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Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively? 
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 Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?



Fri Jun 22, 2012 12:19 am
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Post Re: Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
It may be that people have have moved on from the book, but I wanted to finish it out anyway. The final chapter is the longest and has several different topics. Haidt starts out by remarking on the height of political rigidity and hostility in our public discourse today, then tries to apply some of his theory to understanding how we got this way and what we might do to emerge from it.

He has a nice section on nature/nurture which features the example of siblings who end up on opposite sides politically, through a combination of their different genetics and their unique experiences. Haidt again uses his definition of innate: "organized in advance of experience," meaning, of course, that genes play a central role in our development, but it is development--experience--that makes us finally what we are. Another way of saying this is that nature/genes gives us the first draft of ourselves, and this draft becomes revised successively through our childhood experience (until, presumably, sometime near adulthood we become stuck with what we are).

The genetic differences between people who end up as liberals vs. those who become conservatives can be reduced to two main traits controlled by our brains: threat sensitivity, which conservatives have to a greater extent than liberals do; and openness to new experiences, seen more in liberals than in conservatives. This orientation influences the moral matrix of each class, making liberals attuned mainly to the Care and Fairness foundations, conservatives to the Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity foundations. However, as he stated earlier, conservatives operate from a broader base morally than do liberals. They partake to some extent of all the moral foundations, while liberals often consider the three other foundations mentioned to be examples of immorality rather than morality. He tells of a study he conducted which shows that conservatives have a better understanding or what liberals are all about morally than liberals have of conservatives. Liberals tend towards more blatant stereotyping of the other side. I think he's probably right about that.

I suppose it's true that Haidt gives liberals a harder time and gives conservatives a partial pass. He almost reverses the normal judgment that conservatives are narrow while liberals are broad thinkers. He also asks whether conservatives "might have a better formula for how to create a healthy, happy, society." His reason comes down to his emerging realization, narrated in the book, that Authority, Loyalty, and Sanctity are more necessary to a social fabric than liberals, sometimes bent on radical change, have been able to appreciate. In particular, liberals have a blind spot in regard to moral capital, the preservation of which depends on the moral foundations favored by conservatives. Moral capital, equating roughly to degree of social trust, can be taken for granted in our society but is precious and can be more easily lost than we think (and indeed it has dwindled just in the last ten years). One of his reasons for caution in moving toward a post-religious society is that religion at his time in the U.S. appears to be adding to the general moral capital. This is not always true of religion, though, and it is not always true, either, that moral capital is something to be thankful for. "High moral capital can be obtained within a cult or a fascist nation, as long as most people truly accept the prevailing moral matrix." He continues: "However, 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" (his emphasis).

Haidt then launches into a yin/yang on liberalism and conservatism, left and right, that gives each its due place in a functioning, balanced society. He gives us his view of a couple of enduring truths that each of these variants of human nature hold up for us and that we should make sure we don't lose sight of. That's probably matter for a second post.



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Post Re: Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
DWill wrote:
study he conducted which shows that conservatives have a better understanding or what liberals are all about morally than liberals have of conservatives. Liberals tend towards more blatant stereotyping of the other side. I think he's probably right about that.
Our new fiction selection, Atlas Shrugged, is like a Bible for this attitude. Rand presents conservatism as strong, dynamic and intelligent, and liberalism as weak, vacillating and stupid. No wonder Ronald Reagan had Ayn Rand as bedside reading, even if she disowned him. The conservative view is that conservatives actually do things, so have to understand all the constraints that prevent achievement, including liberal politics, while liberals just sit on the sidelines and criticise, so don't really understand what it takes to achieve an outcome. This is obviously a fairly crude stereotype, but it is an interesting inversion of the old Marxist canard that the slave understands the master better than vice versa.

Here is Huffington Post on Paul Ryan and his favourite author.
Quote:

I suppose it's true that Haidt gives liberals a harder time and gives conservatives a partial pass. He almost reverses the normal judgment that conservatives are narrow while liberals are broad thinkers. He also asks whether conservatives "might have a better formula for how to create a healthy, happy, society."
This depends on the value you ascribe to stability and continuity. Conservatives tend to say 'if it aint broke don't fix it', to justify current practice, whereas liberals advocate reforms that they think would make society fairer. Upheaval is disruptive and stressful, but if the existing system has major flaws then change is inevitable, and the question becomes whether change will be managed or disastrous. But the problem with change induced through political policy is that it often fails to see its unintended consequences, and in a polarised environment the advocates of change are blind to any truth in the ideas of those they condemn as reactionary.
Quote:
His reason comes down to his emerging realization, narrated in the book, that Authority, Loyalty, and Sanctity are more necessary to a social fabric than liberals, sometimes bent on radical change, have been able to appreciate.
This point is a big part of explaining why debate on creationism is so baffling. Conservatives see the Bible as a source of morality and social identity, so they assess any new ideas, such as evolution, against their tradional framework, rather than assessing the tradition in terms of the new findings. Many features of conservative social fabric are basic to social success, but if you pull at one thread then the fear is the whole weave will unravel.

It is mildly paradoxical that Rand's conservatism is so intensely individualistic, emphasising belief in yourself against the world, and criticising liberals for being sheep who go along with the crowd. Surely acceptance of authority, loyalty and sanctity are all about not thinking for your self?
Quote:
In particular, liberals have a blind spot in regard to moral capital, the preservation of which depends on the moral foundations favored by conservatives. Moral capital, equating roughly to degree of social trust, can be taken for granted in our society but is precious and can be more easily lost than we think (and indeed it has dwindled just in the last ten years).
It links to the question of whether education should focus on how to do things or how to build critical understanding, with conservatives supporting the former and liberals the latter. That famous long word, antidisestablishmentarianism, sees those who challenge established ways as ignorant and destructive, and as failing to see the values embedded in conventional ways.
Quote:
One of his reasons for caution in moving toward a post-religious society is that religion at his time in the U.S. appears to be adding to the general moral capital. This is not always true of religion, though,
The moral capital of religion has a shelf life. When there is a growing dissonance between claims of faith and the evidence of sense, religion starts to look hypocritical, and as having negative impacts that outweigh the good it does. Also, religious ideas gradually hollow out, with their superficial form coming to outweigh any meaningful content. If moral capital requires believing things that everyone sensible knows are untrue, it looks like the society is living a lie. That can't be healthy. I think of it as like an earthquake, with a long period of slow build of tension followed by a sudden destructive release. Moral capital builds while the social tectonic plates are gradually moving against each other, and collapses when the tension can no longer hold, unless there are prophetic voices who can speak to both sides.
Quote:
and it is not always true, either, that moral capital is something to be thankful for. "High moral capital can be obtained within a cult or a fascist nation, as long as most people truly accept the prevailing moral matrix."
Yes, it is about unity in conformity to a dominant paradigm. It is truly amazing that the German people allowed themselves to be beguiled by Hitler and his message of the moral capital of German tradition, even when they could see his hypocrisy but chose to ignore it.
Quote:
He continues: "However, 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" (his emphasis).
This is a big part of the debate over the creation and redistribution of wealth. Conservatives say that creating wealth is morally good, leading by example and generating social dynamism. Liberals see private accumulation as unfair, and advocate redistribution, to which conservatives counter that charity is morally corrosive, destructive of incentive and skill, and breeding dependency on the giver. Personal incentive and skill are a big part of moral capital.
Quote:

Haidt then launches into a yin/yang on liberalism and conservatism, left and right, that gives each its due place in a functioning, balanced society. He gives us his view of a couple of enduring truths that each of these variants of human nature hold up for us and that we should make sure we don't lose sight of. That's probably matter for a second post.

Perhaps the best 'yin/yang' account of this topic is Matthew 25, which contains the central Biblical texts routinely used to justify both capitalism and communism. Quite a dialectic to hold these contrasts in one chapter. Straight after saying "to those who have will be given and from those who have not will be taken away the little that they have" Jesus tells us "what you do to the least you do to me" as a justification for feeding the hungry, visiting prisoners, etc.


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Post Re: Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
Robert, thanks for your stimulating comments. I didn't fit this in for fear of making the post too long, but Haidt finds a way to distinguish orthodoxy of the right from modern conservatism. I think your argument about conservative thought lumps conservatives in with the orthodox right, which would include such things as biblical inerrancy. Haidt cites Jerry Muller as the writer responsible for showing him that "modern conservatism...finds its origins within the main currents of Enlightenment thinking, when men such as David Hume and Edmund Burke tried to develop a reasoned, pragmatic, and essentially utilitarian critique of the Enlightenment project." This might seem to be merely convenient for Haidt's thesis, but if you think about the conservative thinkers and writers who have been most admired, such as Hayek, George Will, and Thomas Sowell, you don't find any craziness like creationism coming from them. Haidt quotes Muller: "What makes social and political arguments conservative as opposed to orthodox is that the critique of liberal or progressive arguments takes place on the enlightened grounds of the search for human happiness based on the use of reason."
Robert Tulip wrote:
.Our new fiction selection, Atlas Shrugged, is like a Bible for this attitude. Rand presents conservatism as strong, dynamic and intelligent, and liberalism as weak, vacillating and stupid. No wonder Ronald Reagan had Ayn Rand as bedside reading, even if she disowned him. The conservative view is that conservatives actually do things, so have to understand all the constraints that prevent achievement, including liberal politics, while liberals just sit on the sidelines and criticise, so don't really understand what it takes to achieve an outcome. This is obviously a fairly crude stereotype, but it is an interesting inversion of the old Marxist canard that the slave understands the master better than vice versa.

I wonder how J. Haidt would categorize the moral matrix of Ayn Rand. Does she even have one? If the individual is to be left alone to achieve whatever he can through his own power, by definition that would be extolling amorality.

I think that over on this side of the world, liberals are the ones attacked for doing too much, though it's through the power of government that they want to do it.
Quote:
This depends on the value you ascribe to stability and continuity. Conservatives tend to say 'if it aint broke don't fix it', to justify current practice, whereas liberals advocate reforms that they think would make society fairer. Upheaval is disruptive and stressful, but if the existing system has major flaws then change is inevitable, and the question becomes whether change will be managed or disastrous. But the problem with change induced through political policy is that it often fails to see its unintended consequences, and in a polarised environment the advocates of change are blind to any truth in the ideas of those they condemn as reactionary.

Well put.
Quote:
This point is a big part of explaining why debate on creationism is so baffling. Conservatives see the Bible as a source of morality and social identity, so they assess any new ideas, such as evolution, against their tradional framework, rather than assessing the tradition in terms of the new findings. Many features of conservative social fabric are basic to social success, but if you pull at one thread then the fear is the whole weave will unravel.

For all its supposed prevalence, at least in terms of polling in the U.S., creationism remains a marginalized attitude. In political terms, we can say the support for it is broad but soft. And again, I don't think that serious conservatives flirt with that stuff.
Quote:
It is mildly paradoxical that Rand's conservatism is so intensely individualistic, emphasising belief in yourself against the world, and criticising liberals for being sheep who go along with the crowd. Surely acceptance of authority, loyalty and sanctity are all about not thinking for your self?

But here's the thing, Robert: Ayn Rand is no conservative. Radical individualism of this kind is precisely what conservatives of the classical type fear will destroy social capital, and you can easily see why. With cutthroat as the philosophy du jour, bonds of trust cannot exist. We come into that zone where Rand shares ground at least etymologically with the liberals she hates. She's a libertarian, no?
Quote:
The moral capital of religion has a shelf life. When there is a growing dissonance between claims of faith and the evidence of sense, religion starts to look hypocritical, and as having negative impacts that outweigh the good it does. Also, religious ideas gradually hollow out, with their superficial form coming to outweigh any meaningful content. If moral capital requires believing things that everyone sensible knows are untrue, it looks like the society is living a lie. That can't be healthy. I think of it as like an earthquake, with a long period of slow build of tension followed by a sudden destructive release. Moral capital builds while the social tectonic plates are gradually moving against each other, and collapses when the tension can no longer hold, unless there are prophetic voices who can speak to both sides.

Haidt is a social psychologist whose views radically de-emphasize the importance of religious ideas in favor of the social bonding for which those ideas provide only the pretext. To rationalists or atheists, sanctities involving the supernatural are not to be tolerated, are the worst kind of sinning. But since even atheists must have those things they hold sacred, for Haidt (and I agree with him), whether or not gods and spirits are invoked is not such a big deal.
Quote:
Yes, it is about unity in conformity to a dominant paradigm. It is truly amazing that the German people allowed themselves to be beguiled by Hitler and his message of the moral capital of German tradition, even when they could see his hypocrisy but chose to ignore it.

We've discussed American Exceptionalism--which is not to be confused with Nazism, but isn't there in that belief the germ of something not very healthy, which most Americans accept uncritically?
Quote:
This is a big part of the debate over the creation and redistribution of wealth. Conservatives say that creating wealth is morally good, leading by example and generating social dynamism. Liberals see private accumulation as unfair, and advocate redistribution, to which conservatives counter that charity is morally corrosive, destructive of incentive and skill, and breeding dependency on the giver. Personal incentive and skill are a big part of moral capital.

I do have to disagree with the conservative view of charity you've given. Maybe for Ayn Rand, but conservatives actually see private giving, however unrealistic the view might be, as the alternative to government largesse. Maybe by "charity" you mean such things as our AFDC (welfare), food stamps, and disability benefits, in which case you'd be right about this as a conservative attitude.



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Post Re: Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
Thanks for these interesting musings David and DWill. Hope you both are still up for more discussion about:
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DWill wrote:
But here's the thing, Robert: Ayn Rand is no conservative. Radical individualism of this kind is precisely what conservatives of the classical type fear will destroy social capital, and you can easily see why. With cutthroat as the philosophy du jour, bonds of trust cannot exist. We come into that zone where Rand shares ground at least etymologically with the liberals she hates. She's a libertarian, no?
Ayn Rand blended in with classical conservatives despite her strongly voiced libertarian ethics. Similarly, Steve Jobs blended in with 60's liberals despite his strongly voiced libertarian ethics. What blindness allows this type of phenomena? And what purpose does it serve?
It would be interesting to see a chart of how Jonathan Haidt's 6 moral foundations vary over time for the USA. Perhaps moderates were the bridge from the political right to the left spanning the 50's to the 70's, and libertarians were the bridge from the left to the right spanning the 80's to the 00's?
"Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?" I think the current increase in strife in the USA and globally makes it more challenging. But more functional political dynamics is still within the realm of human possibility. Towards that end, I thank Jonathan Haidt for this book and all his work.



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Post Re: Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
learning2smile wrote:
Thanks for these interesting musings David and DWill. Hope you both are still up for more discussion about:
Quote:
DWill wrote:
But here's the thing, Robert: Ayn Rand is no conservative. Radical individualism of this kind is precisely what conservatives of the classical type fear will destroy social capital, and you can easily see why. With cutthroat as the philosophy du jour, bonds of trust cannot exist. We come into that zone where Rand shares ground at least etymologically with the liberals she hates. She's a libertarian, no?
Ayn Rand blended in with classical conservatives despite her strongly voiced libertarian ethics. Similarly, Steve Jobs blended in with 60's liberals despite his strongly voiced libertarian ethics. What blindness allows this type of phenomena? And what purpose does it serve?
It would be interesting to see a chart of how Jonathan Haidt's 6 moral foundations vary over time for the USA. Perhaps moderates were the bridge from the political right to the left spanning the 50's to the 70's, and libertarians were the bridge from the left to the right spanning the 80's to the 00's?
"Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?" I think the current increase in strife in the USA and globally makes it more challenging. But more functional political dynamics is still within the realm of human possibility. Towards that end, I thank Jonathan Haidt for this book and all his work.

I sometimes think it's completely irrelevant whether we continue to use liberal and conservative. We could use Hekyl and Jekyl and do about as well, because the only important thing is to label the opposing camps. Around the time of the Civil War, 'Republican' would make citizens think of radical Abolitionists, whereas 'Democrat' was the status quo party favoring doing nothing about slavery. Then over time the words flipped.

There's an event I'm going to in DC Friday and Saturday called TedX Midatlantic, where Jonathan Haidt is going to be one of the speakers. I really enjoyed his last book, but I hope he's got something new to talk about. He's been spending time at the NYU School of Business, so maybe he'll tell us something about his work there.



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Post Re: Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
Quote:
Quote:
DWill wrote:
I sometimes think it's completely irrelevant whether we continue to use liberal and conservative. We could use Hekyl and Jekyl and do about as well, because the only important thing is to label the opposing camps. Around the time of the Civil War, 'Republican' would make citizens think of radical Abolitionists, whereas 'Democrat' was the status quo party favoring doing nothing about slavery. Then over time the words flipped.

Yes, and through time, in many other countries, the names of political parties are often very confusing/misleading. It would be useful to have standardized political science terms for political positions.
Quote:
DWill wrote:
There's an event I'm going to in DC Friday and Saturday called TedX Midatlantic, where Jonathan Haidt is going to be one of the speakers. I really enjoyed his last book, but I hope he's got something new to talk about. He's been spending time at the NYU School of Business, so maybe he'll tell us something about his work there.

Sounds very interesting! Curiosity Has got the better of me. I hope, afterwards, you will be willing to give us here an small overview of his talk.



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Post Re: Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
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Yes, and through time, in many other countries, the names of political parties are often very confusing/misleading. It would be useful to have standardized political science terms for political positions.

I wonder if this project wouldn't just be endlessly frustrating to all!
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There's an event I'm going to in DC Friday and Saturday called TedX Midatlantic, where Jonathan Haidt is going to be one of the speakers. I really enjoyed his last book, but I hope he's got something new to talk about. He's been spending time at the NYU School of Business, so maybe he'll tell us something about his work there.

Quote:
Sounds very interesting! Curiosity Has got the better of me. I hope, afterwards, you will be willing to give us here an small overview of his talk.

The talk tried to bridge the right/left divide by proposing that each side can recognize, if it will lay down its ideological arms, the legitimacy of four threats to the nation that require action in order to avoid disaster or profound changes to our way of life. The threats are climate change, income inequality, political polarization, and the national debt. Haidt asked us to conceive of these dangers as an asteroid that is on course to destroy the earth. Of course in such a situation, we would band together and forget our petty divisions, working for a common goal. He thinks we can do this with the four main threats and we certainly need to.

TEDX Midatlantic was a pretty wonderful event, by the way. I particularly liked the absence of a political or ideological agenda. The range and quality of the speakers was very impressive.



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Post Re: Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
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The talk tried to bridge the right/left divide by proposing that each side can recognize, if it will lay down its ideological arms, the legitimacy of four threats to the nation that require action in order to avoid disaster or profound changes to our way of life. The threats are climate change, income inequality, political polarization, and the national debt. Haidt asked us to conceive of these dangers as an asteroid that is on course to destroy the earth. Of course in such a situation, we would band together and forget our petty divisions, working for a common goal. He thinks we can do this with the four main threats and we certainly need to.

TEDX Midatlantic was a pretty wonderful event, by the way. I particularly liked the absence of a political or ideological agenda. The range and quality of the speakers was very impressive.

Thanks for this report DWill! I am glad you enjoyed TEDX Midatlantic. Hope Haidt's four threats approach catches on across the political spectrum. That would be quite an achievement! What incentives did he offer for both the left and right to lay down their ideological arms?



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Post Re: Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
learning2smile wrote:
Quote:
The talk tried to bridge the right/left divide by proposing that each side can recognize, if it will lay down its ideological arms, the legitimacy of four threats to the nation that require action in order to avoid disaster or profound changes to our way of life. The threats are climate change, income inequality, political polarization, and the national debt. Haidt asked us to conceive of these dangers as an asteroid that is on course to destroy the earth. Of course in such a situation, we would band together and forget our petty divisions, working for a common goal. He thinks we can do this with the four main threats and we certainly need to.

TEDX Midatlantic was a pretty wonderful event, by the way. I particularly liked the absence of a political or ideological agenda. The range and quality of the speakers was very impressive.

Thanks for this report DWill! I am glad you enjoyed TEDX Midatlantic. Hope Haidt's four threats approach catches on across the political spectrum. That would be quite an achievement! What incentives did he offer for both the left and right to lay down their ideological arms?

You're welcome. Thinking back on his talk, I remember that the prevalence of single-parent families was another threat to be faced. I think there were four threats in all, with two being the traditional issues of the left and two being the territory of the right. I've got an extra issue in there. At any rate, the incentive is simply the avoidance of serious harm. Haidt is thinking of the ability of common threats to make us band together for action. He's relying on group self-interest as the fuel for this.

An interesting idea he spoke about was changing the schedule of Congress to three weeks on and one week off. This, he thinks, would contribute to members of Congress getting to know each other better, which would be a natural deterrent to partisanship. Currently, many members don't maintain a home near DC. They spend 3-4 days in DC and then fly back home for the weekend. They need to party more together, I guess.

Within a few weeks, the sessions from TEDX MidAtlantic will be up on the internet, so you can see Haidt's presentation for yourself. I really wanted to talk to him, and saw him at the reception talking to somebody, but I didn't use the fine art of interruption and then when I looked for him later on he had already left.



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Post Re: Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
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Within a few weeks, the sessions from TEDX MidAtlantic will be up on the internet, so you can see Haidt's presentation for yourself. I really wanted to talk to him, and saw him at the reception talking to somebody, but I didn't use the fine art of interruption and then when I looked for him later on he had already left
Thanks for filling in more details and letting me know about online availability. Hope you have another opportunity to speak with Haidt.



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Post Re: Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
I'd like to thank Harry Marks for his insights during the second discussion of this book. He has been critical of Haidt, in the best sense, and that has made me examine the author's arguments more closely. As I've mentioned, it has been a little strange reading what my younger self said. And I hadn't even recalled what I talked about with another member back in 2012, which was seeing Haidt at TEDX in DC, and wanting to talk to him at the social after the sessions. I also recall emailing him and receiving a nice response. So do I need to factor in "fanboy" stuff to my evaluation of his claims?

I am in general sympathetic to his conclusions. Confirmation bias? Maybe. Speaking of leaning, as Haidt often did, I don't find myself leaning toward feeling that Haidt is working hard to sell his research, or that he damages his credibility by offering conservatives ammunition, both things that Harry thought were present or a liability for him. I will be most interested to hear what Harry has to say about this wrapping-up chapter. Maybe we can both agree that at least Haidt doesn't lack boldness in the finale.

The other remark I'll make is about something I've wondered about before--the nature of social science research, that is, what it tells us. We don't know the percentages of the differences between liberals and conservatives, according to the various instruments Haidt's team used to measure them. But we might assume that for any particular liberal or conservative, the general conclusion Haidt draws might well not be true. This is because you typically get something like a 60/40 split in research such as this, and that difference is held to be significant enough that you can generalize about groups, and even detect its effect in the larger society. But often, people you meet who identify as one perspective or the other wouldn't display the conservative's sensitivity to the moral matrix of liberals, or the liberal's relative blindness to the conservative's moral mix. It's just an interesting (perhaps) conundrum of this branch of science.



Wed Apr 08, 2020 9:04 am
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Post Re: Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
DWill wrote:
I'd like to thank Harry Marks for his insights during the second discussion of this book.

Well, good of you to say so. It has been my pleasure, for sure. Haidt has a lot to offer and I appreciate hearing another take on things articulated with as much caring and wisdom as Haidt brings to this. And it challenges me to think through my own ideas, which is a very satisfying use of my time.

DWill wrote:
He has been critical of Haidt, in the best sense, and that has made me examine the author's arguments more closely.
Yes, and I remain critical, but also very appreciative. Like the sociobiologists, whom I take to be major influences on Haidt's reading and thinking, I cannot help but see a lot revealed by their investigations, even if I often disagree with the directions they think the evidence points.

DWill wrote:
I am in general sympathetic to his conclusions. Confirmation bias? Maybe. Speaking of leaning, as Haidt often did, I don't find myself leaning toward feeling that Haidt is working hard to sell his research, or that he damages his credibility by offering conservatives ammunition, both things that Harry thought were present or a liability for him. I will be most interested to hear what Harry has to say about this wrapping-up chapter. Maybe we can both agree that at least Haidt doesn't lack boldness in the finale.
I may have hit the idea of him selling his research too hard. I see this a lot in economics, where there are definitely "camps" and on-going departmental struggles over whether a given take on things will or will not be welcome and admitted to the conversation. It is not all about adopting rhetorical stances with some sort of disingenuous manipulative intent (though that does happen). It is much more about what questions a person brings to a set of events or of configurations of evidence, and the people who see things one way tend to bring very different questions than those who see things another way.

So if you see conservative takes on society as "potentially a coherent option with genuine moral roots" such as resisting free-riders and honoring the sacred, then you are more likely to embrace an approach that takes unguided elephants as a fact of nature, asks what those elephants look like and whether they are different for conservatives, and tries to enumerate what forces might have delivered them to us as brute facts. And you will give the arguments that support its importance. If that be confirmation bias, well, very few social science researchers are immune to it. If, on the other hand, your focus is how to resolve conflicts between different social priorities (as it often is in economics, for example) then the rider may be more interesting, and you may resist being told we have to go with the leaning of the elephant.

I have much more to ruminate about on this book, and this chapter, but I may have to delay it another week as it is crunch time for teachers and Mother's Day too.



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Sun May 10, 2020 12:48 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
So you are continuing to teach. I don't know what teachers in my area are actually doing with no students to see. I'm out of that loop.

I'm curious whether you think Haidt's Durheimian Utilitarianism is a workable moral philosophy. I wonder whether Haidt considered Durheimian Liberalism, which might state more clearly the balance he sees as healthy.



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Sun May 10, 2020 9:46 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 12: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?
DWill wrote:
So you are continuing to teach. I don't know what teachers in my area are actually doing with no students to see. I'm out of that loop.
The final is done, so basically things are okay for the week. Mainly the problem is dealing with stragglers now. It is a little weird when students just don't show up, but as the admin people have checked on them, it turns out there is a real problem, like lack of internet access, as often as there is shirking.

It has opened my eyes, though, to the importance of herd mentality. Rene Girard, who really put mimetics on the map for religious studies and Christian theology, posits that violence is mimetic, that is, people imitate others when they do violence. Add to that all that we are learning about trauma, and the way victims of trauma re-enact their victimization by others, and you begin to realize there is a lot of society that needs rescuing, literally, from cycles of family and neighborhood dysfunction. School actually seems to function almost entirely by herd following. It depends on kids learning because other kids are learning, and when they try to hold it together individually, at a distance from others, things really unravel. We have had to contact parents of more than half our student body to get their kids to do their work. Kids I would have sworn were responsible and self-motivated turn out to be motivated to hide when they are home.

DWill wrote:
I'm curious whether you think Haidt's Durheimian Utilitarianism is a workable moral philosophy. I wonder whether Haidt considered Durheimian Liberalism, which might state more clearly the balance he sees as healthy.
I guess I am a Durkheimian Liberal, in the sense that I think pursuing community processes is a legitimate goal in itself, in addition to being a means to creating cohesion and "moral capital". I have seen my students do line dancing, seemingly without rehearsal but with excellent coordination, and it warms the heart. This is a thing they can do, as a group, and it is no small thing. Even more impressive when a town can reach a consensus on some safety measure or some environmental rule. Even people who had doubts throw their lot in with the decision and seek to make it work. We are surely a social animal, and that is no more extraneous than being a sexual animal or being a spiritual soul.

But your question is a good starting point for thinking over some of the issues that Haidt has raised in my head. He wants us to treat the leanings of our "unreflective" moral instincts with great respect, and that is good as far as it goes. But a little introspection will remind you that when we form moral structures, we process a lot of judgments expressed by those around us. And, as the moral development people like Kohlberg (whom Haidt wants us to believe he has transcended) have observed, we create inner structures from a kind of assent, or resonance, between instincts and the judgments we hear. Young people don't stop and inquire, "why would they consider reckless driving to be a moral wrong?" but rather they line up the notion of endangering others with their sense of what "wrong" means, and, in their mind, this makes sense to them.

Haidt himself has made the case that WEIRD morality came from having a fairly sophisticated set of issues that should be raised when processing moral judgments. If we blindly assented to every judgment people made, (such as the friends of a colleague who told him, "We can't have a n------ in the White House," about Obama) we would have a groupish, but ultimately shallow and contradictory set of mores. The elephant is unreflective. So when the rider does not just make excuses for the elephant (he is not persuasive on that count, to me - I have seen too much everyday moral courage) but actually looks ahead and chooses a sensible path, we are seeing a profoundly human, social, groupish behavior in action. And what we do is not just reflect together and come to some mutual understanding, but also we inspire one another. We create a positive value around moral reflection, and it feels good to act on that basis.

So, while I don't want to go down the road of critiquing every social structure and every kind of social capital from the perspectives of race, class and gender, I think Haidt brushes past these historically powerful sources of injustice with entirely too much self-assurance. The idea that we should just justify the elephant when it tells us to be more critical of people from lower-status or minority groups, or just justify the elephant when we are angry at something government does and it leads us to generalize to ideologies about government as the problem, strikes me as not only foolish but also morally blind. Thus I have trouble with his whole project of claiming evolution as an authority for conclusions such as conservatives having a broader and more balanced moral perspective.

He is, in fact, in contradiction with himself. Why? Because he wants to claim utilitarian purposes behind the "broader" moral matrix of conservative instincts, and yet he explicitly rules out consideration of current utility in reaching right and wrong moral interpretations that implement the instincts. He is selling (yes, I think it works here) a notion that the array of moral instincts is a kind of primitive, which cannot be questioned, and that it originates in our genetic makeup. But instead of giving us a useful framework for translating these into social values, he falls back on distrust of the very idea of using such a framework in a conscious way. Okay, moral philosophy is not his chosen enterprise, and that is an excuse up to a point. But he doesn't seem to hold back from sloshing into the morass of moral philosophy as it appears politically. So why should we trust him to be guided by his own principles?

This was astonishingly obvious when he looked at health insurance and its effects. Without any grasp at all of the complexities of health care policy (and they are devilishly complex indeed) he made a simplistic argument that if we would just take health care out of the hands of insurers (third parties, in the parlance of health economists) then somehow the problem of costly medicine would go away. This is Haidt's version of the magic of markets, when in fact most of what we know about markets is the opposite: leaving choice with consumers pushes costs up, as people can easily afford quality and pay a premium for it. It is reasonable to conclude that the extremely high cost of U.S. medicine (50% higher than other industrialized nations) is due more to the element of consumer choice than to the third-party decision-making (which every rich country has in one form or another). The solution that he advocated, which is to have everyday medical decisions decided by consumers, (many of whom cannot afford even basic preventive care,) and only insure against catastrophic illness, is the direction that the Affordable Care Act is pushing the private market. Deductibles and co-pays are so high that many consumers are forced to go without, and others may be omitting pricey luxury care, but the magic marketplace is not creating a low-cost, effective alternative system. Nor will it.

So that's my first big objection (similar to my problems with sociobiologists): he wants to reveal a structure that explains something, but then turns around and extrapolates from the discoveries as if those extrapolations follow as night the day, giving him conclusions with no more basis than the ones he uses his explanations to critique.

The second concerns the external view, by contrast with the internal view, of morality. He wants us to believe that moral instincts are mainly unreflective primitives. I have to concede there is a lot to that. But giving a dispositive status to that observation is not just giving up on the task that we must take on to survive collectively, it is also morally bankrupt. It moves from "mostly we don't question our moral instincts" to "it is fruitless to question our moral instincts." That's a profoundly pessimistic view of human affairs, and, frankly, it is suspiciously close to the way the oligarchs would like us to approach moral issues. Like James Buchanan, installed at George Mason University to pursue a stealth agenda of undermining the theory behind government remedies, it makes a person wonder who is financing Haidt. This agenda proposes that if people are uncomfortable with diversity, we should endorse that to get them to pretend there is no difference between people so that group cohesion will benefit. If people have an urge to follow authority, get them to follow it as unreflectively as possible. If people feel oppressed by being asked to empathize with the truly vulnerable and historically abused, then tell them their instinct is as valid as anyone else's.

I have found, reflecting on what Haidt has to tell us, that I agree with him about, and appreciate his underlining of, the Sanctity dimension. I am currently reading (from time to time) a book about the religious philosopher Charles Taylor's analysis of secularism. Taylor argues that people are haunted by the loss of "enchantment" as a representation of the mysteries of meaningfulness, as meaning emerges in the interplay between mind and events. (If this sounds a lot like things Harry Marks has written here, well, you can imagine my excitement to find a real philosopher enunciating them). And people can't come to grips with the emptiness of the materialist claim that meaning is "created" by the individual choice process, as if there is no emergent social process of meaning that has its own claims on our sense of significance. Haidt has put a label on our instincts about this, in discussing the sacred. But Haidt presents this as a primitive, an evolved set of feelings that simply recruit particular instances and round up the memes into a herd of sacred cows. The idea that meaning is not arbitrary, that it appeals to us for, dare I say it, reasons that matter, is outside Haidt's externalized framework of discussion. He has ruled out, from the outset, the notion that we can, by reflection, arrive at principles for more effectively processing moral instincts as they relate to real issues. And the worst of it is, that reflection process is the most sacred of all human activities. It is what Christianity refers to as the soul.

So, I may not have convinced you that Haidt denies the fact of the sacred in the very act of promoting respect for the sacred, but that is exactly how I read him. He wants us to accept a Durkheimian taboo on reflecting on the validity of our sense of the sacred, even while promoting that sense of the sacred. Any idiot notion of the sacred gets the same protection, whether it is Cargo Cults or Jim Jones drinking the Kool-Aid, or Cliven Bundy promoting the sacred status of Posse Comitatus. Sorry. It won't wash.

I am with Haidt in refusing to let the sacred be reduced to philosophy. Neither Kant nor Rawls had the last word on what we should consider sacred. But they did have important words. If we are not to reflect on the whole business, then the sacred is just smokescreen for superstition and snake oil.



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Tue May 12, 2020 10:20 pm
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