In this election year I have to remember to tread carefully with friends and even family members when it comes to politics. I have been astonished and dismayed in the past to discover that a loved one disagrees with my political point of view or is endorsing another party’s candidate for Senator or President. I struggle with trying to reconcile these close personal relationships with antithetical political leanings.
Since I have read The Righteous Mind by social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, I better understand political differences. Haidt’s research on moral values can be boiled down to a summary of the moral matrices embraced by self-identified social conservatives, libertarians, and liberals.
Haidt’s position is that everyone possesses receptors for six values, sort of like taste buds on the tongue. People of all political persuasions have the six receptors but some have a stronger “taste” for particular moral values because of the wiring of their brains, their circumstances, and their up-bringing.
The six moral values are: care versus harm; liberty versus oppression; fairness versus cheating; loyalty versus betrayal; authority versus subversion; and sanctity versus degradation.
According to Haidt, liberals strongly embrace three main values that inform their policies and outlook. While they possess and demonstrate the other three values, as well, the latter three do not dominate. Liberals’ most sacred value is care /harm, followed by liberty/oppression, and fairness/cheating.
The most sacred value for libertarians is liberty/oppression with fairness/cheating as second most important. Once again, libertarians hold all of the other values, but the others do not dominate.
Social Conservatives have the broadest set of moral values; it would appear that they prize all six values equally and subscribe to all of them. The values of sanctity and authority, so important to conservatives, are “slighted” by liberals, according to Haidt.
Haidt’s findings have helped me understand (and tolerate) the politics of some of my friends and family. In light of our country’s recent political shenanigans, however, I see the need to add one more value pair to the list: power/cooperation. The glorification of power, as opposed to cooperation is poisoning the political scene. One political party, in particular, has focused on this seventh value so that it overshadows all the others- much to the distress of the majority of the American people. If all of us aren’t watchful, the worship of power will undermine all other values and turn our democracy into a travesty.