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Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality 
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Post Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality



Fri Jun 22, 2012 12:23 am
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Post Re: Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
I would highly recommend reading this chapter, even it's the only one you read in the book. Haidt shows us that, indeed, there is more to morality than concerns about harm and fairness for much of the world. In fact, he says that we in the U.S. are outliers on the morality scale, with our extreme form of belief in the autonomy of the individual. It's important to say that Haidt is looking at the subject descriptively; he's merely showing that for more "socio-centric" societies (that is, the majority of world societies) "ethics of community and divinity" are enveloped into morality. He conveys this in the form of an interesting personal journey of his own, from a dedicated WEIRD moralist (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) to a pluralist, one who appreciates other ways of organizing the world, which is after all what morality does. A stay in India, one in which he was not insulated from the local culture but had to experience it closely, brought about his conversion. During his stay, and even after it when he had returned to the U.S., he experienced a sense of the benefits that could come from arranging the world in a seemingly arbitrary way based on custom and ritual. He tells us about the two "incompatible identities" he brought with him to India: "on the one hand, I was a 29-year-old liberal atheist with very definite views about right and wrong. On the other hand, I wanted to be like those open-minded anthropologists I had read so much about and had studied with...My first few weeks in Bhubaneswar were therefore filled with feelings of shock and dissonance...In short, I was immersed in a sex-segregated, hierarchically stratified religious society, and I was committed to understanding it on its own terms, not on mine."

Much else of interest in the chapter, too, such as the similarity between physiological disgust (rates in a trash can, e.g.) and moral disgust. Why do we not feel moral disgust toward bank robbers but do feel that way toward child pornographers?

The most important takeaway, according to Haidt: In terms of our moral make-up, "We are multiple from the start. Our minds have the potential to become righteous about many different concerns, and only a few of these concerns are activated during childhood." It's mostly about the culture we're raised in.



Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:02 am
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Post Re: Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
I thought his description of India was very interesting.

There seems to be a conflict (that's not really the right word) between evolutionary and cultural explanations. He's giving an evolutionary account, yet also showing how much culture matters (and that your views often change over your life). If you're saying we're wired for all those potential moralities, but only some are activated, is that just an unfalsifiable evolutionary explanation?

And as that review pointed out, even though he specifically says he is being descriptive, there is also something of a mingling between the is and ought statements.



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Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:49 am
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Post Re: Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
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Dexter:
If you're saying we're wired for all those potential moralities, but only some are activated, is that just an unfalsifiable evolutionary explanation?


What is meant by "wired" here?

I don't think that we are wired, or have a built in process that builds capitolism, communism, the caste system, or any particular cultural moral structure.

i do think we are wired to experience self preservation and extend that to others in the form of empathy. These are simple experiences which have been extrapolated upon to create a variety of social structures that codify moral conduct. I think there is an element of evolution at work, though not in the biological sense, in how these codified moral structures emerge and i don't think that the people of india were in any way pre-destined to have that particular moral structure.


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Post Re: Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
On page 131 Haidt pulls a definition of innateness from The Birth of the Mind by G. Marcus:

Nature provides a first draft, which experience then revises.... "Built-in" does not mean unmalleable; it means "organized in advance of experience."

He goes on to explain this in much detail in Ch 12. In may make sense to wait for more participants to read this chapter before getting into it in more detail.



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Post Re: Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
Dexter wrote:
I thought his description of India was very interesting.

There seems to be a conflict (that's not really the right word) between evolutionary and cultural explanations. He's giving an evolutionary account, yet also showing how much culture matters (and that your views often change over your life). If you're saying we're wired for all those potential moralities, but only some are activated, is that just an unfalsifiable evolutionary explanation?

And as that review pointed out, even though he specifically says he is being descriptive, there is also something of a mingling between the is and ought statements.

I thought the review said that if Haidt was being truly descriptive, he would recognize that Kant was working on the should angle of morality. That would tend to release Kant from the stigma of having his facts wrong, in Haidt's view. I thought, by the way, that the reviewer got it right when he said that Haidt is at his best when he's revealing to us aspects of human nature, and is at his worst when trying to be polemic. The polemic against the new atheists in Chap. 4 doesn't hit the mark, and the one against Bentham and Kant in Chap. 6, where he calls them autistic, doesn't either. Haidt doesn't seem to be cut out for polemics. Maybe his publisher or editor encouraged him to go for controversy to increase sales.



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Post Re: Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
Kind of picking up the conversation we were having about the last chapters, regarding using reason, we don't see much on reason here. That's probably because Haidt goes into the values, or moralities, of traditional, non-WEIRD, sociocentric cultures in which divinity, purity, and authority become important in one way or another. You just don't offer reasons for values like those; they just exist and you probably accept them out of a feeling that the whole community benefits, and probably you don't want the disapproval of violations, anyway. When the major moral concern is autonomy, with only the individual level needing to be recognized, reasons are readily employed to justify judgments of harm or unfairness.

It's a disorienting experience in India Haidt describes. He says he could only have had it by living with Indians for an extended period, having to accommodate himself to their customs. The result of his stay in Bhubaneswar was that he became less of a liberal, but in a sense more liberal, in accepting moral frameworks very different from the one he had always before lived within. He realizes that we all have the receptors for different moral tastes (as he will later term them); it's our particular cultural experience that determines which of them become "activated."

So cultural/moral relativism is something the woke, anthropologically literate person will be espousing. Relativism might not be something a person bound by a particular morality can easily see, though. Morality binds and blinds, as Haidt will also say later.



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Post Re: Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
DWill wrote:
. . .It's a disorienting experience in India Haidt describes. He says he could only have had it by living with Indians for an extended period, having to accommodate himself to their customs. The result of his stay in Bhubaneswar was that he became less of a liberal, but in a sense more liberal, in accepting moral frameworks very different from the one he had always before lived within.

Haidt even offers a few general suggestion for expanding one's worldview into other moral realms. If you're a liberal, for example . . .

Quote:
. . . when you travel, or become a parent, or perhaps just read a good novel about a traditional society, you might find some other moral intuitions latent within yourself. You might find yourself responding to dilemmas involving authority, sexuality, or the human body in ways that are hard to explain.


Or if you're a conservative . . .

Quote:
. . . if you then face discrimination yourself (as conservatives and Christians sometimes do in the academic world), or if you simply listen to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, you may find a new resonance in moral arguments about oppression and equality.


I have read that reading literature makes us more empathetic—in Haidt;s view, help us fit into other moral matrices besides the ones we're used to—although obviously living in another culture would be far more encompassing.

I believe the main point of this section is: there's more to morality than harm and fairness. Haidt does a pretty good job informing us about what moral diversity really is before trying to convert us, as he was converted, (to a more understanding and less judgmental state).

It's probably pretty obvious that I've struggled with having Trump as our president. I struggle to understand why people support him, though it probably helps that there are a few Trump supporters in my family. My father was one, before he passed away last year. And my mother-in-law is as well. I think reading this book will help me understand what has often baffled me in the past. Indeed, I think it already has.


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Post Re: Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
geo wrote:
It's probably pretty obvious that I've struggled with having Trump as our president. I struggle to understand why people support him, though it probably helps that there are a few Trump supporters in my family. My father was one, before he passed away last year. And my mother-in-law is as well. I think reading this book will help me understand what has often baffled me in the past. Indeed, I think it already has.

I'm sorry to hear of your father's death. geo.
He, Trump, might be the acid test of empathy, I agree. I don't have close family who are in Trump's column, even though we suspect our new son-in-law (!). My mother has always been the least likely person I've know to be critical of people. When she says, "I can't find a single good thing to say about Trump," I have to wonder if there's not something objectively right about her opinion. Yet it's true that her experience has no similarity with that of the average Trump supporter, so what does she, or I, really know about what drives people to such loyalties? I like some people who support Trump. Of course, we avoid politics.



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Post Re: Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
DWill wrote:
. . . .what drives people to such loyalties? I like some people who support Trump. Of course, we avoid politics.


I wonder what moral foundations, if any, are triggered by Trump's political messages. What does Make America Great Again mean in terms of Haidt's theory? The commonality seems to be a collective loathing of liberals and Hillary Clinton, in particular. It seems driven by us-versus-them. Trump has called Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, an “enemy” of America. It seems primarily a connection to the loyalty/betrayal foundation.


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Post Re: Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
geo wrote:
DWill wrote:
. . . .what drives people to such loyalties? I like some people who support Trump. Of course, we avoid politics.


I wonder what moral foundations, if any, are triggered by Trump's political messages. What does Make America Great Again mean in terms of Haidt's theory? The commonality seems to be a collective loathing of liberals and Hillary Clinton, in particular. It seems driven by us-versus-them. Trump has called Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, an “enemy” of America. It seems primarily a connection to the loyalty/betrayal foundation.

Could another possibility be Sanctity/Degradation? That Trump himself is triggered by filthy, disease-bearing, and criminal people he thinks are invading the country is unmistakable. It's as though his germphobia extends to people of certain "shithole" countries; and it's not even unlikely that dark skin contributes to his visceral dislike. What kind of America is being harkened back to with MAGA? At least part of the appeal is the image a whiter America and thus a purer America.

I was surprised that what I saw as a tired old slogan--MAGA--had so much traction. After all, it implies that America isn't great now. That doesn't seem patriotic. But after Trump's "American Carnage" inaugural speech, it was clear that he was holding responsible all the political elites (foreshadowing the deep state) for some unspecified crimes against the nation. Perhaps the key in Trump's mind was that America wasn't a winner anymore, had been shorn of its power by internationalists who wanted the U.S. to fit in more than dominate. Steve Bannon, who was in Trump's ear at this time, wrote the speech along with immigrant hater Stephen Miller.



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Post Re: Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
DWill wrote:
. . . Could another possibility be Sanctity/Degradation? That Trump himself is triggered by filthy, disease-bearing, and criminal people he thinks are invading the country is unmistakable. It's as though his germphobia extends to people of certain "shithole" countries; and it's not even unlikely that dark skin contributes to his visceral dislike. What kind of America is being harkened back to with MAGA? At least part of the appeal is the image a whiter America and thus a purer America.


It just occurred to me that the anti-vaxxer movement may touch upon Sanctity/Degradation as well. I can imagine a visceral feeling of disgust at having a needle inserted into your child's arm. Obviously there's a genuine fear of Big Government too, although that might just be a fabrication by the anti-vaxxer elephant drivers. Just a thought in passing.


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Post Re: Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
geo wrote:
DWill wrote:
. . . Could another possibility be Sanctity/Degradation? That Trump himself is triggered by filthy, disease-bearing, and criminal people he thinks are invading the country is unmistakable. It's as though his germphobia extends to people of certain "shithole" countries; and it's not even unlikely that dark skin contributes to his visceral dislike. What kind of America is being harkened back to with MAGA? At least part of the appeal is the image a whiter America and thus a purer America.


It just occurred to me that the anti-vaxxer movement may touch upon Sanctity/Degradation as well. I can imagine a visceral feeling of disgust at having a needle inserted into your child's arm. Obviously there's a genuine fear of Big Government too, although that might just be a fabrication by the anti-vaxxer elephant drivers. Just a thought in passing.

Haidt mentions the fetishes (if that's the right word) that sophisticated people have about certain foods, and the repulsion they feel for other foods, based on unhealthfulness or maybe on unsustainability. That reaction probably is in line with Sanctity/Degradation, though "foodies" (I'm not making fun) might defend their views as completely rational. I'm the same way with some of my preferences and dislikes. I associate plastics with degradation, but paper bags make me feel virtuous.



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Post Re: Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
geo wrote:
Quote:
. . . when you travel, or become a parent, or perhaps just read a good novel about a traditional society, you might find some other moral intuitions latent within yourself. You might find yourself responding to dilemmas involving authority, sexuality, or the human body in ways that are hard to explain.


I believe the main point of this section is: there's more to morality than harm and fairness. Haidt does a pretty good job informing us about what moral diversity really is before trying to convert us, as he was converted, (to a more understanding and less judgmental state).


So, I think I have settled in on my main problem with this material. Haidt neglects a main line of thinking imposed by philosophical investigation, namely the difference between morality of ends (which purposes make society more liveable) and morality of means (what methods may we use to pursue our endorsed goals). As part of the psychology profession and its tendency to trust "raw data" about how the brain functions, such an abstract distinction is easy to dismiss. But in doing so he ends up essentially proposing that caste and the subjugation of women are "just different goals", more sociocentric rather than more individualistic.

Well, no. They are not just a result of awareness of authority that WEIRD people have somehow talked themselves out of. They are authority constructs, created for purposes and by deliberate actions, and the sociocentric goals they pursued are now outmoded and were morally suspect from the start. When WEIRD morality breaks down old structures, it does so on a reasoned basis, not because of an essentially arbitrary gut level "elephant" in the room. And if you are not willing to admit such reasoned arguments as data, then you bias a very important set of decisions about how we should live.

Some of the same issues arise with respect to purity and divinity. I am all for a sense that some ways of doing life are more elevated, and elevating, than others. As those who have read my comments know, I am a believer. But Jesus, whom I seek to follow, argued most forcefully about the means to be used, and gave us a sense of grace and inclusion to replace judgment and condemnation. So when I hear a discussion reduced to "dimensions of moral intuition" about which ways society should be, I have trouble having divinity put forward as a basis for judging and condemning people (think of honor killings, for example, or female genital mutilation) as if it is just a vital aspect of life that WEIRD people have lost any sense of. No, in fact it is a set of conventions that Jesus and Paul exposed as conventions in the interest of a truer sense of divinity. And reason has the power to give us such a perspective in a way that Haidt's raw data does not give us access to.

I think, in other words, that he is smuggling a lot of polemic arguments, as someone put it above, in under the guise of scientific analysis. And, since I appreciate much of his analysis and his message, I am also appreciating the chance to break down where it is that I find my dissatisfaction with this series of arguments.



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Post Re: Ch. 5: Beyond WEIRD Morality
Harry Marks wrote:
So, I think I have settled in on my main problem with this material. Haidt neglects a main line of thinking imposed by philosophical investigation, namely the difference between morality of ends (which purposes make society more liveable) and morality of means (what methods may we use to pursue our endorsed goals). As part of the psychology profession and its tendency to trust "raw data" about how the brain functions, such an abstract distinction is easy to dismiss. But in doing so he ends up essentially proposing that caste and the subjugation of women are "just different goals", more sociocentric rather than more individualistic.

Well, no. They are not just a result of awareness of authority that WEIRD people have somehow talked themselves out of. They are authority constructs, created for purposes and by deliberate actions, and the sociocentric goals they pursued are now outmoded and were morally suspect from the start. When WEIRD morality breaks down old structures, it does so on a reasoned basis, not because of an essentially arbitrary gut level "elephant" in the room. And if you are not willing to admit such reasoned arguments as data, then you bias a very important set of decisions about how we should live.

I think I mentioned at the start that if children independently apply reason to moral judgments about harm and fairness, as Haidt says they do, then there is justification for making the Care and Fairness foundations the ones that aren't constructed by culture. They are primary, in other words. We don't then need to censure our elephants when we feel our righteous minds rolling into action when confronting something like honor killing, dismemberment for crimes, FGM, and others. It does happen at some point to all cultures that despite our reasoned sense that harm and cheating are wrong, cultures still institutionalize violations of Care and Fairness (I'll skip the reasons for this). They basically brainwash everyone that these violations are necessary or, amazingly, even moral. Whether we are on the outside of such a situation looking in, or waking up to a situation in our midst (e.g., racial discrimination), it is debilitating to raise relativistic cautions.

For me, it's not that Haidt denies any of this; it's just that he is not interested in moral self-help for the individual. That fact is shown by the swerve to politics in Chapter 4. But you could also say that, at least to this point, he almost denigrates moral judgment entirely. He says we are all really Glaucons, out only for ourselves, a ruling that ignores our considerable conflicts between self-interest and what we know to be right. It's not only our valuing reputation that keeps us from being bad, cheating people. He puts down Kant's insistence on invariably following principle as a symptom of Asperger's syndrome, as though Kant's belief shows him lacking insight into the emotions that make exceptions to principle inevitable in real life.

I'd have to allow for another possibility, which is that Haidt only wants to demonstrate, through science, that people do moralize other aspects of life besides Care and Fairness. He thinks that our WEIRD worldview blinds us to that fact, and that we would not dismiss other cultural values as mere social conventions if we expanded our insight. And we'd understand why so many people look to politicians who reinforce other moral foundations like Authority and Sanctity. Such appeals aren't merely pandering.



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