Friday, October 23, 2009

On Liberals and Conservatives

Have you ever heard of TED? There are lots of cool, thought-provoking talks. To the point, this (follow the link for a transcript).

Jonathan Haidt talks about the different foundations of liberal and conservative morals. Everyone's morality is based on five different foundations: harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, in-group/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. Liberals mainly consider harm/care and fairness/reciprocity, but not the other three. Conservatives consider all five approximately equally.

He didn't say exactly how he determined these things, so maybe the studies involved were biased or something, and this is actually inaccurate. But in my experience, this seems mostly accurate. I know I care far more about the liberal foundations than the conservative foundations. Most of the people I know too. And when it comes to actual political policies, it seems that way too. Liberals support gay marriage for equality. Conservatives oppose it for authority.

But Haidt continues that building and maintaining social order requires all five foundations. The first time I listened to the speech, I didn't believe him. But as I've thought about it more, I've come to think that maybe he's right. Or at least, not totally wrong. I still disagree with purity/sanctity, I don't see the point of it. But in-group/loyalty and authority/respect, while they might not be strictly necessary, they are definitely helpful. In particular, the authority bit.

Consider a country with a strong, powerful leader, compared to one with a weak, impotent leader. The former country will be able to do things, and get things done. The latter country won't. Large groups of people need to be organized in order to acheive anything, and people just aren't good at self-organizing. A strong authority and group loyalty help them do that.

Then the question is which authority. Not all authority is good. Stalin was a strong authority and maintained a social order, but his authority isn't exactly desirable. So, you can't just point to authority to determine morality. But neither can you simply switch your desired authority at a whim, since that's the same as having no authority at all.

It's a tricky thing. You can't question all authority, nor can you question none. Like all things in life, it's a balance thing. Question authority when it is necessary, and respect it when it is necessary.

1 comment:

  1. What is a good society? Is it one that is good to all its citizens or one that produces great achievements in human capability. Ingroups and authority are needed in order to optimally advances human society, but as Hait says this blinds us from the truth and is a cost to those at the bottom. Care and fairness are needed for a society that is good to all its citizens but with out structure how can anything move forward? Like the Yin and Yang, an optimal society will have a balance between the two purposes. Unity in strife.