Moral Order Frames (or How Conservatives Think)

We may identify with conservatives or liberals due to our identities – sometimes being labeled one or the other is more popular or convenient at any given moment – but we are not always aware of how we process information. Any self identified liberal (or conservative) might use a cognitive process that uses the conservative hierarchy or liberal principles of equal opportunity at any time – we all can be prompted to understand the other moral order, there is a logic to both ways. No self identified progressive or liberal uses the “liberal” moral order 100%. As mentioned yesterday, even Ayn Rand, a demi-god in the conservative movement, was an immigrant (some say illegal) that ended up using our  Medicare and Social Security that she so hated. Go figure.

Just because we hold an ideology in high regard does not mean our brains actually use that ideology to process information.

Adam Strange down at The Young Turks has created a video that illustrates the moral order cognitive processes of the two – very different – ideologies. The video promotes The Young Turks in a funny/sensational way toward the end, but most of it does try to explain the difference.  I understand that this video is made from the progressive/liberal perspective and so expect that those that identify as conservative might not be big fans. I want to know why though? What part of the moral order is incorrect because the news is the record of history and I see the moral orders lining up as is illustrated in the picture above.

With top down moral order, any corruption at a level above you and your order falls apart and likely turns into dysfunction and abuse. With an equality of opportunity model, more folks are empowered to be productive and support other folks in their tough times. Take a look (warning: a couple of mild curse words are used – but not directed at individuals, they are more describing actions).

How Conservatives Think by Adam Strange

Also, it has been asked in comments, “Why emphasize the two sides? Why not just stick to the issues?” I wish our American culture and media model did encourage independent thinking but it does not. Because it does not, we need to be prepared for the messages – overt and covert – that are sent to us thousands of times a day.

Would love to hear comments. Values are always the most important part of any argument. Do you agree with the way the moral orders are explained? Does this moral order make sense? Does this offend? If so, why?

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15 thoughts on “Moral Order Frames (or How Conservatives Think)

  1. Luke Haskins says:

    I will try to respond tonight, and I have a lot to say about this, not against liberals, but to redefine conservativism a little more. 🙂 But yes, this is an issue which I quite enjoy talking about, and I hope you enjoy reading what this conservative has to say about this, that I agree with his morals, but not his application of them.

  2. adam strange says:

    Great ponits. Thanks for your feedback on the video.

  3. Robert Malt says:

    This is total nonsense…and it is certainly NOT civil at all…calling conservatives racists, misogynists, etc. What a bunch of lies.

    • Amy Meier says:

      ok, I’m going to listen again for the name calling. Maybe I missed it, I am fallible.

      I understand if there is name calling why that is upsetting, but the intended point was to see something that illustrated the moral order according to conservative or progressive mindset. It’s top down on the conservative side and equality of opportunity and empowerment on the progressive side. Does that structure make sense?

  4. Amy Meier says:

    Ok I listened again and did not hear anyone calling names. The term “racist” was not used, nor was “misoogynist”. There is a way that those with self proclaimed conservative ideologies tend to talk about, dismiss, or legislate in regards to women and people of color. It is fair game to talk about the morality that lies behind those actions. The moral order behind religious conservatives often uses biblical backing for treating women or people of color differently, and the moral order of so-called fiscal conservatives uses Randian ideas to back them up.

    I would be interested to hear an alternate version.

    Also, I’d like to make it clear again that sometimes “edgy” stuff may be on the website, the civility that I am most interested in is stopping the name calling. When folks resort to that, the conversation shuts down. Now, maybe you feel that your morals have been “called names”, but that is not the same as doing it to an individual. I do feel Adam Strange has a good point that conservatives have done a great job of demonizing “liberalism” and had zero problem with calling it every name in the book.

    I think your offense taken might be along those lines?

    • maltco says:

      The video specifically says that conservatives believe men are above women and whites are above nonwhites. How is this not calling conservatives misogynists and racists? Your claims otherwise are disingenuous. –

      • Amy Meier says:

        The video isn’t describing a particular person, it is describing the conservative moral order, conservatism itself. Someone could have this moral order without expressing it in a racist or misogynistic way. For instance, let’s say someone really doesn’t like having a woman as a superior, that they feel it is not correct for a woman to be above them in authority (which could apply to a man or a woman), it does not necessarily mean that they will refuse to work under those circumstances or that they would treat the female supervisor any differently than a male one. They in fact might be extremely courteous to her. The same would apply in a racial context.

        Two of our hottest current events right now involve the issues wrapped up in the “war on women” and the Trayvon Martin case.

        I am genuinely interested (no sarcasm) in hearing what the conservative moral order is if it not a patriarchical structure like the one described. I have understood that our modern definition of conservatism means that authority and tradition are the highest values. In America, the traditional authority is God, Natural Law, the military, the President, your pastor, your supervisor, your forefathers. Part of American “tradition” -for all of us – includes patriarchy and oppression of people of color.

      • maltco says:

        Your understanding of conservatism is completely foreign to me. My understanding of conservatism is personal responsibility, equality of oportunity, freedom, and a culture of life. My understanding of liberalism is irresponsibility, equality of outcome (through wealth redistribution), control, and disregard for life.

      • Amy Meier says:

        Maltco, obviously I don’t know you personally, so I can only go on the interactions I’ve had and media reports, perhaps you don’t share the same opinions.

        I really do want to understand where you are coming from. I want to do a quick rundown of nt topics using your value system stated:
        personal responsibility, equality of opportunity, freedom, and a culture of life.

        In the case of Trayvon, Zimmerman seems to have acted recklessly (not with personal responsibility) at the very least, he certainly was not prepared to embrace a culture of life, and while may have felt free, he obviously robbed a young man of freedom to roam this earth. Despite this, the conservative media rallied behind him and the under-rumblings have spurred a resurgence of racism (including two contributors being canned at the National Review for this reason). You didn’t commit this crime, but the country’s conservatives jumped to Zimmerman’s defense and demonized black teen boys in hoodies. That is how the case has played out in the national media as the conservative response.

        As another angle to that story, we find out how involved the conservative NRA and ALEC are in creating the Stand Your Ground or Kill at Will Laws that have been passed in recent years. Non-hunting gun owners that wear man killing weapons while walking around doing daily business are most certainly sending an absolute authoritarian message to all that see them.

        Privatizing any service puts all of the moral decisions in their hands and there is no culture of life or personal responsibility morality – it is all thrown out for the sake of making a dollar. Freedom is only for those in control of the corporation, not for the workers or those unlucky enough to live in the waste stream of that corporation. Corporations also hate equality of opportunity, preferring price fixing, inside trading, cronyism, corruption, and an unquenchable greed for more money. They’d also like to use more of our resources and don’t want to be bothered with cleaning up after themselves if they can help it. Once you make a piece of land toxic or radioactive, no one else has the opportunity to use it and the toxins leach into cleaner areas.

        The argument over contraception was curiously waged with quite a lot of white conservative men on one side and a lot of stunned women among others on the other side. I’m curious why, if freedom, personal responsibility, and a culture of life were the actual top values of conservatism, why this would have been an issue. Why would it even be up for discussion if that woman was a free American? It’s about her health care.

        I am also chewing on this “equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome” meme that has been going around. I guess where I get hung up is on the fact that there is no “finish line” so to speak. We are all constantly having outcomes happen simultaneously while opportunities are gained or lost. This sort of speaks to that idea that many liberals feel that conservatives look at someone born on third base and applaud them for hitting a home run. There is also an element of making up for lost ground; gaining “equality of opportunity” is often about trying to right a major wrong that a nation has committed. White Americans treated the Native Americans like crap early on, white Americans prospered from slave labor, women were also treated as lessers historically and in many cases still today. These wrongs were so deep and happened for so long, that the system that sprang up out of it is inherently filled with “old school”, “boys club” people. The oppressive attitudes persist; this is why we systematically must try to even out the opportunities that were denied for so long.

        If you would like to suggest a narrowed down point to suss out – you for the conservative position and me for the progressive – I think it would make a good blog post. Speaking of, I’d better get started on the next one instead of this reply.

      • maltco says:


        So Zimmerman is guilty unless he can prove his innocence? Glad we got that straight. That pesky Constitution can get in the way of mob justice.

        I can comment on generalities of what the mainstream conservative media has said, because I haven’t heard any of the things you mentioned, so I’ll just move on.

        Regarding the “Stand Your Ground Law”…does this even apply. My understanding is that Zimmerman’s attorneys will present a simple self-defense argument, which is the law in all 50 states, and has been common law in Western Civilization for hundreds of years, if not longer.

        You said, “Privatizing any service puts all of the moral decisions in their hands and there is no culture of life or personal responsibility morality…”

        No, this is simply incorrect. Government has the least accountability. The Federal Government, State Government, and it’s officers have immunity from prosecution and most civil lawsuits with respect to their official duties, so there is zero accountability.

        You said, “Freedom is only for those in control of the corporation, not for the workers…”

        Are people chained to their workplace? They can’t quit, and find another job? This is news to me.

        Regarding the Georgetown University contraception issue, you said, ” I’m curious why, if freedom, personal responsibility, and a culture of life were the actual top values of conservatism, why this would have been an issue.”

        Why should someone be forced to pay for your contraception? Why should any organization be forced to offer contraception, or any specific benefit, as part of their medical insurance plan? This seems so self-evident to me. Freedom vs. control.

        Regarding equality of opportunity vs. equality of results, you said, “The oppressive attitudes persist; this is why we systematically must try to even out the opportunities that were denied for so long.”

        So this is your justification for wealth redistribution? What about someone who came to this country with nothing, but they happen to be white…is he/she guilty too? Should there be a “white man tax”? This is where the “left” is dangerously wrong. This idea of collective guilt or innocence is anathema to a free and civilized society. Liberals tend to look at people as members of groups…white, black, male, female, etc., while conservatives look at people as individuals. A very wise man once said to judge people by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. I stand with Dr. Martin Luther King on this one. Where do you stand?

      • Amy Meier says:

        I have no idea if Zimmerman is guilty, I don’t know all of the facts. I do however, want our society to hold him accountable for his admitted actions. He needed to be arrested so that the evaluation and judgement on the event could begin. Clearly the killing was highly suspicious and the actions of the local police department were negligent. Whether Zimmerman ends up using Stand Your Ground or not, is irrelevant because he did entertain the idea of using it as a defense and it brought the whole organization of legislation by the NRA and other ALEC constituents to light.
        There may be departments in government that are not currently being held accountable (due to a number of reasons) but, the mission of government services is to serve the people. I agree that many times we need more accountability for the offices people hold, I would be in favor of a law that put transparency and accountability in place. A company has a mission to profit first and deal with anything else second.
        People are chained to jobs, especially when you live in an area with very few of them and the market is awful. They may also be trapped in houses that are worth less than they owe.
        I didn’t say anything about wealth distribution. I also stand with MLK on the character, I wish everyone in our nation did, but they don’t. I also wish that there weren’t lasting repercussion from the time that most judged by skin tone.
        I’m sure we’ll have more chances to go ’round on all sorts of these issues.

        Thanks for comments.

    • adam strange says:

      i like this:

      “My understanding of liberalism is irresponsibility, equality of outcome (through wealth redistribution), control, and disregard for life.”

      these pathological stereotypes are straight off of fox news. and he’s complaining about my bias? the irony is just too rich.

  5. Luke Haskins says:

    Here is my response to your post. Sorry I didn’t post sooner, I haven’t been able to post for the longest time:

  6. maltco says:

    The 2nd word in the second paragraph should be “can’t”, not “can”. Sorry for the typo.

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