Bil Browning

The Moral Roots of Liberals & Conservatives

Filed By Bil Browning | October 31, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Jonathan Haidt, liberals vs conservatives, morality, TED Talks

This TED talk by Jonathan Haidt, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is absolutely fascinating. Watch as he explains the moral roots of what makes us a liberal or conservative.


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Wilberforce1 | October 31, 2011 6:23 PM

Unproven generalizations and false conclusions. Because everyone thinks they're right, that means no one is? Please. Of course no one is perfect. And of course we don't have all the answers. That doesn't mean we should let the right run roughshod over the weak.

Excellent speech that simplifies many of the social psychology concepts that have been going around of late as we come to understand much of the world and the way it works around us.

The key to it is finding a way to take this information and apply it to one's self not merely in the realms outside of the political question of "liberal" or "conservative" and move it into the realms of other areas where we see such strife and division.

Such as the movement for social justice for Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people.

Such as the internecine warfare among the trans population.

Such as the "drama" that accompanies so many political efforts.

Such as the battle between intellectuals and anti-intellectualism.

In doing that, we move well beyond the constant strife that is witnessed so often here and at other blogs -- and we begin to learn that there is far more to what we seek than all too often we desire.

In the end, the message is still "know thyself". Because all changes spring from that one point of clarity.

Nice that he told liberals that they need to stop with their smug sense of superiority while giving liberals their favorite, most comforting line: You're liberal because you're more open-minded than those conservatives.

But it's cute that he thinks that politics comes down to psychology instead of money and experience. Perhaps on some social issues, but the biggest problems we're facing now are just people with different interests trying to enact their interests.

I became skeptical the moment he conjured up evolutionary psychology as a proper source for research. That "field" is as much junk science as it gets.

"Because everyone thinks they're right, that means no one is? Please. Of course no one is perfect. And of course we don't have all the answers."

That's besides the point. Because even if you're right, your objective is for people to modify their behavior, and your being right is not necessarily sufficient to make them shift their behavior.

The point he was making is that being smug and so stuck on "I'm right. You're weak-minded and harmful." is a piss poor way of bringing about change. You either bring them around or neutralize/circumvent them. But you never antagonize a person to the point where they become active in blocking your efforts.

I also have to agree (and that happened very seldomly during his speech) that the circle jerk factor with political discourse harms people.

Alex brought a point I think was important. His wording was poor. You don't describe people as open-minded and caring and then describe others as sheltered and insecure (attached to the status quo) and pretend like both images are equitable. One side is clearly coming off worse in that description that I'm sure he wanted to remaain neutral on.

I agree with Alex and Lucrece, this guy's take is rather reductive and seems more pop psychology than any real science. His main theme that I gathered from his speech and his website is that he wants us to "disagree more constructively." This in and of itself is by his own definition a liberal trait.

What I find conspicuously absent from his website and studies is any notion of integrity or honesty. He explores "truth" in relation to religious belief and certainty but not in a sense of telling it.

Conservative thinking in the public sphere seems to rely a lot on exaggeration, misconceptions, and outright lies. The very idea of conservative and status quo conjures up fear, this is why it is so much easier for conservative thinking to rally around "Take back..." something, or "Protect..." whatever.

Much of these ideas are a fiction, such a "traditional..." fill in the blank. Consequently, efforts aimed at trying to protect traditional whatever tend to cause more problems.

Say Traditional Family means anti-gay, anti-abortion, and maybe anti-sex education. You can see the results from protecting the idea of traditional family, it actually undermines real community and family and creates very unhealthy situations for all involved.

If this is how conservative is defined, which is seems to be for the most part in the public sphere, a progressive thinker is not going to be able to disagree constructively as the conservative position makes no room for compromise or debate (see Tea Party). It can't by definition.

I think this guy has his heart in the right place but his tools are not well honed for the task at hand and his approach doesn't seem to really address the greater dynamic. You can't have an honest look at the discourse in the world today without creating a common ground of honesty and fact. There is no validity to a perspective that refuses to acknowledge facts (such as any of the anti-same sex marriage weirdness, or the lets-remove-regulations-and-everyone-will-be-free-and-rich approach). How can we constructively disagree with such thinking, and find compromise?