04 July 2012

The Hopelessness of Reconciling Ideological Differences

 "Debating Republicans is like playing chess with a pigeon. You could be the world's best chess player, but the pigeon is still going to knock over all the pieces, crap on the board and walk around triumphantly."

I've just begun Jonathon Haidt's book, The Righteous Mind. His objective is to explain why conservatives and liberals reach such different conclusions with the hope that he'll draw a bridge between the two groups. Out of the gate, though, he shares cultural studies that suggest to me the hopelessness of the task.

A study asked Indians and Americans to judge the morality of different people in a story.

One story asks you to judge a husband. A young married woman went alone to see a movie without informing her husband. When she returned home her husband said, "If you do it again, I will beat you black and blue." She did it again; he beat her black and blue.

Another story asks you to judge a widow in your community who eats fish two or three times a week.

A person from India thought it wrong for the widow to eat fish but saw nothing wrong with the husband keeping his promise. The Americans concluded the opposite. Neither saw their judgement as having anything to do with culture and saw, instead, that it had everything to do with morality.

And in this perhaps we have the condition of conservatives and liberals. You're unlikely to ever convince the Indian that it is okay for the widow to eat fish. (Fish is apparently considered "hot" food that has aphrodisiac effects, making it potentially harmful to the community that this widow would be firing up her sex drive with no socially acceptable outlet. Apparently.) Or convince the American (most Americans) that it's fine to beat your wife black and blue. There is no way to argue the other person out of his belief.

I'll stay tuned. It's nice to think that people from different cultures could persuade one another. Sadly, however, there seems to be little evidence of it.

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