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January 29, 2009

Lecture 1: Liberals vs. Conservatives, The Moral Mind

I'm going to be writing about this later on but I thought it might be more productive to throw it out there for you all to watch now.

Just a brief note about this gentleman. I've been reading his work for some time now. I'm pretty impressed with him. You do have to realize the context here: he's talking to a predominantly liberal audience; he's a liberal, and he's trying to convince them to put aside their preconceived notions about conservatives and "step outside the moral matrix" for a moment. If you're tempted to take offense at any of the jokes he makes about conservatives, I suggest looking at them in that light - he's as much poking fun at liberal close-mindedness (i.e., at their view that we're all rigid, authoritarian, ignorant, snake-handling Jesus freaks - not exactly tolerant or open-minded, is it?) as he is at conservative attitudes.

Anyway, enjoy :) I do think he misses a few things but this is a fairly comprehensive view of the differences between the respective moral foundations of liberals and conservatives and it's worth your consideration.

Posted by Cassandra at January 29, 2009 02:32 PM

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Is there a transcript? I don't have the bandwidth for video.

Posted by: Grim at January 29, 2009 03:19 PM

I don't know, but I can find you the paper he wrote. It's very good. Let me look.

Posted by: Cass at January 29, 2009 03:36 PM

OK. This isn't as entertaining as the lecture but it covers many of the same ideas:


It's called, "What makes people vote Republican?", and it's an attempt to explain conservatism to liberals.

Here is another interesting one:


Posted by: Cass at January 29, 2009 03:46 PM

As someone who is a self-described "conservative", I see a few superficial flaws in the presentation, although overall it was thoughtful and well done, to a point.
I don't love authority. I am old enough to be skeptical of all authority, regardless of who is involved.
But I do like order, and reason. At the end of the talk, the presenter talks about "passion". "Passion" may be good for the youth, romance and the bedroom, but passionate emotions frequently blind otherwise allegedly rational people to solving problems in an ordely manner, or confronting the world in an orderly manner. Being passionate about anything is not a solution, it is an attitude to motivate yourself, and it can be self-delusional too. More than a few times in my life I have been overcome by "passions"; with a women, with drinking to excess, with play and with anger. The vast majority of these "passions" usually ended in a less than optimal result, especially with anger and self-indulgence.
I think that people move toward two poles in their lives: when we are all young, we tend to believe in our own enthusiasms and energy to live and to overcome. Think of the kid in the T-shirt exhorting revolution (or spd rdr riding the continent on his motorcycle!). That can be true for some, but we all have our limitations.

Some people continue to believe in their enthusiasms, and some people begin to reject those sorts of youthful enthusiasms for...order. Order isn't repression (or rather doesn't have to be), it is the choice to build and move rationally through life, to contol your passions. It doesn't mean to live without emotion or enthusiasm, but not to subordinate your life to that.
You need only to look at parts of the Muslim world to see "conservative" religious people with, at times, irrational enthusiasms.
So in elucidating the moral basis of life, the presenter himself exposes a fundamental flaw, I believe, in a mature adult. Playing to passion with the crowd, to encourage self-identification.
It's not enough to "mean well". Just to being enthusiastic about "freeing Tibet" or stopping genocide in Darfur, will accomplish nothing without rational planning, and order to do those things.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, i.e, people who were passionate about doing right, but went about it in an illogical and self-destructive way.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 29, 2009 08:46 PM

Very interesting talk. I look forward to reading what you have to say about it.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at January 29, 2009 10:21 PM

The much ballyhooed tolerance of the Left is certainly fair game for derision...by anyone. Especially liberals, if they're truly liberal-minded...

Posted by: camojack at January 30, 2009 04:02 AM

"Stop bitchin' and start a revolution" has to be one of the dumbest things I've ever seen printed on a t-shirt. Of course, if I was still a young man with a motorcycle and nothing much in the way of the common sense that is born of experience, I'd probably own two of them.

"Fetch, please" is a classic.

Posted by: spd rdr at January 30, 2009 09:57 AM

It was a very interesting take on things. Not too much to argue with as far as he takes it. Where it suffers is that it doesn't explain all of the observed phenomenae, only those which Haidt brings up. Specifically, his theory posits that it's conservatives that are the collectivists and liberals that are the individualists.

He also posits that it is conservatives that have a strong affinity for the ingroup/loyalty component and not liberals even though just a few slides earlier he showed the maps produced by those same liberals dividing the U.S. into ingroups and outgroups (The U.S. of Canada and Jesusland\Dumbf*&kistan). It wasn't conservatives that coined the phrase 'race/gender traitor'.

They may self-report that they abhor that 'channel' or morality, but they certainly don't behave that way.

But even if taken on face value, it's superficial. Yes, Liberals 'appreciate' the diversity of a distinct ethnic culture. The problem is that by doing so it perpetuates that society as being an out-group. Conservatives don't really want them to be part of an out-group. We'd really like them to be a part of the in-group. But you can't do that without assimilation. We take a bit of their culture and add it to ours, they take a bit of our culture and add it to theirs and those things that seperate the in-group from the out-group begin to dissolve. That's why we find labels like "Oreo" and "Twinkie" (Black/Yellow on the outside White on the inside abhorrant).

Perhaps, Haidt's theory takes this into account and he didn't have time to get into it in the lecture (the linked papers didn't get into it either, though). But if not, it's a pretty big hole and I haven't even gotten to the conflicts between his theory and socialist economic policies yet.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 30, 2009 10:27 AM

They may self-report that they abhor that 'channel' on morality, but they certainly don't behave that way.

I spelled phenomena wrong too, but the above correction really changes the meaning away from a statement I really didn't intend.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 30, 2009 10:31 AM

I don't think it's meant to encompass an entire world view, necessarily.

I do think that it helps to explain the "sifting" process (IOW, the fact that both liberals and conservatives can look at the exact same fact patterns and yet arrive at diametrically opposing conclusions). Don't have time to write about this yet.

I think he misses one or two important insights, possibly because as he admits, he's stuck in his own moral framework. Admittedly, he's doing this to help liberals convince conservatives that *their* arguments are a better way forward ;p

In the process, he just happened to discover that we have valid arguments, too. I'm not sure he fully appreciates all the implications of his own theories, though. As I may not.

Posted by: Cass at January 30, 2009 10:35 AM

Also, he pointed out that both liberals and conservatives form groups in the video (that's what that "Ohio" photo was meant to convey. It's just that these alliances form for different reasons.

Posted by: Cass at January 30, 2009 10:36 AM

I found it interesting because when I was younger, I would have identified myself as a liberal.

I registered at TED and took a few of the tests. Despite my political beliefs, I test as slightly more 'open to new experiences' (whatever the heck THAT means!) than the average liberal and definitely more than the average conservative. So I'm already an outlier.

Posted by: Cass at January 30, 2009 10:38 AM

...though I did think the questions were not as tightly worded as they might be.

Posted by: Cass at January 30, 2009 10:39 AM

Well, better to be an outlier than a lay-about. :)

I LIKE new experiences (as long as they aren't unpleasant new experiences, like some weird disease), but I also like the comfort and familiarity of home. But I think that as people grow older, those so-called "new experiences" don't seem so new to me, as just something similar to something I had already experienced.

As Yu-ain gonnano (who says we ain't?) remarked, the "enlightened liberals" surely do self-identify and enjoy separating people into tribes. They annoint themselves as one thing, and put the rest into another category. So I am "the other" to them.
Also, understanding yin and yang (pretty insightful there) can be a reasonable approach to "stepping outside" your own moral world. It is also useful to remember that most Asian countries that embrace "yin and yang" are Buddhist, and are in their own ways quaqmires of moral relativism.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 30, 2009 10:51 AM

I think there is a profound difference between variety for its own sake and depth of experience, and I think a lot of people fail to see the distinction.

I missed Don's comment earlier. It reminded me of a song I've always loved.

I've come to the same conclusion about strong emotions - they add joy and spice to life but I've never trusted them as a basis for decision making.

Posted by: Cass at January 30, 2009 11:01 AM

This "purity" business has really got the liberals exercised over the last couple of decades. I often see arguments equating virtually any strong moral position (on an subject other than empathy) with the sort of archaic, impenetrable prohibitions found in Leviticus. Liberals like to portray Conservatives as bound to all kinds of ritualistic and irrational disgust.

C.S. Lewis used the analogy of a fleet of ships. One kind of morality controls the interaction between the ships: don't get afoul of each other, etc. The other kind deals with the interior working of the ships, because the people in the other ships know that if the internal workings are screwed up enough, the ship won't function properly in the fleet -- not to mention that it will sink or go on the rocks eventually.

The author Cass has referred us to is trying to think outside of the box a little. On single mothers, for instance, he can actually see the conflict between policies that emancipate women and policies that doom children to dysfunctional households. I've often wondered why it's so hard to impute a basic moral adult duty to women: figure out a way to provide your children with a stable home, or don't have procreative sex. If you can pull it off without either a husband or a husband-substitute (the Nanny State), more power to you. If not, quit whining about your individual privileges and do the right thing by this tiny creature you've made yourself responsible for. And if that means not getting laid, tough. Same goes for men, for that matter.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 30, 2009 12:03 PM

Well, I did say that it was pretty decent if restricted to only as far as he takes it. Where it breaks down is when you expand its breadth and depth by generalizing the principle.

As for the 'OHIO' picture: my take away was that those predisposed to grouping would simply make one up if they didn't already have one. Not that "everyone does it". I'll have to re-watch it when I get a chance.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 30, 2009 12:34 PM

"I am not a number, but a free man!" Kinda thought that fit here.

Patrick McGoohan died earlier this month, by the way. He resisted being categorized as a person and an actor.
And those bozos with "O-H-I-O" written on their bods are football fans, subcategory "Buckeyus Numbskullus"; they're all around me. Help! That grouping isn't for any logical reason, just silly fandom.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 30, 2009 01:01 PM

"I often see arguments equating virtually any strong moral position (on an subject other than empathy) with the sort of archaic, impenetrable prohibitions found in Leviticus."
Agreed... dare I say absolutely.
Where it breaks down is when you expand its breadth and depth by generalizing the principle.
Which always causes me to beat a path directly off the edge of the nearest cliff. (See following)

It really is a fact that liberals are much higher than conservatives on the major personality trait called openness to experience. ...novelty, variety, diversity, new ideas, travel...

Really? Ok, I'll concede the point. I suppose some conservative(s) (speaking only for myself, and maybe for some in the Neanderthals-Я-Us tribe -at one character per chest... never mind...) might indeed have the character flaw of being closed to new experiences. Particularly when we have previously experienced the event or one that is fundamentally the same as, and come away worse for the experience.

With regard to the liberal view concerning the questioning of authority, with the attending insight that authority can be quite repressive and restrictive to those at the bottom, I will agree. There are as many examples of this throughout human history as there are versions of history throughout the world’s cultures. For instance, examples of repressions and restrictions which led to the American and French revolutions and contributed to the outbreak of the American Civil War. India, Asia, Africa, Latin America...

And who could argue against the need to be ever vigilant with those given power over others? Not the nations Founders as can be seen in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This goes without saying, but I couldn't help myself.

Anyway we are told that liberals speak for the weak and oppressed. So if I were not familiar with the United States, the politics and the people, I would have to ask, are liberals the exclusive guardians and spokespersons for the weak and oppressed?

Liberals want change and justice, even at the risk of chaos. The results of which could bring repressions and restrictions unlike any imagined prior to the agitation that brought on the chaos.

Then we have the reference to Edmund Burke, Mr. Haidt speaks to the “great conservative insight”, which is that order is hard to achieve and easy to lose.

“The restraints on men, as well as their liberties, are to be reckoned among their rights.”

Might this great conservative insight originate in the experiences of those who have had close brushes, if not head on collisions, with certain experiences?

Finally, we find that our righteous minds were designed to unite us, divide us and blind us to the truth? Which caused the Zen Master to slap me in the back of my head and ask me, “What is truth, grasshopper?”.

On balance though, it was a pretty good lecture… For a liberal. =;^}

And Don, in tribute to your reference to the Prisoner, I'll offer, Longshanks is dead, long live Longshanks!

Posted by: bthun at January 30, 2009 01:30 PM

Finally, we find that our righteous minds were designed to unite us, divide us and blind us to the truth? Which caused the Zen Master to slap me in the back of my head and ask me, “What is truth, grasshopper?”.

I found that unintentionally funny too :p

The great truth that I think we're blinded to was not that progressives (or conservatives for that matter) are "right". It's that in order to arrive at the right balance, we bumbling human beings need the input of BOTH sides. Yanno... that whole yin/yang thing?

It's why men and women work so well together - why we learn from each other even though we don't understand one another all the time: why we soften each other's rough edges (or why men help women toughen up a bit where we need that).

I think Haidt makes a great stride in even recognizing the moral dimensions as moral which conservatives use in decision making rather than dismissing them out of hand. He wrote a great paper that I couldn't find the other day. I'll try to find it later. It was a better exposition of his ideas.

Posted by: Cass at January 30, 2009 01:45 PM

Oh. And what Texan said :)

Posted by: Cass at January 30, 2009 01:46 PM

"The great truth that I think we're blinded to..."
But, but, but Zen Master, you did not give me enough time to dwell upon the problem! =;^}

Hey, the Black Crown Vic is no longer in front of the house. But now there is a ginormous, grey, beach ball looking thing oscillating on the road out front!

Posted by: bthun at January 30, 2009 01:57 PM

"Fetch ginormous, grey, beach ball looking thing oscillating on the road out front. Please."

Oh, boy. Am I going to have fun with this one!

Posted by: spd rdr at January 30, 2009 05:43 PM

When you can snatch the ginormous
Oscillating grey, beach ball looking thing from my hand
It will be time to go

Posted by: Grasshopper at January 30, 2009 06:22 PM

"Oh, boy. Am I going to have fun with this one!"
Happy to help. Ten days into the BO administration, we have to find fun where we can.

Posted by: bthun at January 30, 2009 06:49 PM