FreeThought Fort Wayne

        Be Reasonable

Irreconcilable differences?

Posted by Eye4Cards on September 12, 2008

Earlier I read an interesting article from edge.com called What Makes People Vote Republican? The author had a few good points along with some things that I either didn’t agree with, or would like to elaborate on, so I figured I’d break it down here and add my thoughts as you read along.  It’s a little lengthy, but well worth the invested brain cells and slight headache you will probably incur from the cerebral jumping jacks you will have to complete:

What makes people vote Republican?

What makes people vote Republican? Why in particular do working class and rural Americans usually vote for pro-business Republicans when their economic interests would seem better served by Democratic policies? We psychologists have been examining the origins of ideology ever since Hitler sent us Germany’s best psychologists, and we long ago reported that strict parenting and a variety of personal insecurities work together to turn people against liberalism, diversity, and progress. But now that we can map the brains, genes, and unconscious attitudes of conservatives, we have refined our diagnosis: conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death. People vote Republican because Republicans offer “moral clarity”—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.

So far so good.  Although I hate using sweeping overgeneralizations.  I also don’t believe the current Democratic party is as reasonable or free-thinking as we are led to believe.  Modern Republicans lean so far to the right of the political spectrum that Democrats have unwittingly slid right as well in an attempt to remain relevant in the eyes of mainstream religious conservatives.  Because of this, Democrats are at best moderate in general, and true liberals are now seen as extreme leftists.

Diagnosis is a pleasure. It is a thrill to solve a mystery from scattered clues, and it is empowering to know what makes others tick. In the psychological community, where almost all of us are politically liberal, our diagnosis of conservatism gives us the additional pleasure of shared righteous anger. We can explain how Republicans exploit frames, phrases, and fears to trick Americans into supporting policies (such as the “war on terror” and repeal of the “death tax”) that damage the national interest for partisan advantage.

Perhaps I seem more cold and calculated than your average Joe, but, the personal pleasures of the author’s profession aside, I see little pleasure in figuring out the bigger picture concerning Republicans and religious conservatives.  It is agonizing to me to see so many people unwittingly dedicating their lives to hollow, empty and detrimental pursuits that they believe are in the best interests of themselves and everyone around them.  I’ve also no need of righteousness, shared or not.  It is the most useless of emotions as far as I am concerned.  I actually consider myself a very emotionally deep person.  I love to live life and experience every range of emotions, even if this means having to know the horrid with the euphoric.

Please click through to read the rest below the fold.

The only emotion of relevance here is in the relief I feel in knowing so many others are seeing our current political and social landscape as I do and understand and agree for the most part.

But with pleasure comes seduction, and with righteous pleasure comes seduction wearing a halo. Our diagnosis explains away Republican successes while convincing us and our fellow liberals that we hold the moral high ground. Our diagnosis tells us that we have nothing to learn from other ideologies, and it blinds us to what I think is one of the main reasons that so many Americans voted Republican over the last 30 years: they honestly prefer the Republican vision of a moral order to the one offered by Democrats. To see what Democrats have been missing, it helps to take off the halo, step back for a moment, and think about what morality really is.

I don’t consider understanding the psychological underpinnings of religious conservatives gives me reason to claim the moral high ground.  All it does is free me from the very same ideological traps.  It is much the same as how an atheist cannot claim the moral high ground just because he has freed himself from religious bondage and servitude.  He is now free to choose whatever ungodly pursuit he desires- moral, immoral, or amoral.  The only way an atheist can claim any moral high ground is by creating or adopting a positive moral framework upon which to live his life.

Just because I understand the pitfalls and shortcomings of Republicans and religious conservatives I don’t automatically claim moral superiority.  At this point, I am free to support whatever social and moral structure I wish all the way from a Millian utopia to sterile socialism to an Orwellian totalitarianism.


I began to study morality and culture at the University of Pennsylvania in 1987. A then-prevalent definition of the moral domain, from the Berkeley psychologist Elliot Turiel, said that morality refers to “prescriptive judgments of justice, rights, and welfare pertaining to how people ought to relate to each other.” But if morality is about how we treat each other, then why did so many ancient texts devote so much space to rules about menstruation, who can eat what, and who can have sex with whom? There is no rational or health-related way to explain these laws. (Why are grasshoppers kosher but most locusts are not?) The emotion of disgust seemed to me like a more promising explanatory principle. The book of Leviticus makes a lot more sense when you think of ancient lawgivers first sorting everything into two categories: “disgusts me” (gay male sex, menstruation, pigs, swarming insects) and “disgusts me less” (gay female sex, urination, cows, grasshoppers ).

For my dissertation research, I made up stories about people who did things that were disgusting or disrespectful yet perfectly harmless. For example, what do you think about a woman who can’t find any rags in her house so she cuts up an old American flag and uses the pieces to clean her toilet, in private? Or how about a family whose dog is killed by a car, so they dismember the body and cook it for dinner? I read these stories to 180 young adults and 180 eleven-year-old children, half from higher social classes and half from lower, in the USA and in Brazil. I found that most of the people I interviewed said that the actions in these stories were morally wrong, even when nobody was harmed. Only one group—college students at Penn—consistently exemplified Turiel’s definition of morality and overrode their own feelings of disgust to say that harmless acts were not wrong. (A few even praised the efficiency of recycling the flag and the dog).

This research led me to two conclusions. First, when gut feelings are present, dispassionate reasoning is rare. In fact, many people struggled to fabricate harmful consequences that could justify their gut-based condemnation. I often had to correct people when they said things like “it’s wrong because… um…eating dog meat would make you sick” or “it’s wrong to use the flag because… um… the rags might clog the toilet.” These obviously post-hoc rationalizations illustrate the philosopher David Hume’s dictum that reason is “the slave of the passions, and can pretend to no other office than to serve and obey them.” This is the first rule of moral psychology: feelings come first and tilt the mental playing field on which reasons and arguments compete. If people want to reach a conclusion, they can usually find a way to do so. The Democrats have historically failed to grasp this rule, choosing uninspiring and aloof candidates who thought that policy arguments were forms of persuasion.

I agree with the author that psychological use of appeals to emotion are much more effective than dispassionate pleas to reason and uninspired rhetoric.  The Republicans are much better at controlling the atmosphere of their campaigns and conventions and playing upon emotional appeals and fears.

I get the feeling the author believes the majority of liberals miss this point.  We don’t.  The depths of immorality that Republicans and religious conservatives will sink to get their agendas served is nearly bottomless and knows few boundaries.  It is the first sign that your belief is false when you feel the need to trick others into your beliefs.  That is why liberals remain steadfast in their adherence to reason and truth, liberty and freedom.  Unfortunately, there are not enough of us flamboyant enough to inspire real feelings of hope, respect and admiration. Kennedy and Clinton where more popular because of their savoir faire and charisma combined with their respect for reason and the common individual.

The second conclusion was that the moral domain varies across cultures. Turiel’s description of morality as being about justice, rights, and human welfare worked perfectly for the college students I interviewed at Penn, but it simply did not capture the moral concerns of the less elite groups—the working-class people in both countries who were more likely to justify their judgments with talk about respect, duty, and family roles. (“Your dog is family, and you just don’t eat family.”) From this study I concluded that the anthropologist Richard Shweder was probably right in a 1987 critique of Turiel in which he claimed that the moral domain (not just specific rules) varies by culture. Drawing on Shweder’s ideas, I would say that the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way.

When Republicans say that Democrats “just don’t get it,” this is the “it” to which they refer. Conservative positions on gays, guns, god, and immigration must be understood as means to achieve one kind of morally ordered society. When Democrats try to explain away these positions using pop psychology they err, they alienate, and they earn the label “elitist.” But how can Democrats learn to see—let alone respect—a moral order they regard as narrow-minded, racist, and dumb?

Perhaps these are planks in the platform that liberals need to articulate more clearly.  Liberals hold all of these ideals very highly, it’s just that most people just don’t get it.  We understand that the healthier a society is physically, mentally, economically and socially, the healthier the individual is.  Binding groups together is a positive for everyone.  We find just as much satisfaction and enjoyment from socializing and contributing to make our communities strong.  There is no monopoly on this, nor need there be.

As far as supporting essential institutions, it depends on what one considers to be an essential institution.  But if we are talking about branches of government and our commitment to justice and defense of freedom, then we are all about it.  If you consider marriage an institution, then a commitment to marriage for all and families for all is something we defend whole-heartily as well.

Religion is the main institution on which liberals will differ from each other and from conservatives.  More and more people are starting to see religion for what it is: A divisive impediment to true morality and progress.  It is the only institution that is not regulated and the results are disastrous.  The biggest irony is that the blame for all of society’s shortcomings are levied on everything but religion.

When I think of living in a noble and sanctified way, I think of living with dignity, respect for life, and humility.  I think of appreciating the life I am able to live based on the path blazed before me by the dedication and sacrifices of so many before me, most of whom will forever remain anonymous and forgotten.

I only imagine our modern conservative adheres to nobility in the medieval sense of class and wealth.  This is what I consider elitist.  The vast amount of wealth for so privileged few at the cost of everyone else no matter what the consequences.  The irony is not lost on me when I hear liberals painted as elitists and arrogant by the ones who would call themselves noble and pious/sanctified.

So yes, we “get it”.  Conservatives just don’t get why anyone would consider their views as “narrow-minded, racist, and dumb”.


After graduate school I moved to the University of Chicago to work with Shweder, and while there I got a fellowship to do research in India. In September 1993 I traveled to Bhubaneswar, an ancient temple town 200 miles southwest of Calcutta. I brought with me two incompatible identities. On the one hand, I was a 29 year old liberal atheist who had spent his politically conscious life despising Republican presidents, and I was charged up by the culture wars that intensified in the 1990s. On the other hand, I wanted to be like those tolerant anthropologists I had read so much about.

My first few weeks in Bhubaneswar were therefore filled with feelings of shock and confusion. I dined with men whose wives silently served us and then retreated to the kitchen. My hosts gave me a servant of my own and told me to stop thanking him when he served me. I watched people bathe in and cook with visibly polluted water that was held to be sacred. In short, I was immersed in a sex-segregated, hierarchically stratified, devoutly religious society, and I was committed to understanding it on its own terms, not on mine.

It only took a few weeks for my shock to disappear, not because I was a natural anthropologist but because the normal human capacity for empathy kicked in. I liked these people who were hosting me, helping me, and teaching me. And once I liked them (remember that first principle of moral psychology) it was easy to take their perspective and to consider with an open mind the virtues they thought they were enacting. Rather than automatically rejecting the men as sexist oppressors and pitying the women, children, and servants as helpless victims, I was able to see a moral world in which families, not individuals, are the basic unit of society, and the members of each extended family (including its servants) are intensely interdependent. In this world, equality and personal autonomy were not sacred values. Honoring elders, gods, and guests, and fulfilling one’s role-based duties, were more important. Looking at America from this vantage point, what I saw now seemed overly individualistic and self-focused. For example, when I boarded the plane to fly back to Chicago I heard a loud voice saying “Look, you tell him that this is the compartment over MY seat, and I have a RIGHT to use it.”

Back in the United States the culture war was going strong, but I had lost my righteous passion. I could never have empathized with the Christian Right directly, but once I had stood outside of my home morality, once I had tried on the moral lenses of my Indian friends and interview subjects, I was able to think about conservative ideas with a newfound clinical detachment. They want more prayer and spanking in schools, and less sex education and access to abortion? I didn’t think those steps would reduce AIDS and teen pregnancy, but I could see why the religious right wanted to “thicken up” the moral climate of schools and discourage the view that children should be as free as possible to act on their desires. Conservatives think that welfare programs and feminism increase rates of single motherhood and weaken the traditional social structures that compel men to support their own children? Hmm, that may be true, even if there are also many good effects of liberating women from dependence on men. I had escaped from my prior partisan mindset (reject first, ask rhetorical questions later), and began to think about liberal and conservative policies as manifestations of deeply conflicting but equally heartfelt visions of the good society.


On Turiel’s definition of morality (“justice, rights, and welfare”), Christian and Hindu communities don’t look good. They restrict people’s rights (especially sexual rights), encourage hierarchy and conformity to gender roles, and make people spend extraordinary amounts of time in prayer and ritual practices that seem to have nothing to do with “real” morality. But isn’t it unfair to impose on all cultures a definition of morality drawn from the European Enlightenment tradition? Might we do better with an approach that defines moral systems by what they do rather than by what they value?

It is not unfair to compare systems of morality and differentiate between what is more fair and beneficial and what is more restrictive and demanding.  This is how we will eventually arrive at a general, world-wide consensus on what is acceptable and most beneficial in our societies.  This is not a rigid choice.  It’s not “Democracy vs. Islam” or anything as over-the-top as that.  We will slowly refine our social structures the closer and more intimate (and most of all, friendly and helpful) we become with the rest of the world.

Values are partially a reflection and consequence of our moralities (or the lack thereof) in action over time.  Values change as our moralities change.  To say any society has the same values as their ancestors of a thousand or more years ago is ridiculous.  A simple perusal of American history for the last century details exactly how our values have been shaped over time and how they are not a static thing, but ever-changing.

Here’s my alternative definition: morality is any system of interlocking values, practices, institutions, and psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible. It turns out that human societies have found several radically different approaches to suppressing selfishness, two of which are most relevant for understanding what Democrats don’t understand about morality.

First, imagine society as a social contract invented for our mutual benefit. All individuals are equal, and all should be left as free as possible to move, develop talents, and form relationships as they please. The patron saint of a contractual society is John Stuart Mill, who wrote (in On Liberty) that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Mill’s vision appeals to many liberals and libertarians; a Millian society at its best would be a peaceful, open, and creative place where diverse individuals respect each other’s rights and band together voluntarily (as in Obama’s calls for “unity”) to help those in need or to change the laws for the common good.

Psychologists have done extensive research on the moral mechanisms that are presupposed in a Millian society, and there are two that appear to be partly innate. First, people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to suffering and harm, particularly violent harm, and so nearly all cultures have norms or laws to protect individuals and to encourage care for the most vulnerable. Second, people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to issues of fairness and reciprocity, which often expand into notions of rights and justice. Philosophical efforts to justify liberal democracies and egalitarian social contracts invariably rely heavily on intuitions about fairness and reciprocity.

But now imagine society not as an agreement among individuals but as something that emerged organically over time as people found ways of living together, binding themselves to each other, suppressing each other’s selfishness, and punishing the deviants and free-riders who eternally threaten to undermine cooperative groups. The basic social unit is not the individual, it is the hierarchically structured family, which serves as a model for other institutions. Individuals in such societies are born into strong and constraining relationships that profoundly limit their autonomy. The patron saint of this more binding moral system is the sociologist Emile Durkheim, who warned of the dangers of anomie (normlessness), and wrote, in 1897, that “Man cannot become attached to higher aims and submit to a rule if he sees nothing above him to which he belongs. To free himself from all social pressure is to abandon himself and demoralize him.” A Durkheimian society at its best would be a stable network composed of many nested and overlapping groups that socialize, reshape, and care for individuals who, if left to their own devices, would pursue shallow, carnal, and selfish pleasures. A Durkheimian society would value self-control over self-expression, duty over rights, and loyalty to one’s groups over concerns for outgroups.

This to me seems barbaric.  Even if “shallow, carnal, and selfish pleasures” were the only goals in every human being’s life on the planet, this would be better than sucking it up for the good of the group.  See, this is where liberals and conservatives differ on what we consider to be healthy and desirable societies.  Conservatives have the herd mentality of everyone acting the same so that we have strength in numbers and only the sickly and odd stand out.  Liberals see these caste’ for what they are: forced coersion and oppression.  The individual burden is not worth the social contract.  The individual is not completely free mentally or emotionally which is seen as a form of dogmatic slavery and obedience to tradition and an automatic respect for authority no matter what that authority actually represents.

It is also obvious that we all are ultimately left to our own devices.  Not everyone chooses incessant reveling in carnal desires and selfish pursuits.  Not by a long shot.  So the whole theory that all Hell will break loose if we give in to godless hedonism is a fearful myth.

A Durkheimian ethos can’t be supported by the two moral foundations that hold up a Millian society (harm/care and fairness/reciprocity). My recent research shows that social conservatives do indeed rely upon those two foundations, but they also value virtues related to three additional psychological systems: ingroup/loyalty (involving mechanisms that evolved during the long human history of tribalism), authority/respect (involving ancient primate mechanisms for managing social rank, tempered by the obligation of superiors to protect and provide for subordinates), and purity/sanctity (a relatively new part of the moral mind, related to the evolution of disgust, that makes us see carnality as degrading and renunciation as noble). These three systems support moralities that bind people into intensely interdependent groups that work together to reach common goals. Such moralities make it easier for individuals to forget themselves and coalesce temporarily into hives, a process that is thrilling, as anyone who has ever “lost” him or herself in a choir, protest march, or religious ritual can attest.

In several large internet surveys, my collaborators Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek and I have found that people who call themselves strongly liberal endorse statements related to the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations, and they largely reject statements related to ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. People who call themselves strongly conservative, in contrast, endorse statements related to all five foundations more or less equally. (You can test yourself at www.YourMorals.org.) We think of the moral mind as being like an audio equalizer, with five slider switches for different parts of the moral spectrum. Democrats generally use a much smaller part of the spectrum than do Republicans. The resulting music may sound beautiful to other Democrats, but it sounds thin and incomplete to many of the swing voters that left the party in the 1980s, and whom the Democrats must recapture if they want to produce a lasting political realignment.

To say that liberals don’t use the full spectrum of “harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, authority/respect, ingroup/loyalty, and purity/sanctity” is insulting.  Liberals have great respect for those they deem worthy of such high regard; people of integrity and wit and passion.

What, no liberal is loyal or protective of his friends and family?  That is bullshit plain and simple.  There is no other way to describe it.

I see purity as a respect for my overall health and of those I love and cherish.  I see purity as a love and respect for the environment that allows me to maintain my overall health and the health and safety of all.

I see sanctity as lack of corruption morally and ethically.  I see sanctity as protection of our rights and freedoms.  Sanctity is lack of bloodshed and greed and filth.  To think that people like me are not spiritual in the sense of wonder and curiosity and philosophy is preposterous.  Religious dogma  sets limits on our imagination and curiosity and is a violation of our spiritual sanctity.  It stunts and poisons whatever it is you call a soul.


In The Political Brain, Drew Westen points out that the Republicans have become the party of the sacred, appropriating not just the issues of God, faith, and religion, but also the sacred symbols of the nation such as the Flag and the military. The Democrats, in the process, have become the party of the profane—of secular life and material interests. Democrats often seem to think of voters as consumers; they rely on polls to choose a set of policy positions that will convince 51% of the electorate to buy. Most Democrats don’t understand that politics is more like religion than it is like shopping.

That’s a little harsh and misleading.  Businesses refer to people as “consumers”.  No one represents businesses and corporate interests better than Republicans.  While I am in substantial agreement about how impersonal both Democrats and Republicans treat their constituents, this is not all a bad thing nor is it avoidable.  I want my Representatives to know what I ask of them, I want them to base their reasoned decisions on facts and figures and what the majority of their voters want.  What I don’t want is my vote being trumped by special interest lobbyists with large campaign contributions to test the boundaries of their moral integrity.

Religion and political leadership are so intertwined across eras and cultures because they are about the same thing: performing the miracle of converting unrelated individuals into a group. Durkheim long ago said that God is really society projected up into the heavens, a collective delusion that enables collectives to exist, suppress selfishness, and endure. The three Durkheimian foundations (ingroup, authority, and purity) play a crucial role in most religions. When they are banished entirely from political life, what remains is a nation of individuals striving to maximize utility while respecting the rules. What remains is a cold but fair social contract, which can easily degenerate into a nation of shoppers.

You know, it doesn’t have to be a “cold but fair social contract”.  It can be a quite dynamic and fulfilling social contract.  I’m quite optimistic that we can create a wonderfully symbiotic relationship where we strive to help make each successive generation more prosperous by increasing the average lifespan, minimizing sickness and injury, educating without boundaries, exploring as far as we can go, and enjoying just plain ol’ existing in peace.

I don’t equate a “cold but fair social contract” with eventual denigration into a “nation of shoppers”.  I think the author (who seems more and more like a conservative in sheep’s clothing) is once again confusing Republican big business and consumerism with democratic ideals.

The Democrats must find a way to close the sacredness gap that goes beyond occasional and strategic uses of the words “God” and “faith.” But if Durkheim is right, then sacredness is really about society and its collective concerns. God is useful but not necessary. The Democrats could close much of the gap if they simply learned to see society not just as a collection of individuals—each with a panoply of rights–but as an entity in itself, an entity that needs some tending and caring. Our national motto is e pluribus unum (“from many, one”). Whenever Democrats support policies that weaken the integrity and identity of the collective (such as multiculturalism, bilingualism, and immigration), they show that they care more about pluribus than unum. They widen the sacredness gap.

OK, so I’ve now spent how long talking about the importance of individual freedoms and rights?  I’m all about the individual.  The best way to attain individual happiness is by increasing group happiness.  Sounds pretty straight-forward to me.  Now I have my issues with multiculturalism and immigration, but you can not say that xenophobia is the way to go.

A useful heuristic would be to think about each issue, and about the Party itself, from the perspective of the three Durkheimian foundations. Might the Democrats expand their moral range without betraying their principles? Might they even find ways to improve their policies by incorporating and publicly praising some conservative insights?

It’s enough they refrain from telling America what Republicans really stand for and how our media is a conservative lapdog.  No, instead Democrats go along with the facade and help to continue the farce that is American politics.

The ingroup/loyalty foundation supports virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice that can lead to dangerous nationalism, but in moderate doses a sense that “we are all one” is a recipe for high social capital and civic well-being. A recent study by Robert Putnam (titled E Pluribus Unum) found that ethnic diversity increases anomie and social isolation by decreasing people’s sense of belonging to a shared community. Democrats should think carefully, therefore, about why they celebrate diversity. If the purpose of diversity programs is to fight racism and discrimination (worthy goals based on fairness concerns), then these goals might be better served by encouraging assimilation and a sense of shared identity.

The purity/sanctity foundation is used heavily by the Christian right to condemn hedonism and sexual “deviance,” but it can also be harnessed for progressive causes. Sanctity does not have to come from God; the psychology of this system is about overcoming our lower, grasping, carnal selves in order to live in a way that is higher, nobler, and more spiritual. Many liberals criticize the crassness and ugliness that our unrestrained free-market society has created. There is a long tradition of liberal anti-materialism often linked to a reverence for nature. Environmental and animal welfare issues are easily promoted using the language of harm/care, but such appeals might be more effective when supplemented with hints of purity/sanctity.

The authority/respect foundation will be the hardest for Democrats to use. But even as liberal bumper stickers urge us to “question authority” and assert that “dissent is patriotic,” Democrats can ask what needs this foundation serves, and then look for other ways to meet them. The authority foundation is all about maintaining social order, so any candidate seen to be “soft on crime” has disqualified himself, for many Americans, from being entrusted with the ultimate authority. Democrats would do well to read Durkheim and think about the quasi-religious importance of the criminal justice system. The miracle of turning individuals into groups can only be performed by groups that impose costs on cheaters and slackers. You can do this the authoritarian way (with strict rules and harsh penalties) or you can do it using the fairness/reciprocity foundation by stressing personal responsibility and the beneficence of the nation towards those who “work hard and play by the rules.” But if you don’t do it at all—if you seem to tolerate or enable cheaters and slackers — then you are committing a kind of sacrilege.


If Democrats want to understand what makes people vote Republican, they must first understand the full spectrum of American moral concerns. They should then consider whether they can use more of that spectrum themselves. The Democrats would lose their souls if they ever abandoned their commitment to social justice, but social justice is about getting fair relationships among the parts of the nation. This often divisive struggle among the parts must be balanced by a clear and oft-repeated commitment to guarding the precious coherence of the whole. America lacks the long history, small size, ethnic homogeneity, and soccer mania that holds many other nations together, so our flag, our founding fathers, our military, and our common language take on a moral importance that many liberals find hard to fathom.

Unity is not the great need of the hour, it is the eternal struggle of our immigrant nation. The three Durkheimian foundations of ingroup, authority, and purity are powerful tools in that struggle. Until Democrats understand this point, they will be vulnerable to the seductive but false belief that Americans vote for Republicans primarily because they have been duped into doing so.

Blah blah blah, yadda-yadda-yadda….sorry, I started tuning out in the last few paragraphs, which were just affirmations of the author’s previous misgivings about liberalism.

You know, I can see now why this country is becoming more and more polarized politically.  Liberals cannot reconcile their differences with conservatives who refuse to give an honest argument and open inquiry into all topics, especially religion, and use whatever means necessary to win their political battles.  I swear, when I talk with most conservatives I hear the same sound bites over and over.  I might as well be talking to a robot or a brick wall.  I also hear the same story a lot from liberals who have left the conservative flock; that is, they say they didn’t lose their religion and their faith in their leaders until they started questioning and thinking for themselves.  A coincidence?  I don’t think so!

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6 Responses to “Irreconcilable differences?”

  1. Tom Humes said

    Nice Site layout for your blog. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Humes

  2. Don’t ever write another blog that long again.

    WE
    ARE
    GOING
    TO
    DIE
    😦

  3. mightymjolnir said

    @theo

    Thanks for posting this – you beat me to the punch. I found this to be a fascinating article. It really makes me want to read “What’s the Matter With Kansas.”

    My opinion of the article overall differs slightly from yours (and Sam Harris’, for the most part). Basically I agree with nearly all of the arguments you put forth, when considered as prescriptions for an ideal society. However, the title of the article is “What makes people vote Republican,” and I think this plot gets a little lost in your criticism. (I guess it’s to be expected in such a long article.) While the author’s points at times seem counterintuitive to us liberals in the big picture, I think they are shrewdly instructional in addressing the present need to understand why conservatives keep winning, despite our better ideas. For the purpose of this article, he’s more concerned with the battle than the war.

    I might also, respectfully, caution against statements like these:

    “To say that liberals don’t use the full spectrum of “harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, authority/respect, ingroup/loyalty, and purity/sanctity” is insulting.”

    This was not the author’s personal perspective – he and others conducted a study, and in the paragraph you reference he’s simply reporting the results. While we could examine the study for systemic failure or bias, for now I think it’s best to leave the “being insulted at the mere reporting of fact” to the other side.

    I think this article is instructive not just to liberals in understanding conservatives, but also to freethinkers in understanding theists. And again, while I differ with you on the minor points and at the sort of “micro” level, I’m 100% with you on the “macro.”

    m

  4. NoBendedKnee said

    wow…where to begin. The author of this study is extrapolating his own meaning from the data based on his own bias. In evidence are his opinions, peppered through out this piece. I also, find several instances where his remarks are demeaning and well, rather ignorant towards the more liberally minded.
    Some observations/opinions:

    “…conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death. People vote Republican because Republicans offer “moral clarity”…”

    Question: Whose definition/understanding of morality? The ones who are predisposed to above said personality traits? Perhaps, this is exactly why there was a need for the two parties in the first place.

    “Conservative positions on gays, guns, god, and immigration must be understood as means to achieve one kind of morally ordered society. When Democrats try to explain away these positions using pop psychology they err, they alienate, and they earn the label “elitist.”

    Ok so, democrats use ‘pop’ psychology to combat intolerance…and conservatives are using which kind of morality again?

    “I dined with men whose wives silently served us and then retreated to the kitchen. My hosts gave me a servant of my own ..”
    Rather than automatically rejecting the men as sexist oppressors and pitying the women, children, and servants as helpless victims, I was able to see a moral world in which families, not individuals, are the basic unit of society, and the members of each extended family (including its servants) are intensely interdependent. In this world, equality and personal autonomy were not sacred values. Honoring elders, gods, and guests, and fulfilling one’s role-based duties, were more important. Looking at America from this vantage point, what I saw now seemed overly individualistic and self-focused. ”

    It’s becoming clearer….

    “But isn’t it unfair to impose on all cultures a definition of morality drawn from the European Enlightenment tradition? Might we do better with an approach that defines moral systems by what they do rather than by what they value?”

    and Ta-Dah!! There it is.
    What these systems ‘do’ is a direct link to the values they hold. If a group values male privilege and religious dogma over equality and autonomy then the result will be the sexist/caste system of which he seems so enamored by. This is not ‘a kind of morality’ but rather a kind of demoralizing theocracy.

    “…in a Millian society, and there are two that appear to be partly innate. First, people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to suffering and harm, particularly violent harm, and so nearly all cultures have norms or laws to protect individuals and to encourage care for the most vulnerable. Second, people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to issues of fairness and reciprocity, which often expand into notions of rights and justice.”

    I bet a Millian society sounds pretty good to the servant he had in India and btw, it probably sounds great to the women in the kitchen too. As well as the oppressed in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Niger, Bangladesh, Egypt, Rwanda, Darfur, America, etc.

    “A Durkheimian society would value self-control over self-expression, duty over rights, and loyalty to one’s groups over concerns for outgroups.”

    …again, loyalty to who’s group? Duty to what/whose values? The struggle for human rights within the democratic party are a reordering, if you will, of these very groups and duties not a disbanding of them. The goal is equity and worth of all members of the group wherein loyalty will be a natural by-product not a forced compliance to a discriminatory system based on some misguided idea of ‘ a kind of morality’.

    “If the purpose of diversity programs is to fight racism and discrimination (worthy goals based on fairness concerns), then these goals might be better served by encouraging assimilation and a sense of shared identity. ”

    He seems to suggest here, that his idea of ‘identity’ is in opposition to a democratic shared identity where the fight against sexism/racism and discrimination are more that worthy goals but are, in fact, part of the very glue that holds together the ‘inalienable rights’ that constitute our democratic identity. What other shared identity does he propose?

    I did not find this a scholarly dissection of data but more of an editorial in search of legitimacy. Fail.

  5. andyscathouse said

    I appreciate the post, too. My main disagreement with this whole article is to simply assume the premise that democrats hold all the best arguments. It is also open to the criticisms of multiculturalism. It is far more complicated than that. Sure loud republicans have some plainly stupid ideas like abstinence-only ed, creationism, and being anti-homosexual rights. (This article is great for explaining that irrationality of religion so we can understand and how it evolved with authority and in/out group).

    However, there is power in open markets position and having a smaller governments on the republican side. From many independently run businesses comes a powerful and complex economy. Yes, I know we are in a down cycle now. I am not saying there should be no regulation either. (Especially in drug medical claims.)

    I think the next move in our country will be a green revolution from the bottom up driven by the market. Bush is one of the most unconservative economic presidents we have had. Today’s neo-cons are anti-freedom because they want to extend the government into our personal reproductive lives. (I can’t stand this and it directly violates their smaller government position.)

    My point is to assume there is nothing good from republican conservatism is wrong. Lincoln and Jefferson would roll over in their graves if they could see today’s party but I say they contributed greatly to our nation. I want to bring back Barry Goldwater republicanism (true conservatism) and let the hate go and find some common ground. There has not been anyone here that has ever said let’s ban religion either. That is freedom, too. Just get it the heck out of politics! The other thing about the comments here is I don’t believe their will ever be a utopia. We all have to do our part to help better each others’ lives but it will never be perfect.

    Oh and in case you didn’t notice the Democrats invited the major Gods to the DNC and kept the secularists out. They are playing along most likely for the same reasons. So is it really different by partisan? I think Democrats are wrong on extreme gun control and other weirdness such as the fairness doctrine.

    PS.- I love the E pluribus unum motto and think it should be on our website somewhere. Skep?

  6. theodoersing said

    mighty, I agree I went off on tangents several times, but the length and topics of the article lent itself to that. I started writing the post with the intention of focusing on “why people vote Republican”, but as I read the article, I realized it focused less on why people vote Republican and more on why Democrat’s don’t “get it”.

    I felt like this article focused more on bashing liberal ideals (that were misrepresented by the author) than dissecting what makes a Republican voter’s mind tick. It seemed like a thinly veiled excuse to bash liberals, and the more I read and thought about it, the more I felt compelled to defend what I believe were mis-characterizations and false assumptions.

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