Jeremy Truitt

An attempt to understand the world of current events, finance and the economy on a level that allows me to teach it. I'm a journalist. Oh and the occasional post about family, life and kids!

The Evolutionary Psychology of Liberals & Conservatives, an Idea

I watched a TED speech recently given by a psychologist at NYU. He was speaking about human morality and individual moral roots, which focused on political roots. The talk was fascinating. Here’s my take: (Disclaimer: Everything covered in this post is done so as a generalization. I fully understand you can find an instance here or there that contradicts the points I make. Deal with it.)

Liberals and conservatives differ vastly on a huge personality trait: Openness to experience. People that are high on this scale and have a huge openness to experience love to travel, love to try new things and love ever-changing dynamics. People low on the scale tend to enjoy familiarity and routine comfort. Which one of the above sounds like the liberal and which the conservative? In numerous studies, it becomes clear liberals are much higher on this scale…which leads to the rest of this post.

I believe compromise is a leadership trait, not a weakness. I believe extreme left and extreme right are damaging to our country and the entire political process. However so many of us only associate with individuals similar to us. The speaker called this a “moral matrix” of sorts. Why? Because when you get into the psychology of teams you’ll see that when you are in a closed team that lacks moral diversity you tend to shut down open-mindedness. That’s dangerous. And boring.

Think of it this way (insert The Matrix pun here): You can take the blue pill….and stay as you are with the same sphere of influence, or you can take the red pill and choose to understand the other side of the political aisle and step out of this so-called “moral matrix.” Here’s a quick test to see if you’re stuck in the matrix. Whichever side you’re on….do you think the other half of America voted the way they did because they’re just “blinded.” “They just don’t get it?” If you think that, chances are you’re in this quagmire of single-minded thought.

So here’s the nuts and bolts. The reason liberals and conservatives so vehemently disagree. The real issue you’re taking precious time to read about. There are five foundations of morality, according to the speaker:

  • Harm/Care: This is our human ability to feel compassion and empathy. It also describes our human nature to feel so strongly against those who cause others harm.
  • Fairness/Reciprocity: This is simply the Golden Rule…and it’s also the foundation of many religions.
  • In-group/Loyalty: In the animal kingdom, you’ll typically find very small groups of “packs” but not typically large groups. Only in the human race are we capable of forming massive groups as a “team” to strategize, cooperate and fight enemies, etc. A possible explanation could be our long lineage of being tribal and running in packs. <—-that’s probably very questionable.
  • Authority/Respect: In the animal kingdom, this is typically based on power and brutality. However in the human race, it’s based more on submission and is often voluntary, except in very extreme cases such as with Hitler.
  • Purity/Sanctity: When we think “purity,” we often think “virgin” or a woman suppressing her sexuality. Interestingly, purity can be any ideology that says you can attain “virtue” through controlling what you do with your body or what you put into your body. Fascinatingly, the political right moralizes sex more (Don’t think so? How many ugly women do you see on Fox News? NONE. Well, Greta is questionable but get my point). The political left moralizes food more. For example, healthy eating and vegetarianism/veganism is a huge moral component in the lives of many liberals. Much less so in conservative circles. Yes that’s a stereotypical statement but it’s backed up through data.

Okay okay….what’s the point? Get ready to either go “oooohhhhh” or “wtf”…. It’s about to get real ya’ll.

The speaker said the reason there is so much ideological disagreement is because modern liberals reject three of the five foundations of morality. Think about this. They often reject the In-group/Loyalty foundation. Instead, they celebrate diversity and inclusion of minority groups. How many heterosexual liberals are allies of the LGBTQ community? A lot of them. How many heterosexual conservatives fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community? Very few. Next, they reject the Purity/Sanctity foundation. “Keep your laws off my body” is the foundation of many arguments about contraception, abortion and rape. Finally, they reject the Authority/Respect foundation. Liberals are quicker to question authority and are quicker to challenge it when they feel wronged. We see this categorically in the millennial generation which is largely liberal.

Before you freak out and say I’m defending conservatives or liberals, stop being a blindly opinionated American for a second and think about this. Liberals have very noble and honorable motives for this ideology. Traditional values can in fact have very oppressive tones to women, people who don’t fit in and minorities. Liberals typically speak for the oppressed, the “other guys.” It’s a moral crusade.

ON THE OTHER HAND, conservatives typically cling to traditional values and institutions. That’s also noble. Conservatives typically want order and obedience, even at the expense of those on the bottom. They see “law and order” as being difficult to obtain and very easy to lose, hence the clinging to “the way things are.”

So what do we do? Well to start, we stop being closed-minded. If all of your friends are of the same political belief and religion as you, I say you’re destroying your ability to be a productive member of society. Once you see that liberals and conservatives BOTH have very good ideas to contribute, you can begin to step out of this “moral matrix.” Robust debate is great. The two ideologies form a balance on “change versus stability” and we NEED liberals and conservatives.

This is a huge insight many Asian religions have learned and implemented over very long periods of time. Take Yin and Yang. They’re diametrically and morally opposed, yet they’re not enemies. They’re complements.

“If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be “for” or “against.” The struggle between “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease.”             –Seng-ts’an

With what you just read….watch the below videos. They’re a VERY liberal Rachel Maddow giving a recap of the recent Obama victory and a VERY conservative Glenn Beck/Bill O’Reilly talking about gay marriage and abortion. You can clearly see every point I made in this post. (Disclaimer: I am not endorsing either, I’m simply illustrating my point).

Thanks for reading and please…..let me know your thoughts.


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This entry was posted on November 21, 2012 by in Business, Education, Life, News, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , .
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