Tag Archives: moral conviction

Moral Convictions: Attitudes that Pack a Punch

In the wake of the recent signing of the health care bill Democratic members of Congress who supported the bill have been subject to death threats and their offices and homes have been vandalized. Some blame public figures of the conservative movement like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck for the frenzy over health care reform. Sarah Palin published the names of Democrats who voted for the bill from former Republican districts and told her followers “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: ‘Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” Glenn Beck spent months bashing the bill on his show saying it [the bill] “is the end of America as you know it.” The attitudes Palin and Beck hold about reform and the current President are shared by others and seem to be held with strong moral conviction.

Of the many facets of attitudes, level of moral conviction is thought to be highly influential in both our social and political environments. In a review of the literature about these so-called ‘moral mandates’ Skitka (2010) highlighted the consequences associated with moral convictions  showing that they are associated with intolerance for dissent,  trouble resolving conflicts, strong positive and negative emotion, believing that valued ends justify violent means, and interestingly greater involvement in politics. Skitka argues that moral conviction isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it can be a protective force against “malevolent authorities.” However, there are still extreme negative consequences including the rejection of the rule of law and use of violent protest and terrorism. Skitka’s review applies quite well to the conservative backlash against American health care reform although conservatives are certainly not the only group to hold these types of attitudes or act on them. What is clear is that having strong moral convictions involves walking a dangerous line in which one’s beliefs and working towards them come very close to threatening others and the democratic process itself. In the end we are all responsible for our own actions; however, it is imperative that those in the public eye recognize the power they have and use it responsibly to ensure that freedom of speech is preserved and the rule of law is respected. Dissent, debate, thoughtful argument, and compromise are powerful tools with which to maintain a healthy, safe, and effective political climate.

The Psychology of Moral Conviction

Sarah Palin Advocates Violence, But Her Hit List Isn’t Criminal

We have something to fear from fear mongering itself

Palin tells followers to “reload” and “aim for” Democrats

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State militias and individual rights: The strength of moral convictions

On the eve of the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing there is talk of developing a state-supported but privately run militia group to protect citizens from “an overreaching federal government” recently epitomized by the passage of healthcare legislation. Talk of a militia group stokes emotional fires on either side of the debate. With recent militia busts in Michigan where plots were underway to attach law enforcement many argue that forming a separate militia group is going too far. Others, harkening to Confederate-era rhetoric of state’s rights, suggest that the individual citizen deserves a guarantee of protection from a federal government that is increasingly interfering in individual lives and state rights.

Indeed, so-called “Patriot” groups are on the rise. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that since 2008, the number of patriot groups has risen from 149 to 512. Of these groups, 127 are militias. Though these groups are becoming more popular and anti-government rhetoric is on the rise, the concern is less with the formation of the groups than the way in which they may harbor lone extremist individuals seeking a forum for their anger and justification for violent acts. In a recent Christian Science Monitor piece, a member of the Hutaree militia is reported as apparently helping in the bust of the plans against law enforcement. The article argues that militias are acutely aware of the dangers that single rogue members can pose and how these members’ actions can hurt the message of the groups.

Any group risks its own identity — and indeed has to be flexible in this regard — when growing its base, militias would be no different. But impassioned arguments mixed with the right to bear arms could be a bit more concerning. A recent article in the Social and Personality Psychology Compass suggests that when it comes to morality, the psychological stakes are much higher than other attitudes or motivations. “Moral convictions” the author argues, are psychologically distinct from other attitudes and are more likely to compel a person to become politically involved but to also be more accepting of violence as a means to an end. The outcomes of such convictions are simultaneously reassuring and troubling. While organizing to protect rights is an activity that activists across the political spectrum engage in, it raises the question as to how we possibly begin to find a common ground or make progress on issues that register at such personal levels. As the author points out, moral convictions give us the courage to act, but they have also been used to justify heinous crimes. The cases of proliferating militias will force us to consider the nuances of moral convictions and the complicated nature of defending the rights of the individual (or, in this case, states). This reminds me of two of my favorite sayings by my high school government teacher: “I may not agree with your opinions but I’ll defend til death your right to say them” which was often shortly followed by “your rights end where mine begin.” Gray areas are, indeed, quite gray.

Skitka, L. (2010). The psychology of moral conviction. Social and Personality Psychology Compass.

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