excommunication of those who refuse to adhere to the rules."

This.

I can't think of any action taken by the Obama administration that wouldn't have been completely hunky dory to Republicans if said action had been taken by a hypothetical McCain administration. It's whether one is of the tribe or not that matters to the GOP, not ideology, morality, ethics, or effectiveness.
posted by aurelian at 11:53 AM on March 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


There's an awful lot of silliness in this article---not least his yapping about how liberals ought to listen to conservative values, without any accompanying suggestion that conservatives should treat other people as though they *had* value. But I do appreciate him making the point, which can't be made often enough, that it's foolish to yell at conservatives for voting against their interests. As Ta-Neshi Coates has noted before, people have lots of interests; economic benefit is only one of them, and for many, nowhere near the most important. Lots of liberals (myself included) votes for policies that would raise their taxes, believing it's The Right Thing To Do. It's bizarre that many can't imagine conservatives feeling the same.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:58 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


>conservatives and liberals tend to use the same words to mean different things. And therein lies the rub.


This is true-- the interesting thing, though, is that it's also true between any two people, even those in agreement on an issue. If you elicit someone's mental associations to any abstraction in sufficient detail, you'll find that that person's network of mental associations will begin to diverge from your own... and the deeper you probe their thoughts, the further they'll be from how you interpret consensus, conventionally agreed meaning.

>Care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity

Conversely, you can very quickly put people into trance states just by stacking together agreeable-sounding abstract nouns... which, of course, is what almost all political speeches are designed to do.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:00 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


darth_tedious, you're not wrong, but by the same token, in an increasingly fragmented society, nouns like "care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity" are used more and more as symbols. An individual's specific mental associations are moot, so long as the individual agrees that the symbol represents his or her society.

The trick is, both liberals and conservatives use the same symbols, but mean different things by them. So we have the appearance of a society, in which the symbols wallpaper over deep and divisive rifts in worldview.
posted by LN at 12:20 PM on March 26, 2012


I thought that was a decent article about Haidt's work--other than the gaffe of calling Hume one of history's scorned villains, a philosopher surprisingly salvaged by Jonathan Haidt.

The author deserves credit for drawing attention to the deep, is/ought tension that runs through Haidt's stuff. Half the time, Haidt uses the term "moral" in a descriptive sense (e.g. "I'm talking about what people regard as moral"). But the rest of the time, calling a view "moral" seems to carry normative force in Haidt's eyes (e.g. "The Tea Party's views are moral"...in the sense of morally justified).

From what I've seen, Haidt slides back and forth on those two senses in his peer-reviewed work (e.g. "When Morality Opposes Justice") as well as in his numerous op-eds, interviews, and lectures. (The Believer grilled him on it nicely.)
posted by Beardman at 12:24 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Instead, he highlights broad areas of culture and politics — family and assimilation, for example — on which liberals should consider compromise.

Granted I'm viewing this from north of the 49th parallel, but as far as I can see, USian "liberals" have done little but compromise and all that's been accomplished through that is an elimination of leftist ideals from the public sphere and from the realm of what's considered possible. The authoritarian and Conservative communitarian values that Haidt describes do not have a tighter grip upon "human nature" than the individualistic ones that he attributes to "liberals" (actually, there's communitarian elements in both left and right wing ideology). In fact, amongst developed nations, the US is so incredibly far right, and so incredibly unique (they way USians use the term "liberal", for instance!), that it's difficult to even frame a discussion of its politics in universal, "human" terms, as Haidt is trying to do here. What passes for mainstream left (the Obama administration) in the USian is policy-wise to the right of my right-wing federal (Harper) government and even in Canada our centre is to the right of most of Europe on many issues.

I'd say to USian lefties (and some of my fellow citizens, too), sure, articulate leftist positions in terms of values and morals - they are moral positions anyway - but don't compromise those values because you've already lost so much through compromise that your compasses risk breaking completely.
posted by Kurichina at 12:30 PM on March 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Honesty. Kindness. Laughter. Generosity. Loyalty. Magic.

Just thought I'd throw those out there.
posted by SPrintF at 12:53 PM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]




I'm really starting to groan whenever I see the NYTimes banner come up. There's gotta be a NYT filter for mefi right? Too....lazy...to....look...it...up.
posted by telstar at 1:01 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


SPrintF, so you are in favor of rule by an (probably) immortal monarch?
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:04 PM on March 26, 2012


It's odd that Haidt presents many asymmetries between liberal and conservative beliefs, and yet still can claim that they are "yin and yang." To present a better defense of the liberal worldview against this kind of faux-naive conservative attack:

Liberals know all too well that we were not designed by evolution to be immediately reasonable. On the contrary, we get there through hard and constant work. Social status, instinct, evolutionary mechanisms all play a role, but so do slowly and laboriously working through hard moral ideas and then passing on the fruits of that labor to our children. The liberal worldview didn't "start with the individual" -- it got there through centuries of hard thinking by philosophers, workers, women, minorities, and other people trying to work through the unintuitive (at the time) ideas behind human rights.

We know that "social conservatives see welfare and feminism as threats to responsibility and family stability". We know this because those liberal ideas were forged in centuries of battle with the dominance of those conservative ideas. We already know conservatives are more "broad-minded", in the sense of having many different moral foundations, because we know those beliefs are ad-hoc and derive from a congeries of rules and stories written down by a wide array of social groups. Saying that "conservatism thrives because it fits how people think, and that’s what validates it" is a tautology, and defining any existing interest as a "moral interest" is close to leaving "moral" meaningless.

Haidt's calls for balance are mainly a call for more conservatism, an extremely familiar move to most liberals. We know welfare can "undermine the ecology of the family" if that means, the ecology of families that believe the poor shouldn't be helped; we know this because the right has been saying it since the 60s. We are all too familiar with "parochial altruism, the inclination to care more about members of your group", because the right has been proclaiming the virtues of this since Burke, and liberals have been fighting this idea that it's not "natural" to help those you don't know for centuries. Liberals "spurn these ideas as the seeds of racism, sexism and homophobia" because that's what they are, but this realization was not natural, not instinctual, and not immediate; it took hard work to get there, to create these concepts and give them the intellectual bulwarks to resist the ever-present conservative counter-narrative.

The left and right are not, as Haidt claims, "yin and yang," for precisely the reasons Haidt has highlighted: the structure and history of their beliefs are fundamentally different. The great thing is that it turns out a belief in liberal ideas, human rights, and the primacy of moral reasoning is something that (Haidt implies, but does not acknowledge) can become quite natural with years of practice or the right upbringing. If that occasionally leads to people who have grown up sufficiently deep in that world-view that they have trouble understanding the bizarre fetishization of men, old books, authority figures, supernatural entities, and bygone times that underly the still-dominant conservative world view -- well, that too is something of a new accomplishment for liberalism. Haidt is correct that liberals should do well to learn their enemy better -- but only to avoid complacent backsliding.
posted by chortly at 1:06 PM on March 26, 2012 [21 favorites]


There is a significant portion of the voting public that takes a keen interest in spiritual well-being. Attempts to exclude spirituality from the public sphere are bound to fail. The Left has consistently sought to exclude spirituality from public discussion, and thus its record of failure. The Right has the whole field of spirituality to itself, so it can proffer up all kinds of toxic bromides without any risk of serious opposition from the Left. The Left must learn to take spirituality seriously as an essential aspect of the polity.
posted by No Robots at 1:18 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder how much of this message, about how liberals are too sniff-necked and should moderate themselves more, is really from Haidt's book -- as opposed to the result of being filtered through William Saletan, the reviewer. Saletan has been a consistent proponent of that "concern troll" idea, writing articles that talk as though Planned Parenthood were the ultra-leftist equivalent of Operation Rescue, etc.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:10 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Keeping laves was moral in the South Now it is not ...gays are immoral but now they can marry... values evolve.
posted by Postroad at 2:16 PM on March 26, 2012


Just because voters like a platform doesn't make it a good platform. If we let kids vote, dessert would win over vegetables in a landslide.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:27 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think what Haidt is saying is that human nature is the same all over the world. Everywhere there are systems of morality, and they all embody the same six concepts to some extent, because we're made to value those things.

In America (and many other countries too) the conservative side of the political spectrum has enjoyed great success because they tell the voters a story that embodies these concepts. It doesn't usually matter if they follow through with policies and actions that are consistent with their values, they just have to tell the story and get enough people to believe it. The liberal side of the spectrum also tells a story using the same values (no one would vote for them if they didn't) but over the years they've become less and less successful at evoking the emotion behind them. (Why, I don't know. That's a question for another day.) The liberal story has become more intellectual and rational, while the conservative one has become more emotional and evocative.

So what liberals need to do isn't change their policies, they need to change the story they tell to Americans, presenting liberal ideas as natural embodiments of care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity in a more emotional, inspirational way. Meet the right head on at an instinctive level and roll over them to convince undecided voters.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:33 PM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well, I can't speak to this guy's academic or philosophic methodology because I'm unschooled in the social sciences, but I think Heidt's theory has at least a kernel of truth : people get offended by different things, and "conservatives" get offended by a greater variety of things than "liberals". So, okay. This gives us something to build on. You can't tell people "hey, don't be offended anymore", so our only option is to at least try to speak each others' languages. Certainly a noble endeavor.

Thing is, the conservatives have known this for years, which is why they're winning. Conservative politicians know how to score points with people outside of their base. We're the ones who have a problem with it. For example, the left's inability to frame the healthcare debate in moral terms speaks to the Democratic establishment's horrendous inability to talk to people in a way they can relate to. This should have been a slam dunk for us. Conservatives go to church! Religion tells you to help the poor! How have we dropped the ball on this?!
posted by Afroblanco at 3:41 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


For example, the left's inability to frame the healthcare debate in moral terms speaks to the Democratic establishment's horrendous inability to talk to people in a way they can relate to.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:50 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah yeah but Jesus said "There will always be the poor". Don't you know that and "eye for an eye" and something something homosexuals evil are the only parts of the bible that matter? And whatever parts of the bible that say women who get pregnant and need help should never have it, anyone who needs help ever should definately not ever have it... and uh...never help anyone...

You know, those parts. I'm not sure where exactly these statements are made but the religious right is all over it so they must be right.

"Abandon all who have need and you shall be righteous. Hate those who make mistakes and never offer them assistance. Watch suffering and blame those who suffer with much disdain and contempt in your heart for those who struggle."

I think it goes something like that? Ten years of catholic school and never actually found these bible verses but they must be there, surely since the religious right is so passionate about not helping people?
posted by xarnop at 4:20 PM on March 26, 2012


I don't think this is really news, but at the same time it's not really news that people on either side don't usually make much effort to figure out why the other side thinks the way they do.
posted by delmoi at 4:26 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Social conservatives see welfare and feminism as threats to responsibility and family stability. The Tea Party hates redistribution because it interferes with letting people reap what they earn.

But they are wrong about these claims. I don't know whether most people on the right have been duped into these false beliefs or whether they have acquired them by the mischances of tradition and geography, but it is just not true that feminism threatens the family or that food stamps will make everyone stop working.

Empirical disagreements matter. What I find most disturbing in recent American politics is that we don't seem to have a shared way of settling disagreements about matters of fact. Without some way of coming to agreement on the facts, having shared values won't much matter.


He figures that if voters like Republican messages, there’s something in Republican messages worth liking.

I have a hard time believing that Haidt actually says this. What I expect he really says is something like: if voters like Republican messages, it's because there was some survival value in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness to accepting those messages. Even with respect to fitness arguments, though, "worth" must be relative to an environment. One might think that Republican messages were worth something in the EEA and still think that they are worthless in the present environment. Again, the claim that people on the right are duped comes back to a factual disagreement about whether those conservative messages have any survival value for our present situation.


One of these interests is moral capital — norms, practices and institutions, like religion and family values, that facilitate cooperation by constraining individualism. Toward this end, Haidt applauds the left for regulating corporate greed. But he worries that in other ways, liberals dissolve moral capital too recklessly. Welfare programs that substitute public aid for spousal and parental support undermine the ecology of the family. Education policies that let students sue teachers erode classroom authority. Multicultural education weakens the cultural glue of assimilation. Haidt agrees that old ways must sometimes be re-examined and changed. He just wants liberals to proceed with caution and protect the social pillars sustained by tradition.

Oh FFS ... (1) There is an enormous difference between declining to drag religion into public policy discussions and "dissolving moral capital." Protection of religious freedom for everyone requires a certain level of public secularism. That is the price of a religiously free society. (2) The right does not have a monopoly on communitarian sentiment. The only issues here are which communities matter and why. (3) Having strong government-run social programs does not mean that family or community-based aid has been excluded. A left-wing government isn't going to tell you that you can't give money to your family members or to neighbors you care about. A left-wing government isn't going to tell your church that it can't give food and clothes to the homeless. Government and non-government charity are not mutually exclusive things. (4) "Protecting the social pillars sustained by tradition" is basically the definition of conservatism. So, if Haidt is being summarized correctly here, he is advocating for liberals to be conservatives. Nice.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 4:57 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

This makes me think of a comment my friends used to make (which is really tangentially related to this quote at best) that the end game of the far right is to replace the Statue of Liberty's "Bring me your tied, etc." quote with the phrase "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter."
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:52 PM on March 26, 2012


Ten years of catholic school and never actually found these bible verses but they must be there, surely since the religious right is so passionate about not helping people?

...Xarnop, forgive me, but i"m not quite sure just who the target of your sarcasm is. Care to give me a hint?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:00 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Is it wrong to have sex with a dead chicken?"

So, this is a thing. When I was a college journalist, I got assigned to cover a lecture by a visiting Australian consequentialist that was literally about THE MORALITY OF HAVING SEX WITH CHICKENS IN VARIOUS STATES OF ALIVENESS. There were some philosophy professors, a bunch of grad students, and me, and I was the only one TAKING FRANTIC NOTES, so everyone appeared to think I was some kind of super-perv. On the plus side, it landed on the front page, because it was a school-sponsored event about SEX WITH CHICKENS.

I have nothing substantive to say about the article, I've just been waiting to complain about that lecture for YEARS.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:20 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee, I have a song for you.
posted by yoink at 9:56 PM on March 26, 2012


Yes, when a person happens by, and gives three card Monte, or shell game a whirl, or falls for a Ponzi scheme or a pyramid scheme they're voting for their economic interests. Nothing to see here, move along. Sheesh...
posted by WinstonJulia at 12:34 AM on March 27, 2012


Heard Haidt on the radio a couple of weeks ago and was curious enough to give his website a shot. It turned out I have "strong conservative values" on most issues (excluding specific policy issues, such as gay rights and womens reproductive rights) But I am a normal leftist in a country that is already so far left compared to the USA, most Americans think we are all Socialist. In other words, this guy may have travelled the world, but his outlook is provincial.
posted by mumimor at 5:28 AM on March 27, 2012


In Haidt’s words, they’re “voting for their moral interests.”

He managed to come up with a psychological theory that explains what poor church-going Republicans say to themselves all the time?
posted by Brian B. at 6:09 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think what Haidt is saying is that human nature is the same all over the world. Everywhere there are systems of morality, and they all embody the same six concepts to some extent, because we're made to value those things.

I think you're right, it seems like that's what he was trying to communicate. But it's such an absurdly reductive way of thinking about morality. It doesn't explain or clarify anything, really, since the particulars of moral systems are clearly at least as important if not more so than the generalities; if the general underlying principles were most important, it seems likely that people with different-in-the-particulars moral/ethical systems would find much more common ground than they seem to in the real world. Look at schismatic processes in religious traditions: there are dozens of Christian sects in the US alone, and despite their immensely common heritage, they see vast expanses of ideological difference between themselves. So what does it really accomplish to say that they share, say, loyalty as a value?

I think what's he's actually doing with those six concepts is merely naming a few compelling principles that are commonly involved in moral deliberation, nothing more or less.
posted by clockzero at 7:11 AM on March 27, 2012


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