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Most Analyses Fail to Identify The Root Cause of Partisanship

April Kelly-Woessner moves the ball farther down field than most analysts in this video and blog post when she identifies the failure of K-12 education to provide our children with civic knowledge and historical perspective as key contributing factors to today’s problems. She echoes a sentiment I expressed two years ago when I argued that The Yale Problem Begins in Kindergarten.

But by failing to identify WHY the education system fails to achieve what is arguably its reason to exist – its Telos – she fails to make it into the end zone.

She fails because she’s talking about the SYMPTOMS of the disease that’s infected Western culture. She’s NOT talking about the VIRUS that is the root cause of the disease.

The same is true for analyses that identify ideological struggles as between “progress” and stability, or social justice and social order, or post-modernism and modernism, or globalism and nationalism/populism, or egalitarianism and authoritarianism. The notion that those things are the causes for current partisan divisions is the intellectual equivalent of saying that a runny nose, body aches, and fever are causes for the flu.  Every one of those phenomena is a SYMPTOM. None is the VIRUS – the root cause – of Western Culture’s current troubles.

The root cause for BOTH a) the failure of K-12 education AND b) the failure of academic social science to see it, are one and the same.

In the words of a present-day academic social scientist:

“My field is not scholarly in any way. We are totally focused on experiments and methods. We are not even scholarly about the experiments and methods used 30 years ago; it’s too caught up in the present.”

The education system and Western culture as a whole, is still blindingly entrenched in the “two-hundred-year tangent” that Haidt calls The Rationalist Delusion.

The root cause of the “Coming Apart” AND of the failure of academia to see it, is, in a word, WEIRDness.

It is the cognitive style of the leftist righteous mind which, not coincidentally, enjoys near total hegemony over K-12 education INCLUDING academic social science, and almost the same level of control over all forms of entertainment and media as well.

The education system, and through it Western culture, places its faith almost completely in what Michael Oakeshott called “technical” knowledge, and it mostly ignores his “practical” knowledge. It suffers from a malady identified by Einstein:

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.

We worship WEIRDness and we vilify holistic thinking as superstition, faith, or dogma.

We revere pendantry, and we eschew sagacity.

The good news is there are signs of a movement afoot that seeks to inoculate us from the virus of intellectual and moral myopia of left wing WEIRDness that has infected our society.

It seems that more and more social scientists are realizing, as Rebecca Sear observed in her plenary at #HBES2017, that Interdisciplinary research is the future of social science.

Gad Saad, in this video, describes the process of interdisciplinary social science research as a “Nomological Network of Cumulative Evidence

The paper  Evaluating Evidence of Psychological Adaptation by David P. Schmitt and June J. Pilcher describes the process in detail. Here’s an image from the paper:


The research methods described in these sources collect evidence across multiple disciplines like evolutionary behavioral sciences, genetics, evolutionary biology, epidemiology, anthropology, psychology, history, sociology, economics, and demography, to name a few.

What this process does, in simple terms, is methodize, or operationalize, the dot-connecting that is characteristic of the holistic cognitive style of the conservative cognitive style into a set of steps and approaches that the WEIRD analytical methodical academic brain can follow.

This is EXACTLY the kind of scholarship which, according to the scientist quoted in my first comment, is missing from academic social science.

The fact that it is missing explains why so much modern analysis misses the virus that’s hiding in plain sight behind all the symptoms analysts toss about.

If Rebecca Sear is right that interdisciplinary research is necessary to understand human behavior AND that academic social science is trending toward that kind of research then I believe it will be shown that…

Cognitive style is a moral foundation in the sense that it is part of the evolved psychological “low hanging fruit” that determines ideology.

Just as there are different physical body types (e.g., ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph) so too are there different brain types. It is counterintuitive – silly, really – amidst all the variation we see among humans, to think that we all have the same cognitive wiring.

It is NOT TRUE that thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, Rousseau and Burke, Keynes and Hayek, and Krugman and Sowell, INVENTED new ways of perceiving and interpreting human nature. Rather, it IS TRUE that they merely ARTICULATED the cognitive styles with which they were born; with which their brains were “organized in advance of experience.

In his book The Cave and the Light Arthur Herman traces the two main cognitive styles through 2500 years of human history. That these patterns of thought have appeared over and over across such a broad period of time in so many different eras and situations is strong evidence that they are moral foundations.

The mistake most modern thinkers make, Herman , Sowell , and April Kelly-Woessner included, is that they perceive and describe these two phenomena in terms of the people who first articulated them (Herman), or in terms of the interpretations – the symptoms – that follow from them (Sowell and April Kelly-Woessner).

None of those thinkers in their analyses took the next logical step backward to root causes. All seem content to describe the WHAT, but none seems curious to ask WHY.

William James believed as I do that liberal and conservative are, first and foremost, psychological profiles, or cognitive styles. An excerpt starting on page 528 of The Cave and the Light , by Arthur Herman:

His gift for putting abstruse problems in ordinary language also allowed him to redefine the old battle between rationalism and empiricism— or ideas versus facts— as essentially a clash between two types of human personality, the “tough-minded” and the “tender-minded.”

“Empiricist,” he wrote in 1907, “means your lover of facts in all their crude variety, rationalist means your devotee to abstract and eternal principles.… The individual rationalist is what is called a man of feeling, [while] the individual empiricist prides himself on being hardheaded.” He drew up their character in two contrasting columns:


Rationalistic (going by principles) Empiricist (going by facts)

Intellectualistic Sensationalistic

Idealistic Materialistic

Optimistic Pessimistic

Religious Irreligious

Freewillist Fatalistic

Monistic Pluralistic

Dogmatical Skeptical

The two philosophers James saw as epitomizing the tender-minded versus tough-minded split were probably Hegel and John Stuart Mill. 28 Still, with the exception of optimism and pessimism (and here James was thinking of the optimism of Hegelians and Marxists in believing history has a final purpose), it’s clear he was really talking about the perennial split between Platonists and Aristotelians in a distinctly American guise.

Interdisciplinary research from sources like The Righteous Mind, A Conflict of Visions, The Cave and the Light, The Great Debate, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, and similar histories of political upheavals elsewhere a picture, practically a definition, of the two major brain types emerges.

Conservatism is the psychological profile of the all-foundation moral matrix in combination with the cognitive style of holistic intuitionist Aristotelian empiricism.. It is the predisposition (ala Hibbing) toward the set of moral intuitions for which the object of care is the family unit – social capital – and which favor process-based negative conceptions of liberty, equality, justice, and fairness. Its goal is “to create a healthy, happy society” that does the most possible good for the most possible people. It accepts human nature as immutable, and sees the enemy of liberty as consolidated, concentrated, political power. It therefore sees government as a necessary evil, the purpose of which is to protect rights, and for which power must be restricted lest tyranny and oppression rule.

Liberalism is the psychological profile of the three-foundation moral matrix, with extra emphasis on care, in combination with the cognitive style of WEIRD rationalist Platonic idealism. It is the predisposition (ala Hibbing) toward the set of moral intuitions for which the object of care is the individual and his/her feelings, and which favor outcome-based positive conceptions of liberty, equality, justice, and fairness. Its goal is “to create a healthy, happy society” that does the most possible good for the most possible people. It sees human nature as having unlimited potential, and sees political power as a source of good. It therefore sees government as the ultimate tool for achieving good, for which power must be consolidated and concentrated in order to prevent the rich and greedy from abusing and oppressing the less fortunate.

The two psychological profiles, or operating systems, or brain types, or cognitive styles, of WEIRD Platonic rationalist idealism and Holistic Aristotelian intuitionist empiricism are the true definition of the political spectrum.

In The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization by Arthur Herman, Plato and Aristotle are metaphors, or proxies, for these two basic types of brains.

From Herman:

Despite their differences, Plato and Aristotle agreed on many things. They both stressed the importance of reason as our guide for understanding and shaping the world. Both believed that our physical world is shaped by certain eternal forms that are more real than matter. The difference was that Plato’s Forms existed outside matter, whereas Aristotle’s forms were unrealizable without it. (Herman, p. 61)

Everybody, equally, regardless of ideology fervently wants progress and improvement.

The struggle between left and right is NOT a two dimensional either/or tug of war between “progress” and “stability,” or some such notion, as it is ubiquitously yet in my view erroneously depicted.

The struggle, rightly understood, is between two moral cognitive operating systems that process the same basic inputs but reach starkly different conclusions about human nature and based on that, disagree on HOW TO GO ABOUT ACHIEVING progress and improvement.

The twentieth century’s greatest ideological conflicts do mark the violent unfolding of a Platonist versus Aristotelian view of what it means to be free and how reason and knowledge ultimately fit into our lives. (Herman, p. 539-540)

The depiction of left vs right as a two-dimensional tug of war between progress and stability or globalism and nationalism/populism or egalitarianism and authoritarianism is itself an “entrenched yet questionable orthodoxy” that prevents insight and understanding, and therefore effective solutions.

Remember, there’s no liberal moral foundation that is not also a conservative moral foundation, but half of the conservative moral foundations are external to the liberal moral matrix.

Likewise, the cognitive style of Platonic Idealism relies almost completely on ONLY Oakeshott’s “technical” knowledge or abstract reason, whereas Aristotelian empiricism relies on BOTH technical AND practical knowledge, on the emergent synergy of reason AND experience.

The correct depiction of the political divide is more like a struggle between a two-dimensional moral cognitive space and a three dimensional moral cognitive space, as in this Venn Diagram.

Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Traits and Moral Foundations

The real political divide is between Flatland and Spaceland; between a two-dimensional liberal Platonic idealistic Flatland and a three-dimensional conservative Aristotelian empiricist Spaceland.

Which led R. R. Reno to conclude, in his review of The Righteous Mind:

Thus the profound problem we face. Liberalism is blind in one eye”yet it insists on the superiority of its vision and its supreme right to rule. It cannot see half the things a governing philosophy must see, and claims that those who see both halves are thereby unqualified to govern.

The 2D tug of war scheme is dogma, it’s a sacred value, a Procrustean bed, that all analysts seems to want to force the data into.

The partisan divide is likely to worsen unless and until we see it for what it really is because only by understanding and addressing root causes head on will effective change be possible. 



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I Support Viewpoint Diversity


A politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities. We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

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 Traits and Moral Foundations and

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