Why conservatives understand the left better than the other way around

A study involving more than two thousand people asked them to answer a questionnaire about political opinions in three ways: with their own, pretending to be typical progressives/leftists, and pretending to be typical conservatives/rightists. Result: moderates and conservatives were the most accurate in representing the role of both groups. Those who were least able to predict how the other group thinks were the progressives, with a greater imprecision effect on those who consider themselves “very progressive”. In other words, the left understands the right less than vice versa.

The study, authored by social psychologists Jesse Graham (University of Southern California), Brian Nosek (University of Virginia) and Jonathan Haidt, was published in 2012 in PLoS One. Jonathan Haidt, 90, leader of the study, included these results in the bestseller of the same year ‘The Moralistic Mind’ (Alta Books). In the decade following publication, the article was cited more than 90 times in Google Scholar’s tally. More recently, these results have informed studies of political polarization, such as that of Philip Fernbach and Leaf Van Boven, a business expert and psychologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder. They propose that much of the current perception of exacerbated political polarization is illusory.

The asymmetry in mutual understanding between right and left can be seen in cases of false hate crimes produced by the latter to defame the first. Often the details make it clear that the authors of these scams don’t quite understand the extreme ideologies they are trying to simulate. An example is the case of artist Jussie Smollet, who forged a racist hate crime against himself in which the attackers would be Trump voters who would have even gone to the trouble of putting a noose of rope around his neck to make symbolic reference to lynchings. of blacks in the American past. When progressives simulate some kind of extreme contrary ideology, they are lying badly. There are frauds in the opposite direction, such as that of a Trump voter who simulated vandalism of Black Lives Matter activists in his truck—predictably, in this case, the representation of the other group is not it was so cartoonish and contained real slogans.

Moral foundations of human nature and the difference between left and right

Haidt dedicates the chapter eight in the book showing that “Republicans understand moral psychology. Democrats don’t understand.” The main reason for this assertion, which at first glance seems flattering to conservatives, is that Haidt sees the human mind as a semi-powerless rational and conscious conductor that tries, sometimes unsuccessfully, to rein in a great elephant of instincts, among them, moral instincts that guide political behavior.

The psychologist is a proponent of the theory of moral foundations, according to which there are at least five foundations in human nature that guide moral behavior. Emphasizing some more than others would explain the diversity of moral codes not only between cultures, but also between political orientations. Explicitly defended tentatively and speculatively by Haidt, the foundations would be:

  • Caution/harm. It emerged around protecting vulnerable children, making us sensitive to signs of suffering and need.
  • Justice/cheating. Deals with the detection and punishment of profiteers in the cooperation game.
  • Loyalty/betrayal. It’s about our coalitions, because of this foundation we are sensitive to signals that other people add to the team (and we reward them for that) or are outsiders to our group.
  • Authority/subversion. It concerns our sense of belonging to social hierarchies, to having a social status from which certain behaviors are expected.
  • Holiness/degradation. Initially evolved to ward off parasites and infectious diseases, it explains why we find some things pure and others disgusting. The feeling of disgust is still manifest in both situations: it is evidence of origins.

While the left uses more the care/harm foundation and also the egalitarian dimension of justice, the right uses all five. Hence Haidt proposes that the right has an advantage over the left: it appeals to a larger portion of the elephant of moral intuitions that we all have to some degree. The left would also use more appeals to reason (to the elephant driver), which in Haidt’s opinion is not very capable of altering the elephant’s direction. He often compares moral foundations to taste receptors on the tongue. The right would offer a more diverse menu than the left, with its monothematic diet of defending the oppressed.

For Haidt, the human being is “90% chimpanzee, 10% bee”. In this metaphor, the bee part concerns our instincts that enable us to “turn off our petty egos and become like the cells of a larger body.” This situational ego deflation within the group is among the most valued experiences in life, it facilitates altruism, heroic acts and peaceful communities with millions of people, but also war and genocide.

Haidt has his critics. Canadian philosopher Joseph Heath, in the book of 2014 Enlightenment 2.0 (“Enlightenment 2.0”, in free translation) thinks that this image of the human mind as unreasonable is problematic. “A crucial part is missing from Haidt’s description” of the handler of the elephant, says Heath. “Imagine that the handler also has the ability to get down and rearrange things on the ground, so as to redraw the environment through which the elephant moves. This opens up a world of possibilities. (…) When we examine the structure of human reason, it becomes obvious that we depend on this kind of manipulations of the environment all the time”. To be more rational in math, for example, a simple pencil and paper makes a big difference.

Haidt was a volunteer speechwriter for former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. While doing work to encourage diversity in politics and thinking that is increasingly under attack in academia (he is one of the founders of the organization Heterodox Academy, with this mission), Haidt leaves Of course it leans towards progressivism. The claim that the right has an advantage for using its instincts more, although it has an empirical basis, is also a stimulus to the notion that it is more irrational than the left.

Thomas Sowell’s Alternative

Instead of seeing the issue as different menus for innate moral tastes, Thomas Sowell, of

years, American economist and philosopher, proposes that political differences be seen as A Conflict of Views,

name of the book by 2012 in which he exposes his theory (É Achievements). Although there are as many views as there are people in the world, Sowell thinks it’s possible to doactically simplify the scenario by talking about a dichotomy that doesn’t map perfectly to left and right. The difference is in how the two groups see human nature.

On the one hand there is the “tragic vision”, which is the one that considers that human nature is imperfect and corruptible, that there are no solutions , only trade-offs between desirable results and the undesirable ones that always accompany them; on the other hand, there is the “vision of the anointed”, of those who believe that they know enough to implement solutions and that human nature is malleable and good in the absence of bad influences from social organization. Hobbes and Rousseau, respectively, are iconic representatives of these two great political views. But Marx, for example, is considered a mixture of both by Sowell himself.

In Sowell’s theory, it is not the case that one political group is necessarily more rational than the other. Conservatives, for example, think that just because the Enlightenment project did not unravel the raison d’etre of a practice, it does not mean that there is not some unarticulated reason, or, if there is not, the consequences of intervening may be worse than leaving it alone. how are you. For them, progressives make the mistake of hubris: of thinking that their deliberations are sufficient to justify their social engineering projects. As Sowell himself says, the “anointed ones” can consider themselves bereft of anything but knowledge.

Haidt says in his book that he read Thomas Sowell and other non-progressive thinkers like Edmund Burke and Friedrich Hayek. In parentheses, however, he makes one caveat: “Please note that I am praising conservative intellectuals, not the Republican Party.”

Back to top button