The Asymmetry of Ideology
Liberals are unable to understand the moral universe of conservatives.
April 26, 2012 - 12:00 am
In Herald online comments, reader Dustycc53 remarked: “Wasted on a war criminal. Hey Dick how many kids did your lies kill? Thats ok, hell can wait a little longer.” A website joked Cheney’s operation failed because “surgeons mistakenly transplanted the bleeding heart of a liberal” into the unflinchingly hawkish veep.
“Damn. No more jokes about Cheney not having a pulse,” tweeted liberal blogger Dan Kennedy, a Northeastern University assistant professor. “Cheney’s only remaining medical problem is no reflection when he looks in the mirror.” He added defensively later, “Hey, it’s a great day for the Cheneys. Why shouldn’t we have some fun?”
While Bush derangement syndrome raged throughout his presidency, it never held a candle to the hatred for the vice president. Whence all of the vicious vitriol?
University of Virginia psychology professor Jonathan Haidt has been doing some interesting research on what makes “liberals” (that is to say, Leftists, since they’re not really liberal at all) and conservatives tick and recently wrote a book on the topic. It explains a remarkable amount about current (and not-so-current) events. It is all the more interesting because he seems to be a recovering “liberal” himself. Here’s the deal, from the New York Times book review:
Anecdotally, he reports that when he talks about authority, loyalty and sanctity, many people in the [liberal] audience spurn these ideas as the seeds of racism, sexism and homophobia. And in a survey of 2,000 Americans, Haidt found that self-described liberals, especially those who called themselves “very liberal,” were worse at predicting the moral judgments of moderates and conservatives than moderates and conservatives were at predicting the moral judgments of liberals. Liberals don’t understand conservative values. And they can’t recognize this failing, because they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment.
A recent issue of Reason magazine for which he was the cover child (literally, in a sense) elaborates. The work is based on research in which he asked value-loaded questions of two thousand self-described liberals and conservatives. A third were asked to answer in their own opinions, a third were asked to answer with what they imagined would be “typical liberal” opinions, and the remaining were asked to answer with what they thought a “typical conservative” would think:
This design allowed us to examine the stereotypes that each side held about the other. More important, it allowed us to assess how accurate they were by comparing peoples’ expectations about “typical” partisans to the actual responses from partisans on the left and right. Who was best able to pretend to be the other?
The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.” The biggest errors in the study came when liberals answer care and fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives. When faced with statements such as “one of the worst things one can do is to hurt a defenseless animal” or “justice is the most important requirement for a society,” liberals assumed that conservatives would disagree. If you have a moral matrix built primarily on intuitions about care and fairness (as equality) and you listen to the Reagan narrative, what else could you think? Reagan seems completely unconcerned about the welfare of drug addicts, poor people and gay people. He is more interested in fighting wars and telling people how to run their sex lives.
Clearly, the Left views Cheney through the same Alice-in-Evil-Land mirror, to the point that they don’t believe that he deserves to live. Haidt elaborates:
If you don’t see that Reagan is pursuing positive values of loyalty, authority and sanctity, you almost have to conclude that Republicans see no positive value in care and fairness. You might even go so far as Michael Feingold, theater critic for The Village Voice, when he wrote in 2004, “Republicans don’t believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the plan…Which is why I personally think they should be exterminated before they cause any more harm.” One of the [many] ironies in this quotation is that is shows the inability of a theater critic -– who skillfully enters fantastical imaginary worlds for a living — to imagine that Republicans operate within a moral matrix that differs from his own.
Again, emphasis mine. Note the Leftist eliminationist rhetoric from the people who deign to lecture us, the great unwashed, about civility. Another irony is that he is no doubt hyperconfident of his ability to see into the hearts of conservative darkness, which is really just an example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, described as “…a cognitive bias in which the unskilled suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes”:
The hypothesized phenomenon was tested in a series of experiments performed by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, both then of Cornell University. Kruger and Dunning noted earlier studies suggesting that ignorance of standards of performance is behind a great deal of incompetence. This pattern was seen in studies of skills as diverse as reading comprehension, operating a motor vehicle, and playing chess or tennis.
Kruger and Dunning proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:
- tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
- fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
- fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
- recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve.
This would also go a long way to explain how conservatives can survive in Hollywood:
One of the more amusing and obvious effects of this is seen in writing, especially in Hollywood, where conservative writers can write fully developed liberal characters (and most have to if they want to keep working), whereas liberal writers’ attempts at writing a conservative character invariably produce a laughably bad, two-dimensional caricature. Conservatives and liberals then watch two different movies. The liberals think the conservative characters are spot on, while conservatives instantly recognize that they’re watching yet another amateur attempt by an idiot liberal writer who doesn’t have the vaguest idea how a conservative thinks.
As one more data point, the phenomenon was on full display in the recent controversy over the Heartland document on teaching science, in which many of the Leftist warm mongers continue to fantasize that the faked Heartland document is real. On the other hand, it was almost immediately obvious to those on the other side, even those sympathetic to the AGW thesis, such as (libertarian) Megan McArdle, that it was faked, because no conservative would have written such a thing in such a way. As she noted, it read like “it was written from the secret villain lair in a Batman comic. By an intern.”
Peter Gleick wrote it that way, and his partners in fraud thought it perfectly plausible, exactly because they fundamentally lack this ability to understand the motivations of their political opponents. And by Haidt’s thesis, they are, by the nature of their belief system, unable to rectify this problem. So perhaps the rest of us should take note, take heart, and most importantly in the coming months, take advantage.