Moral Warfare 101

Intensifying politics of dueling morality systems

Moral Warfare 101

We live in an era of moral warfare.

This moral warfare — a struggle between different systems of morality — will decide whether the United States remains a democracy or becomes an autocracy in the coming years.

This moral warfare is being waged in multiple ways, but mainly through the flow of information. Moral warfare is conducted through information warfare — the deliberate manipulation of facts, frames and symbols. Moral warfare imbues our language, politics, media and social media. It is an intensifying contest between different moral beliefs, ideologies and worldviews.

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All politics is moral politics. This was the subject of “Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think” in 1996. At the heart of every political debate are different views of what is moral and what is immoral.

Every political issue is a moral issue, even if most people are not conscious of this fact. And there are some very different ideas of morality, that is, different ideas of what is right and what is wrong.

Moral warfare is about the commonplace view that "What I believe is right, and beliefs contradicting mine are wrong." Politics is based on morality. We each assume that our political beliefs are right, and political beliefs contradicting ours are wrong.

Politics is a matter of moral warfare — working with those who agree with your moral views and against those whose moral views contradict yours. In short, politics in a democracy involves trying to defeat through elections those whose moral views contradict yours by electing those whose moral views are the same as yours.

Today, this is well understood by some — but not all — political actors.

Unfortunately, those with “right-wing” moral systems (including Republicans, conservatives, authoritarians and fascists) tend to grasp and use this fact. They understand the need to reach people on the level of the subconscious and on the level of their moral systems.

Those with “left-wing” moral systems (including Democrats, liberals, progressives and socialists) tend to overlook or even deny this fact. They tend to believe people will reach rational conclusions based on facts and policy.

On this issue, we side with the authoritarians. Because, on this issue, they are on the side of science — brain science. Effective communication requires a basic understanding of the brain. The core principles can be grasped by anyone who takes the time to study them.

The goal of Moral Warfare 101, a new series of brief essays on FrameLab coming in 2024, will be to provide readers with an emergency crash course. Unfortunately, the opponents of democracy and truth already understand the basics on an advanced level. So, let's catch everyone up!

We will keep these essays short and digestible. For those who wish to go deeper, we will provide suggestions for further reading.

Further reading:

Metaphor, Morality and Politics — Why Conservatives Have Left Liberals in the Dust,” George Lakoff (1995)

It’s Election Season. Here Comes the Morally Charged Language,” Kellogg Insight (2023)

Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think,” George Lakoff (1996, 3rd Edition 2016).

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