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Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others 
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 Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others



Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:01 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
I'll take an initial stab at the chapter. There's quite a lot of matter in it. It occurs to me first of all that what he says toward the end about the opinions and beliefs we hold so dear relates to our situation here at booktalk, where we're all about opinions of various kinds, and nothing wrong with that. But Haidt reminds us how hard it is for us to admit that these opinions are probably not any more objective than the opinions of others, which we know are full of holes. A hard-wired "judgmentalism" is the culprit; a "disease of the mind," he tells us, that leads to both intransigence and anger. We can use meditation and cognitive therapy to be "less reactive to the ups and downs and petty provocations of life." I like to think that we might just tell ourselves to chill out, but I have a habit of looking for shortcuts.

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The human mind may have been shaped by evolutionary processes to play Machiavellian tit for tat, and it seems to come equipped with cognitive processes that predispose us to hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and moralistic conflict. But sometimes, by knowing the mind's structure and strategies, we can step out of the ancient game of social manipulation and enter into a game of our choosing. By seeing the log in your own eye you can become less biased, less moralistic, and therefore less inclined toward argument and conflict. You can begin to follow the perfect way, the path to happiness that leads through acceptance, which is the subject of the next chapter.



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Post Re: Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
I finally got a chance to read this chapter and, yeah, I can relate. Sometimes we take strong positions and don't think to ask why or what the point is. Especially when it comes to politics and religion, it seems we are oriented one way or another, and no amount of arguing is ever going to change someone's mind. And, yet, we relentlessly bat back and forth on religion here on BT. (I'm one of the worst offenders, I know). I think Christopher Hitchens said something once about how he just couldn't stop arguing with people about religion.

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Buddha . . . counseled indifference to the ups and downs of life, but he urged that we quit the game entirely. Buddhism is a set of practices for escaping samsara and the endless cycle of rebirth. Though divided on whether to retreat from the world or engage with it, Buddhists all agree on the importance of training the mind to stop its incessant judging.

I keep thinking about Dexter's "monkey mind"—that term really stuck with me—and Robert Wright's idea that our “design” from natural selection isn’t really interested in finding truth. As such, our emotions aren’t a very accurate gauge of reality. We’re strongly motivated to take a position first and then go out and finding confirming evidence to show that we’re right. Lately I’ve been calling this “Google bias.”

For a couple of minutes today, I actually thought I was reading Robert Wright. But it was Haidt talking about the three basic configurations of evil as portrayed by religion:

1) straight dualism: There exists a good force and an evil force, they are equal and opposite, and they fight eternally. Human beings are part of the background. We were created part good, part evil, and we must choose which side we will be on. This view is clearest in religions emanating from Persia and Babylonia, such as Zoroastrianism, and the view influenced Christianity as a long-lived doctrine called Manichaeism.

2) straight monism: There is one God; he created the world as it needs to be, and evil is an illusion, a view that dominated religions that developed in India. These religions hold that the entire world—or, at least, its emotional grip upon us—is an illusion, and that enlightenment consists of breaking out of the illusion.

3) The third approach, taken by Christianity, blends monism and dualism in a way that ultimately reconciles the goodness and power of God with the existence of Satan. This argument is so complicated that I cannot understand it.

George Bush’s “axis of evil” is an example of the myth of pure evil, a form of “naive realism” that only perpetuates violence. “Both sides use it to lock themselves into a Manichaean struggle.”

Is it possible that Haidt doesn’t quite understand the Christian position of evil because he hasn’t talked to Catholics? Because the Catholic line I always heard growing up—a rather elegant, parsimonious solution theologically speaking—is that God allows evil because he wanted to give us Free Will. It’s actually not complicated at all. The Holy Trinity, now that’s another matter.

A lot going on in this chapter. I’m just touching on a couple of things that come to mind right now.


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Last edited by geo on Fri Mar 28, 2014 8:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
More on the idea of America looking for substitutes for evil here in the 21st Century:

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As I thought about these various villains, including the older villains of communism and Satan himself, I realized that most of them share three properties: They are invisible (you can’t identify the evil one from appearance alone); their evil spreads by contagion, making it vital to protect impressionable young people from infection (for example from communist ideas, homosexual teachers, or stereotypes on television); and the villains can be defeated only if we all pull together as a team.

Not trying to start something, but the very last sentence here reminded me of the politics of global warming. Just to be clear, I do think there's definitely something to global warming, but there this idea that if we can only come together, we can solve global warming. And the attitude I see a lot is that anyone who doesn't think (as a liberal) about global warming is denounced as something evil and, indeed, part of the problem.

This attitude doesn't have much to do with science. Indeed, most people aren't climatologists, and yet they take strong positions anyway.


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Last edited by geo on Fri Mar 28, 2014 8:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
I liked his example with his college roommates when he resented them for not doing their fair share of work. We can probably all sympathize. This is a good example of creating unnecessary suffering for yourself.



Fri Mar 28, 2014 8:11 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
geo wrote:
three basic configurations of evil: dualism, monism, Christianity


No, Haidt is wrong. There are two approaches, not three.

Christianity holds that evil is a corruption of the good. It is therefore monist, fitting within the second configuration which asserts that evil is delusional.

Evil is not a cosmic principle in itself. The cosmos is good, but freedom allows the emergence of unsustainable evil delusions, which will necessarily end because anything that cannot be sustained will stop. The big question is whether our evil will cause human extinction, or whether our link to the intrinsic good of the cosmos will overcome our evil tendencies.

Monism does not hold that evil is an illusion, but rather that evil people are delusory. Within the Christian monist framework of the one reality, evil is real, and must be eradicated by love. For Christianity, Satan is not an intentional entity, but rather the organised power of collective evil. This devolved Satanic organisation is not coherent, and in the Christian view will be destroyed by the Archangel Michael on behalf of Christ in the battle of Armageddon, establishing the millenium of restoration, love and forgiveness.


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Sat Mar 29, 2014 5:47 am
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Post Re: Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
I would submit that Haidt is not wrong. You assume that there is some settled answer to how Christianity categorizes evil. But there simply isn't; there are going to be a range of views that can be considered as, from different viewpoints, both accurate and reasonable. Yours is most certainly an interpretation.

If I might be so bold, I think you are a capital-T Truth man, Robert. There is a right answer, a correct and moral response, and we must shield ourselves from all relativism. I'm saying this just to indicate how far apart Haidt and you seem to be. But I imagine you already knew that.



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Post Re: Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
geo wrote:
I finally got a chance to read this chapter and, yeah, I can relate. Sometimes we take strong positions and don't think to ask why or what the point is. Especially when it comes to politics and religion, it seems we are oriented one way or another, and no amount of arguing is ever going to change someone's mind. And, yet, we relentlessly bat back and forth on religion here on BT. (I'm one of the worst offenders, I know). I think Christopher Hitchens said something once about how he just couldn't stop arguing with people about religion.

Haidt tells us we can "train the elephant" not to lean so automatically, through meditation, CBT, and I guess Prozac, and then we'll at least have a chance of being aware of our biases and perhaps admitting to them. I just told gesler that my bias is to believe that government should be involved in health insurance, so when it comes to the justifiable attacks on the ACA, I still have a well of feeling that the Act's "heart" is in the right place. I can't necessarily come up with logical reasons for my preference; it just seems to be part of the elephant.
Robert Wright wrote:
Buddha . . . counseled indifference to the ups and downs of life, but he urged that we quit the game entirely. Buddhism is a set of practices for escaping samsara and the endless cycle of rebirth. Though divided on whether to retreat from the world or engage with it, Buddhists all agree on the importance of training the mind to stop its incessant judging.

geo wrote:
I keep thinking about Dexter's "monkey mind"—that term really stuck with me—and Robert Wright's idea that our “design” from natural selection isn’t really interested in finding truth. As such, our emotions aren’t a very accurate gauge of reality. We’re strongly motivated to take a position first and then go out and finding confirming evidence to show that we’re right.
I’ve been trying to figure how different parts of Haidt's happiness prescription relate. I wonder how this Buddhist injunction to stop judging might relate to reciprocity or tit for tat, which pretty much makes the world go 'round. In tit for tat, is judging actually quite important, or does the Buddha mean something different from the smaller types of social judgment involved in tit for tat? If we "quit the game entirely," what might be the unintended consequence? My guess is that, applying Buddha's standard, we would all become less centered on tit for tat, and for Buddha that seemed desirable. Any religion, I think, tries to get people to a place they don't ordinarily occupy. Religion is kind of a booster for behavior. The question still remains for me whether I'd like things to be more like that. Tit for tat has a positive side as well as one we view more negatively.

I lost what you said about "google bias"--what a great coinage. That's absolutely true, that having so much information at our fingertips, whether it is solid info or not, and such a diversity of ways to interpret that information, gives us easily obtained ammunition to support our leanings. How often I've gone to google hoping that what I find backs up my intuitions--and voila! it usually does.
Quote:
For a couple of minutes today, I actually thought I was reading Robert Wright. But it was Haidt talking about the three basic configurations of evil as portrayed by religion:

Haidt called Wright's book The Moral Animal "masterful" (p. 63). I haven't read the book, but of course it's "on the list."

"Naive realism," the feeling we all have that our simple views of complex matters encompass all the relevant parts, corresponds to Daniel Kahnemans's WYSIATI, or what you see is all there is. In evolution, possibly this trait helped out, in that being sure of one's view of a situation solidified support around a leader. As for promoting love, peace, and understanding, it seems to often get in the way.



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Post Re: Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
DWill wrote:
"Naive realism," the feeling we all have that our simple views of complex matters encompass all the relevant parts, corresponds to Daniel Kahnemans's WYSIATI, or what you see is all there is. In evolution, possibly this trait helped out, in that being sure of one's view of a situation solidified support around a leader. As for promoting love, peace, and understanding, it seems to often get in the way.



Haidt concludes this chapter with some very practical advice on how to deal with that problem
Step one is to acknowledge that just maybe there are times when we might be a tiny bit wrong. Haidt makes it easy for us to open this door by adding: "You can still believe you are right and the other person is wrong, but if you can move to believing that you are mostly right, and your opponent is mostly wrong, you have the basis for a nonhumiliating apology."

And then he goes on to explain exactly how this could work using the power of reciprocity that was explained in chapter 4.
"You can take a small part of the disagreement and say, "I should not have done X, and I can see why you felt Y". Then, by the power of reciprocity, the other person will likely feel a strong urge to say, "Yes, I was really upset by X. But I guess I shouldn't have done P, so I can see why you felt Q. Reciprocity amplified by self-serving biases drove you apart back when you were matching insults or hostile gestures, but you can turn the process around and use reciprocity to end a conflict and save a relationship."

So, we have a bit of hope. Just because the human mind spent a million plus years predisposing us to "hyprocrisy, self-righteousness, and moralistic conflict", doesn't necessarily mean that we can't change the rules to function in a world where our main preocupation isn't physical survival!



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Post Re: Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
DWill wrote:
. . . I’ve been trying to figure how different parts of Haidt's happiness prescription relate. I wonder how this Buddhist injunction to stop judging might relate to reciprocity or tit for tat, which pretty much makes the world go 'round. In tit for tat, is judging actually quite important, or does the Buddha mean something different from the smaller types of social judgment involved in tit for tat? If we "quit the game entirely," what might be the unintended consequence?

It probably wouldn't be good for economics if we all did it. Much of the American ethos seems to revolve around getting ahead which is usually measured by the acquisition of material goods and having big things. I recently heard the term "trophy house" for the first time.

The Buddha says stop trying to change the world (to suit you), but our society seems to expect that, especially of the modern male. That's probably a sexist attitude, but it does seem that passivity is deemed unmanly in our society.

Thoreau sort of quit the game for a while at least. Presumably his experience in the woods made him a more reflective man, but did it make him happier?

DWill wrote:
My guess is that, applying Buddha's standard, we would all become less centered on tit for tat, and for Buddha that seemed desirable. Any religion, I think, tries to get people to a place they don't ordinarily occupy. Religion is kind of a booster for behavior. The question still remains for me whether I'd like things to be more like that. Tit for tat has a positive side as well as one we view more negatively.


I was looking for information on William James and came upon an entire web site devoted to the pursuit of happiness.

http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/his ... iam-james/

It has entries on other historical figures as well, including the Buddha.

Apparently one thing that James said was that happiness consists in orienting yourself to a higher purpose, even if that purpose cannot be rationally proved to exist. Those who suffer from a “crisis of meaning” emerge stronger with more enthusiasm for life than those who just go through the motions and take the easy path.

A "higher purpose" doesn't necessarily have to be based on a supernatural entity. Going back to Thoreau, I'd say a higher purpose could be to live a simple existence free of unnecessary entanglements, including taking steps to transcend some of our basic evolutionary adaptions such a tit for tat mentality.

DWill wrote:
Haidt called Wright's book The Moral Animal "masterful" (p. 63). I haven't read the book, but of course it's "on the list."

Mine too!


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Last edited by geo on Sun Mar 30, 2014 11:41 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
Dexter wrote:
I liked his example with his college roommates when he resented them for not doing their fair share of work. We can probably all sympathize. This is a good example of creating unnecessary suffering for yourself.

I didn't of this as a way of creating unnecessary suffering, but of course it's true. (My son is currently suffering from roommate problems of his own.) Our cognitive bias creates "should statements" that we carry around in our heads.

Quote:
Cognitive therapy works, too. In Feeling Good,36 a popular guide to cognitive therapy, David Burns has written a chapter on cognitive therapy for anger. He advises using many of the same techniques that Aaron Beck used for depression: Write down your thoughts, learn to recognize the distortions in your thoughts, and then think of a more appropriate thought. Burns focuses on the should statements we carry around—ideas about how the world should work, and about how people should treat us. Violations of these should statements are the major causes of anger and resentment. Burns also advises empathy: In a conflict, look at the world from your opponent’s point of view, and you’ll see that she is not entirely crazy.

The Kinks' great song, "David Watts" came up on my iPod yesterday. Ray Davies writes of everyone's envy for "David Watts"—who is of "pure and noble breed"— with the refrain of "wish I could be like David Watts . . ."

Even better, there's the poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson that shows that just because you have social status and material possessions doesn't necessarily mean you're happy.

Richard Cory

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.


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Post Re: Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
geo wrote:
It probably wouldn't be good for economics if we all did it. Much of the American ethos seems to revolve around getting ahead which is usually measured by the acquisition of material goods and having big things. I recently heard the term "trophy house" for the first time.

The Buddha says stop trying to change the world (to suit you), but our society seems to expect that, especially of the modern male. That's probably a sexist attitude, but it does seem that passivity is deemed unmanly in our society.

Even though I sympathize with the not-striving philosophy--and have probably put it into practice--it's extremely hard to get away from, as you say. I'm ambivalent about striving. The messages out there certainly tell us if we don't strive to achieve we're worse than losers. Look at the terrible and absurd pressure put on young people to go to the very best colleges so that success doesn't elude them. On the other hand, I have a situation going on close to home in which our older daughter might not be interested in working at all. She breezed through school and college but obviously never had any of that fire-in-the-belly. She had a job but left it and is on an extended break. I stupidly wonder how this looks to people. She hasn't shown an interest in Buddhism as far as I know, but maybe she's a natural.
Quote:
Thoreau sort of quit the game for a while at least. Presumably his experience in the woods made him a more reflective man, but did it make him happier?

How would I know, but from my reading he did seem like a happy man. He never entered the game at all, squandering his Harvard education to become what people viewed as an eccentric lacking in all ambition. He died long before he should have, but at his death he was serene. His last words were recorded as, "Now comes good sailing" followed by "moose" and "Indian." A few weeks before dying, his aunt asked him if had made his peace with God. He replied, "I did not know we had ever quarreled."
Quote:
A "higher purpose" doesn't necessarily have to be based on a supernatural entity. Going back to Thoreau, I'd say a higher purpose could be to live a simple existence free of unnecessary entanglements, including taking steps to transcend some of our basic evolutionary adaptions such a tit for tat mentality.

The last clause could be a summary of what religion tries to lead us to do, transcend our survival-based adaptations. At least, that is one face of religion. Unfortunately, it's Janus-faced and presents at times an aspect that seems to intensify our capacity for strengthening our own group at the expense of others.



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Post Re: Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
DWill wrote:
Even though I sympathize with the not-striving philosophy--and have probably put it into practice--it's extremely hard to get away from, as you say. I'm ambivalent about striving. The messages out there certainly tell us if we don't strive to achieve we're worse than losers. Look at the terrible and absurd pressure put on young people to go to the very best colleges so that success doesn't elude them. On the other hand, I have a situation going on close to home in which our older daughter might not be interested in working at all. She breezed through school and college but obviously never had any of that fire-in-the-belly. She had a job but left it and is on an extended break. I stupidly wonder how this looks to people. She hasn't shown an interest in Buddhism as far as I know, but maybe she's a natural.

My son is sort of in the same boat though he's always been rather eccentric. He took a year of college but dropped out to pursue his real passion which is music. So he lives in Chicago, walks dogs for a living, playing music in his spare time. He shows no interest in the rat race at all. So I think he's a natural Buddhist as well. He seems genuinely happy to be doing things his way.

There are people not really cut out for the rat race. I'm probably one of them, though I have known the rat race and there were aspects of it that I really liked.

The Buddha supposedly left his wife and kids in order to detach from the world, which seems a rather extreme and ignoble thing to do. I've always liked Thoreau's advice to "simplify, simplify." As such, I like the idea of detaching from some aspects of life. I think Wright, too, says that we don't have to go live in the woods.

Quote:
The first step is to see it as a game and stop taking it so seriously. The great lesson that comes out of ancient India is that life as we experience it is a game called “samsara.” It is a game in which each person plays out his “dharma,” his role or part in a giant play. In the game of samsara, good things happen to you, and you are happy. Then bad things happen, and you are sad or angry. And so it goes, until you die. Then you are reborn back into it, and it repeats. The message of the Bhagavad Gita (a central text of Hinduism) is that you can’t quit the game entirely; you have a role to play in the functioning of the universe, and you must play that role. But you should do it in the right way, without being attached to the “fruits” or outcomes of your action.


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Post Re: Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
I was thinking about the illusions we have about ourselves, including what Haidt talks about here, that we grade others so much harder than we do ourselves when it comes to the rightness of our characters. Haidt mentions somewhere that with depression, this is turned around, so that we exaggerate in the other direction. That can also be the case with low self-esteem, but it seems that would also imply depression.

I also read something by Martin Seligman, one of Haidt's mentors, who said that those who tend to be slight depressives are more able to see things as they are. They aren't clinically depressed or anything, just not the sunniest of people. Every CEO should have someone like this advising him, Seligman says, to temper the motivated optimism of others around him. There is, maybe especially in America, a premium put on thinking positively, but is this really the best of values to have?

When it comes to staying a steady course when our external circumstances change, becoming neither too high nor too low, it doesn't seem to be positive thinking that is our best tool, but what might be called philosophical thinking in the older sense of the phrase: a more detached, disinterested view of our circumstances. CBT is one way to strengthen this perspective.


It was interesting what he said about the harm caused by high self-esteem and idealism. This, too, is somewhat counter-cultural, as we consider those good things. Violence and cruelty are most often caused by too much of both of these, Haidt says. Another term for high self-esteem is narcissism, when self-regard is so inflated that one might think violence is an appropriate way to defend threats to it. With moral idealism, it's as though the whole group becomes infected with narcissism. This seems harsh and even untrue, perhaps, but the key word is moral, the belief that the group's view is the only one that can be right, either because God approves of it or because the group has invented its own god-like mandate. We've often argued around here about religion causing violence, or atheistic communism causing violence, but maybe the common, essential ingredient is moral idealism.



Wed Apr 02, 2014 8:22 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 4 - The Faults of Others
I continue to connect all this psychology stuff to the Greek maxim to "know thyself" which, likewise, is considered one of the more important aspects of critical thinking. ("Critical thinking" is an ambiguous term and I toss it out there knowing that I can only discuss it in general terms.) But I love that this basic "tenet" of critical thinking is in the Bible—the log in the eye. I always thought I could see other people's problems more clearly than they could, not realizing this is more or less true (according to Haidt).

But this seems an important concept, this log-in-the-eye idea. A couple of years back we read and discussed Todd Riniolo's book on critical thinking—WHEN GOOD THINKING GOES BAD. I think it was Interbane who suggested that we all try to identify some of our own biases. I don't recall if any of us were successful.

I like the idea that slight-depressives may be more clear-minded than others. Indeed, some of our best CEOs are probably borderline narcissists who don't really understand the notion of failure. They just bulldoze ahead, never doubting that they will succeed. Maybe this works well in the business world, at least some of the time.

Haidt has mentioned somewhere that CBT and meditation can take away our suffering, in essence make us more even. But this takes away our intense joys as well. I've heard that anti-depressants help stabilize your mood in much the same way. Clinically depressed people at times feel a manic joy that some say is almost worth the periods of depression. I find that so interesting that Haidt's three methods for increasing happiness—CBT, meditation, and Prozac—must alter our brain chemistry in similar ways.


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Thu Apr 03, 2014 11:48 am
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