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Evidence and Reason

It seems that a ubiquitous theme of liberals is that liberalism is the ideology of evidence and reason, and conservatism is the ideology of evidence-denial and blind faith.

There’s only one thing wrong with that theme. The evidence.

Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion is an overview of the current state of the art of knowledge that the social sciences, including Haidt’s own work, have amassed since David Hume said in 1739 that “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office but to serve and obey them.” (He was right).

The evidence for much of what follows comes from Haidt’s book. I’ve added some links to other sources.

If evidence were the sole driver of ideology then liberalism as we currently know it would not, could not exist. The understanding of human nature upon which liberalism rests is refuted by evidence. See the list of false statements further below.

Evidence proves that reason is, and can only ever be, a post-hoc rationalization of intuitions already felt, and decisions already made. It also proves that humans are very good at seeing the tiniest of flaws in the reasoning of those with whom we disagree, and very bad at seeing the gaping holes in our own.

Knowing this, humans put in place the scientific method through which we test our ideas by subjecting them to the scrutiny of others. It is from this method, eventually, that knowledge emerges.

Current knowledge of human nature shows that we are the only species that evolved to form into large cooperative groups of individuals who are not related to one another. Morality is the mechanism through which we cooperate. Morality is defined as follows:

Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible. (The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” by Jonathan Haidt, p. 314)

The evolved psychological mechanisms of morality include at least the following: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation.

Current knowledge of human nature shows the following statements to be false. The falsehood of many of these is shown in The Righteous Mind, for those with other sources I’ve added links:

  • There’s no heritable genetic component to differences among people of different races, classes, sexes, cultures, subgroups within cultures, moralities, and ideologies. See Faster Evolution Means More Ethnic Differences, and The Bell Curve, 20 Years Later, a Q&A with Charles Murray. 
  • There’s no heritable genetic component to one’s intuitive sense of what constitutes right and wrong, good and bad, and better or worse in the realm of social thought and behavior. In other words, there’s no heritable genetic component to ideology or morality.
  • Conscious reason motivates social thought, behavior, morality, and ideology to an equal or greater extent than does subconscious intuition.
  • Individual conscious reason is objective, not subjective.
  • Differences in race, class, sex, culture, morality and ideology result from either of the following, or a combination of both, but little if anything else: 1) social constructs and, 2) reason/teaching/learning.
  • Achieving desirable human thought and behavior within a culture is a matter of implementing the right social constructs and teaching the right ideas and reasoning. In other words, human nature is malleable.
  • Morality starts and ends with care, empathy, compassion, and fairness toward, and autonomy of, each individual.
  • There’s no down side to morality understood in this way. See Pathological Altruismby Barbary Oakley
  • This understanding of morality is the human norm. Other moralities are outliers. (In fact is liberals who are the outliers, comprising about 15 percent of the world’s population. See Study: American Liberals Think As If From Different Cultures)
  • Liberals understand conservatives as well or better than conservatives understand liberals.
  • Liberals understand human nature as well or better than do conservatives.
  • Conservative morality is one of the outliers.
  • It is not the aim of conservatism to achieve a society that is fair, just, equal, and does the most for the most within the limits of human nature.
  • Conservatives vote against their own interests.
  • Conservatives vote that way because they’re duped into it by their political leaders.
  • Conservatives have less empathy than liberals.
  • Conservatives are less compassionate than liberals.


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  • © The Independent Whig and TheIndependentWhig.com - 2011-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to The Independent Whig and TheIndependentWhig.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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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