TMiss at The Mississippifarian looks behind a Judith Warner piece at the NYT to find hiding there a liberal Uncle Tom named Jonathan Haidt attempting to explain to other liberals (he insists on calling himself one and I'm going to take him at his word) why we're so snooty and overbearing and superior with conservatives and how they (naturally) resent it.
Diagnosis is a pleasure. It is a thrill to solve a mystery from scattered clues, and it is empowering to know what makes others tick. In the psychological community, where almost all of us are politically liberal, our diagnosis of conservatism gives us the additional pleasure of shared righteous anger. We can explain how Republicans exploit frames, phrases, and fears to trick Americans into supporting policies (such as the "war on terror" and repeal of the "death tax") that damage the national interest for partisan advantage.
But with pleasure comes seduction, and with righteous pleasure comes seduction wearing a halo. Our diagnosis explains away Republican successes while convincing us and our fellow liberals that we hold the moral high ground. Our diagnosis tells us that we have nothing to learn from other ideologies, and it blinds us to what I think is one of the main reasons that so many Americans voted Republican over the last 30 years: they honestly prefer the Republican vision of a moral order to the one offered by Democrats. To see what Democrats have been missing, it helps to take off the halo, step back for a moment, and think about what morality really is.
Mark left a comment on Warner's post that more or less sums up the problem with Haidt's approach.
[L]iberals often fail to understand so-called conservative POVs because their arguments literally do not make any sense. For example, offshore drilling may make sense in some long-term context, but not as a solution to current high gas prices. A correct analysis of why “conservatives” believe this is a solution must include an acknowledgment that Republicans literally brainwash their rank and file through Fox and talk radio. The Republican party is a mishmash of contradictory philosophies bound together by a common hatred of liberals.
Shame on you for swallowing Haidt’s garbage. Comparing Pennsylvania Dutch to fifth-generation urban liberals distorts the overall conservative-liberal divide. The values Haidt prizes are commonly held by Midwestern liberals because Midwestern values cut across the poltical landscape. Haidt is measuring reactionary “near Amish” culture, not mainstream “my kids are on oxycontin” conservative culture.
But actually Haidt's expression is pretty familiar, though found in a new place. It's the old Uncle Tom Syndrome where a member of a group disparaged and oppressed by the dominant culture comes to grow as a sort of protective appendix an "appreciation" for how put-upon the Masters are. In effect, the slave begins to identify with the slave-owner, partly as self-protection and partly as genuine identification. If Haidt isn't a Blue Dog now, he will be soon.
We're not used to this coming from a professional or a psychologist, and this is dangerous coming from such a place. Not only is it startlingly naive for someone who should know better, it's the perfect cover for intolerance and single-minded autocracy. For example, this is Haidt's "Second rule of moral psychology":
[M]orality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats "just don't get it," this is the "it" to which they refer.
No, it isn't. To be strictly accurate, to a conservative "morality" is about binding groups together with the exact beliefs conservatives espouse and no other, supporting institutions which conservatives believe to be essential and ignoring or destroying all others, and living in a way conservatives believe to be "sanctified and noble" and no other. What liberals "get" and Haidt clearly does NOT is that conservatives are not negotiators or compromisers any more. They are "It's my way or the highway" guys, and their ultimate goal is the annihilation of any beliefs not their own.
That a so-called liberal has arisen as an apologist for "conservative values" best expressed as hypocritical hogwash more honored in the breach than the observance was perhaps inevitable but that it should be a psychologist is depressing. When a psychologist reaches the conclusion that "one of the main reasons that so many Americans voted Republican over the last 30 years: they honestly prefer the Republican vision of a moral order to the one offered by Democrats", a conclusion not remotely bolstered by much of anything and actively contradicted by polls, it sets a seal of approval on what is little more than right-wing propaganda, an imprimatur that is hardly explainable and certainly not forgivable.
What Haidt represents is the Third Wave of Accommodation: We tried Denial, then we tried Bargaining and Negotiation. Now we're trying Acceptance and Appeasement.
It won't work either. It is a deep misunderstanding of modern Movement Conservatism to believe that their appeal has anything whatever to do with actual "nobility" or a "moral order" the masses are aching for. And it would be an equally deep betrayal of secular Constitutional values - real ones - for the Democratic party to accept Haidt's simple-minded solution, so conservative in its assumptions:
"PEOPLE ARE SIMPLE-MINDED ANIMALS AND IF YOU WANT TO WIN ELECTIONS YOU HAVE TO TREAT THEM AS SUCH."
We might as well turn over the country now if we're going to accept Haidt's prescription because in the end, we'll be just like them.