This made the rounds on Twitter the other day. “What the Left can learn from the Right,” I think was the upshot.
Liberals care about harm and suffering (appealing to our capacities for sympathy and nurturing) and fairness and injustice. All human cultures care about these two things but they also care about three other things: loyalty to the in-group, authority and the sacred.
As Haidt puts it: “It’s as though conservatives can hear five octaves of music, but liberals respond to just two, within which they have become particularly discerning.” This does not mean that liberals are necessarily wrong but it does mean that they have more trouble understanding conservatives than vice versa.
The sacred is especially difficult for liberals to understand. This isn’t necessarily about religion but about the idea that humans have a nobler, more spiritual side and that life has a higher purpose than pleasure or profit. If your only moral concepts are suffering and injustice then it is hard to understand reservations about everything from swearing in public to gay marriage—after all, who is harmed?
And, let’s pause to include a quick Die Boomers Die moment:
One of my most politically liberal friends read this book and declared his world view to be transformed. Not that he was no longer a liberal but now “he couldn’t be so rude about the other side, because I understand where they’re coming from.” This will be music to Haidt’s ears as the book was written partly as an antidote to the more polarised American politics of the past 20 years, marked by the arrival of Bill Clinton and the liberal baby boomers onto the political stage.
And here where it starts to get a little ridiculous (I’m also suffering a massive sense of déja vue, so let me know if you remember me linking to something virtually identical to this before because I feel that I must have):
Some conflicts are unavoidable and Haidt is not suggesting that liberals should stop being liberal—rather, that they will be more successful if instead of telling conservatives that their moral intuitions are wrong, they seek to shift them in a liberal direction by accommodating, as far as possible, their anxieties.
For example, if you want to improve integration and racial justice in a mixed area, you do not just preach the importance of tolerance but you promote a common in-group identity. As Haidt puts it: “You can make people care less about race by drowning race differences in a sea of similarities, shared goals and mutual interdependencies.”
Right, so: We start with Democrats being Democrats about racial politics. Liberals then rise up to fight that. Liberals go too far and start hating on unrelated Conservative values. Conservatives fight back for their values. At no point does any of this mean that a Conservative value is racism and segregation, you nincompoop. But yes, by all means try to “accommodate our anxieties” about moral issues, economic greed, and a complete death of patriotism by telling us how swell the melting pot is. For crying out loud.
But anyway, read the whole thing.