Changing public opinion on controversial moral issues

How to effectively communicate issues that the moral views of the majority are against? Communication for Change tries to answer by exploring the morality of conservatives.

By Paramita Mohamad
April 1, 2018
Image via @Billybil / Twitter
Two weeks ago, we received an interesting question:
What is the best way to communicate issues that directly conflict with societal norms, for example those related to abortion, interfaith marriage, and LGBTQ?
The majority's moral views are indeed conservative and restrictive.

The questioner assumes that the norms of Indonesian society are against the things above. This assumption is confirmed by a study from the Pew Global Research Center, which interviewed 1,000 respondents aged 18+ via multistage random sampling , March 9–27 2013 (the methodology can be seen here):
communication strategy, communication consultant, CSO communication, non-profit communication, communication training, NGO communication, communication for change
Global Views on Morality dari Pew Global Research Center. Baca sumbernya dari sini.
For interfaith marriages, I referenced a different study from the Pew Global Research Center (see the methodology here) . From the results of interviews with 1,880 Muslims aged 18+ through multistage random sampling in 19 provinces from 28 October to 19 November 2011, only a very small number of respondents admitted that they had no problem if their children married Christians.
Respondents who said they had no problem if their children married Christians from the Pew Global Research Center. Read the source from here.
These two sets of data confirm the questioner's assumption: the moral views of the majority of Indonesians tend to be conservative-restrictive. Based on the cultural map from Inglehart-Welzel, Indonesia is classified as a society that upholds traditional values ​​(obedience to parents and authority, the importance of religion, family unity, nationalism) and values ​​oriented towards group survival (tribalism and ethnocentrism, low trust and tolerance for other groups).
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World Values Survey can be seen here.
Before persuading the conservative-majority to see the other side of issues that they find controversial (or even confrontational), let's first understand their perspective.

The moral views of conservatives rest on more foundations.
Moral psychology studies topics such as views, emotions, reasoning, motivation, and intuition behind human behavior in the context of right or wrong. I will quote The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt (2012) to explore the perspective of conservative groups.

One of the main metaphors in this book is that moral intuition can be compared to the human tongue which has five taste receptors. The "taste receptor" for intuition in judging right and wrong is called the moral foundation.

Every person is born with all the moral foundations (there are six, I will explain later), because these are useful for evolution. Just like other innate factors such as temperament, the moral foundation that is present when we are born can be likened to the first draft of a piece of writing. This first draft is then revised continuously by life experiences which are certainly influenced by social and cultural environmental factors. These factors explain the emergence of variations in moral views.

What are the moral foundations? If the tongue recognizes five taste receptors (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami), then moral intuition has six foundations.

Initially the trigger for this foundation was the suffering of our flesh and blood. In line with the development of civilization, now the foundational triggers of love/tyranny expand to include the suffering of others.

Interestingly, "other people" for liberals is universal, including anyone who is oppressed regardless of nation, religion and ethnicity. In contrast, for conservatives "other people" are defined more narrowly, namely those who are seen as having made sacrifices for the group.

This moral foundation is related to the principle of proportionality: everyone gets what he deserves, and does not get what he should not get. Evolution bequeathed us this foundation because humans needed to protect their communities from deceitful or self-indulgent individuals.

The fairness/fraud foundation is more relevant to conservatives. Meanwhile, the more liberal-progressive a person is, the more ambivalent their views are towards proportionality. People who uphold the principle of proportionality tend to approve of harsh punishments for serious legal violations. In addition, they do not approve of social assistance if it is interpreted as "subsidies for the lazy". These two things will be difficult for liberals to accept who prioritize love and equal rights. That's why liberals prefer to interpret the foundations of justice/fraud based on the principle of equal rights, not proportionality.

An example of this disagreement arose during the many evictions in Jakarta two years ago ("poor people don't know themselves, occupy land they don't have rights to, are told to move to flats they don't want to" vs. "decent housing is a human right, so eviction is an act of injustice." fair and cruel”).

Evolution equipped us with the moral foundation of freedom/oppression because every member of the community needs to protect himself from bullies ( bullies , that's not a typo). We don't really care about equality for its own sake. We only move to fight for equality when we feel we are being treated arbitrarily.
Both liberals and conservatives attach importance to the moral foundation of freedom/oppression. The difference is, for liberal groups, the oppressed parties are all marginalized groups of society (in Indonesia: the poor, religious minorities, LGBT, indigenous communities). As a consequence, the liberal group sacralized the principle of equal rights, and poured it into the struggle to defend human rights, especially for the oppressed (see the example of eviction above).

On the other hand, conservatives (and right-liberals, aka classical-liberals, aka maybe neolibs) focus on the oppressors. Here, oppressor is translated as a ruler or government that limits individual freedom.

In Indonesia, this disagreement emerged in the debate about the massacre of those unilaterally accused of being PKI sympathizers in 1965–1967. The New Order regime positioned the PKI and its sympathizers as traitors, complete with various myths about the general's torture at Lubang Buaya. It is not surprising that generation after generation in Indonesia takes it for granted that PKI members and sympathizers deserve the maximum possible reward (see photo at the beginning of this article).

This view began to waver, at least among the general public, when President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) launched a discourse to apologize to the victims of the post-1965 massacre. Gus Dur was able to see them as oppressed people, but he faced very strong challenges, especially from among the TNI. This debate continues to this day, especially since the film The Act of Killing was released and the 1965 Symposium took place in 2016.

Humans living today are descendants of ancestors who lived in clans ( tribes or ingroups) . ) is cohesive, not individualistic Homo sapiens. Cohesive clans are better able to protect their territory and divide tasks, so they can survive and continue to procreate.

The original triggers for the foundation of loyalty/betrayal are things that can threaten the integrity of the group.

If we see the bigotry and intense emotions of love or hate among fans of sports clubs, it is not surprising that the moral foundation of loyalty/betrayal becomes relevant in politics. This explains why politicians in Indonesia like to use the discourse of national "pride" or sovereignty. These discourses are attractive to conservative groups, consistent with their high orientation towards factionalism or tribalism.

However, liberal groups who are oriented towards the principles of universalism, equality and the foundations of love/tyranny find it difficult to understand the importance of nationalist sentiments for conservative groups. This disagreement can be illustrated through the debate between the " right or wrong is my country " (conservative, citing one of the New Order dogmas) versus the " right or wrong is right or wrong " (liberal).

This moral foundation is related to a sense of respect for parents, superiors, and anyone whose position is higher than us in the social hierarchy. As in the previous foundation, our ancestors needed mechanisms that allowed leaders to enforce rules and resolve conflicts. This means that tribes need a social hierarchy to maintain order and justice for their survival.

In the past, the moral foundation of power/subversion was triggered by threats to the personality of the clan leader. Now, this moral foundation is triggered by everything related to obedience or resistance to traditions, institutions and stability of the state or lord figure.

Just like loyalty/betrayal, it is difficult for liberals to accept the moral underpinnings of power/subversion, because they oppose inequalities in social status and power.

There are two evolutionary reasons why we have this moral foundation. First, as omnivores Homo sapiens must strike a balance between neophilia (the desire to try new things to eat) and neophobia (the desire to avoid unknown things to avoid pathogens). Second, when early humans began living communally in settlements, they had to protect themselves from contamination by germs, bacteria and parasites. It is not surprising that the moral foundations of sanctity/degradation were initially linked to the disgust that arises from sensing the presence of pathogens.

As civilization developed, religions also adapted this moral foundation. The moral foundation of purity/degradation is related to the ethics of divinity which departs from the idea that the human body is a temporary vehicle for the soul that originates from a divine figure. That's why the teachings about cleanliness are universal in all religions, and major religions liken the human body to a place of worship (which must be kept clean), not as a theme park (a source of pleasure). Concepts such as purity, sin, impurity, elevation or upliftment , and moral decline emerge.

If at first disgust was a mechanism for resolving the omnivorous dilemma (neophilia vs neophobia), then now this emotion is used to resolve the conflict between xenophilia (interest in foreign things) and xenophobia. As a result, things that cause disgust spread to others ( out groups ) who are considered to bring dirt and thus threaten the purity of the group. For (some) Hindus in India, others are Dalits who should not be touched. For (some) religious communities in Indonesia, others are LGBT groups. For (some) Europeans, others are immigrants from Africa.

In their respective contexts, as carriers of uncleanness, the Dalit caste, LGBT groups and immigrants must be ostracized. In a more extreme view, some people agree that others need to be wiped off the face of the earth (see photo at the beginning of this article).

But is the moral foundation of purity/degradation only relevant to marginalizing others? Haidt answered by underlining the sacredness. He argued that there would be nothing sacred if there were no disgusting things. Sacred objects and rituals (worship) are important to ensure cooperation in society at large, through cultivating a sense of belonging as well as upholding teachings through shared worship rituals), as well as solidarity through zakat or tithes. Sacred objects and rituals unite individuals in a moral community.

Apart from that, sacred rituals can encourage transcendental experiences, when individuals seem to be separated from their individuality and merge with something great (for example through repeated remembrance and prayer or incantations).

Conservative groups adhere to this moral foundation. On the other hand, many liberals question it once they learn that sanctity/degradation contributes to the oppression of others. Several leading philosophers have recognized that the ethics of divinity that animates the foundations of holiness/degradation are not always compatible with compassion , egalitarianism and human rights.

Reaching the conservative-majority group with a moral foundation beyond love/tyranny and justice/cheating
The above description can be summarized with one observation: the liberal group only embraces two moral foundations, namely love/tyranny and justice/cheating. Conservatives embrace all moral foundations. As a result, if we want to promote ideas that actually originate from liberal morality, we cannot just package them with discourses of love/tyranny or justice/cheating. We must reframe the issues in terms of values ​​they consider important, but foreign to liberals: loyalty, power, and purity.

This video explains how refugee acceptance, an issue argued by liberals based on a foundation of love/tyranny, needs to be reframed with other values ​​to garner support from conservative groups (more complete article here):
How about Indonesia? Let's go back to the first example the questioner brought up: abortion. In Indonesia, several civil society organizations are advocating for expanded access to reproductive health services. This includes things that could invite moral outrage from conservative groups, for example contraceptive services for unmarried people (violating Criminal Code article 534), and safe abortion up to a certain gestational age for all women.

This advocacy moves according to the principle of harm reduction . In this principle, what is sought to be reduced is the bad impact of a behavior (for example, risky or unwanted pregnancy due to sex outside marriage among teenagers), and not the behavior itself (sex outside marriage).

The principle of harm reduction is based on reality, not utopia. This principle accepts that behavior that is considered to violate norms is a fact of life that does not need to be criticized or condemned. Therefore, the principle of reducing negative impacts rejects stigmatization and judgment on people who experience problems.

The principle of harm reduction is also pragmatic and rational: it is more efficient and effective if money, energy and time are devoted to reducing the negative impacts of this behavior, rather than trying to make this behavior disappear altogether.

The argument often used to expand access to reproductive health services has been to prevent greater suffering due to venereal disease, HIV and unplanned pregnancies. We can clearly see that harm reduction efforts move from a moral foundation of love/tyranny.

We can imagine conservatives rejecting this effort, based on a foundation of sanctity/degradation (“These people desecrate their bodies by committing adultery,” “Adultery and abortion are great sins”), combined with justice/deceit (“These people deserve punishment according to his sin, there is no need for help).

According to the study we cited above, we must wrap the argument for harm reduction efforts using a moral foundation beyond love/tyranny. But what? Maybe we can use the argument "expanding access to contraception actually protects our families from things that pollute marriage" (sanctity/degradation). Another argument: "expanding access to contraception and abortion helps ensure that no one will experience harm that they should not deserve" ( fairness/cheating with an emphasis on the principle of proportionality, not equality).

What about the protection of LGBT's right to life which clearly departs from the moral foundation of love/tyranny? Based on observations, I think there are two dominant things behind the homophobia of the majority of Indonesians. The first is intense disgust, and generally this concerns sexual behavior that is considered a monopoly of gay men. Second is "fear of infection". I'm sure Indonesians have known the term "banci", "wadam" and "gay" for a long time, but as soon as the term LGBT appeared, many suspected this was a movement to recruit followers (in the same class as communism; as visualized in the photo at the beginning of the article).

Let's imagine how we could reframe the argument for protecting LGBT rights to life with the moral foundations that conservatives uphold. What happened in 2015 in the United States might be used as a reference. That year, the United States Supreme Court finally accepted demands to expand the definition of marriage, making same-sex marriage legal.

Many observers believe that one factor in the success of this lawsuit is the change in arguments supporting same-sex marriage. Initially their arguments revolved around the topic of equal rights and "no one party will be harmed" ( harm/care foundation ). This argument was then transformed into an argument about strengthening the community (foundation of loyalty/betrayal ). According to Ted Olson, one of the attorneys who filed suit with the Supreme Court (coincidentally a heterosexual Republican):
“We believe that a conservative value is stable relationships and stable community, and loving individuals coming together and forming a basis that is a building block of our society, which includes marriage.”
Previously, American conservatives viewed homosexuality as a form of moral degradation, and saw the right for gays to marry as equal rights for their own sake. After the new advocacy strategy was launched, more and more conservatives saw that just like heterosexual marriage, same-sex marriage is based on respect, commitment and responsibility.

In other words, the benchmark for this advocacy strategy lies in the extent to which conservatives can see LGBT people as ordinary people who are able to uphold conservative American values, such as responsibility, respect for social hierarchy and traditions, contribution to the community, obedience, patriotism, and religiosity.

In America, this can happen because of the continued increase in the quantity and quality of contact between heterosexual conservatives and LGBT groups. There are two supporting factors: the increasing number of LGBT people coming outincluding those with high social status, and the increasing number of pop culture materials that show the similarities between LGBT and heterosexuals, ranging from superficial things to value systems and ideologies.

It is clear that these two conditions have not yet occurred in Indonesia - perhaps because no one dares to start. As long as this condition does not occur, it is difficult to expect conservative-majority groups in Indonesia to stop considering LGBT as a threat that must be destroyed, so that they are willing to let these others live as their neighbors.

Apart from that, in Indonesia there is no opportunity for marginalized groups (not just LGBT) to be able to show that just like the majority, they also uphold "Indonesian" values. Here “Indonesian people” refers to a super-tribe that cuts across ethnicity, race and religion. They can't, because the current super-tribe identity is still devoid of meaning. There is no strong and uniform understanding of what it means to “think, feel and act like an Indonesian”. This void is then filled by religion, and this could perpetuate the denial of the right to life for LGBT people and adherents of several minority religions in Indonesia.

In short, to promote initiatives that conflict with the moral views of the majority, the issues must be reframed using the moral foundations held by conservative groups. On the one hand, we need creativity to find the right discourse. On the other hand, this discourse will fail as long as other conditions do not emerge in society that provide the wind to continue to soar it.
One more thing before finishing: if you have questions about communications for the non-profit sector, whether in the context of changing policy or community behavior, please ask via our Twitter @C4C_ID using #AskC4C.
Paramita Mohamad
Written by
CEO and Principal Consultant of Communication for Change. We work with those who want to make Indonesia suck less, by helping them get buy-in and make changes.

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