University of Virginia psychology professor Jonathan Haidt has been doing some interesting research on what makes “liberals” (that is to say, Leftists, since they’re not really liberal at all) and conservatives tick and recently wrote a book on the topic. It explains a remarkable amount about current (and not-so-current) events. It is all the more interesting because he seems to be a recovering “liberal” himself. Here’s the deal, from the New York Times book review:
Anecdotally, he reports that when he talks about authority, loyalty and sanctity, many people in the [liberal] audience spurn these ideas as the seeds of racism, sexism and homophobia. And in a survey of 2,000 Americans, Haidt found that self-described liberals, especially those who called themselves “very liberal,” were worse at predicting the moral judgments of moderates and conservatives than moderates and conservatives were at predicting the moral judgments of liberals. Liberals don’t understand conservative values. And they can’t recognize this failing, because they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment.
A recent issue of Reason magazine for which he was the cover child (literally, in a sense) elaborates. The work is based on research in which he asked value-loaded questions of two thousand self-described liberals and conservatives. A third were asked to answer in their own opinions, a third were asked to answer with what they imagined would be “typical liberal” opinions, and the remaining were asked to answer with what they thought a “typical conservative” would think:
This design allowed us to examine the stereotypes that each side held about the other. More important, it allowed us to assess how accurate they were by comparing peoples’ expectations about “typical” partisans to the actual responses from partisans on the left and right. Who was best able to pretend to be the other?
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 least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.” The biggest errors in the study came when liberals answer care and fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives. When faced with statements such as “one of the worst things one can do is to hurt a defenseless animal” or “justice is the most important requirement for a society,” liberals assumed that conservatives would disagree. If you have a moral matrix built primarily on intuitions about care and fairness (as equality) and you listen to the Reagan narrative, what else could you think? Reagan seems completely unconcerned about the welfare of drug addicts, poor people and gay people. He is more interested in fighting wars and telling people how to run their sex lives.