Friday, December 21, 2012

On Perfecting Pollyanna

Evan Sayet and Bill Whittle discuss Evan's new book, "The Kindergarden of Evil" (with lots of clever subtitles).

If you don't recognize Evan Sayet, he is the genius who spoke at the Heritage Foundation in 2007 and blew everyone out of their chairs with his indictment of liberals and liberal thinking. If you've never seen this video, do.

Sayet is witty and insightful on the motives behind liberalism. In my VERY humble opinion, his analysis misses one critical point - the moral framework behind what liberals believe. Yes, liberals believe that Pollyanna can be perfected and that there can be a world with no pain. But why do they even feel such a world would be "good."? This is critical because we think the way we feel. Yes, even conservatives. We like to believe we arrive at our conclusions purely from an intellectual viewpoint, but this isn't possible. Emotions are the basis for belief. Intellect is what guides our emotions toward constructive and wholesome beliefs. This connection between thinking and feeling is the framework for why we have morals. Morals help us organize social actions so that we can feel safe, cared for, connected to others, valued, and purposeful.

Dr. Jonathon Haidt of the University of Virginia has done some extremely interesting research into the moral constructs of all societies from the beginning of man's history to now. He found that all human societies are formed around six moral foundations.


When I first read his work in 2008, Dr. Haidt had identified only five categories and they were described slightly differently:


I will not go into the subtleties of his research and the breakdown of every category because the most interesting thing he discovered was there was a significant difference between people who self-identified as political liberals and, basically, everyone else.

They only used the first two moral pairs. Period.

Fairness/Cheating (or earlier Reciprocity)
The rejection of FOUR out of six moral foundations by the liberal leaves conservatives and liberals hopelessly unable to communicate and agree on moral "goodness." The conservative and the liberal simply aren't playing the same game with the same game pieces. We will never arrive at the same conclusion.
It is easy to understand and agree with the usefulness of the first two in building a society. Without harm/care and fairness/cheating even the most primitive society would be unable to create bonding, mating, and childrearing behaviors to insure survival.  Dr. Haidt's research shows exactly this. Everyone, everywhere agrees with these first two imperatives. 

Not only does everyone agree with these two, every AGE agrees with these two. Spend even an afternoon with a three year old and you will hear at least once, and probably several times, "That's not fair!" or, "You're being mean!" 

It's the rejection of the next four that gets us into trouble. It is also telling that these are the moral ideas which increasingly demand that you set aside your instinctive selfishness and respond to the world around you in a more sophisticated and discriminating way. The remaining four must be exercised with wisdom and personal restraint. It is necessary to use judgment. They ask something of you, instead of simply providing something to you.

Liberty/Oppression - the liberal sees LIBERTY as causing oppression. One person's ability to act as he wishes, resulting in success or advancement, is seen by the liberal as OPPRESSION of another. Therefore, liberty is dangerous, resulting in inequality.

Loyalty/Betrayal - This is the "us vs them" idea. This combo used to be Ingroup/Loyalty which I believe is a better description. The liberal sees this pair as particularly dangerous because it can lead us to believe that our values are superior. The liberal believes that we create nation-states because of this moral foundation. Nation-states make war. Therefore, this moral foundation is goose-stepping us right into fascism.

Authority/Respect - QUESTION AUTHORITY. DON'T BELIEVE ANYONE OVER 30. These were the chants and the bumper stickers of every committed hippie in the 60's and the ideas have seeped into our culture since then. To the liberal, this foundation causes us to yield, Borg-like, to a dominate authority and therefore puts us at risk for totalitarianism. It also ties us to the past, and none of those old dead white guys got it right anyway because the world is still filled with outrage, injustice and pain, so what could we possibly learn from them? Dismissing wisdom for the lure of an unknown future is always the promise of every good little leftist. FORWARD!

Sanctity/Degradation - this one is vitally important for the liberal to attack. CELEBRATE DIVERSITY! the liberal screams. What he really means is CELEBRATE DEVIANCY! Blurring the line between what we feel to be right or wrong because it insures our very survival, like sexual behavior, is one of the most important tenets of the liberal philosophy. David Pizarro, Assistant Professor in Psychology at Cornell University, gives a talk on the strange politics of disgust.

See? You always knew hippies were disgusting. Well, SCIENCE! now proves it.

Given this fascinating research by Haidt, Pizarro, and Sayet's book, my conclusion is that liberals are little kids with dirty, filthy minds. They should be spanked and sent to bed.

Or maybe just made to do their chores.


  1. Good stuff. I read Sayet's and Atbashian's (Shakedown Socialism) a couple of months ago and they're both good.

    There are a number of conservatives who were formerly liberals. Sayet, Horowitz, Whittle, Klavan. I wonder if anybody has looked into whether there was an event that happened in their lives and why that particular event caused them to break through and start developing those additional moral dimensions. 9/11 seems to have been it for some, but why them and not others?

    1. RG, it's probably a combination of factors. There is laziness, where folks realize they'd have to work at rebuilding their personal universe. There is pride because, who wants to admit they were wrong? There is cowardice, because lots of folks figure "better the devil you know than the devil you don't know."
      But, every once in a while, someone will realize, "WTF! This isn't working." Or, "we tried this before, and it didn't work then, why would it work now? We need to try something different. What has actually worked?"

    2. BINGO, Ogrrre. It's all of those factors. That's why it's so hard to arrive at a definite answer -- there isn't one. Each person is a unique combination of any one of those things, and their reaction to them is also unique. Breaking through liberalism to conservatism takes, more than anything else (IMHO), courage.

      Courage to admit you were wrong. Courage to see the truth. Courage to act on that truth. Courage to acknowledge a world where you can't wish things to be so. Conservatism is, at least at first, a harsh and intractable world to a liberal who has spent the better part of his or her life believing that you could simply wish a perfect world into existence...that...or get a gun in the form of a benevolent government. Giving that up represents the loss of fairy tales and magic. It's not easy.

  2. I have read first 30 pages of The Girl Who Played With Fire (a sequel to The Girl w/ Dragon Tattoo) - and couldn't formulate what exactly irritates me so much and why. Now I know! Every one of your points is amply illustrated.
    Maybe I should write a review from that POV.

    1. I would love to read it, if you do. I have long believed that liberals and conservatives weren't merely disagreeing, they were fundamentally unable to understand the others point of view.

      Research like this shows how far apart we are. The REALLY interesting tidbit of info on Dr. Haidt is that he began as a self-identified liberal. When I first read his research back in 2008, his explanation of why liberals used only 2 moral foundations was because they had "evolved" to a point where they had a more refined sense of good and bad, beyond the need for the other pairs. He was clearly influenced to see the findings of his research through the lens of his own prejudice. BUT -- and this is where it gets interesting -- he continued studying the different belief systems and mind sets -- and now he is a self-described CONSERVATIVE! He just wrote a new book called The Righteous Mind, where he argues that the conservative view, using all six categories, is actually the more sophisticated and intellectually mature view. NO kidding. But I love that he figured that out.