seeing the other side

Ask yourself what makes someone vote one way or the other, says psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his essay excerpted below.  For example, why would someone – in this case poor, dispossessed – vote against the party that proposes helping them – in this case the Democrats – and for the party that smiles and tells them to help themselves, against increasingly difficult odds?  And of course, everyone and his cousin has an answer:  a chattering class is born with talking points, driving wedges, simplifying and clarifying, until all nuance and complexity and alternatives are bled out leaving two simpering dried up masses of ideology with a wasteland in between.

What if you look closer, asks Haidt.  And he goes to India to immerse in a different culture, and comes back with a new way of seeing the other side.  People act in response to very deep motivations.  Conservatives, says Haidt, fear uncertainty and change, and they see moral clarity as a means of regaining order and hierarchy.

Haidt’s is a vanguard stance:  recolonize the vast space between camps, and a new social culture will form – a reef – around ideas of complexity and nuance.  Occupy the evacuated center.

Here is the first paragraph of Haidt’s What makes people vote Republican? —

What makes people vote Republican? Why in particular do working class and rural Americans usually vote for pro-business Republicans when their economic interests would seem better served by Democratic policies? We psychologists have been examining the origins of ideology ever since Hitler sent us Germany’s best psychologists, and we long ago reported that strict parenting and a variety of personal insecurities work together to turn people against liberalism, diversity, and progress. But now that we can map the brains, genes, and unconscious attitudes of conservatives, we have refined our diagnosis: conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death. People vote Republican because Republicans offer “moral clarity”—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.

What makes people vote Republican? Jonathan Haidt, Edge

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