Friday, June 12, 2009

No Fair

I just found a fascinating website -- -- which was mentioned in a fascinating article I was reading about the psychological differences between conservatives and liberals.

This website is set up, apparently, by a group of psychologists who are doing research on this topic. There are a bunch of surveys to do on various topics such as politics, religion, personality, etc. If you register on the site, they get information on your demographics, including whether you consider yourself liberal or conservative, and they draw conclusions from all that.

Setting aside the possible problems with the validity and reliability of such data (flashbacks to my grad school days . . . ), some of their findings so far are interesting. The essence of it is that liberals and conservatives don't just have different opinions on things, they literally think in different ways. For one thing, they have different ideas about morality:

Liberals emphasize fairness and protection from harm, while conservative morality means upholding authority and loyalty, and a strong sense of disgust.

Makes a modicum of sense . . . but also begs for elaboration. For example, how do you decide what is and isn't harmful? Or determine a source of authority? Disgust over what, exactly? Over anti-social behavior, or over something like vomit?

And how do you define "fairness"?

Brief summary of a parable I just read: a group of peasants were lumbering down a long, hot road. A man galloped past them on a fine, fast horse. One peasant saw him and grumbled in his mind, "It's no fair that man has a horse! He should have to walk like the rest of us!" Another peasant saw him and thought, "Cool! A horse! I'm going to work really hard and save up money so I can have a horse, too."

Is it unfair that one man has a horse and another doesn't? A "yes" or "no" isn't sufficient to answer the question. And therein lie the differences between liberals and conservatives.

I'm a conservative. I'm also very concerned about people being treated fairly and being protected from harm -- people with horses and people without. So, am I an atypical conservative, or is this summary of the data a bit simplistic?

That's a rhetorical question, in case you can't tell.


Anonymous said...

You and I are WAY too much alike!

DerricksAHor said...

Hi Gwen. I miss you.

I insist that all morals are subjective. That being said, no one is more moral than another. I'm going to pre-empt the response that morals are objective and that the Judeo-Christian god is the standard and judge by asking why YOUR god holds that authority and not Zeus or Krishna or Dudu the ancient African sea-god?

And while we're on the topic of influential/enslaving authority figures...let's talk about that parable. Anyone who has studied peasant societies would reject the parable.

A close friend and world-class debate partner of mine is triple-majoring in European History, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, and Classical Studies. He assures me, as I think we can all agree without a degree in this area, that a peasant-class is created by an unFAIR system of AUTHORITY and LOYALTY to one's owner, landlord, etc.

Of course the peasant has no chance of working hard enough to get a nice horse. Does anyone believe peasants are peasants BECAUSE they don't work hard? Or is it more likely that the king granted his buddies land, and peasants work the land in return for housing, and the landlords become rich from the peasant labor?

When putting these ideas of "liberal" vs. "conservative" in the context of today's U.S. government, I think liberals can be best defined as those who work to give everyone the opportunity to rise from peasantry level through hard work. Conservatives resist the necessary changes to bring equal opportunities to all by pretending the status quo is or can produce the maximum of human potential from all citizens. (In essence, they believe all who are in oppressed positions simply need to work harder for the man. It's the same lie as dangling a carrot in front of an ass.)

Tell me you don't see the obvious flaw in the parable, and if you can see it, please explain what your conservatism truly means.

GJK said...


I don't have time for a full response to this -- I'll write you more later. But first of all, I think you're getting a bit hung-up on the CONTEXT of the "parable" (this isn't supposed to be a statement about the injustices of feudalism). It's just a brief story to show the contrast of viewpoints -- the person who wants to bring about equality by bringing everyone down to the same level versus the person who strives to work for a higher level of success. To be frank, I may be remembering the story wrong--it may not have been about "peasants" at all. Whatever.

I assume your point is that anyone "without a horse" is there because something or someone in the system or society is keeping them from earning it? Maybe. But maybe not.

That was my point. A "simple" liberal response is that the peasant (or whatever) doesn't have a horse because he is prevented from having one by the privileged elite. The "simple" conservative response is that the peasant doesn't have a horse because he isn't willing to work hard enough to get one. Both responses are too simplistic. We don't know enough about the situation from the story to know why he doesn't have a horse. Either could be true.

Our political factions spend way too much time and energy stereotyping and demonizing the other side in an effort to get enough power to accomplish what they want. The fact is, BOTH conservatives and liberals want "to give peasants the opportunity to rise from peasantry level through hard work." Aside from a few rare jerks out there, NOBODY is seriously out to use and abuse the underprivileged in society. We all want the same things . . . we just disagree on how to get there.

Briefly, the biggest difference I think "my conservatism" has with the liberals I hear out there is that I don't think the government should be the primary means of righting these kinds of wrongs in society. For a variety of reasons . . which I can go into at another time, because it's late and I'm sleepy.

I miss you, too, Derrick! Write me sometime when you have less contentious things to talk to me about. I like those conversations, too. :)