The Real Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives

Jonathan Haidt, a professor from Univefrsity of Virginia, gave a great 18 min talk explaining the drivers behind liberalism and conservativism. He really hits it from more of a biological/evolutionary terms. He identifies 5 drivers behind human morality:

  • Prevention of Harm
  • Fairness
  • Respecting Authority
  • Ingroup Loyalty
  • Purity

The basic premise isn’t that liberals are more open or that conservatives are more stubborn/backwards. It is the way individuals mix these drivers. Across multiple cultures, liberals tended to prioritize prevention of harm and fairness. Liberals view authority, purity, and loyalty as either less important or even suspcisious. Conservatives tended to care equally about all three drivers.

He links this divide to game theory. In a sharing game, everyone puts into a pot, and then your divide the pot. If people cooperate, the game comes out fair. But as the game goes on, people recognize that some people are free riding, they don’t want to be suckers, and soon the game breaks down in fairness and prevention of harm. So if you add the ability for people to spend some of their money to punish other players that are not being fair, then the cooperation continues and the game stays fair. So the game needed authority, loyalty, and purity to keep the players on the up and up.

My rule of thumb; suspicious people suspect others of what they do. A person who is always concerned about being lied to, is probably a liar. Honest people don’t think about constructing lies and thus probably go around suspecting other people of lieing. People who are concerend about protecting themselves from violence are probably violent. It’s a rule of thumb, not an absolute. But as my friend Joe told me, people who want to outlaw gambling and drinking probably have problems controlling their gambling and drinking. And the politicians who want to stop gay marrage keep getting caught having gay sex.

Maybe it is the liberal in me, but I would love to not have to appeal authority, loyalty, or purity to live in a society that is driven to prevent harm and to be fair?

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