Can Science Explain Tea Partiers’ Rage?

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Phoenix Arizona, USA, April, 2009: Tea Party attendee protests government policies with home-made sign. Courtesy: iStock

A growing body of research suggests that we are a nation divided not only by partisanship or how we view various issues, but also by dramatically different cognitive styles. Sociologists and psychologists are getting a better understanding about the ways that deep seated emotional responses effect our ideological viewpoints.

Last week, Moyers & Company caught up with Mother Jones science writer Chris Mooney, host of the Inquiring Minds podcast and author of The Republican Brain: the Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality, to talk about what this research may tell us about the attitudes of those involved in the tea party movement. Below is a lightly-edited transcript of our discussion.

Joshua Holland: Chris, let’s talk about morality. I’m personally offended by the tea partiers’ resistance to giving uninsured people health care. I find it a bit shocking that a political movement could be so filled with animosity toward the idea. But according to NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt — and other scholars — conservatives have a different moral compass entirely. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Chris Mooney: Absolutely. There are many people doing research in the psychology of politics. Jonathan Haidt is a pioneer in the psychology of morality and how that feeds into politics, and it really helps with something like this where you have strong emotional passions that are irreconcilable on the left and the right.

So what you’re describing is his moral foundation of “harm,” which liberals tend to feel more strongly about. These are emotions relating to empathy and compassion – measured by the question of how much someone is suffering and how much that suffering is a moral issue to you. How much is caring for the weak and vulnerable a moral issue to you?

It’s not that conservatives don’t feel that emotion, but they don’t necessarily feel it as strongly. They feel other things more strongly. So to Haidt, this explains the health care debate because liberals feel, most of all, this harm-care-compassion thing. Conservatives feel it a little bit less strongly, even as they have this other morality. Haidt compares it to karma — it’s really interesting — where basically, you’re supposed to get what you deserve. And what really bothers them is somebody not getting what they deserve. So the government getting involved and interfering with people getting what they deserve is really bad. That, I think, is the clash.

Holland: Jared Piazza — a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania — did a study which found that political and religious conservatives tend to avoid what he called ‘consequentialist thinking.’ So basically, they tend to see something as right or a wrong, in black and white, and if a policy that they believe to be right — say, not having the government get involved in health care — causes real world harm, they’re more likely to dismiss that. That seems consistent with what Haidt is saying, right?

Mooney: Sure. Part of his whole theory is that you feel these views before you think these views, and then you rationalize your beliefs.

Now, he would say that both sides do it. But it’s actually an open debate whether one side does it more. But certainly, if conservatives have reached a position for moral reasons, are they then more likely to discount evidence suggesting some problem with their position? Absolutely. They’re also more likely to take whatever evidence there is out there and twist it so that it supports their view. And, the more intelligent ones will be better at doing that. [laughs] That’s what all the research shows.

Holland: Right. And it all seems fairly consistent to me. I’ve interviewed George Lakoff at UC Berkeley. He talks about how people don’t judge a political issue on its merits, but tend to filter the world through a moral lens. He talks about a “moral cascade,” where we connect policies with deep-seated values. All of this research seems to be very consistent with what other people are doing.

Mooney: That’s right. And you wouldn’t want to believe it if it were just one paper in just one journal by just one researcher. That’s what, as a science writer, we’re skeptical of. We look for multiple people working in multiple fields all converging and then we say, ‘okay, there’s knowledge here,’ something reliable is being discovered. With the psychology of politics – the psychology of ideology — it is actually surprising how rapidly all of this knowledge has come together. I don’t think we’re completely there yet, but I think that you can’t miss the fact that there are huge commonalities between Lakoff, Haidt and a lot of other people that we haven’t mentioned who are doing research in this same field.

Holland: Let’s dig a bit deeper into Haidt’s moral foundation theory. In your Mother Jones interview with Haidt you have a graph comparing how liberals, conservatives, and then also libertarians score on what Haidt calls the “seven moral foundations.”

Courtesy: Mother Jones

Courtesy: Mother Jones

And when you look at the graph, the biggest disparities between liberals and conservatives — and, again, libertarians — are “purity” and “authority.” That’s where you see the biggest gaps between the groups. What is purity in Haidt’s reckoning?

Mooney: Purity is basically whether you feel moral emotions when someone does something you view as disgusting or indecent. A lot of this is going to involve your judgments about what’s sexually proper, but it could be other things that are disgusting. Basically, this is a way of measuring the emotion of disgust, and what this shows — this is the most striking disparity of all of them — is that liberals and libertarians really don’t sense disgust very much. And they’re together on that completely. There’s an amazing number of things that liberals and libertarians are together on. But conservatives feel it much more than either of them. And so this can explain a great deal in politics — it’s most regularly invoked to explain gay rights and how people respond to that, which I think is very appropriate. But I think it also gets into a lot of bioethical issues.

Holland: And we’ve discussed authority before. That’s really central to understanding the conservative mindset. There’s been a lot of research on the so-called authoritarian personality type, and I want to connect this with the idea of political polarization.

One of the things that we understand about authoritarians is that they have a stronger sense of the importance of loyalty to one’s own in-group. How does that factor into this equation, do you think?

Mooney: Again, this is an area where liberals and libertarians differ from conservatives markedly. Liberals and libertarians aren’t particularly tribal in the sense of having loyalty to their group, and they aren’t particularly authoritarian in the sense of thinking you have to follow a strong leader. And basically, authoritarianism is also associated with sort of black and white, ‘you’re with me or you’re against me’ thinking. But it’s also about deference to authority, whether that’s the police officer or your father or God. You must obey authority and if you don’t, that’s a moral wrong.

Holland: Jonathan Weiler at the University of North Carolina did a study which found that you can predict a person’s ideological leanings by how they answered just a few questions about child rearing. And one of the questions was whether someone values obedience or creativity more in a child. It’s really — it’s telling stuff.

Mooney: Yeah, this is another way of measuring authoritarianism, because the theory is — and it seems pretty sound to me — that if you’re an authoritarian, one of the places it’s going to come out is in how you view child rearing. That is a situation in which the parent has to exert some level of authority, but parents interpret that differently. And if someone interprets parenting as sort of a strict father model — you need to obey the rules — then that’s an authoritarian style of parenting. So he’s just saying, ‘let’s ask about parenting and we’ll figure out who our authoritarians are,’ and what’s good about that as a scientific method is that you’re not actually asking anything that seems politically tinged. You could be confounding your variables if people get the sense that you’re asking them something political, but that’s not the case here — you’re just asking about parenting. That’s what’s nice about it.

Holland: Now, George Lakoff says that our brains have both liberal and conservative moral circuits — if you will — neural pathways. And when one set gets activated again and again it grows stronger and the other set becomes weaker. How does Fox and the right wing blogs and the whole conservative media bubble play into this pattern of polarization, if we accept Lakoff’s argument?

Mooney: Right, and I don’t think Lakoff would be necessarily inconsistent with others here. You’re reinforcing a circuit in the brain, so to speak, and the more it’s used the more powerful it becomes and the more it becomes habitual to use it. I think it’s a very different thing, but if you just think about how if you’re a musician, and you practice the guitar every day, then basically you wire your brain to have a certain aptitude, and every time you pick up the instrument, you’re going to be just as good. But if you then don’t practice for a year, you pick it up, and boy, some things are still going to be there, but some things are going to be lost. If you reinforce these political/emotional circuits, it’s a similar effect. The more you use it, the more it becomes part of you.

So what this is getting at is that the brain is plastic to a certain extent, but at the same time, a lot of the research suggests that there’s something very deep about political differences. So you’re probably predisposed to feel a certain way, but then if you reinforce the circuit you can strengthen that, or if your life experiences take you in a different direction, it can weaken those views.

Holland: You spoke earlier about how we all have a tendency to marshal evidence that confirms our previously held worldview and reject evidence that contradicts it — this is known as motivated reasoning. Is that something that both liberals and conservatives do to a similar degree, or do we see differences in this area?

Mooney: There’s no doubt that both do it. All the studies show that. And this is a debated issue right know — whether there’s asymmetry or not. I can point you to a number of papers that seem to suggest some sort of asymmetry. But there are researchers who are not convinced, and there are some papers that don’t show asymmetry. So it’s a big debate and it depends largely upon what kind of evidence you buy.

I would expect you to have asymmetry. I would at least expect that on those issues where conservatives have a stronger moral sense, say about an in-group thing, I would expect their emotionally motivated response to be stronger just because they’re feeling this more strongly. So I would certainly expect more response in one of those areas where just generally it’s something they feel more strongly about. That doesn’t seem like a hard thing to assume.

But an interesting question is this: if you get something that liberals feel really strongly about, something about equality or something about harm, are they equally biased? And I think that we still need more research on this, but I’m suspecting that we’re going to see real differences. And I think that there’s some evidence which points that way already.

Holland: One of the things that I think does point that way is the tendency of people with authoritarian personalities to be really sensitive to cognitive dissonance. That would seem to lead to a more fervent desire to ignore contradictory evidence that causes kind of a psychic pain, if you will.

Mooney: Right. There was the recent study — and this can show you both why I suspect you’re right, but also why these researchers are unsure — there was a recent study that actually showed that conservatives were less willing to entertain cognitive dissonance than liberals were. It was by some political psychologists at NYU, and what they did was they asked people, ‘would you be willing to write an essay talking about how the president you dislike did a good job?’ So in other words, would liberals write an essay on the good things about George W. Bush and would conservatives write an essay on good things about Barack Obama—and the liberals were more willing to write that essay. It required them to entertain cognitive dissonance for a time.

But what’s difficult when you break it down is this: what if liberals just don’t hate George W. Bush as much as conservatives hate Barack Obama? I mean, what if the emotions are not as raw anymore? After all, a lot of time has passed. What if this isn’t the perfect apples to apples comparison? And that’s why these kinds of studies are hard to conduct.

Watch an interview with researcher Jonathan Haidt:

Joshua Holland is a senior digital producer for BillMoyers.com. He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter or drop him an email at hollandj [at] moyersmedia [dot] com.
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  • Meggie

    It’s very similar to the findings decades ago re authoritarian personalities by Adorno and Frenkel-Brunswick. And John Dean wrote a great book called “Conservatives Without Conscience” that is on the same track.

  • Meggie

    basically, it’s not about specific issues. Pat Buchanan advocated in public for the GOP to pander to racists because (he said) there are more of them who vote than blacks who vote. And Karl Rove was pretty public in his advice to goose the anger of white working class men. Don’t forget how well it worked for Reagan to invent the “welfare queens in Cadillacs’ and “the big health black bucks who bought steaks with food stamps.” Of course, appeals to sleazy emotions are about the only thing the GOP has to get votes from the lower classes and still keep serving their corporate puppeteers.

  • Anonymous

    Fox is like a case study of Nazi propaganda with the Older Guy, the dumb blonde and the virile youth type rolled into a show of dizzying rhetoric that a normal person can size without even hearing what the topic is. They never mince or cloak their disdain for whatever is on the agenda.

  • Thommy Berlin

    “We must have well-designed limits to what government provides”

    Where in the constitution do you find that?

  • Carol Wright

    This is a very valuable post. There are so many times when the Liberal FB pages and websites encourage us to “sign this petition” to get the Texas right wing to “honor woman’s right to her own health,” for example, and I wrote. YOU DON’T GET IT…THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO THIS AT ALL!! Find another way to frame this. Even getting them to agree because it is “law abiding” and the law of the land appeals to their slant for obeying authoritarian ways. Well, maybe it once did. Now the see they can smash any damned law they want to. And if it is set upright again, come back and smash it again.

    Look closely at the center bars, where the conservatives rank highest. This is what is dangerous in terms of …these are the people insisting the right to have an arsenal of weapons in their basements, closets, trunk of their car. strapped to their backs. At all times. Their own group/tribe, their own authority unto themselves, justifying their actions with moral high ground blather… like the dude who went on a TSA hunting spree at the airport. Revenge, getting even at all costs.

    The essay issue, would liberals write a positive paper about Bush, for instance? Sure I would, even back then I would have. I have also discovered fine things about Nixon, fro Paulsen’s book about GW Bush, that he had a think tank service that vetted all issue from many sides, and he considered the positions before he acted. And he opened China, and started to get us out of Vietnam. And Reagan, as much as he was for the Star Wars program, he and SS GS, met Gorby man to man in Iceland and started the genuine foundation for mutual nuclear disarmament. Gorby said it was the most important meeting in history, and I agree. And Reagan did it. I think I could come up with some slop to write about GW Bush, mostly based on his wife’s seemingly genuine intentions, but not for Cheney and the neocons.

    Anyway, this is very valuable, and I would pose that liberal qualities are better, more compassionate and caring. However, the extremes of the Right create a HUGE societal barrier from “us” trying to fix things that are currently wrong, to self correct and adjust. There is this huge Toxic atmosphere that if we ourselves note that the insurance companies are cancelling policies…which they were doing anyway after you got seriously ill…or for any reason…the answer is not to lynch Obama and his team. The answer is to help those who got blindsided by this and to go after the insurance company predators who are scamming the system, and to get the website up and running again.

    Oh, there I am, one of those LIBTARDS, who never worked a day in her life ever, who just wants to ignore the issue (meaning letting Obama get away with it and not punishing him…lynching him as was suggested by KKKers on Halloween)… and get back to WORKING ON THE PROBLEM AND FIXING IT. Well, yes, that would be MY position.

  • Kat Hay

    “Haidt compares it to karma — it’s really interesting — where basically,
    you’re supposed to get what you deserve. And what really bothers them is
    somebody not getting what they deserve. So the government getting
    involved and interfering with people getting what they deserve is really
    bad. That, I think, is the clash.” Where to start? I’m a practicing Buddhist, so it’s particularly disturbing to me when a fundamental concept of Buddhism is misunderstood, misstated and misapplied. Karma (which is not exclusively Buddhist, of course) has nothing to do with what or whether we deserve. A correct application of the concept of karma would be not poor people deserve to be poor. It would be how do we as sentient and spiritual beings, relate to the suffering of others? Karma aside, this isn’t ANYBODY’s religious view or teaching, it is entirely self-serving denial of our interconnection as living beings. The Tea Party proclaims their Christianity, but are in violation of Christ’s teachings at every turn.

  • Harry Leslie

    The rage, which should be directed at corporations and money which bought the government, by purchasing representatives, is soooo misplaced.

  • nancym

    Hope you read more of Steve B.’s post than your quoted sentence. Why do we need to quote the Constitution when it’s just common sense. In order for any government to function, it can’t provide lavish subsidies for the already fabulously wealthy, any more than it can provide free livelihoods for everyone beyond the limits of reasonable taxation and other spending policies.
    Or…am I being totally dense here, and your comment was meant as sarcasm? :D

  • silkox

    So if conservatives could somehow be helped to grasp the concept of white privilege, would that be a good thing or a bad thing?

  • Maynard McKillen

    Ahh, less willing to entertain cognitive dissonance. Doesn’t that also suggest they’re not as confident in the validity of their beliefs? It could explain the “I don’t want to talk about it!” responses I get sometimes…

  • Lara

    Every word of the discussion just affirms the reality of what a model called “Spiral Dynamics” reveals and proposes. Bill, please consider having Don Beck and/or Ken Wilber on to discuss this topic via a SD perspective. I think you, and your viewers, would find it very interesting.

  • merry molly

    Thank you for clarity of message, and clarity of purpose of the Tea Part-ists. “Getting what you deserve” seems to be a concept of the arrogant among us, not those who live and act as sentient beings. I respect the latter.

  • merry molly

    Thank you!

  • Just The Truth Mam’

    The answer to this riddle is so simple. True republicans, lack the gene responsible for empathy. It is impossible for them to care for the poor. Literally. We are wasting our time even trying to get them to change. Their genes wont allow it. You would have just as much of a hard time trying to get me to not feel bad when I see a poor person with out enough money to live. In fact, I dont think it’s possible.

  • Anonymous

    The Tea Party true believers strike me as fitting the Myers-Briggs (Jungian based) Sensory, Feeling & Judging. They can be extrovert or Introverts or any thing in that line. If they can’t see, feel, touch, etc it does not exist. Their information processing mode is emotional rather than reason based. Tailor made for firm, role-directive leaders with authoritarian emphasis. Judging – the TPers are most comfortable with decisions made and settled; leaving options open would be painful. Again fits into highly procedural organization defined life style settings. Gender based roles clearly defined and inforced, how to dress, live, eat, interact between generations, clearly defined ranks and deference up & down the authority scale.

    Jim Jones or C Manson are extreme examples but within the spectrum. Ultra conservative Hindus, moslems, jews & christians all exhibit these characteristcs – far more alike than different. Calvinist protestants had these festures – rigid, how you are faring is a sign of God’s grace or not. All manner of prescriptive rules for the community – gruesome really. I have acquaintences, one an MD in family practice, who never wears pants or jeans. Why, her church decrees that women don’t wear clothing thst men wear. Clearly intelligent, well educated but dress code like thst. Even got into a girdle (i did not think they still made them) for church, church social events or social gatherings with church members other than close friends & near relatives. Why – thete would be disapproval if an giggling occured. Doing that when it is 105 F in the shade & sticky is certainly torture.

  • Anonymous

    You don’t. Read the Preamble to the Constitution because it is the Mission Statement for our country. Then line up.points of view and acyions with ensure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, ensure the blessings of liberty… . The TPers expect that for themselves because they see themselves as deserving. If you are not them you ate undeserving.

    They have completely missed the point of the nation & christianity.

  • Anonymous

    Great write up – the only action is to out work them so they become that increasingly small minority of sad, angry people seeing conspiracy everywhere.

    Lord I would not what to spend a minute in their skins.

  • Anonymous

    If anything can restore a functioning civic life in America, it’s likely to be a study of values. So this is Very Valuable Stuff. However, I want to warn people away from basing any choices on Haidt’s work until you’ve read the details of his operational definitions of the values he measured. His research tools defined “loyalty,” for example, in precisely the way a political conservative would experience it (i.e., visible display of outward symbols), and not at all how a liberal might experience it (i.e., working to improve one’s community, even with no particular personal benefit.) Some values that are very active for liberals are missing entirely. For example, honesty/hypocrisy is a strong value for liberals, but has no home in Haidt’s framework. Liberals are angry if their opponents engage in political lies and dirty tricks, and ashamed when their own candidates do, while conservatives are more tolerant in an ends-justify-the-means sort of way, simply saying ‘everyone does it.’ Even when conservatives criticize Democratic politicians for lying, the criticism is more tactical than heartfelt–they truly do consider it just part of the ‘game’ –not much of a moral question at all.

    One book that fleshes out parts of the liberal/progressive values landscape that Haidt overlooks is EJ Dionne’s “Our Divided Political Heart” (2012), in which he explores America’s fascinating history with “individualism” and “community,” two apparently opposite values that have always both held sway in the American heart. When you look at our nation’s political values through Dionne’s framework, it’s easier to see a path out of our current bitter and polarized political culture.

  • Carol Wright

    I got a bit of “wisdom” from one of Oprah’s Supersoul Sunday guests, think it was Anne Lamott. Just a word, to apply positively to the extreme right. Ironic they are called Right…but … and that is the concept of Devotion. They are high on devotion, to their concepts, to sticking together, to their perceived moral righteousness. So this DEVOTION in itself can be seen and even admired. Much as we might admire someone who chained themselves to a tree to save stand of old oaks.

  • Sai Das

    “Conservatives Without Conscience” Has there any other kind in the last 25 years?

  • Barbara Anderson

    Unfortunately the word Karma has been adopted in this instance because it appears to explain the idea of social Darwinism. People are where they are, have what they have because they deserve it – and that this is a cause of direct intervention of punishment/reward from god. This came about at the turn of the century when the robber barons wanted an excuse to not treat people in a Christian way. There has been so much interpretation and just plain invention in regards to the bible that what Christ originally taught has been completely lost/ignored. I’m sure Christ was a liberal.

  • Anonymous

    I note that a very large area is totally ignored both in print and especially in your video with Jonathan Haidt. He speaks of the tale of the ant and the grasshopper as though it is the only model applicable to the idea of providing food or healthcare to those in need as though the real world examples that we all know about do not exist. His philosophy is limited (just as the conservatives are) as seeing the poor as lazy, living off the work of others when countless examples of people working not only full time but maybe even two full time jobs still do not make enough to live on let alone have hundreds of dollars to pay for health insurance on top of that. Mr. Haidt claims that he considered himself to have been a liberal but he shows the very narrow mindedness that is the Tea Partiers trademark. He failed completely to explain his own behavior and, therefore, the sociology and psychology of the conservatives penchant for painting all who are in need with the same broad brush. This has nothing to do with a differing view of morality. Were that the case the argument would be over how much help to give the unfortunate, not whether these programs should exist at all? There is a far greater pathology here that Mr. Haidt showed himself to be a willing victim of rather than someone qualified to explain that conservatives just have deeper feelings in some areas compared to liberals deeper feelings in others. What Mr. Haidt advocates is letting children, the disabled, the elderly and military/veterans starve or die because they are not corporate slave at the moment, do not have rich relatives to give them some help when needed and must, therefore, rely on government programs. For, indeed, it seems to be the opinion of the conservatives that the only help anyone should get depends entirely on having connections to rich relatives or some charity that has all the resources of the government. But above all those who do not contribute to corporate profits are merely a drain on the “makers” and must be eliminated preferable by starvation but untreated illness will do. It seems more like the German concentration camps without the barbed wire and guards with orders to shoot to kill (although the militarized police state where it is nearly every week we hear of a person the police were called to help was killed by them instead).

  • Barbara Anderson

    A lot of studies were done right after WW II to try to explain what happened in Germany. Why the German people were able to sit less than 10 miles from the extermination ovens, watch the trains go by filled with human beings, and never seeing them leave, smell the odor of burning flesh. And never question what was happening. The Authoritarian Personality Disorder (my invention), definitely described the German people.

    I think the idea that this is possible again is also recognized by the group of Fanatics-Cult that are inundating the White House with petitions. Take a look at this web site. http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/insane-racists-are-bombarding-the-white-house-petition-site

    But the real issue is the idea that the rich and powerful are blessed because they are the chosen of God. This is also born out with Jeff Sharlet’s book “The Family,” about “A journalist’s look at the untold story of Christian fundamentalism’s most elite organization, a self-described “invisible” network dedicated to a distortion of Christianity they call “Jesus plus nothing”— a religion of power for the powerful.” They are the Family—fundamentalism’s avant-garde, waging spiritual war in the halls of American power and around the globe. They consider themselves the “new chosen,” congressmen, generals, and foreign dictators who meet in confidential cells, to pray and plan for a “leadership led by God,”

    They have no conscience when it comes to people who are “less” than they are.
    We are in trouble.

  • Anonymous

    Wonderful analysis!

  • Anonymous

    Short reponse: They are classic psychopaths, with genetic problems with the lack of development of the part of the brain called the “amygdala” (see: “The Psychopath Test” by Jon Ronson, the journalist who sought to understand this work of the psychologist and researcher, Dr. Robert Hare). Or they could also possibly be classic personality disordered individuals (“Narcissism”, “Borderline”, “Anti-social Personality Disorder”,”Paranoid Personality Disorder”, etc.). These disorders are developmental disorders (but can exist alongside other clinical psychiatric disorders), and thought to result as a pyshcological maladaptation stemming from a dysfunctional upbringing, and rarely genetic.
    The crux of both (genetic or developmental, or both) is the complete inability to develop empathy. Even if apparently appearing to have a “superiority complex”, they generally view the world from the position that they are the victims, and that anything they do that harms others is justified by their victimhood and need to survive. They have to be materialistic, as that is all that exists for them, and normal human relations are excluded from their understanding. Kind of like being raised in the tropics and knowing what “snow” is, but never having ever been able to actually experience it. This is also parallel to legal entities such as “Corporations” (which in law have the same rights as “persons”, which have not been limited, and has been fouling up our economy and our planet), and many of them do well there.
    The bottom line is that a lot of suffering is perpetrated and promulgated because neuro-typical people, encouraged by culture, religion, schools, parents, etc., actually believe that there is a fundamental core of goodness inside everyone, and that no one can be completely heartless. Actually, no. They are out there, they have no insight, and they cannot help themselves for being as they are. They must be recognized and contained. Apparently 1 in 100. And when they come together with a single interest, like Tea Partiers (or Stalinism, or Nazism, both in the last century), watch out.

  • Jonathan Yaeger

    Thank you. I have to clean off the bottom of my shoes or throw up now. I’m not sure what to do first.

  • Anonymous

    Haidt has said that liberals “sacralize” reproductive rights, as if my body and life are akin to a flag or a religious object. And it’s not like he’s just describing these political differences via research. He has prescribed solutions to them, such as giving in to some anti-choice demands over abortion and contraception. I’d like to know what basic bodily rights of his he’s willing to give up in the interest of comity.

    Haidt also says he grew to appreciate hierarchal caste systems by living among one for a time in India. Why Moyers and his colleagues continue to give this man a platform baffles me.

  • Anonymous

    He’s really awful.

    “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.”‘

    quote context: http://pllqt.it/RkqAFh

    Privileged white dude was privileged and white and a dude and spent some time in a caste system WHERE HE WAS GIVEN A SERVANT and thought it was just fine!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for making the time to share your insightful comments, especially the reference to EJ Dionne. I am looking forward to reading his work. Thanks!!

  • Anonymous

    I would like to know if the children of authoritarian parents suffered more episodes of night terror??? Also, do people whose work involves spending more time driving in their cars, tend to lean conservative because of right wing talk radio. It’s antidotal, I know, but when my husband had to drive more, his attitudes took a major turn to the right. He listened to Limbaugh,he said, for entertainment. When I gave him satellite radio for his b’day & he started listening to old radio shows, he mellowed. I see a connection. Am I correct in my evaluation??

  • Anonymous

    to PrairiefireOriginal
    : The part of the equation that has always puzzled me within the framework of “individualism” and “community” is how do people benefiting from the advancement of “community” vote against their own best interest? Within my lifetime I have seen many barely surviving on welfare benefits sworn to the GOP manifesto.

  • councilmom

    Sounds like good old fashioned Protestant Ethic as an excuse to allow others to suffer and use the authority of “god” to make it ok to be greedy and selfish…

  • Kate B

    In other words, they are the kind of people who will be susceptible to control by authoritarian religious leaders. They like the authoritarian model – don’t have to make choices if someone tells you what to do, think, believe. All about mob mentality – here referred to as loyalty. Tribal, in a way. But maybe if you can understand what pushes people in a certain way you can sow the seeds of change. This isn’t perfect, but some of it definitely rings authentic to me.

  • Kate B

    These are the people who are voting for the “purchased representatives”. They fall for the ads and the party line. Not at all misplaced.

  • Jonathan Yaeger

    This is political pseudo-science at best. The terms liberal, conservative, libertarian, etc. are not defined, so I guess they are supposed to mean what readers think they do. Except that not everyone defines those terms identically. Never mind that people tend to fit into a continuum more than a box when each (political) issue is evaluated. Some people are socially liberal but fiscally conservative, i.e. what box do they fit into for the purposes of this “study?” Are all so-called Tea Party members identical in their views? Conservatives? Liberals, for that matter?

    Look at public service organizations such as Rotary, Optimists, etc. Members tend to be conservative with strong family and community values. Helping others is what they DO — not just what they believe.

    This so-called “study” was intended to convey the notion that liberals are morally and intellectually superior to conservatives. One of the long posts in this thread is full of psycho-babble “diagnoses” of the alleged psychopathology of people of political persuasions that the poster doesn’t agree with. Nice.

  • Sharon

    You make a good point about preloaded anger and generalized feelings of aggressiveness. I see many of the conservatives I know as having been shaped by parents who were not merely authoritarian, but violently or psychologically abusive. As adults, they tend to strike out – not at abusers – but, rather, at those they don’t fear. On a personal, individual level, I have come to see them as, in a real sense, innocent, while their behavior is just as truly intolerable. On the community level also, they strike out at those they least fear: the disenfranchised. So I empathize with them to the degree that I see them as abused children still suffering PTSD, but I shudder for the children their lack of empathy is impacting.

  • Iresha

    Friends there IS a solution to this issue. People have different ideologies and it has been like that for many centuries, all over the world.
    What is new in the US is that certain Corporations and News outlets have been creating hatred and painting a person with a different ideology as THE ENEMY

    If we are to move forward as a nation, we have to educate both the Conservatives and Liberals about these traits and explain to them that they are just people with different value set and that there is no need to be angry with each other

    Please join me in trying to make this happen – Start with your family and friends
    http://pledgetoloveoneanother.blogspot.com/

  • Anonymous

    Absolutely with you on this. I watched him on Moyers show and went,
    “huh?” I found his points basically a slapped-together hodgepodge of other people’s work, without depth, analysis, or even particular gifts of observation. He seemed for the world like a pop psychologist who was primarily trying to justify his own change to more Republican ideology and values.. I think that George Lakoff occasionally gets a tad too intent on developing a “unified theory” but professionally his work has WAY more depth and candor than anything I have yet to hear from Haidt. If people think this moral values analysis is something new, they ought to go back to the work of Maslow, Kohlberg, Piaget, Robert Coles, among others, and read Lakoff just to compare the breadth of his references whether you agree with his position or not. I find Haidt a real lightweight.

  • David

    Devotion to selfishness and to ill treatment of the less fortunate is not admirable. This kind of tribalism needs to be overcome if we are ever to understand who we are and get past all of the childishness that is preventing us from being proper stewards of our planet.

  • Anonymous

    In fact i just read a paper to this conclusion. pain of.physical and social types. and how the brain adapts. you might say authoritarian parents create low empathic children. you know: “only-whipped me when i deserved it and i turned out just fine…”…

  • Anonymous

    Talibanus Americanus and the Christisn Sharia program

  • Kevin Bartley

    Well said! That was the first thing I thought about while reading some of the comments. The features were defined and you actually have to read his publication and not a news journal article to find that out, hahahha.

  • earthtraveler

    I do not believe that authoritarian parents always “create children with low empathy,” for example. I am convinced that people are born with certain traits, no matter what the circumstances of their upbringing, just as gays are born that way, too. I have very authoritarian parents (the whole family is) but empathy for the suffering of others and the animals is what defines me. Almost consumes me.

  • Earthtraveler

    In my case (very authoritarian parents) I never have night terrors and have mostly pleasant dreams. I was also born a Liberal. The only one in the family. I do believe that certain people can be influenced when listening to a propaganda radio station. That’s how entire nations can be turned against a real or perceived enemy during times of war, or before a government starts a war. But there will always be people who are not influenced no matter how long they are listening to such propaganda. Mostly the critical thinkers. I once worked in a hospital where the patients in every other room listened to the right wing TV propaganda, all day long. Those patients were the most aggressive and also the most depressed ones.

  • Ms_Phillips

    “Sociologists and psychologists are getting a better understanding about the ways that deep seated emotional responses effect our ideological viewpoints.” affect

  • Anonymous

    Discounting a political movement with pseudo-scientific psychological pathology diagnoses is no way to move the national dialog forward. You do not have to be emotionally retarded to question whether or not it is the role of the Federal government to take care of the personal needs of every individual citizen.

    By the way, I’m not Tea Partier, I vote democrat along party lines these days, but I’m not so full of bile that I’ll not attempt to understand and respect other political viewpoints.

  • Robert Johns

    You raise some great points, political “overlap” is quite common though individually we all overlap differently.

  • Robert Johns

    Low-empathy can arise for many reasons I suspect, but it is never a guaranteed outcome more a trend that it arises in children who had authoritarian parents.

  • Robert Johns

    They don’t care, many understand the concept, embrace it & wish to propogate it.

  • Henk Ahrens

    Empathy and compassion for the suffering of others are part of evolution and self- awareness.It only develops in “higher’ evolved mechanism.It for instance shows in the animal world in dolphins,elephants,some species of apes and monkeys and among “civilized” strains of humans…..I will argue that lack of compassion and empathy means that the individual is “less” evolved as a human being.

  • Carol Wright

    A few nights ago, someone lent me a CD of a gospel Men’s quartet. I said I would listen, not even imagining that it would be a lesson in TP morals and religion. I am still pondering the slant of the lyrics, but the gist is a lot of ME ME ME with ultimate salvation deserving from a forgiving Jesus who sacrificed his life for this. For me. Adoration of the cross, the wood of the cross. What is required is faith and devotion to this concept, acceptance of it. And hanging with others who have done the same. We have all seen the hands held high, the eyes squinted shut, concentrating on the glory of this miracle.

    The songs do not sing of doing good works, nor being kind to others, although there are a few refrains of “turn my life around.” If I might take a leap to figure this out, are not these sentiments the very thing they criticize on a food stamp and welfare level, that some higher entity will take care of all their needs? That nanny state… indeed this creates an atmosphere that does not simply allow one to get a lift out of povery, but strips away the drive to EARN every penny and mouthful? And if EARNED (that being the TPers themselves) be able to KEEP it, every cent? And not share ANYTHING?

    Oh, they share all right. Their religion. And note that if you are assaulted by right wing trolls, they will slam you for never working an honest day, for your stinginess. All the while extolling this right of theirs to claim front of the line at the heavenly gates.

    And these gospel songs of devotion, they do not have the damnation exhibited by the Christian Right Winger in every day life. They do not sing of dressing in KKK outfits with dummy of Obama with rope around his neck, nor of their love of guns and right to kill. They do not sing of gerrymandering so their group gets more reps for their limited population. oh, that would be a Fairness issue, and not concern them.

    so, this is just impressions from listening to this one CD from one group. But it is not a pretty picture overall. Sure other info will come to fill in the gaps of my thinking about this.

    AND…there is some truth to the issue of once getting benefits, you do not want to give them up. Now getting social security, and i am also freelancing, I count on it. after a dozen years of solo unpaid caregiving of my mother, which continues in another form now that she is in nursing home…there are societal barriers to being employed at a good job. Not having a mobile connection to the internet (tablet, smartphone, laptop), no having working car, visible dental problems, being out of work in the first place, not having stellar rental record. Having kids with no way to pay for daycare. And a the righteous mandate to “get a job like everyone else” … qualifications, past employment history, abilities…desire to work. These things that would in the past get one a job have been shattered in the TP’s world. They do not seem to realize they also LIVE in this shattered world, the one where they shattered the civilized benefits hard won by unions.

    Now we are all going backward and like the frogs cooking in pot of slowly heated water, they do not seem to notice.

  • Shane Schmidt

    The cognitive dissonance question is an interesting one, but what if it is asked in the context of real versus hypothetical circumstances. Say a voter supports a candidate whose positions don’t favor that voter’s interests…a voter who relies on public assistance, for example, supporting a candidate campaigning on a small government platform. In this case the voter might think his interests align with a pro-private versus pro-government set of policies, but do they? Maybe this isn’t technically “cognitive dissonance”? But it strikes me that many voters make choices based on their personal values without accepting the consequences of a greater good (or harm) that impacts them.

  • pnclement

    Neither science nor scientific thinking has any hope
    of determining what makes people in the Tea Party think or why they think the
    way they do, because there is no logical reason – other than these people are
    too dumb for their own good – for them to think that by deconstructing
    government that they will build a better government than before! Recessive and
    self-destructive genes are more likely the reason(s) why otherwise normal
    looking people suddenly get the urge to destroy what has taken over 200 years to
    build, namely our social and governmental network of laws and practices that
    benefit a wide variety of citizens in the United States. The amazing part is
    this, these so-called Tea Partiers are doing this at the bequest of the
    billionaire Koch brothers, who want no government at all because they are
    Libertarians masquerading around as Republicans! Tea Partyers are more akin to Rednecks or people
    who reject or resist assimilation into the dominant culture than
    anything else. As such, no one in their correct or sane mind would ever vote
    for someone who is a non-government fanatic.

  • Mark Talmont

    The Kochs give tens of millions of dollars to stem cell research at Carnegie-Mellon, with no strings. They fund science programming on PBS’ Nova. What does the rich liberal Soros give? Al Gore with his half billion he just got off the oil sheiks?

    Your smear the Kochs as irrational extremists exihibits either your own ignorance or, assuming you have a clue (I doubt it), extremism. The Kochs hae been reactionary because there was and has been plenty to be reactionary against. Their father returned from an engineering job in Stalin’s USSR horrified by what he had seen and determined to begin political resistance against the spread of communism. (Typically one of the noids on MSNBC tried to throw mud on the Kochs using this as evidence of hypocrisy, naturally ignoring the role of the top-level financial powers on Wall Street in saving and then building up the Bolshevik revolution. See the writings of Prof Antony Sutton on this matter, because you aren’t going to find it in the “history” departments run by the Chomskyites and Zinnites.)

  • Mark Talmont

    Rage?

    Where can you show any evidence of this? Did any Tea Party rallies result in any damage to anything?

    The doped-up punks that “occupied” Oakland tore up downtown and busted into the Oakland City offices doing hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage. They would have done millions more when they smashed into the new office towers across the street except the developer, Phil Tagami, met them in the lobby brandishing a shotgun.
    Didn’t see this on the “news”, hmm?

    The “occupiers” are mostly stoners who lack the self-control to get off their drugs.Want a revolution, really? Stop the dope for a month. The cut-off of the cash flow “hot money” that is going in the back doors of the (insolvent) banks would make a chain-reaction that would lay bare the fact that the Emperors Have No Clothes.
    Or, you could have the guts to step up and legalize drugs.

  • Anonymous

    You’re obviously missing the point. The proof is in the Koch Bros’ Tea Party pudding.

  • pnclement

    Mark, I never smeared the Kochs or called them irrational extremists, you did. Again you are incorrect, I’m an Independent — used to be a Democrat and earlier on a registered Republican (I was trying to get a job with the Illinois Tollway Commission) — and pretty much am a middle-of-the-road person. I see things as they are, less all the B.S. rhetoric.

    Besides, the statement I made was about Tea Party people — maybe you are a Tea Party-er — and not about the Koch brothers. I’m well aware of all the good, and bad, that the Koch brothers do. I’m also aware that they are dyed-in-the-wool Libertarians and are only “using Tea Party people” to do their dirty work.

    I know people who work for the Koch brothers who tell me of their experiences with them in their jobs working for them. I doubt the Kochs have ever bothered to meet any, if at all, of their own employees.

    I applaud person the monies they put into good things, like medical research and PBS — although they did threaten PBS if it aired a documentary about them — which amounts to “blackmailing” PBS to not tell the truth when it comes to all of their activities, and not just the ones that make them look good in the public eye.

    Reaction-ism or more correctly, over reaction-ism to the fear of Communism and even Socialism, or all of the other fears of some-ism, has colored and driven a whole host of waste and unfounded fears in our world.

    In the case of the Koch brothers and their father, well the acorn does fall far from the tree.

    Mark, you can believe what you wish to believe. For me, I see what I see and yes, while the Koch brothers do some good, they are also bad too. But their motivation is not for a “freer” America. Only for a freer to get away with polluting the environment and not getting caught or fined doing so; with getting backroom deals with politicians they own so they can profit from special “no-bid deals” they’ve arranged.

    As far as reading the writings of Prof Antony Sutton, I might. However, I read as many different sources as I can, and I don’t know of the “history” departments run by the Choms kyites a nd
    Zinnites?

  • Anonymous

    “…is the tendency of people with authoritarian personalities to be really sensitive to cognitive dissonance. That would seem to lead to a more fervent desire to ignore contradictory evidence…” This is confusing me…my experience is that authoritarian personalities are insensitive to their own cognitive dissonance…hmmm.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, but “cheating” is all the Republicans have going for them. If they were to rely on votes without voter suppression and gerrymandering, they’d be out of business.

  • Anonymous

    Seems a shame to have to even talk about such worthless anti-democratic cult

  • Anonymous

    This discussion makes gross generalizations that makes it hard to take seriously. There was never even a definition of what so-called ‘tea-baggers’ believe or hope to change. No one in the article interviewed them or researched them directly. So in the end, this article is just a facile discussion between like-minded friends/thinkers.

  • Anonymous

    There should be serious assessments of the effectiveness or not of all public transfer programs and concomitant remedies to those that are ineffectual. For example, recent research (I think it was Pew) showed that Head Start is not as effective as hoped in helping at-risk children to progress in school. BUT the conclusion is such a hot potato no one dares offer a solution or an alternative to replace it with something better, so it just hums along not doing much to help….

  • Anonymous

    Another gross generalization which isn’t helpful; a good percentage of conservatives are religious, church-going people which is about as social as one can get nowadays….they are community & family- oriented as well. Most of my friends are ‘liberal’ and none of them attend church or belong to community groups – they are loners in tech fields, banking and such…so I think to make such a broad sweeping judgement is just incredibly silly.

  • Anonymous

    ..it all depends on how compassion and empathy are expressed…

  • Anonymous

    Obama’s a loner – a real loner…so different from Clinton, who is a real people person and the definition of the ‘political animal’. Quite honestly, it baffles me how Obama functions without interacting very much even with people in his own party. It’s worrisome to see a man believe he is so right he doesn’t need to consult with others – the arrogance is breathtaking.

  • Anonymous

    how facile – clearly liberals & progressives think very highly of their perceived superiority; pride goes before the fall.

  • Anonymous

    you’re joking – or you should be!!

  • Anonymous

    “Let’s stipulate that most people who favor the ACA have
    honorable intentions: they want everyone, including people in ill
    health, to have access to good and affordable medical care. All
    decent people should want that. (How many favor it merely because
    it builds up government power and takes money from the well and
    well-heeled? I suspect it’s the same number as those who oppose it
    out of a dislike of the poor and ill. Of course politicians who
    favor the ACA undoubtedly find that it lines up nicely with their
    political interests.)” – from “The Humanitarian Shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act” in Reason Magazine

  • Just The Truth Mam’

    The study of genetics and how our genes influence our behavior is a science. FMRI’s have already proven that different parts of the brain light up for democrats and republicans when asked the same question. In the next 20 years you will see the evidence of this coming to light.

  • Just The Truth Mam’

    Well that could be part of it. But when it comes down to it genes are a major factor. The House is really divided up into two populations. One side has the empathy gene, and the other does not.

  • Anonymous

    What is truly mind boggling is that liberals fail to see that Obama is doing every single thing Bush did wrong, but on steroids. There is no difference between the two parties. They argue publicly about abortion and gay marriage, but march in lockstep in increasing taxes and debt, taking us to wars in which we have no business, and destroying our Constitutional rights. Whoever is elected next, regardless of party, will be worse than Obama in these regards.

  • Dianne

    The lack creative thinking brains.

  • Dianne

    Thank you for correcting those facts. I am amazed at how many people (who should know better) believe that nonsense.

  • Dianne

    Yes, I wonder why Moyers does have this guy on. I thought it was just me. Perhaps Haidt wouldn’t mind being required to donate body parts to the right wing rich to balance the belief that political men should compromise on women’s bodily autonomy.

  • kevin kolbe

    Interesting article to say the least. One of these comments hit the very core of the issue but stops short. The public is very ill-informed. So ill-informed we may not be able to identify what is true facts and what is distorted facts.
    Reading the book entitled “The Price of Civilization” by Jeffrey D. Sachs, the author has a chapter titled “The Distracted Society” which supports this issue and how it affects our well being.
    It is a good book to read and perhaps help us to better understand ourselves and how we can work together on common grounds.

  • Anonymous

    Oh Bill, I expected so much better from you.

  • Jim Olson

    I expected much more from my first wife, too, but I’m divorced now.

  • Jim Olson

    Funny, I am a “zinnite” and Chomskyite and everything you said is old news to me, and none of it does any thing to buttress whatever point you were trying to make.

  • Jim Olson

    You seem to be forgetting the well known fact that reality itself has a liberal bias, and that liberals prefer to deal in facts..

  • Jim Olson

    Your phrase, ” not as effective as hoped” is meaningless in any quantifiable sense, making it impossible to address.

  • Jim Olson

    “it appears from all records now available” what an absurd statement. Have you read all the records now available? Sounds like Sarah Palin to me.

  • http://leisureguy.wordpress.com Leisureguy

    Bush did add a prescription benefit to Medicare, but I don’t see his initiative as doing so much as Obamacare to bring healthcare to the poor. And he really did get us into the Iraq War, based on lies, plus he instituted a regime of torture that haunts us to this day. Obama has his faults in the human and civil rights arena, but nowhere near Bush’s programs.

    Also, if you check carefully, you’ll see that the deficit is declining and that the Democrats are willing to raise revenues (taxes on those who can afford them) to reduce the debt more. The GOP really is not interested in reducing the debt, so far as I can tell. Their real interest is in destroying the Federal government.

  • Anonymous

    The deficit is declining, but the debt is skyrocketing. Yes, taxes have been raised. If only they could learn to cut spending instead.

    Meanwhile, Obama:

    Pushed for war on Syria.
    Mandated the Insider Threat Program which orders federal employees to report suspicious actions of their colleagues based on behavioral profiling techniques.
    Supported the PRISM massive NSA spying program.
    Launched 20,000 Airstrikes in his first term.
    Signed the NDAA into law – making it legal to assassinate or incarcerate Americans w/o charge or trial.
    Initiated, and personally oversees a ‘Secret Kill List’.
    Waged war on Libya without congressional approval.
    Started a covert, drone war in Yemen.
    Escalated the proxy war in Somalia.
    Escalated the CIA drone war in Pakistan.
    Maintained a presence in Iraq even after “ending” the war.
    Sharply escalated the war in Afghanistan.
    Given Bush absolute immunity for everything.Sold $30 billion of weapons to the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia.
    Secretly deployed US special forces to 75 countries.
    Signed an agreement for 7 military bases in Colombia.
    Opened a military base in Chile.
    Touted nuclear power, even after the disaster in Japan.
    Opened up deepwater oil drilling, even after the BP disaster.
    Defended body scans and pat-downs at airports.
    Signed the Patriot Act extension into law.
    Continued Bush’s rendition program.
    Signed the Monsanto Protection Act into law.

  • Anonymous

    I suspect its much more the case that opponents of ACA project those motivations on supporters. I believe polls demonstrate that supporters are primarily for it because they favor universal health care, and yeah I realize ACA even at best won’t provide universal health care.

  • Anonymous

    If you look at liberal critiques of Obama’s administration, you’d find that most liberal critics would agree with you. Their complaint is that Obama hasn’t been sufficiently liberal – think single payer for ACA instead of via private insurance as example – and has continued far too many politics put in place during the Bush years. I could flip the tables and say relatively few conservative critics seem to be saying the same. They tend to ignore the things you cite below, which are fairly “Bushian” in nature and instead focus on any liberal policies he’s managed to put in place.

  • The Independent Whig

    I believe that Chris Mooney himself is one of those who is “more likely to take whatever evidence there is out there and twist it so that it supports their view. And, the more intelligent ones will be better at doing that. [laughs] That’s what all the research shows.” Mooney is quite intelligent. In my view there’s more scientism than actual science going on in his analyses (sic).

    Haidt did a study in which he asked liberals, conservatives, and moderates to answer questionnaires “One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out normally, answering as themselves. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as they think a “typical liberal” would respond. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as a “typical conservative” would respond.”

    Haidt found that, “The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.” The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives.” (Quotes are from Haidt’s book, “The Righteous Mind.”)
    Why might this be true, one wonders?
    Again, look at Haidt’s findings. Ideologies differ in the weighting they afford to each of six (or, in this article, seven) evolved psychological mechanisms that make cooperative societies possible. These mechanisms are tools of social perception and both kinds of cognition (i.e., the “fast” and “slow” thinking described by Daniel Kahnemen.) These mechanisms allow us to perceive and to understand what is going on in the social world around us.
    Conservatism perceives and thinks with all six more or less equally, whereas liberalism uses about half of them, and of that half mostly just “care/harm.”

    When half of human nature is external to one’s moral universe, as it is for liberals, one is left with no logical alternative but to conclude that those with other ideologies must be afflicted with some sort of psychological, emotional, or social dysfunction.
    Mooney is intelligent. He’s too smart to come right out and say he think’s there’s something mentally wrong with conservatives. But to me the overall tone of his analyses seem just a little too pat; they seem a little too self satisfying, too self fulfilling, of the “comforting delusion” Haidt referred to in his original TED talk, which basically is the liberal view that there’s something not quite right in the head with conservatives.
    Mooney mentions that many different studies from various fields all seem to be pointing to the same conclusions. But where are those studies coming from, really? And who is interpreting the results? How many of the people who are doing these studies are conservatives? If the number of conservatives is small, how do we know the studies Mooney is relying on are not just examples of liberal “motivated reasoning,” couched in the language of “science” as I strongly suspect they are?

    The following is a quote from Haidt, from the Q&A session after a talk he gave recently at The American Enterprise Institute:

    “The problem I have is when the ratio [of conservatives to liberals within academic social science] drops to the point where conservatives are no longer, say, twenty percent but they’re, once you get down below about five percent then they’re effectively zero. Because you get this force field coming, you get this tribal moral community. And it’s just so common. It’s really what sort of got me off on this, my rant of the last few years, is that I would hear at conferences of social psychologists I would hear people making jokes from the podium about how stupid republicans are. And they make Bush jokes, show the Bush–Chimpanzee comparison, and everybody would laugh. Now if you imagine them making jokes about women, and putting a pinup girl and a, you know, and everybody laughs, how would the five percent of women who were in the audience in 1950, how would they feel about entering that scientific field? Not good. So it is bad, what’s happening in the social sciences and the humanities, where there is actually a hostile climate for conservatives. So, there’s two forms of corruption. One is that once you get to the point where there are no other voices there, everybody is liberal or everybody is, or the few conservatives have to shut up, then you actually get damage to science. And then you get our scholarship suffers. Not in most areas. For the most part psychology is very healthy. But, on matters of race, gender, and the psychology of conservatives – because it’s not the psychology of liberals, it’s “what’s wrong with those conservatives?” – on those areas our scholarship is not fully reliable.”

    I suspect that many, maybe most, maybe even all, of the studies that Mooney relies on for his analyses are, as Haidt says, “not fully reliable.” I think Mooney, even though he’s not a scientist, is a member of the “tribal moral community” that serves, at least in part, as an echo chamber of smug liberal self congratulation of mental and moral superiority over conservatives, the tone of which, to me, rings clearly throughout Mooney’s work.

    If there were a critical mass of conservatives contributing to the work Mooney relies on might there be different questions raised? Might there be different studies designed? Might there be different interpretations of the findings?

    I’d venture, yes. But unless and until Haid’t movement for affirmative action within academic social science actually bears fruit, we’ll never know, will we?

    I can imagine what some of the responses to my comments here might be. Some might say something like “You’re shooting down Mooney and the science he refers to but you’re not offering very much in the way of alternate interpretations. Put up or shut up.”

    I am fully prepared to do exactly that. But when I have tried to do so in the past my comments have been deleted, one can only presume, because of rules against self promotion. I know this might seem like a cop-out, but it’s not. Truth be told, I’m not really certain even THIS comment will continue to see the light of day.