August 15, 2015

THE ARGUMENT FROM GAIA'S AUTHORITY::

Liberals Can't Admit to Thinking Like Conservatives (Megan McArdle, 8/06/15, Bloomberg View)

The second issue is a simply a perennial problem for surveys that look at political and moral reason: What questions did you ask? If you give people a quiz on global warming, conservatives may look more ignorant and ideologically motivated than liberals. On the other hand, if you ask that same group how many prisoners are in jail for non-violent drug offenses, you may "prove" that liberals ignorantly and/or willfully underestimate the number. Another way of saying that is that liberals may indeed resort to reasoning from sanctity, group loyalty, and authority -- but the questions Haidt has asked simply may not capture that tendency.

This problem occurred to Jeremy Frimer, who did a paper on how conservative and liberal attitudes towards authority shift when you shift who the authority is. "Together with my collaborators Dr. Danielle Gaucher and Nicola Schaefer, we asked both red and blue Americans to share their views about obeying liberal authorities (e.g., "obey an environmentalist"). In an article that we recently  published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, we found that liberals were now the ones calling for obedience. And when the authorities were viewed as ideologically neutral (e.g., office manager), liberals and conservatives agreed. Only when people perceived the authority to be conservative (e.g., religious authority) did conservatives show a positive bias."

Now Frimer has a new paper, co-authored with Haidt, on sanctity. And again they find liberals arguing from a broader range of moral foundations than Haidt's work initially suggested. When it comes to desecrating the purity of a mountain, instead of, say, the American flag, it turns out that liberal mountain climbers care a lot, even though no sentient being is harmed by the action. [...]

But if this result holds up, it brings us back to the first point I raised: It may not be so much that liberals don't care about sanctity, authority, and so forth, as that they are culturally encouraged not to admit that they do. That may seem like a distinction without a difference, of course, but I don't think that it is, because our stubborn moral intuitions about what is right and wrong are much more powerful than our logic when we make decisions. 



Posted by at August 15, 2015 6:59 AM
  

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