The Righteous Mind: Part 1

By Gabrielle Deubendorfer
Reader Contributor

I feel compelled to respond to Mr. Rose’s letter to the editor of Jan. 11, in which he claims that Mr. Libby’s LTE of Dec. 21 relied on academics as a form of “censorship of free thinking and reasonable analysis,” which he calls “a socialist tactic where freedom and God are supplanted by statist control.”

Frankly, it took me awhile to understand the underlying message, and I will come back to that later. I had to look up statism – the belief that the state should control either economic or social policy, or both, to some degree. While I don’t see how Mr. Libby was making statist claims — he was using science to support claims that climate change is human caused — I do understand how Mr. Rose would come to Mr. Gifford’s defense as Mr. Libby was portraying him as a non-thinking, non-educated dimwit. If anybody would label somebody from my family or group like that, I would react as well. I will explore that more in a later part of this series on the Righteous Mind, which is based on Jonathan Haidt’s research. He claims that we all are evolutionarily designed for “groupish righteousness.”

My intention is to use the reactions to Citizens Climate Lobby’s “Lets Clear The Air” event as an example to explain how we all are ensnared in our own moral matrix – liberals even more so than conservatives.  One of Haidt’s principles is that “morality binds and blinds…We all get sucked into tribal moral communities….We think the other side is blind to truth, reason, science and common sense, but in fact everyone goes blind when talking about their sacred objects.” Understanding those sacred values is the clue to understanding the other group. Haidt’s six moral foundations give a handy tool to begin to bridge the current enormous political and social divide and focus on practical solutions. This addresses another principle: “There is more to morality than harm and fairness,” or the liberal moral emphasis. If we take these tools together with the last principle that “intuition comes first, strategic reasoning second,” we can open to the possibility that both liberal and conservative groups are composed of good people who have something important to say and contribute elements necessary for a healthy social and political community.

Having this in mind, I would like to explore here why Mr. Rose would claim that education is a communist plot that limits freethinking and reasonable analysis. I am frankly clueless how one could have arguments against Panhandle Alliance For Education (PAFE) wanting to improve teacher training, reading scores and career/college guidance. In fact, our own Republican governor has just reaffirmed support for those goals for this legislative session.

Not too long ago I spent one month in Cambodia, the long-term battleground of the Khmer Rouge. It was a spin off of Mao Tse Tung’s communist China.  In the name of equality, all the elite — the whole population of the capital Phnom Pen, then a thriving French colonial city — was evacuated and major factories and universities destroyed. Anybody with any background in government work, an educated profession or multilingualism — a quarter of the population — was systematically eliminated. One way the Khmer Rouge would recognize an intellectual was if he or she was wearing glasses.

I met a man who was trained by the Khmer Rouge in using herbs as all the doctors were being killed in the name of resurrecting the ancient Angkor Wat civilization without modern technology. The effects of such absurdity are still very palpable in Cambodia.

I have to admit that using this Khmer Rouge example is extreme, but the similarity of wanting to demonize education and science strikes me as communistic, where working the land gets priority. In fact, as Ben Olson said in his response, Mr. Rose’s suggestion to monitor and vet all news outlets according to sounds distinctly communistic. I know I am stretching it here, but I think this deserves some thought.

As I can trust that Mr. Rose is not a communist, there has to be something else going on here. I wager that liberal insistence on scientific support for human-caused climate change can be perceived as political correctness, or the suppression of alternate opinions. That would make sense if you are dealing with equally valid opposing opinions based on verifiable facts. However, I suspect that the clue lies in his comment of “freedom and GOD are supplanted by statist control” and that anything reeking of socialism is a “present danger to our constitutional republic.”

Climate Citizens Lobby’s presentation/panel about the carbon fee and dividend policy stirred up basic conservative fears of government overreach (CO2 regulation), threatened the sanctity of Christian beliefs (God-created nature has always regulated itself) and attacked individual states’ freedom. In part II, I will explain how these fears are representing core conservative values of liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity, which tend to not be part of the liberal moral repertoire. Later I will explore how the moral values of care and fairness are almost exclusively determining the moral matrix of liberals. And finally I will address how all of these moral values are complementary and how above mentioned principles are necessary for productive social and political dialogue and progress.

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