Monday, February 3, 2020

UPDATED: The Righteous Mind

Michael Barone has an article in today's WSJ under the title: Why The Democratic Majority Hasn't Emerged. Barone, of course, is an extremely knowledgeable guy about American politics. In the article he attempts to address the question of how the Democrat Party "find[s] itself in this pickle." "This pickle" is the fact that, having convinced themselves that their inevitable generational dominance was just around the corner after eight transformational Obama years, they proceeded to lose to Donald Trump in 2016 and now stand an excellent chance of doing so once again in 2020. Here's the "pickle" for the Dems, as Barone sees it:

That's what happened in 2016. Rising percentages of Hispanics and Asians and the increasing liberalism of college graduates and unmarried women were supposed to help them carry Hillary Clinton to easy victory. Instead, they were offset by sharp declines in Democratic support from white voters without college degrees in Rust Belt states from Pennsylvania through Iowa, and in Florida with its many Rust Belt retirees. And, as the New York Times's Nate Cohn argued persuasively that year, noncollege whites are a significantly larger share of the electorate than exit polls have indicated--even if their numbers are declining.

In other words, the "deplorables" stopped voting Dem. What happened? One explanation Barone hits upon is this:

... voters may feel confident that Democrats will raise taxes on the rich, but they doubt benefits will flow to them. ...And for voters with modest incomes, cultural issues may be more important than economic self-interest. The same is true for affluent supporters of abortion and gay rights.

Barone then turns to social psychologist Jonathan Haidt for additional insight:

Democrats--voters as well as politicians--suffer from cultural insularity. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues have shown that conservatives are better at understanding liberal views than the converse. That's not surprising: Whereas liberal views permeate the news media and popular culture, liberals can easily avoid exposure to conservative views. That distorts their view of the world and produces oversensitivity to leftist social-media mobs along with overconfidence in demographic trends.

I'm not sure I buy that explanation. After all, conservatives are also inundated by liberal views at virtually every turn in their daily lives--at work, in school, in "the culture," through the MSM. Why are liberals sucked in by the constant propaganda but conservatives are not--yet are able to empathetically understand where liberals are coming from, whereas liberals see only deplorables among those with conservative views?

My view is that liberalism by its nature appeals to persons who are disposed for a number of reasons to reject reality in favor of constructing their own reality. Conservatives, by contrast, tend strongly to look at the human landscape around them as governed ultimately by a human nature that is fixed and unchanging in its basic features. To seek to deconstruct and then reconstruct the human reality is a surefire way of bringing about disaster. If that sounds a bit dubious, consider some of what Jonathan Haidt has to say.

Haidt wrote a book on these topics called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. The book came out in early 2012, which means he would have been actually writing it during the first Obama term--the time of the "bitter clingers." Haidt portrays himself as a recovering liberal of sorts--he's still a liberal, but he professes himself able to understand conservatives. What he wants to do is to convince other liberals that the "bitter clingers" aren't as deplorable as most liberals believe they are. They have some redeeming characteristics that mark them as, well, human beings. The benefit for liberals in adopting a more broadminded view of their less enlightened neighbors would be the ability to persuade conservatives to follow along, trailing a bit behind perhaps, in the pilgrimage to the progressive Promised Land.

Viewed in these terms, it's obvious that Haidt's book was a complete failure. What has happened in the few short years since the book was published is that liberals have invented more and more ways to define themselves in opposition to conservatives and to cast conservatives into the outer darkness--think of the Trans movement and so many other manifestations of ascendant liberalism. Liberals kicking conservatives while conservatives were down isn't Haidt had in mind.

It's interesting to review some of what Haidt said, not that long ago, in light of what has transpired. I came across a review of Haidt's book in the NYT by William Saletan, shortly after the book came out: Why Won’t They Listen? Here are some excerpts. See if you agree with my assessment over Barone's. For my money, Haidt fails to understand that liberals reject the very fundamental basis for his whole argument--the idea that there is such a reality as "human nature." Instead, for the liberal their one principle is that everyone has a "right" to invent their own reality. Or as Justice Scalia put it, their own "sweet mystery of life." Just ask yourself--when was the last time you heard any prominent liberal pundit use that phrase: human nature? And yet Saletan and Haidt seem to take it for granted. I think they're missing something fundamental and, in contrast with Barone, I don't think "cultural insularity" tells anything like the whole story.

I fail to see any middle ground between the two views. Further, one view--the conservative view--is based on reflection upon reality, while the other is based on ideological presuppositions that fly in the face of reality, as Haidt appears to basically understand.

You’re smart. You’re liberal. You’re well informed. You think conservatives are narrow-minded. You can’t understand why working-class Americans vote Republican. You figure they’re being duped. You’re wrong. 
This isn’t an accusation from the right. It’s a friendly warning from Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who, until 2009, considered himself a partisan liberal. In “The ­Righteous Mind,” Haidt seeks to enrich liberalism, and political discourse generally, with a deeper awareness of human nature. Like other psychologists who have ventured into political coaching, such as George Lakoff and Drew Westen, Haidt argues that people are fundamentally intuitive, not rational. If you want to persuade others, you have to appeal to their sentiments. But Haidt is looking for more than victory. He’s looking for wisdom. That’s what makes “The Righteous Mind” well worth reading. Politics isn’t just about ­manipulating people who disagree with you. It’s about learning from them. 
To the question many people ask about politics — Why doesn’t the other side listen to reason? — Haidt replies: We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided. ... 
The worldviews Haidt discusses may differ from yours. They don’t start with the individual. They start with the group or the cosmic order. They exalt families, armies and communities. They assume that people should be treated differently according to social role or status — elders should be honored, subordinates should be protected. They suppress forms of self-expression that might weaken the social fabric. They assume interdependence, not autonomy. They prize order, not equality.

These moral systems aren’t ignorant or backward. Haidt argues that they’re common in history and across the globe because they fit human nature.
You don’t have to go abroad to see these ideas. You can find them in the Republican Party. Social conservatives see welfare and feminism as threats to responsibility and family stability. The Tea Party hates redistribution because it interferes with letting people reap what they earn. Faith, patriotism, valor, chastity, law and order — these Republican themes touch all six moral foundations, whereas Democrats, in Haidt’s analysis, focus almost entirely on care and fighting oppression. This is Haidt’s startling message to the left: When it comes to morality, conservatives are more broad-minded than liberals. ... 
... He chides psychologists who try to “explain away” conservatism, treating it as a pathology. Conservatism thrives because it fits how people think, and that’s what validates it. Workers who vote Republican aren’t fools. In Haidt’s words, they’re “voting for their moral interests.” 
One of these interests is moral capital — norms, prac­tices and institutions, like religion and family values, that facilitate cooperation by constraining individualism. Toward this end, Haidt applauds the left for regulating corporate greed. But he worries that in other ways, liberals dissolve moral capital too recklessly. Welfare programs that substitute public aid for spousal and parental support undermine the ecology of the family. Education policies that let students sue teachers erode classroom authority. Multicultural education weakens the cultural glue of assimilation. Haidt agrees that old ways must sometimes be re-examined and changed. He just wants liberals to proceed with caution and protect the social pillars sustained by tradition. 
Another aspect of human nature that conservatives understand better than liberals, according to Haidt, is parochial altruism, the inclination to care more about members of your group — particularly those who have made sacrifices for it —than about outsiders. Saving Darfur, submitting to the United Nations and paying taxes to educate children in another state may be noble, but they aren’t natural. What’s natural is giving to your church, helping your P.T.A. and rallying together as Americans against a foreign threat. 
How far should liberals go toward incorporating these principles? Haidt says the shift has to be more than symbolic, but he doesn’t lay out a specific policy agenda. Instead, he highlights broad areas of culture and politics — family and assimilation, for example — on which liberals should consider compromise. He urges conservatives to entertain liberal ideas in the same way. The purpose of such compromises isn’t just to win elections. It’s to make society and government fit human nature. 
The hardest part, Haidt finds, is getting liberals to open their minds. Anecdotally, he reports that when he talks about authority, loyalty and sanctity, many people in the audience spurn these ideas as the seeds of racism, sexism and homophobia. And in a survey of 2,000 Americans, Haidt found that self-described liberals, especially those who called themselves “very liberal,” were worse at predicting the moral judgments of moderates and conservatives than moderates and conservatives were at predicting the moral judgments of liberals. Liberals don’t understand conservative values. And they can’t recognize this failing, because they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment. 
Many of Haidt’s proposals are vague, insufficient or hard to implement. And that’s O.K. He just wants to start a conversation about integrating a better understanding of human nature — our sentiments, sociality and morality — into the ways we debate and govern ourselves. At this, he succeeds. It’s a landmark contribution to humanity’s understanding of itself. 
But to whom is Haidt directing his advice? If intuitions are unreflective, and if reason is self-serving, then what part of us does he expect to regulate and orchestrate these faculties? This is the unspoken tension in Haidt’s book. As a scientist, he takes a passive, empirical view of human nature. He describes us as we have been, expecting no more. Based on evolution, he argues, universal love is implausible: “Parochial love . . . amplified by similarity” and a “sense of shared fate . . . may be the most we can accomplish.” But as an author and advocate, Haidt speaks to us rationally and universally, as though we’re capable of something greater. He seems unable to help himself, as though it’s in his nature to call on our capacity for reason and our sense of common humanity — and in our nature to understand it. 

UPDATE: You've all seen those videos where reporters interview liberal college students and feed them quotes from prominent Dems but attribute the quotes to Trump. Still, this latest example comes at a convenient time, to drive home Haidt's point:

Liberal students reflexively reject Trump quotes, even though they're from Democrats


  1. "Haidt argues that people are fundamentally intuitive, not rational."
    Overstated. People may be primarily intuitive, but many (e.g. the Framers) are substantially rational, esp. when thinking about the fates of their loved ones, whose fates may hinge on preservation of their FREEDOM, a value which Haidt didn't explicitly list.
    While "freedom" may be seen as similar to "fighting oppression", the Framers had a rigorous conception of "freedom", in contrast to today's Left's stacked/ fluctuating definitions of "fighting oppression".
    The Framers saw that people lean toward community, but many have enough individualism within them, that it behooves wise statesmen to stop the community from being so overbearing, as to stifle individual inventiveness.

    1. In the full review, which is quite lengthy, Saletan criticizes this aspect of Haidt's theory quite severely, pointing out that if this is so, then what does Haidt think he's doing with his long, rational, presentation?

  2. The conservative sees the world the way it is, while the liberal sees the world the way it ought to be.

    Ironically, the message of Christ lives in-between these views: in the world, but not of the world, we live in the already-but-not-yet realm of the heavenly kingdom.

    The liberal - particularly the Marxist - is like a Christian who forgets that they still live in a corrupt world. They're like the angels in the parable of the wheat and the tares: they will purify the field, heedless of the harm that they do.

    1. @mistcr

      You wrote:

      "The conservative sees the world the way it is, while the liberal sees the world the way it ought to be."

      I think you really meant:

      The conservative sees the world the way it is, while the liberal sees the world the way he or she tells us it ought to be.

      It is this imposition of the liberal viewpoint on others which I think is so offensive and inconsistent with freedom and liberty.

      Adam Schiff's insufferable and distorted harangues on the meaning of democracy and the constitution are perfect examples.

  3. Democrats are living in a feedback system that rewards greater and greater Left movement in what is considered acceptable, that is based on marxist ideology that has been adapted from a struggle of class warfare for making equality, but one based on groups based on sex, race, and ideology. It's strange, where in this Marxist struggle, the people pushing it are the so called elites, who would be the first against the wall. Social Rewards are given to those that find fault with others, and now we are down to micro aggressions, made up racism, and inherent racism. And the American Culture that works, is being accused of those being racist habits. They have a culture that is built on Alinsky Tactics of attacking the other side, showing what is wrong with it, and not creating.

    It's very strange to observe the craziness that is going on in higher ed, and other places.

    Trump is rebuilding the Republican Party as he rides a trend of popularism, a revolt against the elites, that have shown themselves to be credentialed, but not educated. I trace the rise of elites in the US Government, back to Woodrow Wilson, and built upon by FDR.

    Democrats see themselves in a struggle to improve society, a war, against bad thought / culture, and Republicans usually don't get the culture angle / struggle at all. It's ideological struggle.

    When the struggle is framed as a cultural class, a struggle, with one side believing they are fighting against an evil culture, and are on the side of goodness, it explains the HUGE hatred for Trump. Where he is doing middle of the road actions for the most part, and the response by the left is totally disproportionate, as if Trump is threatening their very existence. Their over reaction surprises me.

    1. Ray, of course I agree with what you say. However, I would go one step further and say that not only does the "feedback system" reward craziness--rebellion against reality--but the logic of the justifying ideology actually DEMANDS ever more extreme denials of reality. That seems to be the lesson of the last 400 years in the West.

  4. You wrote "My view is that liberalism by its nature appeals to persons who are disposed for a number of reasons to reject reality in favor of constructing their own reality."

    I agree. I also believe that the typical conservative is a more sophisticated thinker and generally more mature. Hence, your use of the word "infantilism" to describe the behavior of a lot of liberals. When I was younger, I believed the world revolved around me and I could pout and try to get my way. A lot of the left hasn't left that magical thinking behind.

  5. Inherent in this struggle between the Left and Right as currently configured in the US is the cognitive dissonance of the leadership coming from the Left.

    The Elite (aka Clinton) wing of the Dem Party purports to represent the poor, the racial minorities, and the victims of class, race and gender bias in America. And yet this 'wing' consists largely of elitists of every kind: billionaires, high income zip code millionaires, Ivy League professors, tech executives, entertainment moguls, high government career officials, media owners and executives, etc. whose lifestyles and positions of economic and class superiority absolutely depend upon retaining their 'elite' status. Nothing they do or say will ever compromise their elite status. Look at their candidates: Other than Sanders, each is a multi-millionaire or an Ivy League elitist or both (and even Sanders is now a multi-millionaire). They would like to tell millions of Americans what's best for them but they do not come from, or truly represent, the millions of Americans they would have elect them. It is an extraordinary sleight of hand that any average American would believe that her or his interests are better represented by Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton (or Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar or Pete Whatever), let alone Mike Bloomberg, than by Donald Trump.

    In this respect, the improbable Trump has stolen their voice since he truly seems to understand this disconnect between the 'Elites' and the people.

    I am eagerly awaiting the day when the Elite's many incongruous constituents wake up and realize this.

  6. By the way (off topic) who doesn't think the Dem Establishment isn't fooling with the Iowa caucus results?

    1. The double negative is confusing.

    2. How about: Who thinks the Dem Establishment is fooling with the Iowa caucus results?

      I saw a Sanders-related tweet suggesting that the caucus results are along the lines of

      Sanders 30%
      Buttwhatever 25%
      Warren 20%
      Amy 20%
      Biden 12%

      Game over for Joe?

    3. Who DOESN'T think the Dem-e is fooling with the results?

      "Game over for Joe?"

      If you've been following CTH ...

    4. I didn't get the numbers Sanders is reporting quite right. They are:

      Sanders 30%
      Buttwhatever 25%
      Warren 21%
      Biden 12%
      Klobuchar 11%

    5. Thanks, Mark. Just went over to CTH...

      I guess sundance and I agree... :)

    6. And, as long as I'm hopelessly off topic, why doesn't Durham interview Julian Assange and establish, once and for all, that the Russian GRU did not hack the DNC computers. Assange knows where he got the DNC emails.

    7. True. Maybe he's not telling us--I hope. It's a totally obvious move, and I can only think that it hasn't been done for political reasons. The Establishment--both in Congress and in the IC--would freak like you've never seen.

  7. Thanks Mark for the kind words.

    Some more related ideas bouncing around in my head, as I pondered your post.

    The Democratic Party has taken the Community Organizing ethos to heart.

    By threatening with one group that they verbally support, but promise salvation / safety through indulgences to their opponents. Having a group that feels ostracized / discriminated against is an important part of this strategy.

    It's basically a protection racket. Do as I say, or you will be accused of all sorts of nasty things. You may have demonstrations outside your home, etc.

    The key to allow this, is that one side allows this to happen to themselves. A lot of the pressure is perceived. And creates an Overton Window, of what is acceptable socially.

    And along comes Trumps and shatters the Overton Windows that have been so carefully created. Just like the Little Boy, that pointed out the Emperor is wearing no clothes.

    What's interesting is how far people have gone to keep their world view. The crazy ways they prove to themselves, and their colleagues / followers, that Trump is a just an aberration, and will soon be gone, somehow. That he is an exception to their march forward to their better future.

    The US has a unique form of government, that is not centralized like other countries are. We have a system that forces a 2 party system, it's not a parliamentary system that favors control by small parties. 3rd parties with meaningful votes get absorbed into another party, and we are back to the 2 party system. There is not political advantage in the US by being a third party.

    Trump recognized the recent populist movement in the US, and harnessed it to become President. The two parties, did an amazing job of killing the tea party, the most recent prior populist, grassroots party. Another commenter on another blog, commented that Trump is a Black Swan. I can see that. Trump is also changing the Republican Party, and making it more of a populist, anti Elite Party. One with a large working class component. He is also making the Republican Party more nationalist in actions, not just in words.

    The Democratic Party is responding by doing the opposite.

    Key allies of the Democratic Party has been the press, Judicial, Internet Giants / Social Media, Unions, Education, Minority So Called Leaders, Deep State, and Non Profits.

    Trump has done an amazing job of discrediting the Press.

    Trump has been going directly to Union Members.

    And Trump has been going directly to Minorities, with incredible outreach.

    And Trump has been changing the Federal Judiciary.

    School Choice I expect Trump to start pushing hard.

    Higher Education is built on a shaky foundation. The recent public listings of college results, vs debt, is a shot across their bow.

    I expect to see a lot more major changes in the US due to the seeds Trump is planting, especially in his second term. A lot that will be impacting the culture. If Trump succeeds with his minority outreach, there will be huge electoral implications. If only 20% of Blacks vote for Trump, game over.

    1. Ray, I just saw a list of Trump's Special Guests for tonight, and I think you're gonna see him hitting on several of those themes that you list. I think the immigration issue was a key to smashing the Overton window because it played so well with traditionally Dem groups--and continues to do so. His willingness to take on PC through his mastery of social media messaging also tapped into deep unrest that had no real voice in the political realm up to that point.

      Higher Ed will be key, and he's laying the foundation there with his new judges.