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We are programmed the way we are – TED talk

February 28, 2012

General Alex Nuta 1 Comment

I recently watched a very interesting TED talk. Here’s the link, if you want to see what I’m talking about:

Jonathan Haidt on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives | Video on

I’ve found it interesting because for a long time I’ve hung on to a stereotype. I’ve had the hubris to look down on a lot of people who value safety over freedom, familiarity over new experience and have an aversion to risk that, to my mind, turns them into sheep.
How could people like Vic Toews even exist? Who in their right mind would think they have the right to ban abortions, to tell another human being how to live?

Over the course of this TED talk, I realised a few things. Firstly that I was wrong.

People don’t make the conscious choice of which values they will espouse. Turns out it’s partly pre-programmed, and partly acquired by upbringing. I’ve always felt that the direction I took in my values has been a conscious decision; a direction I took in my early twenties when I realised that despite my achievements my life was shallow and devoid of meaning.  I realise in retrospect it may simply have been my ability, once I stood on my own two feet, to act as my own conscience dictated rather than tacitly accept my parents’ conservative lifestyle that made that 45 degree turn.

I have always been liberal. Not in the political sense, of course, but in the individual sense. To use Haidt’s terminology I value doing no harm and fairness above all other considerations. To me, there is no greater joy than freedom, and no greater responsibility than to maintain that freedom. But never at the expense of someone else. This is the key difference. Conservatives don’t mind if some people are treated unfairly, usually as long as it’s not them.

I’ve hated authority all my life and fought against it, sometimes with civility at other times violently since I was 8. I have seen firsthand in Romania what authority does in the hands of ultra-conservatives. To a lesser degree Canada and the US have seen it too; still picking up the pieces. You could say I don’t value authority.

I’ve struggled against the group mind, which I often called “Stupid Sheep”. They follow the crowd for no better reason than everybody else is going that way. And as for purity, I’ve held those who scream “White Power” “Black Power” and “Racial Purity” in utter, utter contempt ever since I could formulate sufficiently rude responses. For that matter I feel nearly the same about militant vegetarians and organic/health nuts. Clearly not high on my priority list.

After this TED talk, I can sort of see, kind of perceive the why behind it. Why someone would completely trample over someone else. I’m trying to understand. (incidentally understanding and tolerance also a liberal predisposition, where conservatives would just stamp out those who are different)

I believe liberals can only exist in an environment first provided by conservatives. Liberality must still exist within a framework, and building a framework is distasteful to liberals since it goes against their notions of liberty. Without conservatives, liberals would create an anarchy, a commune of some sort. To put it simply I have come to believe that conservatives have the instincts to create an order, a society from anarchy and liberals do not. Conservatives are more likely to wage war, more likely to crusade for whatever religion, and band together (like sheep, but also like wolves) like prehistoric tribesmen, choose an enemy together and kill him together. This makes them feel safe and happy.

And that I understand that is a small victory.

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1 Comment
    Paul Mar 09, 2012

    I dislike the modern “conservative” and “liberal” labels, because too much is mixed in together. If I support business, then suddenly I am assumed to not mind if some people are treated unfairly, because that’s part of the “conservative umbrella” that goes with supporting business. I think a lot stems from definitions, which is the fundamental problem with such labels.

    It is quite simply to merge the two, based on what appears to be your definition. Take the “conserve” from “conservative” to mean “let people keep (conserve) what’s theirs” and take the “liberty” from “liberal” to mean “let people decide what to do with what’s theirs”. The rule of law still applies as a fundamental component, so that means no fraud, instigation of violence, etc. against other individuals. Then we will have liberty. Whether some people would actually like it is another question…


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