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Morality and Political Ideology in Intergroup Conflict

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In order to understand how political ideologies and morality both play a role in intergroup disagreement and conflict it’s first imperative that one understands how evolutionary psychology, as this is the basis of how certain groups have different views on specific situations.

Evolutionary psychology came into existence in the 1980s. It draws upon Darwin’s theory of natural selection in order to study the human mind. This means that the human mind has evolved similarly to the specialized organs within the body; it has developed modules (a variety of evolved specialized psychological mechanisms) which can constrain cultural change and variability, either directly or indirectly (Haidt, J. 2013, p.29). The psychological mechanisms are created as they act as solutions to certain obstacles of survival over time, therefore they are adaptations; for example, the snake detection device occurred and has become an inherent psychological mechanism in order for us to avoid a threat to survival in this specific form.

The way these mechanisms work can be explained simply by input, followed by a processing of rules, and finalised with an output. In relation to the input, each mechanism exists only to concern the relevant information to the issue it exists to solve. The processing of input information is generally unconscious; therefore, the output can be seen as an intuitive judgement, often accompanied with a certain feeling or emotion.

However, according to Haidt’s theory of moral intuitionism, the output is followed by a conscious reading, or a reflection upon the reasons for the intuitive judgement (. This conscious reasoning is, to put it simply, an attempt to justify the judgement that has been made.

Furthermore, according to Haidt’s theory of moral pluralism, there are approximately 6 psychological mechanisms/ moral foundations that may produce intuitive moral judgements: care/harm, liberty/oppression, fairness/cheating, group loyalty/ betrayal, authority/subversion, purity/degradation. (Haidt, J. 2013, p.29).

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These moral foundations and intuitive moral judgements lead individuals to have specific views upon issues such as abortion, homosexuality and the value of patriotism to name but a few. Once people with the same views on these topics find each other and begin to group together, these moral foundations begin to influence political ideologies. For example, people who value care/harm, liberty/oppression and fairness/cheating more than loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion and sanctity/degradation could be identified as liberals (Haidt, J. 2013, p.60). Drawing from this, it could be concluded that their most sacred value is caring for victims of oppression. In comparison, people who value liberty/oppression the most, closely followed by fairness/cheating and then with equal regard for the rest of the moral foundations could be identified as libertarian – whose most sacred value is individual liberty. Here, it is clear to see that, although these two groups have somewhat similar views, their more intense, perhaps more easily justified reactions to certain moral foundations, is what sets them apart. Conflict could be caused between these two groups as liberals focus more on the aspect of caring for others whereas libertarians are more concerned with individual freedom.

Although the ideologies of these two groups have somewhat different agendas based on their most sacred values, they could both be categorised under the umbrella term ‘Left wing’ as their political ideologies vary considerably in comparison to the complete opposite: the ‘Right wing’ branch of politics. The right wing which refer to themselves as conservatives would claim to consider all 6 of the moral judgements equally (Haidt, J. 2013, p.60), since their most sacred value would be to preserve the institutions and traditions that sustain a moral community. This means that they are opposed to many of the changes that those referred to as left wing view necessary for the progression of society, therefore creating conflict between the two groups as a result of their moral foundations influencing their political ideologies.

Libertarians sit in the middle of left and right wing politics as conservative on economic issues (e.g., against government regulation of free markets) but liberal on social issues – e.g., against government intrusion into private matters like sex or drug use (Iver et al 2012, p. 1). One of the biggest factors that separate libertarianism from liberalism is that historically rejected the idea that the needs of one person impose a moral duty upon others (Iver et al 2012, p.2). This is because liberalisms political ideologies are based on the moral foundations that we need to care for and get justice for those who are in the minority, therefore conflict between these two groups is evident as libertarianism is less concerned with other individuals, and those who identify as libertarians have more intense emotional reactions regarding the self/ liberty for the self – a kind of every man for themselves mentality.

Ideological narratives provide a crucial link between a psychological analysis of moral foundations and the actions of violent extremist groups towards those who disagree with them (Graham, J., Haidt, J., 2012, p.7). On a basic level, story-telling is a tool used by every culture across the world in order to inform and entertain. Those of which are successful, the ones with longevity, are those which resonate with humans and evoke a strong emotional response, as found in analyses of successful urban legends (Graham, J., Haidt, J., 2012, p.8). Therefore, it’s not unusual for political groups to create ideological narratives based on the moral foundations and intuitive judgements which they believe in, in order to mobilize and inspire their peers to prepare for intergroup competition (Graham, J., Haidt, J., 2012, p.8). For example, if the Turner Diaries (a book about minority races trying to destroy the white population of America, written from a conservative point of view) the book treats as sacred a tight constellation of values related to ingroup and purity above all: loyalty and self-sacrifices for Turner’s underground rebellion are painted as moral ideals, as are the purity of the white race – presented in stark contrast to the vile, animalistic, and self-indulgent behaviour of the other races (Graham, J., Haidt, J., 2012, p.11). This is an extreme example of an ideological narrative, where one political group presents a protagonist vs antagonist scenario regarding their adversary in order to fuel and justify intergroup conflict.

In conclusion, it’s clear to see how morality and political ideologies (formed from moral foundations and intuitive judgements) play a role in intergroup conflict by comparing the ideologies of different political groups and how they express/exaggerate them.

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Morality and Political Ideology in Intergroup Conflict. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
“Morality and Political Ideology in Intergroup Conflict.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
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Morality and Political Ideology in Intergroup Conflict [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2022 Dec 5]. Available from:
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