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The Proximate Cause of the Political Divide

“In the law, a proximate cause is an event sufficiently related to a legally recognizable injury to be held to be the cause of that injury.”

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the injury in question is political polarization; the “Coming Apart.”

Many factors contribute to the injury. Some of them are inevitable consequences of fundamental human nature and are therefore beyond our ability to affect in a practical way.

But some are not.

Of the factors we can affect, one in particular contributes so much to the injury that we could consider it the proximate cause.

But sadly, the amount of attention that factor receives is wildly disproportionately small relative to its contribution to the injury.

That factor is the belief that morality starts and ends with care and fairness (as equality). Or, said the other way around, that factor is widespread ignorance of Haidt’s second principle of moral psychology.

The result of that factor is that the centuries-old debate about social issues between liberals and conservatives is like a debate about rainbows between colorblind people and sighted people. To the tribal moral community of colorblind liberals it is self-evident truth that the community of sighted conservatives is crazy/immoral/bigoted/mean/heartless/anachronistic/all-of-the-above because it sees colors of the moral rainbow that “everybody knows” simply do not exist. It follows from this truth that the colorblind community is not only justified in its world view, but further, is morally obligated to extirpate from polite society sighted people and their ideas.

This single factor explains The Terror and the genocide of the French Revolution, the persecution of non-liberals we see today in disinvitations extended to conservatives scheduled to speak on college campuses, the hostile environment for non-liberals that college campuses have become, the Newspeak language police and so-called microagressions, and attempts to deny livelihoods from bakers, photographers, florists, and tech giant CEOs who happen to express non-liberal opinions.

Therefore, if we really do want to ameliorate the Coming Apart then this single factor – ignorance of the second principle of moral psychology – is the one that deserves our attention first and demands it the most. Of the many causes of the political divide that we can do something about it is the lowest of the low hanging fruit. Addressing it offers the biggest, and soonest, bang for the buck of any effort we could make toward answering “Yes” to the question “Can we all get along?”

But no. Apparently out of fear of offending those who need most to learn the second principle of moral psychology, we reach past the low hanging fruit and grab instead for harder to reach secondary aspects of human nature like “common threats create common ground.” Instead of facing the real problem head-on we pretend it’s not there, and instead we institute programs like NoLabels.org and AsteroidsClub.org that make us feel good, as if we’re actually are addressing the real issue, but in reality have little to no actual affect.

The best solution, I propose, is a collaboration between that portion of academia that has discovered the three principles of moral psychology, The Argumentative Theory, Moral Tribes, Thinking Fast and Slow, etc., and that portion of academia that teaches history, literature, economics, and even “health” to our children as they progress through their K-12 and higher academic careers.

If we could do that, then, I propose, the government, civic, and industry leaders who eventually emerge from our education system would have a more accurate understanding of what REALLY motivates people to act the way they do, and what REALLY are the basic ingredients of successful societies, and what ACTUAL tolerance and inclusiveness look like. And with that knowledge, would do a better job of devising and passing laws that are congruent with human nature, and therefore stand a better chance doing the most good for the most people, as compared with the incongruous, anti-social devices that are currently foisted upon all of us by the “enlightened” elite (sic).

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Quotes I Like:

If you're on the side of the little guy, you should be a conservative. Every leftist scheme — every subsidy, every tariff, every alternative energy boondoggle, every industrial regulation — ends up privileging some vested interest at the expense of ordinary people.

Capitalism is the only economic model which allows you to prosper by serving the mass market. Under every rival system, you prosper by sucking up to the right people: commissars or kings or ayatollahs. As the economist Joseph Schumpeter observed, the achievement of capitalism was not to provide more silk stockings for princesses, but to bring them within the reach of factory girls.

From If You're For The Little Guy, You Should Be A Conservative by Dan Hannan

Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Moral Foundations

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An Interpretation of Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory

This sidebar lists a series of posts which together make up an essay relating Moral Foundations Theory to today's politics, and even a little history, as viewed through The Independent Whig's six-foundation moral lens.


Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Moral Foundations


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