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Conventional Wisdom, Recommendations


The real problem as I see it is that much of the squabbling between the left and the right over this or that policy or moral issue is based on a set of assumptions about what motivates us and how our minds work that is tilted decidedly to the left, and that we now know is seriously flawed. I think this set of incorrect presuppositions is the source of much of today’s conventional wisdom. I think this unwise conventional wisdom is what leads us to hive-damaging solutions, which often lead ultimately to harming, or at least failing to protect, the individuals within it.

The root cause of the unwise conventional wisdom is that we (generic we; society as a whole) have a very limited understanding of human nature, and what really makes people tick. We assume that we’re motivated mostly by rational decision making and choices (the rider, or “reason”), rather than by our instincts and intuitions (the elephant) as is really the case. We think that “reason” is objective, and logical, and its purpose is to find the truth, when it’s really extremely subjective and full of bias and shortsightedness, because its real purpose is to defend our instincts and intuitions, and to convince others to see the error of their ways, and to show them that WE are right. Many of us think that morality is about caring for each other, being fair with one another, and maximizing personal autonomy, when it’s really about much, much more than just that; it’s also about working together to form cooperative societies for the mutual benefit, security, and well being of every member of the society, and the suppression of some of our natural selfishness that is necessary in order to achieve that cooperation. Morality is not just about the bees, it’s about the bees AND the hive. And because many of us do not grasp the full spectrum of morality, we are left with no choice but to attribute views which do not agree with our own to some sort of mental or moral dysfunction, when in fact their basis is real and legitimate.  

The solution as I see it is less a matter of winning this year’s election, or battles over income inequality, or taxes, or immigration, or the economy, or the electoral college, or any other issue one could name, and more a matter of “Switch“ing or “Nudge“ing, or “Redirect”ing the playing field of our collective culture back to a realistic vision of and for the world; one that does a better job of perceiving and reacting to the full spectrum of human nature.  

Some serious “Mythbusting” of much of our unwise conventional wisdom will go a long way toward reducing the political divide, and setting us on a path that keeps us aimed a little more toward the Milwaukee Theme Park and a little less toward Pathological Altruism.     

I would be more confident that we, as a country and as a culture, would find better solutions in the decades ahead if we did a better job of “enculturating,” or reinforcing, all of the moral foundations with our education system instead of mostly the first three as we do today.

I think our best hope for diminishing the political divide is for us to understand the true nature of it.  And in order for us to understand the true nature of it, as a culture and as a society, we need a better understanding of human nature.

It’s a tall order, I know. It really will take decades. But I think, because of the work of Haidt and others, and the new understanding of human nature it has given us, it’s possible, and here’s how:

We need to include a module on Moral Foundations in every social studies, history, government, and even health and economics class in all the public middle schools and high schools in the country, and find ways to reinforce all of them in the elementary schools. I think that if, as a culture, we had a better appreciation of what really makes us tick (moral foundations), and why (natural selection), and how they help us to pull off your “greatest miracle” of creating cooperative societies (all six foundations in equal balance, or “all the tools in the tool box”) then better policies with less downside of the type you describe would result.

I’m not saying we need to “make” people more conservative. I think the basic human struggle between autonomy and community, or between individualizing and binding, will always exist; it’s a part of human nature. I don’t see that as a “problem” that needs to be “fixed.” What I am saying is that we could give ourselves a better chance of finding the proper balance in that struggle if we had a more realistic perception of it, and if we were all mindful of both sides of it, instead of so many of us looking at only one side as we do now.


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