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Valar Qringaomis

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Jonathan Haidt on Social Conservatives, New Atheists and Civility in Politics

Interview: Jonathan Haidt on Social Conservatives, New Atheists and Civility in Politics

"Well, it is true that I first got into this whole line of research because I was a liberal back then and I was shocked at how poorly the Democrats framed moral argument. So it is true that I first started studying political psychology with an eye towards helping the Democrats. But over time, I came to see that many conservative ideas are actually correct from a sociological perspective. It was in writing that chapter that made me finally realize that I was no longer a liberal. I handed that chapter to my wife to proofread, she's my first editor, I said to her, "Jane, I don't think I can call myself a liberal anymore."

It is true that I think Democrats can benefit from reading that chapter because it is about where they are most clueless. But my goal in the chapter isn't to help the Democrats. It's to help people on the left to understand what they're missing because the left fails to understand the right much more than vice versa...

My view is that left and right are like yin and yang. There's a quote I have in chapter 12 from John Stuart Mill, but this is really my credo: "A party of order or stability and a party of progress or reform are both necessary elements for a healthy state of political life."

The big breakthrough for me was, once I stopped disliking conservatives and could actually see what they were right about, they showed me a lot of things that liberals were wrong about. But at the same time, I think there are some things that liberals are right about that conservatives have trouble seeing.

Social reality is so complicated that, once you join one team or the other, you become specialized in detecting certain patterns, but you become blind to other patterns...

The left needs to fundamentally rethink what it stands for and recognize that the right is correct about many aspects of the way society works...

I think conservatives have a more correct view of human nature than do liberals. But, as I also say, I'm praising conservative intellectuals, not the Republican Party...

[Obama] clearly does understand the conservative foundations. He is extremely perceptive, in part from his experiences living in Indonesia and traveling. He understands moral diversity. He understands religion and conservatives. So he was able to speak a broader moral language when he was in campaign mode, but once he got into the White House he seemed focused on "inside-the-beltway" politics and his moral discourse seems to have been more standard, social justice liberal. So I think his appeal to the middle and some portions of the right has weakened. He has not made the case that strongly...

One of the great challenges in modern life is getting men to support women and children, and secular society does a disastrous job of that.

Social conservatives are very focused on strengthening the family and I think they are right to do so. One of the worst blind spots of the left has been its reluctance to say that marriage matters for children. The left has been afraid of alienating African-Americans and feminists and therefore was afraid to say that fathers matter. They really, really do matter. Charles Murray has been one of the voices of reason on this. Sociologists are now beginning to come around to see the importance of marriage and fatherhood...

If you are an atheist who treats science as sacred and you call yourself an apostle of science, then you are replicating many of the thinking patterns that you accuse religious people of having, namely, closed-mindedness, blindness to evidence, black and white thinking and attributing the worst motives to your enemies. I think all of these are clearly visible in the writings of the New Atheists...

Polarization is not bad in itself, but when it reaches very high levels, we demonize each other, we demonize the other side and compromise becomes impossible. We leave a lot of money on the table, as it were."
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