Sunday, April 8, 2012

Analyzing the Culture Wars

Jonathan Haidt is a researcher in the field of psychological foundations of morality. He has contribute immensely to my understanding of why the left and right seem to be talking past each other in the culture wars and political debate. Haidt calls out six foundations of morality:
1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]
3) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.
4) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."
5) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
6) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

The essence of his argument is that the left puts such great emphasis on the Care, Fairness and Liberty foundations that they have cannot understand arguments from the Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity dimensions. In my opinion, not necessarily Haidt's, the Liberty foundation isn't all that strong in leftist thinking either. However, if we are to persuade others not in our camp of the righteousness of our views, we need to be able to couch our arguments in language that they can understand. So an article intended to persuade regarding Obamacare would emphasize how the bill fails to help those it claims to help and how there are better ways to care for those who lack health coverage.

Haidt is one of the most interesting writers on the left. Here are some links to his work or about him:

1 comment:

  1. It's much deeper, libs and regular folks are different at their core. There is research on this, essentially certain people produce higher levels of hormones that contribute to logic, order, rules, reason...while others produce higher levels of hormones that contribute to fantasy, feelings, creativity.

    When people disagree or is rarely over facts..what we argue over is that my facts are more important than your facts.

    Yes, abortion is killing an unborn future human, and yes, women should control their bodies...only we believe the right to life is a more important fact..while the other side thinks incorrectly thinks we're nuts.

    So what happens is..yes Obama has failed us, but he CARES about us. We say a big 'so what', they say it's important he feels our pain.

    Liberals, and sane people, are not such because of conscious choices, but of design. A liberal can no more help being a liberal than a whale can help being a whale.

    Professions requiring order do not attract libs..math, science, police, military, engineers. Professions requiring creativity are less likely to attract, software design, lawyers, journalism, actors, songwriters..precisely because one cannot be comfortable wearing another man's clothes.