Monday, September 22, 2008

pepsi clear!

Remember when I wrote about that article by moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt called "What Makes People Vote Republican?" His thesis in it is that liberals have a hard time empathizing with conservatives (and getting them to vote Democrat) because of the way we frame our positions on economic and social issues. Basically, he says conservatives have a broader criteria as to what constitutes morality. In arguing our beliefs, us liberals rarely use appeals to authority or purity, which are things conservatives value strongly. We instead focus mostly on preventing harm and making things fair. Though conservatives like those things too, they need all their moral needs met.

While I agree with most of Haidt's points (and from personal experience, I think purity is a social construct and only value deferring to authority when it has garnered one's respect), the whole thing left me feeling fuzzy. So I asked my super-smart graduated-from-UVA-with-a-philosophy-major friend Clara for her insight. Here's what she said:

i'm fairly moderate, so i have an advantage in being able to empathize with both parties. i think ultimately it's not so much identifying with one party so much as the parties reacting to each other. we spend so much time framing political issues as "ourselves as not the other" (if that makes sense). for example, in this election even the republicans are advertising themselves as "bucking the republicans in washington". capitalism/globalism/blogism has distanced us from any sort of national identity, yet we're trying to fix the nation's collective issues through the individual (mavericks anyone?).

i see myself as a red-blooded democrat - the conservative part of me feels the need for a strong national identity, the practical democrat in me says that greater government involvement is essential for organizing a shit ton of people. my political convictions should make me want to vote democrat, yet so often i don't. haidt's assertion that democrats don't know how to appeal to republican voters rang particularly true for me.

i don't have an entirely clear moral identification, but i would say it most closely resembles virtue ethics. which, in a kind of roundabout (and not entirely congruent) way is the basis for christian ethics. in both systems there is the appeal of a higher moral order, something the republicans have effectively captured (despite not acting in accordance with :( ). i often find the democratic party unappealing, and writing about it just now has clarified my sentiment a bit : their political and moral reasoning is utilitarian and isolating. why should abortion be legal? because in most cases it is best. why should gays be able to get married? because in most cases (all!) it has no effect on anyone else. to me, and i'd hazard a guess and say most other republicans, these reasons do not suffice for political action. which is not to say that i think abortion and gay marriage should be illegal, but that "best for most" should not be the reason it is legal.

so perhaps haidt is correct in that the real disagreement isn't so much the issues themselves but how we address them, and each other. i can sympathize a bit with republicans calling liberals "elitist". democrats so often frame political discussion of change as "you SHOULD want this". this is needlessly patronizing and creates these horrible partisan rifts, which i think makes people identify more powerfully with a party or ideology than a nation as a whole. nobody wants to be told that their beliefs are wrong. in this sense i think people are reacting more assertively against a party than for their own beliefs - a simple example is levi johnston proudly calling himself a "fuckin redneck". it is probably not so much that he wants to be a redneck, but that so many people look down on his lifestyle that his pride necessitates swinging more wildly to the right. similar to gays having drag parades or jezebel commenters talk about their casual abortions followed by binge drinking. the more abrasive we are with our own beliefs, the less likely it is we'll ever have an effective national discussion.

all that being said, i think that obama has done an excellent job in presenting democratic ideals in a conservative package. yet i'm still worried about the election, mostly because of the media and liberal backlash. negative campaigning will not work for the democrats, and as much as i hate this saying, we have to "kill them with kindness". i think the key is removing republican "righteous anger" and really trying to appeal to them on the issues in their terms. there is a strong christian archetype that persecution is a necessity on the path to salvation - the more liberals taunt them, the more "right" they are. this is not to say we should agree with all their solutions, but to understand that it is not just a lack of education or gross greed that leads them to be a conservative. i may be naive, but i feel like we're all (okay, most) talking about the same things in different moral languages.
Thanks, Clara!

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