Liberal Versus Conservative Morality

 morals

This is very interesting.

Why, Oh Why Do They Hate Us? (D91)

In 2004, we might have said John Kerry would make a terrible president and his plans would set the nation back 30 years. Rather than evil, we would have called him misguided. He thought he was doing the right thing. His heart was in the right place, even if his policies were wrong. His beliefs were honestly held.

On the other hand, a not insignificant number of liberals thought Bush was evil and should be tried for war crimes. How can some liberals hold such visceral and vitriolic hatred for us and our beliefs? In a 2007 paper, Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham, a couple of social justice researchers, managed to come up with an explanation. Brace yourselves: it turns out that our beliefs are immoral.

Well, at least as far as liberals are concerned. These researchers determined that “there are five psychological foundations of morality, which we label as harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity.” Conservative morality is based on some combination of all five of these moral foundations. There may not be an exact 20% input from each one, but they are all present. Liberal morality is based on only the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations.

“Conservatives have many moral concerns that liberals simply do not recognize as moral concerns… liberals often find it hard to understand why so many of their fellow citizens do not rally around the cause of social justice, and why many Western nations have elected conservative governments in recent years.”

Liberals are only concerned about harm/care and fairness/reciprocity. When we talk about patriotism, or respect for the country, or abortion, we are speaking from a set of morals and values that liberals simply do not see as being moral at all. In fact, liberals often believe that we have “non-moral motivations—such as selfishness, existential fear, or blind prejudice.”

In 2004, “political liberals in the United States were shocked, outraged, and unable to understand how ‘moral values’ drove people to vote for a man who, as they saw it, tricked America into an unwinnable war, cut taxes for the rich and benefits for the poor, and seemed to have a personal animosity toward mother nature.” They couldn’t understand it because unlike conservatives, liberals don’t believe that ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity are actual moral foundations.

Take abortion. For conservatives, abortion is mainly a religious issue, and relates to the purity/sanctity moral foundation. For liberals, purity/sanctity is not a moral foundation. Instead, they may argue that from the fairness/reciprocity moral foundation, having an abortion allows the mother to avoid the unfairness of being burdened with a child she doesn’t want. For liberals, those who are pro-life have no moral foundation to stand on, and the pro-lifers are attacking a very moral position. No wonder they think we’re evil.

Patriotism? Forget it. There’s no moral foundation to ingroup/loyalty as far as liberals are concerned.

Want to make a movie mocking a sitting president, or write a book about assassinating him? Who cares? Believing in authority and having respect for tradition is so old-fashioned, and not moral at all. If you’re a liberal.

Gay marriage? “Conservatives and many moderates are opposed to gay marriage in part due to moral intuitions related to ingroup, authority, and purity, and these concerns should be addressed, rather than dismissed contemptuously.”

I think they have a point. I voted against prop 8 in California (for gay marriage), but after seeing how the protesters have behaved since the election, if another proposition comes up next time around, I might vote the other way. When the behaviors of gays are behind closed doors, or even when openly displayed in public, at least ignored and hushed up by the media, it’s very easy for me to tell myself that gay marriage is a harmless little thing and no big deal. But when the public face of gay rights is this protest movement, well, completely apart from gayness, I have a hard time feeling like these are the sorts of people I want to support, and this is definitely not the sort of behavior I want to reward and encourage with my vote.

The authors argue that liberals have a huge blind spot when it comes to analyzing conservative motivations. This blind spot limits their ability to reach out to us and convince at least some of us to agree with and vote for some of their ideas. They ask: “Will moral appeals for liberal causes that press emotional buttons related to ingroup, authority, and purity persuade political moderates, who make up most of the electorate, where more traditional liberal appeals have failed?” Sounds like the sort of idea you’d hear at a marketing seminar on how to be a better salesman. If nothing else, we definitely got outsold in this last election.

Obama’s success may or may not have been aided by pushing the emotional buttons of moderates and conservatives, but when people perceive the Democrat nominee as the tax cutter in a presidential race, that has to be a wake-up call for us. Cutting taxes is our issue, and he got votes for it.

Going forward, we need to figure out what we stand for and what we believe in, and we need to figure out how to communicate our beliefs to the electorate. We bailed on both counts in this last election. Haidt and Graham wrote a paper claiming that understanding how conservatives think will help liberals advocate positions and win elections.

The reverse may also be true. If we want liberals to accept and even vote for some of our ideas, maybe we need to get better at expressing how our ideas fit in with their two moral foundations of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity.

I’ve noticed this difference when talking with my more liberal friends and relatives. I just didn’t know how to put it into words. To define it. But it is very true. And it does help explain why we see so many important issues – abortion, patriotism, traditional marriage, entitlement programs, etc. – so differently.

It also explains why socialism is so attractive to liberals because it fits their fairness/reciprocity moral foundation They don’t see it as fair that some people have more money than others even if those people earned it through hard work.  They want things to be equal. And since it is easier to take money from the rich and give it to the poor (Robin Hood syndrome) than to motivate people to work hard and succeed, they simply use government programs funded by taxes on the rich to level the playing field.   Sure, the end result is still misery – the rich are poorer and the poor are no better off or even worse off – but at least everyone is equally miserable now and that suits their liberal fairness/reciprocity foundation.

Deep, huh?

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22 Comments

  1. It could also be that liberals have a better grasp on a more authentic basis of morality than conservatives. Harm/care and fairness/reciprocity are much better indicators of real world morality than the other three which are static and retrospective. The liberal internal moral compass may be more finely tuned because based on real world experience and rather than
    tradition and authority.

  2. In fact, too much of an emphasis on cultural purity and cultural identification can blind one to real world human suffering. This is how right wing “Christians” can justify obsessing over other people’s sexuality while ignoring everything Jesus talked about.

  3. I don’t know any conservatives who are blind to human suffering. Individual people are but conservatives as a whole are certainly not. Nor more so than liberals anyway. Americans give more to charity than any people in the world, and at least half of those are Christian conservatives. I would say more since many liberals believe that government should take care of human suffering and therefore probably give less to charity. Certainly liberal politicans do at any raite – two examples being the new President and Vice President elects.

    Plus, you are going to have to give me an example of how the liberal internal moral compass is more finely tuned basd on real world experience. Frankly, I don’t believe the liberal anything is based on real world experience because if it were they would not be so naive when it comes to dealing with terrorists or the issues of human suffering in Africa and much of the rest of the world.

    I know a lot of “right-wing Christians” (which is funny because I am a back-sliding Catholic) and don’t know a one of them obsessing over other people’s sexuality. They are, however, concerned about re-defining marriage which is a different thing altogether.

    Finally, you believe your moral compass is more authentic. How so? Conservatives also base their morality on harm/care and fairness/reciprocity BUT we include the other foundations as well. I would argue that our morality is more authentic then.

  4. Wow … what a “sucker punch” !

    Comment on the article … how long has this dimwit been on drugs ?

  5. Once again, you lost me Ed.

  6. A rather extreme example would be the Pope telling people in third world countries not to use birth control. He is maintaining his doctrinal purity at the cost of massive human suffering.

  7. Hmm, well, I would suggest the counter example of liberal environmentalists working to ban DDT which would be stopping the mosquito-born disease that is killing millions of people in Africa.

    The Pope doesn’t control anyone who does not follow the tenants of the Church. People can choose to follow or not, but the choice is their’s alone. However, the banning of DDT was a government decision based on bad science and the people dying have no choice in the matter.

  8. Good point. Interestingly enough, this still proves my point that morality based on real world fairness and justice trumps the more orthodox (in this case environmentalist) view. More than bad science, ti’s just plain imoral. Liberals are not without their purity tests. We just have a lot less of them to blind us than conservatives do.

  9. If it is so immoral why then do liberal environmentalists push this kind of crap science on us? Global warming, anyone?

    Fewer “purity” tests are not necessarily good. And I don’t believe they blind a person. I believe they help guide them to do the right thing.

  10. Melting polar ice caps anyone? If you are one of those kind of idiots I see on point in continuing this conversation. People like you are the ultimate moral relativists.

  11. Ahhh, well if your level of debate is to call someone an idiot then don’t let the screen door hit you in the ass on your way out. Funny how libs always cut and run when things get tough.

    Moral relativist? Do you have any fricken idea what that means. This whole fricken post was about how liberals are more relative about morality, not conservatives. We have firm beliefs where there is a good and evil. A right way and a wrong way. You guys are all into grays and let’s do stuff just because it feels good.

    As to melting polar ice caps I suggest you catch-up on the new science.

    http://www.iceagenow.com/Arctic_Sea_Ice_Growing_at_Fastest_Rate_in_Recorded_History.htm

    http://www.newsbusters.org/blogs/lynn-davidson/2008/02/16/western-greenland-ice-growing-still-global-warming

    http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2008/02/15/arctic-ice.html

    And Global Warming is actually helping to fend off an Ice Age.

    http://global-warming.accuweather.com/2008/11/next_massive_ice_age_postponed.html

    Heck, even the New York Times says sea levels are falling and it has little to do with melting ice caps.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/11/science/11obseas.html?ref=science

  12. “They don’t see it as fair that some people have more money than others even if those people earned it through hard work. “

    Does a CEO of a large oil company “earn” all those millions? You make the presumption that everyone “earns” money in the same way, in a fair way. Because a liberal may believe that not everyone earns in a fair way.

    “Sure, the end result is still misery – the rich are poorer and the poor are no better off or even worse off – but at least everyone is equally miserable now and that suits their liberal fairness/reciprocity foundation.”

    If you search on the internet for “happiest country on earth” – a study conducted by interviewing people and asking them how happy they are with life, most of the countries at the top are highly socialist. Because it seems that happiness doesn’t come from riches but equality. People tend to be happiest when everyone around them is living at a similar quality of life. Where did you get this “equally miserable” judgement from?

    Also, in general that article to too black and white. It’s not like liberals don’t place value in the other 3 qualities, they just place less emphasis and think that when you need to compromise between “authority/respect” and “harm/care” or between “fairness” and “purity”, that fairness and care win out. Because that’s it, and these compromises often come up.
    What’s more important: Someones opinion that being gay is wrong, or the gay persons right to marry gay. I don’t understand how someone espouse freedom as any kind of value (as presumably all americans do) but then want to keep freedoms away from others just because they “believe” someone elses actions are wrong.

    I found a simpler way to define liberals vs conservative. Liberals are people who want the best for everyone while conservatives are people who want the best for themselves

  13. “Does a CEO of a large oil company “earn” all those millions? You make the presumption that everyone “earns” money in the same way, in a fair way. Because a liberal may believe that not everyone earns in a fair way.”

    Some earn it, some don’t. It is up to the shareholders of a company to determine if the guy or gal is worth the money they pay him. Who are you, if not a shareholder in the company, to determine what is a fair way to earn a buck? How is running a multi-million dollar corporation any less a fair way to earn a living than digging a ditch?

    “I found a simpler way to define liberals vs conservative. Liberals are people who want the best for everyone while conservatives are people who want the best for themselves.”

    You keep believing that if it makes you feel better. The problem with liberals is that you feel you are the ONLY ones who can define what is BEST for everyone. What if I don’t agree with what YOU think is best for me? Why do you get to decide? Conservatives believe every person should have the EQUAL OPPORTUNITY for happiness. For an education. For wealth if that is what they desire. Liberals want to guarantee that everyone will be happy and educated and wealthy, which is simply impossible.

    And even that would be okay if you didn’t want to force your view on everyone else. You want MY hard-earned tax dollars to pay for your crazy schemes to make everyone get the best for themselves. Well, they need to get the best on their own. I did.

  14. “Conservatives believe every person should have the EQUAL OPPORTUNITY for happiness”

    how many conservatives believe every gay should have the same opportunity for happiness?

    “How is running a multi-million dollar corporation any less a fair way to earn a living than digging a ditch?”

    maybe the word “fair” was incorrect to use but I address why I believe in a form of socialism below

    “And even that would be okay if you didn’t want to force your view on everyone else. You want MY hard-earned tax dollars to pay for your crazy schemes to make everyone get the best for themselves. Well, they need to get the best on their own. I did.”

    You say you want a level playing field. Well guess what, when someone is brought up in a family that has very little money there is a very good chance they will go to an average school, maybe not go to college and not end up earning lots of money etc. You might say “rise above it” or something but the facts are that some people are born into priviledge and some are not. it is not a level playing field, it’s not even close. only by maybe trying to balance those scales with a bit of wealth distribution can we start to approach a level playing field.

    by the way, I’m not a socialist. I believe in a mixture between capitalism and socialism. We all do, where that balance lies – that’s where we differ

    “The problem with liberals is that you feel you are the ONLY ones who can define what is BEST for everyone. What if I don’t agree with what YOU think is best for me? Why do you get to decide?”

    But I don’t want to decide what is best for you. I want you to have that choice. But I also want everyone to have that choice. I think conservatives are the one who don’t want everyone to have choices. Maybe if those choices don’t “hurt” conservatives they’re fine but as soon as there are choices that you think are “bad” for society no longer do you believe in that freedom.

  15. Look, before we get into a big argument, I want to say I’m probably more centrist than liberal. What gets to me is when conservatives want to (for example) keep it illegal for gay people to marry. Why do restrict the freedoms of others just to suit their own views?

  16. also, you never approached my discussion of happiness, my question of where you got the “misery” angle from or my discussion of the compromise between the first 2 values vs the last 3 when they are opposed

  17. “how many conservatives believe every gay should have the same opportunity for happiness?”

    More than you seem to realize. A poll taken at the RNC showed that the vast majority of Republicans wanted gays to have civil union rights. The issue for conservatives is religious, which liberals seem to equate with bigotry. Frankly, I believe we should totally separate religious marriage from civil unions. You get married in the church of your choice and THEN you go get a civil contract for legal matters. For both gays and straights.

    “You say you want a level playing field. Well guess what, when someone is brought up in a family that has very little money there is a very good chance they will go to an average school, maybe not go to college and not end up earning lots of money etc. You might say “rise above it” or something but the facts are that some people are born into priviledge and some are not. it is not a level playing field, it’s not even close. only by maybe trying to balance those scales with a bit of wealth distribution can we start to approach a level playing field.”

    I was not raised by rich parents. I was lower-middle class at best, but I managed to go to college on school loans and then I joined the Air Force and got a graduate degree. Most conservatives are not rich. In fact, I would bet that there are more really rich liberals (Hollywood stars for one) than rich conservatives. Small business owners – the biggest employer in our nation – are not rich people. And Barry’s economic policies are going to kill them.

    “But I don’t want to decide what is best for you. I want you to have that choice. But I also want everyone to have that choice. I think conservatives are the one who don’t want everyone to have choices. Maybe if those choices don’t “hurt” conservatives they’re fine but as soon as there are choices that you think are “bad” for society no longer do you believe in that freedom.”

    Everyone has that choice. They can choose to work hard or simply depend on the government to do things for them. This so-called economic stimulus package is chocked full of welfare and other social programs that are only going to make people more dependent on government. New Orleans is a perfect example. The people who suffered the most in that tragedy were those who were totally dependent on the government. They had no clue how to deal with the situation for themselves. Others, the ones who are self-sufficient – those in Mississippi for example – took care of themselves and handled the situation.

    Liberal leaders want Americans to be dependent on them – on government – because there is power in that dependency.

  18. You do have some good points but I don’t think welfare only causes dependency. I think there will always be some people who abuse the system, but I don’t think we should scrap (what is to me) a good ideal because of them.

    I don’t doubt you worked hard to get where you are. But presumably your parents instilled some form of hard working attitude into you? If someone is born to meth addicted parents and their only community is drug addicts in a trailer park, they are going to have a very very tough time escaping those cycles. I think that it would be beneficial for the rest of the state community to help them get to a position where they can start to work hard and get somewhere. Even if that means redistributing a bit of that wealth.
    I understand your defence of your own wages, but have you real experience of socialism or it just an ideal you want to uphold?

    But again, you do have good points and I don’t think liberalism or conservatism is the answer, I think a balance is.

  19. Welfare has its place and if I remember both Clinton and Bush spent some time reforming the system so that it was temporary (five years I believe) help so that those people could use it as a time to raise themselves up and learn some skills to become productive citizens. Unfortunately the economic stimulus package is set to remove those improvements to the welfare system and it will no doubt go back to a lifetime support system. How can one escape a cycle if there is no incentive to doing so? If you know your free ride will never end why go work?

    I don’t have to have lived in a socialist country to see how bad the system is. History is full of examples of failed socialist and communist systems. However, I did see first hand how badly the German and UK nationalized health care systems perform and believe me no matter how bad your HMO might be it is still better than the horror those people are going through.

    As to using some of my taxes to help people, well, I don’t have a real problem with that. If they are going to programs that WORK. But seriously, can any objective person look at this trillion dollar stimulus bill and believe that the vast majority of our money – yours and mine – is going to be spent on things that will matter. Most of it is going to pork projects and even what is good is not going to kick in for two or more years. And it is killing the stock market which a lot of not-rich people are invested in now.

    I am a fiscal conservative. I believe the best way to raise people up is to let them spend their own money – create jobs – create opportunities – and make them less dependent on government. I am a national defense conservative. I believe that Islamic terrorism is a clear and present danger to all free people (gays, straights, white, black, woman, man, Christian, Jew, Hindu, and even peaceful Muslims) and that it is best to take the war to them rather than sit back here and hope we do not get attacked again. I believe in LEGAL immigration because diversity is important to our nation, but I also believe that those immigrants should attempt to assimilate into our national fabric because if we do not we cease to be a nation. I am against illegal immigration as a national security issue. I am, because of my faith, pro-life. But I do not choose to vote on that issue alone. I believe gays should be allowed civil unions as I stated above. I believe we should take care of the less fortunate but I believe the best way to do that is through private organizations like the Red Cross and community groups and religious organizations. Americans are a giving people – the most giving on Earth – and we don’t need the government to give for us when we can do it better.

    None of these things, I believe, are the opposite of being “progressive.” It is just a different way of progressing.

  20. I’m from New Zealand so it’s not my money being spent, but that doesn’t change your point.

    You do have a very good reason for the way you think – I’m not denying that, but I guess at the end of the day I disagree with you on some perspectives. For example I believe a multicultural society isn’t about assimilation but about compromise and acceptance.

    But I am glad you have reason to back up all of your claims. At the end of the day that’s all I really wish people had. When in reality it seems a lot of people are idealistic and ignorant..

  21. Ahh, New Zealand, a beautiful country.

    As to a multicultural society. If the cultures do not mesh you don’t have one society, you have many. Disconnected, mistrustful, inefficient and even dangerous. The serious problems France and England are having with the massive influx of Muslim immigrants who are not even attempting to assimilate is a perfect example.

    Anyway, thanks for commenting and I hope you will keep reading me. I do my best to make everyone welcome even if we disagree.

    Cheers

  22. thanks for the grace

    I know what you’re saying, and I just wish it was that simple!


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