Some Notes from Haidt
That is, from The Righteous Mind. Many of these are gems. I’ve put them all below the fold.
if you think about moral reasoning as a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas–to justify our own actions and to defend the teams we belong to–then things will make a lot more sense…people’s moral arguments [are] mostly post hoc constructions made up on the fly, crafted to advance one or more strategic objectives.
We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct that actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment.
If you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own.
The main way that we change our minds on moral issues is by interacting with other people…When discussions are hostile, the odds of change are slight…But if there is affection, admiration, or a desire to please the other person, then [one] tries to find the truth in the other person’s arguments.
Perkins concluded that “people invest their IQ in buttressing their own case rather than in exploring the entire issue more fully and evenhandedly.”
when we want to believe something…we search for supporting evidence, and if we find even a single piece of pseudo-evidence, we can stop thinking…In contrast, when we don’t want to believe something…we search for contrary evidence, and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it
political scientist Don Kinder summarizes…”In matters of public opinion, citizens seem to be asking themselves not ‘What’s in it for me?’ but rather ‘What’s in it for my group?'” Political opinions function as “badges of social membership.” …Our politics is groupuish, not selfish.
The partisan brain has been reinforced so many times for performing mental contortions that free it from unwanted beliefs. Extreme partisanship may be literally addictive.
if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it’s so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth…or to produce good public policy
For millions of years, therefore, our ancestors faced the adaptive challenge of forming and maintaining coalitions that could fend off challenges and attacks from rival groups. We are the descendants of successful tribalists, not their more individualistic cousins.
The left tends toward universalism and away from nationalism, so it often has trouble connecting to voters who rely on the Loyalty foundation.
Human authority, then, is not just raw power backed by the threat of force. Human authorities take on responsibility for maintaining order and justice.
When people within a hierarchical order act in ways that negate or subvert that order, we feel it instantly, even if we ourselves have not been directly harmed. If authority is in part about protecting order and fending off chaos, then everyone has a stake in supporting the existing order and in holding people accountable for fulfilling the obligations of their station.
there is some evidence that liberal and welcoming attitudes are more common in times and places where disease risks are lower. Plagues, epidemics, and new diseases are usually brought in by foreigners–as are many new ideas, goods, and technologies–so societies face an analogue of the omnivore’s dilemma, balancing xenophobia and xenophilia.
A Durkheimian society at its best would be a stable network composed of many nested and overlapping groups that socialize, reshape, and care for individuals who, if left to their own devices, would pursue shallow, carnal, and selfish pleasures…the American left fails to understand social conservatives and the religious right because it cannot see a Durkheimian world as anything other than a moral abomination. A Durkheimian world is usually hierarchical, punitive, and religious…For liberals, such a vision must be combated, not respected.
[in tribal bands] men still tried to dominate others when they could get away with it. Rather, people armed with weapons and gossip created what Boehm calls “reverse dominance hierarchies” in which the rank and file band together to dominate and restrain would-be alpha males…The result is a fragile state of political egalitarianism achieved by cooperation among creatures who are innately predisposed to hierarchical arrangements.
egalitarianism seems to be rooted more in the hatred of domination than in the love of equality per se.
concerns about political equality were related to a dislike of oppression and a concern for victims, not a desire for reciprocity. And if the love of political equality rests on the Liberty/oppression and Care/harm foundations rather than the Fairness/cheating foundation, then…the Fairness foundation is primarily about proportionality.
Libertarians care about liberty almost to the exclusion of all other concerns, and their conception of liberty…is the right to be left alone, free from government interference.
Everyone–left, right, and center–cares about proportionality; everyone gets angry when people take more than they deserve. But conservatives care more, and they rely on the Fairness foundation more heavily–once fairness is restricted to proportionality.
When groups compete, the cohesive, cooperative group usually wins. But within each group, selfish individuals (free riders) come out ahead…A gene for suicidal self-sacrifice would be favored by group-level selection (it would help the team win), but it would be so strongly opposed by selection at the individual level that such a trait could only evolve in species such as bees, where competition within the hive has been nearly eliminated and almost all selection is group selection.
Whenever a way is found to suppress free riding so that individual units can cooperate, work as a team, and divide labor, selection at the lower level becomes less important, selection at the higher level becomes more powerful, and that higher-level selection favors the most cohesive superorganisms.
[quoting Bert Holldobler and E. O. Wilson on strongly social behavior] protects a persistent, defensible resource from predators, parasites, or competitors. The resource is invariably a nest plus dependable food
early humans domesticated themselves when they began to select friends and partners based on their ability to live within the tribe’s moral matrix.
It may sound depressing to think that our righteous minds are basically tribal minds, but consider the alternative. Our tribal minds make it easy to divide us, but without our long period of tribal living there’d be nothing to divide in the first place. There’s be only small families of foragers–not nearly as sociable as today’s hunter-gatherers–eking out a living and losing most of their members to starvation during every prolonged drought.
genetic evolution greatly accelerated during the last 50,000 years.
Fascism is hive psychology scaled up to grotesque heights. It’s the doctrine of the nation as a superorganism, within which the individual loses all importance.
Hiving comes naturally, easily, and joyfully to us. Its normal function is to bond dozens or at most hundreds of people together into communities of trust, cooperation, even love. These bonded groups may care less about outsiders than they did before their bonding…But is that really such a bad thing overall, given how shallow our care for strangers is in the first place?
a nation that is full of hives is a nation of happy and satisfied people. It’s not a very promising target for takeover by a demagogue offering people meaning in exchange for their souls.
If the gods evolve (culturally) to condemn selfish and divisive behaviors, they can then be used to promote cooperation and trust within the group.
What was the secret ingredient that gave religious communes a longer shelf life? [Richard Sosis] found one master variable: the number of costly sacrifices that each commune demanded from its members. It was things like giving up alcohol and tobacco, fasting for days at a time, conforming to a communal dress code or hairstyle, or cutting ties with outsiders…Why doesn’t sacrifice strengthen secular communes? Sosis argues that rituals, laws, and other constraints work best when they are sacralized…when secular organizations demand sacrifice, every member has a right to ask for a cost-benefit analysis…Irrational beliefs can sometimes help the group function more rationally, particularly when those beliefs rest upon the Sanctity foundation.
Asking people to give up all forms of sacralized belonging and live in a world of purely “rational” beliefs might be like asking people to give the Earth and live in colonies orbiting the moon.
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.
I defined morality by what it does, rather than by specifying what content counts as moral.
a Durkheimian version of utilitarianism would recognize that human flourishing requires social order and embeddedness…social order is extraordinarily precious and difficult to achieve. A Durkheimian utilitarianism would be open to the possibility that the binding foundations–Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity–have a crucial role to play in a good society.
[quoting Christian Smith on the progressive narrative] Once upon a time, the vast majority of human persons suffered in societies and social institutions that were unjust, unhealthy, repressive, and oppressive. These traditional societies were reprehensible because of their deep-rooted inequality, exploitation, and irrational traditionalism. But the noble human aspiration for autonomy, equality, and prosperity struggled mightily against the forces of misery and oppression, and eventually succeeded in establishing modern, liberal, democratic, capitalist, welfare societies. While modern social conditions hold the potential to maximize the individual freedom and pleasure of all, there is much work to be done to dismantle the powerful vestiges of inequality, exploitation, and repression. This struggle for the good society in which individuals are equal and free to pursue their self-defined happiness is the one mission truly worth dedicating one’s life to achieving.
I cannot help but interject here that this sound like what you would read in a typical modern Hagaddah, which recounts the story of Passover. Not just that the Egyptians were cruel oppressors, but that we tell this story in part to remind ourselves of ongoing struggles against oppression. In this essay, I described folk Marxism as a belief system based on seeing politics as a struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed.
[quoting Drew Westen on the conservative narrative of Ronald Reagan] Once upon a time, America was a shining beacon. Then liberals came along and erected an enormous federal bureaucracy that handcuffed the invisible hand of the free market. They subverted our traditional American values and opposed God and faith at every step of the way…instead of requiring people to work for a living, they siphoned money from hardworking Americans and gave it to Cadillac-driving drug addicts and welfare queens…Instead of adhering to traditional American values of family, fidelity, and personal responsibility, they preached promiscuity, premarital sex, and the gay lifestyle…Instead of projecting strength to those who would do evil around the world, they cut military budgets, disrespected our soldiers in uniform, burned our flag, and chose negotiation and multilateralism…Then Americans decided to take their country back from those who sought to undermine it.
In research testing how well liberals and conservatives could predict the way that those of differing ideologies would respond to surveys on moral issues by having them pretend to take one side or the other,
Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.”
One way to put this is that strong liberals have the least ideological empathy of anyone. They cannot put themselves in the shoes of conservatives. They cannot come close to passing what Bryan calls the ideological Turing test. The empirical data thus completely contradict the views of Paul Krugman as cited in Bryan’s post. I would add that in just about every column he writes, Krugman reinforces false stereotypes about conservatives. I have little doubt that, were he to have participated in Haidt’s research, Krugman would have shown a typical strong liberal’s inability to accurately predict the moral outlook of conservatives.
[in the introduction to the book Conservatism, historian Jerry] Muller asserted that modern conservatism is really about creating the best possible society, the one that brings about the greatest happiness given local circumstances. Could it be? Was there a kind of conservatism that could complete against liberalism in the court of social science? Might conservatives have a better formula for how to create a healthy, happy society?
[according to Muller] Conservatives believe that people are inherently imperfect and are prone to act badly when all constraints and accountability are removed…Our reasoning is flawed and prone to overconfidence, so it’s dangerous to construct theories based on pure reason, unconstrained by intuition and historical experience…Institutions emerge gradually as social facts, which we then respect and even sacralize, but if we strip these institutions of authority and treat them as arbitrary contrivances that exist only for our benefit, we render them less effective. We then expose ourselves to increased anomie and social disorder…Based on my own research, I [Haidt] had no choice but to agree with these conservative claims. As I continued to read the writings of conservative intellectuals…I began to see that they had attained a crucial insight into the sociology of morality that I had never encountered before. They understood the importance of what I’ll call moral capital.
if you are trying to change an organization or a society and you do not consider the effects of your changes on moral capital, you’re asking for trouble. This, I believe, is the fundamental blind spot of the left. It explains why liberal reforms so often backfire, and why communist revolutions usually end up in despotism….Conversely, while conservatives do a better job of preserving moral capital, they often fail to notice certain classes of victims, fail to limit the predations of certain powerful interests, and fail to see the need to change or update institutions as times change.
(Note: I think that the foregoing paragraph is too charitable to the left and somewhat uncharitable to conservatives. If conservatives are sometimes guilty of failing to notice victim classes, then I would argue that liberals are often guilty of hallucinating victim classes. The “victims of foreclosure” come to mind as such a hallucination. Yes, I am sure that there are some borrowers who truly are victims of their banks, but my guess is that for every victim there are at least 1000 non-victims, who made speculative purchases beyond their means, using money that was almost entirely borrowed.)
For American liberals…Anyone who blames victims for their own problems or who displays or merely excuses prejudices against sacralized victim groups can expect a vehement tribal response.
Which is in fact what I have gotten whenever I have challenged the treatment of mortgage borrowers as sacralized victims.
Will Wilkinson has recently suggested that libertarians are basically liberals who love markets and lack bleeding hearts…we’ve found that Wilkinson is correct…libertarians look more like liberals than like conservatives on most measures of personality (for example, both groups score higher than conservatives on openness to experience, and lower than conservatives on disgust sensitivity and conscientiousness)…libertarians join liberals in scoring very low on the Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity foundations. Where they diverge from liberals most sharply is on two measures: the Care foundation, where they score very low (even lower than conservatives), and on some new questions we added about economic liberty, where they score extremely high (a little higher than conservatives, a lot higher than liberals).
We all get sucked into tribal moral communities. We circle around sacred values and then share post hoc arguments about why we are so right and they are so wrong. We think the other side is blind to truth, reason, science, and common sense, but in fact everyone goes blind when talking about their sacred objects.