Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Based on the latest thought about groupish bahavior from Jonathan Haidt, which in turn is founded in theories of group selection by people like David Sloan Wilson, we now know that John Lennon’s “Imagine” is an impossibility. It’s a fantasay that flies in the face of how the human psyche actually works.
If we really want to make the world a better place then we need a new version of “Imagine;” one which is coincident with human nature, rather than a direct contradiction of it. I offer at the end of this note a new “Imagine,” in every-day prose rather than in poetic verse, that I think, if we could find a way to make it happen, could be just that.
In a previous post I detailed how I thought Liberal Dominance in Academia Hurts America. That post was prompted by a comment left in response to a piece by Jonathan Haidt on the web site for his book, The Righteous Mind, in which professor H. E. Baber, professor of psychology at the University of San Diego said the following:
I’m a liberal, one of your WEIRDs, and an academic. But I have nothing but hatred and contempt for working class Americans and members of non-Western cultures. And, c’mon Haidt: don’t you think that if these people get some education and financial security, they’ll become as WEIRD is us? The 6-dimension moral structure you describe is a defect—the illusion of stupid, unreflected, uneducated people. Our aim should be to dismantle their detestable s*** cultures, to make everyone WEIRD!
Ms. Baber later retracted her statement and replaced it with one that has a milder tone. Ms. Baber deserves kudos for realizing the egregiousness or her original comment, and she deserves some respect for attempting to mend her ways by restating her position in more palatable terms.
But in the end, the horse is gone, and her attempt to close the barn door strikes me as too little too late. We already know who she really is.
But she’s just one person, and I’ll never meet her, and my kids will never have her as a teacher (they went to different colleges) so what’s the big deal?
The big deal, and my larger point here, is that the three-foundation morality and the thinking which results from it as illustrated by Ms. Baber (though the thinking is not always as extremist) and Mr. Lennon has a practical monopoly on what we see in the news, in our entertainment, and in academia. It controls not only the selection of WHAT we see in those places but also how it is presented, how it is emphasized, and how it is spun. The tribal moral community Dr. Haidt talked about in his Post Partisan talk is much wider and deeper than what he presented there.
Our culture swims in the sea of liberalism, and even the hint that there’s more than just a sea where liberal fish live but there’s also land and air where conservative mammals live as well, often sends the fish into a tizzy. They see it, as Ms. Baber does, as a source of death and destruction that must be removed from the face of the planet. And it has been this way for a long time.
For generations the news media has been dominated by the world view of the left. The ABC, CBS, and NBC, from back in the day when they, plus a local independent which showed the local pro teams, were all the channels that were available were little different in their world view than modern day outlets that are know to lean solidly to the left like MSNBC and the New York Times. We all know, for example, that Cronkite was liberal. When news organizations are populated almost exclusively by liberal fish, how does bias NOT creep in to the message?
Look what happens as a result. The dominant culture is so far to the left that from its perspective the balanced center – that is, the morality of all the foundations in equal balance – is often accused by it to be on the extremist right. For evidence of this one need look no further than Fox News. One, news outfit, ONE, dares to tell and interpret the story of the day’s events through the lens that perceives with, and the cognitive process that employs, ALL the foundations in equal balance, and it is demonized and vilified by the dominant culture, and people from that culture actively try to shut it down, force it off the air. Talk about Orwellian-style thought control! And all in the name of “care,” “fairness,” openness to new ideas, and “diversity.” How ironic.
And that’s just the news. Don’t forget, this also happens in the entertainment industry, and in academia. How can a one-sided understanding of the world NOT creep in to the collective psyche of western culture?
Imagine if things were the other way around. Imagine if, for generations, ALL of human nature were reflected in our entertainment, our news, and in academia, and not just half of human nature. Imagine if the culture, as a whole – liberal water AND conservative air – were understood equally well by the fish AND by the mammals, and we weren’t plodding along making policy decisions based on the fallacies and half truths of liberalism like those illustrated so well by the “comforting delusion” Dr. Haidt described in his 2008 TED talk.
A New “Imagine”
Imagine if people everywhere understood Moral Foundations Theory. Imagine if everyone knew what morality really is, and where it comes from. Imagine if people were aware of intuitive primacy but not dictatorship, and of the rider and the elephant. (The ignorance of intuitive primacy and the faith in reason which follows from that ignorance is, by itself, in my humble opinion, possibly the greatest single root cause for the political divide. Imagine rather than that ignorance there were awareness. The mind reels at how much better things might be.) Imagine if everyone understood that people who believe differently from themselves are not crazy, or stupid, or evil. Imagine if the fables and bedtime stories we read our children incorporated all the foundations. Imagine, eventually, by the end of their academic careers, the literature our children read in their English classes told stories from all the moral perspectives. Imagine that our children were required to write book reports and analyses that showed which foundations were used in stories, how they were used, how the characters responded to them, and what, if any, was the overall message of the story; which morality it supported, and how did it did so. Imagine if history professors required the same type of analyses of past events and societies. Imagine if economics professors required analyses of different economic theories from the perspective of moral foundations. Imagine if civics classes detailed “The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives,” and how those roots are reflected in the hot issues of the day, and in local and national elections and campaigns. Imagine if health class helped our kids understand how the natural human instinct to circle the wagons around sacred values can make it so hard for everyone to get along, and the moral intuitions from which those values grow.
In other words, imagine if the dominant culture actually understood all of human nature and how that nature is reflected in everything we think and say and do – and have thought and said and done – rather than just half of human nature as it mostly currently does?
If we really want to reduce demonization and shrink the political divide, then that’s the world we have to work to create.