Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

James Taranto writes about the recent disparaging remarks made by the governor of NY and mayor of NYC regarding their political opponents:

All that said, there’s something a bit puzzling about the sheer viciousness of the governor’s and the mayor’s rhetoric. Liberals, after all, pride themselves on their toleration and open-mindedness, but often they sound like Michael Caine’s character in “Austin Powers in Goldmember” who said: “There’s only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch.” Cuomo and de Blasio, unlike Caine, don’t understand they’re the butt of the joke.

One explanation for this phenomenon comes from social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” Todd Zywicki, coincidentally on the same day Cuomo made his remark, summed up the relevant finding in a Volokh Conspiracy post:

Haidt reports on the following experiment: after determining whether someone is liberal or conservative, he then has each person answer the standard battery of questions as if he were the opposite ideology. So, he would ask a liberal to answer the questions as if he were a “typical conservative” and vice-versa. What he finds is quite striking: “The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who describe themselves as ‘very liberal.’ The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives.” In other words, moderates and conservatives can understand the liberal worldview and liberals are unable to relate to the conservative worldview, especially when it comes to questions of care and fairness.

In short, Haidt’s research suggests that many liberals really do believe that conservatives are heartless bastards–or as a friend of mine once remarked, “Conservatives think that liberals are good people with bad ideas, whereas liberals think conservatives are bad people”–and very liberal people think that especially strongly. Haidt suggests that there is some truth to this.

Haidt has a theory that moral reasoning is driven by, as Zywicki writes, “five key vectors or values of psychological morality: (1) care/harm, (2) fairness, (3) loyalty, (4) authority, and (5) sanctity.” Haidt posits that “conservative values are more overlapping than liberals–conservatives have a ‘thicker’ moral worldview that includes all five values, whereas liberals have a ‘thinner’ view that rests on only two variables,” in Zywicki’s summary.

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One Response to Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

  1. Paul Marks says:

    The conservative view of “liberals” is changing. As the new generation of “liberals” becomes better known.

    I certainly do not believe that the Castro loving new Mayor of New York City is a “good man with bad ideas” – he is a bad man with bad ideas.

    Ditto Comrade Barack Obama and the rest of them.

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