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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Haidt’


Sometimes life just gets busy and books get put aside for a spell. That’s what has happened.

I began reading The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience by Jeremy Pierre while I was on vacation/study leave back in July. I didn’t quite finish it and resumed when I got home. Or tried anyway.

Unfortunately I had committed to Congregational Conversations on Women in the Church and Talking Politics which are reflected in my numerous posts on Aimee Byrd and Jonathan Haidt.

Jeremy Pierre teaches counseling at Southern Seminary. This is a book written for biblical counseling. While I do some counseling, I read it to improve my preaching just as much as my personal ministry. As a result, I’m looking at this with slightly different eyes than his intended audience.

This book is structured in 3 sections. My bottom line is that the first two were excellent, and I got mired in the third.

The first section is The Beauty of Human Experience: How the Heart Responds Dynamically. Pierre develops this section reflecting a redemptive historical structure. The first two chapter seem to focus on the heart as created by God, and then we have the heart corrupted and then redeemed. It end with the heart in context.

Pierre develops a biblical understanding of the heart: interaction between thinking, feeling and willing. As he notes in his diagram the functions are interrelated and overlapping. Our heart responses are complex.

We think about what we value. Our feelings reveal what we value. Our choices reveal what we value most. Our heart interacts with the world and our circumstances. All three of these functions are important and often work behind the scenes. He mentions John Frame, and it is hard not to think about this in a triperspectival fashion.

“None of the faculties, so understood, exists or acts apart from the others, each is dependent on the others, and each includes the others.”

He connects worship to our thoughts, feelings and choices. God made us to respond to Him, the world and our circumstances. Similar to Haidt, Pierre notes Antonio Damasio’s work on people with brain injuries affecting emotions. Without emotions people don’t make better decisions but none or worse decisions. Our reactions seem intuitive (like in Haidt) not with reason leading the way. He mentions Haidt on page 33. This doesn’t mean we are thoughtless. We use past experiences and think about how to interpret circumstances. We also have affective and volitional responses to situations.

Due to the corruption of sin, our “experience is fragmented, dysfunctional, incomplete.” We all experience inner conflict as sin “hijacks the dynamic heart’s beautiful design.” Pierre develops this in terms of dynamic unfaithfulness and idolatry.

But thankfully God didn’t leave us all there. In regeneration we have a “renewed” heart, or one that is redeemed. His focus is on faith: a faith that is thinking, desiring and committed. This reflects the Protestant notion of the content, asset and trust comprising faith.

“The dynamic heart is always active, response-able, and therefore responsible.”

The second section entitled The Context of Human Experience: What the Heart Dynamically Responds To. The most obvious answer is God, but also to self, to others and circumstances. This fits well with Relational Wisdom 360 (God, self, others) as well as Frame’s triperspectivalism (God, me & circumstances (people included)).

He begins with God, and worship. One of his illustrations isn’t quite accurate. The temperature of the sun does change, not just the color of our sunsets (the two have nothing to do with one another). But he does get into Van Til’s Creator-creature distinction to differentiate our experience from God’s. God knows Himself perfectly. We not only can’t comprehend God, we don’t know ourselves fully either. He then gets to the similarities: thinking, valuing & choosing.

Faith includes not only believing God exists but “expressing the raw contents of the heart to God.” We see this throughout the Psalms. When we say that God wants our hearts He not only wants our thoughts captive to Him, but emotions shared with Him and wills in submission to Him. This is being God-aware and God-engaging in our circumstances.

He then addresses issues of identity.

“The primary point of this chapter is this: The dynamic heart functions from a personal identity constructed from various sources. Caring for people involves addressing how their constructed identity compares to their given identity.”

He notes that we simultaneously operate with different identities. At the same moment I can operate as friend and pastor, husband and father. Underneath all of this should be my grace-given identity in Christ. He discusses layers of identity reflecting a person’s cultural circles, with Christ at the center. A person’s circumstances, present environment, shapes how they conceive of their role and response to others. When I return home, my role is the youngest and it is like going through a time warp. It is unconscious. I struggle with my role & responses when visiting with my wife’s family: still, after 20 years. But the others around us matter too in how we understand our identities. As noted above, counseling (and preaching) seeks to shift people to their given identities, and to re-shape constructed ones to be more in synch with our given identity. At one point I did write in the margin that our conception of our given identities (Christian, husband, father etc.) can be culturally constructed.

Pierre then shifts to others and influence, particularly the influence of others on our hearts. Our choices on who or what influences us is often unconscious. It happens beneath the surface as something draws us to a person. But they then exert influence on us. And we on them. This influence can be both positive and negative. As we grow in self-awareness we will better understand how we engage with others. He addresses various orbits of influence: culture, family of origin, current family, vocation, social circles, media and then church as an alternate community of influence.

From there he moves into our circumstances and their meaning as they interact with our dynamic hearts. He notes that “People automatically process the events occurring around them according to their established framework of belief.” This is why change requires a renewal of the mind, and frameworks not simply thoughts. Our beliefs are part of a framework, not isolated. Here he gets into control beliefs which “determine how they interpret circumstances; their control values will determine how they feel about circumstances; and their control commitments will determine what choices they make in response to circumstances.” Counseling (and preaching) should address those control beliefs, values & commitments. Often these are shaped by seismic events: a divorce, and injury or illness, sexual assault etc. That means the event needs to be addressed so its power is lessened over time.

The book ends with Counseling from a Theology of Human Experience. He compares counseling to raking, not baking. His counseling process involves reading hearts, reflecting so people can understand their hearts, relate them to Jesus, and renew so they make new responses. This is where I got bogged down. It has less content and more sample questions to get at each of these steps in the raking process. If I were reading with an eye on counseling I probably would have found it more profitable. I did find the first two sections very profitable.

Whether for preaching, counseling or personal ministry of various sorts, this is a helpful book. He has some good illustrations from counseling and history (the story of the Essex as told in The Heart of the Sea). He draws on a variety of sources that might sound odd but actually are more similar than you think. Haidt, as I’ve mentioned in other places, reminds me of Van Til whom Pierre reflects through John Frame. He’s got some helpful sources and influences which enable him to put together a book about how the heart works that enhances understanding and hopefully in the various kinds of heart work we are called to do.

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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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The first section of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion developed Haidt’s Social Intuition Theory. He summarizes this as “intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.” In his metaphor the rider serves the elephant, explaining why the elephant (intuitions) is going in the direction it is going.

The second section of the book develops the thesis that “there’s more to morality than harm and fairness”. His metaphor is that “the righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors.” He’s going to develop the foundations of morality. In the process, he’s going to look at the differences in the moral foundation between conservatives and liberals, as well as how they lean differently in common ground.

WEIRD People

He begins with the concept of WEIRD. Many of his subjects for his dissertation research came from his time at McDonald’s. He was surprised “these working-class subjects would sometimes find my request for justifications so perplexing.” He began to note class and educational differences. His students at Penn were devoted to John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle.” They were the only group that didn’t express some form of disgust for one of his test questions. Haidt borrows the WEIRD acronym from Henrich, Heine and Norenzayan. It stands for western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic. These people are statistical outliers but often form the sample for many studies in the West. “Even in the West, Americans are more extreme outliers than Europeans, and within the United States, the educated upper middle class (like my Penn sample) is the most unusual of all.”

As he lays out the differences, most people think holistically but the WEIRD are more analytical. They gravitate toward Kant and Mill. They see the world differently and have different moral concerns. They are more individualistic while other are more sociocentric in their morality, meaning groups and institutions are placed ahead of the concerns of the individual.

He leans on Shweder in recognizing that you can’t ignore culture when you study how people think. Conversely you can’t study culture and ignore psychology. Shweder discovered “three major clusters of moral themes”: autonomy, community, and divinity.

Autonomy: “People should be free to satisfy these wants, needs, and preferences as they see fit, and so societies develop moral concepts such as rights, liberty, and justice, which allow people to coexist peacefully without interfering too much in each other’s projects.” There is dependence on utilitarians Mill and Peter Singer.

Community: “based on the idea that people are, first and foremost, members of larger entities such as families, teams, armies, companies, tribes, and nations… they are real, they matter, and they must be protected. … Many societies therefore develop moral concepts such as duty, hierarchy, respect, reputation and patriotism.”

Divinity: “people are first and foremost, temporary vessels within which a divine soul has been implanted. … The body is a temple, not a playground.” Therefore people shouldn’t do things that degrade themselves or dishonor their Creator.

Becoming a Pluralist

Haidt was admittedly WEIRD, until he moved to India for a study. He wasn’t on vacation but immersed himself in the culture, “a sex-segregated, hierarchically stratified, devoutly religious society, and I was committed to understanding it on its own terms, not mine.” He learned that as people were kind to him, his elephant leaned toward them, and his rider began to look for reasons to defend them. I liken this, in part, to John Perkin’s idea that “love is the final fight.” If we are kind to one another we’ll begin to care for one another and seek reasons to defend one another (and their view points).

He began to understand the concept of moral disgust which “is felt whenever we see or hear about people whose behavior shows them to be low on this vertical dimension.” He says that while a man who robs a bank commits a crime, and we judge him, those who traffic in children disgust us and we consider them monsters rather than simply criminals. Haidt found himself adopting some Indian practices associated with disgust, including removing shoes before entering a house (since the streets are filthy).

He began to understand the moral outrage of conservatives when a crucifix is placed in a jar of urine and called art. He encourages people to consider what would happen if images of Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela were treated this way. This, I think, is part of what is driving the move to remove confederate statues. They are viewed as polluting our society. He notes that “the ethic of divinity is sometimes incompatible with compassion, egalitarianism, and basic human rights.” Yet it also provides critique for the ugly parts of secular culture.

Leaving the Matrix

The creators of The Matrix built on William Gibson’s view of cyberspace in his novel Neuromancer. Neo took the red pill to leave the matrix and see reality for what it really was. Shweder’s ideas were Haidt’s red pill. He now understood “many moral matrices coexist within each nation.” Each one presents a “complete, unified, and emotionally compelling worldview”. Growing up Jewish his community saw unions and labor providing protection from the exploitation they faced. Since FDR was a President who supported labor and was in office when Hitler was defeated, Jews have been largely Democrat ever since. There is an emotional tie that doesn’t seem rational to others.

His own political views seemed so ethical, and the other party’s so obviously evil, that he and his friends looked for the psychological pathology to explain why anyone would be a Republican. They didn’t consider that moral choices were more complex than reducing harm and increasing fairness. When he returned to the States, Republicans didn’t seem quite so crazy. He had escaped from his “partisan mind-set(reject first, ask rhetorical questions later).” He felt freed from partisan anger.

“If you grow up in a WEIRD society, you become so well educated in the ethic of autonomy that you can detect oppression and inequality even where the apparent victims see nothing wrong.”

Moral Taste Buds

Who’d go to a restaurant that only focused on one taste receptor, he asks. Imagine Salt, with a menu filled with food focused exclusively on your salt receptor. From this he moves to morality. As our tongue has different receptors (sweet, salty, sour etc) so our righteous mind has variety of moral receptors or foundations. A balanced moral view encompasses all or most of them, but individuals and communities will prefer different blends.

“In this analogy, morality is like cuisine: it’s a cultural construction, influenced by accidents of environment and history, but it’s not so flexible that anything goes.”

He understands morality as a social or cultural construct (of your tribe). While it is not internally generated, it is internalized. We all have the same receptors but don’t all like the same foods, or ethical views. Here Haidt returns to his love for Hume. Moral judgement is a kind of perception, an intuition, not the result of reasoning (most of the time at least). In this, Haidt looks at Kant and Bentham, two of the great systemizers in ethical realms. Those who are autistic are high systemizers with low empathy (ability to put yoursefl in another’s shoes). Much of what we know about Jeremy Bentham, the other famous Utilitarian, indicates he’d likely be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome today. Even Mill apparently despised Bentham. Kant, the leading Deontologist, also seems to be close to the “autism zone”. Both utilitarianism and Kant’s categorical imperative lack empathy and isolate one receptor above all others, excluding the others.

Haidt sought “links between virtues and well-established evolutionary theories.” He borrowed “modularity” from Sperber and Hirschfield. They are like switches in our brains, fight or flight for instance. I wasn’t enamored with his attempts to tie all this into evolution, so I’ll his Moral Foundations Theory (see chart above). He will add a sixth later but we can see the main switches in our minds that influence our ethical and moral views.

In the next chapter he sets out to apply Moral Foundations Theory to politics, showing that these foundations are used differently to support different moral matricies. He begins with homo economicus, or economic man. This means we make our choices based on self-interest. But his studies disproved self-interest. There were somethings people wouldn’t do no matter how much money you offered them.

Innate knowledge is not quite hard-wired. It is built in, but malleable. Our experiences shape how we express innate knowledge.

Compassion is the emotion linked to the care/harm foundation. Cuteness is tied to our care/harm foundation. You don’t want to hurt something cute, but an ugly bug … step on it. Media uses the care/harm foundation to shift people’s minds on moral issues. They want to trigger it, and so do many retailers in their ads. This is the point: “to get your vote, your money, or your times, they must activate at least one of your moral foundations.” He views bumper stickers are tribal badges: declaring who you are and your moral matrix. He argues that the moral matrix of liberals (remember, he is one!) rests more heavily on this modularity than others.

This doesn’t mean that conservatives don’t have compassion, they just express it differently (and for different causes). In keeping with loyalty, their compassion tends to stay home first. Not exclusively, but primarily. This is why they want to limit foreign aid so we can address issues here at home first. They also express it as individuals rather than seeking “compulsory compassion” through the government (aka taxes). So, liberals generally seek compassion through government while conservatives express compassion personally (studies indicate that conservatives are more generous to causes).

Fairness/cheating is about justice. “On the left, concerns about equality and social justice are based in part on the Fairness foundation”. The key there is equality. On the right, fairness is expressed proportionally: “people should be rewarded in proportion to what they contribute, even if that guarantees unequal outcomes.” So liberals tend to press for “equal outcomes” such as concern about income inequality and the wealth tax and limitations. Conservatives tend to press for “equal opportunity” which means each person can succeed or fail. Both want justice but see it differently.

In looking for a new-to-me car, I went to test a car with a great price. I liked the car but apparently that was the price “if”: if you had a trade in, and used them for financing. There was no such fine print in the Car Gurus information. My fairness switch was triggered. It was still a very good deal, but not the deal I came in expecting. I’m still on the horns of this, for me, ethical dilemma.

Loyalty/Betrayal addresses our communal life. Leaders arise in each group by consensus, even if unspoken. In the sitcom Community, Jeff Winger is the unspoken leader who naturally arose in the study group. People deferred to and followed him. He decided who was in or out. Until his role was challenged, then it all became more explicit as the rival was “put in their place” for his betrayal of the authority, and the tribe. Loyalty matters to people. Women focus on loyalty to persons. Men tend to focus on groups (teams or coalitions). We like team players, and punish the selfish. Those perceived as disloyal are ostracized. Swing votes, more moderate in their views, as criticized. They are the Blue Dog Democrats (aka Reagan Democrats), RINOs (Republican in name only) and the PCA’s “squishy middle”. Dante consigns the traitors to the innermost circle of hell. (One thing that Haidt does that annoys me, beginning in this section is using the term ‘universalism’ instead of ‘globalism’. I hear the former used in religious circles about salvation, and the latter in political circles. Many Liberals/Moderates I knew lamented the end of the “globalist dream” after the 2016 election.)

Authority/Subversion addresses the respect, or lack thereof, shown to parents, teachers and others in authority. This reflects the reality of the hierarchical impulse. Someone needs to be in charge. In some languages this is encoded through the use of the polite form. It is also reflected in the use or abandonment of titles. He spends time talking about the alpha male, and all I can think about is Negan. But we should remember that they “take on responsibility for maintaining order and justice.”

Haidt used to hold to the common liberal belief that “hierarchy = power = exploitation = evil.” He admits he was wrong and delves into “Authority Ranking”, asymmetric positions in hierarchy. There are people above you and below you. This modularity shapes how we respond to both. The political right builds on loyalty more often than the political left does. It is the party of law and order.

Sanctity/Degradation builds on divinity cluster. Those who are materialists tend to dismiss degradation in favor of autonomy. It’s just a body, after all. Others have a greater sense of disgust that is “irrational”. I was updating my license the other day and the organ donor question came up. I hate that question. I want to be philanthropic, but something about organ donation creeps me out (Frankenstein movies???). Perhaps it is that my body remains united to Christ even in death. I find I can’t overcome that hump. Many people have a strong sense of sanctity/degradation which drives moral choices. Conservatives are more likely to speak of the sanctity of life or marriage. This modularity means more to them. But it also shows up among environmentalists worried a bout degrading the environment.

“Kass argued that our feelings of disgust can sometimes provide us with a valuable warning that we are going too far, even when we are morally dumbfounded and can’t justify those feelings by pointing to victims…”

The Conservative Advantage

I’ve been going long so I’ll try to keep this last section short. As a liberal, Haidt believes that conservatives have an advantage. That advantage is that they utilize a greater number of moral modularities in their messages. Liberal politicians tend to focus on two: Care/Harm and Fairness/Injustice. Haidt notes how he’d criticize Kerry’s speeches in the 2004 election. Kerry’s slogans (“American Can Do Better” and “Help is on the way”) remind me of Biden’s “A Better America”. They really don’t connect with moral foundations. Haidt spoke to Charlottesville Democrats about how Republicans understand moral psychology much better than Democrats. Democrats, he argues, appeal to the rider while Republicans appeal to the elephant.

“Republicans don’t just aim to cause fear, as some Democrats charge.” Plenty of Democrats aim to cause fear too.

Republicans trigger a wider range of moral intuitions. Haidt devised a study to prove his theory. The study showed that while Care and Fairness were moderately high across the political spectrum, they were highest among liberals. The other three increased the farther right you went. Liberals largely reject loyalty, authority and sanctity foundations. This was not simply a U.S. phenomenon. Haidt notes that so much of the research seems to want to find out what is “wrong” with conservatives (being done by liberals). Haidt doesn’t seem to think this is the right approach (normalizing my view and disparaging theirs aka partisanship and demonization).

He notes that at first Obama showed great dexterity in triggering moral intuitions. But then he began to follow the familiar path of addressing Care and Fairness primarily (appealing to the base?). He still got elected twice, however. But you understand the criticism from the right for his globalism as disloyalty to our nation.

Liberals tend to gravitate toward John Stuart Mills’ position (which assumes people are basically good, which isn’t a good assumption to make). Conservatives tend to gravitate toward Emile Durkheimian society that values self-control, duty and loyalty to one’s own group. This explains Obama’s “God and guns” complaint about the heartland. Democrats focus on the pluribus (many), and Republicans the unum (one).

What I Missed

Haidt realized that he missed something. He got some strong responses to his Moral Foundations Theory which didn’t fully fit into it. There was another moral foundation: liberty/oppression. Alphas need to know their limits or oppressed subjects eventually rise up. Liberty operates in a tension with authority. Authority must exist, but not oppress. The Federalists saw authority as protecting liberty. I can see this, but see liberty and safety being in tension. You sacrifice one to get the other (this is the theme of the second and third Captain America movies).

“Liberals sometimes go beyond equality of rights to pursue equality of outcomes, which cannot be obtained in a capitalist system. This may be why the left usually favors higher taxes on the rich, high levels of services provided to the poor, and sometimes a guaranteed minimum income for everyone.”

He argues that in America, conservatives focus on liberty rather than equality. They want a limited government that treats people equally instead of one that tries to control outcomes. So, his Moral Foundations Theory now has (at least) 6 foundations for the world’s numerous moral matrices. Conservatives have the advantage because they address 6 foundations while liberals focus on 3.

And so we’re done with the second section of the book.

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Some of you thought this would never end. But all things, good and bad, come to an end this side of the eschaton. Then everything, good and bad, will be eternal.

This will cover the last chapter and some final thoughts concerning Aimee Byrd’s recent and controversial book Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. We are going to peel back the yellow wall paper one last time. The final chapter is called When Paul Passes Phoebe the Baton.

As you can likely tell from that title, Byrd returns to Phoebe and Paul’s commendation of her to the church in Rome. She draws on James Montgomery Boice to say that she likely had traveling companions since it was generally unsafe for women to travel alone in the ancient world. Paul is wanting to identify the courier of the epistle: Phoebe.

Interestingly she also notes that Paul may have taken quite some time to write the letter, perhaps having rough drafts, editing, dictation and so forth. She depends on E. Randolph Richards book Paul and First-Century Letter Writing. I was surprised that someone wrote a book on such a niche subject, but I shouldn’t be I suppose. This seems to overly stress the human authorship and minimize (at best) the divine authorship. I don’t generally conceive of the Holy Spirit needing Paul to edit and utilize rough drafts. But this is a rabbit trail since the Spirit is not super-intending this blog post.

Sacred Siblingship

Byrd gets this phraseology from Mixed Ministry: Working Together as Brothers and Sisters in an Oversexed Society. Her arguments are based on Reidar Aasgaard’s “My Beloved Brothers and Sisters!” Christian Siblingship in Paul (again thinking people write about the oddest things). It was a powerful social institution. Siblings of the opposite sex could talk to one another in public, and show some affection prohibited to lovers. Paul uses this to reveal the type of bond Christians should have, a very counter-cultural bond. She explores some of the reasons for this bond in families. Sibling obligations were distinctive and yet fluid. “Factors such as age, gender, skill, and birth order all contributed to authority and responsibility both in the household and public spheres.” She notes that sisters often mediated between fathers and sons. The longest relationship you’d have in life was the sibling relationship.

Some of those calls were painful

Family was important to Jesus, but not more important than the Father and those spiritually united to him. Jesus did provide for his mother at his death. As we think of Phoebe, Paul is saying “she’s one of us!” not just someone paid to carry a letter for me. Byrd again returns to her theory that Phoebe was astute and full of theological vigor, capable of answering any questions like the old Ligonier phone room.

She makes much of the fact that a woman could carry the letter to Rome, and the theory she was there to answer questions too (meaning instructing them in what Paul means). In like fashion, Byrd introduces us to Basil and Gregory of Nyssa’s older sister Macrina. Belonging to a convent she was apparently theologically astute and Gregory indicates that she was influential in his life and theology.

“We see from Gregory’s writings that ‘women’s theologizing is fundamental to the development of Christian thought and should not be relegated to the fringe or regarded as a concession prize at best.”

Sisters can communicate God’s Word. This sister by blood and spirit taught her younger brothers, not only as children but as adults. They didn’t silence her as a mere woman. They valued her as a person and her input or ideas.

Then Byrd engages in “historical imagination” with Richard Bauckham regarding Junia also mentioned in Romans 16. I call it speculative, and the difference may or may not be more than semantic. There are translation/interpretative differences: she is either well known as an apostle (lower case, not the office) or well known by the Apostles. Chrysostom seems to indicate in his homily on this text that she was “worthy of the appellation of apostle!” She would be part of a church planting team sent out (hence apostles). PC(USA) author Kenneth Bailey seems to view her as an Apostle, at least of sorts, arguing she was witness to Jesus’ ministry (he seems to be reading our technical use back into the text). Bauckman gets more speculative in arguing that Junia is the Greek name for the Jewess Joanna who was married to Herod’s steward. As part of Herod’s court, she and her husband likely had connections in Rome, and perhaps were missionaries to Rome later.

I don’t want to get too detailed in this. The gist is that women were engaged in the church planting project. What role they played is uncertain. What is certain to me is that Byrd is confusing “apostles” with “Apostles”. She thinks that this speculation poses a problem for complementarian churches. I don’t think it does for me as a complementarian-in-search-of-a-new-name. As laypeople, some were sent to plant churches in accordance with the gospel of the Apostles (given to them by Jesus, obviously). The word in Greek is not used exclusively for the office. We must look at how it is used to see its meaning in a particular case. So, this doesn’t mean that women had authority and office. We do see that they provided resources and engaged in evangelism as well as discipleship. At times we clearly see women like Prisca alongside her husband working to disciple men. We do see women commissioned and sent onto the mission field, and this is a good thing.

Peel and Reveal

She’s calling us to evaluate our views and the practices of our congregations. She uses clutter blindness as an illustration. We become blind to the clutter around us (like in my office) after time passes. I discussed this with someone today: broken or misplaced items become normalized after about 30 days. So fix or put those things away in timely fashion.

We really can’t see the yellow wallpaper because we are so used to it. Evaluate the practices to be sure you aren’t just falling into a cultural trap (either egalitarian or patriarchical). This isn’t limited to issues of gender. There are many things that are cultural that can be mistaken for biblical mandate. We can be blind to the racial insensitivity or worse in our churches because it has been there for so long. She quotes Upton Sinclair as saying, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”.

Byrd notes there about 60 “one another” passages in the Scripture which include aspects of discipleship. These passages are second plural, and are not gendered. The people who fulfill them are gendered. And so we minister as a man or woman to a brother or sister, father or mother, or son or daughter.

“Siblingship is the very framework that will help us to uphold distinction without reduction. We have unique responsibilities and contributions to our sexes because women will never be brothers and men will never be sisters.”

She reminds us of the difference between tradition and traditionalism. She’s not wanting to get rid of tradition but traditionalism (I’m taking her at her word).

Summary Thoughts:

  • Haley Carruthers crossing the finish line in London (Business Insider)

    While she affirms male headship in the church (only male elders) she more assumes it than proves it. She refers to Genesis 2 in a footnote. There is no mention of Titus 1 or 1 Timothy 2-3.

  • At times she heavily depends on one source for pages at a time. Many of those oft repeated sources are egalitarian scholars. It can sound like idiosyncratic viewpoints that she has picked up rather commonly held and understood.
  • She brings up lots of material and concerns from other books of hers. The main new contribution is issues concerning the CBMW in terms of how they reduce masculinity and femininity to authority based on ESS. This is based on a Biblicist approach to understanding Scripture.
  • She also attacks their problematic process of trying to discern what women can and cannot do in a local church. I wish she was more clear about some of the practices that she thinks are cultural additions (traditionalism) but she seems to want us to think it through.
  • In terms of Jonathan Haidt’s social intuition theory, she doesn’t seem to address the elephant as much as the rider.
  • At times she is selective. For instance, she reminds us that Miriam led others in song after the parting of the Red Sea in judgment-salvation. Byrd does not mention that she led the women, and in the chorus that Moses had already been singing. As a result it sounds like overstating the case through the selectivity. I said this in less than a paragraph, so it doesn’t take long. She also left out that Miriam was struck with leprosy when she and Aaron complained about Moses marrying the Cushite woman.

This is a good book that brings up a variety of good points. At times it seems like she’s trying to do too much and so the reasoning isn’t as clear as I’d like.

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In light of the upcoming election (and numerous debates connected to Covid-19) I decided it was time to read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. I will break up my review into 3 parts corresponding to the three parts of the book. As a result, I won’t go into great detail but will focus on what stands out to me.

Haidt writes well. While he is discussing developments in philosophy and psychology, particularly moral psychology, it is not boring. It is largely his story as he entered the field at a critical time and made significant contributions to the discipline. I think he strikes a good balance between enough detail to be meaningful and not so much that it becomes incomprehensible to “laypeople” in that field. He does a good job of defining terms so the uninitiated can follow the argument sufficiently.

What is interesting to me is how often he talks about evolution. Haidt comes from a materialist worldview. He recognizes the place of religion in the life of individuals and cultures but ties all that in to morality as an evolutionary process. I think his conclusions still have validity, despite his evolutionary presuppositions. He holds to some innate ideas and morality, but posits them in evolution instead of the imago dei. There is also a place for nurture in moral development. We are not tabula rasa, nor are we fully programmed and unchangeable. In light of his commitment to evolution it is ironic to me to see him say we are “born to be righteous.” His worldview doesn’t really explain why we aren’t actually righteous. He assigns his conclusion to evolution, not sinfulness. From my perspective he’s observing the darkened and futile mind of Romans 1 at work. He thinks we created gods to order our societies, not to explain the universe (pp. 13). I see Genesis 1 a bit differently.

“But I chose the title The Righteous Mind to convey the sense that human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental.”

He wrote this book in 2012, and compares the news about politics to the riots after the Rodney King riots- helicopters showing us disturbance and trauma. In the intervening years, the polarization has only increased. We’ve seen 3 summers of riots since he wrote this.

Chidi struggled to teach Eleanor moral philosophy

His goal is to take us on a tour of human nature and history through the lens of moral philosophy. He will also show us why our attempts to discuss politics and religion often produce vexation instead of unity. “Politics and religion are both expressions of our underlying moral philosophy” as he notes. He is essentially writing three interrelated books that address three principles of moral philosophy, as he sees it.

The first section develops the first moral principle: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. In light of this principle he offers a metaphor with intuition as an elephant and reason as the rider. In his metaphor, the rider is a servant to the elephant rather than controlling the elephant, using it to serve his goals.

I think the metaphor breaks down in that respect. Someone rides an elephant to make it his or her servant, not to serve it. I get his point, and will try to explain it, but he sees that the rider (reason) evolved to serve the interests of the elephant. I will admit that while I’ve ridden on an elephant years ago, I’m not sure how much you actually control said elephant. It is rather like Chidi attempting to help Eleanor become a more moral person. He’s serving her but can’t control her. And if these people aren’t familiar to you, you may want to watch The Good Place.

He begins by asking where morality comes from. He takes the reader through a short history of ideas on this subject. There of course is nature (nativist) either through creation or evolution (he mentions both) and nurture (empiricism). So there is discussion of John Locke, and Jean Piaget who had a “self-constructed morality”. Both came from a rationalistic perspective. He summaries this in terms of not instructing children about morality but letting them play to discover it. He puts it this way:

“And if you want your kids to learn about the social world, let them play with other kids and resolve disputes; don’t lecture them about the Ten Commandments. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t force them to obey God or their teachers or you. This will only freeze them at the conventional level.”

Fear not, he’s only discussing implications of other theorists and not his own conclusion. You are on a tour thru history, remember. He continues with Kohlberg and Elliot Turiel’s development. They discovered that as they age children can discern between moral rules and social conventions. The former prevent harm. Not all rules are treated the same way. But this did not satisfy a young Haidt. He decided to check this across cultures and classes after studying some cultural psychology.

“This was my first hint that morality often involves tension within the group linked to competition between different groups.”

He delves into the differences between sociocentric societies and individualistic societies. This is the question of whether the group or the individual matter more. Western cultures, due to the Enlightenment, focus on the needs of the individual. Most other cultures place the well-being of the group as the priority, and this shaped the answers he received. Kohlberg and Turiel came from and tested individualistic societies. In sociocentric cultures, social convention can take on the force of moral rules because the group is at stake, not just the individual. In other word, Haidt learned that we often “invent victims” to justify our moral positions. The moral view (this is right or wrong) comes first, and then we try to justify that view based on the reason we then provide which focus on who could possibly be hurt. He concludes the first chapter this way:

“We were born to be righteous, but we have to learn, exactly, what people like us should be righteous about.”

The Rationalist Delusion

Haidt begins with Hume to explain that the emotional or intuitive dogs wags the rational tale. We sense a rightness or wrongness, and then use reason to justify our intuition. We don’t reason ourselves into moral positions. He brings Stephen Pinker (briefly) and Edward O. Wilson into the story. Antonio Demasio studied people with particular brain injuries. Those with full reasoning faculties but impaired emotions struggled to make decisions. They lacked moral judgment. Pure reason cannot make up its mind. For Haidt this showed that reason was a servant of the emotions.

Enter Harold Margolis who identified two types of reasoning processes: “see-that” and “reasoning-why”. “Seeing-that” was intuitive. We can begin to see the Intuitive-Thinking polarity in the Myers-Briggs personality indicator, though he doesn’t go there. Reasoning-why only happens in creatures with higher functions requiring language. But intuition kicks the whole thing off. Emotions, therefore, are a form of reasoning.

At this point I struggled with the circular reasoning (from my perspective). If “reasoning-why” requires higher functioning dependent on language, how can language develop apart from the existence of higher functioning. It is a question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. A person with higher functioning can create a new language, but it corresponds to an existing language they already know. This is similar to a Science Friday discussion about how human brains burn up so much energy. We need to cook food to get enough nutrients to support higher function, yet without said higher function how can we decide/discover to cook food? Why are we the only creature to cook food? This is where I stumble over evolutionary presuppositions.

Haidt did develop a model that I think, at this point, is helpful. Haidt notes that we generally reason after forming a judgment based on intuition. We also try to reason with people instead of actually connecting to their intuitions, as if they were rational which they aren’t.

This sounds quite presuppositional to me. In moral discussions we want to “trigger” new intuitions. For instance (my example, and so maybe I’m wrong) pro-life people need to consistently affirm concern for the health and well-being of the mother. We want to add the well-being and safety of the child as a person to the pro-choice person’s intuition. If we focus on the safety of the child we simply have conflicting intuitions that lead to vexation. We need to talk to the elephant, not the rider!

In this context, he thinks Dale Carnagie got it right. “Pastors” like Joel Osteen influence so many because they are generally likeable, appealing to your intuition (greed is good- not). Unfortunately they (in my opinion) influence so many in the wrong way. Peer pressure works because it addresses intuition indirectly: I want to be liked and if I don’t change my view I won’t be liked.

He then explains why elephants rule beginning with a study he did with Thalia Wheatley. She used hypnosis to implant code words into subjects. When their code word was in the story they got a flash of negativity. They asked the subjects to write a sentence to explain their answer. “These subjects made up absurd answers to justify judgments that they had made on the basis of gut feelings- feelings Thalia had implanted with hypnosis.” Our brains are constantly evaluating information and forming judgments.

“The second process- thinking- is an evolutionary newer ability, rooted in language and not closely related to motivation.”

Other studies including politically loaded words indicate that “part of what it means to be partisan is that you have acquired the right set of intuitive reactions to hundreds of words and phrased.” Your elephant leans a particular way so that you affirm concepts associate with your tribe, and deny that which is associated with the other tribe. For instance, two politicians or public figures can say essentially the same thing and you’ll affirm what the guy on “your side” says, and reject what the other guys says. This explains what some talk radio people have called Bush (or Trump) Derangement System. And your response is your elephant leaning left or right when you read that.

“The bottom line is that human minds, like animal minds, are constantly reacting intuitively to everything they perceive and basing their responses on those reactions.”

Psychopaths are people who lack a moral compass. They lack a moral compass because they lack particular emotions. They “live in a world of objects.” They are unmoved by the needs of others, and the only concerned for self. Babies on the other hand feel but don’t reason, yet exhibit the beginnings of morality.

“Elephants rule, but they are neither dumb nor despotic. Intuitions can be shaped by reasoning, especially when reasons are embedded in a friendly conversation or an emotionally compelling novel, movie or news story.”

Vote for Me

Politics is basically the appeal to people’s elephants. They reach people’s intuition through emotions. This is why they often sell fear, as does the media. Haidt brings us to Plato’s Republic where Glaucon implies people are good because they are afraid of getting caught. Sounds a bit like the Devil in Job. Where there is cooperation in a city between the divisions of labor, people work for the common good, and suffer when one segment suffers. Socrates takes this to justify the rule by the philosophers since they alone will seek what is good. Plug in elites and you have America. If only people like us would listen to the experts, all would be well. Or so the argument goes.

When people are accountable they generally do what is right. When they think they are above accountability, or can get away with it, they will do wrong. Haidt depends on Phil Tetlock here. People, particularly politicians, maintain an image. Reality isn’t quite as important. People vote (or won’t vote) for your public image, not who you really are.

Tetlock also broke our rationalizations down into “exploratory thought” and “confirmatory thought”. The former considers alternative points of view. The latter is an attempt to rationalize our point of view. We only engage in exploratory thought when we are forced to. Most of the time we engage in confirmatory thought. We are like politicians looking for votes. Our reason is our press secretary justifying all our actions. Schools, these days, don’t teach people to think but just select the ones best able to make the best arguments based on a higher IQ.

Into this he brings Tom Gilovich who differentiated between “Can I believe it?” and “Must I believe it?”. When we want to believe something we ask the first question. When we don’t want to believe something we ask the second. But then we tend to search for contrary rather than positive evidence.

“If people can literally see what they want to see- give a bit of ambiguity- is it any wonder that scientific studies often fail to persuade the general public?”

It isn’t so much that people are making decisions based on self-interest. Haidt notes that people care about their groups, their tribes. Your group can be racial, regional, religious or political but you will tend to see things in their favor. Our political opinions tend to function like membership badges. We vote to prosper those in our most-favored group status. Partisan people find stimulus in affirming the groups views, and negative reinforcement if they think outside the box. We can become like rats on dopamine- we become addicted to politics, and political views. We should question our ability to reason, especially when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play.

“Our politics is groupish, not selfish.”

Intellectual and ideological diversity are incredibly important as a result. This is increasingly absent from college campuses. The refusal of political parties to work together means that public policy suffers from ideological extremes. But our elephants seek their group, and avoid the other tribe to the detriment of the whole.

What he doesn’t account for in this first section is the power of cognitive dissonance. Some people end up changing their views because the dissonance gets to be too great. It drives them to exploratory thought, and all bets are off.

Obviously he doesn’t think people never change their minds. Plenty of kids go to college and change them plenty. Some people shift political views as they enter their 40s or 50s. We’ll see how he approaches these in the sections to come.

 

 

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