two stories liberals and conservatives tell ourselves, but would rather not hear from each other – haidt, mcadams, smith & westen

Once Upon a Time, America was a shining beacon. Then liberals came along and erected an enormous Federal bureaucracy that handcuffed the invisible hand of the free market. They subverted our traditional American values and opposed God and Faith at every step of the way. Instead of requiring that people work for a living, they siphoned money from hard-working Americans and gave it to Cadillac-driving drug addicts and welfare queens. Instead of punishing criminals, they “understand” them. Instead of worrying about the victims of crime, they worried about the rights of criminals. Instead of adhering to traditional American values of family, fidelity, and personal responsibility, they preached promiscuity, premarital sex, and the gay lifestyle, and they encouraged the feminist agenda that undermined traditional family roles. Instead of projecting strength to those who would do evil around the world, they cut the military budget, disrespected our soldiers in uniform, burned our flag, and chose negotiation and multilateralism. Then Americans decided to take their country back from those who sought to undermine it. The End.1


Once Upon a Time, the vast majority of human persons suffered in societies and social institutions that were unjust, unhealthy, repressive, and oppressive. These traditional societies were reprehensible because of their deep-rooted inequality, exploitation, and irrational traditionalism. But the noble human aspiration for autonomy, equality, and prosperity struggled mightily against the forces of misery and oppression, and eventually succeeded in establishing modern, liberal, democratic, capitalist, welfare societies. While modern social conditions hold the potential to maximize the individual freedom and pleasure of all, there is much work to be done to dismantle the powerful vestiges of inequality, exploitation, and repression. This struggle for the good society in which individuals are equal and free to pursue their self-defined happiness is the one mission truly worth dedicating one’s life to achieving. The End.2


The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor. Among the most important stories we know are stories about ourselves. The greatest contribution of John McAdams to psychology has been his insistence that psychologists connect their quantitative data to a more qualitative understanding of the narratives people create to make sense of their lives.3 These narratives are not necessarily true stories – they are simplified and selective reconstructions of the past, often connected to an idealized vision of the future. But even though life narratives are to some degree post-hoc fabrications, they still influence people’s behavior, relationships, and mental health.4

from Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. New York: Pantheon Books.


1 condensed by Haidt et al from Westen, D. (2007). The political brain: The role of emotion in de- ciding the fate of the nation. New York: PublicAffairs.

2 condensed by Haidt et al from Smith, C. (2003). Moral, believing animals: Human personhood and culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

McAdams, D. P. (2001). The psychology of life stories. Review of General Psychology, 5, 100–122.

McAdams, D. P. Albaugh, M., Farber, E., Daniels, J., Logan, R. L., Olson, B., et al. (2008). Family metaphors and moral intuitions: How conservatives and liberals narrate their lives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 978– 990.


see also: politics, economics, and moral psychology

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