Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Righteous Minds

I am enjoying and learning from Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion.

His style is clear, chatty and autobiographical while being rigorously based on data and research. This tone is by design, as he points out. Since a major point of the book is that moral intuition is always prior to moral reasoning, he wants you to like him and feel that he is on your side so you can take in what he has to say without bolting. Unlike the icky Pastor Joel Osteen, Dr Haidt is upfront about this.

Using evolutionary theory and a lot of testing for his field of moral psychology, he discerns in all humans five foundations of morality. Although a liberal himself, he chastizes liberals for seeing and using only two, rejecting the other three. Conservatives use all five.

The five are care, fairness --the very White/Eurocentric Left's only moral interests (at least consciously)--, loyalty, authority and sanctity.  With the exception of the modern Western Left, all other human moral systems are interested in all five fundamentals: not only condemning cruelty and injustice, but also betrayal, rebellion and sacrilege.

He later develops a sixth --liberty--but I am still reading so...Plus, you will note that despite his remarkable even-handedness, the listing implies that the Left's favorite conscious virtues, listed first, are most important.

My own take is that these foundations are indeed foundational and inescapeable. What liberals do is deny their own covert use of loyalty, authority and sanctity in their ethical world.  As I have often said, the post-modern Progressives are a fundamentally religious movement, just as totalizingly theocratic and imperialistic as the patriarchal, violent, homophobic and dogmatic Muslims they so bizarrely defend and accomodate. Watch how Muslims react to an insult to Mohammed and how Progressives react when one of their Sacred Victim Groups is not reverenced.

Using other thinkers --and Haidt is very careful to give credit to others when it is their due-- he has a useful understanding of inherence in human nature, what Jungians consider archetypal. It is like a book of first drafts. The final story will differ from author to author, but no one starts out with a blank page. Like the six taste centers of the human tongue, the five moral centers in the human brain are inherent in the species, no matter what kind of moral cuisine you eventually develop a liking for.

Haidt and his partners in research are talented at presenting situations which provoke the underlying structure of moral reasoning, where intuition always precedes justification. It is especially amusing to listen to supposedly educated, articulate and enlightened Westerners stammer about their ethical assessments of brother/sister incest, fucking a supermarket chicken prior to cooking and eating it, or consensual cannibalism.

If a phenomenology of morality interests you, I recommend this book.



Anonymous said...

I think I've formulated the five/six virtues into a code of rules. Rebuttals and problems follow each.

Care: Do not injure others without necessity. What qualifies as necessary injury? How badly can you injure somebody? Are some forms of injury off-limits?

Fairness: Do not cheat others of what they are owed. Does anybody have a right to anything? If so, how is that right enforce?

Loyalty: Do not betray those you are sworn to. Can you betray something you have not formally sworn a vow to?

Authority: Obey your leaders. Under all circumstances? Only capable rulers? Even if it violates the other virtues?

Sanctity: Do not violate that which is sacred. To whom? What counts as violation.

Liberty: Do not infringe others' rights. What rights do people have? Are they universal, or tribal?


OreamnosAmericanus said...

Even the way you phrase your rules and questions, what you mention and what you don't, reveals your traditional frame of mind, Sean. A liberal would handle them revealingly differently. Both sides take the "rough drafts" of care, fairness and liberty and edit and write the full story in very contrasting ways.

As much as I am enjoying Haidt, he has the intellectual's naive faith that better information will enable the two sides to respect each other.

My own experience of changing my mind shows me how rare it is. 95% (or more!) of this Left/Right argumentation is just cheerleading for the tribe. The human condition. That's why I just produce infallible truth on my blog and don't try to see the other guy's POV.

Mostly a waste of time. And not as much fun!

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you say that, Ex. What about the framing of the rules and questions, and what I do and do not ask, reveals my traditional mindset? Since I've no background in psychology and philosophy (other than the fact that I prefer Aristotle to Plato, and know a little about personality disorders), I definitely don't recognize the signs.

And really, how traditional and can a man-lover be?


OreamnosAmericanus said...

One example: "Do not cheat others of what they are owed. Does anybody have a right to anything?" That would never be the first thing a liberal would ask. They assume equality of rights as an unquestionable truth, a pre-condition of their morality. And they believe that everyone is owed equally so that the mere existence of differences in ownership or power, etc implies wrongdoing. Conservatives like yourself assume proportionality, that you can in fact have more without being unjust or unfair to others who have less, since you earned it and they didnt.

Cheating people of what rightly belongs to them is, as Haidt recognizes, a sensitivity of conservative. Liberals immediately interpret this issue in terms of equal group outcomes and not ask, as I assume, it concerns individuals.

Have a convo with a liberal about these issues and watch where their minds first go and where yours goes and you may see the "diagnostic" difference.

How traditional can a man-lover be? Good question. Deserves a post.

PNWReader said...

Well, you got me to go out and buy the book, so Dr. Haidt owes you one.

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