I think The Asteroids Club, and more broadly Haidt’s Yin/Yang metaphor of the relationship between liberalism and conservatism scrupulously, though possibly not intentionally, avoid discussing the elephant in the room and strongly steer discussions toward liberal thought patterns and conclusions.
I made a suggestion on the Club’s web site for some reading materials about the Asteroid of Entitlement Spending. I included the following comment in my suggestion:
I propose that entitlement spending is the effect of a deeper cause. The deeper cause is the mentality behind notions such as “social justice” and “positive liberty” which are characteristic of the three-foundation morality of liberalism, which emphasizes the moral foundation of “care” above all others.
The response from the Club was as follows:
“We probably won’t look at the deeper causes/philosophical underpinning because our goal is to get people to agree on the factual nature of the asteroid coming toward us – that’s a big enough lift in the current political environment. Anyone having been told that broadly their philosophy is flawed becomes more defensive and less likely to listen.”
It is not my intention to disrupt the proceedings of The Asteroids Club. But upon reading that response and then thinking things through a little, I can’t help wondering…..
If not for the “deeper causes/philosophical underpinning[s]” then wouldn’t there be no such thing as “conservative” and “liberal” asteroids? Wouldn’t everyone see the same asteroids?
Isn’t the deeper cause/philosophical underpinning of an asteroid therefore the single most important aspect of its “factual nature?”
Isn’t the refusal to “look at the deeper causes/philosophical underpinning” of an asteroid the logical equivalent of refusing to look at a recent drought when considering the “factual nature” of dead grass; or refusing to look at the flame under a pot when considering the “factual nature” of the water boiling inside it?
In Liberals Think More Analytically (More “WEIRD”) than Conservatives Haidt (et al) observed that “liberals seem to prefer analytic reasoning more than conservatives,” tending to “see the world as made up of singular, distinct objects that can be separated from their context.” Whereas “social conservatives tended to be more holistic, spreading their attention to include more of the context and the relationships between items.(1)
Isn’t the refusal to “look at the deeper causes/philosophical underpinning because our goal is to get people to agree on the factual nature of the asteroid coming toward us,” an examplar of WEIRD thought in practice?
Doesn’t the refusal to “to look at the deeper causes/philosophical underpinning because our goal is to get people to agree on the factual nature of the asteroid”, effectively allow only WEIRD thought and eliminate by definition the possibility of discussing a world of relationships? Doesn’t it eliminate by definition any discussion about the holistic, emergent nature of the complex systems that moralities are, and the effect that nature has on society and the people in it?
Isn’t it true that strength of belief does not equate to strength of position? In other words, isn’t it true that the simple fact that two people (or two moralities) believe equally strongly in different things does not mean that those things, or those moralities, are equally valid?
Isn’t it also true that the fact that different moralities offer valuable insights does not mean that those moralities impart equal net benefit or cost to society?
Isn’t it therefore a logical fallacy to presume the opposite? Isn’t it a fallacy to presume that just because people or moralities see things differently but equally strongly, or that different moralities offer valid insights, that those moralities are, overall, equally beneficial to society in a Yin/Yang sort of way?
Isn’t that presumption moral relativism? Isn’t the presumption of moral relativism, therefore, a logical fallacy?
And yet, isn’t that exact presumption a prerequisite, a ” philosophical underpinning,” for The Asteroids Club motto, “I’ll help you deflect your asteroid if you’ll help me deflect mine?” And if it’s not, then why refuse to talk about the causes/philosophical underpinning of an asteroid?
Haven’t WEIRD thought and moral relativism been hallmarks of liberalism since the philosophes?
In “Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion” Haidt says, “The new atheists treat religions as sets of beliefs about the world, many of which are demonstrably false. Yet anthropologists and sociologists who study religion stress the role of ritual and community much more than of factual beliefs about the creation of the world or life after death.”
“If we want to stage a fair fight between religious and secular moralities, we can’t eliminate one by definition before the match begins.”
But isn’t The Asteroids Club doing exactly that? Doesn’t the club’s insistence on allowing only WEIRD thought and its presumption of moral relativism essentially eliminate non-liberal thought and morality from the conversation by definition before discussions about how to deflect asteroids even begins?
Doesn’t that make The Asteroids Club a Trojan horse for liberalism?
Doesn’t the deeper cause/philosophical underpinning of a person’s viewpoint act as the filter, perspective, and framework – the moral matrix, the moral lens – through which they perceive and react to the world of human sociality? Isn’t that, in fact, the root cause of why “the other side may see some real threats more clearly?”
Isn’t it equally possible that that filter can cloud one’s vision? Isn’t it equally possible that the other side may see real threats less clearly, or possibly not at all, or see threats that aren’t really there, or at least aren’t as dangerous as they’re perceived to be?
Isn’t that, in fact, the point of “morality binds and blinds?”
Isn’t it possible that a morality which perceives and thinks about the world with only half of the “evolved psychological mechanisms” that “make cooperative societies possible” might tend to see and understand only a portion of the “factual nature” of human sociality, or of human nature itself? Isn’t that, in actual fact, exactly what Haidt’s findings demonstrate?
Isn’t it also possible that, since one’s vision, one’s perception, is clouded in this way, that one’s reactions to that vision may be less effective than reactions based on a clearer, more complete, view, and may even be harmful?
Isn’t it possible that the “values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, beliefs, practices, traditions, customs, and especially the government policies, which result from a clouded, partial vision of human sociality might actually be the true root cause of an asteroid?
Isn’t it possible that the myopia of the morality of “care” and the “reason” of WEIRD thought may, in fact, be the root cause of some of today’s asteroids, just as it was the root cause of the “The Terror” and the genocide of the French Revolution, as Dr. Haidt described in his “When Compassion Leads to Sacrilege” talk at CCARE?
Isn’t the most effective way to deflect an asteroid, or to solve almost any problem at all, to address its root cause rather than just its symptoms?
Doesn’t the refusal “to look at the deeper causes/underpinning” of asteroids, by definition, eliminate discussions of root causes from the proceedings of The Asteroids Club?
Isn’t it possible that a morality which uses all of the “evolved psychological mechanisms” that “make cooperative societies possible” will tend to have a less clouded vision? Isn’t the evaluation of a social phenomenon more likely to be accurate and true when that phenomenon is perceived and analyzed through the lens of ALL the moral foundations rather than just half of them? Don’t Haidt’s findings in fact show this to be true? Hasn’t he in fact said, on multiple occasions in multiple venues, that the all-foundation morality has a better understanding of human nature than does the three-foundation morality?
Aren’t the resulting policy prescriptions intended to address that phenomenon more likely to be effective in a positive way when they’re based on a more complete grasp then when they’re not?
Isn’t it possible that the asteroids of Entitlement Spending and the Dissolution of the Family are caused by the deeper cause/philosophical underpinning of the morality which is fixated on “care” above all the other moral foundations?
Isn’t it possible that the perception that Income Inequality and Global Warming are asteroids might say more about the morality that has those perceptions than it does about the asteroids themselves?
More broadly, isn’t it possible that the lens of the three-foundation morality of “care,” without the attenuation of the three cohering foundations, might tend to have a one-sided view of things? Don’t the works of historians like Beard and Zinn demonstrate this?
Isn’t it possible that the three foundation morality, with its fixation on “care,” its failure to grasp the full spectrum of fundamental human nature, its tendency toward a one-sided understanding of history, its faith in WEIRD “reason,” and its tendency toward moral relativism, are the “causes/philosophical underpinnings” of myriad events throughout human history from the terror and genocide of the French Revolution to the bankrupting of this country through entitlement spending and the dissolution of the family and the devaluing of life itself through the “care” of the Welfare State to the chaos and anarchy of Occupy Wall Street?
Isn’t it possible that a “real threat” – a real, valid, dangerous, Asteroid – is the three-foundation morality of “care” itself? And isn’t it also possible that that threat is only visible through the lens of all the moral foundations?
Isn’t that the elephant in the room?
Isn’t it possible that, out of some sense of “fairness” or politeness or decorum or denial or “can we all get along,” or fear of “offending” someone, or fear that they’ll become “defensive and less likely to listen,” or…….something, today’s political discourse refuses to acknowledge the elephant in the room?
And further, aren’t efforts like The Asteroids Club’s refusal to “look at the deeper causes/philosophical underpinning” and its goal of getting people to agree only “on the factual nature” of asteroids, and in a broader way the WEIRD thought and moral relativism of liberalism in general, and of Haidt’s Yin/Yang metaphor of the relationship between liberalism and conservatism, really just scrupulously clever (but possibly not intentional) ways of eliminating the elephant in the room from the discussion “by definition before the [discussion] begins?”
(1) Liberals Think More Analytically (More “WEIRD”) than Conservatives, by Thomas Talhelm, Jonathan Haidt, Shigehiro Oishi, Xuemin Zhang, Felicity Miao, and Shimin Chen
Henrich, Heine, and Norensayan (2010) recently reviewed decades of cross-cultural research and concluded that Westerners are WEIRD. People in Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic societies are frequent psychological outliers, even though they form the basis of our theories of human nature. Henrich argued that this 15% is really different from the other 85% of the world. In this study, we find that liberals are an even WEIRDer part of that 15%. Our studies demonstrate that if Americans are WEIRD, the American liberals are WEIRDer. So in addition to the five attributes of WEIRD cultures, we have found a sixth: liberalism.
WEIRD, Analytic Thought
How are WEIRD people outliers? WEIRD people are different in their economic behavior, trust, moral judgements, ad self-concepts. But in these studies we focused on WEIRD thought.
WEIRD people are cognitive outliers because thay are analytic on a list of cognitive and perceptual measures (Henrich et al., 2010). Analytic thinkers use logical rules of non-contradction. X and not X connot both be true. Analytic thinkers see the world as made up of singular, distinct objects that can be separated from their context. For examle, on memory tasks, Americans who see apicture of a wolf in a forest are good at later remembering having seen that wolf, even when it appears against a new background, such as a desert (Masuda & Nisbett, 2001). And analytic thinkers use properties of objects to predict their bhavior, such as using a personality traint to bredict behavior (e.g., predicting that an impatient person will honk at a slow driver; Morris & Peng, 1994).
The non-WEIRD 85% of the world thinks more holistically or intuitively. They are more likely to think that X and not X can both be true. The see objects as indivisibly bound up with contexts and relationships, so they are more confused when that wolf appears against a desert background. And they more often use situations to predict behavior (e.g., people will honk more during rush hour).
Some psycholgists call the 85% way of processing the world “holistic” because it emphasizes seeing scenes as a whole and seeing peole as a product of situations (Nisbett, Pen, Choi, and Norensayan, 2001). And the call the 15% WAY “analytic” because it emphasizes slicing up the world and analyzing objects individually, divorced drom context – much like scientific analysis requires thinkers to separate complex phenomena into separate parts.
On the triad task, social liberals categorized objects more analytically, pairing objects together based on abstract categories, like people in WEIRD cultures. In contrast, social conservatives categorized objects more relationally and intuitively, in a style more typical of East Asia dn non-WEIRD cultures. Liberals paired items at a more abstract level, while conservatives paired items on more intuitive, functional relationships.
On a theoretical level, our behavioral finding that liberals think more analyitcally fits with previous survey findings that liberals score higher on the Need for Cognition scale (Hawkins & Haidt, 2010) and that they score higher on integrative complexity and cognitive complexity (Jost et al., 2003). This study has implications for political psychology by linking it to cultural psychology. In sum, liberals seem to prefer analytic reasoning more than conservatives.
In contrast, social conservatves tended to be more holistic, spreading their attention to include more of the context and the relationships betweeen items. Cultural psychologists have called the East Asian holistic categorization style more automatic and ‘intuitive” (Norensayan, Smith, Kim,& Nesbit, 2002). This certaily fits with popular conceptions of American conservatives as people who trust their gut.