Nicholas Kristof has an interesting article out today (h/t to JR) in the New York Times entitled Would You Slap Your Father? If So, You’re a Liberal. It's a summary of some of the research we've discussed before on this blog.
The crux of this research has to do with the distinctive moral psychologies of conservatives and liberals. Much of this work is based upon Jonathan Haidt's notion of moral grammars/foundations. These moral grammars create moral warrants, the reasons we give for judging something to be morally “wrong." According to Haidt there are the five moral foundations:
Harm/Care:Research has shown that liberals and conservatives differ in the degree to which they deploy these moral grammars. Specifically, liberals tend to emphasize the first two: Harm and Fairness. Conservatives, by contrast, often appeal to the last two: Authority and Purity. This is not to say that liberals or conservatives restrict themselves to these warrants, but they do display moral tendencies with some warrants being used more than others or some warrants held as more vital than others.
Harming others, failures of care/nurturance, or failures of protection are often cited as reasons for an act being “wrong.” Some virtues from this domain are kindness, caretaking, and compassion.
Inequalities or failures to reciprocate are often cited as evidence for something being “wrong.” Some virtues here are sharing, egalitarianism, and justice.
Failure to support, defend, and aid the group is often cited as evidence for “wrongness.” Virtues include loyalty, patriotism, and cooperation.
Failure to grant respect to culturally significant groups, institutions, or authority figures is often cause for sanction. Virtues include respect, duty, and obedience.
Anything that demeans, debases, or profanes human or religious dignity or sacredness is also a cause for sanction. Virtues include purity, dignity, and holiness.
Kristof's article highlights the role of disgust in the moral psychology of conservatives. This makes sense as disgust is the emotional correlate of purity/contamination attributions. This makes conservative moral psychology a volatile brew. While concerns over purity, sanctity and holiness are important moral concerns, the psychology of disgust and contamination is dangerous when applied to people. This is known as sociomoral disgust and conservatives are prone to it, due to their psychological tendencies. I've written about the conflict between love and disgust at great length on this blog and published on this topic (online version of the article can be found here). Suffice it to say, the problem of sociomoral disgust was at the center of the controversy surrounding Jesus's ministry (i.e., welcoming the "unclean" to table fellowship) and it remains the critical issue at the heart of the missional church movement. For whom does the church exist? Personally, I like the formulation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
The church is the church only when it exists for others.If that's true, well, the rugs are going to get a bit dirty...