Mar 22, 2012 at 3:07 pm #1287660
From Today's NYT , so you don't have to use up your ten per month articles.
Politics, Odors and Soap
by NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF • MARCH 21, 2012
Conservatives may not like liberals, but they seem to understand them. In contrast, many liberals find conservative voters not just wrong but also bewildering.
One academic study asked 2,000 Americans to fill out questionnaires about moral questions. In some cases, they were asked to fill them out as they thought a “typical liberal” or a “typical conservative” would respond.
Moderates and conservatives were adept at guessing how liberals would answer questions. Liberals, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal,” were least able to put themselves in the minds of their adversaries and guess how conservatives would answer.
Now a fascinating new book comes along that, to a liberal like myself, helps demystify the right — and illuminates the kind of messaging that might connect with voters of all stripes. “The Righteous Mind,” by Jonathan Haidt, a University of Virginia psychology professor, argues that, for liberals, morality is largely a matter of three values: caring for the weak, fairness and liberty. Conservatives share those concerns (although they think of fairness and liberty differently) and add three others: loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity.
Those latter values bind groups together with a shared respect for symbols and institutions such as the flag or the military. They are a reminder that human moral judgments are often about far more than just helping others. Some of Haidt’s most interesting material is his examination of taboos.
His team asked research subjects pesky questions. What would they think of a brother and sister who experimented with incest, while using birth control? Or of a family that, after their pet dog was run over, ate it for dinner?
Most respondents were appalled but often had trouble articulating why; we find these examples instinctively disturbing even if no one is harmed. (One lesson of the book: If you see Haidt approaching with a clipboard, run!)
Of course, political debates aren’t built on the consumption of roadkill. But they do often revolve around this broader moral code. This year’s Republican primaries have been a kaleidoscope of loyalty, authority and sanctity issues — such as whether church-affiliated institutions can refuse to cover birth control in health insurance policies — and that’s perhaps why people like me have found the primaries so crazy.
Another way of putting it is this: Americans speak about values in six languages, from care to sanctity. Conservatives speak all six, but liberals are fluent in only three. And some (me included) mostly use just one, care for victims.
“Moral psychology can help to explain why the Democratic Party has had so much difficulty connecting with voters,” writes Haidt, a former liberal who says he became a centrist while writing the book.
In recent years, there has been growing research into the roots of political ideologies, and they seem to go deep. Adults who consider themselves liberals were said decades earlier by their nursery-school teachers to be curious, verbal novelty seekers but not very neat or obedient.
Some research suggests that conservatives are particularly attuned to threats, with a greater startle reflex when they hear loud noises. Conservatives also secrete more skin moisture when they see disgusting images, such as a person eating worms. Liberals feel disgust, too, but a bit less.
Anything that prods us to think of disgust or cleanliness also seems to have at least a temporary effect on our politics. It pushes our sanctity buttons and makes us more conservative.
A University of Toronto study found that if people were asked to wash their hands with soap and water before filling out a questionnaire, they become more moralistic about issues like drug use and pornography. Researchers found that interviewees on Stanford’s campus offered harsher, more moralistic views after “fart spray” had been released in the area.
At Cornell University, students answered questions in more conservative ways when they were simply near a hand sanitizer station.
Our ideologies shape much more than our politics. We even seek pets who reflect our moral outlook. Researchers at YourMorals.org found that liberals prefer dogs who are gentle but not subservient, while conservatives seek dogs who are loyal and obedient.
In short, moral and political judgments are complex and contradictory, shaped by a panoply of values, personalities — maybe even smells.
Little of this is a conscious or intellectual process. Indeed, Haidt cites research that a higher I.Q. doesn’t lead people to think through their moral positions in a more balanced, open way (although they are more eloquent in defending those positions).
There’s even extensive research finding that professors of moral philosophy are no more moral than other scholars.
And do you know what kind of books are disproportionately stolen from libraries? Books on ethics.Mar 22, 2012 at 3:19 pm #1857855
@redmonkLocale: Greater California Ecosystem
add three others: loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity
So they disagree on the meaning of the main things, and then add Don't do right if it will hurt your social standing, blindly obey authority even when you disagree, and never question the Holy things you were brought up to respect.Mar 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm #1857868
I didn't know respect for authority was a value? I always saw it as a flaw. It shows that one is submissive, beta, and non critical. I reserve my respect for those who do good and respect others -and that has nothing to do with there official positions.Mar 22, 2012 at 4:00 pm #1857878
@owareLocale: Steptoe Butte
"From Today's NYT , so you don't have to use up your ten per month articles."
Isn't reprinting this much stealing? I mean, where are your morals?
Wait, does that make me conservative?Mar 22, 2012 at 4:02 pm #1857881Mar 22, 2012 at 4:04 pm #1857882Mar 22, 2012 at 4:14 pm #1857888
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
I watched a Bill Moyers interview of him on PBS
One example was conservatives like lots of American flags
Liberals like to do things like make an American flag with the stars replaced by corporate logos.
I think that's really good – message being that big corporations and some super-wealthy have undue influence on the government.
Conservatives are aghast that we're defacing the sacred flag.
Now, if that causes such anguish in a conservative, maybe we shouldn't do that. I don't like doing things that cause pain in others. It's counter-productive – won't get message across.Mar 22, 2012 at 4:16 pm #1857891
@owareLocale: Steptoe Butte
Conservatives apparently have lots of sports memorabilia in their offices and homes as
identity markers. Wonder whats up with that?Mar 22, 2012 at 4:40 pm #1857909
I don't know about sports , but this seems like a good sampler.
http://www.thoseshirts.com/tshirts.htmlMar 23, 2012 at 2:39 pm #1858356
@acrosomeLocale: Back in the Front Range
Wow, talk about twisting definitions in disingenuous ways and building straw men…
Loyalty does not mean "Don't do right if it will hurt your social standing", etc., etc. Straw man. Dismissed with the prejudice that it deserves.
ALL virtues become vices taken to extremes, even the Liberal ones. Liberty taken to an extreme is anarchy, for instance. And "respect for authority" does not mean "subservience to authority". Again, that's a virtue taken to an extreme. You would think it good to respect your grandfather, right? I'll respect President Obama's opinions on many political matters, but that doesn't mean that I don't still think critically about them. We simply cannot all be authorities on everything. I'm certainly mature enough to admit that I don't have all of the answers.
And, Brian, really? Being a "beta" is bad? Not everyone can be an alpha- I know a lot of beta males who are great guys. Being a beta really just means that you aren't an aggressive, self-centered solipsist, y'know? Frankly, those who believe that being an alpha is "superior" are probably part of the problem. They also tend to be apologists for the more repulsive stuff that Bill Clinton did. :) And after all, all those captains of corporate America that you so love to hate are alphas…
But then, so was Ted Kennedy….Mar 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm #1858367
"I'll respect President Obama's opinions on many political matters, but that doesn't mean that I don't still think critically about them."
Then you are not respecting his authority you are respecting his opinion based on their own merit.
"Being a "beta" is bad?"
Im being factitious when I use the term "beta" I don't think people are chimps. Im mocking the term and the people who believe in it.
And no I would not respect some one im related too simply for that reason, I would love and care for them but they can do things that loss my respect.Mar 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm #1858369
Ben 2 WorldParticipant
@ben2worldLocale: So Cal
Something about good leaders being good followers first… maybe think over that a bit, Brian?Mar 23, 2012 at 3:02 pm #1858371
I respect a good leader, but I would not respect a leader simply because they have a badge that says official leader on it. Sure, I have to follow certain leaders simply because they can use violence against me and society says I can not defend myself or even more violence will used against me. But that is not respect.Mar 26, 2012 at 7:58 am #1859416
@acrosomeLocale: Back in the Front Range
On the contrary, Brian, Obama has proven his political mettle and been placed in a position of "authority." Though I may disagree with some of his agendas I do RESPECT them. I'm a moderate, so I don't get very religious about political issues. (Unlike some, here.)
What I think we disagree on is the definition of authority. Yes, I have little respect for a 22-year old fresh graduate from a police academy just because he's wearing a badge. I'm thinking on a bit larger-scale, here. Authority with a capital-"A", per se. People and institutions who are proven. I.e., generally respecting the law. As I said, I simply CANNOT be an expert on everything- contrary to my online demeanor… :)
So, I leave quite a bit up to our leaders, and don't think about it much. That doesn't mean that I don't have causes that I do get involved in. So, when I see people who are told to evacuate the Carolina coast due to an impending hurricane and they get bent out of shape about it- well, that puzzles me.Mar 26, 2012 at 8:12 am #1859423
Wow. The response from liberals here just show how right the article is.Mar 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm #1861030
@jgbrennanLocale: Here and there.
"Wow. The response from liberals here just show how right the article is."
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