Jonathan Haidt And The Preening About A Lack of Understanding

Philip H

Philip H is an oceanographer who makes his way in the world trying to use more autonomy to sample and thus understand the world's ocean. He's a proud federal scientist, husband, father, woodworker and modelrailroader. The son of a historian and public-school teacher and the nephew and grandson of preachers, he believes one of his greatest marks on the world will be the words he leaves behind. To that end he writes here at OT and blogs very occasionally at District of Columbia Dispatches. Philip's views are definitely his own, and in no way reflect the official or unofficial position of any agency he works for now or has worked for in his career. If you disagree, take it up with him, not Congress.

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113 Responses

  1. Chip Daniels
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    says:

    I’ve read the Righteous Mind, and liked it very much. If anyone reads it and comes away with the notion that “hur hur, liberals don’t understand us” they must have read a different book.

    The central idea of the book is that both liberals and conservatives hold the same set of values, but we stress different aspects of them. So we liberals do very much grasp the principle of Loyalty, but don’t allow it to override some other concern, whereas conservatives might.

    Haidt talks a lot about the myopia of different tribe like where he talks about people in non-western non-secular cultures tend to describe themselves first as a member of a group, then as an individual and how people who stress individuality find that baffling.

    One weakness I noticed in the book is that Haidt’s definitions of liberals and conservatives seemed rooted in the early 70s, with the assumption that liberals were stressing individual rights like sexual freedom whereas conservatives were stressing group norms like churchgoing.

    But as history shows us, this is constantly evolving. In 2021 it is conservatives who are clamoring for individual rights and liberals who are stressing adherence to norms like MeToo or Wokism.

    Which actually demonstrates (IMO) the strength of Haidt’s thesis, that political tribes constantly change the stress on different foundations, in service to their overall conception of the good.Report

  2. Pinky
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    says:

    Haidt generally uses a system with 5 foundations and has tested this across many different populations in several studies involving a lot more than 10,000 participants. As for the point that liberals rely on some of the foundations associated with conservatism, I’ve made it myself on this site.

    …”since if we don’t ‘understand’ conservatives we surely can’t be allowed, much less encouraged to engage with them.”

    You have it exactly backwards. My accusation has been that many liberals engage with each other talking about their opinion of conservatives rather than engaging with them. I think this article is another attempt to strike at a misunderstood target.Report

  3. CJColucci
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    says:

    I harken back to Ned and Olivia on General Hospital:

    Olivia: You’re not hearing me.
    Ned: I do hear you. I just disagree with you.
    Olivia: I want a divorce.

    It’s all too easy to mistake substantive disagreement for lack of understanding. What is it that Chip, a frequent target of “you don’t understand,” doesn’t understand? He was, back in the day, one of the very people he is accused of not now understanding. Does he not understand his prior self? To be sure, lack of self-understanding is a real thing, but there is no reason to suspect it is skewed politically.
    What is it that people who disagree with any or all of the various kinds of conservatives, Pinky-approved or not, don’t “understand”? The words coming out of their mouths? The arguments they make? The expressed values that supposedly underlie these arguments? The motives or emotions that prompt them? (There, at least, is a source of possible disagreement, but that is disagreement, not lack of understanding.)
    And how does this whole conception advance the ball? Two possible conversations:

    Conservative: X
    Liberal: Y
    Conservative: People like you don’t understand people like me.

    or

    Conservative: X
    Liberal: Y
    Conservative: You don’t understand me
    Liberal: Please explain
    Conservative: explains
    Liberal: OK, I understand you, but, still Y.

    Neither conversation may lead to agreement, but only one of them has the potential to.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci
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      says:

      I would say that “understanding” can be demonstrated.

      “What’s my position on Police Reform?”
      “You hate black people and want police to be able to keep killing them.”
      “I’m willing to say that you don’t understand my position.”

      It’s the inability to explain the position of the other in terms with which they would not take particular issue. I mean, it doesn’t have to be *FLATTERING* to be understood, but if the goal is restating in a deliberately unflattering way, I think it can be taken as a given that “understanding” ain’t the goal.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        “What’s my position on race relations?”
        “You want six-year-olds to feel guilty for being white.”Report

      • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        “I’m willing to say that you don’t understand my position.”

        Notice the pronouns. Of course You can say that I don’t understand Your position. And lack of understanding, like understanding, can be demonstrated. Or at least argued about. But, most of the time, You People don’t understand My People doesn’t advance the ball when the argument is over X v. Y rather than a sociological-psychological discussion of group viewpoints as such, which X v. Y usually isn’t.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci
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          says:

          If you have a couple of admitted members of X and Y in the discussion and they can’t (or are unwilling to) describe the position of the other? The failure to demonstrate understanding is a roadblock.

          And if it’s representative of the national debate, then we’re in trouble.Report

          • Pinky in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            That’s really well said. The only thing I’d add to it is the tendency to describe the other’s motivation for his position.

            ETA: Didn’t we once try “opposite argument” day? I don’t think it was serious, but that kind of thing could be instructive.Report

            • Philip H in reply to Pinky
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              The only thing I’d add to it is the tendency to describe the other’s motivation for his position.

              Part of my original point is that conservatives seem to believe they have the moral high ground in everything, regardless of demonstrated outcome or even language chosen for the argument. Because of this, conservatives are dismissive of liberals motivations as a condition of the engagement. Call me nuts but that is a big roadblock.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Philip H
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                says:

                Part of my original point is that conservatives seem to believe they have the moral high ground in everything, regardless of demonstrated outcome or even language chosen for the argument.

                This is very insightful.

                I would ask that you keep going.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Philip H
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                Absolutely!

                I think that focusing on morality rather than measurables is likely to result in people talking past each other and preening to their own side while offending people with different values.

                I think we should have a measurable goal and policies that are intended to change the numbers of that measurable goal and be willing to immediately sunset our policies if we see the numbers are not going in the direction that we want.

                If the number is currently 10% and we want the number to be 8% (or, hell, even lower) and we institute a policy and the number rises to 12% (or, hell, even higher), say “Okay, we’re going to stop doing that” instead of “Well, it would have been even worse without our policy. We need more funding!”

                No, the first thing you need to do is remove the policy and try to figure out one that will make the number go down.

                Moral language is a roadblock. What matters is the measurable number.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Jaybird
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                greater then 75% of these discussions are about morality, not measurables. Take tax cuts – for 40 years conservatives have told us that if we cut top tier income and capitol gains taxes, we will grow the economy by X percent which will overcome the cuts and make everyone’s lives better. Not once has that happened. Not once. But COnservatives continue to moralize on how over burdening out tax code is to the REAL drivers of the economy – which they almost never acknowledge to be the middle class whose taxes are mostly NOT cut. Since they choose to ignore the numbers, we have to engage in the morality play.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Philip H
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                And, for some reason, the morality play results in stuff like the recent SALT cap legislation.

                Weird how that happens and keeps happening.

                Maybe the appeals to your morality are being used to blind you to what’s actually going on?

                If it’s seen as an engineering problem, maybe we can talk about it like it’s an engineering problem. Maybe we might even be able to *FIX* it like an engineering problem.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird
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                Morality without measurables is merely signaling.

                Measurables without morality is… what? Corruption?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon
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                says:

                Measurables without morality are merely stats.Report

          • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            X and Y are the substantive positions under discussion, not groups of which the discussants can be “members.” Sorry if that was unclear.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci
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              says:

              Oh, pardon.

              Then we’re in a position where if opponents of X cannot describe why supporters of X support X without appealing to opponents being bad, then the failure to demonstrate understanding is a roadblock.

              And if it’s representative of the national debate, then we’re in trouble.Report

          • Philip H in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            The failure to demonstrate understanding is a roadblock.

            I find the bigger roadblock to be that when I explain a persons position back to them, they refuse to believe I “understand it” if I don’t use their words back to them.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Philip H
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              It doesn’t have to be in the same words.

              I think you do have to avoid deliberately stampeding to the most unflattering restatement you can find, though.Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Are we talking logic or manners? The answer depends on the question.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci
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                says:

                I thought that we were talking about establishing understanding.

                To the extent that that is logic, it’s about logic.
                To the extent that it’s about manners, it’s about manners.Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                By “understanding” do you mean something like “comprehension” or something like “peace, love, and understanding”?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci
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                says:

                I’ll repeat myself:

                If you have a couple of admitted members of X and Y in the discussion and they can’t (or are unwilling to) describe the position of the other? The failure to demonstrate understanding is a roadblock.

                And if it’s representative of the national debate, then we’re in trouble.Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Yes, you’ve repeated yourself. No question about that. Answered the question? Not so much.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci
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                says:

                What’s the goal? Establishing moral bona fides? Furthering a conversation?

                What’s the goal?

                Because I stand by the inability to restate the position of the other is an indicator of a lack of understanding.

                And a lack of understanding is a major inhibitor of trust.

                And if you do not have high trust, you will not have high collaboration.

                If your goal is high collaboration: You’re boned.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Jaybird
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                Much of the problem however is not an inability to restate the position of the other – its the other’s willingness to accept restatement that isn’t regurgitation. lack of regurgitation is NOT a lack of understanding. Lack of agreement is NOT a lack of understanding.

                Both of those concepts are key reasons why person X refuses to trust person Y. Happens daily around here actually.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Philip H
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                says:

                I agree that lack of agreement is not a lack of understanding.

                That said, I think that it’s very important for people to be able to build a mental model of the opposition that is not 100% evil/venial.

                Are there bad people over there? Sure there are. It’s pretty easy to build a mental model of them, goblins that they are.

                But the good people over there? Can you not even imagine how someone good might disagree? Only a Manichean they are either evil or deceived and, if unwilling to change after I call them evil, willfully deceived world view?

                Well, I’ve gotta say, I grew up Southern Babtist. And you’ve got a lot of company in your Manicheanism.

                You should see it as a bad indicator, though.Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Those are all very interesting questions. They are not answers to mine, which was about what you mean by “understanding.”Report

              • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci
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                says:

                Oh, what *I* mean? The ability to successfully model it.

                Like, in such a way that you can interact with it in your own mind usefully.

                The ability to describe one’s model to another and get them to agree that the model is accurate means that, hey, there’s potential for work on my model that could also be done on the other’s model.Report

    • Pinky in reply to CJColucci
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      says:

      I often see conversations like this:

      Conservative: X
      Liberal: You mean Y

      It’s equally impossible to advance from that.Report

      • CJColucci in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        No, it isn’t. You can say: No, I don’t mean Y; I mean X. Why do you think I mean Y? Then the other party answers that question and you can say why that answer is wrong.Report

        • Pinky in reply to CJColucci
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          says:

          Fair, but after the fourth or fifth “no, you actually mean Y”, there’s little hope for progress.Report

          • Philip H in reply to Pinky
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            says:

            well when you do actually mean Y but stick stubbornly to having to have it sound like X . . . yeah it gets frustrating.Report

            • Pinky in reply to Philip H
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              says:

              Didn’t you just concede the whole point? You’re unwilling to accept that I mean X when I say X. It’s not that you disagree with X; you don’t believe that I believe X.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Pinky
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                says:

                most of the time I don’t think conservatives are arguing about the thing they believe in. Take the CRT kerfuffle. CRT is about systems that create racist outcomes, not about whether an individual white person is a racist. Yet much of the school board level rhetoric being deployed by the Right focuses on how kids are allegedly being made to feel when grappling with difficult racial history (e.g. the self loathing comment made by the mother in Loudan County, VA). What that woman has a problem with is that her little girl is being confronted with uncomfortable history and she – the mom – doesn’t want her to be. The only relationship that has to CRT (which is a demonstrable thing with scholarship to back it up) is that both of things are trying address the racist past and institutions of the US. What conservatives appear to want is that we don’t do that publicly, particularly in educational settings. But they aren’t arguing that openly.

                So, Conservatives argue X about teaching our racial history to our children, when their real compliant is about Q. Liberals call them out about Q – because that’s the real issue – and get pilloried because Conservatives want to argue about X.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Philip H
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                CRT is about systems that create racist outcomes, not about whether an individual white person is a racist.

                I would like to hammer this down and have it be the definition of CRT going forward.

                It’ll make distinguishing between CRT and bad DEI much easier.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Jaybird
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                Good luck with that. That’s been the focus and definition of CRT since its inception . . . and yet here we are . . .Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Philip H
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                says:

                I disagree that it’s been the focus and definition of CRT since its inception.

                I’ll quote Richard Delgado’s “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction“:

                Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.

                I think that part of the problem is that the definition keeps changing.

                Is it about teaching the Holocaust to 3rd graders? Is it an obscure legal theory? Is it merely a catch-all term for bad DEI?Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                I think that part of the problem is that the definition keeps changing.

                Note the passive voice. Who is doing the changing? And why?Report

              • InMD in reply to CJColucci
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                says:

                I’d say it’s the proponents who define it in all encompassing ways but then pull back to some irrelevant, tiny, arcane thing of no importance whatsoever any time it is challenged.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to InMD
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                says:

                The proponents of book banning, you mean.
                Who define CRT as all encompassing and omnipresent, then fall back to some loony poster at the Smithsonian when challenged.

                Like, which definition of CRT logically leads to banning a book about Ruby Bridges?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Do you remember the Dr. Seuss thing? I’m not asking whether you supported it at the time.

                I’m asking you if you even remember it.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Do you understand why some people think that is an absurd irrelevancy?

                I’m not asking if you think it’s an absurd irrelevancy.

                I’m asking if you understand why people think it’s an absurd irrelevancy.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Sure. But most of the explanations deal with it being inconvenient rather than seeing, yeah, there is enough overlap to make the appeal to moral clarity on this obviously cloudy.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Ah so you can grasp then, why some who find it inconvenient to acknowledge the absurdity would therefore seek to ascribe blindness to his opponent and clarity to one’s own vision.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Oh, easily!

                I can even see how they’d twist “inconvenient” into “inconvenient to acknowledge the absurdity”.Report

              • InMD in reply to Chip Daniels
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                What if we compromise and call it CRT-informed pedagogical practices, defined as education not of but based upon, the theory particularly those aspects which teach children that the lens of race is the only legitimate way to analyze any subject, and that their racial characteristics are the most important thing about them?

                I’m cool with Toni Morrison or whoever else in the school library. Feel free to get buck wild in that regard. We can leave out telling the black kids that they’re incapable of meeting basic standards of conduct and achievement, or structuring things based on that implicit assumption if need be. There’s already a good word for that.Report

              • CJColucci in reply to InMD
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                says:

                Thus making my point.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci
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                says:

                This is why I’d like us to have a single definition of CRT, CJ.

                This way, when someone else comes on and says “no, CRT is only teaching children that slavery was the cause of the Civil War”, we can point to this very comment thread and say “CRT is about systems that create racist outcomes, not about whether an individual white person is a racist.”Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Then it probably ought to come from people who know what they are talking about, and not provocateurs like Chris Rufo or opportunistic politicians, if there is any other kind.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci
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                says:

                I wasn’t asking to use Rufo’s.

                I was asking to use Phil’s. Or Delgado’s.

                I would just like to, you know, stick to it. So if a school system bans bad DEI, we’re not accusing them of banning CRT and then we can point to Phil’s definition. Or Delgado’s.

                Whatever. I’d like to know the definition of the thing we’re using rather than running out to the bailey and running back to the motte as fast as we goddamn can.Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird
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                Well, in our nice little bubble we can stipulate to any definition we want and see if people in the bubble stick to it. Or even want to talk about it at all once so defined. But once we talk about CRT as used in the larger world, by various other people, often for nefarious purposes, all bets are off.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci
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                If we can’t even define what we’re talking about, we have a problem.

                I think that noticing that it’s got a hundred different definitions (like a hydra) is a good observation, though.

                (Though I wonder if others will agree with that.)Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird
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                A lot of “we” in there, each of which is likely a different set of people. And again with the passive voice. CRT doesn’t just “get” definitions. People with purposes, not always good, define CRT in whatever way suits them, often precisely to cause problems for some set of “we.” There might be an interesting and productive discussion of who is doing what in the way of definitions and why.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci
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                says:

                Sure. When we encounter Phil’s definition, we can say that that’s Phil’s definition. And when we encounter Delgado’s, we can say that that’s Delgado’s. And when we encounter Rufo’s, we can say that that’s Rufo’s.

                I’m 100% down with that.

                This is why it’s important to hammer out what definition we’re using.

                Because if we’re saying stuff like “CRT has this trait!”, well… maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. Whose definition is being used in the very moment the statement is being made?Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Because if we’re saying stuff like “CRT has this trait!”, well… maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. Whose definition is being used in the very moment the statement is being made?

                Generally speaking, to judge by what I have seen here and elsewhere, the definition being used is whatever one the person who disapproves of the “trait” in question can say includes the trait.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci
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                This is why I find it important to quote people like Delgado. He wrote the book on it!Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                He wrote a book on it, and a good one, but in the secular world we don’t look for proof texts. Delgado’s description — it hardly aspires to be a definition — works very well for some purposes, but not for others. You might remember when Ben Shapiro appeared on Bill Maher’s show and unburdened himself of his definition of CRT, which he obviously believed to be self-evidently awful. He was thrown back on his heels when Malcolm Nance said he was absolutely right about what CRT meant and that the propositions he set forth were absolutely true.
                Good luck playing hall monitor for CRT discourse.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci
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                Hell, I just want to avoid us using Ben Shapiro’s definition.

                Unless, of course, we agree that that definition is just as valid as all of the other heads on the hydra.

                Is it?Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird
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                Malcolm Nance thought it was pretty good. As far as I could tell, it was pretty standard. Ben’s delivering it with a sneer showed disagreement, not lack of understanding.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci
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                The best kind of disagreement, then.

                “Critical Race Theory, essentially, argues that racism is baked into all the systems of American society and that any sort of neutral system is in fact a guise for racial power,” Shapiro said “Even things that are purportedly good, in terms of race, so long as they uphold these broader systems, things like capitalism, things like the meritocracy, these things are just guises for power.”

                “What that boils down to in sort of practical terms is, all disparity equals discrimination,” he added. “If you can see any stat where Black people are underperforming white people, this means the system was set up for the benefit of white people and that white people have a duty to tear down these systems in order to alleviate the racism that’s implicit in those systems.”

                “When it comes to schools what this tends to boil down to is kids who are white have experienced privilege because the system was built for white people and we have to change the standards,” he continued.

                Nance, when asked for his definition of the term, said he agreed with Shapiro’s definition because it was “grounded in truth,” and with a laugh, thanked him for “being honest in defining what it’s like to be Black American.”

                I might work with that one. If everybody’s cool with it, though.Report

              • InMD in reply to Jaybird
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                Isn’t Malcom Nance the guy who has gotten wealthy as a media pundit and military industrial complex insider after admitting to personally waterboarding terrorism suspects? I mean Shapiro is obviously an a-hole but yeesh.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to CJColucci
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                I’m imagining a clever Clinton Democrat type, giving a loud speech decrying the horrible awful thing that is CRT and how if elected he would ban it, and how it prevents us from addressing this horrible systemic racism that permeates our legal structures.Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Chip Daniels
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                A Sista Rufo Moment?Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Philip H
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                “most of the time I don’t think conservatives are arguing about the thing they believe in.”

                so, yes, it’s not that you disagree with X; you don’t believe that I believe X.Report

              • Philip H in reply to DensityDuck
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                Its actually both in many, many cases.Report

              • Pinky in reply to DensityDuck
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                A person can’t argue with someone they don’t believe holds their stated position. You can psychoanalyze him or accuse him of being a troll. But you can’t go position-to-position as an equal, a fellow good-faith actor.Report

              • Pinky in reply to Philip H
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                Is there any way to respond to that other than “I’ve been lying” or “you don’t understand conservatives”?Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Philip H
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                Can we start teaching the reasons why Hitler hated the Jews?

                Of course we can. As long as we understand that when we do that we are teaching what Hitler thought about Jews, and not what is true about Jews. Just as a public school or state university can teach that adherents of Religion X believe Y and not that Y is true or false.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Philip H
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                Raise the cost of workers, and you get more robots.

                We are getting more robots anyway regardless of the wage cost of workers. Its why avoiding discussing Universal Basic Income is problematic.

                Can we start teaching the reasons why Hitler hated the Jews?

                Sure – so long as its taught as part of why he exterminated 6 million of them. and why exterminating people is generally bad. But if its taught as an excuse – as the “Bad Jews made him do it” – then no, sorry no sale.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Philip H
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                We are getting more robots anyway regardless of the wage cost of workers.

                Yep. Everything from humans are bad at repetitive parts placement to repairing the robot is cheaper than fixing a sick/injured worker. It’s been more than 20 years since a sales rep for a company that provided the one where I worked with moderately complex consumer electronics told me over drinks at a conference, “We’re going to robots. Not because robots are cheaper for the initial assembly, but because our final test failure rate is 90% lower for the robot assembled boxes.”Report

  4. Chris
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    I really liked Haidt’s work in moral psychology from almost a quarter of a century ago, even if I recognized even then that it had little empirical support, but having just read The Righteous Mind in a reading group full of people clearly trolling me, I’m genuinely surprised people like it. It’s quite bad, both in its reasoning and its conclusions.

    That said, “The heart of another is a dark forest,” etc.Report

  5. Chip Daniels
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    A lot of the talk above aoubt “What people mean” versus what they claim to mean leaves out the most important method of discovering this truth, which is to observe behavior and the pattern of claims.

    “I accuse you of opposing X for Y reason.”
    “No, I oppose X as a violation of principle Z ”
    “Here’s 5 other violations of Z you don’t oppose, and 5 other types of X you also oppose, which just happen to be Y.”
    “You just don’t understand me.”

    And yeah, this is one place where I freely admit that Both Sides do in fact, Do It, in various amounts at different times. We are all vulnerable to motivated reasoning and self aggrandizement, no shame in admitting that.

    And no discussion about this would be complete without mentioning Lee Atwater and his famous deathbed confession where he admitted that conservatives got a lot of mileage out of “code talk” where “Ni**er Ni**er Ni**er” changed to “Busing Busing Busing” then changed to the more abstract “Taxes Taxes Taxes”.

    And yes once again someone could easily find liberal examples of this because code talking is what grups do when their positions are vital to them, but unpopular broadly.
    But only in recent decades have so many conservative positions become unpopular whereas most liberals enjoy broad support for their most vital issues.

    I mean nowadays no one is really going to get fired for saying “I support socialism”, but “Women shouldn’t be programmers” is a different matter. So the latter guy has to talk abstractly about evo-psych or cleaning one’s room or somethingReport

    • j r in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      You are confusing Atwater stories. His deathbed remarks were not about race or the so-called Southern Strategy. They were about general meanness in politics.

      The remarks about race came from an interview recorded in 1981. And in that interview, Atwater says that in the 1950s you had to be overly racist to win white southern votes (n-word, n-word, n-word). And by the 1968 you couldn’t be so overt, so you said things like states rights and busing. But by 1980s economics mattered more. So, you could win white voters by running on lower taxes and never mention race.

      The fact that so many people interpreted that statement as some kind of admission of an overt Southern Strategy does not fair well for the idea that liberals understand conservative positions.Report

  6. j r
    Ignored
    says:

    Isn’t this an empirical question? There are three possibilities:

    1. Conservatives understand liberal positions better than liberals understand conservative positions.
    2. Liberals understand conservative positions better than conservatives understand liberal positions.
    3. There is no statistically significant difference in how well each understands the others’ positions.

    It would be easy enough to design a rudimentary experiment. Get five self-identified conservatives and five self-identified liberals and ask them to write a paragraph defending either side of an argument (or of a few different arguments). Then post the results to a survey site and ask people to pick which are the legitimate defenses and which are the attempts at empathy. The results will tell you which of the three is more likely.

    My own observations have been that conservatives think liberals are well-meaning but naïve, while liberals are more likely to think that conservatives are some manner of stupid of evil. This would suggest that Option 1 is right. But this is all from pre-Trump days. The appearance of MAGAs changes a lot. Right now I would put my money on Option 3, at least using these broad categories. Also, raises the question of what to do with leftists who have gone to lengths to distance themselves from liberals over the past several years.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to j r
      Ignored
      says:

      First, is this the same J R from a while back? I think we worked on the rap/hip-hop symposium together?

      Second, I would agree with this and maybe go further, saying it is possible that various imbalances exist depending on the particular area (e.g., “Liberals understand conservatives economic position well but not their social position.”)

      Something that seems related is WHERE each side tends to get their “information” about the other. At the risk of oversimplifying (and just being wrong), I’d venture to guess that conservatives get more of their understanding of liberals from pop culture and liberals get more of their information about conservatives from the Right Wing Media Machine. If I’m right about this, this would skew perspective in different ways.

      I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a very liberal and very politically-minded* friend back in our college days (early 2000s*). This friend just didn’t understand how ANYONE could hold certain conservative views. Certainly no one SHE knew had them. The problem was she group up in the Metro NYC area in a particularly liberal and racially/ethnically/religiously diverse town, then went to school at an Ivy league college in a major east coast city. This was before the Right Wing Media Machine really took off and she had grown up watching “Friends” and “Seinfeld” and other shows that were generally made by liberal folks about liberal folks. So, yea, how the hell would she actually know folks that had legitimately conservative ideas and who weren’t the political or cultural bogeyman who she saw on TV? At the time, I probably would have said that there was a greater skew towards conservatives understanding liberals because of what/who was more represented in mass culture. Now, I’d say it’s probably just a big ol’ mess and collectively lands at #3.

      Like, so politically-minded she has gone on to work on campaigns and now does some sort of lawyer work with or adjacent to SCOTUS.Report

      • j r in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        This is one and the same.

        It’s funny. You describe your friend and I automatically assume that she must have grown up wealthy or at least upper middle class with progressive, probably educated parents. Anyone familiar with working class NY would not be shocked by all manner of conservative political and social opinions.

        And yes, the median TV/movie character is centrist/progressive-leaning and well-meaning, while anyone to the right or even to the left is some manner of political extremist, either a reactionary troglodyte or an annoying hippie.

        There is something similar with religion. Most characters are appropriately religious (ie they’re nice and they go to church on holidays), but anyone who goes to church regularly is played as some kind of Jesus freak and anyone is explicitly atheist is played as an annoying contrarian.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to j r
          Ignored
          says:

          And these days, I’d say information about liberals is heavily influenced by what bubbles up on Twitter and other social media, where ‘engagement’ means putting the most extreme on blast (one could argue the same for information about conservatives, where nut-picking gets put on blast).Report

        • Kazzy in reply to j r
          Ignored
          says:

          Indeed she/we did. I kind of straddled worlds a bit, as dad was a firefighter and mom/stepdad were educators. But working class NJ conservatives is still very different than the Religious Right is different than midwestern folks is different than…

          I think back then there was more possibility for a “liberal privilege” of sorts to develop wherein folks could live comfortably in a world that seemed to universally affirm them.

          Now with social media and these curated, siloed cultural experiences, everyone has that ability. No one really has to be exposed to folks who differ much from them if they don’t want to.

          Also, good to see you!Report

      • Philip H in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        I’m just the opposite of your friend. I grew up in what passes for a big city in the south ( that’s smaller then most boroughs of NYC). I was in a university sub-culture within a bigger white supremacists culture (David Duke for Governor anyone?), where my church sub-sub-culture was very activist on the left as well. So intellectually I learned early on how NOT like Friends the world was. And yet, my experience since then leads to JRs option #3 which I don’t know a good way to navigate out of.Report

      • Chris in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        I know a bunch of liberals who are shocked anytime they learn someone is a conservative, but I also remember the 2012 election, when my conservative family members were shocked that Obama had won, because they couldn’t imagine anyone voting for him. I don’t think this is new (the old, “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them”) or particularly revealing of anything about liberalism or conservatism. I think it just indicates that the political divide is also a cultural one, which conservatives know, because they’ve been using that divide for politics forever.

        Also, hey j r.Report

    • Philip H in reply to j r
      Ignored
      says:

      raises the question of what to do with leftists who have gone to lengths to distance themselves from liberals over the past several years.

      I get into this regularly with several self-avowed leftists i know IRL. Their take – which is not wrong – is that as the Democratic Party has moved to the right chasing Republicans, “liberals” have happily moved along with them, which is why Democratic neoliberal economics is no longer union/labor economics (among many other examples they cite). That movement crates a lot of problems for folks like me – I call myself a liberal because that’s a label that I still see a left side, but not as far leftists as the authoritarians form South American form the 1980’s who called themselves “leftists” to get ahold of money form the Soviet Union. My policy preferences, however, are firmly left of center in both classic and modern senses.

      But this is all from pre-Trump days. The appearance of MAGAs changes a lot.

      Indeed it does, and it makes the analysis much much harder. The emotion driven “burn it all down” approach that MAGAs have is such anathema to the left (except for the extreme leftist anarchists) that we viscerally recoil. and thats a big contributor to why Democrats are not doing well defending institutions and norms.

      I haven’t had enough coffee yet to reason through all this to a recommendation, but I appreciate you playing along at home!Report

  7. Mike Schilling
    Ignored
    says:

    Conservatives understand liberals perfectly. We hate Christianity, we hate America, we hate white people, and the only thing we’re uncertain about is whether we prefer Chinese communism of the old Soviet Union’s.Report

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