Jonathan Haidt wrote about the hivishness (or ‘pack animal’ nature) of human beings in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. My opinion of this book is mixed, yet Haidt’s work provides a useful perspective for understanding why conservatives and liberals have polarized mindsets. Haidt identified six moral foundations and two of the six shed light on my questions about our need for hierarchies of authority.
1. Liberty/oppression: the loathing of abusive authority or tyranny.
2. Authority/subversion: respect for, and obeying authority.
To keep it brief (at the risk of oversimplification), conservatives tend to value authority over liberty – liberals value liberty over authority. Some humans strongly prefer hierarchies, and some resist authority and prefer freedom and liberty. In reality, these two moral foundations are balanced and integrated differently in different people. For example: Libertarians prefer freedom from authority; many are not capable of genuine co-leadership because they will not share power. In order to be an effective co-leader and collaborator, one needs to be willing and able to follow as well as lead, one needs to respect other co-leaders.
Haidt’s academic area is evolutionary moral psychology. His research demonstrated that people inherit much of their moral foundation. Humanity has evolved; as humans became increasingly social, the struggle for survival, mating and progeny depended less on physical abilities and more on social abilities. We learned not only to dominate but also to cooperate. Domination and hierarchical forms of authority have heavily influenced some cultures and families; others have learned to value freedom, liberty, and shared power. That is one reason we are so divided.
Some people have evolved beyond their need for a dominant alpha pack leader, some have not.
I am not sure how authority/liberty moral foundations and Haidt’s concepts of conservative and liberal correlate to this week’s partisan politics. The Republicans could not choose one leader to deliver their response to the President’s State of the Union address; there were five responses. What does this say about obedience to authority from conservatives?
Both political parties are divided, but the conservatives (Republicans) seem to be increasingly influenced by a libertarian energy – no government, no authority granted to positional leaders. At the same time they are clinging to sexism, racism, and rankism.
Most of Haidt’s research for The Righteous Mind predated the emergence of the Tea Party. The emergence of the Tea Party comes with a simultaneous anti-authoritarian, libertarian, and patriarchal energy. Is this simply a complex push-back response to the paradigm shift in our leadership culture? Is it a sign that even the conservatives are beginning to abandon their need for authoritarian leaders?
Please share your thoughts.