I am a regular reader of Utne Reader, “The Best of the Alternative Press”. So when Miller-McCune, “Turning Research Into Solutions,” won the 2009 Utne Independent Press Award for science/technology coverage, I picked up the latest issue at the bookstore. Utne said, “Miller-McCune is…charging forward on an inspired mission to bridge the divide between academic researchers and journalists, to bring some ivory tower to the people via the printed page.”
Utne wasn’t just whistling “Dixie”! There’s a terrific article in the May/June issue of Miller-McCune magazine on why liberals and conservatives have such a difference of opinion on moral values. “Morals Authority” by Tom Jacobs looks at the work of Jonathan Haidt, a scholar at the University of Virginia. Haidt, best known as the author of The Happiness Hypothesis–an exploration of recent research on contentment–is now working on a new book on “the wellsprings of ethical beliefs and why they differ across classes and cultures.” According to Haidt, liberals and conservatives live in different moral universes. And while there are some overlap in liberal/conservative value systems, there are huge differences in what they hold dear.
In an effort to explain liberals and conservatives to each other Haidt has proposed a framework of fundamental moral values. Drawing on definitions by Dan McAdams, a Northwestern University research psychologist and award-winning author, Haidt has identified five foundational moral impulses:
Harm/care. It is wrong to hurt people; it is good to relieve suffering.
Fairness/reciprocity, Justice and fairness are good; people have certain rights that need to be upheld in social interactions,
In-group loyalty. People should be true to their group and be wary of threats from the outside. Allegiance, loyalty, and patriotism are virtues; betrayal is bad.
Authority/respect. People should respect social hierarchy; social order is necessary for human life,
Purity/sanctity. The body and certain aspects of life are sacred. Cleanliness and health, as well as their derivatives of chastity and piety, are all good. Pollution, contamination and the associated character traits of lust and greed are all bad.
Research has shown that liberals tend to feel strongly about the first two but “grudging acknowledge the other three.” Conservatives are big on the loyalty/authority/purity. They acknowledge the first two but don’t have the same passion for care and fairness.
Haidt has two websites Civil Politics promotes “politics in which power and ideas are hotly contested but opponents are respected as fellow citizens who are assumed to be sincere in their beliefs.” YourMorals.Org “is a collaboration among five social psychologists who study morality and politics. Our goal was to create a site that would be useful and interesting to users, particularly ethics classes and seminars, and that would also allow us to test a variety of theories about moral psychology. One of our main goals is to foster understanding across the political spectrum.”
YourMorals.Org is chock full of surveys on moral issues. You have to register; an email address is your user id. They ask demographic questions—age, gender, education, etc–and your political leanings. At the end of each survey they show you how your answers compared to average liberal/conservative answers. Some non-political surveys simply compare your answers to the overall average for the participants. My scores were pretty much as I expected: a little more conservative than most liberals, a lot more liberal than most conservatives.
I have a hard time imagining how other Pagans would answer a lot of the questions. There are very liberal Pagans and very conservative ones, but i don’t know if “purity/sanctity” means the same thing to Pagans as it does to “The People of the Book.” Creating and purifying sacred space are an important part of rituals. Some Pagans practice a purifying bath or shower before ritual and wear ritual robes. Some anoint themselves with essential oils. Some feminist (Dianic) Pagans might use menstrual blood in ritual, other groups might erupt in hissy fits if someone suggested sealing a magical working with a drop of blood from a pricked finger. And–as I pointed out on one survey–”The Charge of the Goddess” includes “All acts of love and pleasure are My ritual.” Many Pagans would consider chastity as “unnatural.”
I finished the main research surveys on the site, but there is another, larger section for the curious. I will visit YourMorals.Org often to look for new research surveys and play with the other questionnaires. And I will encourage other Pagans to add to the research.