Can we argue morals?
We are taught to think that we can’t — because there is no right answer and it depends on each person individually. But, some answers are closer to right than others, and to find the answer closest to that takes conversation and a full examination of all the facts and evidence available.
Should political parties be strict with the ideologies that brand their character? The conservative ideology is less regulation and a hands-off approach to government is better for more people. The liberal ideology is that more regulation and a hands-on approach to government is better for more people.
But that is not the entire truth of our political parties. It may be what shaped the parties decades ago, but those definitions don’t seem to fit concerning American approaches to governing any longer. That is because today, it is not an ideology which separates us.
What separates us today is how we rank the key morals we hold dearest to ourselves ― the values that shape our decisions and depictions of right and wrong.
Social psychologist Robb Willer is the Director of the Polarization and Social Change Lab at Stanford University, and dedicates his life to studying the factors that divide people.
In his TEDx talk, he describes statistics he finds particularly shocking, concluding that people of the opposite parties do not want to befriend one another, date one another nor have their children marry someone who identifies with the other party. Additionally, if someone discovers someone else differs in views, they find the other person less attractive.
What Willer describes as particularly shocking actually makes sense. He goes on to describe that political parties revolve around which morals people rank the highest — purity, fairness, respect for authority, compassion, patriotism and preventing harm.
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Republicans value purity, respect for authority and patriotism. Democrats value fairness, compassion and preventing harm. That’s not to say one person of one party can’t value something from the other, they do. Those people are called moderates.
A liberal serving in the military is almost always going to be a moderate because of the high ranking patriotism they value. A conservative who serves the poor is more likely to be moderate because of the compassion they value.
It makes sense that we don’t find each other as attractive or prefer our children to marry someone within the same party —life experiences shape an individual’s moral rankings, and thus their political opinions. If two people are in the same party as each other, they’re more likely to value the same things and get along better.
But politics is not an art of getting people to change their morals. It is not trying to talk someone down from their firmest beliefs. It must be framing the situation so as to appeal to someone else’s highest beliefs, or what Willer might call moral reframing.
That is how a proper political conversation is held.
Compromise is easier when people can talk to each other with the language and rhetoric that resonates with the other side best. Then the policy that is best for the majority of people can be implemented.
To achieve this, America must be willing to strip the taboos from policies the two parties generally disagree with, including taxes, health insurance, immigration, gun rights and a host of other issues that currently cannot be discussed. If the taboos and stigma are dropped, healthy conservation can be held about the best possible step forward.
Before it gets worse, before it gets so bad all hope in government is lost, the partisan divide in this country has to end. End the hatred for the opposite party and the conviction that they are always in the wrong. End the rhetoric that appeals to like-minded individuals and replace it with one that appeals to the other party.
It’s time to end the era of hatred and enter into one that encourages respect, empathy and compromise in the face of disagreement.
Kaitlin Kons ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and public policy.