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The Psychologies of Conservatism and Liberalism

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message James Brett     Permalink
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As the year 2009 wends onward to its more or less unsatisfactory finish, with the economy still up for grabs, with the war in Iraq punctuated recently by massive terrorist bombings in Baghdad and unresolved issues in the Kurdish area, and with the U.S. military, the CIA, and Blackwater all resolutely laying the foundations for a new thirty years war in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and maybe even Uzbekistan), liberals and conservatives are at one another's throats on a daily basis. If you watch MSNBC in the evenings, both Rachel and Keith are hard at work exposing the Fox Noise Network's ever proliferating lies and pseudo-histories of our times. Both go over the top a couple times a week, but Keith more than Rachel. Most Americans wish that Rupert Murdock could be expelled from our country and sent back to Tazzie or wherever he came from.

The differences between conservatives and liberals are not all concocted by pundits, however. The GOP and the Fox rightwingnuts have developed a new form of disloyal opposition, eschewing "loyalty" in the hope that any failure (human or institutional) will redound to their benefit in the mid-term elections next year. The GOP positions from Chairman Steele to Representatives Boehner and Cantor to Senators Hatch and McConnell are deliberate, and many of us can remember when the GOP acted quite differently. It has been a while, though. Certainly not since Gingrich strode into town in 1994.

The differences between conservatives and liberals are, most people suspect something deeper than political/tactical and purely ideological. There seems to be an unbridgable moral gap between the two groups. Professor Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia has some ideas on this subject as reported in the December issue of Scientific American, which you should find quite interesting.

In a nutshell of Prof. Haidt devising are five key psychological "systems":

  1. Harm/care: Evolved mammalian attachment systems mean we can feel the pain of others, giving rise to the virtues of kindness, gentleness and nurturance.
  2. Fairness/reciprocity: Evolved reciprocal altruism generates a sense of justice.
  3. Ingroup/loyalty: Evolved in-group tribalism leads to patriotism.
  4. Authority/respect: Evolved hierarchical social structures translate to respect for authority and tradition.
  5. Purity/sanctity: Evolved emotion of disgust related to disease and contamination underlies our sense of bodily purity.
If you have not already read the article, take a wild guess which of these five "systems" are favored by liberals, then read the article and take a few minutes to pursue the links provided by SciAm.

Remember "POE" from Dr. Strangelove? Turns out the issue is not comedic; it's real and very fraught!

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Previously posted at Iron Mountain

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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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