Have you considered Jonathan Haidt's examination of the moral reasoning of "liberals" and "conservatives"?I'd like to thank KJJ for the link to Jonathan Haidt, whom I'd not heard of before. Haidt's specialty is the psychology of morality, particularly with regard to how people come to moral determination. He began by analysing the moral codes of many different cultures and was able to identify five common meta-themes. They are:
It dovetails with your concerns about overoptimization for one set of priniciples.
Whether by custom or nature, liberals tend to overoptimize for the "caring" and "fairness" virtues, while conservatives have a broader moral palette.
Haidt has noted that liberal populations tracks with major trade centers, especially longtime port cities.
This suggests to me that liberalism is the default governing morality for a diverse, commercial society in a time dominated by global trade.
And so our policies end up being set by specialists in equality and utilitarian analysis, with traditionalist concerns going by the wayside.
- Care for others, protecting them from harm.
- Fairness, Justice, treating others equally.
- Loyalty to your group, family, nation.
- Respect for tradition and legitimate authority.
- Purity, avoiding disgusting things, foods, actions.
Now, he is not the first person to have identified these themes. C.S. Lewis, in his book the Abolition of Man, recognised this concordance amongst religions which he described as the "Tao of Life". (He had a few more categories than Haidt). What Haidt notes is that loyalty, respect, and purity are virtues necessary for group binding. But what Haidt then proceeded to do is analyse how liberals differ from conservatives when it comes to moral determinations. The result is fascinating :
Haidt discovered when it comes to moral discernment, Liberals tend to weight Fairness and care above all else, whilst conservatives tend to weigh all elements equally. He described liberal moral reasoning as being a "two channel" [Ed: parameter] determination whilst conservatives were five. Conservatives take more factors into account at coming to moral determinations than liberals do: They are more multiparametric.
Now, Haidt doesn't ask why liberals are less "parametric" than conservatives, he simply registers the fact, but it does demonstrate that there are different cognitive process which separate the two. Now, it's my theory that multiparemetric analysis is computationally intensive and a high "broad" IQ is harder to achieve than than a "thin" high IQ. It would appear that there is now some evidence for this hypothesis in an experiment performed by Wright and Baril. In this experiment, conservatives defaulted to a liberal morality when they were intellectually distracted or cognitively exhausted. In other words, conservatism is a computationally intensive exercise. Liberalism is intellectually undemanding.
Previous research on moral intuitions has revealed that while both liberals and conservatives value the individualizing foundations, conservatives also value—while liberals discount—the binding foundations. Our control group displayed this same pattern of responses. This study examined two alternative hypotheses for this difference—the first that liberals cognitively override and, the second, that conservatives cognitively enhance, their binding foundation responses. We employed self-regulation depletion and cognitive load tasks, both of which have been shown to compromise people’s ability to effortfully monitor and regulate automatic responses. In particular, we were interested in determining whether, when the ability to monitor/regulate their automatic moral responses was compromised (either by exhausting their cognitive resources or by distracting them), liberals would give more moral weight to the binding foundations or conservatives would give less. What we found was support for the latter: When cognitive resources were compromised, only the individualizing foundations (harm/fairness) were strongly responded to by participants, with the binding foundations (authority/in-group/purity) being de-prioritized by both liberals and conservatives. In short, contrary to Joseph et al.’s contention that the “…automatic moral reactions of liberals could be similar to those of conservatives”, we found that the automatic moral reactions of conservatives turned out to be more like those of liberals.Haidt gives a very good talk on the subject here. It's well worth the look.