Today I was reading an article in the NYT’s science section, about the possible biological/evolutionary underpinnings of morality, and these two paragraphs jumped out at me:
…Dr. [Jonathan] Haidt combed the literature of anthropology and psychology for ideas about morality throughout the world. He identified five components of morality that were common to most cultures. Some concerned the protection of individuals, others the ties that bind a group together.
Of the moral systems that protect individuals, one is concerned with preventing harm to the person and the other with reciprocity and fairness. Less familiar are the three systems that promote behaviors developed for strengthening the group. These are loyalty to the in-group, respect for authority and hierarchy, and a sense of purity or sanctity.
I was struck by just how perfectly the “individual” moral systems describe progressive values, while the “group” moral systems describe conservative values. Progressives believe in equal opportunity and protecting the rights of the individual against more powerful entities. Conservatives are absolutely loyal to their leaders and frequently use religion to claim the moral high ground.
And yet… and yet… Why is it that the GOP is the party of selfishness and corruption and id incarnate? Shouldn’t they be suppressing their individual egos for the good of the group? I can think of three possible explanations:
1) Their loyalty is to “the in-group,” not to society as a whole. They pledge their allegiance to the Republican party or the conservative movement, not to the United States of America. So they are fiercely loyal to their party, but care not a whit for their country. And the only demands their party makes on them are “Stay in control” and “Get what you can.”
2) While conservative and Republican leaders make a big deal about their religiosity, they use it solely to oppose individual freedoms and camouflage their own moral failings (see Swopa’s previous post). Loyalty and respect for authority are the only group-oriented “values” that they truly possess.
3) Haidt’s “group” moral systems are not actually moral, because they do not consider the morality of the group itself. The Nazis were the perfect embodiment of Haidt’s vision of group morality, and they were evil incarnate. The pro-group values are a measure of unity and efficacy, not morality, and they are less than worthless if not combined with pro-individual values.
Progressives may disagree on a lot, but the core values that we share are those of protecting the little guy, while conservatives are unified in their dedication to protecting the big guy. Progressives want to look out for you; conservatives just want to keep an eye on you.