Jonathan Haidt, that is…
Last year, Dr. J. jetted up to Washington D.C. to drink a pitcher of Guinness with GorT, and while he was there, he decided to attend a meeting of the Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research organization. Seriously. True story.
One of the speakers, Jonathan Haidt, is a social scientist who has gotten some buzz around the blogosphere, including at National Review Online, and with our friend Professor Mondo.
Dr. J. found his talk fascinating, and here was the basic premise: Liberals and conservatives think differently, especially about moral and ethical issues, and as a consequence institutional review boards for clinical research should embrace an intellectually diverse makeup so as to insure that study protocols can be vetted in a manner that any ethical issues or concerns can be adequately addressed.
He then went on to discuss the Belmont Report principles, the cornerstone of ethical performance of human subject research in the United States.
These principles are Respect for Persons, Beneficence and Justice. These, of course can be competing tensions, and as a consequence if an IRB has a monolithic worldview, ethical issues may potentially slip through due to an ideological blind spot.
He likened these principles to three pillars of his Moral Foundations Theory. Respect for persons, or autonomy falls along his liberty/oppression dimension. Beneficence falls along his care/harm dimension, and justice falls along his fairness/cheating dimension. But Dr. J. isn’t going to talk about how this applies to clinical research oversight, but rather how it applies to liberal and conservative world views.
In his original research, liberals and conservatives differed in their prioritization of these different moral pillars.
In this model, the priority to a liberal is caring. How many times does the reader hear, “What, you don’t support 99 weeks of unemployment, property tax increases for public schools, food stamps for the poor? Don’t you care?”
By way of contrast a conservative believes more in equality of opportunity, not equality of result. as a consequence, a conservative would rather have the freedom to fail than the handcuffs of security provided by those who ‘care.’ This also explains our differing feelings from the left regarding equal opportunity versus affirmative action.
Now do liberals have the monopoly on caring? Do they want to shackle us in a totalitarian state run economy. Maybe one or two, but when you look at the above model, the Y-axis isn’t approaching zero, but rather 3.
This is what American liberals and conservatives look like when you have the full scale graph:
Here, you can see, typical conservative Americans do care, just not as much as liberals, and not at a cost to liberty and equality. Similarly, liberal Americans do value freedom and equality, just not as much as conservatives do, and they are willing to give up freedom and equality for results that make them feel good.
But this model doesn’t explain all of the differences.
Haidt did some more work and figured out that there are at least six dimensions to his ethical thinking model.
In addition to caring, liberty, and equality are sanctity, loyalty and authority. Each of these three values track similarly along the liberal/conservative continuum. What is different is that while all Americans value to some degree caring, liberty and equality, the far left does not put much, if any value on sanctity (duh), loyalty, or authority. Those on the far right, on the other hand value sanctity, loyalty and authority highly.
These are trend lines derived from studying hundreds of individuals. Individuals may have more scatter, obviously.
Now this all makes a lot of sense, however individuals are different. While ‘Puter is conservative, his respect for authority is down with the dirty hippies he has contempt for. The Czar might not have the same sense of the sacred as Puter, GorT or Dr. J, but he’s still darned conservative.
This also explains why Republicans have fantasies that latinos and black religious types would consider voting Republican. We share a sense of the sacred, which is a pretty powerful motivator, and is different the typical liberal or progressive. We hope that bond would be something with which we could bring them over, but again and again, it never is.
It also explains common ground on issues. Puter and Dr. J. are not fans of the death penalty. Nor are many liberals. The liberal concern is driven from their high caring score while Dr. J. surmises that his and ‘Puter’s are due to a sense of the sacred with regard to human life. These patterns also explain why progressives want to rule the world. They have no respect for precedent, or tradition seen in the twin lack of regard for authority or sanctity. They are out for their own goals, rather than being loyal to something greater like one’s country and its institutions. Caring drives them they care so much that they wish to run your life for you so that you don’t have to.
This also explains the election results that shocked many conservatives, including yours truly. There was an exit poll that revealed that a number of voters broke towards Obama because they felt he understood them DESPITE these same voters thinking that Romney would do a better job. This thinking with the heart rather than the head coupled with the number of people who would be willing to surrender some degree of liberty and equality for free stuff (e.g. the HHS mandate and redistribution over opportunity) made the big message of this election very clear. After 8 years of media pounding of Bush and the conservatives followed by an all in approach to the Obama administration by the press coupled with government largesse on special interest groups (unions, women, poor, lower middle class) it is pretty obvious we got the results we did. But we got something else even worse. We truly are no longer a center-right country. We are slouching leftward.