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Liberals, conservatives, values and how we perceive each other
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Another day, another book I need to buy and hopefully read some day. In the March 21st NYT, Nicholas Kristof reviews a new book: ”The Righteous Mind”. In it, author Jonathan Haidt discusses some original research that investigates some key values held by conservatives and liberals – and how these two groups perceive each other on these values. I have long been interested in why Republicans and Democrats believe as they do, and this type of research on values zeroes in on this question.
A couple of key observations emerge. First, the author points out how both conservatives and liberals adhere to values that are formed around a moral code, but conservatives follow some additional core values that liberals do not. Kristof phrases it as:
Americans speak about values in six languages, from care to sanctity. Conservatives speak all six, but liberals are fluent in only three. And some (me included) mostly use just one, care for victims.
Kristof summarizes the values:
…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.
In his research, Haidt and his colleagues refer to the latter three values as “binding values”, as they bind together people into larger groups.
These foundations are Ingroup/loyalty (supporting moral obligations of patriotism and “us vs. them” thinking); Authority/respect (including concerns about social order and the importance of traditions and role-based duties in maintaining that order) and Purity/sanctity (including concerns about treating the body as a temple and living in a higher, more “divine” way, versus a baser, more carnal way).
These sound pretty familiar to a conservative. In fact, Haidt’s definition for the second category (authority/respect) sounds like a sound bite description of what conservatism is.
The second, more interesting observation from Haidt’s book and research is touched upon briefly by Kristof:
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.
Much of Haidt’s research centered around the accuracy of stereotypes of “out groups” – i.e. how liberals see conservatives and vice versa. The research showed that, by a significant margin, liberals were less accurate in their depiction of conservatives than the converse. The ironic part of this comes when reading the comments on Kristof’s article – this liberal lack of other-awareness is illustrated over and over by the left-leaning commentariat…but what else would we expect from the NYT’s readers?
A summary from the original research:
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Think this country will ever again be united?
Yes, but it will take a significant emotional event like 9/11, but wiithout liberals using it for political points.
No, we have such a deep divide between the liberals who favor dependency on the government and Conservatives who believe in small government and self reliance.
This is not a scientific survey,
to learn more. Results may not total 100% due to rounding and voting descrepencies.
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