Are libertarians less social (or sociable) and less empathetic than others?

Recently there has been some research on the psychological aspects of people who believe in libertarian political values, compared to those who follow either conservative or liberal values.

The findings are discussed in a 2012 paper by Ravi Iyer, Spassena Koleva, Jesse Graham, Peter Ditto, and Jonathan Haidt, “Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians”,  Plus One link.  The paper was more recently summarized on a site called Righteous Mind.

Libertarian morality is based on the idea of personal harmlessness, and that government should not interfere with people’s use of what they already have as long as it was acquired lawfully.  Libertarians tend to be individualists who value setting and achieving their own goals, rather than joining efforts already set up by others and requiring competing inside a “power structure”.

But both conservatives, in the traditional sense, and liberals believe that people are morally obliged to function socially within groups to meet common goods and serve some needs to support others even if these obligations are not personally chosen. But conservatives tend to see the groups as vertical – extended family, often enveloped by church or some community of faith, and often country (indeed “MAGA”),  Liberals believe the groups need to extend horizontally, to reach out to people in groups very different than one’s own, and liberals are often very concerned about inequality and hidden interdependence and exploitation.  Liberals may sometimes believe that people should get reparative attention based on past group oppression, which can not only lead to “expropriation” but limitations on individual “gratuitous” speech (as with “social media tribalism”, which resist revisiting troubling facts from history out of a fear that bringing things up suggests things are unsettled and justifies resuming group oppression).  Some social problems (like sex trafficking recently) can attract demands for solidarity from both liberals and conservatives, whereas libertarians want to focus only on the direct offenders.  There is a useful term for this kind of socialization, which Charles Murray has used (“Coming Apart”), mainly, eusociality.

In the polarity system of Paul Rosenfels (with the Ninth Street Center in New York from the 1970s to 1990s and later the Paul Rosenfels community) libertarians tend to be the unbalanced personalities (masculine objective or feminine subjective), and traditional religious conservatives or activist liberals tend to be balanced.

Libertarians place more emphasis on logical reasoning and consistency of principles or rules with which difficult controversies are managed.  On the other hand, activists on both the right and left tend to place a lot of emphasis on group identity and solidarity and may become combative to protect their own “tribes”.  Libertarians may not feel as much personal empathy for others with serious adaptive problems unless they have the direct skills or interest to intervene productively on their own terms; they will resist pressure to “join in” or enlist.  I resist “joining a resistance” just because a politician (Trump) is perceived by many as an enemy of the people (as others had said about Obama and Clinton).

Libertarians and individualists are often seen as not caring about real people, or feeling tainted if expected to sacrifice their own sanctity for the good of the team.  Sometimes this tendency spurs combativeness in others, who believe that society is protected (or their groups are saved) only by “rightsizing” individuals and getting individuals to heed established authority (whether or the right or left).   This observation helps explains the intolerance of free speech in many societies like Russia, China and Singapore (as well as, obviously, many Muslim countries). China has attracted attention for planning to rate all individuals for “social engagement” by 2020.

Libertarians would say that they care but only when they can do something about a problem in a way they can chose.  This observation tends to go along with mild autism or asperger’s.  In ABC’s “The Good Doctor”, Shaun Murphy seems distant but obviously still cares about his patients because he really can do the right things for them.  But more often hyper-individualists don’t have the skills to really help people with everyday needs or make a real commitment to it.

James Damore actually tweeted the Righteous Mind story above, and says “my mind works differently”. He saw no reason to question corporate comfort with political correctness with the underlying science, which need not interfere with treating individuals according to their potential in the workplace.

(Posted: Monday, December 25, 2017, at 10:30 PM EST)

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