The Psychology of Politics

Fascinating article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about a renegade psychologist whose work illuminates the hidden mental, social, and moral motives behind our political values.  It’s all enlightening, but some of it goes against the grain.  He’s a self-described moderate, atheist, Obama supporter, but his findings suggest that it’s American liberals who have the most soul-searching…and brain-racking….to do.  Some quotes:

  • “Conservatives believe in equality before the law,” he tells the young activists, who are here in the “canyons of wealth” to talk people power over vegan stew. “They just don’t care about equality of outcome.”
  • A partisan liberal, the University of Virginia professor hoped a better grasp of moral psychology could help Democrats sharpen their knives. But a funny thing happened. Haidt, now a visiting professor at New York University, emerged as a centrist who believes that “conservatives have a more accurate understanding of human nature than do liberals.”
  • “Liberals need to be shaken,” Haidt tells me. They “simply misunderstand conservatives far more than the other way around.”
  • Researchers have found that conservatives tend to be more sensitive to threats and liberals more open to new experiences.
  • Another example Haidt uses to underscore the tribal psychology of political sacredness is the 1960s research of the liberal sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Harvard professor and public-policy expert. In a famous report to President Johnson, Moynihan used the phrase “tangle of pathology” to describe the black family, arguing that some of its problems stemmed from high rates of out-of-wedlock birth, not just from racism. That made Moynihan a pariah; other Harvard professors wouldn’t let their kids play with his. As Haidt tells the story, Moynihan committed “the cardinal sin”: “blaming the victim, where the victim is one of your sacralized victim groups.” He points out that sociologists are now gingerly saying, “He was right.”
Advertisements

One comment on “The Psychology of Politics

  1. What an earth could Moynihan have said that so shocked the Harvard professors. Mayhap they weren’t supporters of Affirmative Action at the time?

    I was wondering how that story about Moynihan sounded so familiar, as if I had heard it before. Several Conservatives have used the same story Haidt uses in his article, just to get “liberals” like me motivated to look up the Moynihan story again.

    PS Can I complain about the Liberal/Conservative dichotomy, which is completely wrong. The opposite of liberal is oppressive, and the opposite of conservative is progressive. Now, real liberals have had to invent labels like “libertarian” to describe their advocacy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s