Jul 112012

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt recently published research that has been taken to indicate that conservatives hold six key values while liberals hold only three. Naturally, some commentators have had a great time with this one. Haidt followed this up with a new book: “The Righteous Mind.”

This was all based on the results of a “Moral Foundations questionnaire” completed by 2,212 participants. In the end, both liberals and conservatives are seen to relate positively to the concepts of Fairness, Liberty and Caring for the weak.

This is all good and commendable, as far as it goes. However, I made a point of finding and viewing all of the Republican primary debates and heard something else. I was left with serious doubts about the consequences of many proposed policies… and the callous audience reactions to them. The virtues of Fairness and Caring for the weak seemed to be missing in action. Individual Liberties received a lot of emphasis but issues of civil Liberties were neglected. The overall take-away seemed to be: “If the weak can’t take care of themselves then that’s their own misfortune.”

In Haidt’s research, conservatives related positively to three additional values more than liberals did: Sanctity, Loyalty, and Respect for authority. However, nobody seemed to notice that all three relate to those things needed to bind tribes, religions, and authoritarian governments together in the face of a common enemy.

Liberals have characteristically moved beyond “because tradition or our leader says so” as guidance for thought. Liberals want to be personally convinced, rather than bow to superior force or status. Although this independent streak can make them awkward and unruly members of a team or bureaucracy, it makes them ideally suited for participatory Democracy.

It need not be a bad thing to leave some values and virtues behind. For instance, you just don’t hear anybody recommending “fealty” anymore. Fealty is the submission that a member of a lower social class owes to his master or king. Vows of chastity, obedience, poverty and silence are not so popular anymore either. Neither is the penance of self-flagellation or the piety of sacrificing children by fire.

If you have been following my earlier discussion of developmental stages, you can see why most liberals are able to look at these “missing” values and say, “been there, done that, moved on, but still have friends that…”

Finally, others, such as Integral Theorist Jeff Salzman, have pointed out that Haidt’s research simply omitted some values that are part of the “language of liberalism” that many conservatives have yet to fully embrace. These three additional values are Empathy, Pluralism, and Social Justice.

My point is this: Please think critically the next time someone tells you that another group doesn’t have values just because their values are not exactly the same as his.

© 2012, David Satterlee

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Jan 312012

I read the article in “The Daily Beast” – The Path to Victory in November for Barack Obama and the Democrats by Michael Tomasky. One of the comments pointed out that President Obama doesn’t get credit for all the changes that he has made to support America’s recovery and that he doesn’t spend enough time explaining the economic benefits of focusing on fairness to the wage-earners, just the social benefits. Here was my response:

“Yeah, I thought the connection was more intuitively obvious. Perhaps the dots need to be explicitly connected.

When businesses or investors get more money, they tend to take it out of circulation; they save it (Apple is now sitting on about $100 Billion) or buy things like bonds, mutual funds, or other companies. When businesses or private equity firms buy a business, they often take it apart, sell some pieces, and lay off employees as they squeeze operations for fast profit.

When private citizens get more money, they tend to spend it on products and services. This money continues to circulate multiple times as the people they give it to also spend it on products and services. Eventually, companies and/or taxes reduce the circulation. When the government gets more money it also tends to spend it on products and services. There is no truth to “trickle-down economics;” there is only “bubble-up investments.” However, if you let private citizens and progressive governments spend, you stimulate the virtuous cycle of a recirculating self-reinforcing economy.

There is an exception in the case of some conservative governments. Although a war can stimulate the economy through increased manufacturing and payrolls (as in WWII), It can also damage the economy if its costs are funded by printing money (as in Bush’s Iraq/Afghanistan). Plus, at the end of such a war investment, there is no significant tangible domestic benefit such as improved infrastructure.

Thus, President Obama is right to shift the emphasis from the last 30 years’ trend that favors robbing from the wage-earners (who make money by working) and favors making it easier for businesses, banks, and investors to make money from moving money. He is right to shift the emphasis from hoarding the fruits of American’s labors to planting, growing, nurturing, and replanting what we earn in ways that help more people to work and more people to earn more.”

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