Thursday, May 28, 2009

Of Liberals and Conservatives

Interesting Nicholas Kristof column in today's NYTimes that touches on some of the recent social science research on how liberals and conservatives differ (other than the obvious stuff, such as liking Obama).

He manages to get at selective exposure, political perceptions, moral values, and a host of other favorites in the social science arena, all in one quick column. Basically the argument is this: liberals and conservatives differ not only on the obvious political preferences but also in basic moral values. That isn't a surprise to the talk show blowhards, but it's deeper than they realize. Liberals like fairness and prevention of harm, conservatives focus on authority, loyalty, and "revulsion at disgust." And some of it is just plain weird. You can tell a conservative by the level of disgust registered at nasty smells or stepping on squishy things or using a public toilet.

For those of you who read the classic The Authoritarian Personality, some of this comes as no surprise. Then again, I'm fairly certain the classic book failed to mention toilets.

Kristof mentions a web site terribly busy today and hard to reach: Try again in a few days, once the post-NYTimes attention eases.

This all kinda fits something I blogged about a couple of days ago, how journalism needs to look to social science for fresh material, for intellectual scoops, for new ways of helping people understand the world.


Concerned Citizen said...

I think you failed to capture that conservatives desire self determination and independence, while liberals want the state to generate rules to control their lives and create caretaker programs to provide for their needs. I would relate it to the difference between the flooding in New Orleans and the severe mid-west snow storms last year. Politicians and citizens alike were screaming because the Federal Government was not responsive enough in their opinion (regardless of the fact that the Federal Government can not intervene until the State Government requests assistance). They wanted the State to control their lives. In the mid-west snow storms people got off their duff and helped themselves. They acted independently and worked as communities to help each other. Liberals want a kept population dependent on the state; conservatives what independence and a state that dependent on the people. And I do not know anyone, liberal or conservative who is unconcerned by what that squishy thing is that they are stepping on. By the way, why are you hanging out in public toilets observing people?

Hollander said...

Heh heh, I'm not hanging out at the toilets. Actually it's just a questionnaire that asks the level of revulsion they feel, not actual observation.