By Max Bibeau | United States
As a species, humans are genetically predisposed to experience a negative reaction when they perceive something going on that is considered “unfair,” even if it doesn’t impact them directly. This makes evolutionary sense, as an unfair action, such as working with others to gather food and then not sharing the product, would bring the whole group down. This, of course, reduces chances of survival for each person in the group.
It would then appear logical for early humans to refuse to work with the individual who committed the unfair action in the future. They may even go so far as to punish him for his actions. Even in modern society, these genes linger. Humans experience an extremely passionate reaction when they detect unfair actions in their society.
What’s Unfair and What Isn’t?
Applying this to politics, it makes sense how infuriated individuals get when they see an unfair action. For example, there has been widespread Democratic outrage at Trump’s recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which drastically slashed taxes for the upper class. Similarly, since Obamacare’s enactment in 2010, Republicans have been fighting against it, commenting on its unfair premises.
So all humans can agree – we hate unfair actions. But what Jonathan Haidt examines in his insightful book The Righteous Mind, is why individuals of different political leanings have such drastically different ideas on the concept of “fair.” He boils it down to two essential stances: equality and proportionality.
Democrats’ and Republicans’ Morals
Democrats, he describes, see fairness as equal to equality. Generally, he is referring to equality of rights, which is why Democrats and liberals are often much more active in fights for civil rights and human rights than conservatives. However, he also recognizes that many Democrats also advocate for equality of outcome. This explains the liberal goals of higher taxes for the rich and more public services among others.
In stark contrast to the Democrats, Haidt explores the Republican idea of fairness: proportionality. This concept, which revolves around equity theory, holds simply that people deserve what they work for. If someone does little to no work, Republicans ask, why do they deserve money from other hard working Americans? This aptly explains common Republican principles such as lowering taxes, ending entitlements, and decreasing regulations.
Haidt’s moral foundations theory, popularized in his 2012 book, explains this difference. Liberals rely on the care/harm foundation much more heavily than conservatives. As a result, they tend to neglect the fairness/proportionality foundation that conservatives treasure.
A Bad Day for Compromise
For this simple reason, Democrats and Republicans may never find compromise. The two groups simply have extremely different views on the concept of “fair.” The two interpretations, equality and proportionality, are radically different, and the interpretation that one follows depends heavily on which moral foundations are strong within a person.
This explains why many Republicans are stumped as to how Democrats believe they have a right to someone else’s hard earned money. It also explains why Democrats often think Republicans have such little care for their fellow human beings.
Politics now are extremely partisan, and many wonder why Congress is never able to find common ground. The simple but unfortunate answer may be that Republicans and Democrats have drastically different concepts of morality. Therefore, they share completely different goals when it comes to crafting policy.
Using Haidt’s theory, we can also uncover why classic Republican arguments are ineffective in persuading Democrats, and vice versa. Republicans naturally appeal to the moral foundations that are important to them, and Democrats do the exact same thing. So, when a Republican attempts to make an argument in favor of proportionality to a Democrat, it almost always fails – because that’s not the Democrat’s primary concern.
Using Moral Foundations to Win
To be successful in persuading a Democrat, the Republican must utilize their moral foundations, specifically the care/harm foundation. A Democrat will be much more likely, psychologically, to respond to an argument that revolves around minimizing harm than an argument that attempts to promote fairness through proportionality.
Thus, we can see how the simple definition of “fair” is so radically different between the parties, and why that causes so many problems when it comes to creating and passing policy in America. Different people have fundamentally different moral pillars that they rely on. The current American political gridlock may be hardwired within us, and will remain unresolved unless the different parties learn how to appeal to the others’ sense of morality instead of their own.
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