Continuing: Are we alike or are we different!


Holland seems to flip: Are liberals and conservatives largely alike? Or are they basically different?

Last week, Salon reprinted a colloquy on this topic involving Joshua Holland and Chris Mooney. In yesterday's post, we saw Holland leaning rather hard toward “basically different.”

This was Holland’s first question for Mooney:
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?
According to Holland, Haidt and other scholars say that conservatives “have a different moral compass entirely.” From there, it’s a very short walk to this time-honored call to war:

You simply can’t reason with Those People! I’m not sure Those People are fully human. Something is wrong with their brains!

Mooney seemed to take a different stance, as we noted in yesterday’s post. But hold on! In his second question to Mooney, Holland seemed to be backtracking too.

Did he mean to moderate his stance? We can’t say. But this is what he said:
HOLLAND: Jared Piazza—a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania—did a study which found that political and religious conservatives tend to avoid what he called “consequentialist thinking.” So basically, they tend to see something as right or as wrong, in black and white, and if a policy that they believe to be right—say, not having the government get involved in health care—causes real-world harm, they’re more likely to dismiss that. That seems consistent with what Haidt is saying, right?
All of a sudden, Holland seems to have flipped his stance. He now seems to be saying that conservatives tend to differ from liberals, on average, to some unstated degree.

According to the new scholar he cites, conservatives tend to avoid “consequentialist thinking.” (That means they don’t always avoid it.)

And not only that! Conservatives tend to see something as right or as wrong, in black and white. (That means they don’t always see things that way.) If a policy they favor causes real-world harm, they’re more likely to dismiss that.

That seems to suggest that liberals may sometimes dismiss real-world harm too. It’s just that liberals wouldn’t dismiss real-world harm as often as conservatives would.

By now, Holland has posed two questions to Mooney. In the process, he seems to have leaned toward two different views.

In his first statement, conservatives were entirely different. In his second statement, the differences between the two groups seems to be a matter of degree.

This is a very important distinction. Our brains are wired to believe that The Others are fundamentally different. The Other Tribe just isn’t like us. Given the way The Others' brains work, they may not really be human!

That is a very dangerous instinct. In recent years, liberals have increasingly toyed with this impulse. We've been happy to make sweeping claims, sometimes based on some rather flimsy brain science.

So how about it? Are our differences fundamental? Or are these differences really matters of tendency and degree?

Holland has seemed to lean both ways. Soon, he will take out an A-bomb.

Those People are “authoritarians,” he will rather casually say and suggest. To our highly sensitive ear, he’s dropping a rather large bomb without a great deal of precision or thought.

Go ahead—read the full discussion. Do you think Holland has reason to say what he does? How does Mooney react?

Tomorrow: A-bombs away!


  1. I invite everyone to watch Haidt's TED talk for a quick overview. His ideas are by no means an invitation for liberals to pat each other on the back.

  2. The causing of real-world harm is not so black-and-white as many disputants claim. Very often a difference on a policy could be over arguments as to whether it will make things better or worse. In Holland’s example of government involvement in health care, the conservative opinion seems to be not (as he suggests) that it is wrong and therefore that we should ignore the harm of not having the government involved, but rather than having the government involved is itself the most probably cause of harm.

    One of the most difficult parts of these discussions is that the two sides often argue against a position that they have incorrectly imputed to the other.

  3. Bob is arguing for more nuanced thinking. Haidt does that too. Here is an excerpt from an article about him (

    "So hanging out in his lab can jar you at first. You'll be listening to his team talk shop over boar burgers and organic ketchup in Greenwich Village, and then you think—Wait, did Haidt just praise Sarah Palin?

    Indeed. "She's right," he says, that "it's not left-right so much as it is the big powerful interests who control everything versus the little people." And National Review? "The most important thing I read" to get new ideas. And Glenn Beck? "A demonizer," says Haidt, but one who has "a great sense of humor, so I enjoy listening to him."

    Meanwhile, though Haidt still supports President Obama, he chides Democrats for a moral vision that alienates many working-class, rural, and religious voters. Though he's an atheist, he lambasts the liberal scientists of New Atheism for focusing on what religious people believe rather than how religion binds them into communities. And he rakes his own social-psychology colleagues over the coals for being "a tribal moral community that actively discourages conservatives from entering" and for making the field's nonliberal members feel like closeted homosexuals."

    I find Haidt's work to be overgeneralized and I think he applies his findings way beyond what his data justify, but most famous researchers do that. I disagree with his approach because it ignores matters of personal responsibility by providing a personality-determined explanation for whatever someone chooses to believe. I think there are approaches that are better for our world, and ones that are worse, and that there should be some other stance than to say that anyone is interesting, has strengths and weaknesses and it's all good. I'm sure Haidt can tell me where I fall on his spectrum of belief. It doesn't change the way the world is to use these kinds of descriptions. But then, neither does tribalism and name-calling.

    1. i saw an interview of this character, haidt, and one of his talks and he struck me as someone who is consciously rationalizing a middle position -- away from his previous leftist one. ' why?' is the question. bought off? scared of the right for himself or groups he cares for?

  4. Bob,
    I'm with you. Right Wing Nuts are "misunderstood". Left Wing Nuts are "evil". True.
    Racism on the right? Show me.
    On the left? QED.


    Every time brother.

    1. There he goes again with his fingernails on chalkboard.

      Endless bone-gnawing about liberals - but never a world about Ann Coulter (liberals should be intimidated so they'll know they too can be killed, Mcveigh should have gone to (ie blown up) the NY Times building, Breitbart - if there is a civil war, we've got the guns.

      Come out already.

    2. Anon @705:

      Bob, if you don' like critical comments, why did you have a comments section installed on your blog?

  5. did a study which found that political and religious conservatives tend to avoid what he called “consequentialist thinking.” So basically, they tend to see something as right or as wrong, in black and white, and if a policy that they believe to be right—say, not having the government get involved in health care—causes real-world harm, they’re more likely to dismiss that. That seems consistent with what Haidt is saying, right?

    So he didn't differentiate between a conservative like Antonin Scalia and one like Tim Tebow, and if his sample is comprised of more Tebows than Scalias, he is comfortable suggesting something about conservatives/conservativism and "consequential thinking"?

    The social consequences of liberals giving this kind of claptrap credence have always been dire.

  6. Both sides accuse the other of being authoritarian. Some liberals call conservatives "Dittoheads", while some conservatives call liberals "Sheeple'.

  7. Can science explain Tea Party rage?

    That's the headline of the Salon article, the Tea Parties were not particularly enraged, as political groups go. In fact, various groups have exhibited far more rage. E.g.,

    -- Recently some left-wing Brown University students shouted down an invited orator and prevented him from speaking. This is a pretty common phenomenon on today's college campuses, when the speaker is conservative.
    -- Anti-Tea-Partiers publicly beat up a black Tea Partier some years back
    -- "Occupy" demonstrations were often unkind to their sites. Tea partiers were unusually neat.
    -- Going back a few decades, some left wing radicals practiced bombing and murder, as did some conservative radicals.

    The Tea Partiers, by comparison, have behaved like Boy Scouts.

    1. I *was* a Boy Scout. A Boy Scout would help a little old lady across the street. The Tea Party would demand that she "take personal responsibility" and cross the street by herself, like they do. You demean the idea of a Boy Scout.

    2. Again, DAinCA, no "Anti-Tea-Partiers" beat up a black teahadist. There was a scuffle at a demonstration, no one was hurt. The Antis were arrested, charged with assault, tried, and acquitted. I've corrected you on this before.

      I'll bet BoyScouts could spell the word "moron."

  8. Enraged? Don't be silly. Stupid and gullible are the words you're looking for.

    --Tea Partiers think their taxes went up after Obama got elected.
    -- They want the government to keep their hands off MediCare.
    -They can't admit Sarah Palin is nothing more than a grifter.

    Two-year-olds, by comparison, are more grounded in reality.


  9. BTW, DinC, when we talk about the Tea Party, we're talking about the Republican Party. I'm not employed by cable news, so I'm not paid to make believe the Tea Party is anything more than the Republican Party with a name change (there's that grounded in reality thing again).


  10. TDH keeps saying he considers 10 points as a grade level a very rough rule of thumb, but without citation to any source saying either that it is a rule of thumb or that it's rough. Well, nationally, 8th grade scores are 46 points higher than those from the 4th grade, with an arithmetic average of 11.5 points per grade, and in reading the difference is 43 points, or 10.75 per grade level. There is little to make us think that disaggregation would affect these national all-student scores much. So it looks like the roughness is on the low side -- that 10 points as one grade level most likely slightly underestimates the progress such a difference makes. That is the way the scale is working anyway.