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Morals Authority
January 22, 2010 2:43 PM   Subscribe

"What I want to do now is help both sides understand the other, so that policies can be made based on something more than misguided fear of what the other side is up to." Jonathan Haidt proposes a more civil form of politics based on his work in moral psychology.

"In a creative attempt to move beyond red-state/blue-state clichés, Haidt has created a framework that codifies mankind's multiplicity of moralities. His outline is simultaneously startling and reassuring — startling in its stark depiction of our differences, and reassuring in that it brings welcome clarity to an arena where murkiness of motivation often breeds contention."

More information on putting these ideas to work here, or take a little test to see where you fall.

...via utne.com, which recently published this as part of a series on post-pundit politics: Haidt previously on the blue here and here.
posted by jquinby (30 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
This only works if there is a widespread belief by people of all political persuasions that different opinions should also be allowed to exist. In my opinion, that belief is more popular with someone who identifies as socially liberal than someone who identifies as socially conservative.

Haidt comments that liberal thought prioritizes fairness over purity. For example, the ACLU, often referred to as a liberal organization, has defended the KKK's right to free speech. I would be thrilled to learn of a socially conservative organization that would advocate for the rights of a socially liberal cause.
posted by dubold at 3:23 PM on January 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


This only works if there is a widespread belief by people of all political persuasions that different opinions should also be allowed to exist.
It also only works if you assume that all issues can be resolved in a positive sum fashion. At a certain point, "fairness" and "purity" are going to collide, and improving "fairness" will reduce "purity."

Haidt's ideas do not so much create a situation where we can be more civil and make more progress. Rather, Haidt's ideas explain why certain issues won't be resolved in a civil fashion. Once you realize that both sides inhabit different moral universes, it becomes clear that problems aren't going to get solved by a calm dialog and negotiation in which everyone's interests are accounted for, resulting in a win-win for both sides.

Take the title of the linked-to FPP: "Liberals Aren’t Un-American. Conservatives Aren’t Ignorant." It's the liberal view that Conservatives are "ignorant," and that if they just had the right information, they'd come around to the liberal POV. The Conservatives' view of liberals is, while not accurate, is based in a more clear understanding of the (conservative) moral landscape: the conservatives in this formulation understand that the liberals have a different moral compass, while the liberals, in this formulation, think that conservatives have the same moral compass but just making a mistake based on incomplete information. So, here, the conservatives understand that there's a zero-sum game afoot while the liberals are convinced that there's a solution that will make everyone better off. Ironically, Haidt is himself falling victim to this problem, believing that the reason politics is so heated and divisive is because "we're too ignorant to understand that the other side has a different moral view, and that once we learn that, everyone will be better off." The problem is that once you understand that, you can see that there are incompatible interests that are in dispute.
posted by deanc at 3:44 PM on January 22, 2010 [11 favorites]


Well, there Ted Olson, "leading Republican litigator" joining forces to challenge Prop 8.
posted by canine epigram at 3:47 PM on January 22, 2010


This only works if there is a widespread belief by people of all political persuasions that different opinions should also be allowed to exist. In my opinion, that belief is more popular with someone who identifies as socially liberal

Have you seen Metafilter?
posted by jock@law at 3:55 PM on January 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


jock@law: believing an opinion should be allowed to exist is not the same as agreeing with the opinion.
posted by dubold at 4:02 PM on January 22, 2010


Grover Norquist, leading theorist of Conservatism:

"Bipartisanship is another name for date rape."

"We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals -- and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship."

"[Democrats] will only become acceptable once they are comfortable in their minority status. Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate."


It seems to have worked with Jonathan Haidt, at least.
posted by jamjam at 5:01 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ironically, Haidt is himself falling victim to this problem, believing that the reason politics is so heated and divisive is because "we're too ignorant to understand that the other side has a different moral view, and that once we learn that, everyone will be better off." The problem is that once you understand that, you can see that there are incompatible interests that are in dispute....

There's something of an ingrained assumption that Haidt's theories are going to be intriguing only to liberals, who won't however be able to use them to effect much change, while conservatives will say "nothing to see here, move along" and keep playing the same zero-sum game they always play. But you could say the same thing for most any analytical approach to human nature. In practice, though, as a classroom exponent, I think Haidt is able to reach a pretty wide range of folks. I was at the 2005 presentation referenced in the Utne piece, and what was most impressive there was what got left out of the article, namely the weight of all the empirical evidence of his various studies. For example, one of his experiments connected with moral emotions involved freezing a plastic cockroach in an ice cube, dropping the ice cube in a glass of water, fishing out the ice cube, and then seeing which subjects would be willing to drink from the glass. It's a good exercise for getting students to reflect on the roots of taboo-disgust and the power it has over behavior and judgment, and I'd be surprised if it has never caused any of his conservative students to realize that some of their own moral reactions share the same kinds of emotional origins.
posted by Creosote at 5:04 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm going to subtitle this article: Listen guys, can't we all just get along (even if US Conservative policies cause remarkable pain to everyone they touch)?
posted by TypographicalError at 5:14 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


The soft-spoken psychologist is acutely annoyed by certain smug slogans that adorn the cars of fellow liberals: “Support our troops—bring them home” and “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”

“No conservative reads those bumper stickers and thinks, ‘Hmm . . . so liberals are patriotic!’” he says, in a sarcastic tone of voice that jarringly contrasts with his usual subdued sincerity. “We liberals are universalists and humanists; it’s not part of our morality to highly value nations. So to claim dissent is patriotic—or that we’re supporting the troops, when in fact we’re opposing the war—is disingenuous.

“It just pisses people off.”


Lost me at the beginning.
(a) As if bumper stickers are meant to convert people of the opposing viewpoint.
(b) Dissent may not be the highest form of patriotism, but if you feel your country is going the wrong way, then yes, it's patriotic to dissent. The bumper sticker may be overwrought, but it's not disingenuous.
(c) He seems to think that because liberals are "universalists and humanists" they can't be patriotic. Your country is where you live, where you vote, where you speak the language; it's where you can have an effect in politics. You can love and hope to contribute to your country even while valuing something like the U.N. more than, say, John Bolton does.
(d) We weren't supporting the troops, we were just opposing the war? Really? It's hard to know where to start on this one, but I imagine most readers can fill in the blanks.

I'm not generally a fan of dumping on an FPP, and in fact I'm not trying to dump on this one -- nothing wrong with some interesting and provocative links. But I'm not impressed by the quality of this guy's thought, even if his goal is a noble one (and yes, I did read more than the first few sentences of the first link).
posted by uosuaq at 6:11 PM on January 22, 2010


Tell me again how my fears of the policies of Dick Cheney were "misguided"?
posted by Relay at 6:14 PM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Remember in the original TV series V, when this naive priest goes up to the visitors mothership carrying a Bible, because if he could just convince the Visitors that they and humans could live together in enlightened, moral self-respect that everything would turn out okay?

And the result was that the lizard people ate him?
posted by gimonca at 6:40 PM on January 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure if the five moral areas that Haidt is describing appropriately explain the "government bad" thinking that seems to be the foundation of US conservative politics.
posted by Edward L at 7:17 PM on January 22, 2010


jock@law: Have you seen Metafilter?

Oh, yeah, I've seen it. And I could cite a list of MeTa threads to illustrate, just from the few months I've been here. But, in all fairness, even though most MeFites are liberal, liberal intolerance is a minority view here, albeit a very vocal one.

I also think it a mistake to assume that the most vocal and intolerant, and therefore most salient, conservatives represent the views of most conservatives. And it's worth remembering that most people don't identify themselves as liberals or conservatives.

I'll go read the links now.
posted by nangar at 8:26 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just saw a presentation on Nonviolent Communication, & its application to fostering discussion online. It has the goals:
1. To observe without evaluation, judgment, or analysis,
2. To express feelings which these observations evoke,
3. To express needs connected with these feelings,
4. (optional) To make a specific request of another person to help meet an unmet need, and to enrich life of everyone involved. Essential in this is that the other person is to be left free to honour or decline the request.
It tries to avoid (even the appearance of) guilt-tripping people & other tangents & triggers. It might help cool off flamewars, help remember good faith, & fill in the gaps of non-face-to-face communication.
posted by Pronoiac at 4:10 AM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


"...so that policies can be made based on something more than misguided fear of what the other side is up to."

They already are.

Policies are based on intentionally false and misleading claims, with the goal of making the other side lose.
posted by markkraft at 5:54 AM on January 23, 2010


I'm not sure if the five moral areas that Haidt is describing appropriately explain the "government bad" thinking that seems to be the foundation of US conservative politics.

Um, actually it's the foundation of the US itself.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:07 AM on January 23, 2010


Thanks for putting this post together, jquinby, there's a lot of interesting stuff here. I'm still reading it.

By the way, having read some of it, I take back what I said about "most people don't identify themselves as liberals or conservatives." Non-identifiers don't out-number conservatives anymore. I should have just said "a lot of us don't."
posted by nangar at 8:57 AM on January 23, 2010


Thank you for this excellent post, jquinby.
posted by lohmannn at 10:15 AM on January 23, 2010


ZenMasterThis, this doesn't sound like "government bad":

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The US was not founded by anarchists.
posted by Edward L at 10:16 AM on January 23, 2010


Thanks for posting this. My whole family (siblings & parents) have been moving steadily right-ward for years, and as a liberal guy I struggle to understand them -- and, indeed, to interact with them on any level deeper than "hello", "nice weather", "how are the kids?", etc.

Just today here's my sister's facebook status:
I saw on the internet that Haiti is without a government. To help out, I am donating one Obama, one Pelosi, one Reid, one Frank, and two Clintons! They may keep them permanently! I'd give them a constitution; but I can't find mine right now! (Can I write them off my taxes?)
...and earlier this week:
TIME TO SHOW THE WORLD THAT MORE OF US SUPPORT OUR TROOPS THAN DON'T!!! IF YOU SUPPORT OUR TROOPS THEN PLEASE POST THIS ON YOUR STATUS AND LEAVE IT THERE FOR ONE HOUR!! AND IF YOU DON'T STAND BEHIND OUR TROOPS, THEN PLEASE FEEL FREE TO STAND IN FRONT OF THEM!! :)
I realize these are just forwarded blurb-memes, but I really don't know what to do with them besides shake my head, try to ignore them, and try to be an example of a Good Liberal.
posted by LordSludge at 11:59 AM on January 23, 2010


Let's not forget Jonathan Haidt's groundbreaking work on the morality of having sex with supermarket-purchased chickens.
posted by svenx at 12:07 PM on January 23, 2010


Why is it, why is it, WHY IS IT that every goddamn time somebody starts in with "liberals and conservatives just need to understand each other," it's always we liberals that have to do the compromising?
posted by Afroblanco at 12:15 PM on January 23, 2010


Well, there Ted Olson, "leading Republican litigator" joining forces to challenge Prop 8.

Frankly, it remains to be seen if he is a Republican trojan horse.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:28 PM on January 23, 2010


Afroblanco, if it makes you feel any better I hear the same sentiment in some conservative circles.

I thought that this was a fairly interesting set of ideas, worthy of sharing. I have been disenchanted with the Right for some time now, but don't really feel that I'd have a home on the Left for various reasons. Maybe it's just age, but many of my opinions have mellowed considerably over time, and if it wouldn't considered too much of a public suck-up, I'd submit that a couple of years on MeFi has had something to do with that.

Re-thinking the ways we interact, particularly in the areas where there are considerable differences - maybe even transcendent ones - is a worthwhile venture. A friend of mine who is also an Orthodox priest charged with starting a new parish (and dealing all of the drama attending to such things) told me something along these lines: Community is messy. If you exclude the messiness, you're constructing your own community which will ultimate be nothing more than a reflection of yourself. At best it will simulate true community but you may end up very much alone. You deal with the messiness by starting with respect of the person due to them by virtue of their humanity.

There are issues for every group that are going to be non-negotiable. I understand that; I think we all do. What's left (and there's plenty) can be common cause; the rest is worth respectful and civil discourse. The kind of bullshit that LordSludge mentions above is exactly the sort of stuff that continues to drive me away.

Anyway, I'm starting to ramble and the kids want to fly kites. I'll check in again later.
posted by jquinby at 1:36 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The US was not founded by anarchists.

No, it wasn't.

It was, however, founded by men who believed based on first-hand experience that government must have explicitly-defined constraints to keep it from going bad.

Skip down a bit in that same document and check out the section titled "Bill of Rights." You'll find the phrase "Congress shall make no law..." comes up a lot.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:36 PM on January 23, 2010


I dig what you're saying, jquinby, and for that matter, I actually agree with a lot of what Haidt has to say.

I guess what troubles me the most is that the US has moved rightward politically (if not culturally) quite a bit within my lifetime -- and I'm only 31! I see the left constantly losing ground, all in the name of "maybe if we just hear them out and compromise, they'll be more likely to see us halfway." But that doesn't ever seem to happen. We give an inch, they take a mile.

And still, AND STILL, the conservatives play the "aggrieved party" card. This was especially irritating during the Bush years, when the Right was getting everything they wanted and then some. Regardless, they continued to act as if their entire culture and way-of-life was under attack. And while I realize that Haidt's theory accounts for this, it's still ABSOLUTELY BAFFLING to us on the left.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:27 PM on January 23, 2010


I don't think conservatives are playing the "aggrieved party" card. I think conservatives actually do think "their entire culture and way of life is under attack." A lot of conservative rhetoric is BS, but that isn't - they really do feel that way.

After reading John Jost's article (linked to here), I'm wondering if the increased percentage of Americans identifying themselves as conservatives isn't simply a response to rapid change (not just social and political, but economic and technological).

Even when their own party is in power, things are still changing, it's still scary, and they still feel under attack. (Jost sees conservative thinking as rooted pretty strongly in a desire for order and authority in response to fear.)

I'll have to mull over this more, and Haidt and co. have a lot analysis I haven't even read yet.
posted by nangar at 3:43 PM on January 23, 2010


Agreed ZenMasterThis, and the founding fathers disagreed over the extent of those limitations, just as we do now. However, I think that many in today's conservative movement think the government is somehow a burden on our society, rather than one of the parts that makes our society good. There's a difference between government can be bad, and liberty must be protected from it, and government is bad and should stay out of our lives.

If we are doing it right, it's of the people, by the people, for the people - so the government is us.
posted by Edward L at 6:57 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Indeed; if we are doing it right.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:28 PM on January 23, 2010


Let's not forget Jonathan Haidt's groundbreaking work on the morality of having sex with supermarket-purchased chickens.

Household discussion of this particular gedankenexperiment just devolved into "Well, it doesn't really say if the guy's washing the chicken afterwards. There might be some kind of Cooking With Cum thing goin' on for all I know."

MetaFilter: lowering the standard of discourse at Casa Fairytale since 2004.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:13 AM on January 24, 2010


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