Friday, June 29, 2012

Why the Divide Between Liberals and Conservatives?

Jonathan Haidt has written a book titled The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are divided by Politics and Religion. In his book, he notes that in the 1980’s, Lawrence Kohlberg theorized that children go through stages of moral development, culminating in a “post-conventional” attitude that questions social norms and revises them to accord with higher principles of justice. In other words, the mature, morally developed person is a liberal.

 Haidt, a psychologist, has become more and more convinced that our morality flows from our emotional reactions rather than from reasoned responses. 

The author designed an experiment, which determined that our innate moral intuitions fall into six categories: care, freedom, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Care, freedom, and fairness focus on individuals. We see someone suffering, and our care sensibility is aroused; we try to help that person. Loyalty, authority, and sanctity focus on social realities. An example of this latter sensibility is our attitude toward desecration of the American flag. That does not harm any individual; but it does damage our moral sense of patriotic loyalty.

Both those who self-identify with liberalism and conservatism participate in the three sensibilities of care, freedom, and fairness; but only the ones who self-identify as conservatives consistently participated in the sensibilities of loyalty, authority, and sanctity on the test administered by Mr. Haidt.

To see how well liberals and conservatives understand one another, Haidt devised a special test. He constructed a list of questions with liberal and conservative bias points. Then, he administered the questionnaire to both liberals and conservatives, asking the liberals to answer the questions as they thought conservatives would answer; and he asked the conservatives to answer as they thought the liberals would answer.

He found that the conservatives understood well the attitudes of the liberals; but the liberals could not answer the questions the way conservatives would answer. Apparently, the liberals could not conceive that anyone with good sense would think like a conservative.

Due to the apparent lack of understanding on the part of liberals, Haidt concluded that the ill-tempered rancor between liberals and conservatives is due to the difficulty liberals have in mentally grasping the moral concerns of conservatives, especially those concerns that are heightened and given shape by religion.

Liberals in general seem to summarily dismiss the thoughts of those who have concerns about loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Liberals would dismiss conservatives to rhetorical extermination and denounce them as “not mainstream.”

I believe that this above attitude may be the root of the difficulties we have in America between liberals and conservatives.

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