jonathan haidt

Tue, 2012-06-19 07:04Chris Mooney
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The Normalcy of Hypocrisy: From Clean Energy to Health Care, Conservatives Flip Flop in Support of the Team

One striking feature of the liberal psyche is how it is simultaneously outraged by hypocrisy on the conservative side of the aisle—and yet also morbidly fascinated by it.

Just this morning, reading, I came across the following examples:

1.      Ezra Klein’s much discussed New Yorker article, on how Republicans came to oppose the healthcare individual mandate that was, you know, their own idea for 20 years. I find Klein a bit wishy-washy overall, because he uses a political psychology analysis (which is generally good) but fails to acknowledge its full implications: Republicans engage in team-oriented groupthink more strongly than Democrats. This is the finding of Klein’s own key source, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who stresses that in-group loyalty is stronger on political the right. Still, Klein's is a good article overall for factually capturing the flip-flop.

2.      In the same Ezra Klein piece, we find the following additional examples of conservative hypocrisy, or flip-flopping: “In 2007, both Newt Gingrich and John McCain wanted a cap-and-trade program in order to reduce carbon emissions. Today, neither they nor any other leading Republicans support cap-and-trade.” And: “In 2008, the Bush Administration proposed, pushed, and signed the Economic Stimulus Act, a deficit-financed tax cut designed to boost the flagging economy. Today, few Republicans admit that a deficit-financed stimulus can work. Indeed, with the exception of raising taxes on the rich, virtually every major policy currently associated with the Obama Administration was, within the past decade, a Republican idea in good standing.”

3.      At Climate Progress, there’s a recent piece on Republican hypocrisy in opposing innovative clean energy companies and supporting fossil fuel subsidies. Wait, aren’t these guys supposed to be in favor of the free market? Doh…

Thu, 2012-05-10 06:55Chris Mooney
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Us and Them: The Psychology Behind the Heartland Institute Billboards

The Heartland Institute’s jaw-droppingly ill-advised, and now withdrawn billboard campaign—pictured here–has drawn a huge volume of denunciations in the last week. There’s not much more to say substantively about the campaign, or the fallout from it, which has included a number of Heartland funders heading for the hills.

But it is fascinating to try to understand why the Heartland Institute may have gone to this extreme. The psychological phenomenon that I see lurking behind these ads is a critical one to understand–black and white, “in group/out group” thinking.

This is something that David Ropeik has already written on very observantly. In trying to explain and justify its linking of global warming with people like Ted Kaczynski and Charles Manson, Ropeik notes, here are some of the things Heartland has said–and the words speak volumes:

The most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.

…what these murderers and madmen have said differs very little from what spokespersons for the United Nations, journalists for the ‘mainstream’ media, and liberal politicians say about global warming.

What is going on here, psychologically, is something called “splitting.” The Heartland Institute is ignoring basic intellectual distinctions and all sense of nuance, and dividing the world up into black and white extremes.

Once you do this, it becomes much easier to group one’s intellectual opponents together with “murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

Mon, 2012-05-07 06:11Chris Mooney
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A View From Nowhere? The Case Against Knee-Jerk Centrism When It Comes to Politics and Science

Debate over The Republican Brain is mounting, as emotional (and highly extraverted?) conservatives fling meaningless attacks at the book–attacks so off target it’s doubtful in most cases that the critics read the book–but scientists admit that it represents the research on ideology accurately. That’s what just happened Saturday morning on MSNBC’s Up With Chris Hayes, where Jonathan Haidt, the University of Virginia moral psychologist and author of The Righteous Mind, basically agreed with me that liberals are indeed more open to new experiences, with all that entails—which is why they are more sympathetic to scientists, and take their knowledge more seriously. Conservatives, meanwhile, just do it differently, Haidt explained:

I want to fully agree with Chris that the psychology does predispose liberals more to be receptive to science; my own research has found that conservatives are better at group-binding, at loyalty, and so if you put them in a group-versus-group conflict, yes, the right is more prone, psychologically, to band around and sort of, circle the wagons.

Haidt nevertheless went on to talk about a lot of cases of the left attacking science too, enough that both Michelle Goldberg (of the Daily Beast) and Chris Hayes eventually challenged his stance. Goldberg worried about a “morass of cultural relativism, in which everybody’s equally irrational,”  and later, Hayes suggested that Haidt was trying to put himself at a “remove” that may not exist:

It’s the claim to special enlightenment that centrists have that drives me crazy…the fact of the matter is that [centrism] is as ideologically binding and team oriented as [anything else].

This drives me crazy too–but I don't think Haidt is an un-thoughtful or knee-jerk centrist, of the sort that we so often see out there. Indeed, I think Haidt is incredibly close to my own views, and have no problem with him problematizing things and pointing out cases of left science denial, which clearly do exist. I point out these cases myself, whenever I can. Haidt’s argument, in other words, is not simply that “everybody does it equally”—it is more complex than that, more accurate than that (as I think the Haidt quotation above shows). But a lot of people are going to hear it that way. And it’s this mishearing that requires answering.

Indeed, while Haidt is not making the “everybody does it equally” argument, others really do.

Thu, 2012-05-03 06:48Chris Mooney
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Conservatives, Seeking To Show They Are Open-Minded, Ignore Contrary Evidence (And No, This Is Not an Onion Article)

I was on the road last week, so I couldn’t properly respond to this Daily Caller item, which is really sort of marvelous. Basically, it’s an attempt to use a handful of survey data points to turn the whole Republican Brain line of analysis on its head, and argue that it’s really Republicans who are the open-minded, well informed group in politics today.

Alas, the attempt crashes and burns, because 1) the evidence cited by The Daily Caller is sometimes being misused; and 2) even when it isn’t being misused, the massive body of counter-evidence (e.g., all the evidence presented in my book) is simply ignored and goes unmentioned–thereby presenting a dramatically skewed picture.

How…open-minded.

More specifically, the Daily Caller piece, by Neil Munro, purports to show that Republicans are “more open minded, better informed than Democrats.” Given the staggering amount of evidence showing the opposite—e.g., Republicans believe a vast amount of misinformation, and show higher need for closure and less openness to experience across studies—this is a pretty bold claim. So let’s go through the alleged evidence presented by Munro.

1. A Pew Survey Showing Republicans Have More Basic Knowledge About Politics Than Democrats.

The first study cited by Munro is here. It’s a recent Pew poll, showing pretty clearly that Republicans, as a group, know more basic facts about U.S. politics than Democrats (as a group).

I’m not going to critique the poll itself; I am sure its results are valid, and I myself rely on Pew surveys like this one all the time. However, in this case, the poll results don’t prove what Munro thinks they do–because of the ever-present “smart idiot” effect on the right, which goes unmentioned by Munro.

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