Thursday, October 27, 2011

Politics and fundamental values

I think this is an important point.  Your political views don't just represent your judgments on key policy debates; they also reflect deep valuations of fundamental principles. This site does a very interesting job of showing how things break down (edit: You'll want the very first survey on the list).

Green is me, red is Republican, blue is Democrat.

Basically, liberals care a lot about leveling the playing field and avoiding harmful consequences.  Conservatives care about those things too, but they put a lot more emphasis on loyalty, authority, and purity.  Challenge for my conservative readers: why should we build public policy around these things?

To put a gloss on it (and you're free to disagree, but I think it's fair), conservatives care a lot more than liberals about cultural purity.  Here's how I read the implications:
  1. If you care a lot about loyalty, then changes of group are more likely to be seen as betrayal than evolution. 
  2.  If you care a lot about authority, then civil disobedience and victimless crimes reflect more poorly against the people breaking the law than the structure that created the laws to begin with.  
  3. If you care a lot about purity, then you're more likely to want to legislate away behaviors you find distasteful.  

Republican patriotic chest thumping seems to fall pretty nicely in line with item 1.  One glance at the conservative response to Occupy Wall Street, or liberal opposition to the war on drugs, will clearly correspond to item 2.  And item 3 pretty much defines the opposition to gay marriage &c. 

This also explains why conservatives are so much better at maintaining strong party discipline (as group cohesion is pretty much defined by loyalty and authority dynamics).  

More importantly though, it sheds some light on some of the problems in our political discourse.  I've talked about the empirical v. ideological divide in some previous posts.  I think that divide stems mostly from the fact that, of the columns presented here, Harm and Fairness are really the only ones that we can objectively measure.  It's basically impossible to take the other Pillars of Republicanism into account when we do math or measurement about things.  Ergo, Republicans are innately less likely to hold beliefs that can be backed up by numbers.  

Frankly, (as my numbers show) I think that loyalty, authority, and purity are pretty much stupid and impossible to maintain in a diverse and egalitarian society, and couldn't care less as to whether or not they are maintained (unless it impacts harm and fairness).  So, conservative friends, tell me why we should be considering these factors as part of our public policy...


  1. I forgive your quite biased interpretation of the importance of your own values. But your very argument (frustrated railing actually) evinced the central strength and importance of conservative values. Maintaining strong party discipline (purity) is more than a means to an end. It is the essence of evolution. The strong survive. The weak willed and easily swayed can never unite: not as a nation must, for one righteous cause. A lack of this purity is not evolution but radical mutation that leads to abomination and unsustainable cancerous growth. Loyalty, Authority, and Purity are the foundation of what it means to be a nation and what's more, what it means to be an American.

    1) Loyalty,
    As an individual, an intellectualist, or a member of the liberal elite it may be fine to live without loyalty. But can you envision a nation of these people? A military of individuals concerned only with fairness, each out for himself, devoid of loyalty. It is the rest of the country hose sacrifice makes your luxurious loyalty free life possible.

    2) Authority
    Glossing over the monumentally atheistic implication of this positionand without reiterating the weakness of a military given to this mindset, there are extant economic implications derived from our modern day lack of respect for authority. The bank and trading shenanigans are a direct result of a weakening of moral fiber. It's this attitude that makes it seem like we need more regulations tripping up our economy (to get people bam to doing what they ought to just from a place of respect). If our society were more conservative in this way, we would not have these economic problems.

    3) Purity
    What does it mean to you to be an American? If it means nothing, than certainly you have no business setting the agenda for our public policy. But if you have a strong sense of identity then you may be fit to lead this country, to be an example, and to perceive the consequences of actions and decisions. One ought to embrace change, but it has to happen the right way: slowly and with a purposeful direction. We can not stand together if we stand for nothing.


  2. 1) I agree! loyalty is really important for members of the military. It's an enormously valuable personal trait in general. But! I don't see why we should be terribly concerned about whether individuals in our society are staying in the same groups they started in, and doing the same things they used to, unless it harms someone, or decreases the fairness in society.

    2) It seems like I should have stated my definitions a little more clearly. So far as I can tell, Authority in this context means doing what you're told because you're told to (rather than because you think it's the right thing to do). While this clearly has value in a military setting, it seems like a morally bankrupt strategy in general.

    3) Again, the problem here seems to be definitional. By Purity in this context we mean "avoiding things that are gross". I don't see how it helps to enforce one group's sense of grossness on all the diverse cultures, faiths, and individuals that contribute to our nation.

    I guess what I'm saying is that group Loyalty, respect for Authority, and a desire for Purity all have good elements, especially on an individual basis. However, they make poor guides to public policy, because when it comes down to it we live in a diverse society where Purity standards will necessarily conflict. We live in a shifting society where people change jobs, religions, emigrate and immigrate, and an overemphasis on loyalty will stifle needed dynamism and freedom in our society. And we live in a flawed society, where blind obedience to the law will produce unjust and harmful policies.