Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘sociocentric’


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.

Read Full Post »