Liberals Aren’t Un-American. Conservatives Aren’t Ignorant.

The demonization that mars our politics is a failure of moral imagination


| September-October, 2009


The following is part of a series of articles on reimagining politics beyond the pundits. For more, read  Post-Pundit America  ,  Not Everyone Is Out to Get You  , and  Daring to Accept Our Differences .

Jonathan Haidt is hardly a road-rage kind of guy, but he does get irritated by self-righteous bumper stickers. The soft-spoken psychologist is acutely annoyed by certain smug slogans that adorn the cars of fellow liberals: “Support our troops—bring them home” and “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”

“No conservative reads those bumper stickers and thinks, ‘Hmm . . . so liberals are patriotic!’” he says, in a sarcastic tone of voice that jarringly contrasts with his usual subdued sincerity. “We liberals are universalists and humanists; it’s not part of our morality to highly value nations. So to claim dissent is patriotic—or that we’re supporting the troops, when in fact we’re opposing the war—is disingenuous.

“It just pisses people off.”



The University of Virginia scholar views such slogans as clumsy attempts to insist we all share the same values. In his view, these catch phrases are not only insincere, they’re also fundamentally wrong. Liberals and conservatives, he insists, inhabit different moral universes. There is some overlap in belief systems, but huge differences in emphasis.

In a creative attempt to move beyond red-state/blue-state clichés, Haidt has developed a framework that codifies humankind’s multiplicity of moralities. This model, which endeavors to explain behavior based on five basic moral impulses, is simultaneously startling in its stark depiction of our differ­ences and reassuring in that it brings welcome clarity to an arena where murkiness of motivation often breeds contention.

Michael J Contos
10/2/2009 10:55:58 AM

I am reminded of the "Golden Mean," espoused by one of the Greek philosophers; was it Aristotle that said, "all things, in moderation?" I see a middle of the road approach for both sides to coexist and also provide a much-needed respect for anothers' views when we look at those views from these 5 traits. We don't have to demonize the other side and treat everything they say as some plot to get their "narrow-minded" beliefs shoved down other peoples' throats. An honest belief that both sides are sincere and guileless can be a first step toward reconciling our positions. You may not win anyone over, but your view could be more palatable for a person to understand.


Nathan_2
10/1/2009 1:33:04 PM

I almost didn't continue reading the article after Haidt disdain for the bumper stickers in the beginning of the article. Speaking for myself, as well as many people I have known in the peace movement opposing the the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I would say that they strongly believe in the messages of “Support our troops—bring them home” and “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” If you believe that troops should only be sent into war under certain circumstances, in which the nation is threatened, then to support troops sent into an unjust war would be supporting them. If you believe that dissent is not only allowed but encouraged by democratic form of government -- historically and by principle -- then to express it using your First Amendment rights is indeed patriotic. Haidt's apparent disbelief that these messages could be genuine -- when they indeed can -- points to a lack of understanding of the political view of people. This puts his entire enterprise into question. Also, to divide people's beliefs up into such distinct and opposing groups, and maintaining generalist and stereotypical view towards all "liberals" and "conservatives" -- terms which do not adequately describe the diversity and complexity of political-ethical view in this country, a fact acknowledged by a good political scientist now for some years -- also calls into question that he has an adequate understanding of his subject. Yet, I will nevertheless check out the websites mentioned. Though I will be considering them with a big grain of salt.


Nathan_2
10/1/2009 1:32:42 PM

I almost didn't continue reading the article after Haidt disdain for the bumper stickers in the beginning of the article. Speaking for myself, as well as many people I have known in the peace movement opposing the the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I would say that they strongly believe in the messages of “Support our troops—bring them home” and “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” If you believe that troops should only be sent into war under certain circumstances, in which the nation is threatened, then to support troops sent into an unjust war would be supporting them. If you believe that dissent is not only allowed but encouraged by democratic form of government -- historically and by principle -- then to express it using your First Amendment rights is indeed patriotic. Haidt's apparent disbelief that these messages could be genuine -- when they indeed can -- points to a lack of understanding of the political view of people. This puts his entire enterprise into question. Also, to divide people's beliefs up into such distinct and opposing groups, and maintaining generalist and stereotypical view towards all "liberals" and "conservatives" -- terms which do not adequately describe the diversity and complexity of political-ethical view in this country, a fact acknowledged by a good political scientist now for some years -- also calls into question that he has an adequate understanding of his subject. Yet, I will nevertheless check out the websites mentioned. Though I will be considering them with a big grain of salt.















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