There is no Left or Right (Part 1)

If politics is moral psychology and our psychologies evolved over millions years to help solve the problems of social living and resource acquisition in the conditions faced by our distant ancestors before settled agriculture, it would be somewhat surprising if there was a single and simplistic left right dimension which explained all our current political attitudes.  Indeed the fundamental issue that delineates the differences between the left and the right is held to be attitudes to markets and capitalism in general.  Capitalism didn’t even exist when our moral psychologies formed but free trade did and was an important part of hunter gatherer existence.

Two blogs on the interesting LSE Blog website adduce evidence for a more complex picture.  Firstly, (and in Part 1) Jan-Willem van Prooijen  argues that people often exhibit a ‘conspiratorial mindset’ that seems to transcend traditional left-right distinctions”.  Van Prooijen here assumes the left right low tax/high tax, large state small state, pro-business anti-business standard model isn’t a good predictor of whether people hold “conspiracy theories” but when he asked them people to identify themselves as either being on the extreme right or extreme left he found that those self-identifying held as such did hold “conspiracy theory” type views.  It is noteworthy that he asserts that “conspiracy theories” are “are endorsed by a surprisingly large number of citizens”.

So what is the Haidtian Moral Psychological perspective?  Firstly, politics is conceived as a series of Moral Foundations – Fairness, Harm Reduction, Freedom, Sanctity, Loyalty and Authority and it is the clustering of the first two and the last two which appear to give a left-right spectrum.  The evidence for authoritarianism is provided by two American political scientists, Hetherington and Weiler (Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, 2009) who have found that attitudes to authority shape all aspects of US political opinion from welfare to terrorism to immigration.

This blog asserts that what we have is moralised pro-authoritarianism strongly and weakly, and moralised anti-authoritarianism, moralised because we tend to think that virtue inheres in authority or that authority is inherently corrupt. See this picture

Conspiracy Theories Here and Authority

If this is the whole population then that bears out Van Prooijien assertion that “conspiracy theories” are endorsed by large sections of the population.

Hadit’s Moral Intuitions theory helps us place “conspiracy theories” in their correct context.  For Haidt our reasoning, our rationalisations, our opinions and our views are a form of strategic reasoning that support our emotions about a topic – immigration, refugees, the Iraq war and that that emotion is driven by moral intuitions.  Here it is asserted that “conspiracy theories” have a signature which reveals the underlying intuitions to be moralised anti-authoritarianism and moralised pro-authoritarianism.   “Conspiracy theories” are forms of strategic reasoning which support the emotion and intuition that Authority is corrupt. Or support the inverse – the emotion and intuition that since Authority is clearly virtuous its enemies and those disrespecting it are morally dissolute.

Moralised Anti-Authoritarianism

(Authority is corrupt)

Moralised Pro-Authoritarianism

(Authority is virtuous but the enemies of my authority are corrupt)

The Iraq war was for oil Saddam was behind 911
The CIA killed Kennedy Castro killed Kennedy
Apollo Moon Landing Hoax Climate change is scientific establishment conspiracy
Big Pharma is suppressing knowledge of known cures Moscow Apartment bombings
New World Order (EU, Freemasons, Israel conspiracy) Harold Wilson Soviet Agent
Israel was behind 911 Holocaust never happened
McCarthyism (Pervasive Communist Conspiracies)

The symmetry doesn’t look like a coincidence and each side has its own conspiracies as its reference point the for the the corrupt or virtuous  nature of authority.   A fuller list bares the same scrutiny here; see them as the strategic reasoning response to an emotion response to an ancient misfiring intuition.

Van Prooijien adds that there is “good reason for the social sciences to conduct serious research on the psychology behind the belief in conspiracy theories.”  The Moral Psychology of Authoritarianism might provide a reasonable starting point.

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