Towards a Cognitive Theory of Politics

In recent years, a consensus has been forming about how we reason and develop the opinions we defend. In his influential 2012 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt argued that the first principle of moral psychology is: Intuition comes first and reasoning follows. Intuition is the reflexive gut feeling of like or dislike we experience in response to the things we see in the social world around us. In Thinking Fast and Slow, psychologist Daniel Kahneman observed that conscious reasoning requires language, the construction of an argument, and therefore time, so it can happen only after our intuition has already told us whether we approve or disapprove of something. In their book The Enigma of Reason, Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber argue that the main evolved purpose of reason is to justify our intuitions and to persuade others that our own intuitions are correct. When it comes to social issues that we care about, reason is usually a post hoc rationalization of feelings already felt and decisions already taken. In other words, it turns out that David Hume was right almost 300 years ago when he said:

Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office but to serve and obey them.

So if we really want to get to the bottom of what divides us, we should be taking a deep dive into understanding where our intuitions come from. Proper treatment of any problem requires an accurate diagnosis of its cause. The reasoning of Left and Right on things like the role of government, taxes, welfare, abortion, and gun control is to the human psyche as a fever is to an infection. If there’s to be any hope of ameliorating partisan rancor, finding common ground, and resolving issues amicably, then we must look past the symptoms and identify their real causes.

In this essay, I will propose a ‘Cognitive Theory of Politics,’ which suggests that the ideological Left and Right are best understood as psychological profiles from which political intuitions, beliefs, values, ideologies, principles, and policies follow. Ideology, and everything else, is downstream from psychology. The theory posits a new principle of moral psychology: Psychological profile comes first, intuitions follow. A Cognitive Theory of Politics can improve our understanding of contemporary political movements, such as the protests happening on college campuses, as well as past movements like the French and American revolutions. It’s not what we think that divides us; it’s how we think.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll use the American understanding of the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ to connote Left and Right, as explained by Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind:

In the United States, the word liberal refers to progressive or left-wing politics, and I will use the word in this sense. But in Europe and elsewhere, the word liberal is truer to its original meaning—valuing liberty above all else, including in economic activities. When Europeans use the word liberal, they often mean something more like the American term libertarian, which cannot be placed easily on the left-right spectrum. Readers from outside the United States may want to swap in the words progressive or left-wing whenever I say liberal. (p xxiii)

When I graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1982 with a degree in mechanical engineering, I was clueless about politics. I couldn’t have told you the difference between liberals and conservatives if my life depended on it. Since I was about to become an independent adult and I wanted to take voting seriously, I thought I’d better figure it out. My engineering classes and a couple of electives I took in the business school had trained me to look for first principles—something like the prime directives in Star Trek—that could serve as guide stars for everyday decision making.

My first job after leaving college was near Washington, D.C.  So, like any new arrival in the area, I spent my first few weekends exploring the museums. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are displayed in the National Archives, and in the gift shop there I found a copy of The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas by Carl Lotus Becker. I bought it, read it, and it whetted my appetite for more. Over the years, in between getting married, buying a house, and raising two kids, I also read:

  • Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787 by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier.
  • Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May to September 1787 by Catherine Drinker Bowen
  • The Theme is Freedom: Religion, Politics, and the American Tradition by M. Stanton Evans,
  • Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution by Forrest McDonald
  • The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, by Bernard Bailyn
  • A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles by Thomas Sowell.
  • The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States, by Gordon S. Wood
  • Liberty’s Blueprint: How Madison and Hamilton Wrote the Federalist Papers, Defined the Constitution, and Made Democracy Safe for the World, by Michael I. Meyerson
  • Restoration: Congress, Term Limits, and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy by George F. Will

When one reads multiple books on a subject by a variety of authors with different perspectives, common themes tend to emerge. This is known as consilience, about which Phil Theofanos recently wrote elsewhere in Quillette. Theofanos quotes E. O. Wilson’s definition:

[T]he linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation.

If we bear in mind that generalizations about large populations describe statistically significant trends and tendencies, averages and aggregates, overlapping bell curves and not mutually exclusive dichotomies, then one particular trend emerges quite clearly.

At bottom, ideology seems to come down to a kind of faith; a belief in one particular way of thinking as the surest path to moral truth. The Left has a greater tendency to place its faith in abstract reason; the power of the human mind to overcome obstacles and solve problems. The Right rely more strongly on the wisdom of human experience; there are some things experience shows to be true, even if reason can’t precisely or thoroughly explain why.

Then, in 2008, along came social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his TED talk The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives. Haidt seemed to be on the same quest to understand the differences between liberalism and conservatism as me, but he approached it from the perspective of psychology rather than history.

Haidt’s talk resonated with me deeply and, in retrospect, it is now clear that it marked a turning point in my intellectual journey. It seemed to corroborate the conclusions I had reached from my own reading of history. I was so enthralled by his talk that I wrote to him and told him so, which was something I’d never done before. I explained that I am not a social scientist, but rather an amateur enthusiast who enjoys reading and thinking about these topics, and I explained the convergence of his thinking and mine. To my surprise and delight he wrote back. He gave me permission to publish our correspondence:

I get a lot of emails from ‘amateurs,’ and I rarely find that they fit with so much else that I am reading and thinking as yours has. I think you have nailed one of the few best candidates for being a single principle that characterizes the lib-con dimension. (No one principle gets 70% of it, but this one, and the openness-to-experience one, are good candidates). I think that the five [moral] foundations are like taste buds, everyone’s got them, but your reason/experience split may help explain why some people then construct a morality from logic, for which tradition is irrelevant; others, like Burke, see wisdom in accumulated experience.

As you know, [Thomas] Sowell makes a very compatible case, about why liberals are so prone to dangerous abstractions unmoored from reality. (and I’m a liberal, but a somewhat anti-rationalist one).

I’m also pleased that you have read my work so closely, and apply it so deftly. May I ask what your own political leanings are?

I replied that I’m conservative. He asked if I’d like to review the manuscript of what was then his forthcoming book, The Righteous Mind. I was flattered and, of course, I agreed to do so. My biggest claim to fame to date is that my name appears in the acknowledgments.

My encounter with Haidt and discovery of his work opened up a whole new realm for me to explore that I hadn’t previously considered: psychology. In the years since The Righteous Mind, I’ve read many of the studies Haidt refers to in his book and online lectures.1 I also read books on related topics such as:

  • Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences, by John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Alford.
  • The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization, by Arthur Herman.
  • Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, by Matthew D. Lieberman.
  • The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, by David Brooks.
  • Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960 – 2010, by Charles Murray.

Little did I know there is a formal name for what I was doing. I was constructing a “nomological network of cumulative evidence.” This is a process by which evidence is gathered and organized in support of a hypothesis that a particular human trait is an evolutionary adaptation. It is a formalized version of consilience, and I learned of it by watching a lecture delivered by the psychologist Gad Saad entitled ‘Departures from Reason: When Ideology Trumps Science.’

Saad lists several categories of evidence that can make up a nomological network, including psychological, cross-temporal, cross-cultural, theoretical, and medical. I subsequently discovered a research paper entitled Evaluating Evidence of Psychological Adaptation by David P. Schmitt and June J. Pilcher, who include the additional categories of physiological, genetic, phylogenetic, and hunter-gatherer.2

Common themes emerged once again, building upon earlier ones, which eventually led me to formulate my Cognitive Theory of Politics. In brief, my theory holds that the political Left and Right are best understood as psychological profiles featuring different combinations of ‘moral foundations’ (to which Haidt alluded in his email and later explored in his book) and cognitive style. Psychological profiles operate within the social environments, circumstances, history, and traditions in which they are immersed, and it is from these profiles that beliefs, ideologies, values, principles, and policies follow. To define ideologies in terms of beliefs, values, etc., is to confuse cause and effect.

Moral foundations are evolved psychological mechanisms of social perception, subconscious intuitive cognition, and conscious reasoning described by Haidt in The Righteous Mind. They are pattern recognition modules in the psyche that operate like subconscious radars, constantly scanning the social environment for thought and behavior that once represented opportunities or threats to our genetic ancestors, and sending flashes of affect—gut feelings, intuitions—forward into consciousness when they are detected.

Haidt allows that there are probably many moral foundations, but he has focused his efforts on identifying the most powerful. He’s identified six so far, summarized as follows in The Righteous Mind on pages 178-179 unless otherwise noted:

  • Care/Harm (sensitivity to signs of suffering and need)
  • Fairness/Cheating (sensitivity to indications that another person is likely to be a good or bad partner for collaboration and reciprocal altruism)
  • Liberty/Oppression (sensitivity to, and resentment of, attempted domination)
  • Loyalty/Betrayal (sensitivity to signs that another person is (or is not) a team player)
  • Authority/Subversion (sensitivity to signs of rank or status, and to signs that other people are (or are not) behaving properly given their position)
  • Sanctity/Degradation (sensitivity to pathogens, parasites, and other threats that spread by physical tough or proximity)

He welcomes critiques of those he’s found and suggestions for additional ones.

He calls the first three foundations the “individualizing” foundations because their main emphasis is on the autonomy and well-being of the individual. The latter three are “binding” foundations because they help individuals form cooperative groups for the mutual benefit of all members. In his TED Talk, Haidt argued that moral foundations are the “tools in the toolbox” that make human society possible.

Cognitive styles, on the other hand, are ways of thinking; operating systems, if you will, like Windows and iOS, that process information received from the social environment. There are two predominant cognitive styles, traced through 2,400 years of human history by Arthur Herman in his book The Cave and the Light: Plato and Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization, in which Plato and Aristotle serve as metaphors for each, summarized in the following two short passages:

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. (p. 61)

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 (p.539-540)

Plato thought that everything in the real world is but a pale imitation of its ideal self, and it is the role of the enlightened among us to help us see the ideal and to help steer society toward it. This is the style of thinking behind RFK’s “I dream things that never were and ask ‘Why not?’” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” President Obama’s “Fundamentally Transform,” and even Woodrow Wilson’s progressivism.

Aristotle agreed that we should always strive to improve the human condition, but argued that the real world in which we live sets practical limits on what’s achievable. The human mind is not infinitely capable, nor is human nature infinitely malleable. If we’re not mindful of such limitations, or if we try to ‘fix’ them, our good intentions can end up doing more harm than good and lead us down the proverbial road to hell.

These two cognitive styles can be thought of, respectively, as WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) and holistic. In The Righteous Mind, Haidt describes the peculiarities of WEIRD individuals, as follows:

WEIRD people think more analytically (detaching the focal object from its context, assigning it to a category, and then assuming that what’s true about the category is true about the object). (p. 113)

[WEIRD thinkers tend to] see a world full of separate objects rather than relationships. (p. 113)

Putting this all together, it makes sense that WEIRD philosophers since Kant and Mill have mostly generated moral systems that are individualistic, rule-based, and universalist. (p. 113-114)

Worldwide, this kind of thinking is a statistical outlier because most people and cultures think holistically.3 Holistic thinkers tend to see a world full of relationships rather than objects, and they have a stronger tendency toward consilience. As Haidt explains:

When holistic thinkers in a non-WEIRD culture write about morality, we get something more like the Analects of Confucius, a collection of aphorisms and anecdotes that can’t be reduced to a single rule. (p. 114)

WEIRD Platonic rationalism and holistic Aristotelian empiricism can be thought of as the two ends of a spectrum of cognitive styles. Few people are at the extremes; most are somewhere in between.

The psychological profiles of Left and Right differ in the degree to which they tend to favor the cognitive styles and the moral foundations. A series of studies of cognitive styles has found that “liberals think more analytically (more WEIRD) than conservatives”:

[L]iberals think more analytically (an element of WEIRD thought) than moderates and conservatives. Study 3 replicates this finding in the very different political culture of China, although it held only for people in more modernized urban centers. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives in the same country think as if they were from different cultures.4

Haidt’s studies of moral foundations show that liberals tend to employ the individualizing foundations and, of those, mostly the care/harm foundation, whereas conservatives tend to use of all of them equally. There’s no conservative foundation that’s not also a liberal foundation but, for all practical purposes, half of the conservative foundations are unavailable to liberal social cognition. The graphic below comes from Haidt’s TED Talk, and it shows that this pattern holds true in every culture studied on every continent, suggesting it is a human universal.

‘Ingroup’ stands in for the ‘Loyalty/Betrayal’ foundation. The ‘Liberty/Oppression’ foundation, added to the first 5 foundations later by Haidt and his researchers, is absent.

Haidt finds that libertarians emphasize the liberty/oppression foundation more heavily than the others. He calls each configuration of moral foundations a moral matrix, in the sense that they define the reality in which each of us lives, much like in the movie The Matrix.

In sum, the liberal psychological profile tends toward the Platonic cognitive style combined with the three-foundation moral matrix.  The conservative profile leans toward the Aristotelian cognitive style with the all-foundation moral matrix. The libertarian profile seems to be made up of the Aristotelian style combined with a moral matrix that emphasizes liberty/oppression more than the other foundations.

As I have argued before, concepts like liberty, equality, justice, and fairness take on different—even mutually exclusive—meanings depending on which psychological profile is interpreting them. The Left’s bias toward outcome-based conceptions of ‘positive’ liberty seems to follow naturally from its profile of Platonic rationalism focused on the moral foundation of care. The Right’s tendency to favor process-based conceptions of ‘negative’ liberty follows from its profile of Aristotelian empiricism in combination with all of the moral foundations.

It’s almost as if Left and Right are speaking different languages, in which each uses the same words but attaches starkly different meanings to them. Both sides agree that liberty is a great thing, but because neither side realizes that their understanding of it is different from that of the other they talk past one another, or worse, assume their opponent is stupid, ignorant, or wicked due to the failure to grasp concepts that in their own minds are self-evident.

The American economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell describes the way these two profiles have played out in the real world since the late 1700s in his book A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. Liberal psychology is reflected by thinkers like Godwin, Condorcet, Mill, Laski, Voltaire, Paine, Holbach, Saint-Simon, Robert Owen, and G.B. Shaw. The conservative profile is seen in the likes of Smith, Burke, Hamilton, Malthus, Hayek, and Hobbes.

A Cognitive Theory of Politics can help us to improve our understanding historical events. For example, Sowell observes that the liberal ‘vision,’ or psychological profile, can be seen as the engine of the French Revolution. Jonathan Haidt made the same observation in a lecture he gave at the Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research (CCARE) entitled “When Compassion Leads to Sacrilege.” In contrast, Sowell argues that the American founding was a fundamentally conservative movement. A reading of The Federalist Papers through the lens of the Cognitive Theory of Politics bears him out, and Burke—who supported the American Revolution but opposed the French Revolution—would probably agree.

Importantly, the Cognitive Theory can shed new light on current social trends as well. For example, professors who have incurred the wrath of campus social justice protesters such as Bret Weinstein, Michael Rectenwald, and Nicholas and Erika Christakis consider themselves left of center. This partly explains why they were so taken aback by the ferocity of the attacks against them; it seemed like friendly fire out of the blue.

But was it? I don’t think so. The split between the traditional Left—exemplified by the professors mentioned above—and the social justice Left is one of cognitive style. Both groups tend toward the liberal moral matrix, but the cognitive style of the social justice Left seems to be much closer to the Platonic rationalist end of the spectrum than does the more traditional Left. The most egregious ‘crime’ of the targeted professors seems to be that they’re Aristotelian thinkers.  It’s not so much what they think that elicits the ire of the social justice left, it’s how they think.

Cognitive style is a different kind of moral foundation that overlays the six so far identified by Haidt, and it seems to be decisive in determining how liberals, progressives, conservatives, and libertarians prioritize the others. The political polarization of America described by Charles Murray in his book Coming Apart is best understood as a self-sorting of the population based primarily on cognitive styles.

A Cognitive Theory of Politics offers a new lens through which we can better understand human history and more clearly see ourselves and each other. Using this tool, we can better understand how we got to where we are, what’s happening to us now, and the available paths forward. A more accurate, science-based, universal understanding of the ‘Social Animal’ (humans) by the social animal might break the language barrier between Left and Right and provide a common foundation of knowledge from which productive debate can ensue.


Stephen Messenger has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Systems Management. He has worked for 35 years in systems engineering and program management for FAA, DoD, and civilian government acquisition programs. In his spare time he studies psychology, ideology, and politics and writes a blog called ‘The Independent Whig.’ You can follow him on Twitter @TheWhig


1 Haidt, J. (2001). The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgement. Psychological Review. 108, 814-834.
Haidt, J., & Joseph, C. (2004). Intuitive Ethics: How Innately Prepared Intuitions Generate Culturally Variable Virtues. Daedalus, pp 55-56, Special Issue on Human Nature.
Haidt, J., & Graham, J. (2007). When Morality Opposes Justice: Conservatives Have Moral Intuitions That Liberals May Not Recognize. Social Justice Research.
Haidt, J. & Kesebir, S.. (2007). In the Forest of Value: Why Moral Intuitions Are Different From Other Kinds. In H. Plessner, C. Betsch, and T. Betsch (eds.) A New Look On Intuition in Judgment and Decision Making.
Haidt, J., & Joseph, C. (2007). The Moral Mind: How 5 Sets of Innate Moral Intuitions Guide the Development of Many Culture-Specific Virtues, and Perhaps Even Modules. In p. Carruthers, Sl. Laurence, and S. Stich (eds.) The Innate Mind, Vol 3. New York: Oxford, pp 367-391
Haidt, J. (2007). The New Synthesis in Moral Psychology. Science, 316, 998-1002.
Haidt, J. (2007) Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion. Published on www.edge.org, 9/9/07
Haidt, J. (2008). Morality. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3., 65-72.
Haidt, J. (2008). What Makes People Vote Republican? Published on www.edge.org 9/9/08
Haidt, J., & Graham, J. (2009). Planet of the Durkheimians, Where Community, Autority, and Sacredness are Foundations of Morality. In J. Jost, A. C. Kay, and H. Thorisdottir (eds.), Social and Psychological Bases of Ideology and System Justification.
Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. (2009). Liberals and Conservatives Use Different Sets of Moral Foundations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 1029-1046.
Haidt, J., Graham, J., & Joseph, C. (2009) Above and Below Left-Right: Ideological Narratives and Moral Foundations. Psychological Inquiry, 20, 110-119.
Haidt, J., & Kesebir, S. (2010) Morality. In S. Fiske, & D. Gilbert (eds.) Handbook of Social Psychology, 5th Edition.
2 ‘Evaluating Evidence of Psychological Adaptation: How Do We Know One When We See One?’ by D. P. Schmitt and J. J. Pilcher,  2004 Oct;15(10):643-9.
3 Henrich, J., Heine, S., Norenzayan, A., (2010) ‘The Weirdest People in the World?’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2010) 33, 61–135 doi:10.1017/S0140525X0999152X
4 ‘Liberals Think More Analytically (more “WEIRD”) Than Conservatives,’ J. Haidt et al, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Volume: 41 issue: 2, page(s): 250-267 Article first published online: December 24, 2014; Issue published: February 1, 2015 https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167214563672


    • Thank you.

      As a self-taught layman it means a lot to me that these ideas resonate with at least a few people. In my mind, with humility rather than self congratulation, and NOT with the intent of fishing for compliments, it seems to me that that sort of validation can be more meaningful than the kind that comes by default with a degree in the field.

      Thanks go to Quillette for providing a platform like this for people and ideas that previously were effectively no-platformed by the near impossibility of breaking into the nearly closed system of conventional academia and punditry.

      And kudos go to the participants in these comments. It’s a wonderful civil discussion that has taught me new things, and given me new avenues of study to pursue.

  1. augustine says

    “If there’s to be any hope of ameliorating partisan rancor, finding common ground, and resolving issues amicably…”

    I’m not sure everyone in the world would agree that this is or should be the primary, general goal of such advances in understanding. Might an elucidation of the hows and whys of these cognitive pathways and beliefs also offer an improved capacity to defeat one’s ideological enemies? Could there be a moral foundation that is winning/understanding?

    • “Politics is the continuation of war by other means”.

      The liberal notion that every conflict of opinion or value can be solved through discussion and compromise is nonsense.

      Where “partisan rancour” has been “ameliorated”, politics has been denied.

      Where politics has been denied, the populace has either been seduced or coerced to dwell in a subhuman condition.

  2. Emblem14 says

    If this hypothesis is correct, (and I suspect that it broadly is, pending more research), then how depressing it is to reflect on all of the hundreds of millions of hours of political debate and acrimony, in cafes, salons, pubs, around dinner tables, dorm rooms and now on the internet, which is almost certainly completely useless and misguided?

    If most political discourse between people of different cognitive styles and psychological profiles is doomed to mutual incomprehensibility,”talking past each other” and a fundamental failure in empathy due to foundational differences in conceptual understanding, persisting in this failure mode so consistently and without examination should be one of humanity’s biggest embarrassments.

    There’s probably a theory(s) for why we engage in argument and conflict with people we know we have no desire to truly understand, have no intention or hope to persuade, about things we have no hope in moving toward resolution (socially performative group loyalty/virtue signalling, cognitive sport or exercise, emotional satisfaction etc.) What’s amazing is the collective social participation in this mass illusion; this agreement to pretend we’re all doing something (reasoning, problem solving, persuading) that we’re not actually doing.

    My feeling on this is that 90%+ of all political or ideological “debate”, performed in the dominant mode of discourse is useless and futile. Other aims may be getting served, but insofar as we care about actual problem solving, persuasion and successful social negotiations on collective concerns, we need to stop playing pretend and start incorporating these psychological insights into new methods of engagement, perhaps with a new style of discourse borrowing from clinical psychology.

    Maybe society needs one big group therapy session!

    Without first addressing and administering to the root causes of divergent “ways of thinking”, any surface level discussion or proximal disputes will continue to be utterly fruitless and a gigantic waste of time.

    This topic deserves a lot more attention.

    • Ian says

      You sum it up incredibly well. Most political debate is incredibly pointless and too many people are too caught up in it to help us get past it.

    • Fabian says

      I agree that the effort of a debate is wasted when people go into it with the wrong mindset.

      But when you understand the limitation of your own unique personality, which determines the parts of the world you percieve as relevant, you can use conversations with people you disagree with (or who have an even just slightly different personality) to bringt to light parts of the problem you literally haven’t been able to percieve.

      When discussing abortion, for example, a conservative person might not have actually ever considered the perspective of, let’s say, a young woman in a difficult financial situation who got pregnant because a condom broke accidentaly. The liberal person, on the other hand, might never have considered a well-formulated christian argument for preserving life whenever possible.

      So I think a good attidue to have towards such conversations is to look for the little nuggets of new information you never considered, even if it’s surrounded by 99% of, in your view, “idotic jabbering”. You will not change your mind 180 degrees during the actual conversation, and neither will the other person. But there’s a chance that both your conceptions of the world will shift and broaden just slightly. When poeple do this enough times, they’ll become more well-rounded, so they’ll make more sound (or “less blind”) political decisions in the future.

      • Christopher Rivera says

        Alex Kierkegaard: 688. Perhaps the most pervasive and insidious error in a democracy, after the myth of equality, is the demand that citizens educate themselves on the issues of the day and form responsible opinions on them, in order to be good voters. This is such an astonishingly stupid demand that it defies belief. Take the 2008 global financial crisis, for example. We are talking about such a complicated matter that the greatest authorities on it — people who have devoted their entire lives to economics and hold half a dozen advanced degrees each and all the university chairs and institutional presidencies in the world between them — can’t agree on what went wrong or what should be done about it, and you’re asking taxi drivers and ballerinas and brain surgeons to drop everything they are doing in their lives and start reading up on economics in order to make up their own minds on it. But if they did that — for thankfully they don’t, no one does, not even those who make a living out of pretending to: the pseudo-intellectuals — who would drive our taxis or dance in our ballets or operate on our brains? And do you really want the person who cuts your skull open to stick sharp knives into your brain to have spent the previous night sleeplessly poring over economics textbooks? Not even smart people, like the brain surgeon, who at least possess the capacity to understand the issues, should concern themselves in the least with them, let alone the mass of average and sub-average Joes who are stuggling on a daily basis to merely survive. In the last resort even I, the most intelligent lifeform in the known universe, haven’t much of an opinion on what went wrong in 2008, never mind on what would be the most effective way to fix it. From what little I have heard — and I could be very wrong about all this, which I have no qualms admitting, which is why I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable on the subject or demand that my poorly informed opinion should count for anything — it seems that some big institutional lenders made some bad bets and became insolvent, but letting them fail would have hurt the economy — and thus the general public — far more, in the short and medium term, than the public’s paying for the financiers’ mistakes out of its own pocket, so this is what was done, and under the circumstances it seems to me a wise move. Of course the rules should be changed afterwards, to prevent or at any rate minimize the chances of a repeat of the incident, and that too apparently has been done or is being done, but I’ll be fucked if I am going to pore over the relevant legislation to make sure, and not only because, having had no formal economics education, I’d understand fuck-all about it. The subject is about as boring as a subject can get to me, and thus I would be guaranteed to not make much progress in it, regardless of the amount of time I spent trying to. And wouldn’t it be a waste to occupy a brain as powerful as mine on such a pointless exercise? Why not just let the people who love this stuff so much they have devoted their lives to it study it and come to some conclusion between them? That’s what I or any reasonably intelligent ruler would do if were in charge and forced with this kind of issue: we’d stick the top ten or twenty authorities on it in a room and let them devise a solution, and that’s how we’d settle every complex, specialized issue — always, of course, with interdisciplinary committees overseeing everything and making their own recommendations, and all the major proposals being examined at the highest level, first by my cabinet of exceptional personalities and geniuses, and then personally be me, to ensure that they’d all blend harmoniously together without compromising my government’s long-term strategic vision. In contrast, we now have the absurd demand that grocery store baggers and burger flippers who failed to finish high school spend their every waking hour studying economics, medicine, information technology, space science and climate physics in order to — as the pseudo-intellectuals put it — become “good voters” — i.e. completely useless retards who neglect their own jobs in order to try to cram the entirety of human knowledge inside their brains in their “free time” — which of course would no longer be free, which would mean that all these “good voters” would become physically sick and mentally psychotic social pariahs who hate themselves and everyone around them, on top of not really knowing anything about anything or being useful on anything at all — which, come to think of it, pretty much perfectly describes a pseudo-intellectual! This, then, is what the pseuds are trying to accomplish with their absurd advice: turn everyone into themselves, but thankfully for us they are failing, and the percentage of pseudo-intellectuals in the general population remains small and steady, while normal people continue becoming taxi drivers and ballerinas and brain surgeons without caring about economics at all, or about pretty much any other subject that’s being discussed in the news, to the greater benefit of our civilization, which needs dedicated, passionate specialists far more than airhead know-it-alls who skim everything without really understanding anything. If everyone tried to become a “good voter”, the way pseudo-intellectuals imagine him, spending half the day reading the newspapers and the other half arguing about them, the certain and obvious result would be complete collapse of civilization, which can only survive and thrive on the efforts of those who don’t read newspapers and mind their own business. The proof is in the pudding: ask anyone you want if they’d prefer their brain surgeon to keep up with developments in the field of brain surgery or to have a well-informed opinion on the third-world immigration issue and you’ll see that, all the inane bleating and brainwashing of the pseudo-intellectuals aside, everyone agrees with me — and if the brain surgeon should ignore the news, you can BET YOUR ASS that everyone else, who’s much less qualified to understand it, should too — especially in an absurd voting system in which the opinions of brain surgeons count for exactly the same as those of teenagers or grandmothers or mental health patients.
        I hope that I have managed to convey how enormously beneficial to our culture the voters’ much-maligned “apathy” to the issues of the day is. That’s how the politicians occasionally manage to make a good decision — as in the 2008 crisis —: by taking advantage of the voters’ lack of interest with issues that don’t concern them, and leaving them up to the experts (the much-maligned “technocrats”, which is yet another malicious term for something good and useful — for expertise itself, in fact — invented, of course, and perpetuated by pseudo-intellectuals).
        So is the democratic method completely useless for the administration of an advanced society? Not exactly. A committee of experts should be allowed to reach a decision by vote if there doesn’t seem to be some clear-cut authority among them, or if, after extensive deliberations, they’ve failed to achieve consensus. As long as voting is employed in a restricted fashion, within a small circle of equals, or at least near-equals, in the oligarchic manner, it can be helpful under the right circumstances; but allowing hundreds of millions of nobodies to vote on macroeconomic policy or any other of the myriad extremely complicated and closely interrelated matters that advanced societies are facing today is pure folly that could only be seriously advocated by a pseudo-intellectual. It was pure folly, as all the ancients are telling us, even in ancient Greece, where nobody worked and they all sat around all day and had plenty of time for study and discussion, since they all owned slaves, and it’s even crazier now when everyone works — when the concept “free man” has become extinct, since even billionaires work like slaves (more than them, in fact) — while the issues our societies are facing are immeasurably more complex than what the Greeks were up against.
        In short, don’t listen to the pseudo-intellectuals, listen to the experts instead, and what the experts are saying to you — what they have been saying to you since the very invention of expertise — is to “shut the fuck up and mind your own business”.

        312. Likewise both Baudrillard and Plank, with their naive unqualified use of this “we”, are perpetuating this whining idiocy of “Oh, why cannot everyone become enlightened!” As if it were in any way desirable for everyone to become enlightened! As if, if everyone indeed became enlightened, we wouldn’t be facing an even harder problem: how to darken their minds with stupidities, prejudices, and superstitions! As if it were even possible for everyone to become enlightened! And if it were, then of course that “everyone” would extend to the poodles and the chimps! That’s pretty much what these two idiots are more or less asking for — the enlightenment of poodles and of chimps! All this talk about Nietzsche this and Nietzsche that, while still ignoring the fact that the slaves have to be somehow manipulated. And this is natural, because neither of them is strong enough to posit a goal. Manipulation, after all, only becomes necessary once one has willed an ends, and finds himself in the necessity of positing a means. If the end is simply the enlightenment of everyone, as is Baudrillard’s and Plank’s goal, which amounts to nothing else than their desire to be acknowledged by all of mankind as its enlighteners, this being the expression of the scribbler’s will to power, then manipulation is superfluous, unnecessary, even harmful — what is needed at that point is to drive into everyone’s skulls the truths of which only the scribbler is conscious, in any way possible. Only the scribbler here miscalculates, and ignores one of cognition’s fundamental truths: that it is not possible for everyone to understand everything. In view of that fact any agonizing over, melancholia, etc. proceeding from the inability of worms to understand quantum mechanics or whales the non-locality of space, or slaves the function of the will to power, is stupid. Any sadness proceeding from this has nothing to do with philosophy or science or intellectuality, but with the thwarting of the scribbler’s will to power over the masses. That is all the scribbler cares about. And what would happen in the hypothetical case when everyone understood everything? The scribbler could not care less about that. He hasn’t given the idea the slightest thought. For at that point he would at last be deified by the mass, by every single person in it (for even a single person not understanding something would make the scribbler sad). Afterwards, of course, there would be “wars on earth as there have never been before” and the entire system of trust and exchange which can be so easily manipulated by a higher being would have been blown apart — but again the scribbler would not care about all of that because his future, in both fortune and reputation, would already be secure.

    • cacambo says

      I think you are being overly pessimistic here. I recommend The Enigma of Reason cited above in the article. Sperber and Mercier present a lot of evidence suggesting that while we all suffer from “my side bias,” given the proper context, humans are actually quite good at assessing other peoples reasons and coming to consensus.

      • Emblem14 says

        I agree with that counterpoint in theory, but compounding my despair is the sense that our dominant mediums of communication (the conflict-escalating, confirmation bias promoting, epistemic bubble creating phenomena of social media), and the hyper politicization of the cognitive landscape (due to an overpowered govt. making every zero-sum dispute in a heterogeneous society a very high-stakes game) makes your “proper context”, and Fabian’s “right attitude”, almost impossible to cultivate.

        Sure, if people weren’t being systematically whipped into a frenzy by runaway algorithms, and we were all less capable of threatening each others ways of life through an overbearing government, more people would be open to truly productive dialogue. As it is, our information diet is constantly psychologically priming the tendencies toward tribalism, paranoia and siege mentality.

        So how to we get from here to there?

        • Yes social media can be a wedge that divides people more than they otherwise might be by allowing them to remain in their ideological bubbles.


          Do a web search for something called the intellectual dark web. Social media, Quillette included, allows equal access to people and ideas that otherwise would be invisible. The overall sentiment, the ideas within it, and the empirical science behind it, exemplified by groups like Young America’s Foundation, the Buckley Program at Yale, and by people like Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, Christina Hoff Sommers, Charles Murray, Lindsay Shepherd, Michael Rectenwald, Jordan Peterson, Paul Joseph Watson, Candace Owens, and most recently Kanye West, is a grassroots movement that is ever growing because it offers intellectual water in the desert of groupthink.

          Also look for Scott Adams’ video about the confluence of Owens, Kanye, and the culture at large. A tectonic shift is happening. It’s real, and it’s contagious.

          I’d suggest that the essence of this movement is that the psychological profile of Aristotelian empiricism is pushing back against the coddled thinking (from the Atlantic Magazine cover story “The Coddling of the American Mind) of Platonic rationalism.

  3. This brings out a good point on the differences between left and right. Which is language. For example; equality, racism, and systemic all mean completely different things to anyone on either side. So when a conservative hears a liberal say “there’s no equality for women”, it’s understandible that the conservative finds the statement obsurd, because that term in the conservative’s mind carries a different meaning than the liberal’s. If there is to be communication with someone in the opposite end, at least get the terms for the discussion established.

    • Andrew_W says

      ” “there’s no equality for women”, it’s understandable that the conservative finds the statement absurd, because that term in the conservative’s mind carries a different meaning than the liberal’s.”

      Yep, the difference is (this from both Haidt and Peterson) that the right sees “equality” in terms of opportunity, the left sees equality in terms of outcomes.

      • Russell Taylor says

        Correct, but another key difference is that conservatives tend to play their ideas through. Take equality of outcome, for instance. How is it achieved and what will the consequences be? Leaving people to their own devices won’t achieve it, so coercion is required. Freedom must be stifled, natural advantages cancelled out, achievements stripped, and mediocrity and excellence rewarded equally. What kind of suffering would such policies inflict on a population, and how would they compare to the supposed trauma of living in a world where equality of outcome is not guaranteed?

        A leftist doesn’t think beyond their lofty principles, which is precisely why conservatives consider them intellectual and morally bankrupt.

  4. dirk says

    In this display, I miss the name of Spinoza, a Dutch philosopher who anticipated the Enlightenment by a century, proposed that the aim of the State should be freedom of speech and behaviour, thought that intuition, and not pure reason, was (and should be) the prime impuls of humans (in a time that reason was esteemed above all) and taught that compassion (with poor, suffering beings) was a negative quality (like Nietzsche thus), everything that harmed a person was also negative and should be conquered. Even in the NL, his land of birth, he was soon forgotten (he got a statue only centuries after death), and Quillette is no exception, it looks like. A revival of interest in Spinoza is now apparent in the NL, seen the many Spinoza circles and lectures about him as of late.

    • Christopher Rivera says

      Alex Kierkegaard: 694. The diehard rationalist (usually, a Frenchman) wants to discover everything about the universe without getting out of his chair, while the diehard empiricist (usually, an Anglo-Saxon) is so near-sighted he denies the existence of anything that’s not sitting right in front of his nose, so it’s clear that in both cases we are dealing with weakness: with the rationalists the short-distance kind — difficulty at close-range, difficulty with action — while with the empiricists the long-distance kind — difficulty at long-range, difficulty with thought. Finally, the Germans arrived on the scene, excelling at neither range but being pretty good at both, and that’s how we at last got such towering philosophical monsters as Leibniz, Lichtenberg and Nietzsche — astonishing jacks-of-all-trades and polymaths like the world hadn’t seen since the days of the Greeks — who scared the French and the Anglos so much they never wrote philosophy again (though the French at least tried, precisely because they were the rationalists, which is to say the theorists and writers. Writing therefore was all they had, so they weren’t going to give it up that easily; while the Anglos didn’t miss it all that much, since they were busy — first in the form of the British Empire and then the American one — with running the entire globe.)

      695. A thought is a long-range action while an action is a short-range thought, so we can finally see that rationalism and empiricism are no more opposites than thought and action are (or good and evil, or love and hate, or pain and pleasure, and so on) and that both are therefore necessary and to the greatest degree that they can be attained — without hindering each other’s growth — in order to build the strongest man with the widest range of thought and action, and the greatest freedom of movement possible, in both the physical and the mental dimensions of the world. And this man — who will obviously by that point no longer be a man — we’ll call the Overman, or simply God.
      So the antagonism between empiricists and rationalists does not concern us anymore. It has always been nothing more than a fight between different types of cripples.

      820. Contemporary guilt-tripping has spiraled completely out of control, and what’s mind-boggling is that it’s only bound to worsen, even though one can hardly imagine what more there is to pity that we are not already hysterically exhorted to pity on a daily basis. I am supposed to feel sorry for the poor, the sick, the disabled, and even the dead, who can’t even feel anything any more. I should simultaneously pity the Jews for being slaughtered in the “Holocaust”, and the Palestinians whom the Jews are slaughtering today because of their troubled childhoods in German hands. I am expected to empathize with the blacks in Africa for living in shitholes, and the blacks in the West for being discriminated against. I should feel sorry for the Indians and the Chinese for living in disgustingly polluted environments and working for wretchedly low wages. My feelings must simultaneously “go out” to victims of terrorist outrages, and to the terrorists themselves who were pushed into these suicidal acts by fanatical clerics and traumatic formative experiences at the hands of “imperialist” American drone operators, all the while pitying the clerics themselves for being brainwashed by hypocritical religious founders that lived centuries ago, and of course the poor Americans who are off fighting and dying in the wars of the rich while seeing their own standards of living eroding year after year. And when the terrorists blow up entire towers full of rich people, I must of course pity the rich people too. I have to pity every single animal species ever: from whales and sharks, all the way down to rodents doused in shampoo and made to dance for views on YouTube, and back up again to mammoths killed off in ice ages and dinosaurs “humanized” in Hollywood movies. Then there’s the sad captive pandas in zoos that can’t have sex, the tiny aquatic micro-organisms choking on microplastics at the bottom of oceanic abysses, and the polar bears starving to death after having eaten all the remaining seals and penguins in the polar caps. And of course there’s the poor guys hated on because they like butt-sex, or the other poor guys who are so confused they don’t even know what kind of sex they like, then the peeps who don’t like sex at all, and those who are clinically addicted to it, and on and on it goes. Then there’s the short, the ugly, and the stupid, the autists who aren’t really sick, just special, the old who are infirm and helpless because they’ve lived a hundred fucking years, and finally the comfortable who’ve achieved the American dream but are depressed because they struggle to find meaning in all this “meaninglessness”. The latest fad in the pity hysteria is the one involving millionaire actresses that I am supposed to pity because they had sex with ageing producers to kickstart their careers. If male actors could ensure illustrious careers by merely banging an old woman for 40 minutes, the streets of Hollywood and Manhattan outside production offices would be lined with dudes with boner pills in their pockets, bitches! But the absolute rock-bottom in this direction was reached when the lowest orders in the straight white male hierarchy (it’s called the “manosphere” lol, as if there’s anything manly at all about whining) decided to jump on the victim bandwagon themselves and started whingeing about being divorce-raped out of their families and affirmative-actioned out of universities and workplaces, while seeing their countries bankrupted by millions of poor migrants (that we are also of course supposed to pity) leeching off their social systems’ lavish benefits. And if you think it can’t get worse, just wait until we get in touch with aliens! Yes, the subhumans will go that far: after all, why stop at suffering homo sapiens, or even merely terrestrial life, when there’s an entire UNIVERSE full of weak and declining lifeforms to pity? In fact we’ve already done worse than this, for what good Christian hasn’t been told to pity a god for suffering on a cross somewhere in a desert a few thousand years ago?
      Pity for GOD: that’s how far the raging faculty of empathy will go when allowed to spiral completely out of whack.

  5. Andrew_W says

    The systems of debate we use now are part of our human nature, the target audience, those we aim to persuade, are not our allies or opponents but rather the moderates, the swinging voters.

    I have been beginning to suspect that the structure of the US democratic system might be contributing to the current hyperpartisanship, a democracy functions best when the candidates that are selected aim to fight for the middle ground, perhaps under the US primaries system we’re seeing the middle voters being pulled to the left and right, fewer “swinging voters and candidates selected who are less concerned about governing the whole nation and more concerned about appealing to their side than the middle.

    There are certainly different degrees of political fracturing throughout the Western Democracies with very cordial relations in some and near civil war in others, in part could that be the differences between Presidential vs Parliamentary, FPP vs proportional representation systems?

  6. Russell Taylor says

    Good piece. I remember reading Haidt’s observations about WEIRD folk, and their propensity towards a liberal mindset, but I was frustrated by his failure to address the question of why being wealthy, educated and Western should necessarily lead people to a particular state of mind.

    Is it genetic? Is it about social conditioning? Is it a survival instinct or a way of offloading guilt? One would expect inherent mental functioning to be found across the socio-economic spectrum, but for it to be largely found in a particular demographic demands a more thorough explanation. Thoughts?

    • augustine says

      There have been recent studies that indicate liberal and conservative features are inborn to some degree, especially based in instinctive fear or caution (or lack thereof). Here is one:


      A conservative mindset is more focused on threats of all kinds than “open” liberal minds. As with poor eyesight, certain conditions may allow features that would otherwise present a disadvantage to become more more common and even dominant. I think liberalism, which now dominates Western culture, is like that. Aspects of modern liberal thought are heavily invested in the idea that “othering” or judging others is a sin, yet in most historical contexts– and in many societies outside the West– this kind of thinking is virtually suicidal.

      Which reminds me that many liberals I have known are quick to invoke their cliches that the world is overpopulated, humans are a disease, and other related themes. Logic dictates that people who express views like that would not have survived reproductively in past societies, nor would they have been able to succeed socially.

  7. TJR says

    Plenty of interesting stuff both here and in Haidt’s work. However I really don’t buy this:

    “WEIRD Platonic rationalism and holistic Aristotelian empiricism can be thought of as the two ends of a spectrum of cognitive styles”

    The Anglosphere is in many ways the WEIRDEST of the WEIRD, yet tends to be more empiricist than europeans.

    Indeed you can argue that, at least within the west, its the more individualistic (anglosphere) cultures that tend to be more empirical and the more holistic/collectivist (continental) ones that tend to be more abstract/idealistic.

    Of course that is a gross oversimplification, but IMHO not as much as the statement above.

  8. I think the true sequence of cognitive politics is that Interest comes first, then the Rationalizing comes second.

    Are we shocked that social workers (who depend on government redistribution) are almost uniformly liberal, and Wall Street bankers (who are not dependent on government redistribution) are almost uniformly conservative?

    • Kurt says

      “Wall Street bankers (who are not dependent on government redistribution) are almost uniformly conservative?”

      Citation needed. I have no data, but I’d be astonished to learn that the upper echelon workforce on Wall Street hasn’t been consistently supportive of the Democratic party for decades. What was the partisan split of that affluent neighborhood in the last election? 80-20 Dem perhaps?

      And you’d think Hollywood producers and actors would shy away from actively insulting half of their potential customer on a daily basis. But they proudly forgo what you’d think they’d be most interested in, profits, for some other benefit or inrerest.

      Economics, defined narrowly, doesn’t explain it.

  9. The other interesting feature of Mass Politics is the vapid nature of discourse. Take “Equality”, a meaningless slogan. Yet we have street brawls over “Equality” pro or con. Instead of street gangs playing capture the flag, we have partisans playing capture the slogan.

    People spew this stuff like it is anything more than a gang tattoo or wearing a red bandanna on your head!

    • Emblem14 says

      Great point. There definitely is a contest over what faction gets to “own” the proper usage of feel-good platitudes whose rhetorical power lies in exactly the vagueness of meaning you describe. You can create solidarity around vapidity rather easily when every audience member is doing the work of filling out the details in their own head. Everyone can have their own idealized understanding of what they think the speaker means, without the speaker ever having to risk alienating anyone by getting specific.

      Which is why any real political discussion must be scattered with the phrase “what exactly do you mean by X”

      • Christopher Rivera says

        Alex Kierkegaard: 345. There is no fundamental difference between the sounds coming out of the mouth of a bird or a dog and a homo sapiens; all lifeforms’ vocalizations are means of communication, of expressing an inner psychic reality. Is anything a bird or a dog ever says wrong? And the same goes for subhumans. The goal therefore is not to prove anyone wrong, but to understand them, which is where linguistic optics, the field of study which I have introduced to semiotics comes in, and which will one day celebrate its ultimate triumph in the Dictionary of the Subhuman Language.

        676. A great mistake the anti-religious fanatics make is lumping all religions together under the label of “religion” as if they were equal. But Nietzsche has clearly explained that Christianity stands lower than Buddhism, and Buddhism stands lower than the pagan religions of the various nations — and especially those of classical antiquity — which themselves stand lower then the religion of the future: philosophy/Overman worship. So… if by “the comeback of religion”, which, it is now dawning on some, may now be under way, they mean “the comeback of faith” — after the temporary reduction in our estimation of the value of faith caused by the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution — they are correct. But the faith that will dominate and shape the future is no longer the faith in external gods, but in the gods within us.

        696. “But I don’t believe in anything”, you say, and fancy that you’ve escaped our systems, but all you’ve done is to create your own — and a miserable and paltry one at that! For you too are the god in the center of your own system — every atheist believes in himself, in the last resort — but no one else believes in you, so your system’s influencing no one and shaping nothing, while, without even realizing it — since you are so grossly uneducated, like all atheists — you are merely a believer in and soldier of the atheistic religion which some philosophers created before they learned to psychoanalyze themselves, and figured out that they are in fact their own gods and that atheism is nothing but an attack — and a puny one at that, a merely reactive attack — on the gods of others.

        792. The higher the lifeform, the more powerful that it is, and therefore the closer it stands to God in the order of rank of lifeforms, and hence the more accurately it can empathize with and understand him. That’s why the bottom-feeder subhuman Christians think that I love all lifeforms, which is certainly true to an extent, but with a tough, unequal love they can’t understand that has little sympathy for and patience with weakness; whereas the superhuman Greeks conceived of their gods not only as refraining from helping mortals, for the most part, but even enjoying their suffering and being entertained by it, which is far closer to my psychology than anyone else who has ever taken my name in vain and presumed to speak on my account has gotten.

        813. Once more on Leibniz vs. Newton. Leibniz’s God is supremely rational, but Newton’s is the common Christian God whose will is “unknowable”, and that’s why on all the deepest issues Newton has nothing to say, but simply attributes them all to “God” — i.e. to his own ignorance. Lichtenberg: “Are all our conceptions of God, after all, anything more than personified incomprehensibility?” So, for Lichtenberg, God is a catch-all term for everything one doesn’t understand. So the more one comes to understand, the smaller this sphere becomes — and therefore this God — while at the same time the ego grows at the exact same rate, and begins to demand “its own” (Stirner). Finally, right past the tipping point, where the amount of one’s insight surpasses the amount of one’s ignorance, calling the ignorance “God” ceases to make much sense, and using it for the insight instead — i.e. for the ego, for oneself — is the only logical thing to do. And that’s how the God concept shifts from designating “personified incomprehensibility” to personified comprehensibility, and God transforms from a “holy” ghost and spirit… to flesh and blood (and metal, and circuits): to an “evil” man and superman; to me and my descendants.

  10. Bill says

    A thought challenge for you. Your position is that “a ‘Cognitive Theory of Politics,’ which suggests that the ideological Left and Right are best understood as psychological profiles from which political intuitions, beliefs, values, ideologies, principles, and policies follow.” I would counter that your position is reversed. The beliefs, values, ideologies, principles and policies are the profile from which the political ideology (Left/Right) follows — particularly when one considers that political ideology is a spectrum/continuum and not a binary (or trinary) choice. Consider the underlying math in the Principle of Least Effort. If that same concept is applied to politics (one makes a subconscious calculation using a formula based upon beliefs, values, ideologies, principles, and policies) then one lazily selects the political party that is the best fit. This would also explain party fluidity based upon changing party positions — why a voter could have viewed themselves a Democrat voting for Obama in 2008/2012 and then a Republican voting for Trump in 2016. The political view doesn’t drive the the characteristics, but the characteristics determine the political view (at the time, since the political views of the parties shift over time as they seek to poach voters from one another by skewing how they equate).

    • Christopher Rivera says

      Alex Kierkegaard: 15. The shallow thinkers — who want moreover to pass to you for “humanitarians” — say: “Don’t investigate the people, investigate the system”. But the people are the system. Who do you think created the system? The magical system fairies? Investigating the system ends up leading you back to the people; more precisely, to the psychological processes which led them to create it.

      735. The theory of milieu, which Nietzsche called “a real neurotic’s theory”. Why? It is the theory that we are shaped by our environment, and consequently, that all events are ultimately caused by it, since even when we seem to cause them, the environment has caused us first, and therefore it ultimately caused them. And since events cause the environment, the environment is shaping the environment and we have nothing to do with any of it lol. Indeed only a neurotic would see the world this way!
      And how do we see the world? There is no environment at all; what the casual observer sees as “the environment” is merely other lifeforms and their effects, ergo it is not the environment that shapes us, but the other way around — or at least that’s how things are in the general, healthy case. In the unhealthy case we are indeed being shaped by our environment (i.e. by the other lifeforms around us and their effects), and the result, at the level of psychology, is indeed neurosis.
      In short, the theory of milieu is indeed appropriate for those who are being shaped by their environment, but for the rest of us, who shape our environment and the neurotics with it, what is appropriate is the theory of will. So let’s continue elaborating that.

  11. cacambo says

    This is a fantastic piece. One of the best things I’ve read on Quillette. I came to Haidt’s work in a similar way, after seeing his TED talk, but I came to it as a liberal/progressive. What I find so encouraging about the moral foundations approach is that it provides a framework for dialogue across the political spectrum. While The Independent Whig identifies as a conservative, I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather have a conversation with over a cup of coffee.

    • Michael says

      I love Haidt’s work as well and I like the way that Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions was brought in to develop it. I wonder how Jordan Peterson would weigh in, as he talks a lot about the distinct psychological profiles of liberal and conservatives. Peterson harnesses a couple dimensions of the Big Five Personality traits in his analysis: liberals are high in Openness and low in Conscienciousness, and conservatives the opposite. Openness includes IQ, which fits with the “analytical” as a liberal cognitive trait, whereas Concienciousness includes Orderliness, which may be seen to emphasize an appreciation for traditional structures.

    • re: “While The Independent Whig identifies as a conservative, I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather have a conversation with over a cup of coffee.”

      This is my favorite comment. Not because it is complementary, which I appreciate, but because it transcends the mundane topics under debate and connects to the humanity among all of us.

      That may sound corny or saccharine but IMHO it is a real thing that is relevant and important but too often lost in the sturm und drang of social/political discourse.

  12. ““liberals think more analytically (more WEIRD) than conservatives””
    – most liberals just feel they hate Trump, but cannot explain why. I think its not that “liberals” are more reasoned people. They are the ones who cannot win debates with reason and therefore try to shut down debates.

    ” half of the conservative foundations are unavailable to liberal social cognition”
    – sounds like a mental degeneracy, like when someone was born without functioning legs. Most environmental dangers are not present 24/7 in some people’s lives, basically they are living in a safe bubble. Then their children grow up without having any ways of recognizing and combating those dangers. For example white liberals growing up in an upper middle class neighborhood, cannot imagine what dangers black thugs may pose, unlike white working class who knows exactly how their cousin or collage were victimized by such peoples. The result is certain dangers are allowed into their own lives, as they couldn’t recognize them as dangers, hence the open borders idealistic advocacy by liberals. Only those advocate for dangerous things, who cannot comprehend or recognize the danger.
    Another danger is the lack of meritocracy, when someone grows up rich might not see meritocracy as any value to provide freedom. They were born rich and therefore free, they don’t care how others want to become free by improving their lives using their own merit. Danger of lost freedom cannot be recognized by liberals, from inside the liberal bubble.

  13. “Sanctity/Degradation” is a safety-valve trait. It prevents us from being destructive. Liberals don’t have this trait. This trait prevents us from doing atrocious behaviors, like arrogance, megalomania, condescension, lying, cheating, narcissism… This is why liberals act so evil. Liberals have different definitions of evil, for example someone having 2 apples when another person has only one. Not having a sense of “Sanctity/Degradation” makes people un-suitable to live in a peaceful society, they always bring about tyranny, genocide, destruction, oppression, intentional suffering… The lack of “Sanctity/Degradation” should be treated like a mental illness, being predisposed to crimes (especially against humanity).

  14. markbul says

    You have to be careful when sorting the ‘conservative mind’ from the ‘liberal mind.’ Mussolini began as a socialist, and National Socialism had many leftist members in its earliest years. I suspect that if university humanities faculties had been full of hard right ideologues over the last decades, that these same social justice extremists would have become alt-right nutters instead. That is, their ideology is less philosophically than contingently based. I see the desire to be a member of the cool kids club as far more important than any derivative of Greek philosophy.

    • Kurt says

      ‘I suspect that if university humanities faculties had been full of hard right ideologues over the last decades, that these same social justice extremists would have become alt-right nutters instead.”

      Maybe. But it is a little hard to imagine angry mobs forming to push the idea that people should appreciate their own and other’s herratage, fix themselves before others, show gratitude for the blessings of Western Civilization, and not think of themselves as victims.

      What would they chant while shouting down or assaulting a leftest speaker?

  15. I agree that politics is largely a matter of cognitive style. The problem is you keep using Left and Right as the dominant axes when authoritarian Right and authoritarian Left are indistinguishable in terms of practice, if not intended outcome.

    As a libertarian leftist I can have a civil debate with a libertarian rightist. I simply cannot with an authoritarian of any stripe. The debate goes nowhere. If you oppose free speech you oppose the very ground upon which debate takes place.

    I don’t believe in utopia because the only way we could make a society perfect for everyone would be to eliminate the people for whom society is imperfect. The best we can do is a compromise where those who value enterprise and self-sufficiency co-inhabit with those who value equality and welfare.

    Those groups will pull society in different directions and it will inevitably tilt one way and then the other. That struggle is natural and healthy for society.

    But those who want to ‘fix’ it one way of the other, for all time, have to be kept from power.

    • You are referring to the horseshoe-theory. But isn’t that theory false? First when Hitler and Stalin were BFF, they got greedy and each wanted it all and then became enemies. Then Stalin said that the Nazis were far-right. I think it was a lie, a big lie (refer to D’Souza), a slander on the right. I think the furthest far-right have nothing to do with Nazis, rather it is like the Amish people, or like Catholic priests. Neither are violent against others. Utopian-ism and violent social engineering is a far-left phenomenon, caused by people lacking the most on the trait “Sanctity/Degradation”, which is clearly leftists according tho Haidt’s research.
      About left-right struggle: it only works if one side does not try to eliminate/undermine the bounding framework of their struggles: the US constitution. Constantly trying to change the rules to win, is extremely unhealthy for a country. These forceful-rule-changers have to be removed from the debate.

      • I take the ‘Nazis weren’t Right-wing’ theory as seriously as I take the argument that Islamist fundamentalists ‘aren’t real Muslims’.

        I suggest you explain to your local skinhead gang that kicking black people’s heads’ in is really about ownership of the means of production.

  16. dirk says

    Anybody here who still remembers what WASP was? I am a European, but think, it was something not very far away of WEIRD!

    • When the anti-WASP phenom was running full-tilt in the early 80s, I labelled myself a WACC- White Anglo-Celtic Catholic- to crawl out from under the stigma of WASPishness.

      Looking back from our present condition, I realize that the whole WASP thing was just an early incarnation of “White Privilege” and my WACCo response an early leftist attempt to suggest that not all white people are the same.

      • dirk says

        That’s funny mjw, that whole WASP thing, I had not heard of it anymore since about 30 yrs, until I read here about WEIRDS, something similar, I think. And that WASP thing was, of course, more to the point. Because, what the hell is that I from Industrialised, nonsense, only there to make the weird complete, it doesn,t add anything meaningfull. In our world, everybody is industrialised, except maybe the Aboriginals in their desert , although, I even suspect them to be paid to be there and that way because of some payment by an NGO or Beer Brewer Company. As an alternative to Industrialised, I propose -Ideosyncratic-, although, also that does not add much meaning, but, at least, it is not nonsensical and superfluous, as is -industrialised-.

        • dirk says

          And, after some munching this weekend, I think an update of the old acronyms (WASP 40th birthday, WEIRD 7th) is more than due, to better describe the loose associations of presentday blog zealots, with a catchy new one, OXYMORON.
          O= “oppressive”
          X= xenophobe
          M= Macho
          O= obnoxious
          With thanks to G.Downey, WEIRD critic and psychoanalyst, for the idea and one capital.

  17. Left vs Right?

    Woman: The children must all eat to survive, share the food.
    Man: Give the stronger more so I can be sure some do.

    Same old story..

  18. It’s a little bit difficult to know what to make of this sort of reasoning.

    So, once you tell people that what they think they “think” they actually just “feel” and that the “thinking” amounts to little more than a rationalization of the feelings, what do people who think they “think” this way expect people to do with the information?

    I suspect that part of the problem with this kind of anti-rational anti-politics is its root in the very and uniquely American phenomenon of a politics reduced to the liberalism of the left vs the liberalism of the right.

    I’m with Patrick Deneen in believing that liberalism (most definitively not in the debased-to-the-point-of-meaningless “American” usage) is dying. I suspect that this sort of denial of politics in favour of psychology is just one of its death rattles.

    • Christopher Rivera says

      “Thoughts are the shadows of feelings.” -Nietzsche

    • dirk says

      The last 10 yrs, I increasingly meet people, even well educated ones, using the term -Analysing-. where they simply mean -Leaning towards this or that conviction- (after coming with some arguments or cherry picking).

  19. Christopher Rivera says

    Nietzsche: 387 (Nov. 1887-March 1888) the whole conception of an order of rank among the passions: as if the right and normal thing were for one to be guided by reason—with the passions as abnormal, dangerous, semi-animal, and, moreover, so far as their aim is concerned, nothing other than desires for pleasure— Passion is degraded (1) as if it were only in unseemly cases, and not necessarily and always, the motive force; (2) in as much as it has for its object something of no great value, amusement— the misunderstanding of passion and reason, as if the latter were an independent entity and not rather a system of relations between various passions and desires; and as if every passion did not possess its quantum of reason—

    383. Religious morality.— Affect, great desire, the passion for power, love, revenge, possessions—: moralists want to extinguish and uproot them, to “purify” the soul of them. The logic is: the desires often produce great misfortune— consequently they are evil, reprehensible. A man must free himself from them: otherwise he cannot be a good man— This is the same logic as: “if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” In the particular case in which that dangerous “innocent from the country,” the founder of Christianity, recommended this practice to his disciples, the case of sexual excitation, the consequence is, unfortunately, not only the loss of an organ but the emasculation of a man’s character— And the same applies to the moralist’s madness that demands, instead of the restraining of the passions, their extirpation. Its conclusion is always: only the castrated man is a good man. Instead of taking into service the great sources of strength, those impetuous torrents of the soul that are so often dangerous and overwhelming, and economizing them, this most shortsighted and pernicious mode of thought, the moral mode of thought, wants to make them dry up.

    384 (1885-1886) Overcoming of the affects?— No, if what is implied is their weakening and extirpation. But putting them into service: which may also mean subjecting them to a protracted tyranny (not only as an individual, but as a community, race, etc.). At last they are confidently granted freedom again: they love us as good servants and go voluntarily wherever our best interests lie.

    376. Man’s growing inwardness. Inwardness grows as powerful drives that have been denied outward release by the establishment of peace and society seek compensation by taming inward in concert with the imagination. The thirst for enmity, cruelty, revenge, violence turns back, is repressed; in the desire for knowledge there is avarice and conquest; in the artist there reappears the repressed power to dissimulate and lie; the drives are transformed into demons whom one fights, etc.

  20. Christopher Rivera says

    399. These are the demands I make upon you—however ill they may sound to you: that you should undertake a critique of the moral evaluations themselves. That you should call a halt to the moral impulse, which here demands submission and not a critique, with the question: “why submission?” That you should regard this demand for a “wherefore?”, for a critique of morality, as precisely your present form of morality, as the sublimest form of morality, which does honor to you and to your age. That our honesty, our will not to deceive ourselves, must prove itself: why not?— Before what tribunal? The will not to let oneself be deceived is of different origin: a caution against being overpowered, exploited—one of life’s instincts of self-defense.

    400 (1883-1888) The three assertions: The ignoble is the higher (protest of the “common man”); the antinatural is the higher (protest of the underprivileged); the average is the higher (protest of the herd, of the “mediocre”). Thus in the history of morality a will to power finds expression, through which now the slaves and oppressed, now the ill-constituted and those who suffer from themselves, now the mediocre attempt to make those value judgments prevail that are favorable to them. To this extent, the phenomenon of morality is, from a biological standpoint, highly suspicious. Morality has developed hitherto at the expense of: the rulers and their specific instincts, the well-constituted and beautiful natures, those who are in any sense independent and privileged. Morality is therefore an opposition movement against the efforts of nature to achieve a higher type. Its effect is: mistrust of life in general (in so far as its tendencies are considered “immoral”)—hostility toward the senses (in so far as the supreme values are considered to be opposed to the supreme instincts)— degeneration and self-destruction of “higher natures,” because it is precisely in them that the conflict becomes conscious.

  21. Christopher Rivera says

    Nietzsche: Moral values are illusory compared with physiological values.
    Alex Kierkegaard: 695. A thought is a long-range action while an action is a short-range thought, so we can finally see that rationalism and empiricism are no more opposites than thought and action are (or good and evil, or love and hate, or pain and pleasure, and so on) and that both are therefore necessary and to the greatest degree that they can be attained — without hindering each other’s growth — in order to build the strongest man with the widest range of thought and action, and the greatest freedom of movement possible, in both the physical and the mental dimensions of the world. And this man — who will obviously by that point no longer be a man — we’ll call the Overman, or simply God.
    So the antagonism between empiricists and rationalists does not concern us anymore. It has always been nothing more than a fight between different types of cripples.

    694. The diehard rationalist (usually, a Frenchman) wants to discover everything about the universe without getting out of his chair, while the diehard empiricist (usually, an Anglo-Saxon) is so near-sighted he denies the existence of anything that’s not sitting right in front of his nose, so it’s clear that in both cases we are dealing with weakness: with the rationalists the short-distance kind — difficulty at close-range, difficulty with action — while with the empiricists the long-distance kind — difficulty at long-range, difficulty with thought. Finally, the Germans arrived on the scene, excelling at neither range but being pretty good at both, and that’s how we at last got such towering philosophical monsters as Leibniz, Lichtenberg and Nietzsche — astonishing jacks-of-all-trades and polymaths like the world hadn’t seen since the days of the Greeks — who scared the French and the Anglos so much they never wrote philosophy again (though the French at least tried, precisely because they were the rationalists, which is to say the theorists and writers. Writing therefore was all they had, so they weren’t going to give it up that easily; while the Anglos didn’t miss it all that much, since they were busy — first in the form of the British Empire and then the American one — with running the entire globe.)

    693. The rationality fanatics imagine that religious people were completely irrational, and that science was something that suddenly appeared one day out of the blue and utterly changed everyone’s thought-processes and world-perceptions — an unforgivably gross and crude simplification of what really happened that’s responsible for their failure to see the connections between science and religion (and therefore between philosophy and religion, since the sciences are merely the various philosophical branches). I mean it’s not as if the ancients were too dumb to make the connection between e.g. clouds and rain, it’s just that they interpreted rain as e.g. “Zeus’s will”, whereas the scientists are more or less saying it is the clouds’! But if we define Zeus = the clouds, what exactly has changed in the two schemas? Something is causing the rain; there must be one or more reasons for why it’s raining — both we and the ancients agree on that —; and precisely because we both look for reasons we are both rational human beings and lifeforms! That’s what rationality is: the belief in the existence of reasons for everything! So the religious man too is rational, the only difference being that the reasons he finds all around him are gross and crude reasons because his brain — either due to genetic or cultural inferiority, or both — works in a correspondingly gross and crude manner (with monotheists’ brains functioning in a more crude and gross manner than polytheists’, since the former are only capable of “resolving” everything to a single reason: the will of their single monotheistic “God”).

    716. Stalin: “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?”

    715. You think he’s being “irrational” for not accepting your idea, but it’s his choice whether to accept it or not. We don’t yet have machines that can force ideas into people’s brains, so until we do every person retains ultimate veto over what goes inside his brain, and what stays outside. You think your idea should be universally accepted by everything with a brain, because it’s “rational” — i.e. because it “makes sense” and seems beneficial (to whom precisely?) from where you are standing — but mere elementary thinking should tell you that different brains forming the same idea is physically impossible. It will be a merely similar idea at best, and that only if we are talking about similar brains. And since Neanderthals had brains too, as do birds and elephants and the clinically retarded, the rational thing to expect would be a great variety of ideas and not the universal agreement or similarity that the “rationality” fanatics are irrationally expecting, and even demanding. But when the machine that can force ideas into people’s brains arrives, what will happen — and mark my words about this — is that when they try to force an idea into someone’s brain who’s been vehemently rejecting it, that person will mentally collapse, or at the very least fall into severe depression, depending on the severity of the case. And that’s because ideas are not harmless things but extremely dangerous ones, and that person’s brain knows its resources far better than you do, so when it rejects an idea it does so for a good reason, and when you insist on trying to force it in, despite it being obvious that his brain can’t handle it, you are being absurdly unreasonable.

  22. Christopher Rivera says

    Alex Kierkegaard: 734. The only reason that in relativity all observers see each other’s clocks as running slower than their own is so that they’ll be forced to disagree. If one thought that another’s clock was running slower, while the second thought the first one’s clock was running faster — as the scientists would have liked things to be — then there would exist an objective reality that everyone could agree on: that one observer is moving faster than the other. That’s why scientists would instinctively prefer things to work this way: because they are weaklings and hence hate disagreement (to such an extent that they’d “agree to disagree”, if need be, whenever they too are forced by circumstances to finally disagree). This and only this is the reason that this “paradoxical” phenomenon is observed: the universe is simply set up in such a way that, regardless of who we are and what we do, we will ultimately disagree. And that’s why we have invented the concepts of perspectivism and subjectivity, otherwise such concepts would be useless and there’d be no reason for them to exist.

    • Emblem14 says

      Dude, your posts are incomprehensible. If you’re skipping meds, get back on them. If you’re on meds, for the love of god, they’re not helping.

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  24. Nicholas Conrad says

    I finished The Righteous Mind myself just last week. I find it puzzling that Haidt bothers to identify each foundation as a dichotomy (e.g. “care / harm”) but fails to follow up on the clear implication that each foundation contains within it one positive and one negative value. He almost makes the connection in the case of fairness / cheating, when he allows for two separate conceptions of fairness: equality of outcome, and equality of opportunity. But we can re-frame “equality of opportunity” from an alternate positive conception of ‘fairness’ to an opposition to cheating. As long as everyone plays by the rules, everyone ends up with what they deserve.

    I see clear distinctions in other foundations along these lines that Haidt fails completely to recognize. For instance, noting that liberals and libertarians both score highly in liberty / oppression, but failing to realize that libertarians are generally pro-personal-liberty while liberals are far more concerned about stopping oppression (in particular for oppressed groups). Or failing to draw a distinction between liberals’ being pro care, even if it means having to harm some people to provide that care (and perhaps it’s a bonus if the harm is to an ‘oppressing’ group and the care is to an ‘oppressed’ group) in contrast to libertarians’ prioritizing aversion to harm, even if it means we can’t provide as much care as we would wish.

    I also find it non-credible to assert that liberals don’t have moral values for sanctity or authority:

    “Authority/Subversion (sensitivity to signs of rank or status, and to signs that other people are (or are not) behaving properly given their position)”

    This perfectly describes the fixation on the left with cultural appropriation and telling ‘oppressor’ groups to ‘check their privilege’ and ‘stay in their lane’.

    “Sanctity/Degradation (sensitivity to pathogens, parasites, and other threats that spread by physical tough or proximity)”

    This seems to be the driving motivation behind safe spaces and deplatforming, that dirty or dangerous thoughts can’t be spoken or they will spread, and people need safe spaces to protect them against being infected or microagressed against.

    • dirk says

      All persons value fairness, sanctity and authority Nicholas, but some persons the one a little bit (or much) more than that other. And this is what Haidt also teaches, even in semi-quantitative graph form.

  25. Christopher Rivera says

    Nicholas Conrad: Authority/Subversion (sensitivity to signs of rank or status, and to signs that other people are (or are not) behaving properly given their position)”
    This perfectly describes the fixation on the left with cultural appropriation and telling ‘oppressor’ groups to ‘check their privilege’ and ‘stay in their lane’.

    Yeah, the liberal/progressive ranking is just according to intersectionality/cultural Marxism, even if people don’t know the term, the culture already promotes intersectionality implicitly (news, journalism, Hollywood, politics). Partly because it’s just an attack on the empathy of Judeo-Christian civilizations: racial pity and gender pity conflated with class pity for a nonstop guilt-tripping of epic proportions (invoking slavery, gender wage gap, general inequality, and other “cherry picked” historical or statistical authorities).

  26. Scott B says

    Thanks a lot for this – a really good summary of the role psychology plays in determining people’s views and positions on many matters.
    My only quibble is with your use of the term ‘ideological’ in introducing your theory as I feel a lot – probably the majority – or people don’t think in terms of ideology; they have positions, perspectives, etc but largely look at each issue in isolation. It’s easy to overlook this because they’re the ‘silent majority’ who feel no compulsion to broadcast their views on social media.
    In fact my tl:dr distillation of your set of observations is that ‘lefties’ tend to be more motivated by ideology and top-down thinking, while ‘righties’ tend to be more pragmatic and bottom-up. There are, of course, ideological righties and they’re often the scary variety. Conversely former lefties who have abandoned ideology in favour empiricism (i.e. moving from faith to evidence) are often among the most rational. There is a rich history of this from Thomas Sowell, to Dave Rubin and the recently Kanye West-endorsed Candace Owens (the YouTube interview between the latter two is illustrative of this journey).
    So then the question is: what factors contribute to the ideological – empiricist dichotomy? As ever the answer lies somewhere in the nature/nurture spectrum and is unique for each individual but the nature part is easier to theorise and generalise about.
    It must surely be the case that in any study of human behaviour and interaction psychology comes first. The individual is the single base unit of a population, just as the cell is of an organism or the atom of a substance and psychology is the study of what governs the actions of the individual.
    Given the broad range of conclusions people derive from similar evidence and experience, it also seems overwhelmingly likely that many of our views are heavily influenced by our psychological tendencies.
    It seems clear from this, therefore, that many debates around things like politics, religion, etc are futile because they’re merely two or more people of significantly different psychological profiles trying to convince each other (and themselves) that their profile is superior.
    This is where the fundamental component of psychology – the ego – seems to get under-explored in discussions such as this. To the psychological dichotomies discussed in this piece I would add: humble – arrogant. Only humility allows an debater to make peace with the fundamentally different psychological makeup of their opponent and manage their own ego to allow for compromise, concessions, conciliatory language, etc.
    Our id needs to feel right and to win. while our superego tells us that’s less important than seeking the truth and that discussion is not a competitive sport; we need to try to listen to the latter a bit more on this stuff. Young children are mostly id and we give them a pass because they don’t know any better. Adults who still behave that way are harder to accommodate.

  27. Michael says

    I really love this article and shared to many friends – great work. I wonder if there’s a better way to view this though. Jordan Peterson makes these claims using Big 5 typology and Johnothan Haidt is doing similar things with a different framework. I think the jungian personality types have been prematurely dismissed and I think offer an additional framework to view these in. The book “Neuroscience of personality” by Daario Nardi showed that certain behavioral brain regions group together into 16 personality types matching the MBTI theories using EEG experiments. Recently the website Cognitive Types has been doing similar experiments using algorithems to identify patterns of facial and body expression that again seem to fall into 16 types. I think the holistic vs. WEIRD spectrum is best explained by the cognitive functions Te (objective, broad logic + subjective, deep ethics) and Ti (Subjective, deep logic + Objective broad ethics).

    I’d love to hear your thoughts after some quick exploring of Cognitivetype.com

  28. Cee says

    Awesome article. THANK YOU!

    I can see this contributing to bridging the left/right divide IF, and only if, the left can bring themselves to consider that the “other language” that exists within conservatism has validity. Absent that concession, I have stopped engaging liberal friends in discussion. It bears no fruit.

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  30. brao says

    Sorry, but I think this article is mostly shallow and beside the point. Liberal and conservative are ways of thinking and so much of social science nonsense is wasted on rehashing old concepts into new verbiage. Is it really true that nonWestern cultures also think like this? I dont believe this nonsensical social science researchers, coming from a nonWestern culture, and I believe I can spot and justify western influences easily when I see them. The problem with the west is that is is caught up in a Cartesian framework of thinking and cant let go, mostly because of arrogance/ego inside the entire culture. The left is mostly a bunch of fascists, trying to get political power by any means and keep it there. Always a posteriori justification of it, using sophisticated ‘reasoning’, but look at their icons, all the way from Kant to Hegel to Marx to the social engineers Lenin, Mao and their ilk, to the modern day democrats and Obama.

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