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The minds of liberals and conservatives

Jonathan Haidt

Jonathan Haidt

The biggest mistake in psychology is to think that the mind at birth is a blank slate. Instead, “the first draft” has already been written, and will now get revised by experience.

So says Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist whose book I reviewed here, in this TED talk. (I can’t embed TED videos, unfortunately.)

In particular, whether you’re liberal or conservative probably comes down to five aspects of your first draft, he says: How much you worry about/value:

  1. Harm/care
  2. Fairness/reciprocity
  3. the Ingroup/loyalty
  4. Authority/respect
  5. Purity/sanctity

In all cultures, liberals tend to value care and fairness most, but largely reject the ingroup, authority and purity as values. Conservatives tend to value them all. Thought-provoking.

Other reactions to the talk here and here.


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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mr. Crotchety #

    I see another reading group discussion. Was Hannibal a liberal or a conservative?

    November 21, 2008
  2. Don’t tempt me, Mr Crotchety: I might just launch into it.
    Actually, since you have tempted me, I immediately think about my other two protagonists, Fabius and Scipio, those great Romans who were Hannibal’s enemies. (Frenemy, in Scipio’s case.)
    I’ll be blogging much more about them next year, when we get closer to publication.
    But in this context, the interesting thing is that Fabius is probably the conservative archetype, Scipio the liberal.
    Both were generals and senators and consuls in one of the most conservative societies and armies in history. But Scipio was never all that enthusiastic about the “ingroup”. He loved Greek culture and customs, and dressed in the Greek way, spoke Greek, and so forth. He never villified Rome’s enemies. He was very concerned about fairness–for individual soldiers, conquered enemies, etc. He was probably history’s archetype for an “open mind.”

    November 22, 2008
  3. Vincent #

    As you noticed, TED’s embed code doesn’t work in WordPress. I used a tool called Vodpod that creates embed code that does work in WordPress.

    http://vodpod.com/wordpress

    Love the Economist, by the way, and like you say, it’s rare to know who the authors are. Cool.

    November 22, 2008
  4. Thanks, Vincent! I will play with Vodpod and see if I can figure it out.

    November 22, 2008

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