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Where Microaggressions Really Come From

Jonathan Haidt recently blogged a summary of what he calls a:

most extraordinary paper by two sociologists — Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning — explaining why concerns about microaggressions have erupted on many American college campuses in just the past few years. In brief: We’re beginning a second transition of moral cultures. The first major transition happened in the 18th and 19th centuries when most Western societies moved away from cultures of honor (where people must earn honor and must therefore avenge insults on their own) to cultures of dignity in which people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it. They foreswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transgressions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means. There’s no more dueling.

Campbell and Manning describe how this culture of dignity is now giving way to a new culture of victimhood

Haidt’s summary reads like standard critiques of liberalism from Edmund Burke to Thomas Sowell.   The “culture of victimhood” is just a modern retelling of the liberal grand narrative of oppression of the weak by the powerful, and entitlement as compensation for injustice, that’s existed for more than two centuries. The tools and techniques used by that culture to work toward its ends have evolved along with society but other than that, and the fact that the paper Haidt summarizes comes from the liberal Tribal Moral Community of academic social science, there’s little about it that’s “beginning” or “new:”   WEIRD, narrow, single-minded focus on injustice and oppression, i.e., the liberal grand narrative and Social Justice Warriors. Check. Dependence on third parties, i.e., the government, to solve all problems. Check. Moral and financial dependence and the atrophy of self-reliance. Check. Campaigning for support, i.e., community organizing, i.e., “occupying”. Check. Dominance as deviance,. i.e., the one percent and hands up don’t shoot. Check. Social structure with ever increasing sensitivity to ever decreasing problems, i.e., the Overton window and/or the slippery slope of the entitlement mentality. Check. The evolution of moral culture from honor and dignity to victimhood, i.e., the conservative grand narrative about liberalism. Check.  Entitlement mentality? Identity politics? Culture of grievance? Do these phrases ring any bells?

A commenter named Doichin Cholakov on Haidt’s blog page observed “There is an excellent Pascal Bruckner book The Temptation of Innocence – Living in the Age of Entitlement, that traces the phenomenon of the modern fascination with victimhood back to the intellectual and biographical persona of Rousseau. It sort of puts the trend described here in a scary cultural context.

The mentality, the style of thought, the morality, described in Haidt’s summary has been around since the French Revolution.  Back then its tools were the cult of reason and the guillotine, now it uses micro aggressions, trigger warnings, and the legal system. But the thought process behind it and the goals it seeks have been consistent for more than two hundred twenty five years.

Do people really not understand that you get the behaviors you incentivize, or at least don’t discourage? Do they really not see that the instant you start giving special dispensations, positive liberty, to so-called victim groups or historically oppressed or whatever the heck the buzzwords are, that people will naturally and automatically compete for the title of most aggrieved?  Are they that blind? How is that even possible? Especially for the self-proclaimed morality of compassion and empathy for the human condition!

Do people really need sociologist to tell them “Where micro aggressions really come from“? Do they really not see that they’re the direct and practically inevitable consequence of the one-foundation morality of “care”? Also known as the the unconstrained vision? And correlated with Rationalism in Politics and with Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Expanded Edition? And also with the rationalist delusion, also known roughly as a type of thinking called Logos?

If so then the problem of flatland/spaceland – illustrated by my Venn diagram of the moral foundations, and described by my analogy of social colorblindness – is WAY worse than even I thought it was.
This problem is the elephant in the room that facts and evidence and reason and the scientific process prove is there – and that liberalism exists in denial or ignorance of – that we’re going to have to talk about and address if the human animal is ever going to have any chance at all of fully understanding itself, and through that understanding finding common ground, and from that common ground possibly answering “Yes” to Rodney King’s question, “Can we all get along?”

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Quotes I Like:

The irony is that it has taken a century for sociologists like Haidt, et al, to only begin to understand what the Founders already knew and applied so well in their statecraft. The Founders were haunted by the long history of brittle Republics of the past as chronicled by the likes of Livy and Tacitus. Indeed, if you were to read Haidt’s text then venture to read Madison’s Federalist 10 you would realize there is very little that Haidt learned in his extensive sociological studies that the Founders didn’t already divine from their deep reading of history.

From Black Lives Matter, Donald Trump, and the Perils of Unexamined Political Rage by ForeFare Davis, August 20, 2015

Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Moral Foundations

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An Interpretation of Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory

This sidebar lists a series of posts which together make up an essay relating Moral Foundations Theory to today's politics, and even a little history, as viewed through The Independent Whig's six-foundation moral lens.


Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Moral Foundations


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