I’m half-way through a book called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. He attempts to explain what drives righties and lefties. He admits being on the left, although I get the impression that as his research progressed over the years he’s become less of a died-in-the-wool leftie and more understanding of righties.
He has a fondness for contrasting lefties and righties by pointing out bumper-stickers on cars – although discerning anything from bumper stickers hardly seems scientific. Nevertheless, in an effort to demonstrate that lefties supposedly care more about innocent victims around the world while we righties are mainly just concerned about protecting our own, he displays snapshots of bumper stickers he found around Charlottesville, Va. where he lives (or lived). He contrasted a leftie bumper sticker that said “Save Darfur” with a rightie sticker that said “Support Our Wounded”.
It’s puzzling that the author didn’t pull from the tremendous number of bumper stickers on righties’ cars exhorting people to protect innocent unborn victims. Go to any Catholic church parking lot during Mass and you’d have had tons of such bumper stickers to choose from.
As for why one may find more “Save Darfur” bumper stickers on lefties’ cars than on righties, perhaps it’s because the latter think more realistically. They know that such stickers aren’t going to have one iota of influence on the tyrants perpetuating the sad state of affairs in that part of Africa, even if the tyrants were here to view the stickers. An anti-abortion sticker, meanwhile, is far more likely to be seen by those who have a direct say on whether an innocent human fetus lives or dies.
We righties seem to care a helluva lot more about the innocent victims suffering in North Korean concentration camps (in addition to the people of North Korea as a whole) than lefties, yet “Free North Korea” bumper stickers are scarce. Ya think the North Korean leadership would ever take it to heart, even if they saw one?
Another whopper: “Conservatives, in contrast, are more concerned about their groups, rather than all of humanity.” And another: “They don’t want their nation to devote itself primarily to the care of victims and the pursuit of social justice.”
Total bunk! Concern about humanity, victims, and the pursuit of social justice is the whole reason I abandoned leftism long ago. I found out that leftist policies actually harm humanity, create more victims, and exacerbate and perpetuate the very problems that society needs to solve. The phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is all too descriptive of the left.
There are many broad subject areas that can prompt a leftie to move to the right (such as the late Christopher Hitchens vis-a-vis terrorism) but one of the most powerful subject areas – which prompted me to realize that leftism did little or nothing to promote the well-being of humanity – is economics.
I just pulled from my shelf the textbook, and zeroed in on the page therein, that sparked my epiphany long ago. The book is Economics of Development (by Gillis, Perkins, Roemer and Snodgrass), which I read for a course I took in graduate school. We’re talking about third-world development here. Key passage:
All these policies promote the welfare of one relatively small group at the expense of a much larger group. Minimum-wage laws and similar measures … make wages and working conditions better for those (third world) workers fortunate enough to get jobs in modern-sector firms. But by raising the cost of labor, minimum-wage laws limit the ability of existing firms to absorb more workers and inhibit the creation of more enterprises like them. In other words, minimum wages improve the well-being of the relatively small group of modern-sector employees at the cost of the much larger group that is either unemployed or working in the informal and rural sectors.
It was then when I started to recognize that to help all of humanity (as opposed to the special interests) and especially the poor, you have to move right. Other examples of the same abound, such as those highlighted throughout this blog.
The classic Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt sheds light on what makes us righties tick. And believe me: it ain’t out of indifference to out-groups.
* * *
The author says certain “foundations” motivate righties and lefties; righties are more driven by the foundations of loyalty, authority, and sanctity, and lefties more about care and fairness. But so far in the book, he hasn’t said anything about the millions of people who move from the left to the right or vice-versa. Are such people also changing their “foundations”? Of course not. I know from personal experience that in the case of lefties becoming righties, they’re still very much motivated by the care and fairness foundations, and come to realize that right-leaning policies are better at achieving those objectives.
As I said, I’m still only half-way through the book. If the author addresses the above issues in the second half, I’ll duly report it.
* * *
A Wall Street Journal interview with the author had a revealing tidbit. It illustrated something that is rarely discussed and that people rarely admit, but that is all-too prevalent in society: people refuse to change their political beliefs, or at least refuse to openly criticize or question policies associated with their own side of the political spectrum, because they’re afraid of what their friends and associates will think. Here’s the key quote, in reference to Haidt: “Why is his language so much less hedged when discussing Republicans? ‘Liberals are my friends, my colleagues, my social world,’ he concedes.” At least give him credit for honesty.
Concern about what one’s friends, colleagues, or significant others will think is a key factor preventing people from reassessing their political beliefs. I say go ahead and think what you want to think, or abandon any hedging in your language, regardless of what others will think. In addition to being the morally right thing to do, it will tell you who your real friends are. If someone abandons you after speaking out, then they weren’t a genuine friend anyway. So you’re better off all-around.