Jonathan Haidt:

The fundamental rule of political analysis from the point of psychology is, follow the sacredness, and around it is a ring of motivated ignorance.

(Via Sailer)

That strikes me as a brilliant point. To restate it slightly, find out what people find sacred, from a political point of view, and that will point you to the ring wall of defenses they have constructed to protect the sacred — defenses constructed of willful ignorance of facts threatening the sacred principles (or persons, or parties, etc.) within the ring.

We all do it, you know.

Watch the whole interview here:

UPDATE: Examples? OK, let’s take abortion politics. The ring of sacredness around the foundation of pro-choice abortion politics — the supremacy of the autonomy of the woman — requires motivated ignorance of what science and philosophy tell us about the beginning of life and of humanity. As someone who is pro-life by conviction and politics, I find our ring of sacredness much more rational, but I think we do establish it around the idea of the moral and legal status of women who abort their children. If we believe what we say we do, then why do none of us propose to treat women who procure abortions as criminals? After all, by the logic of our position, they are in some sense murderers. But I know of no pro-life people who believe that, choosing instead to view these women as victims of one sort or another. This is politically prudent, to say the least. But as a matter of political psychology, it does require a certain kind of “motivated ignorance” of the implications of what we believe to be true, and sacred (e.g., the right to life of the unborn).

More abstractly, you could take the foundational principle of liberal politics (“liberal” in the sense that all modern Western politics are liberal): “All men are created equal.” The US Constitution proclaims this as a “self-evident truth.” But this is an assertion. You cannot prove that all men are created equal; indeed, the facts on the ground show exactly the opposite. The scientist Richard Dawkins and the Olympic runner Usain Bolt are among the world’s best in their fields, but they would both be hopelessly outclassed trying to compete in each other’s area of expertise. Of course the phrase “all men are created equal” refers to equality under the law, and it’s a noble principle, one well worth defending. But while we all agree that “all men are created equal” (well, almost all of us) as a principle of constitutional law, we argue bitterly over what egalitarianism means in practice. Does equality mean equality of outcome, or equality of opportunity? How should that equality be considered by the law? Does being true to the principle of equality under the law mean that a thief who steals bread to feed his family must be equal in the eyes of the law to a thief who loots the bank he directs to buy a vacation home in the Cayman Islands? At some point, depending on your politics, you will draw a sacred ring around “All Men Are Created Equal,” and exclude from the circle those people and those cases that challenge your conception of the nature of that principle’s sacredness.

I suppose the point I’m making is that facts aren’t self-interpreting, and what gets called a “fact” is itself often a matter of interpretation, at least when it comes to politics. The act of creating a viable politics, whether of the left, right, or center, is often a matter of saying, “It may look like A on the surface, but if you saw with honest eyes, you would see that it’s actually B.” And this is true of religion as well.