Left and Right: Two Parts of the Whole

In class over the coming weeks we are going to discuss partisanship in politics. Partisanship can be an exasperating subject, especially given that it is difficult to identify examples of bipartisanship and cooperation when it comes to the political environment.

Recently, I watched a TED talk titled The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives in which Jonathan Haidt explores what he has coined the 5 Foundations of Morality and how they affect our political identity. The 5 foundations are harm/care; fairness/reciprocity; ingroup/loyalty; authority/respect; and purity/sanctity.

In terms of these foundations, the divide between liberals and conservatives fall in three main categories. Liberals challenge the ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and sanctity/purity foundations. Instead, they are known to celebrate diversity, challenge authority and reject sanctity (keep your laws off my body). They tend to want justice even at the risk of chaos. Conservatives, on the other hand, prefer order even at the cost of those at the bottom.

These divisions may seem problematic or impossible to reconcile and this contributes to the frustration felt by most at the prospect of bipartisanship between the left and right. Haidt, however, makes an interesting observation about the crowd at TED and the lack of moral diversity. As most participants see themselves as liberals, or left-of-centre he argues that this is in fact problematic because it hinders the prospects for a deeper understanding of the world conference attendees are seeking to change.

This is a similar trend that I have noticed as a Global Studies major here at Laurier. My classes are full of lefties who aside from a few minor differences, ultimately end up on the same side of the political spectrum with very minimal opposing opinions. I think this does a disservice to the students in the program because we do not get to explore truly opposing viewpoints and as such do not give adequate credence to how important opposing worldviews are in shaping the state of the world. In fact, I have often said that it should be mandatory for Global Studies students to engage with a dramatically different faculty, like the Business department so that we can truly partake in a healthy dialogue with another sector of the leaders of tomorrow.

Haidt points out that the Asian religions have grasped an important insight. Yin and yang are not enemies. Instead, both are necessary for the functioning of the world. It is important to adopt this mantra in thinking about the opposite side of the aisle – to understand that everyone has reasons for why they think they are right and that they do, in fact, have a legitimate opinion that merits the respect of a listen.

As such, in the spirit of cooperation, I am going to enter these discussions on partisanship with an open mind. Rather than immediately disregard their point of view, I am prepared to instead listen with an appreciation for the integral role that my political opposites play in the grand scheme.