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So far we’ve looked at Jonathan Haidt’s Social Intuition Theory and in the second section his Moral Foundations theory. In that first section we learned that “intuition comes first, strategic reasoning second” with a central metaphor of an elephant (intuition) and a rider (reasoning). In that second section of The Righteous Mind his point is “there’s more to morality than harm and care” and his central metaphor is that the righteous mind is like a tongue with different taste receptors.

In the third and final section of his book, Haidt wants us to understand that “morality binds and blinds” with a central metaphor that we are “90% chimp and 10% bee.” What he’s getting at is that we are individuals but that being part of a group is important to most of us. Our religion and politics are not simply based on self-interest but also related to the groups to which we belong.

Groupish Are We

Haidt uses the term “groupish” sort of how Julian Edelman says he’s “Jew-ish”. We are not pack animals but we are social and groups begin to shape our thinking and acting. He communicates this beginning with 9/11 which triggered his patriotism in a way he never expected.

“Professors are liberal globetrotting universalists (globalists), reflexively wary of saying that their nation is better than other nations.”

He recognizes that unlike many liberals he’s painted a fairly negative picture of humanity. Influenced by Glaucon he sees us as more obsessed with how we look than with who we really are.

We are groupish, joining teams, clubs, leagues and frats. In addition to our individual identities, we also have group identities wherein we work with others for common goals. We often vote in light of that, not simply bare self-interest. We do promote our interests to our peers but also are good at promoting group interests. This is why I see baseball as the sport that most reflects real life. There are individual battles that occur for the benefit of the team, but there must also be teamwork. Individual stats are important, but the goal is to win and for that you need teammates to do their job too.

In this chapter there is far more evolutionary speculation and too few studies to back up his conclusions. While I don’t agree with how he gets there, I see merit to his conclusions.

Each successful group has to address the reality of “free riders”, people who don’t do the work but want the benefits. He also notes that chimps lack shared intentionality. They don’t work together (like each picking up one end of a log to move it). From his perspective, developing this capacity is a huge evolutionary jump.

One study had big issues. It involved the controlled breeding of foxes to show change doesn’t require a huge number of generations. Life isn’t controlled breeding, and their lifespan isn’t very long. It only shows us micro-evolution, change within a species rather than the development of a new species (macro-evolution).

The Hive Switch

He begins by talking about basic training when individuals are formed into a military unit through shared experiences. In successful units people “forget about themselves, trust each other, function as a unit, and then crush less cohesive groups.”

“We are like bees in being ultrasocial creatures whose minds were shaped by the relentless competition of groups with other groups.”

Haidt’s theory is that we are “conditional hive creatures”. We don’t always function this way, but have a switch (so to speak) that activates this function. He builds on Durkheim to show that we are “Homo duplex, a creature who exists at two levels.” Collective emotions can pull people together and are most commonly associated with the sacred. We can’t remain there indefinitely. In some religions hallucinogenics are used to gain an ecstatic state. In raves the music and often ecstasy are used to create a similar ecstatic group state.

“Oxytocin simply makes people love their in-group more. It makes them parochial altruists.”

One of the glues that bind people together is the hormone oxytocin which helps mothers bond with babies, and partners together.

“We are conditional hive creatures. We are more likely to mirror and then empathize with others when they have conformed to our moral matrix than when they have violated it.”

Good organizations build those bonds to create a hive thereby overcoming the self-interest that destroys organizations. Where there is buy-in people work harder and have more fun. They are less likely to change jobs or pursue legal action against their employer. If you want to develop a hive he recommends:

  • Increase similarity, not diversity. Therefore don’t point out differences in race or ethnicity. Focus on the similarities.
  • Exploit synchrony. Groups work together to prepare for battle.
  • Create healthy competition between groups, not individuals. Friendly group rivalries build group dynamics. But when an organization promotes individual competition (like bonuses) you erode “hivishness, trust, and morale.”

Political Hives

Great leaders build hives. They tap into the desire to be part of something greater than yourself. Some evil leaders use this groupishness to develop dangerous communities that aren’t simply less concerned with outsiders but destroy outsiders. They create a single hive as a nation rather than recognizing there will be interlocked hives.

“In fact, a nation that is full of hives is a nation of happy satisfied people. It’s not a very promising target for takeover by a demagogue offering people meaning in exchange for their souls.”

Religion Is a Team Sport

Durkheim saw that religious rites helped form communities in the way that tailgating, face painting, fight songs etc. build a hive with collective motions at sporting events. Haidt addresses the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism and how they misunderstand religion. While he’s an atheist, he’s not part of the New Atheism which is openly hostile to religion.

I yawn at the evolutionary explanation for religion whether the New Atheists or Scott Atran and Joe Henrich’s more reasonable proposal. They propose, in part, that it is religions that evolved, not us or our genes. Less effective religions faded in to obscurity.

“You don’t need a social scientist to tell you that people behave less ethically when they think nobody sees them. … Creating god who can see everything, and who hates cheaters and oath breakers, turns out to be a good way to reduce cheating and oath breaking.”

Haidt finds that religious communes last longer than secular communes. In secular communities requests for sacrifice are met with a cost-benefit analysis. But if sacrifice rests on the Sanctity foundation, religious people are more willing to make it. He then argues that religious groups bind people together better, suppressing selfishness.

Also differing from the New Atheist, Haidt believes that religious has produced some (much?) good, particularly for their communities through parochial altruism. Religious people are more generous, though much of that goes to their communities (is that really surprising?). Religious people are also more likely to give to charities that aren’t connected to their faith. Religion, then is “well suited to be the haidmaiden of groupishness, tribalism, and nationalism.” The danger is when the group demonizes the other group, and religions have been used by demagogues to further their sick agendas.

He compares religion to an exoskeleton. You become “enmeshed in a set of norms, relationships, and institutions that work primarily on the elephant to influence your behavior.” This is an important function for society.

“When societies lose their grip on individuals, allowing all to do as they please, the result is often a decrease in happiness and an increase in suicide, as Durkheim showed more than a hundred years ago.”

Defining Morality

Haidt at the end of the chapter on religion finally defines morality:

“Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.”

He admits this is a functionalist definition. Not much love there. He focuses on what it does, and I’m not sure he quite gets that either. In terms of ethical systems he doesn’t know what normative theory would be best for individuals. He seems to favor a Durkeimian utilitarianism which recognizes “that human flourishing requires social order and embeddedness.”

Can’t We All Disagree More Constructively?

Finally we are getting to the pay off as he brings it all together to address the driving question of the book. We don’t live in a world of philosopher-kings or panels of supposedly unbiased experts (insert maniacal laugh here). Since we don’t have a king we have parties pursuing our votes (and money). This quest for power inevitably includes tricks, lies and demagoguery.

In years past there seemed to be plenty of swing votes, including politicians who were moderate. In 2012 he notes that few people call themselves centrists or moderates. More people are calling themselves either conservative or liberal. Sadly he sees changes fostering new behavior in Congress. Friendships across party lines are discouraged and those weakened relationships make it easy to demonize the other side. As opposed to being in one club there are two.

“This is not a collegial body anymore. It is more like gang behavior. Members walk into the chamber full of hatred.” Congressman Jim Cooper (D) 2011

America’s problems are often the world’s problems due to the increase of globablism in practice. We have a “battle between a three-foundation morality and a six-foundation morality.” Here he wants to hammer “morality binds and blinds” to help us understand our situation.

He quotes a definition of ideology as: “A set of beliefs about the proper order of society and how it can be achieved.” This is what the fight is about. We don’t agree on the proper order of society and/or how to get there. There is one drive to preserve (conserve) the present order, and another to change it.

A twin study indicates that twins raised in different homes are more likely to be similar than unrelated children raised together. This includes political orientation. Genetics, it is believed, accounts for 1/3-1/2 of the variability in people’s political attitudes. Innate, in his view, is malleable. Our experiences shape and hold the attitudes already present. Not hard wired, but leanings.

The Power of Narrative

We process stories more than we are logical. The Bible is filled with stories, a big Story, rather than a series of logical propositions. Parents use stories to communicate morality to children. Stories begin to move the elephant. Perhaps this is why NPR’s news stories are often that: people and their stories that communicate embedded ideas. Movies and TV shows use narrative to shift us. Politicians tell stories or visions to sway us rather than present logical arguments. Democrats tend to tell stories about care, fairness and oppression while Republicans also tap into loyalty, authority (law & order), sanctity (particularly pro-life). As a result each side can’t really understand the other since the stories are so different and appeal to different moral foundations.

This is revealed when people were asked to pretend to be the other in studies he’s done.

“The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. … The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives.”

This lack of understanding feeds dehumanization. Obviously the other side doesn’t have morals. Some pundits even wonder if the other side should live. He quotes theater critic Michael Feingold who believed Republicans don’t have imagination, just want to profit from disaster and should be exterminated. Haidt then notes the numerous ironies including that a theater critic can’t imagine Republicans have a moral matrix. This is an example of morality binding him to his party and blinding him to the morality of the other party.

“As a lifelong liberal, I had assumed that conservatism = orthodoxy = religion = faith = rejection of science.”

Sound familiar? Just the other night Bernie Sanders at the DNC Convention joined a number of Democrats in saying Republicans don’t believe in science (whatever that means).

He introduces orthodoxy as the “view that there exists a ‘transcendent moral order, to which we ought to try to conform the ways of society.'” Examples of “orthodoxy” would be the Moral Majority or Sharia law. As I function with a 2 kingdoms model like Augustine, Luther and Calvin I recognize that my faith won’t control the government. For me orthodoxy critiques both conservativism and liberalism but at different points because both are based on humanism. This is similar to Keller’s point that the Bible criticized every society and culture.

Moral Capital

Slowly Haidt began to agree with some conservative claims about the good society, and found they understood moral capital more than liberals did. He wants us to know he’s thinking of intellectuals, not the RNC. Social capital became a common concept with Bowling Alone. There are social ties that foster reciprocity and trustworthiness. He notes that these ties allow ultra-Orthodox Jews in the diamond trade to keep their costs lower. Moral vision requires social capital. Moral capital is not about trust but the web of relationships necessary to sustain a healthy society. Moral communities extend beyond kinship because of the environment in which relationships are embedded. He defines moral capital as “the resources that sustain a moral community.” It refers to:

“… the degree to which a community possesses interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and technologies that mesh well with evolved psychological mechanisms and thereby enable the community to suppress or regulate selfishness and make cooperation possible.”

It reflects his definition of morality. Moral communities are hard to build. They are easy to destroy. Moral capital can make a community efficiently, but some efficient communities can inflict harm on other communities. Haidt notes that liberal reforms often neglect the effects on moral capital and end up destroying moral communities.

This leads Haidt to conclude that liberalism isn’t a sufficient governing philosophy due to this overreach, but needs to work with conservativism to preserve moral capital. Conservatives often fail to recognize oppression and limit the powerful. In other words, they need each other like Batman and the Joker need each other in The Lego Batman Movie.

“A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.” John Stuart Mill

He provides a similar quote from Bertrand Russell. Our polarization means that the parties don’t work together (compromise in the good sense) for the good of the nation but “stick to their guns” for the approval of their base. In terms of bees we are not a healthy hive, but two sick hives.

The “third rail” for Liberals is caring for the oppressed. They tune out appeals to loyalty, authority and sanctity for the most part. He quotes Garrison Keillor who calls liberalism as “the politics of kindness.” The most popular definitions of liberals found on YourMorals.org is care for the vulnerable & oppressed, opposing hierarchy and “changing laws, traditions and institutions to solve social problems.” He argues that government should limit corporations that become superorganisms. They change legal and political systems. The only organism large enough to stand up to the Amazons of the world is the federal government. Corporations, if publicly held, are to maximize profits so costs are often passed on to others (like pollution). Haidt argues that when they operate out of the public eye they are unrestrained. There has to be a free press to hold them accountable (unfortunately some buy papers and stations)and governments to regulate them (unfortunately they hire lots of lobbyists and can make unlimited donations to political causes). He admits that liberals often go too far with regulation, hence the need to work together rather than for the nation to see-saw.

For Libertarians, the third rail is liberty and many of them are frustrated with Covid restrictions. They generally fear big government as a threat to liberty (and they have a point!). In most countries they are called classical liberals or right liberals, but here they are a small party called Libertarian. They’ve been called “liberals who love markets and lack bleeding hearts.” This liberty goes beyond economic choices to personal choices which is why many Christians don’t go full Libertarian. Many Libertarians have supported the Republican party since both see liberals as the biggest threat with big government and lots of intrusion.

Haidt recognizes that “markets are miraculous” in terms of resolving plenty of issues. He gives the example of health care, noting David Goldhill’s article “How American Health Care Killed My Father.” The problem is using insurance for routine matters instead of protection in catastrophic cases. We all want such insurance for some reason even though it drives up and obscures prices. Since you have to be “in network” there is no competition to lower prices and drive innovation. I used to joke that dealing with EOBs was CavWife’s part-time job. Because prices rise, care-motivated Liberals want to subsidize insurance for the poor or offer government healthcare for all. This means no competition and even less innovation so the situation worsens. Working markets produce supply to meet demand.

“Care and compassion sometimes motivate liberals to interfere in the working of markets, but the result can be extraordinary hard on a vast scale.”

Conservatives, having a broader moral matrix, are better able to detect threats to moral capital. They don’t resist all change, but change that will damage institutions and traditions tied to loyalty, authority or sanctity. One way Haidt puts it is “you can’t help the bees by destroying the hive.” Change that helps individuals but destroys society is not a good thing. You have to have groups even though they exclude some people. You need internal structure, and if you destroy them you destroy moral capital.

In a study, Putnam discovered that ethnic diversity didn’t bind people into networks of trust but actually dissolved trust. High immigration (don’t read that as immigration, the adjective matters)and diversity reduce social capital: both bridging capital (between groups and bonding capital (within a group).

“Diversity seems to trigger not in-group/out-group division, but anomie or social isolation. … people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’- that is, to pull in like a turtle.” Robert Putnam

I like diversity, but apparently there is a tipping point where it becomes a bad thing. Haidt, a liberal, notes that liberals “push for changes that weaken groups, traditions, institutions, and moral capital.” Their good intentions create havoc. In one of his counter-intuitive moves he says “emphasizing differences makes many people more racist, not less.” Conservative generally tend to the hive, while liberals to the bees. The hive is for the bees because without a hive you’ve got no bees.

More Civility

He argues that politics in America has become Manichaean. That is a form of Gnosticism with polarities. Your side is good and the other is evil. There is no common ground, no working together. This process began with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which moved many conservative Democrats into the Republican party in a massive realignment. Similar but smaller movements happened with the Reagan Democrats and Blue Dog Democrats. The moderates from both parties jumped ship leaving fewer swing votes and moderates. This was aggravated by Newt Gingrich encouraging incoming Republicans to keep their families at home so they spent more time in their districts. The unintended consequence was fewer friendships with people of the other party. With social capital disappearing, trust eroded and polarization increased.

If you want to understand “the other side” follow the sacredness: “figure out which one or two (moral foundations) are carrying the most weight in a controversy.” Friendly interactions can build trust and move the elephant. Like Neo, you need to enter the Matrix to defeat it. Try to enter their views to understand them and appeal to their moral foundations instead of demanding they embrace yours. Find those points of commonality, build that trust. It’s like evangelism, gaining the respect of outsiders so they become interested in your message.

“Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.”

 

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I’m not talking about the movie.  I’m talking about the ruins left behind by ‘progressive’ ideas.  Two blog posts by Al Mohler illustrate.

One of Ronald Reagan’s greatest regrets, so I’ve heard, is signing the “No Fault Divorce” law as Governor of California.  A man who grew up a few blocks from the “Brady” house in California decided to check in with his friends from high school to see how the rapid increase in divorce among their parents affected them.  His Newsweek article shares some of the shocking stories.  The author is only 2 years older than me.  Although divorce was not quite as common in southern New Hampshire, I know I felt some of those fears as a child.

Despite his experiences, Mr. Jefferson states that he’d marry his partner if allowed to by law.  This leads us to the next topic Dr. Mohler addresses.  Many ‘progressives’ have a “not my kid” mentality about homosexuality.  These are people who willing and warmly embrace homosexuals (actually, many Christians do too), so they are not “homophobes”.  But they are conflicted when it comes to their own children.  And apparently their kids have caught on.  Homosexuals in Christian families report having an easier time telling their parents.  These of course are probably families that understand the gospel and practice unconditional love.  Why do I say this?  A family that “gets” the gospel understands that all of us are corrupt and prone toward evil.  Some of us just pursue “respectable” evils like gluttony, gossip and greed to name but a few.  You don’t have to approve or like your kids’ choices, but you are to love them like you love yourself. 

The ruins of ‘progressive’ thought (which exalts personal freedom over mutual obligation and personal responsibility) are broken families and uncertain kids.  Not only are kids uncertain if their parents will stay together, but if their parents will continue to love them if they knew the truth about them.  Afterall, isn’t that why some/many of their parents are divorcing- they couldn’t handle the truth about one another.  Obviously, sometimes it is one spouse’s unwillingness to change destructive behavior.  But this still undermines a child’s relational foundation.

My hope is not in “conservative values”.  I’m not into moralism though I have conservative values.  My hope is in the gospel, the power of God to save everyone who believes.  We can be saved not only penalty of sin, but the power of sin.  Communities that “get” the gospel will provide the relational stability necessary for children to grow up able to love others.

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