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On Moral Foundations And Libertarians


One thing I really dig about Twitter is the fascinating links people share. Today I got into a discussion with Kevin McCann about a snippet from this TED talk on moral foundations and the difference between liberals and conservatives.

Sports is to war as pornography is to sex.

The speaker’s point was we live out our collective need for the latter is each by participating in the former in each pair. We have a tribal background that makes us warlike, so we engage in sports. I think the point is fundamentally flawed. I, like most people I know, have a healthy competitive streak, but engage in sports because it’s fun and I get exercise. It’s not because I want to act out conflict issues.

What was more interesting about the TED discussion, though, was the exploration of the different moral values shared by liberals and conservatives. The site drove to a website where you can participate in the mass moral survey. I tripped on over and took the test and here are my results compared to the larger populations of “conservatives” versus “liberals”.

My Moral Compass

My Moral Compass

What I find fascinating is how far out of sync I am with liberals and conservatives. The site doesn’t give you the option to explore your score as it relates to others with ideological interests matched to your own. I’d be curious to see if other “libertarians” had similar scores. I scored far lower on the religion/purity scale than even the liberals, but I also had far less respect for “authority” and “loyalty” than even the lefties. I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of my membership in the “leave me the hell alone” coalition.

Some of the questions about “harm” were a bit skewed by the study’s lack of distinction between harming people and harming animals. I’m a hunter. I like to put meat in my fridge. Yet the test asks whether I think “it’s morally wrong to harm a defenseless animal.”

I said I absolutely disagreed for the simple reason that shooting a deer could be described that way. Frankly, I think anyone who has used shampoo tested on animals that had their tear ducts removed or eaten a Thanksgiving turkey that has been force fed growth hormone injected grain for a year or two has done more to “harm” defenseless animals than my one bullet, one kill hunt. But that’s another discussion.

That view does, however, account for the low number on my “harm” trait. It was also impacted, apparently, by my negative response to the statement that the single greatest concern we should have in life is that nobody suffer. Suffering is part of life, and common to every animal in the animal kingdom. We’re never going to change that.

My larger question still remains. Are libertarians dramatically different from liberals and conservatives? If you’re interested in answering that question, and consider yourself libertarian, register at yourmorals.org and take the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. Once you have, leave me a comment with your political ideology and scores. I’ll compile them and report back in the future.



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Written by Michael Turk