What Libertarians Can Learn From Dexter
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At this stage of libertarian evolution, we have less a need to refine the theory than to evangelize it, but libertarian propaganda efforts seem overwhelmingly aimed at waking "sleeping libertarians” (if not preaching to the choir) rather than convincing our ideological adversaries. Increasingly often, one hears libertarians dismissing even the possibility of the latter. Reasons given include that political inclinations are inborn (confirmed by twin studies), that people are brainwashed early by the public schools, and that people's beliefs stem from their interests, which often rely on the state for parasitic or predatory extraction of value. While these are certainly very real phenomena, libertarians are just a bit too quick to reach for excuses, rationalizing both their past failures and present desertion of the trenches on the ideological front.
Jonathan Haidt's 17-minute presentation at the Cato Institute offers another explanation for libertarians' failures, one based on personality psychology. The three main political camps (conservatives, progressives, and libertarians) are measurably different in both moral values and personality. Haidt and his fellow researchers have found six “moral foundations”—dimensions of morality—within which the three political camps form three distinct clusters. On four of the six moral foundations (Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity), libertarians score between progressives and conservatives, so one might assume that libertarians are moderates, a compromise between the other two extreme camps. However, the differences on the other two moral foundations are key: Libertarians score markedly lower on the Care foundation than either progressives or conservatives, and markedly higher on Liberty (the sixth of the moral foundations that the researchers discovered and added later).
In one interesting way, libertarians resemble progressives: Both are relatively sensitive to only two of the six moral foundations; conservatives are equally sensitive to all six. This gives conservatives an advantage over the other camps: Conservatives should understand progressives and libertarians better than the latter do conservatives, or each other. Haidt and his associates have found this to be true: Both progressives and libertarians suffer from moral blind spots, and are measurably worse than conservatives at answering moral questions from the viewpoint of one of the other camps. Unable to speak the moral languages of their ideological opponents, libertarians are not very convincing. But perhaps libertarians could study these moral languages and eventually learn to speak them?
Haidt goes on to show that libertarians suffer from a second handicap: personality, specifically emotion. On the Baron-Cohen empathizing-systematizing scale, libertarians score highest of three camps on systematizing, and lowest on empathizing; in fact, they are the only camp whose systematizing score is higher than their empathizing score. This puts them on the spectrum closer to people with Asperger Syndrome and psychopathy.
Libertarians score lowest on every trait related to emotionality but one: reactance, the measure of one’s instinctive pushback to social pressure. High reactance makes libertarians rather volatile in ideological debates.
On the Big 5 personality test, libertarians score lower than both other camps on the three traits related to sociability.
On measures of love, libertarians score lower than both other groups. In short, of the three ideological camps, libertarians are least able able to form the emotional connections to “make friends and influence people.” Combined with their smaller numbers, this puts libertarians at a marked disadvantage in the ideological war, and indeed, in the US two-party system, it is the libertarians who are squeezed out.
Libertarians should utilize their strengths (measurably higher intelligence, education, and political awareness) to mitigate their weaknesses (empathy, persuasiveness, and numbers). People with Asperger Syndrome and psychopathy have impaired emotional responses, but with study and training, they can memorize rules and learn to mimic normal facial expressions and behavior. In popular culture, this has been portrayed humorously in the satirical Asperbergs High and more seriously in the television series Dexter, but the coping strategies are real and effective. The final test for any libertarian hoping to communicate effectively with the opposition is the Ideological Turing Test, showing mastery of the other camps’ ideology. A first step towards achieving this would be studying Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind and perhaps The Art of Seduction. Subsequent steps would include reading some of the other camps’ books (I can’t say that I’ve done this), actively listening to the other camps' arguments and taking notes, and practicing arguing in support of them in front of a mirror, being sure to wear the appropriate expression of emotion (smile, concern, or righteous indignation) at the proper moments. Eventually, some schools will spring up to teach such techniques, in the manner of pickup artists, if indeed there is a market.