from LiveScienceWhy Can't We All Just Get Along? By Rachael RettnerThe health care bill may be passed, but the road to reform certainly painted a polarizing picture of America. From a six-hour summit that failed to sway a single Republican, to shouts of "baby killer" and Tea Party protests, politicians and the public seemed to be from different planets.Psychologically speaking, perhaps they are, say experts, who weigh in on the reasons behind the seemingly endless acrimony these days over a slew of issues, from gay marriage to abortion.The reasons are many-faced, involving deep-seated personality differences, contrasting moral views, polarized political parties and today's 24/7, tell-it-all-in-great detail media, all of which prevent liberals and conservatives from seeing eye-to-eye, experts say.And at the end of the day, these divisions could explain why we can't all just get along. Conflicting moralsBefore they even get to the issues, liberals and conservatives are already starting off on the wrong foot for bipartisan agreement. Fundamental differences in morals and personality, paired with emotion-driven logic lead to a basic disconnect between the political bents.Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia and his colleagues have pinned down five basic "moral triggers," or the factors people use to judge right from wrong and that have evolved in human societies. Different cultures and even individuals place more emphasis on certain triggers compared with others.In a broad sense, they boil down to: * Harm/care: People are sensitive to suffering and have negative feelings toward those who are harmful and cruel. They value kindness and compassion. * Fairness/reciprocity: A history of cooperation means humans have evolved a sense of fairness and reciprocity, leading to altruistic actions. * Ingroup/loyalty: People place moral value on those who do what's good for the group; are loyal to the group; and dislike disloyal members. * Authority/respect: Humans tend to respect authority and tradition. * Purity/sanctity: The idea that we view our bodies as sacred. This idea ties into religious views about the body and human actions.Studies have shown that liberals tend to care only about harm and fairness when considering whether something is moral or not, said Peter Ditto, a professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine, who is involved with Haidt's research. In contrast, conservatives have a more traditional moral structure, and tend to care about all five morality factors, he said."So that's where a lot of the problems come in, is that the things that really bother conservatives don’t bother liberals very much," Ditto said. "And the two groups don't understand each other's morality very well."Take gay marriage, for example: "From a liberal standpoint, gay marriage isn't a problem, it doesn’t harm anybody, and it's only fair that gay people be allowed to be married just like straight people can," Ditto said.But for conservatives, gay marriage goes against the traditional idea of marriage, and so presents a real moral problem, Ditto explained.Twisting the factsThese basic moral differences can then go on to drive the biased perception of facts, Ditto said. Often people don't agree on an issue, because they interpret — or misinterpret — the facts differently, or they simply ignore facts that don't fit their view. People on both sides of the political aisle do this, studies show, and so even what might seem like simple notions of "right" and "wrong" are judged based on altered realities by both parties."People process information, and it's biased to supporting their moral ideological view," he said. "And what you end up with is these sort of radically different perceptions of fact, so that it's not like they're just arguing about morals anymore; they perceive the world completely differently."This bias worldview might have its roots in emotions as well as morals."You tend to form emotional ties to the belief that you hold," said Steve Hoffman, a professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Buffalo in New York. "And so you seek out that information, or those convictions, and those people that convey the convictions that you think you already have."Psychology research has also identified personality differences that might lead people to identify as either liberal or conservative."If you have a high need for certainty, you like things to be very sure or certain, [and] if you have a high need for order, if you tend to see lots of threats and danger out in the world, you're more likely to identify as a conservative," said Christopher M. Federico, a professor of psychology and political science at the University of Minnesota.On the other hand, people with a lower need for certainty and order and who are less likely to see the world as a threatening place are more likely to identify as liberal, he said.In other words, ideological sorting is not meaningless. "It's not that you like Coke and I like Pepsi, or something like that; it's something that seems to go much deeper, and it's not psychologically arbitrary so to speak," Federico said.Polarized paritiesSo liberals and conservatives are different down to the core. And perhaps that's how it's always been. But are we really more partisan today than in years past? The answer depends on how you define "we."If you're talking about the American public at large, the answer is not so clear.For instance, the number of Americans who identify as either Democrat or Republican has remained relatively constant over the last 25 years, said Morris Fiorina, a professor of political science at Stanford University. And the number of Independents hovers around 30 percent to 40 percent, he said, suggesting that most Americans actually have moderate views.However, gauging the extent of American partisanship remains difficult, Hoffman said, and there are some political scientists who would say America is more partisan today, he said.What is generally agreed upon, however, is that those who are actively involved in the Democratic and Republican parties seem to have become more divided in recent years."If you were to randomly draw a Republican and a Democrat from the population today, they're likely to be further apart than if you randomly drew a Republican and a Democrat from the population 40 years ago," Fiorina said.In other words, each party is more ideologically homogenous, yet both are at more extreme ends of the spectrum, University of Minnesota's Federico said. "You don't see too many liberal Republicans anymore or as many conservative Democrats," as was the case about 50 years ago, he said.Case in point, no Republicans voted for Obama's health care bill in either the House or the Senate.Added on top of this division is the fact that those who are more partisan are the ones who are most engaged in politics, according to Federico."The people who are most likely to have an impact on politics, to get involved, to go to marches, to vote, to pay attention to the political media, are those that are especially undergoing all these processes that make people more partisan in a sense," Federico said.These extreme voices on the left and the right help to fuel the perception that America as a whole is more partisan, Fiorina said."The people who are the public face of politics, who get on TV and who are on all the talk shows, and so forth, they are not only highly partisan, they are the most partisan of the partisans," he said.Same divisions, new mediaSpeaking of media, experts agree part of the blame for American partisanship, or at least the perception of partisanship, rests with the endless number of politically biased TV and radio shows, newspapers and Internet sites.While people have likely always had differences in their moral beliefs, and had a tendency to take a skewed view toward the facts, today's media allows such distorted notions to be reinforced, said Ditto, of the University of California, Irvine."If I'm a liberal I can go to MSNBC, I listen to NPR, read liberal magazines, I read the Huffington Post," Ditto said. "If I'm a conservative, I go to Fox News, I read Michelle Malkin, I listen to Rush Limbaugh." (Malkin is a syndicated columnist, and Limbaugh is a radio host and conservative political commentator.)"The two sides come in and they just fundamentally don't agree on even the most basic facts, because they want to believe certain things, and they're reinforced [by the media]" Ditto said.Hoffman agrees."There is this kind of rhetoric of absolute conviction, and it's either kind of a right wing conviction or a kind of liberal conviction," he said. "What effect that has, is that it both exacerbate the sense that we live in an increasingly polarized world, and [media pundits] also appeal to people's emotions and their kind of emotional processing," Hoffman said.The media and the Internet likely also play a role in fueling the spread of radical beliefs. For instance, a recent poll, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that 32 percent of those polled believe that President Obama is a Muslim, and about a quarter of Republicans in the poll think he may be the antichrist. The poll was widely criticized for not properly representing the public, but Harris pollsters stood by its validity. Either way, it illustrated a big gap in how the left and the right view things and how those views can be supported by the media."The media give you the support that you need, and you're able to go and find those things, whereas in the past, it was much harder to find something that would support your beliefs, particularly crazy ones," Ditto said. While many extreme beliefs today, like those expressed in the Harris poll, seem to be coming from the right wing, the same biases also occur on the left, and at another point in history, extreme leftist views might have been more ostentatious. "To a certain extent the same thing happens on the left, and maybe at different historical times it would be more prominent on the left as well," Ditto said.
Why Can't We All Just Get Along?
I don't think I agree with all of this. Left-wing groups seem to value loyalty as much as right-wing groups.Liberals show less respect to tradition, but that does not mean they do not value the concepts of respect or authority, but that they feel that tradition per se merits them less than conservatives believe. The concept of 'authority' is after all a strange one when you look at it closely. It came originally from being an author, in the days before printing when books were few and expensive. Those people who had written books that had survived were given too high a status; it all changed after the invention of printing. The bringing down of authority from its pedestal led not only to the Reformation, but also to the spread of democracy, which exists because kings lost their respect and authority.Similarly, I'm not sure that liberals value purity and sanctity less, than that they value it in different places, particularly the natural environment. (It's surprising to me that the environmental movement, which is about conserving things, is so little taken up by those who call themselves conservatives.)But I do agree that conservatives see the world as a more threatening place. The not unreasonable mantra "If it ain't broken, don't fix it" becomes "Even if it doesn't work very well, don't change it because any change might make it worse", and eventually "All change is unacceptable".There are still, also, traces of social class in the left-right divide - much less than Marxist theory would suggest, but still there. Conservatives, for example, tend to condemn and punish the transfer of money from a corporate account to a personal one when it is done by someone at the bottom, but when it is done by someone at the top they invoke the concept of personal freedom.The biggest question that this article fails to answer is that, if political differences are largely due to differences in personality and fundamental morals, why is US politics so much to the right of the average in the world, the developed world, and the Western world?
Originally Posted By: Ineligible
The biggest question that this article fails to answer is that, if political differences are largely due to differences in personality and fundamental morals, why is US politics so much to the right of the average in the world, the developed world, and the Western world?
I have wondered that before but somehow failed to relate it to this article. My own supposition on the question you pose, which admittedly is based on nothing but my own conjecture and reason, is that, at least to some degree, liberal and conservative idealism if most basically a function of density of population by region, not location. As population density increases more governance is required. As more governance proliferates the governed are more open to be governed.
now admittedly my notion breaks down many places if it has standing anywhere. However, I believe there is still some merit in my line of thought.
The governance of United States, as most, maybe all, countries, springs forth mainly from the population regions of highest density. Those areas have the most wealth, the most people and arguably the most at stake, by virtue of the most affected individuals. The U.S. unlike many countries has a vast territorial area that is rather homogeneous in it's lower population density and therefore relatively more conservative if my proposition has any merit at all.
A territorial and population density comparison can be drawn between The U.S., Russia, China, Brazil and Canada, the latter having the most similar government, which unfortunately I know the least about. While all are similar is sharing vast territories it should be noted that of all of those only the U.S. has a vast territory that has a meaningful population throughout. China's vast interior is made up largely of the empty Gobi dessert, Russia has the empty Siberian steps, Brazil has the empty forested interior, Canada has the empty northern frontier. When I say "empty" I mean extremely low density population more often than not their daily lives being unaffected by policy made in their capitals. Then their is the U.S. who's interior while still sparsely populated has plenty of population to feel the impact of governance on their daily lives. It must be kept in mind though that the population is still sparse enough to maintain it's conservative anti-governance, anti-outsider stance and therein lies on of the critical differences but perhaps not the greatest.
I contend that the greatest difference is in part by design. Where other countries seem to have grouped these vast low-density populations into either a couple or even a single province or divided the empty territories into fairly equal parts of other more populated provenances the U.S. has divided it's lower density areas into several provinces of equal representation. That is to say rather than have an enormous, low density, single province that can by itself affect nothing in the government or having divided up low density areas into other provinces who rule from their population bases, the U.S. by design has carved it's vast territory in a way that gives these low density, and therefore conservative, provinces an equal voice in representation. This has the net effect of making the country more conservative.
If it is accepted that conservatism and liberalism are by large part products of population density, then the answer to why is the U.S. so conservative among the rest of the liberal states is the geographic way it has divided up and the voice it gives it's low density population areas.
On the other hand, I may be completely and totally full of shit.