There are two kinds of people, those who think there are two kinds of people…

And the ones who think the other kind of people ought to be exterminated. Discussion of Jonathan Haidt’s six foundations theory of politics (which argues there are six, innately determined, moral intuitions that define political identity), in which it’s suggested that they actually reduce to two, driven by the emotions of shame and guilt. Now, this bit interested me:

If you assume the existence of these six sets of modules, he can show that whether you identify as liberal or conservative correlates with different answers to questions meant to stimulate those modules. He does not, however, make a novel empirical hypothesis that would be true if his use of the six module theory were true.

Well, I used to know a man who did something similar, Chris Lightfoot, but with the distinction that rather than theorising six modules, coming up with questions, and demonstrating that they correlated with partisan identification, he came up with agree-disagree questions about politics whose answers correlated with partisan identification, and then tried to infer structure from the results.

Interestingly, the political survey project also got two axes, one which seemed to be a spectrum between authority and liberty, and one which seemed to be an economic left/right spectrum. The first was by far the most statistically significant and the most powerfully correlated with voting. The second was much weaker, and it’s also worth noting that the identification of it with degrees of economic egalitarianism or state-vs-market was much looser and more debatable than the liberal/authoritarian one, partly because it was mostly asking about a state/market dichotomy rather than about labour/capital or equality/meritocracy. One might suggest that if he had a hypothesis, it was that as a result the Lib Dems were going to be in government, not surprising as (like me) he was a strong supporter at the time.

Where the rubber hit the road, Tories and extreme rightists were indistinguishable, and were separated from Labour, the Lib Dems, Greens, Scottish and Welsh nationalists primarily by greater authoritarianism. There was much more overlap on the economic scale, but the non-rightist parties were observably more egalitarian, although there wasn’t much to say between them on that score. To put it another way, there was a substantial degree of consensus about the economic sphere, although the Right did have an extreme tail, and disagreement about authority vs. liberty.

Now, Daniel Davies pointed out that the authoritarian/liberal axis was probably measuring the same thing as Robert Altemeyer’s social authoritarianism index, and both of these were measuring the same thing as Theodor Adorno’s F-type personality. I will go further and argue that the shame axis is also the same thing.

Where you stand, though, is where you sit. YouGov administered Chris’s questions on the back of their national opinion poll in 2005, when the second stage of the rocket of the housing bubble hadn’t yet kicked in and a casual observer might have been forgiven for thinking that economic issues weren’t especially salient, and the Liberal Democrats were operating as a party with Labour’s economic policy and less authoritarian values. The Conservatives, in the meantime, pursued a policy until very late in the day of being a party that stuck to the socio-economic consensus and split their ticket on liberty, going somewhat more authoritarian on crime and immigration and somewhat less on things like ID cards. That’s consistent with the model, at least.

What I would love to see, though, is a re-run of the project. I expect that the economic axis will be much more salient, perhaps even to the point of being the stronger. But I don’t expect that this will be a one-for-one exchange. Instead, I expect that the total variance on the two axes will have increased, which is essentially a measurement of the polarisation, or intensity, of politics.

2 Comments on "There are two kinds of people, those who think there are two kinds of people…"

  1. So a test Haidt has supposedly failed is said to be “He does not, however, make a novel empirical hypothesis that would be true if his use of the six module theory were true”.

    Well that might be true, if we were doing Science. But how about asking “Does this help us to operationalise such thinking into something politically useful?”. Specifically, does it help in any real world attempts to get more votes for Left candidates from groups we are told (e.g. by Chomsky) are really socially conservative?

    Just blogging about this may just turn into a furball. If you just want to have an axis and category session matching, you might as well read Pinker (again). Hint: Bing for “Haidt Shweder Fiske” and you will probably find them.


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