It’s recently been suggested that my thinking and writing of late has lapsed into angry polemics. Here’s my response:
I’m not the guy you think I am. Scott Wagner, staunch liberal and author of the recently released (and fantastic) book The Liberal’s Guide to Conservatives, stayed with me in my home for two different one week periods this year. He and I are on opposite sides of the ideological aisle. We had a great time. We ate together, watched TV together, swapped personal stories, and had some great conversations about morality, psychology, and politics. I think he’d agree that he and I ended up being better friends from the experience.
The necessity of keeping my emails short to the person who said I’ve been leaning ever more toward angry polemics so that that person, who is extremely busy, will be able to read them, often forces me to skip all nuance, subtlety, and careful case-building of the type I was able to employ in my long conversations with Scott Wagner and instead skip to the conclusion. I think that, more than any other factor, is why that person perceives of me as an angry polemicist. Yes, including the things I’ve written about Hillary. If I were allowed to make my case then the perception of me would be much less that of an angry polemicist and much more of a reasoned, well founded, well rounded, reasonable, person.
Let’s see, what’s the best way for me to explain my position?
My intellectual journey has been the other side of the coin from that of Jonathan Haidt. Haidt first studied philosophy, psychology, and morality, and through them only later eventually transitioned into investigating and writing about What Makes People Vote Republican and Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.
I went at it the other way around. For years I tried to understand morality, ideology, and politics through the study of history. I read books like The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, and The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States. And only later, after having been steeped in the works of historians Bernard Bailyn, Forrest McDonald, and Gordon S. Wood, and others, did I transition into learning from psychological social science.
Having the background of history adds tremendous depth and breadth to one’s perception and understanding of the psychological, moral, political, and social world.
But it seems to me that, sadly, psychological social science lacks that depth and breadth.
It seems to base its findings not merely on the study of only WEIRD people, but also mostly in today’s, living WEIRD people.
Western culture itself is a mega moral matrix, a macro consensual hallucination, in which the moral matrices of liberalism and conservatism float like ships in a sea, powerfully influencing their every move. It is very WEIRD, and very much based in the here and now, with very little appreciation, or even awareness, of all that came before. It’s not an accident that I’ve recommended in these pages The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization.
Psychological social science seems to suffer from the bias of weighting what’s happening right now, today, far more heavily than all of human history leading up to today. It does to non-WEIRD thinking and ideology what the new atheists do to religion; it stages an unfair “fight” by ruling out non-WEIRD, non current, psychology by definition before the contest begins.
The same is true for K-12 education, media, and entertainment; the agenda setting and value framing machines of Western Culture. It seems that Western Culture’s understanding of morality, ideology, and politics extends backwards in time no farther than LBJ’s Great Society and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This produces an extremely myopic perception of psychology, morality, ideology, and politics.
Even stipulating everything pundits say about Democratic support for Hillary and Republican support for Trump and the candidates themselve, all of it is happening within the context, within the very WEIRD, very NOW, consensual hallucination of the WEIRD moral matrix of Western Culture.
In the passage in The Righteous Mind in which Haidt says he was “floored” when he read an honest account of Conservatism by Jerry Z. Muller he lists a pantheon of conservative ideas with which, based on his own research in to moral psychology he was forced to agree.
The exact same sort of thing would happen if psychological social science were to study the moral foundations, principles, and ideals of the American Founding and the Constitution.
It would find that progressivism as expressed by Woodrow Wilson, FDR, LBJ, Obama, and Hillary is precisely what the Constitution was designed to prevent, and the reason it was designed that way is because the founders were fantastic social scientists.
The Telos of Progressivism in general and Hillary in particular are incompatible with, and antithetical too, that of America.
That’s not anger.
That’s not polemics.
That’s the conclusion that academic social psychological science would inevitably have to come to were it to study something other than today’s WEIRD culture.