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What Is Your Moral Matrix? 
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Post What Is Your Moral Matrix?
At the risk of stereotyping all of you, I'd say with Jonathan Haidt that almost everyone logging onto booktalk.org will have the same moral matrix, so the question was a teaser. It's the one that all of the WEIRD world has, emphasizing the first two of Haidt's moral foundations, Care/harm and Fairness/cheating. The next three--Loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation--are little in evidence. He has data to back up his claim that WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic) also equates to liberal (if not exactly to republican and democratic in this country). WEIRD people (I know this gets obnoxious) believe that only what relates to issues of care and harm and to social justice should properly be called moral concerns. If no one is harmed by an action, we should not be condemning the action, as we don't have the right. If you believed that the brother and sister in the harmless taboo violation scenario should not be criticized for having sex, or that there was nothing wrong with the man bringing home a grocery store chicken every Friday to have sex with, you don't consider the sanctity/degradation foundation to be part of your moral matrix. In non-WEIRD countries, or with American evangelicals, sanctity/degradation is perhaps the most important foundation of all. There can really be no other reason for religious opposition to gay marriage than that it violates intuitions relating to disgust. That's the atheist view, at least.

An important point Haidt makes, though, is that righteousness is by no means the province of religious conservatives or fundamentalists. Liberals can be just as righteous as their opposites; it just takes excluding the other moral foundations from consideration of being valid. You wouldn't think to label Sam Harris righteous, but in The Moral Landscape he tells us that things like abortion and gay marriage aren't moral concerns; only what relates to the flourishing of human beings can be considered. Righteousness is holding your own moral matrix above all the others in the world.

Haidt himself had an interesting change after having lived in India for three months. He had discovered that the other moral foundations had only been dormant in him; he could now understand why societies had organized themselves around Sanctity, divinity, and authority. He liked these people despite the foreignness of their ways and could appreciate that they had made their own functioning society along very different moral lines than we in the West had. He quotes cultural psychologist Richard Shweder--"We are multiple from the start"-and calls it profoundly important for moral and political psychology. "Our minds have the potential to become righteous about many different concerns, and only a few of these concerns are activated during childhood. Other potential concerns are left undeveloped and unconnected to the web of shared meanings and values that become our adult moral matrix."

It appears to be much more common for people to find themselves becoming more conservative with age than changing from conservative to liberal. It's my personal opinion that what is happening is that we begin to see that the other foundations are needed for social cohesion, that morality is broader than we thought. Conservatives have always stressed the importance of keeping the social fabric intact, whereas liberals have tended to think that we can re-form ourselves easily and that therefore change can be pursued eagerly. Liberals also are more individualistic at heart, conservatives more collective, so change is seen as more potentially disrupting for conservatives.



Tue Jul 31, 2012 7:57 pm
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Post Re: What Is Your Moral Matrix?
I think the WEIRD category is fairly accurate for me, but it's interesting to consider some of the "no harm" scenarios that he put forward.

I don't think I'd want to say that sex with a dead chicken is morally wrong, but would I want to associate with someone who does this? Not really. Perhaps because it signals other potential deviant behaviors?



Tue Jul 31, 2012 8:21 pm
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Post Re: What Is Your Moral Matrix?
Dexter wrote:
I think the WEIRD category is fairly accurate for me, but it's interesting to consider some of the "no harm" scenarios that he put forward.

I don't think I'd want to say that sex with a dead chicken is morally wrong, but would I want to associate with someone who does this? Not really. Perhaps because it signals other potential deviant behaviors?

Haidt's point might be that we can't call the the sex-with-dead-chicken act wrong because we only see issues of care and fairness as part of a valid moral universe. He says that when we give such scenarios to non-WEIRD people, they look at us as though we're nuts--"why would you even even have to ask if that's wrong."



Last edited by DWill on Wed Aug 01, 2012 6:23 am, edited 1 time in total.



Wed Aug 01, 2012 6:22 am
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Post Re: What Is Your Moral Matrix?
Dexter wrote:
I think the WEIRD category is fairly accurate for me, but it's interesting to consider some of the "no harm" scenarios that he put forward.

I don't think I'd want to say that sex with a dead chicken is morally wrong, but would I want to associate with someone who does this? Not really. Perhaps because it signals other potential deviant behaviors?


My thoughts exactly.



Wed Aug 01, 2012 6:22 pm
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Post Re: What Is Your Moral Matrix?
Dexter wrote:
I don't think I'd want to say that sex with a dead chicken is morally wrong, but would I want to associate with someone who does this? Not really. Perhaps because it signals other potential deviant behaviors?


I agreed with you when I read this a few days ago Dexter, but now I think the reasoning needs to be expanded a bit. Well, I still agree, but there's something missing.

What do you mean "deviant"? That the person deviates from the norm? What about a person who eats maggots? Are they deviant also? Sex with a dead chicken is disgusting, but the flag it raises for me is sort of nebulous. I'm not sure how to put it into words any better than you have.

It's as though the person is able to "override" what should be a natural inhibition. We could say that this is an amoral act, but that's sort of cutting nature at the knees. There is something about overriding inhibitions that relates to morality.

Another example could be an empathetic inhibition, where you refrain from hurting someone because you "feel their pain". The inhibition is a mechanism central to morality.

I'm going to leave this thought dangling here.


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Wed Aug 01, 2012 7:43 pm
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Post Re: What Is Your Moral Matrix?
Interbane wrote:
I agreed with you when I read this a few days ago Dexter, but now I think the reasoning needs to be expanded a bit. Well, I still agree, but there's something missing.

What do you mean "deviant"? That the person deviates from the norm? What about a person who eats maggots? Are they deviant also? Sex with a dead chicken is disgusting, but the flag it raises for me is sort of nebulous. I'm not sure how to put it into words any better than you have.


I think you're quite right to be unable to pin it down completely, that is part of Haidt's point about all this. It's a good read if you haven't done so. As for "deviant" that is obviously fuzzy, I certainly don't want to imply that anything outside the norm is unacceptable. If you were to read the average person's thoughts, for example, I suspect you'd often find some very scary stuff. Imagine if you had the technology to do that -- I'm kind of glad I won't be alive for it (maybe).



Wed Aug 01, 2012 11:07 pm
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Post Re: What Is Your Moral Matrix?
If Haidt (and many others) are correct about the evolutionary origin of our morals, nearly every human being will have an intuitive aversion to hearing about the man having sex with a dead chicken. We'd find this to be true regardless of culture. The feeling of disgust had the function of diverting our early ancestors from contact with contaminated food or with putrefying things. So let's say that everyone does have this reaction, with 'everyone' meaning not every single human being, but very close, say 99.99%. The question for practical morality is what we do with this intuition. We can rationalize it or we can follow the lead of our elephant and condemn it, make religious commandments against it, maybe even make civil laws against it. 'Rationalize' isn't a bad word here; all it means is that we reflect on our intuition and decide what to do with it. We could be deciding about the value of condemning someone for a deviant (I think the word is appropriate) act or making penalties for such an act. The writer of the article that Dexter found made a related point-- that liberal-thinking people don't necessarily deny that some victimless acts are bad or disgusting, they just don't think they should legislate their emotion.

Is sex with a dead chicken (or a live one) morally wrong? For myself, I'd say yes, I feel it is. But if I pronounce it so, the implication is that I believe something should be done to root out the practice and perhaps to punish the deviator. I don't go that far in some cases, like this one.



Thu Aug 02, 2012 5:48 am
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Post Re: What Is Your Moral Matrix?
I took Haidt's quiz and was off the charts liberal. Is sex with a dead chicken any more repugnant than sex with a jar of vaseline or a blow up doll? I am way past the point of becoming more conservative, thankfully, and don't care what people do in private.
It has been my experience that Conservatives are much less open minded and willing to compromise than Liberals. This is currently very evident in the US Congress. I understand what Haidt is getting at with his thesis in trying to show that people of various ideologies need to work together, but I don't think that he's going to make much of an impression in the US political environment.



Thu Aug 02, 2012 11:07 am
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Post Re: What Is Your Moral Matrix?
lindad_amato wrote:
I took Haidt's quiz and was off the charts liberal. Is sex with a dead chicken any more repugnant than sex with a jar of vaseline or a blow up doll? I am way past the point of becoming more conservative, thankfully, and don't care what people do in private.

One of Haidt's main points is that morality is not something produced in our frontal lobes, but is more closely tied into our affective responses in the older parts of the brain. The question you asked about the equivalence of dead chicken sex and other forms of masturbation makes sense, but are you saying that you truly have no intuitive reaction of aversion to the chicken, as opposed to the more sanitized practices? Is your question a post hoc rationalization that covers up your first thought?

Haidt has a truly horrifying example of what two men did in private consensually. It's on page 146. While we might say anything done in private consensually is okay, I think this example shows there are limits for everybody.



Thu Aug 02, 2012 5:37 pm
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Post Re: What Is Your Moral Matrix?
DWill wrote:
lindad_amato wrote:
I took Haidt's quiz and was off the charts liberal. Is sex with a dead chicken any more repugnant than sex with a jar of vaseline or a blow up doll? I am way past the point of becoming more conservative, thankfully, and don't care what people do in private.

One of Haidt's main points is that morality is not something produced in our frontal lobes, but is more closely tied into our affective responses in the older parts of the brain. The question you asked about the equivalence of dead chicken sex and other forms of masturbation makes sense, but are you saying that you truly have no intuitive reaction of aversion to the chicken, as opposed to the more sanitized practices? Is your question a post hoc rationalization that covers up your first thought?

Haidt has a truly horrifying example of what two men did in private consensually. It's on page 146. While we might say anything done in private consensually is okay, I think this example shows there are limits for everybody.

I have spent quite of bit of time puzzling over this very interesting problem. For me the chicken story tips over the line because he eats the chicken after masturbating with it. I had been thinking along the lines as lindad, that once dead the chicken becomes an object and there are a lot of people out there using objects for the purpose of sexual gratification. Eating the chicken afterward is the point that it hits the contamination or impurity button and all I can think is there is something is wrong with this man (not that the choice of chicken doesn't suggest the same thing - just gets louder for me once he eats the chicken). I do think there are things that people do in private and consensually that are wrong and I would not want them to be culturally acceptable. Here is an example. I just visited a friend in NYC this past weekend. She has a set of 20 yr old twins in college in the city. We were talking about all the cultural dangers girls face and she told me that Columbia University (one of the girls is junior there) has an S&M club. How can this be? Here is a news story to verify:

S&M, nude parties rule at Columbia University

Douglas Feiden
New York Daily News
Dec. 3, 2006 12:00 AM

NEW YORK - Famed as a hotbed of debate over academic freedom, New York's most elite school is also a playpen for sexual high jinks.

While their parents shell out $33,246 a year in tuition, Columbia University students attend naked parties, flock to sex-toys workshops, broadcast porn on campus TV, bake anatomically correct pies for the "Erotic Cake-Baking Contest" and heat up the library steps in a mass makeout session.
And, of course, there's always the stimulating game Guess the Number of Condoms in the Jelly-Bean Jar.
advertisement

Others volunteer for the bullwhip at Conversio Virium, the university-sanctioned S&M club. It calls itself a "discussion group" that provides "education and peer support" and promotes "safe, sane and consensual play." But the club doesn't just talk.



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Thu Aug 02, 2012 7:20 pm
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Post Re: What Is Your Moral Matrix?
Do you think that "people like us" can be so used to thinking that we don't track very well our very first or intuitive reaction? Haidt and others would be wrong about the evolutionary origin of the sense of disgust (part of the sanctity/degradation foundation) if the basic sex with a dead chicken idea--without our doing any thinking or rationalizing--doesn't trigger a universal response (minus a few deviates) of at least mild revulsion. Is it at least yucky? That is enough to qualify as a moral response. What we say about it isn't, for Haidt, our true moral response, it's our press release of sorts, straight from our rider. That doesn't make it irrelevant or unimportant. We're just trying to understand what comes first and what is deepest.

Your example is a fine one. I think it indicates that we might be somewhat hampered if we restrict our moral matrix to just harm and fairness. We then seem to have no means of judging as you have judged this S & M club at Columbia. We'd have to say it's none of our business what shape society at large takes, unless harmful things are done to unwilling people or unless acts are illegal. That would seem to be the worst kind of apathy, not to care about whether our society is characterized by qualities such as dignity and moderation. But the fact is that I think that everyone does care, and very few really believe, or rather feel, that people should be left to do whatever they want as long as no one is harmed. But without our granting that other moral foundation areas can be valid, we are tongue-tied.

Haidt mentions an Islamic scholar who studied in the U.S. in the 40s (I can't find the passage). This scholar ended up being disgusted with some parts of our culture and returned to his country to continue writing. He believed that Western/American culture took pleasure in celebrating the lowest aspects of our nature instead of elevating it. He later became Osama bin Laden's favorite philosopher. I'm not talking about about justifying terrorism, but I think the repulsion that Muslims feel is in some respects justified.



Thu Aug 02, 2012 9:16 pm
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Post Re: What Is Your Moral Matrix?
DWill wrote:
Your example is a fine one. I think it indicates that we might be somewhat hampered if we restrict our moral matrix to just harm and fairness. We then seem to have no means of judging as you have judged this S & M club at Columbia. We'd have to say it's none of our business what shape society at large takes, unless harmful things are done to unwilling people or unless acts are illegal. That would seem to be the worst kind of apathy, not to care about whether our society is characterized by qualities such as dignity and moderation. But the fact is that I think that everyone does care, and very few really believe, or rather feel, that people should be left to do whatever they want as long as no one is harmed. But without our granting that other moral foundation areas can be valid, we are tongue-tied.


For me, this is as much about practicality as anything else (my rational brain at work). I see so much harm being done to people because of the excesses of our economic system, bad government policies or simply cruelty or meanness to fellow humans that I don't see the point of getting concerned about victimless activities.

As for those Columbia students. They won't be going up in flames on graduation. Like the graduates before them, they will be guiding governments, running businesses, taking care of our health and teaching our children.



Sat Aug 04, 2012 7:54 am
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Post Re: What Is Your Moral Matrix?
LevV wrote:
DWill wrote:
Your example is a fine one. I think it indicates that we might be somewhat hampered if we restrict our moral matrix to just harm and fairness. We then seem to have no means of judging as you have judged this S & M club at Columbia. We'd have to say it's none of our business what shape society at large takes, unless harmful things are done to unwilling people or unless acts are illegal. That would seem to be the worst kind of apathy, not to care about whether our society is characterized by qualities such as dignity and moderation. But the fact is that I think that everyone does care, and very few really believe, or rather feel, that people should be left to do whatever they want as long as no one is harmed. But without our granting that other moral foundation areas can be valid, we are tongue-tied.


For me, this is as much about practicality as anything else (my rational brain at work). I see so much harm being done to people because of the excesses of our economic system, bad government policies or simply cruelty or meanness to fellow humans that I don't see the point of getting concerned about victimless activities.

As for those Columbia students. They won't be going up in flames on graduation. Like the graduates before them, they will be guiding governments, running businesses, taking care of our health and teaching our children.

Thanks, LevV. I suspect you might be more liberal politically than I am (or maybe libertarian?). When I read about the S & M group, the brain modules that constitute the sanctity/degradation foundation were triggered for me. I'm not able to just not care about this kind of thing. I wouldn't mount a campaign to ban this Columbia group, but I do think it's a lot of foolishness, and to use a word that Jonathan Haidt thinks is very relevant to morality, in very poor taste. You're probably right that these students will outgrow their exhibitionism. I have an idea to post separately on Haidt's Sanctity/degradation foundation, because it seems central to some of the current issues in the liberal-conservative divide.

Edit: I guess libertarian isn't a possibly for you, looking again at your list of harms.



Last edited by DWill on Sat Aug 04, 2012 4:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Sat Aug 04, 2012 4:21 pm
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Post Re: What Is Your Moral Matrix?
DWill wrote:
lindad_amato wrote:
I took Haidt's quiz and was off the charts liberal. Is sex with a dead chicken any more repugnant than sex with a jar of vaseline or a blow up doll? I am way past the point of becoming more conservative, thankfully, and don't care what people do in private.

One of Haidt's main points is that morality is not something produced in our frontal lobes, but is more closely tied into our affective responses in the older parts of the brain. The question you asked about the equivalence of dead chicken sex and other forms of masturbation makes sense, but are you saying that you truly have no intuitive reaction of aversion to the chicken, as opposed to the more sanitized practices? Is your question a post hoc rationalization that covers up your first thought?

Haidt has a truly horrifying example of what two men did in private consensually. It's on page 146. While we might say anything done in private consensually is okay, I think this example shows there are limits for everybody.


No, DWill, my question wasn't a post hoc cover-up. I truly believe that what consenting adults do in private is their own business, no matter what others think. I wasn't saying that I wouldn't personally find it repugnant, but that it doesn't matter as long as it's in private. I don't see that there is any difference on a scale of one to ten, as to what any given individual finds offensive. We all just should keep it private and not pass judgement on others.



Thu Aug 23, 2012 3:02 pm
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Post Re: What Is Your Moral Matrix?
I thought I ran the risk of offending you, and I'm sorry if I did. I think that what Haidt wanted to get at was whether people would let their personal, gut reactions to the scenarios stand by themselves, or instead claim that reason (or perhaps God) was ruling them, as if their gut reactions had nothing to do with the judgment they delivered. He didn't ask them to say whether they would allow people to do those things, or if the people had a right to do them. He was interested in whether they would put their instantaneous moral reactions out in the open, or massage these in some way that did cloak the primary feeling that came up. He tells us that those of us with WEIRD morality are much more likely to offer rationalizations of our gut reactions, while non-WEIRD people are more comfortable with going with the feeling. You seem now to offer a two-part response: yes, you feel repulsed by the scenarios, but no, you don't believe it's right to legislate your emotion. I don't think that's a rationalization. I admitted to a similar view toward sexual intercourse between males. I do find it repulsive if I think about the act, and I truly can't seem to help that. But if asked to sign a petition or vote against something to do with homosexuality, I won't do it.



Thu Aug 23, 2012 9:18 pm
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