Lately, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart have been having fun with Jon Kyl's bizarre response to an error he made on the senate floor in saying that 90% of what Planned Parenthood does is abortion. The real figure is 3% and his bizarre response was that his use of the 90% figure was "not intended to be a factual statement", which has become a new twitter meme.
In case you haven't seen it, here is a summary:
The interesting thing to me of this story was a bit on the Daily Show where Wyatt Cenac points out that "in his defense, he's only lying about something that he believes in. It's in service of a strongly held moral principle. He's not lying to get out of jury duty or be boastful." (at about 1:10 in the below clip)
While the defense was intended to be comical, many might see Cenac's explanation as a truly mitigating circumstance. Kyl likely believed what he was saying, given that an intentional lie would undoubtedly be revealed. At some point in our lives, many of us also believe in something so much that our perceptions of reality are altered. Many people do indeed believe that sometimes the ends justifies the means, and from our data, those people are actually more likely to be liberals (or libertarians). One might argue that our incursion into Libya, for many, is a case where the ends (saving civilian lives, increasing freedom) justifies the means (violence). In other examples, Democrats believe that the health care reform bill will improve access to health care, and also reduce the deficit. Republicans believe that reducing taxes on the wealthy will actually increase revenue. There are arguments to be made for either position, but an objective observer would probably believe neither of these claims and it seems likely that moral principles (Democrats believe in a social safety net & Republicans believe taxes on the wealthy are immoral) are shaping perceptions of reality, which is the definition of moral confabulation, when you believe in something so strongly, that you don't let objectivity get in your way.
- Ravi Iyer
ps. as if on queue, the Wall Street Journal published this perceptually skewed view of taxation, perhaps born out of their belief that higher taxes on the rich are immoral. This article, by Jeffrey Sachs, details the correct math. Of course, it is also possible that Sachs' view of the statistics is skewed by his own moral views.
My last post concerned moral maximizing and I believe the issue of migrant labor is one which relates. As Stephen Colbert uses satire to relate in the below video, the pragmatic reality is that vegetables are not going to be picked by Americans in the United States through the invisible hand of the free market.
Want proof of this reality? In June, the United Farm Workers union attempted an interesting experiment whereby it offered to train American citizens to replace migrant labor. Colbert testifies that 16 people took them up on the offer (him included) and press reports indicate that only 7 people took the offer. Whichever number it is, it seems fairly low. Still, immigration reform seems unlikely to pass anytime soon as it seems to stimulate conflicting ideas of what is 'fair'. Migrant workers are virtually powerless and easily taken advantage of....but they are also breaking the law by coming to this country, and these conflicting considerations are differentially appealing to liberals and conservatives.
The below graph illustrates this differential appeal with data from yourmorals.org. I asked individuals how 'wrong' different situations felt to them. Some concerned equity ("A person who contributes more to society is not rewarded.), equality ("A bonus is given to a work team for good performance and the money is not divided equally."), need("'A free meal is given to the rich, rather than to the hungry."), retribution ("A person commits a crime and goes unpunished."), and procedures ("A negotiation occurs without everyone completely understanding the process."). These situations may all be of varying severity, so it is difficult to interpret differences between dimensions, but one can make inferences about liberals and conservatives within dimensions. Specifically, liberals (in blue below) felt that violations of equality and need (which formed one factor) were more wrong than did conservatives. Similarly, conservatives (in red below) felt that violations of retributive justice principles were more wrong than did liberals.
Fair policies toward migrant workers depend on what you want to focus on....their lack of equal status, equal opportunity and need (which liberals seem to care about more). Or their illegal entry into the United States (which conservatives care more about). Colbert says as much in a rare break of character when responding to questions during the congressional hearing.
- Ravi Iyer
As someone who is interested in promoting civility and reason in politics, I have been really excited over the past few days by Jon Stewart's announcement of a Rally to Restore Sanity ("Million Moderate March"), coupled with Stephen Colbert's satirical "March to Keep Fear Alive". The below video, where the announcement is made, is well worth watching, if only for it's entertainment value.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Rally to Restore Sanity|
Normally, we look at our yourmorals.org data in terms of liberals and conservatives, but what can we say about moderates. In many instances (e.g. Measures of general moral or political positions using Moral Foundations or Schwartz Values), moderates score between liberals and conservatives. However, there are a couple interesting findings about moderates in our data that might be of interest.
First, moderates are less engaged in politics. This isn't a particularly controversial finding as research in social psychology shows that extreme attitudes are more resistant to change and more likely to predict behavior. Moderates are defined by their lack of extremity and this lack of extremity predicts a disinterest in politics and lack of desire to engage in political action.
As such, it is not surprising that, as Stewart notes, the only voices which often get heard are the loudest voices. Shouting hurts your throat and moderates are unwilling to pay that price. But couched in terms of entertainment and comedy? Maybe that will spur moderates to attend in a way that an overtly political/partisan event could never do.
Going a bit deeper, the other area where moderates score differently than liberals and conservatives is in terms of their willingness to moralize issues. Moderates are less likely to frame issues as moral and less likely to be moral maximizers. Morality can be a great force for good, but there is also research on idealistic evil and the dark side of moral conviction. You'll notice that while liberals and conservatives moralize individual issues in the below graph at different levels, the extremes generally moralize issues more than moderates or less extreme partisans. It's worth noting I recently attended a talk by Linda Skitka where her team found (in China) that high moralization scores predict willingness to spy on and censor people with opposing viewpoints.
Moderates also score lower on a general (not issue specific) measure of moral maximizing. Below is a graph of scores on individual moral maximizing questions. Again, a lot of good may be done in the name of morality and moral maximizers may be less willing to let people starve or let injustice stand. However, a lot of bad may be done in the name of morality as well and "never settling" for imperfect moral outcomes seems like a recipe for the kind of political ugliness that we see these days. Moderates appear willing to accept imperfection in the moral realm.
Maximizing is a concept made popular by Barry Schwartz at Swarthmore in his book, the Paradox of Choice and his TED talk. The argument isn't that high standards are a bad thing...but that at some point, there is a level where overly high standards have negative consequences. The point that Stewart and Colbert are making is that perhaps partisans have reached that point in our political dialogue, to the detriment of policy.
I probably won't make it to DC, but I do plan on celebrating the Rally to Restore Sanity in some way, perhaps at a satellite event. I am generally liberal and will be surrounded mainly (though not exclusively) by liberal friends. It would be really easy to use the event as a time to mock and denigrate the extremity of the other side. However, liberal moral absolutism has it's dangers too. For those of us who really want to restore sanity to political debate, it is an opportunity to be the change we want to see in the world and take a moment to reflect on how our political side can 'take it down a notch for America', rather than assuming that Stewart is talking to 'them'. And perhaps that begins with accepting some amount of moral imperfection.
- Ravi Iyer