Reviews | The moral chasm that has opened between left and right is widening

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This hypothesis, argue Voelkel and Brandt,

has its roots in research which points out that people’s thoughts, attitudes and behaviors are strongly influenced by the ideological groups they identify with and is consistent with work suggesting that people’s ideological identifications function as group identification . According to this view, liberals and conservatives can selectively and flexibly endorse moral values ​​depending on the target group of the moral act.

Voelkel and Brandt cite the moral foundation of fairness as an example:

The strong version of the moral division account predicts that liberals should be more likely to endorse the foundation of fairness, regardless of the target group. The narrative of the political group conflict makes a different prediction: Liberals will condemn the unfair treatment of liberal groups and groups stereotyped as liberal rather than conservative. However, the Conservatives will condemn the unfair treatment of conservative groups and stereotypical groups as conservative rather than liberal. Such a conclusion would suggest that the foundation of fairness is not unique to liberals, as both groups care about fairness for their own political groups.

Investigations carried out by the authors show that

Consistent with the political group conflict hypothesis, we found that the effect of ideological identification depended on whether the moral acts involved liberal or conservative groups. Consistent with the moral division hypothesis, we found the pattern identified by MFT (liberals score higher on individualizing foundations and conservatives score higher on constraining foundations) in the moderate target condition.

In other words:

We find evidence that both processes can play a role. On the one hand, we are providing solid evidence that the Conservatives approve of binding foundations more than the Liberals. On the other hand, we have shown that the conflicts of political groups contribute substantially to the relationship between ideological identification and adherence to moral values.

The debate on moral values ​​and political conflicts has engaged new contributors.

Richard Hanania, president of the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology and former research fellow at Columbia’s Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, says

Women have more of a role to play in intellectual life, so we are moving towards feminine norms regarding things like trade-offs between feelings and the search for truth. If those trends started to reverse, we might call it a “masculinization” of culture, I guess. The male / female divide is not synonymous with right / left, as the leftism of a previous generation was much more masculine, think of gender relations in communist countries or the organized labor movement in the United States at its height.

The role of gender in politics has been further complicated by a controversial and counter-intuitive finding set out in “The Paradox of Gender Equality in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education” by Gijsbert Stoet and David C. Geary, professors of psychology at the University of Essex. and the University of Missouri.

The authors suggest that:

Paradoxically, countries with lower levels of gender equality had relatively more women among STEM graduates than countries with higher gender equality. This is a paradox, because countries where gender equality is equal are those which offer girls and women more opportunities for education and empowerment, and generally promote the engagement of girls and women in STEM fields.

Assuming for now that this paradox of gender equality is real, how does it affect politics and polarization in the United States?

In an email, Mohammad Atari, a graduate student in psychology at the University of Southern California and senior author of “Gender Differences in Moral Judgments in 67 Countries,” noted that “some would say that in more egalitarian societies between the sexes, men and women are freer to express their values ​​independently of external pressures to adapt to a predefined gender role ”, suggesting an easing of tensions.

Swiveling from gender to race, however, the Non-Partisan Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group this month released “Racing Apart: Partisan Shifts on Racial Attitudes Over the Past Decade.” The study showed that

The attitudes of Democrats and Independents on identity-related topics diverged considerably from those of Republicans between 2011 and 2020 – including their attitudes on racial inequality, the police, the Black Lives Matter movement, immigration and Muslims. Most of this discrepancy stems from changes among Democrats, who have become much more liberal during this time.

The murder of George Floyd produced an explosion of racial empathy, wrote Robert Griffin, Mayesha Quasem, John Sides and Michael Tesler, but they note that poll data suggests that “this change in attitude was largely temporary. The weekly surveys of the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape project show that all global changes had mostly evaporated by January 2021. “

Additional evidence suggests that partisan hostility between Democrats and Republicans is steadily worsening. In their August 2021 article, “Cross-Country Trends in Affective Polarization,” Levi Boxell and Matthew Gentzkow, both economists at Stanford University and Jesse M. Shapiro, professor of political economy at Brown, wrote:

In 1978, by our calculations, average supporters rated party members 27.4 points higher than outside members on a “sentiment thermometer” ranging from 0 to 100. In 2020, the difference was 56 , 3, which implies an increase of 1.08 standard deviation. .

Their conclusion is that over the past four decades, “the United States has experienced the fastest growth in emotional polarization among the twelve OECD countries we consider” – the remaining 11 are France, Sweden , Germany, Great Britain, Norway, Denmark, Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland.

In other words, whether one assesses the current political climate of conflict in terms of the theory of moral foundations, feminism or the hypothesis of conflict between political groups, the trends are not favorable, especially if the outcome of the presidential election 2024 is near.


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