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Ch. 8: The Conservative Advantage 
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Post Ch. 8: The Conservative Advantage
Ch. 8: The Conservative Advantage



Tue Dec 10, 2019 3:27 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 8: The Conservative Advantage
A rough takeaway from this chapter, in relation to our current politics, could be that Democrats or liberals rely on the influence of the rational rider, while Republicans or conservatives harness the power of the emotional elephant. Elizabeth "I have a plan for that" Warren typifies the wonky candidate, for all that she tries to project great passion about her causes. Haidt would say that she and the others running have limited appeal because their own moral matices match up poorly with at least half of voters. Liberals make appeals based on only three of the moral foundations, whereas conservatives spread their appeal over all six. Does this explain why even with a radically transgressive and norm-breaking man at the top, voters do not desert him? Even though Trump may not in fact embody virtues contained in the foundations most valued by conservatives, his voters like to project those virtues onto him nonetheless.

Red meat is still what voters crave. Veganism has yet to catch on.

I wonder whether a David Brooks-type running as a Democrat could gather some of the voters who long for a more Durkheimian, less individualistic vision of the country. Haidt sees severe limitations in J.S. Mill's vision that has guided liberals: that equality of people and opportunity, plus the avoidance of harm, are the only legitimate aims of government. I suppose Marianne Williamson tried the more holistic, inclusive angle, but her approach lacked American practicality and was viewed as "Hollywood."



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Post Re: Ch. 8: The Conservative Advantage
DWill wrote:
A rough takeaway from this chapter, in relation to our current politics, could be that Democrats or liberals rely on the influence of the rational rider, while Republicans or conservatives harness the power of the emotional elephant. Elizabeth "I have a plan for that" Warren typifies the wonky candidate, for all that she tries to project great passion about her causes.

Seems very rough, to me. I agree that Haidt, in his Mill vs. Durkheim analysis, characterizes the liberal moral matrix as structured by rationality, but he is also arguing that conservatives view the other dimensions of moral intuition as roughly equal in importance, as well as that fairness is interpreted differently. Given what went before, in other chapters, I am interpreting the Mill/liberal perspective as more highly processed, and less willing to accept authority and sanctity in traditional terms, but I don't think Haidt is telling the story that way. Maybe he should be, though.

When Mill wrote, his world was in tumult over aristocracy in tension with democracy. Most people "knew" that ordinary men and women were untutored and ignorant, and thus incapable of participating helpfully in the business of setting government policy. Mill was following the philosophical tradition in questioning the basis for that view, and laying out a moral interpretation which not only objects to maintaining hierarchies (though they are, in Durkheim's terms, how we got to where we are), but also promotes education as a way to change the conditions which appear to justify the hierarchies.

Haidt is accepting a worldview that is closer to "moral instinct" and arguing that liberals should couch their appeals in terms that are closer to these instincts. To some extent I agree, not just as a manipulative pose but as a refresher in values that represent a solid base rather than engaging the "cutting edge" issues we liberals so dearly love. Is that harnessing the power of the emotional elephant? I rather suspect it is more a matter of acknowledging the power. I think liberals should speak in terms of national pride, even while being more willing to interpret that pride in terms of willingness to self-criticize. I think liberals should invoke sanctity regularly, and not just for weaponized values that are dear to liberal hearts, like LGBTQ right to be foster parents, but also for universalist values like collective security that we can make a case for on moral grounds. The whole idea of authority as something earned rather than something hierarchically determined has enjoyed a resurgence thanks to our recent experience with a bull in the china shop who wants to assert his power to break whatever crockery he chooses.

As this probably makes clear, when it comes to specifics I have trouble agreeing with Haidt's interpretations. He explains the conservative view of the idea of fairness as "proportionality", so that people get their just rewards when they earn more or less, but that is often just an excuse to protect privilege. Do women really deserve to be dependent on their husband's income because they don't work as hard? Oh, but then we have "authority" and the stability provided by hierarchy to turn to, which really means we don't want to question any of the traditional interpretations. The fact that this view of authority reinforces privilege, over and over and consistently, would seem not to matter to Haidt. He is arguing for instinct, but of course unprocessed instinct is likely to be traditionalist.

The same problem comes up in general for his acceptance of the interpretation of fairness as proportionality. We know that income is more influenced by luck than by effort or risk-taking, especially if you recognize ethnic background and even intelligence as cards dealt to people rather than as intrinsic moral virtue. We know that resentment of welfare programs goes way up when the money goes in any substantial amount to minority groups, so that really "fairness as proportionality" is motivated reasoning to justify hierarchically oppressive structures. Naive endorsement of "moral instinct" turns out to give a lot of cover to structures that train people to think in ways that create oppression. Haidt seems aware of this but then he ignores it when he gets to the business of justifying specific interpretations. If we are not supposed to question moral interpretations, but just pander to them, then a rigged system wins.
DWill wrote:
Haidt would say that she and the others running have limited appeal because their own moral matrices match up poorly with at least half of voters. Liberals make appeals based on only three of the moral foundations, whereas conservatives spread their appeal over all six. Does this explain why even with a radically transgressive and norm-breaking man at the top, voters do not desert him? Even though Trump may not in fact embody virtues contained in the foundations most valued by conservatives, his voters like to project those virtues onto him nonetheless.

There is a tremendous amount of self-justification in the endorsement of Trump's blustering norm-busting. Many norms have evolved based on views cultivated by education and enlightenment, such as the independence of the Fed and the professionalism of the Civil Service. In my experience the same people who extol rugged individualism are likely to denigrate women getting education and good jobs. The same people who endorse authority as a source of virtue are likely to insist that children need to be beaten so they don't get ideas in their heads about making up their own mind about what is right and what is wrong. And that brings me to the point I think needs most careful consideration.

Haidt makes a nice point about the man (taxi driver?) who said he doesn't want to emigrate to America because he never wants to hear his son tell him "Fuck you". In my experience such disrespectful behavior is much more likely to happen with those who lack education, and therefore have trouble knowing how to cultivate intrinsic respect, than with those who simply live in a loosely structured subculture. I do suspect that erosion of norms through neglect is a prominent feature of the chaotic lives common among people with low education and low incomes, but the idea that we just need more hierarchy and "Yes, sir/No sir" traditionalism no longer strikes me as insightful. Somehow the idea that the only alternative to neglect is discipline by force just sounds like ignorance to me.

A long time ago, when I was trying to make the point that structure might be more important to the less educated and it isn't wise to determine society's rules according to what suits enlightened liberals, a correspondent replied that liberals actually live the values espoused by conservatives to a greater extent. Conservatives like to make a lot of noise and fuss promoting family stability and respect by children, but in liberal households these things are more present. Conservatives claim to be more patriotic, but when they try to justify this they turn out to be ruling out positions that promote the enlightened self-interest of the nation rather than making ignorant calculation of short-term gain and loss. The end of such foolishness is our leader, who thinks a trade deficit is a sign we are being taken advantage of and who has created conditions that widen the deficit in trying to "fix" it, or maybe generals who think bombing a country back to the stone age will persuade it not to choose Communism.

DWill wrote:
I wonder whether a David Brooks-type running as a Democrat could gather some of the voters who long for a more Durkheimian, less individualistic vision of the country. Haidt sees severe limitations in J.S. Mill's vision that has guided liberals: that equality of people and opportunity, plus the avoidance of harm, are the only legitimate aims of government.
I don't think it takes all that much thought to promote a Durkheimian respect for the values and institutions that got us this far, and to seek a communitarian ethic, without abandoning the aspiration to make lives even better. A Fox News view of liberals is that the most extreme things said by any liberal are the logical conclusions of the liberal worldview, but it's not so difficult to show that is not true. You mention David Brooks, and I certainly have loads of respect for his efforts to reconnect to goodness and mutuality in our institutions. He shows, I think, that it is possible to respect tradition without getting panicky if it isn't maintained rigidly.

But the trappings of traditionalism are not a royal road to reversing the negative changes that have come along with education and industry. I'm sorry to take an elitist position, but those who are unwilling to engage in actually learning what works and why should basically sit on the sidelines when policy gets sorted out.



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Post Re: Ch. 8: The Conservative Advantage
When I think of "the conservative advantage," I have two reactions. The first is that, if Democrats need to stroke more moral foundations just in order to get elected, I don't care very much. I think Democrats are by far the better party right now, but I can't get excited by messaging. Haidt attributes Republicans' better success in presidential elections since '68 to their inclusion of all moral foundations in their campaigning. I find this analysis to have merit, but do I find what Republicans did to win those votes to be admirable? In some respects, I don't. We talk of pandering when politicians cynically exploit the fears or prejudices of voters. If Democrats would have to pander in order broaden their moral palette, I prefer they remain narrow. But for them to make an effort to empathize with, if not adopt, a greater part of American morality would be good in my view. Biden's greater perceived empathy for the common voter seems to have helped him rise from the political dead over the past month.

The other reaction I have is that "advantage" might apply in the sense that conservatives may be less parochial in their concept of what morality legitimately is, though it surprises me to say that. Conservatives may therefore have an advantage in a personal or social sense. The problem one faces immediately is, what is a conservative? What would Haidt say now about conservatism, vs. what he'd say around 2010? I think he'd have to say that the advantage for conservatism (in both senses) has disappeared, because conservatism has shed some of what gave it broad appeal previously. Donald Trump lost the popular vote by a not trivial margin. Trumpian "conservatism" shows less regard for Care (which had strong conservative support in Haidt's research) and shatters norms that conservatives formerly valued. Though he has certainly exploited Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity, he has often done so in ways that depart from many Americans' notions of decency and reasonableness. Politicians usually find their appeal to be limited if they verge on immoderation regarding any of these moral bases. Witness Trump's inability to get above the low 40s in approval.
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
A rough takeaway from this chapter, in relation to our current politics, could be that Democrats or liberals rely on the influence of the rational rider, while Republicans or conservatives harness the power of the emotional elephant. Elizabeth "I have a plan for that" Warren typifies the wonky candidate, for all that she tries to project great passion about her causes.

Seems very rough, to me. I agree that Haidt, in his Mill vs. Durkheim analysis, characterizes the liberal moral matrix as structured by rationality, but he is also arguing that conservatives view the other dimensions of moral intuition as roughly equal in importance, as well as that fairness is interpreted differently. Given what went before, in other chapters, I am interpreting the Mill/liberal perspective as more highly processed, and less willing to accept authority and sanctity in traditional terms, but I don't think Haidt is telling the story that way. Maybe he should be, though.

It might be that the liberal habit is to look behind the curtain, or as you say, to process, and with the question of adjudicating in mind, too. Adjudicating seems to be the "so what" part. He (conservative) and I (liberal) don't like flag burning, but liberals are strongly against punishing the burner, while conservatives act as though they'd favor that. In reality, I don't know that conservatives would make burning illegal, but for sure they want more support from liberals in stigmatizing it. Liberals don't provide that, because their strong support for the right of political expression, even when they personally disapprove, takes the edge off their animus. And then, too, some liberals in their enthusiasm for political expression may give the impression of celebrating the flag burners.
Quote:
Haidt is accepting a worldview that is closer to "moral instinct" and arguing that liberals should couch their appeals in terms that are closer to these instincts. To some extent I agree, not just as a manipulative pose but as a refresher in values that represent a solid base rather than engaging the "cutting edge" issues we liberals so dearly love. Is that harnessing the power of the emotional elephant? I rather suspect it is more a matter of acknowledging the power. I think liberals should speak in terms of national pride, even while being more willing to interpret that pride in terms of willingness to self-criticize. I think liberals should invoke sanctity regularly, and not just for weaponized values that are dear to liberal hearts, like LGBTQ right to be foster parents, but also for universalist values like collective security that we can make a case for on moral grounds. The whole idea of authority as something earned rather than something hierarchically determined has enjoyed a resurgence thanks to our recent experience with a bull in the china shop who wants to assert his power to break whatever crockery he chooses.

You address my concern about tailoring campaigning appeals to what will work with the voters, at least until such appeals can be forgotten after a successful campaign. You've said the above very well and I agree. I recall the first Democratic debate, where the candidates generally were tripping over one another to stake out the positions farthest to the left. Did they want to hand Trump the election on a silver platter? Barack Obama governed far to the right compared to how the candidates indicated they would, meaning that he was slightly left of center as a leader. Haidt tells us that he thought Obama was taking the "values refresher" course you recommend at the start of his 2007 campaign, but then he veered off to more parochial-sounding liberal appeals (not to mention heartlanders hunkering down with their guns and religion--ouch). But I do wonder if some of the 2020 candidates may be too wrapped up in their "cutting edge" to have retained their own feel for mainstream values. I suspect Joe Biden has retained them.
Quote:
As this probably makes clear, when it comes to specifics I have trouble agreeing with Haidt's interpretations. He explains the conservative view of the idea of fairness as "proportionality", so that people get their just rewards when they earn more or less, but that is often just an excuse to protect privilege. Do women really deserve to be dependent on their husband's income because they don't work as hard? Oh, but then we have "authority" and the stability provided by hierarchy to turn to, which really means we don't want to question any of the traditional interpretations. The fact that this view of authority reinforces privilege, over and over and consistently, would seem not to matter to Haidt. He is arguing for instinct, but of course unprocessed instinct is likely to be traditionalist.

Haidt has told us that different triggers activate modules within the moral foundations. That's a little jargony for my taste, but I can see how it applies to the liberal/conservative divide. Haidt doesn't necessarily turn to that mechanism, though, when he says that liberals don't cover all the moral bases. He gives me the impression that these foundations are missing in liberals, which of course is impossible if the foundations have a genetic, evolutionary base. Maybe I'm being unfair to Haidt or forgetting some statement he's made to the contrary. Rather than being blank slates on Sanctity and Authority, liberals find that the triggers that activate conservatives on Sanctity and Authority aren't liberal triggers. That state of affairs is partly dependent on the current landscape of politics; if the landscape changes, liberal triggers might come more to the fore. One is what you suggested: authority becoming an emphasis for the double reason that the chief authority doesn't how to earn the respect that wielding authority requires, and we cannot maintain a democracy without demanding that our information come from authoritative sources.

There already exist liberal Sanctity triggers, though none have the same force that the abortion issue has for conservatives. Haidt has mentioned earlier that GMO foods and other food aspects trigger sanctity concerns in liberals. I know that sanctity is sometimes on my moral mind when I discuss the environment with Robert. My elephant went careening into the bushes when he mentioned reinventing nature. Haidt thinks, though, that liberals haven't even admitted the existence of other moral foundations, so that they tend to sneer at Sanctity and Authority as not morality at all--because only Care and Fairness deserve that status. He might be right about the sneering, but his prescription to make liberals more credible isn't going to work if it only amounts, in effect, to telling them to be more conservative. Moving more towards the center is definitely part of it, but it also should be about explaining how liberals view those other moral realms. I think that some have done that pretty well on the immigration detention and separation issue. It would help if along with that appeal to the sanctity of life and well-being, they were less ambiguous on the need for controls on our borders.
Quote:
The same problem comes up in general for his acceptance of the interpretation of fairness as proportionality. We know that income is more influenced by luck than by effort or risk-taking, especially if you recognize ethnic background and even intelligence as cards dealt to people rather than as intrinsic moral virtue. We know that resentment of welfare programs goes way up when the money goes in any substantial amount to minority groups, so that really "fairness as proportionality" is motivated reasoning to justify hierarchically oppressive structures. Naive endorsement of "moral instinct" turns out to give a lot of cover to structures that train people to think in ways that create oppression. Haidt seems aware of this but then he ignores it when he gets to the business of justifying specific interpretations. If we are not supposed to question moral interpretations, but just pander to them, then a rigged system wins.

His research persuaded him that during humans' evolution, the concern that some in the small group would not claim more than their earned share, was the main trigger of a Fairness module, instead, I suppose, of the more abstract notions that much later came to be applied to whole complex societies. He's probably right, but it doesn't follow that the notion that applied to the band is determinative regarding groups of millions. At that level, it becomes almost impossible to say who is completely deserving based only on individual merit, not advantage at birth. Liberals do, of course, argue all the time that the system is unfair. I suppose they could argue more artfully, and shy away from making victims out of those who are struggling for the next rung. There inevitably is going to be pushback from liberals on what fairness is, so if their notion happens to collide with that of conservatives, the best advice would be to stay the course, with openness to compromise.
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
Haidt would say that she and the others running have limited appeal because their own moral matrices match up poorly with at least half of voters. Liberals make appeals based on only three of the moral foundations, whereas conservatives spread their appeal over all six. Does this explain why even with a radically transgressive and norm-breaking man at the top, voters do not desert him? Even though Trump may not in fact embody virtues contained in the foundations most valued by conservatives, his voters like to project those virtues onto him nonetheless.

There is a tremendous amount of self-justification in the endorsement of Trump's blustering norm-busting. Many norms have evolved based on views cultivated by education and enlightenment, such as the independence of the Fed and the professionalism of the Civil Service. In my experience the same people who extol rugged individualism are likely to denigrate women getting education and good jobs. The same people who endorse authority as a source of virtue are likely to insist that children need to be beaten so they don't get ideas in their heads about making up their own mind about what is right and what is wrong. And that brings me to the point I think needs most careful consideration.

Haidt makes a nice point about the man (taxi driver?) who said he doesn't want to emigrate to America because he never wants to hear his son tell him "Fuck you". In my experience such disrespectful behavior is much more likely to happen with those who lack education, and therefore have trouble knowing how to cultivate intrinsic respect, than with those who simply live in a loosely structured subculture. I do suspect that erosion of norms through neglect is a prominent feature of the chaotic lives common among people with low education and low incomes, but the idea that we just need more hierarchy and "Yes, sir/No sir" traditionalism no longer strikes me as insightful. Somehow the idea that the only alternative to neglect is discipline by force just sounds like ignorance to me.

I had such a "taxi driver" moment once. Our younger daughter, who might have been around 8 at the time, said to me, "You suck, dad." It wasn't said because of anything I said or did, just out of the blue, and not even with meanness of tone. My reaction? Ban watching "The Simpsons." I can't remember if the ban held. So I sympathize with the taxi driver, and I think reactions like his do give us a window on our culture that might be closed most times; we are too focused on the negatives of other cultures such as Saudi Arabia to be acutely aware of some of our own. I can't imagine a worse place to live than Saudi Arabia, on every conceivable measure. But my mind is crammed with stereotypes that don't allow me to see that, maybe, the Saudis have made places for human relating that we have not. If we look at many of our media offerings, don't we have to wonder about the fiber of the culture, and concede to criticisms cultures like S. A. might have of us? There isn't a simple fix, such as imposing military discipline in families.
Quote:
A long time ago, when I was trying to make the point that structure might be more important to the less educated and it isn't wise to determine society's rules according to what suits enlightened liberals, a correspondent replied that liberals actually live the values espoused by conservatives to a greater extent. Conservatives like to make a lot of noise and fuss promoting family stability and respect by children, but in liberal households these things are more present. Conservatives claim to be more patriotic, but when they try to justify this they turn out to be ruling out positions that promote the enlightened self-interest of the nation rather than making ignorant calculation of short-term gain and loss. The end of such foolishness is our leader, who thinks a trade deficit is a sign we are being taken advantage of and who has created conditions that widen the deficit in trying to "fix" it, or maybe generals who think bombing a country back to the stone age will persuade it not to choose Communism.

I still have fondness for thoughtful conservatism and feel there has been a co-opting of it by essentially unprincipled people who have used it for demagogic purposes. But we don't have a good term for what we've got now.
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
I wonder whether a David Brooks-type running as a Democrat could gather some of the voters who long for a more Durkheimian, less individualistic vision of the country. Haidt sees severe limitations in J.S. Mill's vision that has guided liberals: that equality of people and opportunity, plus the avoidance of harm, are the only legitimate aims of government.
I don't think it takes all that much thought to promote a Durkheimian respect for the values and institutions that got us this far, and to seek a communitarian ethic, without abandoning the aspiration to make lives even better. A Fox News view of liberals is that the most extreme things said by any liberal are the logical conclusions of the liberal worldview, but it's not so difficult to show that is not true. You mention David Brooks, and I certainly have loads of respect for his efforts to reconnect to goodness and mutuality in our institutions. He shows, I think, that it is possible to respect tradition without getting panicky if it isn't maintained rigidly.

But the trappings of traditionalism are not a royal road to reversing the negative changes that have come along with education and industry. I'm sorry to take an elitist position, but those who are unwilling to engage in actually learning what works and why should basically sit on the sidelines when policy gets sorted out.

Well said about statements or figures that are generalized to the whole category of liberals. The "squad" was recently said to epitomize the Democratic party, but that didn't work.



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Post Re: Ch. 8: The Conservative Advantage
DWill wrote:
When I think of "the conservative advantage," I have two reactions. The first is that, if Democrats need to stroke more moral foundations just in order to get elected, I don't care very much. I think Democrats are by far the better party right now, but I can't get excited by messaging. Haidt attributes Republicans' better success in presidential elections since '68 to their inclusion of all moral foundations in their campaigning. I find this analysis to have merit, but do I find what Republicans did to win those votes to be admirable? In some respects, I don't. We talk of pandering when politicians cynically exploit the fears or prejudices of voters. If Democrats would have to pander in order broaden their moral palette, I prefer they remain narrow. But for them to make an effort to empathize with, if not adopt, a greater part of American morality would be good in my view. Biden's greater perceived empathy for the common voter seems to have helped him rise from the political dead over the past month.
I like the way you have expressed this business. It combines two powerful points that are somewhat in tension. First, when messaging is about manipulation, it lays traps. The fact that Conservatives who thought Bork was a great jurist and were willing to resort to Willie Horton ads ended up shoved aside by folks more willing to take a nakedly confrontational approach, calling the first bunch RINOs, tells you that pandering really is a slippery slope. If you pick at the weave of norms on the edges, reasoning that a little unraveling is a price worth paying, you are soon unable to hold the cloth together. Democrats have been as guilty as Republicans of eroding norms for short-term gains and of knocking loose the catch-points that keep us from sliding down the slope into chaos.

Second, though, Dems have also gotten so caught up in their own internal struggles for the high ground that they have sometime lost their bearings. In the 90s I appreciated the Clintons, with their triangulation and the good sense to argue that abortion should be safe, legal and rare. The extreme progressives may have been right but they had no feel for persuasion of others. The Clintons also took some goofy stands, and their willingness to go along with conservative values was often too cynical, but they had their feet on solid ground politically. I think Hillary had a gut feeling for sanctity, and Bill had a gut feeling for the way conservatives view fairness, that allowed them to interact with the center in a constructive way.

So where I am going with this is that mere mouthing of shibboleths is dangerous and the temptation should be resisted, but honest evaluation of the many-sided questions of policy can generate decent ways to touch bases with the full range of moral intuitions. Often the best aspects of "the Vision thing" come from someone who sits long enough with those uncomfortable aspects that pull in the other direction from our own goals and beliefs. FDR could attack the fat cats and knock down restrictions right and left even while seeing that what he was doing was saving capitalism. JFK could find himself engaging with America's shortcomings precisely because he saw himself saving the free world from Stalinist tyrrany. Lincoln knew the nation had to forgive precisely because his primary goal had been to save the Union.

DWill wrote:
The other reaction I have is that "advantage" might apply in the sense that conservatives may be less parochial in their concept of what morality legitimately is, though it surprises me to say that. Conservatives may therefore have an advantage in a personal or social sense. The problem one faces immediately is, what is a conservative? What would Haidt say now about conservatism, vs. what he'd say around 2010? I think he'd have to say that the advantage for conservatism (in both senses) has disappeared, because conservatism has shed some of what gave it broad appeal previously. Donald Trump lost the popular vote by a not trivial margin.
There is still such a thing as Burkeian, Brooksian conservatism, holding on to deep-rooted community values even when the winds of change threaten to toss people around like tumbleweeds. I am still struggling with "less parochial" since I still think morality corresponds to a reality, an ontological configuration of incentives and commonality, and it sounds to me like you are endorsing "morality is what people think is moral".

Haidt wants to tie it all to evolved instincts, and I think that keeps pulling us back to "all religions endorse the traditional family." I certainly get why conservatives want to uphold the man as the head of the household, and why that has instinctive appeal. I just don't think it cuts any ice in today's economic world, which is the world of family size appropriate to a steady-state population that can sustain prosperity for essentially all of humanity. And if we can't transcend traditional moral intuitions, that means reason is impotent.
DWill wrote:
It might be that the liberal habit is to look behind the curtain, or as you say, to process, and with the question of adjudicating in mind, too.
The curtain reference brought me up short. That's a side I tend to ignore. But it's true, that the ability to question the myths used to manipulate the public has been a part of the liberal outlook for a long time now. It's the force behind the academic takeover by progressives. And it's one reason why movement conservatives are so eager to attack the "mainstream media": one person's myths to manipulate the public are another person's social sinews. And yes, looking behind the curtain is tied to the effort to adjudicate what sanctity and authority are "really" about and to use harm as a particularly vital principle in limiting majoritarian abuse of the non-conforming individual or a minority group.
DWill wrote:
You've said the above very well and I agree. I recall the first Democratic debate, where the candidates generally were tripping over one another to stake out the positions farthest to the left. Did they want to hand Trump the election on a silver platter?
Yes, it was a particularly weird whirlpool of rhetoric, wasn't it? We have spent three years trying to understand just what it is we find so offensive about Trump to the point where all the badges of Goodness and Truth became a substitute for communicating with people who don't already see the world WEIRDly.
I guess Warren thought she could finesse the problem, with carefully thought out plans, but that didn't work out. She was doing some great communicating last Fall, but she had already gone too far down the road of knocking down structures to re-build better, and the public wasn't buying.

DWill wrote:
I do wonder if some of the 2020 candidates may be too wrapped up in their "cutting edge" to have retained their own feel for mainstream values. I suspect Joe Biden has retained them.
I have no doubt of it. He still has the ability to connect with the country's center. And he brings a few elements of his own to the table which could be genuine gold, but his staff will have to put together a strategy and a message that put his strengths out there where people can relate to them.

DWill wrote:
Haidt has told us that different triggers activate modules within the moral foundations. That's a little jargony for my taste, but I can see how it applies to the liberal/conservative divide. Haidt doesn't necessarily turn to that mechanism, though, when he says that liberals don't cover all the moral bases. He gives me the impression that these foundations are missing in liberals, which of course is impossible if the foundations have a genetic, evolutionary base.
That's an interesting petard he may be hoist on, but I think the matter is more complex. First, biology is marked by diversity, and if moral systems are all about genetics, it's still possible that Democrats are just people with a different set of genetic endowments, like left-handedness or curly hair. But I suspect it is more about non-genetic cultural factors, and Haidt oversells the "human nature" angle of his results. He wants to argue, essentially, that all this civilization has turned liberals into effete wonks who can't get in touch with their inner barbarian. They've swallowed the Kool-Aid of Mill and Kant, and no wonder they can't appeal to the majority ethnic group.

If I'm right and it's really about constructing durable and effective social structures, then liberals will figure out how to be persuasive in part by not trying to distance themselves from core values that are behind the other moral foundations, beyond Harm and Care.

DWill wrote:
There already exist liberal Sanctity triggers, though none have the same force that the abortion issue has for conservatives.
I'm not so sure. Human rights for women? That is not all about individualism, abstraction, care and harm. A picture of Malala has become an icon. Democracy? I don't think the liberal sense of its sanctity is all about instrumental values and the best way to make the trains run on time. I watched in horror as the Senators put up lawyers to argue that there wasn't enough evidence to remove Trump from office and it was someone else's responsibility to get enough evidence. Those kinds of moments live in infamy - we still quote "Have you no decency, sir?" and people will be quoting from the impeachment trial for many, many decades.
DWill wrote:
Haidt has mentioned earlier that GMO foods and other food aspects trigger sanctity concerns in liberals. I know that sanctity is sometimes on my moral mind when I discuss the environment with Robert. My elephant went careening into the bushes when he mentioned reinventing nature.
Get a grip, man! Not all liberals are offended by Frankenfoods, but I agree with you about the sanctity of the environment. Wildness is primal.
DWill wrote:
Haidt thinks, though, that liberals haven't even admitted the existence of other moral foundations, so that they tend to sneer at Sanctity and Authority as not morality at all--because only Care and Fairness deserve that status. He might be right about the sneering, but his prescription to make liberals more credible isn't going to work if it only amounts, in effect, to telling them to be more conservative. Moving more towards the center is definitely part of it, but it also should be about explaining how liberals view those other moral realms. I think that some have done that pretty well on the immigration detention and separation issue. It would help if along with that appeal to the sanctity of life and well-being, they were less ambiguous on the need for controls on our borders.
Those are helpful reflections. I think I have spelled out my essential view above, and I certainly think sneering at the very idea of Sanctity or Authority has not gotten us to a good place. I kind of agree that we have to look behind the curtain, too, it's just that for all his brilliance, George Carlin never could have won an election for president. "Burn it down" is not the true liberal calling. (Does that make me a Whig? Very well, then, I am a Whig.)

DWill wrote:
I suppose they could argue more artfully, and shy away from making victims out of those who are struggling for the next rung. There inevitably is going to be pushback from liberals on what fairness is, so if their notion happens to collide with that of conservatives, the best advice would be to stay the course, with openness to compromise.
I would add spelling out specific goals and milestones to show that the expected result is happening. Liberalism is not all about protecting from harm, it is also about a vision of why cooperation works better than the war of all against all. The vision and the protection can go together well.

DWill wrote:
I still have fondness for thoughtful conservatism and feel there has been a co-opting of it by essentially unprincipled people who have used it for demagogic purposes. But we don't have a good term for what we've got now.
Well, Tea Party Conservatism is not too bad a label. I also kind of like Rupertism, or Dittoheads. There is also a place in my heart for thoughtful conservatism, and I mourn its eclipse, which I hope is temporary. Even Reagan, whom I do honestly despise, was also a figure of decency even if he had to hide the truth from himself to reconcile decency with his policy views.

One sort of answer comes from Bernie Sanders, of all people. He is reaching out to political backers to get donations for the support of children and workers who will suffer as the coronavirus sets in. I have always thought that if we Democrats want to show that support makes a difference, we should be in there with our time and money doing some voluntary support. I am not foolish enough to believe private charity can do the work that belongs to government, but we can show the way. That has a long history among Socialists, and now is a good time to make it work.



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Post Re: Ch. 8: The Conservative Advantage
Harry Marks wrote:
Second, though, Dems have also gotten so caught up in their own internal struggles for the high ground that they have sometime lost their bearings. In the 90s I appreciated the Clintons, with their triangulation and the good sense to argue that abortion should be safe, legal and rare. The extreme progressives may have been right but they had no feel for persuasion of others. The Clintons also took some goofy stands, and their willingness to go along with conservative values was often too cynical, but they had their feet on solid ground politically. I think Hillary had a gut feeling for sanctity, and Bill had a gut feeling for the way conservatives view fairness, that allowed them to interact with the center in a constructive way.

That last sentence--is understanding, the canny ability to advance by conceding, what Haidt is telling us we can do more of if we get into other moral minds? He does seem to eschew any prescription for collective advancement, other than a process of open dialogue. To have that, we need to recognize that morality is diverse, as he so carefully lays out for us. I think of where Haidt has gone since writing the book. He has taken on the ideological monoculture of academia. That one is expected to to have liberal/left politics if employed by a college or university is most probably true. He asks what prospect there really is for views to be exchanged when all the views differ but little.

Having just said that, I don't think Haidt would have attracted much attention if he had only made a commonplace call for bipartisanship, and begun a campaign for political diversity in higher ed. The provocative thesis was that conservatives have an advantage, and you have been grilling him on that all along. I tended to think he was correct in 2012 terms, but doubted that he's come up with an enduring measure of difference between whatever collection of attitudes and positions are labeled as either liberal or conservative. Another criticism that you have made, I think, is that the scorecard approach--Conservatives win, 6-3--might not be as meaningful as it sounds.
Quote:
So where I am going with this is that mere mouthing of shibboleths is dangerous and the temptation should be resisted, but honest evaluation of the many-sided questions of policy can generate decent ways to touch bases with the full range of moral intuitions. Often the best aspects of "the Vision thing" come from someone who sits long enough with those uncomfortable aspects that pull in the other direction from our own goals and beliefs. FDR could attack the fat cats and knock down restrictions right and left even while seeing that what he was doing was saving capitalism. JFK could find himself engaging with America's shortcomings precisely because he saw himself saving the free world from Stalinist tyrrany. Lincoln knew the nation had to forgive precisely because his primary goal had been to save the Union.

"Getting out of our comfort zone" has become a cliche, but not because it's something all that familiar to us. If we push ourselves into a less-known social/emotional/intellectual environment, we often feel different after the experience, sometimes really are different. Joe Biden was roundly criticized for touting his ability to work across the aisle with Strom Thurmond; Ted Kennedy and Orin Hatch collaborated as well. It's commonly observed that such cooperation between different political temperaments doesn't happen much now. The disappearance of bipartisanship is an emphasis later in the book, and remembering the news from 2012 that Haidt claimed conservatives understood liberals better than liberals understood conservatives, I wonder whether Haidt puts more of the blame on liberals. However Haidt may have seen that back in the day, I doubt to the point of certainty that those who today wear the mantle of conservatism are more flexible ideologues than liberals are.
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
The other reaction I have is that "advantage" might apply in the sense that conservatives may be less parochial in their concept of what morality legitimately is, though it surprises me to say that. Conservatives may therefore have an advantage in a personal or social sense. The problem one faces immediately is, what is a conservative? What would Haidt say now about conservatism, vs. what he'd say around 2010? I think he'd have to say that the advantage for conservatism (in both senses) has disappeared, because conservatism has shed some of what gave it broad appeal previously. Donald Trump lost the popular vote by a not trivial margin.
There is still such a thing as Burkeian, Brooksian conservatism, holding on to deep-rooted community values even when the winds of change threaten to toss people around like tumbleweeds. I am still struggling with "less parochial" since I still think morality corresponds to a reality, an ontological configuration of incentives and commonality, and it sounds to me like you are endorsing "morality is what people think is moral".

I was probably thinking of the cliche "liberal bubble" (sort of what Books wrote about in his early book "Bobos in Paradise") when I credited Haidt for perhaps being right about liberals living in cocoons and therefore having a more parochial outlook on politics and morality. Now we have a pronounced conservative echo chamber that rivals anything that liberals were held in.
Quote:
Haidt wants to tie it all to evolved instincts, and I think that keeps pulling us back to "all religions endorse the traditional family." I certainly get why conservatives want to uphold the man as the head of the household, and why that has instinctive appeal. I just don't think it cuts any ice in today's economic world, which is the world of family size appropriate to a steady-state population that can sustain prosperity for essentially all of humanity. And if we can't transcend traditional moral intuitions, that means reason is impotent.

Brooks again (and then there is Arthur Brooks, pursuing some of David's same themes). David Brooks has that Atlantic piece in which he laments the dominance of the nuclear family, a surprising position for a conservative. It turns out that he sees the nuclear family as a recent product of capitalist individualism, and as a fragile institution. Extended families have been the norm for most of history, and in terms of our prehistory, Brooks cites evidence that forged families were normal, that those on whom we lavished the closet attention didn't have to be blood relations. So kin selection is less powerful in our species than many biologists think. With his creation of the organization he calls Weavers, Brooks wants to increase the resilience of families by loosening the entrance requirements. It's about strengthening bonds beyond nuclear limits. I would think and hope that people who don't become parents would find more support and acceptance than happens with the idolization of the nuclear family.
Quote:
He wants to argue, essentially, that all this civilization has turned liberals into effete wonks who can't get in touch with their inner barbarian. They've swallowed the Kool-Aid of Mill and Kant, and no wonder they can't appeal to the majority ethnic group.

If I'm right and it's really about constructing durable and effective social structures, then liberals will figure out how to be persuasive in part by not trying to distance themselves from core values that are behind the other moral foundations, beyond Harm and Care.

Really like the pith of the first remark, and how the second part takes the germ of truth in the exaggeration and makes it a practical tool. Please share this with the Biden campaign. (I'm just a little deflated about Joe right now, having looked up his financial feeding frenzy since leaving the vice-presidency. Why can't he conform more to my ideals? https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics ... story.html
Quote:
One sort of answer comes from Bernie Sanders, of all people. He is reaching out to political backers to get donations for the support of children and workers who will suffer as the coronavirus sets in. I have always thought that if we Democrats want to show that support makes a difference, we should be in there with our time and money doing some voluntary support. I am not foolish enough to believe private charity can do the work that belongs to government, but we can show the way. That has a long history among Socialists, and now is a good time to make it work.

I don't know if Sanders suggests replacing the $1,200 dole to almost every person with more meaningful and lasting aid to workers who really need it, but I would support that approach. You may have a different view based on economics. But since we'll probably be getting those checks, those of us who don't need the money have an opportunity to make it work for others.



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Post Re: Ch. 8: The Conservative Advantage
DWill wrote:
-is understanding, the canny ability to advance by conceding, what Haidt is telling us we can do more of if we get into other moral minds? He does seem to eschew any prescription for collective advancement, other than a process of open dialogue. To have that, we need to recognize that morality is diverse, as he so carefully lays out for us.
Yes, I think the idea is that opening our minds to other moral perspectives can make a real difference to the amount of civility and cooperation. It's devilishly difficult, since we go to a lot of trouble to figure out what we value, and what we think is the right way forward, so someone who doesn't come to the same conclusions is automatically suspect as having failed to consider as carefully.

Moreover, that presumption of moral failure represents the most common flaw in negotiation strategy, as highlighted in the opening of "Getting to Yes", the manual of win-win negotiation. The flaw is starting with positions (often justified in moral terms) instead of priorities. If we explain our priorities to each other, it is often possible to get things we value highly in exchange for concessions we don't really mind making. If we are mainly focused on justifying our position (in best Glauconian fashion, frequently) we may pass up the chance for real benefit. (Of course if virtue-signalling is all that's going on, then we don't care about the real benefit.)

DWill wrote:
I think of where Haidt has gone since writing the book. He has taken on the ideological monoculture of academia. That one is expected to to have liberal/left politics if employed by a college or university is most probably true. He asks what prospect there really is for views to be exchanged when all the views differ but little.
I agree with Haidt on this issue, but I also find it ironic that he has pursued this line given his plea in the next chapter of "Righteous Mind" for suppressing diversity in favor of promoting team spirit.

DWill wrote:
Having just said that, I don't think Haidt would have attracted much attention if he had only made a commonplace call for bipartisanship, and begun a campaign for political diversity in higher ed. The provocative thesis was that conservatives have an advantage, and you have been grilling him on that all along. I tended to think he was correct in 2012 terms, but doubted that he's come up with an enduring measure of difference between whatever collection of attitudes and positions are labeled as either liberal or conservative. Another criticism that you have made, I think, is that the scorecard approach--Conservatives win, 6-3--might not be as meaningful as it sounds.
Haidt freely admits to being a WEIRD liberal, and I think his aim all along was more to make a splash than to move the needle on an intellectual debate. The danger he faces is summarized by Paul Krugman, in a slightly different context, by observing that "there are conservative professional economists and liberal professional economists, and there are professional conservative economists, but no professional liberal economists." Never mind that "none" is too strong - there are a few who make their living serving the interests of liberal masters, but those are very rare on the left compared to abundant on the right. If he keeps on taking positions that serve the interests of the right, he may damage his credibility.
DWill wrote:
remembering the news from 2012 that Haidt claimed conservatives understood liberals better than liberals understood conservatives, I wonder whether Haidt puts more of the blame on liberals. However Haidt may have seen that back in the day, I doubt to the point of certainty that those who today wear the mantle of conservatism are more flexible ideologues than liberals are.
I don't remember that point well, but I have the impression that he was arguing more for awareness of the other side than for the flexibility to empathize with it. It seems likely to me that his point stands up reasonably well - that liberals, for example, have trouble imagining a mindset in which abortion is wrong and should be illegal, while conservatives have a relatively easy time imagining a mindset in which abortion is a "right" that must be protected. And similarly with welfare and immigration. The theory of mind that conjures up a liberal mindset is pretty straightforward. Maybe that is because it automatically doubts the distinctions that tell us who has more status, while understanding a mindset in which those status distinctions make sense involves conjuring a reason for something unreasonable. (I sometimes find the same pattern with my wife - she has an easy time predicting what I will value, while I continually find myself surprised by things that are meaningful to her.)
DWill wrote:
David Brooks has that Atlantic piece in which he laments the dominance of the nuclear family, a surprising position for a conservative. It turns out that he sees the nuclear family as a recent product of capitalist individualism, and as a fragile institution. Extended families have been the norm for most of history, and in terms of our prehistory, Brooks cites evidence that forged families were normal, that those on whom we lavished the closet attention didn't have to be blood relations.
It reminds me a bit of the criticism by Tucker Carlson that capitalism has eroded the value of family and the sustainability of the traditional household pattern (which is what Milton Friedman approvingly predicted). Conservatives are casting about for rational narratives, these days, and questioning all sorts of things that one has the impression Haidt would consider to evoke the moral taste bud for the Sacred. The particular twist, that free trade can erode community strength and commercial pressure can undermine family strength, has been around for a while, but it takes a real Bernie Sanders type to come right out and make the accusation.
DWill wrote:
But since we'll probably be getting those checks, those of us who don't need the money have an opportunity to make it work for others.
My wife and I have decided we will do the same. Her idea, I swear it.



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Fri Mar 27, 2020 11:31 pm
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