An astonishingly useful thread on progressive vs. conservative thought by Jennifer Dziura (text version via ThreadReader):



Wow, that is legitimately horrifying.

I intended to help someone, but it turns out the thing I did kills people. The only moral option is … Doubling down and killing more people.

It all boils down to the different moral foundations people use. For progressives, care, equality and “freedom to” are the main building blocks for deciding whether something is just and moral.

– Does it harm people?
– Does it result in inequality?
– Does it prevent people from engaging in society?

As long as the proposed idea (behaviour, policy) clears those two hurdles, it’s good to go for progressives.This type of thinking is super compatible with consequentialism.

For conservatives, there are more foundations to consider – authority, loyalty, fairness, purity and “liberty from”

– Does it violate established social hierarchy? (in this approach, hierarchy is good and beneficial).
– Does it damage in-group bonds? (again, strong in-group loyalties are considered to be good).
– Does it fail to reward contributors and punish wrong-doers? (this is a big one – fairness is about just desserts and consequences for actions, not equality).
– Does it breach the sanctity of the body? (this is a complex one, rooted in cultural notions of disgust and body as a temple).
– Does it force people to engage in actions they disagree with? (this is the freedom from taxation, PC, and so on).

Libertarians pretty much care only about Liberty from things, usually the government.

This complex set of values means that the same idea or policy will get different moral evaluations. Let’s take a few examples:

Legalising weed: all fine in terms of the progressive foundations. But it breaches purity (the body is a temple) and to an extent interacts with conservative version of fairness by removing a punishment on what they consider to be morally wrong behaviour. 

Universal healthcare: again, all clear in progressive values. This policy will help. But in the conservative value set, the policy fails at fairness by ‘rewarding’ non-contributing behaviour (poverty and illness). Let’s not get into a debate over how this is even classified as behaviour rather than a condition. It also breaches freedom from for people who are mostly focused on being free from government, rather than private insurers. The interesting caveat is that purity should favour healthcare – if the body is sacred, we should as a society value accessible ways to keep it healthy and clean. However, because many health conditions have contributing behavioural factors, it can be considered unjust to help people out of the consequences of their actions – even at a net loss to society.

If anyone is interested, Jonathan Haidt writes a lot about the moral foundations, and while he’s often annoyingly centrist in how he presents the ideas, the research is pretty solid.

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