[This is long, but I hope someone finds this of interest. If not, it's been a good exercise in summing up. These are more personal notes than book reviews or full coverage, but I hope this provides food for thought.]
Liberals vs Conservatives, Authoritarianism, SDO and Haidt's Moral Scales
Over the past couple of months I've been trying to wrap my mind around the differences between how liberals and conservatives (and libertarians) think. I've been troubled by an internal response of "how can some one THINK that" when being presented with conservative and libertarian responses to ideas and current events. Since I was raised in a conservative, fundamentalist household I felt I should be able to do better. Plus, as an INFP I pride myself on being able to take on the perspective of someone else, even if I don't agree 100% personally.
So, I read through several books to try to get a handle on things. These included (ranked from most biased to least biased, IMHO):
- Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression by Sidanius and Pratto
- The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer (free download)
- Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politicsby Hetherington and Weiler
- The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
I'm going to cover each book briefly, in the order in which I read them (not quite the order above), and spend most of my time on The Righteous Mind.
Altemeyer's The Authoritarians
Altemeyer is one of main modern researchers on authoritarianism, and his version is called Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA), with the "right" not necessarily referring to the political right. (You can take the RWA test here.) His list of RWA characteristics are:
- a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society;
- high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities; and
- a high level of conventionalism.
Altemeyer has performed a whole series of studies correlating RWA with things like:
- Being a Republican (more authoritarians, generally, in the Republican party)
- Advocating harsher sentencing
- Less even-handedness when judging groups (who the groups are matter in judging a group guilty, rather than the actions alone)
- Greater belief of government propaganda
- Greater "feedback conformity" (where one adjusts responses to match those of a reported "average person")
- Placing a high value on being normal
- Inability or unwillingness to cooperate between groups in "model United Nation" type exercises.
- Tendency to maximumize short term pay-off over long term consequences (tend to ignore externalities, for example)
- Willingness to relinquish civil liberty in return for safety.
- Willingness to forgive leaders for law breaking.
By the end of The Authoritarians, it's clear that Altemeyer sees authoritarians as dangerous folks, ready to be controlled by a strong leader (someone with a high score on Social Dominance Orientation, see below). Altemeyer believes that authoritarians are ready made followers for high SDO leaders.
So at this point, authoritarians (and by correlation, conservatives) look pretty bad, and it will get worse before it gets better (but bear with me).
Sidanius and Pratto's Social Dominance
(Online SDO test available here.)
The book Social Dominance lays out Social Dominance Theory (SDT). The wiki page has a decent summary.
Individuals can be rated on a "social dominance orientation" scale (SDO scale), thar measures an individual'nnns preference for hierarchy (this was the scale Altemeyer refers to in his book). Questions in the SDO instrument include items like "Some groups are simply inferior to other groups."
The book also describes "hierarchy enhancing" (HE) and "hierarchy attenuating" (HA) legitimizing myths. An HE myth might be "women are emotional and irrational," while an HA myth might be "all people should have equal rights."
I'm not going to re-iterate the SDT (or even attempt to do Social Dominance real justice), since it is a theory with lots of specifics. I will list a few interesting things, though:
- Belief in the protestant work ethic, individualism and meritocracy can reinforce the social hierarchy, since they give the illusion that things are already equal, and that any inequality is the result of individuals' inferior efforts/morals/talents.
- People with high status tend to score higher on SDO (kind of obvious)
- The extent to which people of both low and high status share legitimizing myths determines how stable the hierarchies are.
- Low status group members often share HE legitimizing myths with high status people (so a racial minority may agree that the racial majority is better and inequality is the result of a moral failure on the minority's part)
- Men are more likely than women to be the target of bullying or violence if they are members of a lower status group.
Social Dominance covers all of the above, and goes on to make an SDT analysis of education, the housing market, the labor market, etc. It's an interesting (if the most academic in style) read, but definitely has its biases.
Hetherington and Weiler's Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics
Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics uses a simple National Election Study (NES) scale to measure how authoritarian someone is.
(although note that the below questions are less effective at measuring authoritarianism among college students and those with children)"Although there are a number of qualities that people feel that children should have, every person thinks that some are more important than others. I am going to read you pairs of desirable qualities. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have." The pairs of attributes are independence versus respect for elders, obedience versus self-reliance, curiosity versus good manners, and being considerate versus being well behaved. Authoritarian choices are scored as 5 points, while non-authoritarian choices are scored as 1 point. Responses that indicate both are scored as 3 points. The authoritarianism measure is the sum of the four response scores, rescaled so that the measure ranges between 0 and 1. Those who value "respect for elders", "obedience", "good manners", and being "well behaved" score at the maximum of the scale. Those who value "independence", "self-reliance", "curiosity", and "being considerate" score at the minimum. [...]
In creating an authoritarianism scale using the NES data, we array all four items such that the authoritarian response has a score of i and the nonauthoritarian response has a score of o. Since both values in each pair are desirable, a fair number of people volunteer that they value both. We score these responses as .5. We then combine the items additively and take the mean.
As far as what defines an authoritarian, Hetherington and Weiler state:
Then also state, "In sum, authoritarianism is fundamentally motivated by a desire for order and a support for authorities seen as best able to secure that order against a variety of threats to social cohesion. For authoritarians, proper authorities are necessary to stave off the chaos that often appears to be just around the corner."Originally Posted by Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics p34
Other insights from Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics include:
- Americans are, on average, no more politically extreme than they have been in the past: we haven't generally gotten more polarized as individuals.
- Americans are, however, better sorted into political parties (so the parties are more homogeneous in their non-authoritarian or authoritarian composition).
- Non-authoritarians have a higher need for balanced information and cognition, and tend to be more opinionated than authoritarians. Conversely, authoritarians tend to make up their minds quickly using established rules.
- Those who scored highest in political knowledge were the most partisan.
- Non-authoritarians tolerate differences better than authoritarians
- Symbolic, emotional issues are what divide the party today, and symbolic messages are better at motivating votes than walking them through complex issues and complicated governmental processes.
- As of the 2008 election, African Americans tend to store higher on the NES scale, despite tending to vote Democratic.
- Despite the above, Hillary appealed more to more white authoritarian democratic voters than did Obama.
They also narrow down the core authoritarian/non-authoritarian conflicts to: "(1) racial and ethnic differences; (2) crime, law and order, and civil liberties; (3) ERA/feminism/family structure; and (4) American militarism, diplomacy, and the aftermath of Vietnam."
One of the more surprising findings of the book was that authoritarians are more consistent than non-authoritarians. Under external threat (such as immediately after 9/11), non-authoritarians respond similarly to authoritarians. It's almost as though everyone responds similarly to high threat, but authoritarians exist in a high-threat state most of the time.
Finally, I found the following interesting (and it alludes to some of the issues in The Righteous Mind):
While Polarization in American Politics was insightful in some ways (particularly about how regular Americans aren't actually more politically extreme than in the past, just better sorted, and how non-authoritarians respond in an authoritarian manner under threat), it was ultimately unsatisfying.Originally Posted by Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics p198
It was finally with the last book that I felt like things made sense, and some balance was restored. Conservatives (and by correlation, authoritarians) are not just brain damaged liberals. There's more to the story.
Haidt's The Righteous Mind
In the Righteous Mind Jonathan Haidt argues first that intuitions comes first and strategic reasoning (also called confirmatory, directive or defensive reasoning) second. Most decisions are made based on affect — that is, small flashes of positive or negative feelings.
Generally we all tend to decide first intuitively/emotionally very quickly, then come up with reasons to support our decision. This holds especially true when deciding emotionally charged issues.. like those about religion, politics and moral transgressions.
Haidt argues that this makes sense, given that our "reasoning" ability mostly evolved to serve a social purpose. We are much better as justifying ourselves and being convincing than we are at objectively reasoning towards the truth. Haidt says that it's as if we all have our own internal press secretary, whose job it is to justify our actions and decisions and make ourselves look reasonable and good. In general we ask "Can I believe it?" when we want to believe something, and "Must I believe it?" when we don't.
In additional, we all have a need for self-esteem. This at first seems counter-intuitive from an evolutionary standpoint (and when thinking about our internal press secretary), but Mark Leary suggestions that self-esteem is like an internal "sociometer" that continuously measures our value as a relationship partner. It's an internal sensor to correct our behavior before it has too high a social cost.
So, given that our reasoning is mostly social motivated, when hen do people make good decisions and engage in real exploratory thinking rather than just confirmatory reasoning?
Otherwise, we mostly just use confirmatory reasoning. Higher IQ is correlated with being able to generate more (and more complex) confirmatory reasons, but not with being more objective.Originally Posted by The Righteous Mind location 1473
We also employ confirmatory reasoning to defend our group's beliefs and actions and to show commitment, particularly in political and moral matters. Haidt says our minds are fundamentally selfish, but they are also groupish and adept at promoting our group's interesting. As he says, "We are not saints, but we are sometimes good team players."
You may be WEIRD, but most people aren't
Haidt goes on to talk about WEIRD cultures (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) and how the WEIRD perspective has biased lots of research about moral reasoning. In the U.S., college educated people tend to be more WEIRD than non-college educated.
WEIRD people (who tend to be Liberals) tend to emphasis certain moral dimensions, but those aren't the only moral dimensions. WEIRD cultures have a very narrow moral perspective, based mostly on autonomy. Most people in the world of aren't WEIRD, and to only see morality from a WEIRD perspective misses the much of morality. This brings us to one of Haidt's central points:
He then talks in about "hivishness" and how we, as human beings, are 90% selfish and 10% hivish (the "good team player" aspect written above). That, in practice, our altruism is mostly invoked by activating our group identity. (Haidt points out that religiously observant people are more charitable and active in the community than the non-observant, regardless of religious belief.) So, in order to build group identity one should:Originally Posted by The Righteous Mind loc2079
- Emphasize (and increase) similarity — not diversity! — including shared goals, values and interests.
- Exploit synchrony (group movement, singing, etc)
- Create healthy competition among teams, not individuals.
- Model transformative leadership by showing self-sacrifice.
(as an INFP who is largely a non-joiner, the above list seems pretty awful to me... especially in an enforce environment like work) You'll note that many of the above techniques are used by churches and civic organizations (which only makes sense).
Haidt also argues that we gain a lot of personal meaning from transcendent group experiences, whether this is at church, at a football game, or participating in a choir, band or dance. Social groups, especially local groups such as bowling leagues, churches, teams and clubs, increase social capital and are crucial for the health of individuals and nations.
He also spends a fair amount of time talking about the utility of religion: "There is now a great deal of evidence that religions do in fact help groups to cohere, solve free rider problems, and win the competition for group-level survival." Religion helps make sacred (and therefore inarguable) the very conventions that make civil society possible. "Sacredness binds people together, and then blinds them to the arbitrariness of the practice." (loc 4525)
The six scales:
Haidt eventually boils things down to six scales (in his TED talk, he had five scales, but based on data collected, he added liberal/oppression):
1. Harm/care (doing no harm, caring for the members of society)
2. Fairness/cheating (meaning to the left: equality, to the right: proportionality)
3. Loyalty/betrayal (in-group identity)
4. Authority/subversion (respect for hierarchy, social structures)
5. Sanctity degradation (purity)
6. Liberty/oppression (anti-bullying, domination)
Liberals primary use the scale for care/harm the most, liberty/oppression. and, to a lesser degree, fairness/cheating (equality)
Libertarians mostly use the liberty/oppression scale, almost to the exclusion of other concerns (they do se fairness/cheating scale a bit).
Conservatives use all six scales, with the fairness fairness/cheating being
about proportionality (being rewarded in proportion to your efforts). This also means conservative may overrule primary scales of favored by liberals and libertarians may lose in deference to other scales.
(As a personal side, it makes sense to me that the loyalty, authority, and purity scales all tend to bind together. What is "pure" is partially social constructed, therefore rendering those from other societies/groups as impure and other. That other societies or groups don't follow one's own social structures also helps reinforce awareness of in-groups.)
Strengths and weakness
Haidt does a pretty good job of listing strengths and weaknesses of the various groups:
- Experts at care and better able to see the victims of current social structures
- Are able to see the necessity of constraining corporations
- Are able to see that some problems can be solved by regulation
- Able to see the value of the current social structures
- Provide ballast to liberals urge to change
- Better understand the social value of group identity and religious belief
- Able to see the value of markets (when externalities, etc, can be addressed)
- Reinforce the importance of individual autonomy and freedom
[Mooney's The Republican Brain and closing thoughts on this trek later.]