As writer Nancy Jane Moore and I continue to tussle over the fine art of debating people who look to us to be whacked-out politically crazy, Virginia Psychology Professor Jonathan Haidt argues that we’re missing the point. Tea Partiers are not insane, he says; they simply view the world through a vastly different moral lens than we do.
At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Haidt argues, among many other interesting points, that:
Moral judgments, like aesthetic judgments, are best understood as quick gut feelings, not as products of reasoning. We have feelings about people and ideas within the first second of encountering them. We engage in reasoning too, but reasoning is slow, spread over many seconds or minutes, and it takes place within a mental workspace that has already been pre-structured by feelings. So if one third of Americans had negative feelings toward Obama on election day, and if many independents developed negative feelings as talk of tax increases and Wall Street bailouts escalated, then, by the summer of 2009, more than 40% of Americans were emotionally ready to receive the narrative about socialism and statism being formulated by conservative talk radio hosts such as Glenn Beck and Mark Levin.
In the Wall Street Journal, Haidt argues that all tea partiers really want is karma.
To understand the anger of the tea-party movement, just imagine how you would feel if you learned that government physicists were building a particle accelerator that might, as a side effect of its experiments, nullify the law of gravity. Everything around us would float away, and the Earth itself would break apart. Now, instead of that scenario, suppose you learned that politicians were devising policies that might, as a side effect of their enactment, nullify the law of karma. Bad deeds would no longer lead to bad outcomes, and the fragile moral order of our nation would break apart. For tea partiers, this scenario is not science fiction. It is the last 80 years of American history.
My off-the-cuff response to these articles is that Haidt makes a certain amount of sense, especially when it comes to understanding the moral goggles through which these furious people view the world. In terms of finding a way to reach them, Haidt may well be providing a useful road map to speaking Tea Party as a second language.
But how do we find common ground if we don’t agree on whether a piece of information is a fact and when it’s not? Whether you love him or hate him, Barack Obama is an American citizen, despite what birthers claim. How can we even begin to talk to birthers about this? You might disapprove, fear, or spit nails over environmentalists’ proposals for limiting climate change, but that doesn’t mean that climate change doesn’t exist. It’s as real as a stomach ache. How do we talk to tea partiers when they claim science isn’t science?
In the post at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Haidt makes one statement that I think is spot-on brilliant.
(P)olitical movements … are always moral movements, whether left-wing, right-wing, or something else.
I agree, which is why my search for goodness is as much a political quest as a personal one.