DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Diffusing Disgust

Written by: on April 7, 2018

Jonathan Haidt’s text, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion is a societally relevant and thought provoking read. His text is also highly controversial “he’s at his worst, his cringe-inducing worst, when he tries to be polemical.  He succumbs to his most embarrassingly hypocritical impulses in what are transparently intended to be concessions to the religious and conservative.”[1] The topic of morality is certainly significant to my research on refugee resettlement and resilience in the United States (ie. the three basic principles of moral psychology – our (human) evolution from tribalism “me against my brother; me and my brother against my cousin; me, my brother, and my cousin against the stranger.”[2]  As I seek to understand barriers to refugee resilience via attitudes/biases of individuals and communities, and policies of local, state and federal government, Haidt’s insight and theory on morality and conservatism vs. liberalism is applicable.  “To explain this we turn to psychologist Jonathan Haidt from the University of Virginia who came up with the Social Intuitionist Model. It claims that moral judgements (accepting migrants who are fleeing persecution) are based on instantaneous, moral intuitions and then are backed up ex post facto by moral reasoning. In essence, our snap moral decisions have more influence than our reasoning; a tail wagging the dog.”[3]

In the TED Talk/Podcast “Can A Divided America Heal?” Haidt speaks specifically to immigration and morality.  He connects the political divide to each party’s current state of “disgust” with each other – an attitude far beyond disagreement and verging on demonizing. Haidt goes on to say the “political divide in this country” is “even greater than racism in this country.”[4]  “So this is, I think, where we’re getting at what’s possibly the new left-right distinction. I mean, the left-right as we’ve all inherited it, comes out of the labor versus capital distinction and the working class, and Marx. But I think what we’re seeing now, increasingly, is a divide in all the Western democracies between the people who want to stop at nation, the people who are more parochial — and I don’t mean that in a bad way — people who have much more of a sense of being rooted, they care about their town, their community and their nation. And then those who are anti-parochial and who — whenever I get confused, I just think of the John Lennon song “Imagine.” “Imagine there’s no countries, nothing to kill or die for.” And so these are the people who want more global governance, they don’t like nation states, they don’t like borders.”[5]

Essentially Haidt believes that both conservatives and liberals are right in their thinking.  Each party’s belief system has value and merit.  He speaks of a time when it was socially acceptable to have conservative viewpoints as a liberal or liberal viewpoints as a conservative.  “For some reason, that divide became deep and it’s no longer safe or appropriate” to crossover in your thinking.  Haidt proposes having intentional conversation with someone from your opposite political party – starting the conversation with acknowledgement and compliment of a value or belief of their party that is good.  This exercise builds a bridge of empathy towards “other” and breaks down the “us vs. them” thinking.

Circling back to morality towards refugees, Haidt asserts that Americans aren’t struggling to accept different races in this country, but are struggling to accept different “cultures”.  “Morality in a psychological sense is not about being a “good person”.  It is about being a good group member.”[6] Conservatives rate moral characteristics of fairness, compassion, loyalty, authority, and purity as very important.  Liberals rate only fairness and compassion as “very important.”[7]  An example of a conservative view on identity is this – “locking our doors to the outside does not mean we hate what is on the outside.  It just means we love what’s on the inside.”  There is a fear that “liberals are exposing” the group on the inside to outsiders who will degrade the purity of the group. Perhaps one of Haidt’s best statements on the influences of today’s culture by the internet is this – “all the internet creates is porn and racism.”

However, if purity and loyalty is taken too far it becomes racism (the group is defined narrower, for example as “white Christian Americans”).  The group is literally threatened by “people with darker skin or a different religion.” Parochialism is the idea that you have great loyalty and belief in your community, your neighborhood, your state and your country. If you identify with these values, you might be labeled a nationalist. Because of fear of society collapsing, nationalists become more racist, more homophobic and want to “kick out anybody” who’s deviant or different.

On the other extreme is the valuable idea of globalism. Globalism speaks to acceptance and value of not race, but cultures. And in order to build unity from patriarchal individuals, Haidt believes you need to show or develop a sense of commonality in our humanness and/or commonality in our culture.[8]  Because of such divergent belief systems at home and abroad, “we will never have world peace.”[9]  Haidt asserts if you value a generalist welfare state then you’ve “got to have an opinion that were all the same.”  He goes on to discuss the idea that assimilation in immigration would work because the “right” sees common culture as valuable.

In addition to attempting critical conversations with those who are different politically from us, Haidt suggests diffusing disgust with love. As Christians, we have a tested guidebook with practical steps on loving others.  Even Haidt acknowledges that diversity and immigration create creativity within the country and the economy grows. “It produces a lot of good things.”[10]

“Societies with high trust, or high social capital, produce many beneficial outcomes for their citizens: lower crime rates, lower transaction costs for businesses, higher levels of prosperity, and a propensity toward generosity, among others.  A liberal nationalist can reasonably argue that the debate over immigration policy in Europe is not a case of what is moral versus what is base, but a case of two classing moral visions, incommensurate.  The trick, from this point of view, is figuring out how to balance reasonable concerns about the integrity of one’s own community with the obligation to welcome strangers, particularly strangers in dire need.”[11]























About the Author


Jean Ollis