Some Recommended Reading

Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist with an interest in moral choices. In recent years, he has considered the psychology of political orientation. One of the things he has decided is that conservatives understand liberals far better than liberals understand conservatives — which I suspect may contribute to the “stupid or evil” dichotomy of so much discourse.

Although he supports Obama, he is intellectually honest enough to take positions that might alienate his allies, and this article in the Chronicle Review notes that he often needles folks on the left:

He writes that politics, like religion, binds people together “to pursue moral ideals and defend sacred values.” The value that liberals revere is defending the oppressed. But their devotion to victims blinds them to other concerns. They alienate with “a thin and tolerant morality that gives most Americans vertigo.” And they often commit “sacrilege,” making it easy for opponents “to mobilize moralistic outrage.” For example, they trounce authority by backing abortion without parental consent.

Another example Haidt uses to underscore the tribal psychology of political sacredness is the 1960s research of the liberal sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Harvard professor and public-policy expert. In a famous report to President Johnson, Moynihan used the phrase “tangle of pathology” to describe the black family, arguing that some of its problems stemmed from high rates of out-of-wedlock birth, not just from racism. That made Moynihan a pariah; other Harvard professors wouldn’t let their kids play with his. As Haidt tells the story, Moynihan committed “the cardinal sin”: “blaming the victim, where the victim is one of your sacralized victim groups.” He points out that sociologists are now gingerly saying, “He was right.”

It’s worth a read.

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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3 Responses to Some Recommended Reading

  1. Severian says:

    conservatives understand liberals far better than liberals understand conservatives

    Makes sense. In most areas of the country, to get the liberal perspective, all you have to do is watch tv, open a newspaper, or sit in a classroom (note to potential trolls: Even in the red states, the newspaper and education rackets are overwhelmingly blue; in small red-state towns, you can find the entire membership of the Democratic party in the teachers’ lounge on staff development days).

    Getting the conservative perspective takes a little effort, if only because one must overcome our culture’s instinctive equation of liberalism with intelligence. This is where classical liberalism went off the rails. Most conservatives of my acquaintance will at least grant the possibility that liberals came to false conclusions from true (or at least understandable) premises; liberals start from the assumption that conservatives are wrong tout court, on the Forrest Gump principle (they come to false conclusions because stupid is as stupid does, and it’s much easier to arrive at a bad conclusion from bad premises than to get bad conclusions from good premises. (Notice this is also flattering to the liberal ego — even if they’re wrong (and good luck getting them to admit that!), it took a lot more brainpower and ingenuity to get there)).

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