Holland and Mooney diverge: Are the two tribes alike or different?
Are “conservatives” basically similar to us “liberals?” Or are they basically different from us? Are they perhaps not fully human, due to the way their brains work?
Down through the annals of time, wars have emerged from questions like these. Tribal members, convinced of their greatness, have always tended toward the claim that The Others are totally different.
Something is wrong with the brains of The Others! They don’t seem fully human!
We humans are wired to think that way, but thinking that way is quite dumb and quite dangerous. Last week, Salon posted an interview in which Joshua Holland and Chris Mooney batted these topics around.
Holland hails from Moyers & Company. We’d say he’s a bit of a “red ass.” In his introduction to the interview, we saw him leaning toward “basically different” (see yesterday’s award-winning post).
In our view, Holland continued to lean, rather hard, in his opening question. As Holland leans forward, is he out over his skis?
HOLLAND (10/31/13): Chris, let’s talk about morality. I’m personally offended by the tea partiers’ resistance to giving uninsured people health care. I find it a bit shocking that a political movement could be so filled with animosity toward the idea. But according to NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt—and other scholars—conservatives have a different moral compass entirely. Can you tell us a little bit about that?Historically, such people have argued for war.
In this case, Holland is “personally offended” by the views of The Others. To him, their views are driven by “animosity.” He finds their outlook “a bit shocking.”
And uh-oh! When Holland reviews the work of Haidt and other scholars, his sense of alarm seems to grow. He believes they have said that conservatives “have a different moral compass entirely.”
Wow! As hotheads have known through the annals of time, you simply can’t reason with people like that! You’ll find Holland in The Iliad, cast as headstrong young Diomedes.
It doesn’t seem to occur to Holland that he is exhibiting the very traits he will lay on conservatives as the interview proceeds. But at this point, Mooney replies. He takes a much more moderate view, just as Nestor, the seasoned charioteer, does in his ancient reply to Diomedes.
As he starts, Mooney says, “Absolutely,” seeming to agree with Holland. But this is mainly a point of tribal courtesy. From that point on, Mooney talks Holland down.
In each of the highlighted points, Mooney is disputing what Holland has said:
MOONEY (continuing directly): Absolutely. There are many people doing research in the psychology of politics. Jonathan Haidt is a pioneer in the psychology of morality and how that feeds into politics, and it really helps with something like this where you have strong emotional passions that are irreconcilable on the left and the right.Again and again, Mooney seems to reject the claim that Those People “have a different moral compass entirely.”
So what you’re describing is his moral foundation of “harm,” which liberals tend to feel more strongly about. These are emotions relating to empathy and compassion–measured by the question of how much someone is suffering and how much that suffering is a moral issue to you. How much is caring for the weak and vulnerable a moral issue to you?
It’s not that conservatives don’t feel that emotion, but they don’t necessarily feel it as strongly. They feel other things more strongly. So to Haidt, this explains the health care debate because liberals feel, most of all, this harm-care-compassion thing. Conservatives feel it a little bit less strongly, even as they have this other morality. Haidt compares it to karma—it’s really interesting—where basically, you’re supposed to get what you deserve. And what really bothers them is somebody not getting what they deserve. So the government getting involved and interfering with people getting what they deserve is really bad. That, I think, is the clash.
According to Mooney, liberals and conservatives feel the same moral impulses. It’s just that the two groups “tend” to feel different impulses more and less strongly.
It isn’t that the two tribes are “different entirely.” Liberals “tend to feel more strongly about” the moral foundation Haidt refers to as “harm.” As Mooney explains it, “It’s not that conservatives don’t feel that emotion, but they don’t necessarily feel it as strongly.”
Already, one major difference has opened up between the two figures. Holland has said that the two tribes are fundamentally different. According to Mooney, it’s a matter of degree.
Down through the ages, lovers of war have argued like Holland. This has led to death and destruction of the type tribals adore.
Tomorrow: Holland unsheathes his A-bomb