Conflict and misunderstanding between the political right and left have become quite high, and prejudice research suggests that political stereotypes are among the most hostile and least accurate ones. Can social psychology help bridge the widening gap by offering an integrative understanding that respects the contributions of both left and right, while illuminating their increasing inability to understand and appreciate each other? This talk starts with the view of human nature as shaped by nature (evolution) so as to facilitate culture. In order for societies to flourish, as measured by increasing population, they must do at least two things: amass resources and share them through the group. A successful culture needs to do both, but in the modern world they are increasingly at odds, given that many economic systems operate by incentives that produce inequality. Early human evolution was marked by major advances (compared to primates) in both amassing and sharing resources. Leaping ahead to the modern world, the political right focuses on amassing resources, while the left specializes in redistribution. People who vote on the right tend to be either producers (farmers, businesspeople, merchants, bankers) or protectors (military personnel) of resources. Meanwhile, the left draws support from redistribution, starting with the labour movement, and including the welfare state, help for the poor, and affirmative action. The world’s most successful countries alternate power between center-left and center-right, which ensures that both jobs get done. Many predictions follow from this basic perspective, including differences in morals and values, perceived villains, ideals, and attitudes toward inequality and privilege. Modern economic history offers insight as to why the conflict and misunderstandings between the left and right are increasing.
Roy F. Baumeister is one of the world’s most prolific and influential psychologists. He has published well over 500 scientific articles and more than 30 books. In 2013, he received the highest award given by the Association for Psychological Science, the William James Fellow award, in recognition of his lifetime achievements. He is currently the Eppes Eminent Scholar and a professor of psychology at Florida State University, and he holds distinguished visiting professorships at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia and VU University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Although Roy made his name with laboratory research, his recognition extends beyond the narrow confines of academia. His 2011 book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (with John Tierney) was a New York Times bestseller. He has appeared on television shows such as Dateline NBC and ABC’s 20/20, as well as on PBS, National Public Radio, and countless local news shows. His work has been covered or quoted in the The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The Economist, Newsweek, TIME, Psychology Today, Self, Men’s Health, Businessweek, and many other outlets.
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