Liberals Favorite Lies:Black and White or Gray All Over

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Voices The white liberals protesting against Trump today will fail to challenge racism in their communities tomorrow Today, anti-Trump rhetoric will certainly be widespread among white liberals, in the UK and the US. You can form your own view. Subscribe now. Anti-Trump protesters gather in downtown Washington.

Shape Created with Sketch. None of this is true. Although Republicans defeated Democrats 25 to 20 in the 45 Presidential elections from to , in the Senate Democrats outscored Republicans to in contesting seats from to , and in the House Democrats trounced Republicans 15, to 12, in the 27, seats contested from Further, according to the National Opinion Research Center's General Social Surveys, , 44 percent of people who reported being "conservative" or "very conservative" said they were "very happy" versus only 25 percent of people who reported being "liberal" or "very liberal.

And it isn't because conservatives have more expendable income. The working poor give a substantially higher percentage of their incomes to charity than any other income group, and three times more than those on public assistance of comparable income—poverty is not a barrier to charity, but welfare is. One explanation for these findings is that conservatives believe charity should be private through religion whereas liberals believe charity should be public through government.

Why are academic social scientists so wrong about conservatives? It is, I believe, because almost all of them are liberals! A study by the George Mason University economist Daniel Klein, using voter registrations, found that Democrats outnumbered Republicans among the faculty by a staggering ratio of 10 to 1 at the University of California, Berkeley and by 7. In the humanities and social sciences the ratio was 16 to 1 at both campuses 30 to 1 among assistant and associate professors. In some departments, such as anthropology and journalism, there wasn't a single Republican to be found.

The ratio for all departments in all colleges and universities throughout the U. Smith College political scientist Stanley Rothman and his colleagues found a similar bias in a national study: only 15 percent professors describe themselves as conservative, compared to 72 percent who said they were liberal 80 percent in humanities and social sciences.

Why do people vote Republican? Because they believe their lives—and the lives of all Americans—will be better for it. And as often as not they are right. Jonathan Haidt' s analysis seems on the mark as far as it goes but, in my view, it misses half of the puzzle of why much of the American electorate votes as it does. To be sure, the appeal of right wing ideas is clearly due in part to a Durkheimian privileging of the group over the individual; Rick Shweder is to be commended for introducing this perspective into contemporary, overly Enlightenment-oriented analyses of moral judgment.

But at least with reference to contemporary American society, I would posit an equally important part of the puzzle: a combination due to Oscar Wilde and Leon Festinger. Wilde famously quipped that "Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. Consider these facts. The right wing says it cares about groups, rather than individuals; and yet it favors the most rampant form of 'dog-eat-dog' capitalism. The left wing is suspicious of markets and wants to even the playing field across citizens. The right wing claims that its positions will reduce crime and strengthen the families.

Yet it is the most left wing states that have the lowest crime rate and the strongest, most stable marriages. Happiness ratings are highest in the socialist societies, while lowest in right wing authoritarian societies. This list could be extended. Why, then, do right wing partisans ignore this evidence and continue to support policies that are patently dysfunctional? I believe it is because, having stated a position, based on either their own family values or those dictated by their religion, they are loathe to change their minds and declare that they have been wrong.

And so, following Festinger, the disconfirming evidence causes them or at least many of them to dig in their heels more deeply. Another element operates as well. Right wing positions are more frequently associated with Protestant evangelicals and with traditional Reagan Catholics. Often the leaders of these groups e. But both of these groups embrace forgiveness, absolution, being born again. Other groups—atheists, non-fundamentalist Jews and non-fundamentalist Protestants—do not have the option of absolution; they make firmer demands on themselves and are oppressed by their superegos.

Note the 'pass' that non-combatants Bush and Cheney received, in comparison to Gore and Kerry who volunteered to serve during the Vietnam War. Note the forgiving attitude toward to Sarah Palin, with her sinning family, which would never be afforded a comparable Democrat. Given that the analyses of Durkheim and Festinger are powerful, and unlikely to disappear, my analysis does not give much solace to those of us who would prefer to see more individuals with progressive Enlightenment views secure office.

Still, a greater effort to nail hypocrisy—a so-called hypocrisy watch—might improve the quality of the campaign, if not of the candidates. I once heard John Wayne say in an interview, "They tell me that things aren't always black and white. I say, 'Why the hell not? Having spent in another life it seems more than twenty-five years as an ordained minister and missionary, I know first-hand that one of the most important messages of many organized religions is that morality is absolute and that there is always a black and white to an issue if you think about it hard enough—grayness is for fuzzy-brained liberals.

Or so I was told. At the other end of the spectrum, Noam Chomsky has often said that the choice between Democrat vs. Republican is about the same as the choice between Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, not much to get hot and bothered about. I think that Wayne's view is much closer to being right than Chomsky's. Chomsky's perspective seems to be based on a view of politicians rather than of their parties' political platforms—what we know that political figures are likely to do very little in all too many cases vs.

Wayne's question, "Why the hell not" is an anti-cynical, pragmatic question that is intended to challenge us to think harder and act more nobly. So I think that Haidt's view that people share a strong desire for unity and belonging guided by moral rectitude and dealing with violators of the social bonds is surely correct.

But he oversimplifies by failing to consider simpler societies, such as Amazonian peoples, in which there are no social hierarchies, no civic leadership, and only ostracism as the enforcement of constraints to promote well-being and societal harmony. His research, if he is to use lofty adjectives largely meaningless in my experience such as 'innate' to describe social structures and desires, must encompass a wider range of societies. Democrats used to be the ones with the monopoly on belonging. His picture was everywhere in my families' homes. Because he constructed social ties, based on belonging to the group of the oppressed and depressed, and he offered solutions that respected the concepts of fairness and unity simultaneously.

He no doubt was elected four times at least in part because he was perceived by people like my grandmother as satisfying both the Millian and Durkheimian views at the same time—something that we have arguably seen in no other politician or political party since. Ultimately, reflection like Haidt's is useful and there certainly is a lot worthwhile in it. But, once again, I am skeptical that much, if any, of this is innate. And I doubt that we will ever know whether it is or not without a greater empirical coverage, taking into its scope diverse tribal societies.

The Haidt article is interesting, as are the responses to it, but these pieces are written by intellectuals who live in an environment where reasoned argument is prized. I live in Florida. When I travel, I live the life of an intellectual. In Florida, I hang out with jocks and retirees. I try not to talk politics with them. When, it happens that I have no choice but to hear what they think about politics I take note of it.

Here is what I have heard:. Obama is a Muslim. His pastor hates America. In fact nearly everyone outside of America hates America. If you travel outside of America, go on a cruise, so you won't have to eat whatever it is one eats in those places. And, anyway they all hate us for our freedoms. Obama will put Al Sharpton in the cabinet. Dick Cheney was the greatest Vice President in history.

The Jews are running the country anyway. It is common to make the assumption that people are thinking when they vote and they are making reasoned choices. I harbor no such illusion. No argument I have ever gotten into with these people, despite avoiding talking to them, I sometimes can't resist saying something true has ever convinced anyone of anything. They are not reasoning, nor do they want to try. They simply believe what they believe.

What do they believe? They don't like blacks. Forget the rest. It isn't that they are racists. They will be polite if a black person ever appears. This doesn't happen much, although I am sure they must live here too. They just don't like them. They have no reason. If you ask them today, as a result of recent remarks by Michelle Obama and their pastor, they will say that blacks hate America. This is not the reason, but they sound more reasoned in their own minds if they say it that way.

They don't like wussies. The Democrats are always nominating wussies,—men who are not men. Obama looks like his wife runs the show at home. Not real men. Bad people are trying to kill us. We need to kill them first. Those guys wouldn't pull the trigger. I am not making this up. I wish I were.

They worry about money. Who wants to take their money away? Liberals of course. They want to give it to the blacks. Where I live is not redneck country. There is a lot of church going but no talk about abortion or of being born again. There is a just a distaste and distrust for people not like us which I am sure includes me. It is all very nice to come up with complex analyses of what is going on. As is often the case, the real answer is quite simple. Most people can't think very well. They were taught not to think by religion and by a school system that teaches that knowledge of state capitals and quadratic equations is what education is all about and that well reasoned argument and original ideas will not help on a multiple choice test.

We don't try to get the average child to think in this society so why, as adults would we expect that they actually would be thinking? They think about how the Yankees are doing, and who will win some reality show contest, and what restaurant to eat it, but they are not equipped to think about politics and, in my mind, they are not equipped to vote. The fact that we let them vote while failing to encourage them to think for themselves is a real problem for our society.

The scientific question here is how belief systems are acquired and changed. I worked on this problem with both Ken Colby and Bob Abelson for many years. Colby was a psychiatrist who modeled paranoid behavior on computers. The basis of his work was research on how neurotic thinking depends upon the attempt to make inconsistent beliefs work together when the core beliefs cannot change.

Abelson worked on modeling political belief systems. He built a very convincing model of Barry Goldwater that showed that once you adopted some simple beliefs about the cold war, every other position Goldwater took could be derived and asserted by a computer from those core beliefs.

The idea of a set of unchanging core beliefs is not true of only politicians or psychiatric patients of course. Everyday average Joes behave the same way. Adult belief systems rest on childhood beliefs instilled by parents mostly and by assorted other authorities.

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Republicans do not try to change voter's beliefs. They go with them. Democrats appeal to reason. Big mistake. Edge has latterly published two provocative pieces, Jon Haidt's essay on why people vote Republican and Clay Shirky's ruminations and calculations on the cognitive surplus we have at our disposal. To a historian, these pieces dovetail and underscore a fundamental landslip that's taking place around us.

I'll comment on Haidt first, then get to Shirky, but no Edge visitor should miss either. Roughly speaking, we are discovering that words don't matter. Or they don't matter as much as we thought. Take the political question.


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The underlying fiction of electoral bodies is that the electors make rational choices about ideally what is in the best interests of the whole community or realistically what is in the best interests of themselves or some group to which they belong. We know how to accept the results of that kind of thinking, always closing our eyes a bit to the extent to which things don't actually go that way. Corrupt political machines have been influencing votes wholesale for a long time and it's hard to argue that the dead citizens of Chicago really had their own best interests in mind when they voted.

But I'm reading just now Livy's description of how the Romans chose their first king, Numa Pompilius, when Romulus died, and it's certainly framed as looking about for the best qualified candidate for the job. The cynicism of the last years makes it clear that no one in high electoral politics now needs to, wants to, or should think that way if they want to win an election. This came home to me in the aftermath of the election when I saw a map of who-voted-how coded at a level that made it clear that the counties of the US that produce the wealth and innovation voted overwhelmingly Democratic and the counties of the US that depend on government subsidy or that simply underperform economically voted overwhelmingly Republican.

That's nuts—and it makes perfect sense at the same time. Perfect sense in that the Republican success of the last generation, since Nixon and Reagan cracked the code, has been to exploit irrelevant to national policy anxieties. We are at the point where the national maneuvering for office has nothing to do with argument so much for folks who say that "the economy should be Obama's best argument" and everything to do with positioning a message between now and election day so that pulling the lever or pushing the button or punching the chad for one candidate makes you feel morally satisfied, which is to say, less anxious and guilty and ashamed.

McCain's choice of Palin confirms what the Democrats choice of Obama made clear: the candidate's qualifications for some notional job don't matter at all. What matters is the candidate's qualification for getting you to push the button. After that, it's politics as usual.

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And for a generation or more now, one party has been better at that than the other, and of course they claim that it's because their message is stronger and truer. Truth has nothing to do with it. Shirky's piece gives more context for our transition away from words that matter.

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I don't mean we don't speak and write and that words aren't highly functional tools, but the exact framing of sentences and the precise structure of the verbal argument are less and less important. Bullet points on a powerpoint get the conversation going and the group working together gets to the result that matters.

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The "writer" is less important than he has been since, oh, Herodotus. Obama's speech on race earlier this summer. Good work, well-written, seen by almost no one, read by a few, and then blown off the screens by his preacher's TV appearances. Net result, the image and the illogic prevail. Shirky is one of many voices confirming that this fading of the power of the specific written word is not all bad news and even has good news to it, but the old classics professor in me at least needs to slow down long enough to observe the the humanistic culture of the orator from Demosthenes to Martin Luther King Jr.

We don't fully understand what's replacing it, but it's happening all around us—you might even call it a third culture The human brain is an engine of belief. Our minds continually consume, produce, and attempt to reconcile propositions about ourselves and the world that purport to be true: Iran is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons; human beings are contributing to global climate change; I actually look better with gray hair.

What must a brain do to believe such propositions? This question marks the intersection of many fields: psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, economics, political science, and even jurisprudence. Understanding belief at the level of the brain is the main focus of my current research, using functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI. Belief encompasses two domains that have been traditionally divided in our discourse. We believe propositions about facts , and these acts of cognition subsume almost every effort we make to get at the truth—in science, history, journalism, etc.

But we also form beliefs about values : judgments about morality, meaning, personal goals, and life's larger purpose. While they differ in certain respects, these types of belief share some important features. Both types of belief make tacit claims about normativity : claims not merely about how we human beings think and behave, but about how we should think and behave.

Factual beliefs like "water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen" and ethical beliefs like "cruelty is wrong" are not expressions of mere preference. To really believe a proposition whether about facts or values is also to believe that one has accepted it for legitimate reasons. It is, therefore, to believe that one is in compliance with a variety norms i.

When we really believe that something is factually true or morally good, we also believe that another person, similarly placed, should share our conviction. Despite the remonstrations of people like Jonathan Haidt and Richard Shweder, science has long been in the values business. Scientific validity is not the result of scientists abstaining from making value judgments; it is the result of scientists making their best effort to value principles of reasoning that reliably link their beliefs to reality, through valid chains of evidence and argument.

The answer to the question, "What should I believe, and why should I believe it? This is a norm of cognition as well as the epistemic core of any scientific mission statement. But what about meaning and morality? Here we appear to move from questions of truth—which have long been in the domain of science if they are to be found anywhere—to questions of goodness. How should we live? Is it wrong to lie? If so, why and in what sense? Which personal habits, uses of attention, modes of discourse, social institutions, economic systems, governments, etc.

It is widely imagined that science cannot even pose, much less answer, questions of this sort. Jonathan Haidt appears to exult in this pessimism. He doubts that anyone can justifiably make strong, realistic claims about right and wrong, or good and evil, because he has observed that human beings tend to make moral judgments on the basis of emotion, justify these judgments with post hoc reasoning, and stick to their guns even when their post hoc reasoning demonstrably fails. As he says in one of his earlier papers, when asked to justify their emotional reactions to certain moral and pseudo-moral dilemmas, people are often "morally dumbfounded.

I think it would be fair to say that the Monty Hall problem leaves many of its victims "logically dumbfounded. This reliable failure of human reasoning is just that—a failure of reasoning. It does not suggest that there isn't a single correct answer to the Monty Hall problem. While it might seem the height of arrogance to say it, the people who actually understand the Monty Hall problem really do hold the "logical high ground.

As a counterpoint to the prevailing liberal opinion that morality is a system of"prescriptive judgments of justice, rights, and welfare pertaining to how people ought to relate to each other," Haidt asks us to ponder mysteries of the following sort: "But if morality is about how we treat each other, then why did so many ancient texts devote so much space to rules about menstruation, who can eat what, and who can have sex with whom? Are these the same ancient texts that view slavery as morally unproblematic? It would seem so. Perhaps slavery has no moral implications after all—could Abolition have been just another instance of liberal bias?

Or, following Haidt's initial logic, why not ask, "if physics is just a system of laws which explains the structure of the universe in terms of mass and energy, why do so many ancient texts devote so much space to immaterial influences and miraculous acts of God? Haidt is, of course, right to worry that liberals may not always "hold the moral high ground. Conservatives proved less biased by race than liberals and, therefore, more even-handed. It turns out that liberals were very eager to sacrifice a white person to save one hundred non-whites, but not the other way around, all the while maintaining that considerations of race had not entered into their thinking.

Observations of this sort are useful in revealing the biasing effect of ideology—even the ideology of fairness.

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Haidt often writes, however, as if there were no such thing as moral high ground. At the very least, he seems to believe that science will never be able to judge higher from lower. He admonishes us to get it into our thick heads that many of our neighbors "honestly prefer the Republican vision of a moral order to the one offered by Democrats. These same people tend to prefer Republican doubts about biological evolution and climate change. There are names for this type of "preference," one of the more polite being "ignorance. Haidt appears to consider it an intellectual virtue to adopt, uncritically, the moral categories of his subjects.

But where is it written that everything that people do or decide in the name of "morality" deserves to be considered part its subject matter? A majority of Americans believe that the Bible provides an accurate account of the ancient world as well as accurate prophecies of the future. Many millions of Americans also believe that a principal cause of cancer is "repressed anger. Much of humanity is clearly wrong about morality—just as much of humanity is wrong about physics, biology, history, and everything else worth understanding.

If, as I believe, morality is a system of thinking about and maximizing the well being of conscious creatures like ourselves, many people's moral concerns are frankly immoral. Does forcing women and girls to wear burqas make a positive contribution to human well-being? Does it make happier boys and girls? More compassionate men? More confident and contented women? Does it make for better relationships between men and women, between boys and their mothers, or between girls and their fathers?

I would bet my life that the answer to each of these questions is "no. And yet, most scientists have been trained to think that such judgments are mere expressions of cultural bias. Very few of us seem willing to admit that simple, moral truths increasingly fall within the purview of our scientific worldview. I am confident that this period of reticence will soon come to an end. Unless human well-being is perfectly random, or equally compatible with any events in the world or state of the brain, there will be scientific truths to be known about it.

These truths will, inevitably, force us to draw clear distinctions between ways of thinking and living, judging some to better or worse, more or less true to the facts, and more or less moral. Of course, questions of human well-being run deeper than any explicit code of morality. Morality—in terms of consciously held precepts, social-contracts, notions of justice, etc. Such conventions require, at a minimum, language and a willingness to cooperate with strangers, and this takes us a stride or two beyond the Hobbesian "state of nature.

Whatever behaviors served to mitigate the internecine misery of our ancestors would fall within the scope of this analysis. To simplify matters enormously: 1 genetic changes in the brain gave rise to social emotions, moral intuitions, and language… 2 which produced increasingly complex cooperative behavior, the keeping of promises, concern about one's reputation, etc… 3 which became the basis for cultural norms, laws, and social institutions whose purpose has been to render this growing system of cooperation durable in the face of countervailing forces.

Some version of this progression has occurred in our case, and each step represents an undeniable enhancement of our personal and collective well-being. Of course, catastrophic regressions are always possible. We could, either by design or negligence, employ the hard-won fruits of civilization, and the emotional and social leverage of millennia of biological and cultural evolution, to immiserate ourselves more fully than unaided Nature ever could.

Imagine a global North Korea, where the better part of a starving humanity serves as slaves to a lunatic with bouffant hair: this might, in fact, be worse than a world filled merely with warring Australopithecines. What would "worse" mean in this context? Just what our liberal? While it will never be feasible to compare such counterfactual states of the world, that does not mean that there are no experiential facts of the matter to be compared.

Haidt is, of course, right to notice that emotions have primacy in many respects—and the way in which feeling drives judgment is surely worthy of study. It does not follow, however, that there are no right and wrong answers to questions of morality. Just as people are often less than rational when claiming to be rational, they are often less than moral when claiming to be moral.

We know from many lines of converging research that our feeling of reasoning objectively, in concordance with compelling evidence, is often an illusion. This is especially obvious in split-brain research, when the left hemisphere's "interpreter" finds itself sequestered, and can be enticed to simply confabulate by way of accounting for right-hemisphere behavior. This does not mean, however, that dispassionate reasoning, scrupulous attention to evidence, and awareness of the ever-present possibility of self-deception are not cognitive skills that human beings can acquire.

And there is no reason to expect that all cultures and sub-cultures value these skills equally. If there are objective truths about human well-being—if kindness, for instance, is generally more conducive to happiness than cruelty is—then there seems little doubt that science will one day be able to make strong and precise claims about which of our behaviors and uses of attention are morally good, which are neutral, and which are bad. At time when only 28 percent of Americans will admit the truth of evolution, while 58 percent imagine that a belief in God is necessary for morality, it is truism to say that our culture is not prepared to think critically about the changes to come.

I agree with Jonathan Haidt that philosophy and politics take off from everyday moral intuitions. And I agree there are real and valuable moral intuitions that liberalism doesn't capture, and that motivate many working-class Republican voters. But the moral intuitions I have in mind aren't in Haidt's moral taxonomy either. They are the special moral intuitions that we all have about raising children.

This has become particularly vivid with the Republican enthusiasm for Sarah Palin. For most of us, our children are the source of our gravest moral obligations, deepest moral dilemmas and greatest moral triumphs. But the moral intuitions of childrearing aren't well articulated by the liberal scheme, or any other philosophical scheme for that matter. There is an obvious reason for this, childrearing has been women's work, philosophy, psychology, theology and politics have belonged to men.

The liberal Enlightenment philosophy that underpins Democratic politics is rooted in intuitions about good and harm, autonomy and reciprocity, individuality and universality. Each individual person deserves to pursue happiness and avert harm, and by cooperating reciprocally we can maximize the good of everyone—the basic idea of the social contract. But individualist, universalist and contractual moral systems, whether they are libertarian or socialist, utilitarian or Kantian, just don't get it about raising kids.

Childrearing isn't individualistic. It doesn't feel like just another moral relation to another person—a neighbor, a fellow citizen, even a friend. When you take on the care of children, you create a moral unit that is larger than you are. As a result there is nothing morally or rationally incoherent in the fact that caregivers regularly, indeed necessarily, sacrifice their own happiness and autonomy for the happiness and autonomy of their children. The good of the baby simply becomes your own good. Childrearing is particular, not universalist. One of the everyday but astonishing facts of life is that while we choose our friends and our mates, we don't choose our children.

Even when we adopt a baby, we don't know how that baby will turn out. And even the most basic features of what a baby is like are beyond our control, a situation that becomes vivid for the parents of children with disabilities. And yet, with some tragic exceptions, when we care for a child we love that child , not other children or children in general. And we have a moral relation to that child that we don't have to other children. Sometimes we love the neediest babies most of all. Sarah Palin's baby is such a powerful image for many women because caring for a Down syndrome child exemplifies the paradox of all childrearing—I love my children in particular, it doesn't matter what they're like or what they do, I'd sacrifice my own happiness for theirs.

Childrearing also isn't contractual or reciprocal. We may vaguely expect that our children may one day take care of us. But every sane parent appreciates the fundamental and necessary asymmetry of caregiving. Even with mates, and certainly with friends, we expect a certain reciprocity. The neediest of our intimates give us something in return.

But every child is needier than the most intolerably demanding friend or lover. These moral intuitions have their roots in our evolutionary history. Human beings have a longer period of protected immaturity, a longer childhood, than any other species, and human children demand an exceptional amount of parental investment. As a species, we reap great benefits from this arrangement—in fact, it's the secret of our evolutionary success. The period of protected immaturity allows us to learn flexibly about a wide range of environments, before we actually have to act on them.

It depends on the especially profound and protracted commitments of human caregiving. But I'd argue that our moral intuitions about childrearing are right independently of their evolutionary origins. It really is a good thing that we care for children in the way we do. Empirically, there is sociological evidence that childrearing is especially problematic and challenging for working—class Americans, particularly in the areas that are most likely to vote Republican. Economic insecurity, divorce, the mobility that puts grandmothers and aunts on the other side of the country, all make it difficult for families to thrive.

That itself is a reason why "family values" loom so large for these voters.


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  6. But middle and upper-class blue state voters also share the intuition that childrearing is special, although they can afford to treat the morality of caregiving as a private matter separate from politics. Of course, subsidies to new parents, family leave, good early childhood education, fewer working hours with higher pay and more flexibility, are much more likely to actually help parents than abstinence education, abortion restrictions, or gay marriage bans.

    Some politicians have started to realize this—red states like Georgia and Arkansas have been leaders in creating early childhood programs. It's particularly ironic that contraception and abortion which look inimical to childrearing, may empirically actually allow for more thriving, caring and intimate families, and that the drive for gay marriage is motivated in part by the desire of many gay couples to raise children. But politics is about articulating ideals as much as about formulating policies. The philosophical framework of liberalism makes it hard for Democrats to articulate the intuitions that most people share.

    Caring for a particular, individual baby, even a "special needs" baby, and being part of a particular, individual family, even a complex, messy family, are intrinsic human goods. Politics should help people achieve them successfully. All human babies are specially needy and all human families are complex and messy, and nobody could ever make a good argument that you love your kids and your relatives because they maximize your utilities.

    Democrats use the language of universal entitlement, when they talk about state-supported preschool or childcare, or the language of individual autonomy, when they talk about choice or contraception, or the language of investment, when they talk about the long-term benefits of healthy and well-educated children. But none of these ways of talking about children really capture our everyday intuitions. Of course, there isn't a good alternative conservative language for these intuitions either. The Republican language of traditional religion also doesn't get it, which is why the celebration of Sarah Palin's unwed daughter's pregnancy seemed so paradoxical.

    One way we might try to bridge this gap between intuition, philosophy and policy is by appealing to the fact that human childrearing extends far beyond biological mothers. Psychologically, there is strong evidence that we love the children we care for, not just the ones we bear.

    As the ethologist Sarah Hrdy points out, when animals make big parental investments they spread the load. In socially monogamous species, including many birds and a few mammals, fathers as well as mothers invest in caregiving, and fathers make this investment even when babies aren't their genetic offspring. In other species, including lemurs, dolphins and elephants, there are alloparents—animals who help take care of the babies of others.

    Humans make particularly great parental investments, they are socially though not sexually monagamous no species is sexually monogamous, not even swans , and they rely on alloparents. Sarah Palin quite literally presented a picture of a group of committed caregivers, husbands, siblings, boyfriends and grandmothers—a group larger than a mother but smaller than a state.

    Philosophers and political thinkers could try to articulate an ethics of childrearing that takes off from this sense of a widening circle of parental responsibility and care—an ethics that would capture the particularity of mother love, but extend it to include an entire community or even a country. The articulation of moral intuitions in liberal Enlightenment philosophy was one of the greatest human intellectual achievements.

    Not all everyday moral intuitions survive that sort of philosophical scrutiny. I'll bet that if we just counted up the most frequent moral intuition across cultures and historical periods the winner would be that the way other people have sex is wrong closely followed by the intuition that the way we have sex ourselves is wrong. In the case of the moral intuitions of disgust that Haidt studies, the best philosophical policy would be to just persuade people to get rid of them. I'd say the same about lots of intuitions about hierarchy and purity.

    But raising children really is one of the most morally profound human activities, and it would benefit us all, Democrat and Republican, if we could find a philosophical and political way to talk about it. As a political scientist, I see the question "Why do people vote Republican? Haidt and other commenters have focused on the choice between a Republican and a Democrat. But this choice misses half the question.

    When someone votes Republican, the first question they must ask themselves is "Should I vote at all? And it is that choice to vote or not that says something deep about political competition and group behavior. The choice to vote or not hinges in part on our perception of the effectiveness of the activity. Will voting matter? To know this, we need to imagine what happens in a world where we vote and what happens in a world where we do not, and then compare those two worlds. Thinking about the world this way may seem like an impossible task because there are so many possible outcomes.

    Obama could beat McCain by 3 million votes. Or he could beat him by 2,, or he could lose to McCain by 1,, Or… there are literally millions of possible outcomes. Of course, there is actually only one circumstance in which an individual vote matters. And that is when we expect an exact tie. To see why this is true, ask yourself what would you do if you could look into a crystal ball and see that Obama would win the election by 3 million votes. What effect would your vote have on the outcome?

    Absolutely none. You could either change the margin to 2,, or to 3,,, but either way Obama still wins.


    1. SKEWED.
    2. Why Republicans Listen to Country Music and Democrats Don’t | Psychology Today.
    3. The Epidemic;
    4. How the Democrats Lost Their Way on Immigration?
    5. How the South Won the Civil War | The New Yorker.
    6. Notice that the same reasoning is true even for very close elections. No doubt some citizens of Florida felt regret about not voting in when they learned that George W. Bush had won the state and therefore the whole election by votes. But even here, the best a single voter could do would be to change the margin to or to , neither of which would have changed the outcome. So what is the probability of an exact tie? One way of looking at this is to assume that any outcome is equally possible.

      Suppose million people vote for Obama or McCain. McCain could win million to 0. Or he could win 99,, to 1. Or he could win 99,, to 2…. You get the point. Counting all these up, there are million different outcomes, and only one of these is an exact tie. So the probability of an exact tie for a given number of voters is just one divided by the number of voters. Since roughly million people vote in US Presidential elections, that would mean that the probability was about 1 in million.

      Just to give a sense of scale, the odds of being struck by lightning in the United States are about one in a million, which would make getting struck by lightning times more likely than one person determining the outcome of an election because of an exact tie in the popular vote! The exact probability is obviously much more complicated than this, since it is unlikely that Obama or McCain would win every single vote. Close elections are probably more likely than landslides. So instead of theorizing about the probability of a tie, we could study lots and lots of real elections to see how often it happens.

      In one survey of 16, U. The closest was an election in for the Representative for New York's 36th congressional district, when the Democratic candidate won by a single vote, 20, to 20, However, a subsequent recount in that election found a mathematical error that greatly increased the margin, so there are actually no examples of winning by a single vote, either. Thus, a rational analysis of voting suggests that the core act of modern democratic government makes absolutely no sense. Economists would literally call voting "irrational" because it violates the preferences of the people who engage in it.

      For some reason, people decide to vote even though they would not buy a lottery ticket with identical odds, cost, and payoff. Economists typically think that people who vote are making a mistake, or there are other benefits to voting that we have not considered. For example, early scholars noted that people might vote in order to fulfill a sense of civic duty or to preserve the right to vote. Later scholars have also pointed out that people might vote because they enjoy expressing themselves in the same way they enjoy expressing themselves when they cheer for their favorite team at a ballgame.

      But these explanations beg the question, "Why? In my collaboration with Nicholas Christakis, we have thought about the effect of social networks on voting and several other important phenomena like obesity, smoking, and even happiness. And as it turns out, the rational analysis of voting overlooks important psychological features of human social networks that we have known about for some time.

      The earliest research on the social spread of political behavior came in the classic voting studies of Paul Lazarsfeld and Bernard Berelson that took place in the s in the towns of Erie, Pennsylvania, and Elmira, New York. These giants in social science helped invent the survey method and bullied their colleagues into starting the long march towards making the study of politics a science. Their classic election studies eventually became the American National Election Studies that are still conducted every two years. Although Lazarsfeld and Berelson did not collect information about the whole network that interconnected all their subjects, they did ask people to discuss who influenced them and how, and this gave us the very first picture of how important networks can be.

      One of the key findings from these studies was that the media does not reach the masses directly. Instead, a group of "opinion leaders"—a coinage they may have invented—usually acts as intermediary, filtering and interpreting the media for their friends and family who pay less attention to politics. In other words, the media appeared to work by getting its message to those who are most central in the social network.

      Politicians themselves follow a similar strategy, targeting frequent voters who have already made up their minds, rather than trying to persuade those at the periphery of the network who may or may not participate. It's efficient to do this, of course, but it is also, as we will see, unavoidable, and this kind of process arises from the fundamental nature of social networks. Later research by Robert Huckfeldt and John Sprague in the s and s would innovate on these earlier designs. Louis, Missouri, would use a "snowball" design, asking people to talk about friends who influenced them and to give the researchers their friends' contact information so they could be in the study, too.

      Huckfeldt and Sprague found that when it comes to politics, birds of a feather flock together. Democrats tend to be friends with other Democrats and Republicans tend to be friends with other Republicans. In fact, about 2 out of every 3 friends had the same ideology as the respondent. We can even see this on a large scale in recent U.

      In other words, people appear to be clustered together politically, acting and believing in concord with the people who surround them. Nicholas Christakis and I wondered whether this insight could shed light on why people vote at all. We also wondered whether strong similarity in people's local networks could arise from a spread of political behaviors and ideas. Did people choose to associate with those who resembled them or did they induce a resemblance by influencing their peers?

      ESPN host: Black people should vote for GOP

      Robert Huckfeldt and John Sprague showed us the person-to-person effect, but now we wanted to know how and whether it might spread to other people in the network.


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