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November 16, 2008

Why, Oh Why Do They Hate Us? (D91)

In 2004, we might have said John Kerry would make a terrible president and his plans would set the nation back 30 years. Rather than evil, we would have called him misguided. He thought he was doing the right thing. His heart was in the right place, even if his policies were wrong. His beliefs were honestly held.

On the other hand, a not insignificant number of liberals thought Bush was evil and should be tried for war crimes. How can some liberals hold such visceral and vitriolic hatred for us and our beliefs? In a 2007 paper, Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham, a couple of social justice researchers, managed to come up with an explanation. Brace yourselves: it turns out that our beliefs are immoral.


Well, at least as far as liberals are concerned. These researchers determined that "there are five psychological foundations of morality, which we label as harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity." Conservative morality is based on some combination of all five of these moral foundations. There may not be an exact 20% input from each one, but they are all present. Liberal morality is based on only the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations.

"Conservatives have many moral concerns that liberals simply do not recognize as moral concerns... liberals often find it hard to understand why so many of their fellow citizens do not rally around the cause of social justice, and why many Western nations have elected conservative governments in recent years."

Liberals are only concerned about harm/care and fairness/reciprocity. When we talk about patriotism, or respect for the country, or abortion, we are speaking from a set of morals and values that liberals simply do not see as being moral at all. In fact, liberals often believe that we have "non-moral motivations—such as selfishness, existential fear, or blind prejudice."

In 2004, "political liberals in the United States were shocked, outraged, and unable to understand how 'moral values' drove people to vote for a man who, as they saw it, tricked America into an unwinnable war, cut taxes for the rich and benefits for the poor, and seemed to have a personal animosity toward mother nature." They couldn't understand it because unlike conservatives, liberals don't believe that ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity are actual moral foundations.

Take abortion. For conservatives, abortion is mainly a religious issue, and relates to the purity/sanctity moral foundation. For liberals, purity/sanctity is not a moral foundation. Instead, they may argue that from the fairness/reciprocity moral foundation, having an abortion allows the mother to avoid the unfairness of being burdened with a child she doesn't want. For liberals, those who are pro-life have no moral foundation to stand on, and the pro-lifers are attacking a very moral position. No wonder they think we're evil.

Patriotism? Forget it. There's no moral foundation to ingroup/loyalty as far as liberals are concerned.

Want to make a movie mocking a sitting president, or write a book about assassinating him? Who cares? Believing in authority and having respect for tradition is so old-fashioned, and not moral at all. If you're a liberal.

Gay marriage? "Conservatives and many moderates are opposed to gay marriage in part due to moral intuitions related to ingroup, authority, and purity, and these concerns should be addressed, rather than dismissed contemptuously."

I think they have a point. I voted against prop 8 in California (for gay marriage), but after seeing how the protesters have behaved since the election, if another proposition comes up next time around, I might vote the other way. When the behaviors of gays are behind closed doors, or even when openly displayed in public, at least ignored and hushed up by the media, it's very easy for me to tell myself that gay marriage is a harmless little thing and no big deal. But when the public face of gay rights is this protest movement, well, completely apart from gayness, I have a hard time feeling like these are the sorts of people I want to support, and this is definitely not the sort of behavior I want to reward and encourage with my vote.

The authors argue that liberals have a huge blind spot when it comes to analyzing conservative motivations. This blind spot limits their ability to reach out to us and convince at least some of us to agree with and vote for some of their ideas. They ask: "Will moral appeals for liberal causes that press emotional buttons related to ingroup, authority, and purity persuade political moderates, who make up most of the electorate, where more traditional liberal appeals have failed?" Sounds like the sort of idea you'd hear at a marketing seminar on how to be a better salesman. If nothing else, we definitely got outsold in this last election.

Obama's success may or may not have been aided by pushing the emotional buttons of moderates and conservatives, but when people perceive the Democrat nominee as the tax cutter in a presidential race, that has to be a wake-up call for us. Cutting taxes is our issue, and he got votes for it.

Going forward, we need to figure out what we stand for and what we believe in, and we need to figure out how to communicate our beliefs to the electorate. We bailed on both counts in this last election. Haidt and Graham wrote a paper claiming that understanding how conservatives think will help liberals advocate positions and win elections.

The reverse may also be true. If we want liberals to accept and even vote for some of our ideas, maybe we need to get better at expressing how our ideas fit in with their two moral foundations of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity.

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posted by xgenghisx at 09:01 PM

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