Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Haidt's Righteous Mind Again

Jonathan Haidt mostly gets it about liberals and conservatives.  He comments on libertarians as well, and what he reports seems about right, but I don't feel positioned to be quite as definite about that.

Brief Review.  You can read in detail for yourself at his Moral Foundations site.   I do not recommend his TED talk from 2008, as it predates his important revisions and will muddy the waters. You can also skim what I have written over the years

Liberals operate from three unequal but solid strands in their morality: Care vs. Harm is strongest; Liberty vs Oppression (an axis that was not in his original matrix); Fairness vs. Cheating is third.
Conservatives add three others into their determination of whether something is moral or not, and Haidt claims all six are about equal in strength: Loyalty vs. Betrayal; Authority vs. Subversion; Sanctity versus Degradation.
Libertarians have one massive axis and one minor one. Liberty vs Oppression dominates the field, with Fairness vs Cheating chiming in.

I claimed right from the start when I first mentioned him in 2008 that liberals do, in fact, use the remaining three categories, it just wasn't picked up in his questioning.  The authorities mentioned were conservative ones , the "disgusts/sacrals" left out GMO foods, hunting (and here), environmental problems of low practical but high aesthetic concern, a good percentage of vegetarianism, iconic liberals . Plus my favorite, about the healing power of John Lennon's piano.  Because clearly, those must be conservatives driving that one.

Black conservatives can tell you about the loyalty/betrayal axis.

Haidt does acknowledge in passing that liberals do actually respond in these ways, and even uses a couple of the examples (Gandhi, MLK, and as above) I have been hammering all these years. (I'm taking full credit for all of that.) Yet in the end he discounts that they are much of a factor.  I continue to say he's just wrong in this.  However, I think it is a fair point that Conservatives do respond to these more as well as differently, so his central point remains important.

He remains a partisan Democrat/Liberal and is quite up front about it.  He devotes occasional sections to advising Democrats what they should do to win elections. (Mostly, they seem not to do this. A great many remain so incensed at what they view as a betrayal that they cannot hear him. Not only the comments sections, but discussions from other academics excoriate him - a social psychologist -for not recognising that conservatives are simply morally inadequate, stupid, and evil. Which I think is evidence for my point that Loyalty/Betrayal is active for liberals.) Recently an academic paper and an essay of his have been circulating about ideological intolerance by liberals starting well before college, citing talks he has been giving at private high schools. He doesn't think academia leaning left is a problem.  He does think that academia being entirely leftist is a huge problem. He thinks intellectual diversity promotes better thinking and research.

Yet when he summarises the liberal and conservative narratives late in The Righteous Mind  he is nearly fair. There is a whiff of dismissal of conservative thought (the defense of what is good) which he is unaware of, but not too terrible. I am more concerned about his summary of liberal narrative (the progression of rights).  It seemed spot on at first, but he seems to forget his own main point about the rider and the elephant: he attributes their moral view to the rider.  Throughout the book he teaches, and gives good illustrations, that everyone is 90% elephant and 10% rider. At heart, I think he believes the rider percentage is higher for liberals.

I mostly breezed by that "religion is important for internal bonding and enhances group selection" part of the book in an earlier post.  Haidt spends a fair bit of time on it in the book.  He is an atheist that now hangs out with UU's I recall, for exactly that reason.  Do we need to discuss that further?  I don't have much to add, but it might be a fun discussion.  Maybe an open thread in a day or two.  Though I don't know if this audience likes to do that.


Earl Wajenberg said...

I had been thinking about the liberals' use of the other three axes, and my tentative conclusion is that it is a matter of practice vs. precept. Liberal speakers only talk about their three axes, because liberalism is primarily about rebellion against authority and the other three axes are either openly authoritarian or too close to it. But, being human, they actually run on all the axes.

Earl Wajenberg said...

"I mostly breezed by that "religion is important for internal bonding and enhances group selection" part of the book in an earlier post. Haidt spends a fair bit of time on it in the book. He is an atheist that now hangs out with UU's I recall, for exactly that reason. Do we need to discuss that further?"

It's another data point for something I've noticed: In all the recent discussion about psychology of religion, no one ever mentions the feeling of the numinous or the emotion of awe. To me, this is like discussing the bases of art without mentioning beauty or the bases of science without mentioning curiosity.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Earl, first comment. You distilled my thinking quite well with that short paragraph.

RichardJohnson said...

I claimed right from the start when I first mentioned him in 2008 that liberals do, in fact, use the remaining three categories, it just wasn't picked up in his questioning.
Yes, indeed.

Authority vs. Subversion
Scientific consensus, settled science, science says....
While AGW may be the most prominent example of the resort to authority, it is also used for "social science" to prove talking points about how government intervention in a given area is good or will be good.

Resort to authority is also used for "social science can prove these bad things about conservatives." Recall the longitudinal study about predicting which kindergarten age children would turn conservative- done in Berserkeley, that hotbed of conservatism. [Which could also be looked at as loyalty versus betrayal: I raised you to be a lib, and you turned into a wingnut.]

Sanctity versus Degradation
Consider the way libs respond to what they consider affronts towards so-called protected classes when they label these so-called affronts as racist, homophobic, or Islamophobic. Racists and homophobes are degraded people. Acting in a non-racist way or in a non-phobic way is considered holy. Etc. This might also fall under the fairness rubric.

Loyalty vs. Betrayal
Consider the rancor towards blacks such as Condoleeza Rice, Thomas Sowell, or Supreme Justice Thomas who have not followed the "blacks are progressive Democrats" narrative. A lot of that rancor comes from the feeling that they have not been loyal Democrats and have betrayed those who helped them. Consider the vitriol thrown at Whittaker Chambers.

I wonder if some of the rancor directed at Ronald Reagan came from the realization that he was once a New Deal Democrat. I don't think so, because I got the impression that neither Reagan nor his opponents emphasized that he switched. Regan didn't deny that he switched- he just didn't emphasize it. His opponents were quite content to label him with Original Evil, not as Satan who strayed from Heaven. They were probably also embarrassed that Reagan had switched.

RichardJohnson said...

A further point about sanctity versus degradation is that while libs/progs have to a great extent abandoned the religious practices of their forefathers, the religious urge still burns inside them. While their forefathers determined who belonged to the elect by what religious beliefs or practices they had, their non-churchgoing descendants determine membership in the elect by what political and social beliefs they hold. By definition, their political and social beliefs are holy, because they determine their membership in the elect. Similarly, their political opponents are evil or degraded, because they do not hold the same social or political beliefs as the elect.

This is cribbed from my reading Joseph Bottum's An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America.

RichardJohnson said...

More loyalty/betrayal from the left side of the aisle: Instapundit: DEMOCRAT OPERATIVE WITH A BYLINE SAYS WHAT? Cruz, Rubio Charged with Race Treason by Univision’s Jorge Ramos.