March 24, 2017

March 30, 2012

Politics, Odors and Soap

Remember the light that came on when you realized boys were different from girls?  Well, it looks like the light may be coming on for some as it relates to liberals and conservatives. 

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.

As a friend recently told me, I am totally buying the book.

Hat tip:  Veritas 2007

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The irony for the “liberals” of today is how much authority they want to invest into centralized authority to enforce “fairness.”  I would argue that conservatives, while respect for certain types of institutions certainly comes into play, are very suspicious of centralized authority.

[1] Posted by Bill2 on 3-30-2012 at 07:23 AM · [top]

Among conservative values that conservatives hold and liberals tend not to, I would also add “lex rex,” or “the sovereignty of the law,” which is what the whole ObamaCare debate is about…enumerated powers, etc.

[2] Posted by All-Is-True on 3-30-2012 at 07:56 AM · [top]

Perhaps a few cases of a very special type of incense (Inflatio Peditum) ought to be ordered for the upcoming General Convention, for distribution as certain votes take place.

Interesting. For the radical revisionists:
Loyalty: we don’t care what the Church thinks
Respect for authority: we’re gonna do what we wanna do
Sanctity: what’s that?

[3] Posted by Ralph on 3-30-2012 at 09:27 AM · [top]

Haven’t read the book, but if the article is a good indicator, its a mess.  Today’s liberals favor collectivism vs. individualism.  Collectivism has a record of authoritarianism that cannot be denied.  State sponsored or regulated whatever falls on the control side, not the liberty side, so how is that liberal?  In Oakshott, “liberal” connotes a love for theory vs. a respect for tradition, and theorists want to impose their theories on others.  Are these words about coercive control vs. freedom of choice?  I don’t know who it was in the Anglican Wars who ditched “liberal vs. conservative” for “revisionist vs. reasserter” but I appreciate it.

[4] Posted by Theron Walker✙ on 3-30-2012 at 02:28 PM · [top]

“although [conservatives] think of fairness and liberty differently”

conservative fairness: all people should be treated equally, without preference under the law (think James).

liberal fairness: all people should ideally have equal resources, abilities, opportunities. If this is not the case, it is an inherent duty of government to forcibly, artificially redistribute resources and opportunities in order to level the playing field.

conservative liberty: the right to be left alone, so long as my activities are not causing harm.

liberal liberty: the right to do whatever I want, which may involve redistributing resources from others in order to fund what I want.


Yes. They do define things differently, don’t they? :(

[5] Posted by SpongJohn SquarePantheist on 3-30-2012 at 02:56 PM · [top]

I kind of find the postmodernism very depressing. There is no interest in finding out which view might be more internally consistent, let alone correct. Instead we have:

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.

Maybe as the Dems are engaging in voter fraud and voter intimidation this November, Republicans can counter by offering free Purelle and wetnaps at voting stations. But at least these findings offer a bit of relief: I’d always assumed that liberals were being sophistical and dishonest, on auto-repeat. But maybe they are just clueless.

[6] Posted by SpongJohn SquarePantheist on 3-30-2012 at 03:09 PM · [top]

EXCELLENT article, Jackie.  Not that I agree with all of it - but it stimulates thought in a manner uncommon in newspaper articles.  Thank you.

[7] Posted by j.m.c. on 3-30-2012 at 08:49 PM · [top]

[6] Spongjohn SquarePantheist,

I actually think they are, simultaneously, being both!

First, they lie to themselves about the very nature of reality. And once they have succeeded in convincing themselves that they have arrived at a correct understanding of an issue and therefore a correct prescription for how it ought to be solved, the proceed to propagate their self-deception to those around them.

I have the strongest suspicion that most leftists (I object to the use of the word “liberal” to refer to statists and collectivists, on the grounds that those folks are actually “progressives” who highjacked the title “liberal” back in the early part of the twentieth century when being a “progressive” lost its luster with the electorate—liberals were so called because they were devoted to liberty) are, in Myers-Briggs terminology “Feeling types.” This is to say, not that they are governed by emotions, but that they tend to make decisions, such as what is right or wrong, fair or unfair, based on whether a particular understanding “feels” to them like the correct understanding. Their polar opposites are the “Thinking types” who, by contrast, tend to make decisions based on a rational and sequential examination of whatever evidence they can unearth to decide what is right and what wrong. This would include vetting that evidence based on a set of principles that is as internally consistent as they are intellectually capable of determining.

Both types have strengths and weaknesses, but I think that the two types need to be held in some sort of balance through which the strengths of each can contribute to helpful solutions to very real societal problems. I know from my own experience as a “Thinking type” that I benefit from having my hypotheses and assumptions challenged by a “Feeling type” with whom I share a common concern over a particular issue.

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer

[8] Posted by Militaris Artifex on 3-31-2012 at 10:29 AM · [top]

Isn’t the real reason this:

If you are a liberal-leaning person living in the United States, then you do not have to come into contact with conservative ideas unless you want to. I teach English at a liberal arts college, but I have worked at a big university as well, and the only liberal colleagues of mine who ever came within a bird’s-eye-view of understanding the conservative position where the ones who made an effort to do so. However, they were the minority. Most of them are quite comfortable with their lampoonish assumptions about conservatism and make little effort to learn more.

On the contrary, conservatives have no choice but to be exposed to liberal ideas at the public schools, colleges and universities, dealings with government offices, ‘mainstream’ print and television media, and even dealing with the leadership of establishment churches (even if most of the people in those churches are conservative).

I’m hoping to finish my doctoral dissertation in English this summer, so I’ve had 10 years of exposure to liberal, Marxist, postmodern, and New Leftist ideas. I also used to attend a church with a liberal rector (who thought he could convert me…after 10 years of postmodern indoctrination had failed! LOL) Therefore, I think I understand liberals and liberal ideology quite well. I can’t say the same for them when it comes to my beliefs.

[9] Posted by All-Is-True on 3-31-2012 at 10:30 AM · [top]

Perhaps off topic, but I recently read this review: that seems to link conservatives with lower brain activity (or as interpreted by my liberal son: stupid).  The problem I see here is not conservativism as contrasted with liberalism (thoughts, politics, etc.), but conservativism in terms of personal protection/preservation.  The studies placed participants in situations of stress.  Seems natural to me that under stress one focusses conservatively on preservation.  This has nothing to do with whether one is politically liberal or not. 

To the contrary, it is my observation that liberal opinion (political, theological etc) relies heavily on emotion and feeling and is sometimes completely lacking is substantiated fact or reality.  Sadly, I am no shining example of conservative thought as I am so poor at debate and argument.

[10] Posted by Nikolaus on 3-31-2012 at 04:52 PM · [top]

It’s no wonder that there are now two books out there that define liberalism as a mental disorder (Michael Savage at:  and Lyle H. Rossiter at: )  LOL!

[11] Posted by The Little Myrmidon on 3-31-2012 at 05:51 PM · [top]

I’ve been reading this book over the summer.  It’s written by a liberal who earnestly set out to understand what conservatives think, with the expectation that they might be intelligent and wise, and thus liberals might be able to learn from them. To explain his findings to liberals, he introduces the concept of “moral capital” which conservatives value, and liberals seem to be completely blind to.  Moral capital (e.g. family values, ten commandments, etc) protects “social capital” (rule of law, the ability for members of a community to trust each other and to work together, etc.) and without moral capital, historically, civilizations weaken and are eventually over-run by invaders.  Very helpful book - did you read it, Jackie?

[12] Posted by Michael D on 8-19-2013 at 12:28 PM · [top]

Very good points made by SpongJohn SquarePantheist in #5 and All-isTrue in #9.

It is very important to understand how conservatives and progressives define the same words completely differently.  SJSP nails it on the differences on what “liberty” means.  The same is true for so many words.  For example, progressives always say they support grassroots democracy and yet are perfectly happy to subvert democracy whenever a vote doesn’t go their way.  Well, progressives do, I think, believe that they support grassroots democracy, but this is subject to the progressive belief that the public will ALWAYS vote in favor of progressive policies if they are properly educated and not subject to nefarious manipulation.  Thus you have the progressive obsession with imagined right-wing manipulation, vote rigging, advertisement money, etc., whenever they think they are losing, but always extol grassroots democracy when they win.

All-is-True makes a fantastic point in #9, and one that I, as an academic, have long observed also.  Most progressives have never been seriously exposed to conservative ideas or argumentation, and they can easily get by without being so exposed.  The amount of ignorance amongst liberals of conservative ideas is staggering.  On the other hand, conservatives in academia cannot avoid begin bombarded and inundated with progressive ideas, and they cannot help but thoroughly understand them inside and out.

The rightness of the progressive mindset is typically assumed amongst our societal and cultural elite, and anyone who questions this mindset is attacked with superficial emotional or ad hominen attacks.

I find that a good deal of academic progressives are people that aren’t that bright but who very much want to be “cool” or part of the righteous majority.  They tend to latch on to the issues of the day and then try to out-progressive their colleagues, but they never really intellectually engage the issues.

I think that Ephraim Radner has some very good comments on this whole question within his recent Same-Sex Marriage is Still Wrong essay, pointing out how thin and superficial the progressive mindset really is.

At the moment, such an overarching philosophical framework no longer exists in common. And it certainly has not been articulated in any clear way by advocates for same-sex marriage. In our society, such order has emerged by default from or been imposed by largely commercial dynamics – via music, film/TV, internet, social media. These are money-making ventures. We are all aware of this: “self-expression” is a slippery concept, when the “self” itself is formed by a range of imposed identities and its “expression” is defined by a set of socially formed and peer-received shapes. Sexuality – and sex – is a commodified reality in our society, something bought and sold, and exchanged for the sake of further commerce. To what extent this is the case is debatable; but it is hard to question the basic fact. Lurking behind benign individualism, then, are larger social and economic realities that weaken the philosophy’s claims to integrity from the ground up. And on this ground we can see the self-immolation of “progressive” sexual claims: for they appear to be among those most cravenly toadying to the potentates of Capital.

In other words, intellectually, the progressive position is pretty much built on sand, and has never yet been seriously tested.  The conservative position, on the other hand, has been subject to fierce intellectual and cultural storms but remains essentially undamaged.

[13] Posted by jamesw on 8-19-2013 at 06:39 PM · [top]

Good book, well worth reading to better understand modern politics. Interesting to see the amazement with which the author, a liberal, discovers things that to a conservative are obvious.

As others have put it, all conservatives are bilingual; they understand two languages, because they learn the language and thought of liberalism inevitably from the mass media and culture, and understand conservatism as well. Most liberals are unilingual; to them conservatism is a foreign language and way of thought thay have rarely been exposed to.

[14] Posted by Real Toral on 8-19-2013 at 06:52 PM · [top]

Thank you Michael D #12 for bringing this back up. I am a big fan of Haidt’s work, but had not read this book. It’s on reserve at the library for me now.

I was familiar with Haidt’s six foundational values (care, fairness, liberty, sanctity, loyalty, authority) and how liberals and conservatives differ according to his research. I had not heard the phrase “moral capital” before. The best succinct explanation I saw in the online reviews of the book is this:
“One of these interests is moral capital — norms, prac­tices and institutions, like religion and family values, that facilitate cooperation by constraining individualism.”
Is that a good description of moral capital, according to what you understand?

jamesw #13:
Thanks for the Ephraim Radner link; I will read it soon. But I want to respond to the first two sentences of the quote from Radner you give, and to your comment that the progressive position has not been seriously tested.

I agree completely and think that highlighting this and exploiting it are key to turning back the tide on SSM. One of my most effective tactics when debating SSM is to ask: “On what principle do you stand? Are you proposing to allow all marriages? No? Then on what principle do you choose which marriages you will allow and which marriages you will not? And why is your principle better than ours?”

Why do I think this is so important? Two basic reasons.

The first reason is that pro-SSM folks have been able to turn this issue into a referendum on traditional marriage. You point this out by saying that the conservative position has been interrogated and criticized but the liberal position has not dealt with that kind of scrutiny. From a tactical perspective, this needs to change or else we are in a losing position. We have to show that their position is not as rational as they think it is.

The second reason is basically due to Haidt’s theory. According to him, liberals value care, fairness, and liberty, and don’t care about loyalty, sanctity, and authority. So a conservative making arguments that appeal to loyalty, sanctity, and authority will get nowhere with a liberal. This is why I use the word “principle” in my question above, because I want to appeal to care, fairness, and liberty and show that even if you look at only those three values SSM does not look good. “What is your principle?” means “Why is your position fair?” I never mention polygamy or incest or anything like that—keep the focus on the point that they haven’t articulated any principles. Don’t give them an easy way out by bringing up polygamy and letting them divert the conversation (“Polygamy again. Who is advocating allowing polygamy?”) And when they try to avoid articulating a principle, I again appeal to fairness: “We have said where we stand, and you have had the opportunity to interrogate the nuances of our position—like why allow old people to marry if marriage is for procreation and they are too old to have kids? But you won’t even tell us on what principle you stand? How is that fair?” But the bottom line is that if you want to appeal to a person with a liberal care/fairness/liberty mindset, you have to “meet them where they’re at.”

[15] Posted by IWTH on 8-20-2013 at 07:02 AM · [top]

IWTH:  The way I think we need to approach the SSM question is not so much “why should SSM be banned?” (which is how the media like to portray it), but instead, why should the state grant preferential treatment to people who choose to enter into sexual contracts?  Because that is exactly what redefined “marriage” is.  And what should the parameters be for state sanctioned sexual contracts?

What we are doing is basically the same sort of thing.  Conservatives have typically been forced to look at issues from multiple perspectives, and thus tend to be pretty intellectually nimble.  Not so with the progressive majority.  There is a very large segment of the population that simply parrots the progressive line without thinking it through.  It is assumed to be correct and is never subjected to any sort of analysis.  This works provided that the the issues are consistently presented in the SAME WAY time after time.  But if the issues are presented differently, then this large segment of the population that has simply assumed the progressive party line has no way to intellectually engage the issues.  They are lost, they have no clear party line to follow.  And that is where their mindset can break down.

[16] Posted by jamesw on 8-20-2013 at 12:47 PM · [top]

“Conservatives have typically been forced to look at issues from multiple perspectives, and thus tend to be pretty intellectually nimble.  Not so with the progressive majority.  There is a very large segment of the population that simply parrots the progressive line without thinking it through.”

Agreed. What I am not sure about is starting a discussion on SSM with a discussion of political philosophy and the role of the state. (If the discussion, once engaged, ends up going there then that’s different.) My take was that I needed to 1) engage with the Haidt values that progressives value, namely care/fairness/liberty, and 2) say something within 30 seconds that starts to breakdown their mindset, otherwise you’ve lost the initiative. Hence my asking about their principles.

But I’m happy to be see another approach. So how about this scenario: You’re somewhere where SSM comes up—either online, or an organized in-person discussion forum, or simply in a social situation—where you’re likely outnumbered in your opposition to SSM. Somebody says a standard progressive line supporting SSM like “The right thing to do is support marriage equality.” You decide you want to respond rather than keep quiet. What do you say? Do you start by talking about how the state treats sexual contracts? Or do you think I’m asking the wrong question here?

[17] Posted by IWTH on 8-20-2013 at 02:08 PM · [top]

IWTH:  Agree with you completely here.  What we need to do is engage them but then force them to really consider their arguments.  So if someone says “The right thing to do is support marriage equality”, then I think asking what they mean by “marriage equality” would be the best response.  And then ask them what they would say to devout Muslims who would like to have their polygamous marriages recognized too.

[18] Posted by jamesw on 8-20-2013 at 07:08 PM · [top]

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