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Ch. 7: The Moral Foundation of Politics 
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Post Ch. 7: The Moral Foundation of Politics
Ch. 7: The Moral Foundation of Politics



Tue Dec 10, 2019 3:28 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 7: The Moral Foundation of Politics
Chapters 6 and 7 can probably be taken together. Haidt agrees with Hume's analogy of "sentiments" with physical tastes such as bitterness and sweet; the moral sentiments (or intuitions in Haidt's terms) are triggered just that automatically when certain stimuli are presented. Haidt and his research partner theorized that six moral receptors (5 of them identified in Chap. 7) cover the universe of our moral lives. They are all paired opposites. Haidt usually refers to them by just the first term for brevity (e.g., Care instead of Care/Harm).

He has already made the point that WEIRD morality relies mostly on Care and Fairness. This reliance can lead to us WEIRDos trying to deny the urging of a dominant, irrational sense that something about an action just is not right, that it is repugnant. The extreme case is represented by the murder/suicide pact described in gory detail on p. 146. Not to say that what occurred between these two men--although consensual and not harming anyone else--is wrong seems blatantly morally wrong, indeed a violation of a sacred principle. Restricting moral judgment to Care and Fairness results in moral dumbfounding when an individual confronts such a violation of the Sanctity module.

Haidt's major point that when we look at politics, we see different triggers activating the same module goes a way toward explaining our political divisions. Authority/Subversion is prominent in the partisanship over President Trump. His supporters seem to view his exercise of authority as a righteous cause, spurning objections that he tramples on longstanding democratic values. Trump's opponents have exalted an alternate authority--rather surprising, perhaps. coming from the liberal side--which is the rule of law (having an echo of law and order). That is the authority whose existence Trump threatens. So maybe it isn't entirely true that liberals are stuck in their Care and Fairness cage. During the impeachment proceedings we also saw the Democrats stressing the sanctity of virtue in our politics, and attacks on Republicans were largely based on their degradation of the same.



Last edited by DWill on Thu Feb 13, 2020 9:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Ch. 7: The Moral Foundation of Politics
DWill wrote:
. . . So maybe it isn't entirely true that liberals are stuck in their Care and Fairness cage.


I totally agree, DWill.

These days, I'm rooting for Democrats because the GOP under Trump has become almost entirely divorced from its conservative past. For the foreseeable future, Democrats seem to be a better bet for promoting stewardship of the environment, virtue in politics, and protecting the rule of law and democratic principles. It seems that Trump's party only cares about increasing the profits of corporations. As such, maybe we are seeing a reorientation of our political parties in America. It does seem that Democrats have a real shot at expanding beyond the care/harm foundation and will become more attractive to voters.

I've never been one to identify as a conservative or liberal, but ten years ago, I would have described myself as more or less moderate conservative. Ever since McCain selected Palin as his running mate, I've felt disenfranchised by both parties. But so it goes. Haidt is sort of reminding me why I do lean conservative (at least toward what conservative used to be). But like Haidt, I would very much like to see Democrats branch out into areas that Republicans have forsaken.

I'm very sorry for not contributing more to this discussion. I've highlighted many passages during my reading, but I just don't feel I have much to add to the conversation. DWill is doing a fabulous job summarizing each chapter though.


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Post Re: Ch. 7: The Moral Foundation of Politics
DWill wrote:
He has already made the point that WEIRD morality relies mostly on Care and Fairness. This reliance can lead to us WEIRDos trying to deny the urging of a dominant, irrational sense that something about an action just is not right, that it is repugnant. The extreme case is represented by the murder/suicide pact described in gory detail on p. 146. Not to say that what occurred between these two men--although consensual and not harming anyone else--is wrong seems blatantly morally wrong, indeed a violation of a sacred principle. Restricting moral judgment to Care and Fairness results in moral dumbfounding when an individual confronts such a violation of the Sanctity module.
Well, actually, there is harm involved and Haidt has to resort to Mill's "autonomy framework" to argue that liberals don't get the violation of Sanctity. What he sweeps under the rug is the question of whether sanctity is a standard that needs to be enforced by law and courts. The means of pursuing Sanctity may have primitive appeals as motivation, but it is still subject to evaluation. Maybe shunning and expressions of disgust are sufficient "enforcement" of violations of sanctity. This gets into theological issues of what "sanctity" "really means" as opposed to how it has been traditionally handled. Unless you are willing to grandfather in honor killings because they mean "sanctity" to someone, you have to accept some engagement with the question.

DWill wrote:
Haidt's major point that when we look at politics, we see different triggers activating the same module goes a way toward explaining our political divisions. Authority/Subversion is prominent in the partisanship over President Trump. His supporters seem to view his exercise of authority as a righteous cause, spurning objections that he tramples on longstanding democratic values. Trump's opponents have exalted an alternate authority--rather surprising, perhaps. coming from the liberal side--which is the rule of law (having an echo of law and order). That is the authority whose existence Trump threatens. So maybe it isn't entirely true that liberals are stuck in their Care and Fairness cage. During the impeachment proceedings we also saw the Democrats stressing the sanctity of virtue in our politics, and attacks on Republicans were largely based on their degradation of the same.
I think that's a great insight. Not that I am desperate to have liberals be supporting some version of authority, but if authority serves some function, then it makes sense to ask whether our cultural interpretations of proper authority and its proper exercise are really promoting that function.

I actually liked this chapter, because it seemed to me Haidt was at last engaging in actual moral assessment instead of just appealing to vague sociobiological arguments. If his argument is that liberal principles such as autonomy have their own dilemmas (remember his work started out with moral dilemmas, lo these decades ago) and that they cause liberals to be willing to suppress instinctive judgments as a more-or-less instinctive automatic interpretation, I would go along with that. I do think that there are often implications and limitations that have not been thought through when declaring a principle as starkly as Mill did concerning autonomy. And the fact that liberalism "looks stupid" to conservatives may be reinforced by the eruption of challenges to cultural norms, challenges which were not anticipated when a formulation like Mill's emerged as a solution to some tension that we no longer recognize. (One of Mill's big issues was the subjection of women, which seemed "obviously" to be appropriate at the time he wrote, but which he rejected early and further repudiated as a result of his own personal experience as the friend and then husband of the brilliant Harriet Taylor.)

I am going to be reading the next chapter with an eye to Modi's India, where many Hindutva advocates are "true believers" that Dalits are reincarnated from base and vile people who abuse others. Sure, they have a cultural sense that Brahmins are infused with the divine but Dalits are so debased that they must not be touched or allowed to marry out of caste. So what? If we cannot apply acid tests of reason to such judgments then we start falling into the morass of accepting the vicious methods used to suppress them, including falsely accusing Muslims of slaughtering cows, accusations which seem justified by the way Muslims sometimes converted just to escape their lower caste and thus subvert the order of things created by reincarnation.

If the advantage of conservatives is that they refuse to second-guess moral judgments that "everybody knows" are right, while liberals go out on the limb of enunciating more sustainable principles using reason, I'm going to be even more confirmed in my liberalism.



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Post Re: Ch. 7: The Moral Foundation of Politics
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
He has already made the point that WEIRD morality relies mostly on Care and Fairness. This reliance can lead to us WEIRDos trying to deny the urging of a dominant, irrational sense that something about an action just is not right, that it is repugnant. The extreme case is represented by the murder/suicide pact described in gory detail on p. 146. Not to say that what occurred between these two men--although consensual and not harming anyone else--is wrong seems blatantly morally wrong, indeed a violation of a sacred principle. Restricting moral judgment to Care and Fairness results in moral dumbfounding when an individual confronts such a violation of the Sanctity module.
Well, actually, there is harm involved and Haidt has to resort to Mill's "autonomy framework" to argue that liberals don't get the violation of Sanctity. What he sweeps under the rug is the question of whether sanctity is a standard that needs to be enforced by law and courts. The means of pursuing Sanctity may have primitive appeals as motivation, but it is still subject to evaluation. Maybe shunning and expressions of disgust are sufficient "enforcement" of violations of sanctity. This gets into theological issues of what "sanctity" "really means" as opposed to how it has been traditionally handled. Unless you are willing to grandfather in honor killings because they mean "sanctity" to someone, you have to accept some engagement with the question.

Agreed that there is harm involved in the German example, and Haidt isn't that clear on whether he saw real-world examples of people saying that this wasn't wrong because of its consensuality. The law did find that it was wrong; "most people" feel that such a thing should be against the law, Haidt says. Haidt is vague on whether he did run this scenario by the Penn students. So who was morally dumbfounded isn't clear.

I suspect that Haidt might have a comment on "subject to evaluation." Could that rider activity itself be something culturally produced, yes, a part of WEIRD outlook? Will cultures low on individuality and high on authority see to it that evaluation is discouraged? Unreflecting adherence to cultural norms sounds bad to us, but it's reflection that sometimes causes liberals to rule against their feelings. Haidt cites Leon Kass as someone who defends the elephant's wisdom, which includes the "wisdom of repugnance." How far to go in penalizing violations of sanctity causes a lot of political discussion.

Haidt doesn't get into whether his moral foundations may arrange hierarchically; they just come together into matrices that cast us as belonging to one cultural grouping or another. That's a little odd, since he lists Care and Fairness first and second. But because Haidt's research demonstrated that Care/Harm was universally important, it seems logical to call it the strongest moral base, and therefore to use it legitimately in evaluation of ideas/practices that cause physical or mental harm to individuals, as you've been advocating. Social harms are the fly in the ointment. Liberals highlight these less. It's fair to say that conservative cultures evaluate ours harshly because of the social harms we don't punish. Haidt uses the example of the cab driver who plans to plans to return to India because he doesn't want to raise his new-born son in a culture where the son might grow up to say "fuck you" to him.
Quote:
I am going to be reading the next chapter with an eye to Modi's India, where many Hindutva advocates are "true believers" that Dalits are reincarnated from base and vile people who abuse others. Sure, they have a cultural sense that Brahmins are infused with the divine but Dalits are so debased that they must not be touched or allowed to marry out of caste. So what? If we cannot apply acid tests of reason to such judgments then we start falling into the morass of accepting the vicious methods used to suppress them, including falsely accusing Muslims of slaughtering cows, accusations which seem justified by the way Muslims sometimes converted just to escape their lower caste and thus subvert the order of things created by reincarnation.

I suppose the question might be whether pressure should be brought to bear on Modi's govt., since some see him as subverting India's constitution invalidating caste. I wouldn't favor that, but I see the Care and Fairness foundations as unquestionably a basis for individual opposition to that system.
Quote:
If the advantage of conservatives is that they refuse to second-guess moral judgments that "everybody knows" are right, while liberals go out on the limb of enunciating more sustainable principles using reason, I'm going to be even more confirmed in my liberalism.

I will look at the next chapter again, and the comment you've already made, and see if I can figure out a conundrum.
I always associated refusing to condemn as more of a liberal attitude. But now I'm inclined to see the matter in terms of on which side the bread is buttered.



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Post Re: Ch. 7: The Moral Foundation of Politics
DWill wrote:
So who was morally dumbfounded isn't clear.

Haidt is very good at choosing examples. I am not sure it matters whether he has found actually dumbfounded people - we have all heard silly claims about how it doesn't matter whether someone beats their dog/squanders the environment/wastes their own money/speaks evil of their acquaintances behind their back, etc. "None of your business" is a go-to phrase in American life, and it is hardly limited to America. "It's a free country" works the same way. I recently read an opinion piece on how a mother was going to let her kids put in minimal time on education during the coronavirus lockdown. "Judge me all you want" was her version. It's how we push back against moral rules that we consider silly, or more about competition for esteem than about morality. And that pushback is part of the process.

The boundary lines of pushing and pushing back are how the rules get set. It wasn't so long ago that honor was the main way such rules were enforced, and an insult might call for a duel to settle it. It is still true that disrespect can set off violence, particularly among people who don't have much except respect to call their own.

Even so, I find myself repeatedly irritated by Haidt's treatment of morality as all-or-nothing. Yes, it often works that way, but WEIRD morality is bound up heavily with the effort to make distinctions of degree and not just of kind, and enforcement needs to be proportional to the seriousness. I suspect if I went digging in Hume I would find something very similar to that principle enunciated.

DWill wrote:
I suspect that Haidt might have a comment on "subject to evaluation." Could that rider activity itself be something culturally produced, yes, a part of WEIRD outlook? Will cultures low on individuality and high on authority see to it that evaluation is discouraged? Unreflecting adherence to cultural norms sounds bad to us, but it's reflection that sometimes causes liberals to rule against their feelings.
Well, that's one more dilemma. A meta-quandary, perhaps. Do we always go with our feelings, or do we adapt our culture to the problems we are actually trying to solve? Is the second idea too bloodless? Is the first idea too mindless? Or is it, as I suspect, something we have to work out on a case-by-case basis? I mean, isn't that why there are both liberals and conservatives, because the answer is not inevitable?
DWill wrote:
Social harms are the fly in the ointment. Liberals highlight these less. It's fair to say that conservative cultures evaluate ours harshly because of the social harms we don't punish. Haidt uses the example of the cab driver who plans to plans to return to India because he doesn't want to raise his new-born son in a culture where the son might grow up to say "fuck you" to him.

I always used the rule of explaining to my sons. If I couldn't explain the reason for a rule, I would think twice about whether it should be a rule. Very rarely did I resort to "How dare you?" or "That's just the way it is." It led to a lot of what the family came to refer to as "litigating" but we all share a deep sense that there are reasons for the way we do things. My father was quite the other way, and I am sure I reacted against him in doing things the way I do. But I have come to realize that he was frequently baffled by life's refusal to fit his simplicities, and that there was a certain amount of past trauma in his reaction to having his authority challenged.

Social harms are real. But we don't have to be absolute about "enforcing" rules concerning them. In fact, we now know that positive reinforcement is more effective at implanting values. "I will write my laws on their heart" should be the guiding principle of culture, and it works much better by creating common understanding than ever it could by punishing behavior deemed unacceptable.

Well, but what if someone is doing deeply anti-social things they think they have a right to, like hoarding hand sanitizer and refusing to sell it at a reasonable price? (Or buying up patents on insulin or Epi-pens just to extract profits?) Don't we need laws to enforce it? Well let's think.

Property is a legal structure. Might it make sense to have exceptions to property rules in such cases? Such as, maybe, that a person is free to hoard critical supplies but they can't count on the law to agree that they own them, so if someone starts helping themselves to the stock they can't count on the law to back up their hoarding? I would not really advocate anarchy as a solution, but thinking things through can guide us to some principles that would help explain why such behavior is unacceptable for being antisocial, and perhaps open a dialogue that would help them get on board with the rest of us. After all, their sense that property is "right" and they can "do whatever they want with their stuff" takes for granted some institutions that are there for a reason. Their simplistic moral intuitions just act as rationalizations for what they want to do, and the rest of us might to better to dialogue about them than to just enforce a law. And here I am back at the need to use reason when moral intuitions come into some sort of conflict.

DWill wrote:
I always associated refusing to condemn as more of a liberal attitude. But now I'm inclined to see the matter in terms of on which side the bread is buttered.
I am still of the opinion that Haidt has done good work and uncovered some aspects of morality that might have stayed hidden, at the level of intuition, if not for his work. That doesn't mean I have to agree with all the claims he makes in explaining what it means.



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