The Future of the American Political System
I am an Associate Professor in the Social Psychology area of the Department of Psychology at the University of Virginia. I study morality and emotion, and how they vary across cultures. I am also active in positive psychology (the scientific study of human flourishing) and study positive emotions such as moral elevation, admiration, and awe.
My research these days focuses on the moral foundations of politics, and on ways to transcend the “culture wars” by using recent discoveries in moral psychology to foster more civil forms of politics. Morality, by its very nature, makes it hard to study morality. It binds people together into teams that seek victory, not truth. It closes hearts and minds to opponents even as it makes cooperation and decency possible within groups.
Question: Is the American political system broken?
Jonathan Haidt: Yes. It is very broken right now.
The main break, I believe, is simply the influence of money. It just astonishes me that when a representative from the National Science Foundation comes down to visit us, we cannot buy her a dinner. We cannot buy her a cup of coffee, because that might influence her decision.
That’s great, but if I want to give thousands and thousands of dollars to a Congressman, no problem. I can give as much as I want. Obviously there are limits. Of course, if I bundle things together, basically $9,000 per couple we can give now.
So from what I hear from politicians and from people who work with politicians, they have to spend most of their effort really is fundraising and pleasing donors. That means it’s broken.
So I think we desperately need to have massive public financing, reduce the cap on donations to something like $200 per person. There is no reason a person should get access to a politician because they give them money. That’s broken.
Recorded on: May 9, 2008
Despite its faults, politics still gives Jonathan Haidt reason to hope.
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