Thursday, February 18, 2010

Jonathan Haidt's TEDTalk on the Difference Between Liberals and Conservatives

I grew up in the smack dab middle of the pro-life, pro-gun, pro-God Midwest. In fact, I grew up in a county with fewer democrats than palm trees; and my dad, a lifelong republican, spent 25+ years of his career in elected offices. In addition to my dad’s professional party affiliation, my parents are active social conservatives who converted to Catholicism in their late 50’s and proceeded to spend two years of Fridays "praying" outside abortion clinics. While they stray from the traditional conservative platform on gun control, and they are displeased with the work of George W. Bush and his crony Dick Cheney, who my father likens to the devil, they do believe in low taxes, small government, intelligent design, preventing stem cell research, and that God made marriage for a man and a woman – the very values the left is quick to denigrate as "stupid," “selfish,” "regressive" and "small-minded."

Meanwhile, the right is just as likely to call the left “selfish,” “Godless,” “anti-American,” “baby killers.” Each side is equally convinced of their “rightness” in assessing what’s best for the country as a whole; and each is equally convinced that those who disagree with them are hell-bent on running this country into the ground. While the left and the right have always been at odds with each other, it seems the level of angry self-righteousness in partisan politics has risen in recent years to a level that’s not only distasteful but counter-productive.

Perhaps this is the result of a culture turned on by contention. Even Obama’s victory on a wave of “work-togetherness” rhetoric hasn’t been able to steamroll what has become a seemingly inherent love of hatred. In short we LOVE to hate even more than we love to be right…or at least more than we love to DO right. Both sides would rather stubbornly refuse to work with the party in power than allow for the possibility that they may have valid points to consider. With partisan media pundits, the louder someone hates, the louder we get to hate back. A show of respect for someone with a different belief has come to seem deferential and undesirable.

As long as this verbal volleyball match continues, nothing will be accomplished and while each side will blame the other, the truth is that both are at fault because both are engaged in a self-righteous refusal to let the other side be right about anything…and neither side is right about everything. But, when we absolutely, unequivocally BELIEVE we are right, that someone else is wrong…we are at an impasse…and when that disagreement turns angry and judgmental as it has in recent years, how do we overcome that impasse?

Recently, I came across this TEDTalk by Jonathan Haidt on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives, which addresses the moral matrix in which both ends of the continuum are locked. I think it's worth a few minutes of your time; while some will find themselves  trying to defend their own judgments about conservatives or liberals as valid in today's world, I think Haidt's offers information that can help us re-approach each other in ways that are both more respectful and also more effective.

Jonathon Haidt on the Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives

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