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Wow! Excellent post Greta. Totally illuminating. I'd like to say 'paradigm-changing' but that sounds too pretentious. But that's what I mean.

Thank you!

Fagnus von Goobenstankass

Your diatribe is so poorly reasoned and your straining of logic (if that's what it can be called) so offensive that instead I will comment on your photo.


Are you trying to hide a third chin or something?

This is stupid. You are stupid. Stupid is as stupid does, and your stupid done did something really stupid.


I'd compare it to Jesus vs. the Scribes. Conservative logic is pointedly anti Christian- they refuse Jesus' teachings totally. The Old Testament is the core of conservative reasoning- rules taken out of context and rigidly applied, authoritarian and feudal. As the post by Fagnus so brilliantly shows, conservatives cannot have a rational discussion, and cannot stick to logic and facts, because they can only think in dogma- rules they have taken as truth from those who exploit them. Note his typically conservative response- nothing but elementary school level personal attacks and rants. Nothing to support his dogma, nothing of value to contribute, nothing to demonstrate that his point of view is better or more workable. Just, dumb attacks on another's appearance. Very anti Christian. This is how a conservative (does not) think. I call it reptile reaction - no reason, no thought just attacks, as if attacking somebody will prove their point.
Jesus recognized this and His teachings, as best described in the Sermon on the Mount, are introspective, and are humanistic- help your fellow man, the sick the afflicted and, don't go round criticizing others until you are without sin. Jesus was about salvation by works, while, as usual, conservatives like to take the easy way out and think they can get to heaven just by believing, without changing how they act.


Fagnus von Goobenstankass | June 23, 2010 at 06:50 AM:

Are you trying to hide a third chin or something?

And there we have it. The ultimate in internet refutations. "U R FAT!!!!" How can any position possibly withstand an ad hominem argument?

Pete Bogs

I think liberalism is superior because it's so broad as to contain within it the belief in the right to be a consternative; that definitely doesn't work both ways.


Wow, this is a great argument for liberal values. I've been trying to think of a good way to frame this argument for awhile. Thanks for the excellent post.

Rose Colored Glasses

Fairness and harm are universal human values.

Authority, loyalty, and purity are junvenile values, which adults have outgrown. You are comparing maturity with arrested development.


Excellent points. I've always believed that conservatives are less evolved, but I couldn't put my finger on why. We need them, just as women need men, to provide an opposing viewpoint, a yang for a yin. Doesn't mean they're right. Lately they've become more desperate as we've seen just how wrong they can be.


It appears that you are attempting to justify your own indulgence.


This whole nonsense of liberal vs. conservative is the reason why we have so many problems in this country.

Loyalty can be universalized on the basis of caring for others, and not stabbing them in the back at the first chance. Authority can also be universalized, such as putting authority in reason and empirical evidence. Finally purity can be universalized as you mentioned on the basis of maintaining your body free from toxins as well as hateful thoughts and ideas.

Consequently, the so called liberal values of fairness harm avoidance can also be applied to a specific group, as has been done in the past.

The point is that you are trying to justify your political positions by saying liberal values are universal and conservative ones are not. The fact is though, that values and morality in general are what is important, and a genuinely good person will not seek to hurt people, will probably try to be fair, will respect people in authority so long as they are not evil, will be loyal to their friends and family, and will try to be as pure as possible.

ANYONE, whether they call themselves liberal conservative, or whatever, who tries to separate those essential values of humanity will find that they are missing the big picture.

Being a COMPLETE human being requires all the values mentioned, guided by conscience, empathy, and compassion. The great moral leaders who have walked the Earth have all understood that


excellent article

I think there's also a disagreement in what the values mean in the liberal or conservative context

and disputes around values are the most strident and difficult to resolve without a common frame of reference

you can't move forward on anything when you can't agree on the starting point or basis of the action

I think a major difference is liberals seek to control/regulate the overlap between people - what we do in public

and conservatives seek to control more what we do in private

Jake Lockley

A consequence based concept of morality is a pre-adolescent stage of moral development. You also don't take into account a definition of what it means to be civilized or how behavior can be qualified as uncivilized or behavior befitting an animal rather than a civilized moral agent. You really only make the argument for moral relativism rather than a concept of morality that takes into account the greater good.


It occurs to me that another word for 'purity' might be 'sacred.' There are ideas, symbols, objects or people which are not to be mocked, questioned, violated, or contaminated, for they are set apart. They have authority, because they are sacred; one remains loyal to them, for they are holy.


Greta Christina, I have to wonder how many conservatives you've encountered.

You're confusing values held by some conservatives with conservative values. If you read conservative literature, the better conservative blogs or talk to any half way knowledgeable conservative, you'll find that while we value loyalty, we also value fair procedures and avoidance of harm. In fact avoidance of harm is why we point out how governmental programs can have unintended harmful consequencess.

We're also not particularly hung up on authority, although we realize that you need authority to have stability so that you can have fairness and avoidance of harm. We value autonomy and freedom, and under your argument they would be universal values. So you can plug them into your argument with only some minor modifications and show how conservative values are better than liberal values.

As for purity, I have no idea what that means in this context, and wouldn't even hazard a guess. I can't remember reading much about it in the National Review or the Weekly Standard. Sastra's definition of "purity" can be applied to liberals as well as conservatives

BTW, libertarians don't want a world with no government. You're confusing them with anarchists.

And many countries in Progressive Europe not only have laws against murder and theft but they also have lawa covering "hate speech," which means you can't discuss anything that might offend a politcally favored group. If this is what liberals have in mind by fairness and avoidance of harm, then there's something to be said for conservative values.

Eric Abrahamson

I agree, Greta. I saw you speak at the S.F. Atheists meeting last month and I was really impressed by how intelligent and articulate you were and how much I liked your ideas.

Bruce Gorton

Posted by: AYY | June 23, 2010 at 10:08 PM

Yeah, shoowah. The Republican Party is not some obscure movement that represents the loony fringe, it is the conservative main-stream.


When I took the test I was surprised to find how highly the self-identified conservative test subjects before me had scored on fairness and harm; I guess that their greater observance of loyalty, purity and authority tend to obscure this.

AYY: if you take the test yourself you will find that these values have not been arbitrarily assigned to conservatives by the test designers: when you take the test you are asked, before hand, to identify yourself as liberal, conservative or neither, and no indication is given at that point that this will be relevant in any specific way to the test itself.

The test does not ask the candidates to estimate the importance they grant to the 5 moral values currently under consideration; rather, it poses moral dilemmas and asks the candidate how they should be resolved. This avoids the problem that would be caused by different interpretations of the meaning of the word "purity", for example.

Therefore, this split arises spontaneously, and it does so along the lines drawn by people's own estimation of their political beliefs, rather than what any one of us may unilaterally decide to label them with. So, unless all the conservatives you bring up as a counter-example and others who hold similar opinions have decided to abstain en-masse from this test your argument is simply orthogonal to what is being discussed.

Bill J

Thanks for this.
Jonathan Haidt's work on the 5 principles rally resonated with me. I like his take on respecting each others points of view. I can respect someone being a champion of loyalty for instance.
I personally think liberals and conservatives need each other for society to function well. Liberals have had the best ideas, democracy for instance. We have also had plenty of bad ideas and our conservative friends have often made us think things through and back off on some of our well intentioned ultimately bad ideas.
I'm an old school, New Deal liberal and I posted some links to his work on my Facebook account. I thought my conservative friends would like the fact that liberals would want to have a respectful dialog about our core values and respect each other as champions for what is most important to each of us. Was I ever wrong. My conservative friends were insulted. Many of the reactions were as FvG's response.
It is a challenge to get past the ad hominem attacks and get to a conversation that will make a difference. Thanks again for trying.


Great article. I remember reading that same research a few months ago and having a light go off as well. It reconfirmed for me that I'm sort of a leftist by instinct.

I also liked the argument that liberal values are universalizable and are therefore epistemologically superior. I consider being able to universalize ethical propositions as one of the only sensible ways to determine their truth, but for some reason I never put the two together when reading the research, so thanks for that one.

Another interesting biological difference between the left and right wing is that the amygdalae produces a greater fear response in right wingers. Something else to think about.


Valhar said: "The test does not ask the candidates to estimate the importance they grant to the 5 moral values currently under consideration"

But you're assuming the test measures moral values. Just because someone says it measures moral values doesn't mean that it does.

Haidt, who has bought into the "What's the Matter with Kansas?" theory (he wrote that he couldn't figure out why middle class people vote Republican when Democrat policies would be to their advantage--which to my mind is a sign of major cluelessness on his part), puts a gloss on the test questions that he can't justify. His version of "fairness" isn't what many people would consider to be fairness. The other values he purports to measure can be subject to the same criticism.

Haidt's conclusions might make liberals feel better about themselves, as Hubert's comment demonstrates, but that doesn't change the fact that the study doesn't tell us anything worthwhile about fairness, or purity, or the other values it purports to measure.


Great article Greta. I might use this on my family - see if they can get it at least a little bit why I'm the only liberal in the family. BTW cognitive scientist George Lakoff (the "Framing Wars" guy)was talking about this stuff over 10 years ago in his book "Moral Politics." He says it has much to do with how you were raised as a child - based on whether your parents were more strict or more nurturing. That helps to understand this.

Dylan Stafne

I think loyalty and especially purity are more important than you propose, but I like your argument. I made a post on this a while back: Weaknesses of Liberal Morality.

David Michael

Although I certainly agree that, in general, liberal values are better than conservative ones, and accept your shades-of-grey caveats, I have some difficulty accepting this argument. On what basis you can say that, just because liberal values are universalizable and conservative ones are not, this means they are superior? That's surely begging the question. You in turn need a reason that universalizable moral values are better than otherwise. The idea that universalizable moral values are better, is, I think, basically another way of saying that you're a liberal!


I feel glad that someone like Goldstein has drawn philosophers' attention to what I found so obvious. But sadly, I have to agree with David Michael. It does seem like begging the question (albeit in a way that might convince people, because as you'll see I think they already agree on some level). It seems better to examine liberal and conservative values in isolation, to see if the values themselves have any inherent moral significance.

First let's imagine someone who values authority, loyalty and *shudder* "purity" but not the more liberal goals. Such a person seems like a monster. If we avoid the obvious real-world example, we have to go with something like the D&D personification of "Lawful Evil", the organized devils of the Nine Hells. The more intelligence we picture them having, the more evil and dangerous they seem.

This does not seem remotely true for someone who values care and fairness but not the other three. At worst we can picture this person as a misguided Robin Hood figure. Adding intelligence doesn't give you a devil, it gives you the Doctor from Doctor Who.

Fairness and avoiding harm have moral significance in themselves, while the other "values" do not. And I find it hard to imagine any conservative disputing this. In principle the trick does seem possible, but you'd need a conservative with almost no exposure to literature or popular culture and only selective exposure to (say) the stories in the Bible. Only by looking at the horror of Left Behind can I imagine such a reversal of what constitutes a hero.


Fairness and harm are the foundational underpinnings of libertarianism, which is generally popularly defined as staunchly conservative by mainstreamers, both so-called liberal and so-called conservative.

The modern liberal believes in government enforcement of values, not necessarily fairness, on individuals, as does the conservative. Both groups decry the other as destructive, nonproductive, oppressive, and so forth, and both sides have very valid points. "Liberal" comes from the word "liberty". That means freedom. One either has freedom or does not, and if someone is being influenced in every aspect of life how to behave and believe, then they are not free.

As a great jurist once said, "You're right to swing your fist ends at my nose." That encapsulates the principles of fairness and doing no harm. Modern liberals and conservatives often seem to want to legislate against swinging fists.


This is the only blog of yours that I'm not quite on board with insofar as I think some of the ideas are not fully explored. I am familiar with Haidt's work; let me offer a couple of thoughts:

I agree with one of the above posters that how a person is raised influences the interpretation of these values, but also it depends how how each person is hard-wired. Research shows, and Haidt notes this, that some are hard-wired to prize authority more than others, etc.

So, on purity, with conservatives, purity is often associated with sexual purity of women (this derives with religion). Virginity is highly valued. That this idea lingers even though women are no longer SUPPOSED to be considered property is appalling.

Ideological purity is valued by both the right wing of the republican party (and perhaps most of the entire party), but also by the left wing of the democratic party.

You can see evidence of that latter comment in the criticism of Obama by the left for not being ideologically pure, for moving toward the center. The same occurred with Clinton.

I would speculate that this derives from people who were hard-wired to prize purity, but were raised in liberal households. If they were raised in liberal Catholic homes, for example, they might prize sexual purity as well, but that is only a guess.

For more on the conservatives obsession with sexual purity (in women, naturally), I commend Susan Faludi's "The Terror Dream", which relates how america's wild west mythology of the strong male rescuing women from indian "savages" informs our country's reaction to 9/11 (and I would add, the recent shooting in Arizona).

Just some thoughts. I'm slowly working my way through all of your blog posts. As a former professional writer of sorts, I agree with your other fans that there is a book lurking within.

Barry Loberfeld

Liberalism: History and Future



I think the point that AYY brings up, "His version of "fairness" isn't what many people would consider to be fairness." is actually a more important root of the problem, though I think that the "many people" means conservatives. I agree: the psychologist has definition of the word "fair" that is liberal-biased (but being a liberal, of course I think it's a better one).

Let's take libertarians, for example. From what I can tell, a lot of their argument against taxation is that taxes are stealing, because it isn't "fair" to force someone to give their hard-earned money away.

The liberal view of fair is more along the lines of this: things such as access to food, shelter, clothing, health care, etc. are human rights, and it's only "fair" that everyone have access to them, not just those born into privilege or with the resources to gain privilege. It looks at the world, and sees those born into poverty dying from lack of resource, while those born into wealth have an overflow, and says "that's not fair". Now, taken to an extreme, this isn't logical, I think everyone would agree that we shouldn't take away all the excess to redistribute leaving everyone exactly the same amount of wealthy. Any sane liberal who holds this view of fair does still recognize the right to keep a lot of the benefits of your own work (or your parents).

I can't really seem to phrase this without bias, so I'm just going to put it out there:
the conservative version of fair is like the one kid sitting there with a huge lunch, more than he needs, saying it's not fair to give some of his to a starving child, because it belongs to him.

The liberal version says that it's not fair that the starving child can't eat, and that the fair solution is for the well-off child to share.

I have come across this fundamental clash many times, and it really does feel to me like the conservatives are little kids stamping their feet and going, "but it's not FAIR! It's MINE!" when things like universal health care come up for discussion

pharmacy one

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Belstaff Bag

Good stuff as per usual, thanks. I do hope this kind of thing gets more exposure.

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