Moral Matrix

“Teacher what makes a person conservative (right winger) and what makes a person liberal” The agitated students of political science department asked the visiting Cognitive Psychology professor.

“Sir we want to know if there are any mental correlates of what makes a person have different political choices than another one”.

The psychology professor who had faced this question before, smiled.

“Friends as you can imagine” He opened “there has been ample research into every area of moral psychology and how people make moral choices between what they consider just and what they react to as unjust. As you can also understand that because of moral diversity the choice and opinions vary however broadly we have been able to figure out the factors which go into making of these political choices. We owe these insights largely to research done by Jonathan Haidt of Stern Business School at New York University, who also wrote the definitive work on this subject called “The righteous mind, why good people are divided by religion and politics”.

Professor paused looking around at the class which was hanging on to his every word now as if a great secret was about to be revealed about how they made their choices and picked sides, in sundry debates.

“Haidt long with his colleagues have proposed a “Morals Foundations Model” according to which there are five values which play out in people’s thinking and underpin every decision they take. These five factors are:

1) Harm and care ( cherishing or protecting others)
2) Fairness and Cheating ( proportionality in justice dispensed according to shared values)
3) Authority and Subversion ( Obeying traditions and respecting established mores)
4) Loyalty and Betrayal ( ingroup coherence be it to friends, family or nation)
5) Purity and Degradation, (Abhorrence for actions and thoughts which are considered impure).

“Now the differentiator, my dear students is ” Professor continued “ that liberals largely care for only first two values while conservatives care for all five equally. So in other words Liberals are experimental and do not care much about set authority structures, purity rituals and past traditions while conservatives or right wingers do deeply care about them apart from safety and fairness in dealings. Also these results have been found to be stable across populations of various countries. Now to prove to you that this framework results in accurate predictions, let me conduct a quick quiz:

Can you guess who will support homosexuality decriminalization or abortion rights?

“Liberals” class echoed in union “as conservatives will find it morally abhorrent “

Who will support religious traditions and rituals?

“Conservatives, as they would like to honor past traditions”

“Good, now tell me who would support beef ban or invoke nationalism”?

Conservatives as food intake is not only a nutritional thing but also a purity carrier. Also they will be more overtly nationalistic as loyalty is a virtue for them.

Good answer class. Now the final question for you: Who is right? Should we care for 2 values or all 5?

The class immediately divided into two with each side arguing its case passionately. Over the ensuing chaos the professor smiled. When the initial din subsided he addressed the class thus:

“That question does not have one right answer as it is a consensual decision. When the environment is full of fear or in times of external aggression or when economy is not doing well and you need to hold on, conservative approach is less risky however when you feeling buoyant and would like to go out and experiment liberal approach might be better. Ultimately in human situations sometimes you must run and sometimes you have to pause to acquire breath.

The big political question though that every society faces is how to establish a connection between these two competing human conditions so that they can negotiate outcomes”

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