The Evils of Groupthink and Sound Bites, by Steve Tobak on FoxBusiness.com today resonates with Haidt’s idea of “groupishness.”
Interestingly (to me), our tendency toward the herd mentality of groupthink does not seem to be about morality, per se, or about the fact that “morality binds and blinds,” as Haidt’s third principle of moral psychology contends. Rather, it seems to be about an innate desire we all have to be part of the “in” group, to be included, to be on the bandwagon that everyone else seems to be on. Or, maybe more importantly, not to be left out. It seems that this desire comes naturally, separate and apart from morality or ideology, and in fact even to precede them, as if we’re born with it. After all isn’t this desire one of the defining factors of everyone’s childhood, from elementary school through high school, before we really develop a true awareness of ideology?
Of course, sometimes the Venn diagram of the “in” group and one’s own morality can be coincident, in which case they obviously reinforce each other, but they don’t necessarily have to be coincident. Or, maybe, the desire to be part of the “in” group can cause one to adapt one’s own morality to fit the herd. Maybe the desire is a factor that can help the elephant to “lean” in a certain direction.
I’m so steeped in Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) at this point that I may be guilty of the kind of thinking characterized by the saying, “Once you get a new hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” where MFT is my hammer. But when I see something like this I can’t help but wonder if it is evidence of another foundation. I’ve read Haidt’s paper, Moral Foundations Theory: The Pragmatic Validity of Moral Pluralism, in which he identifies the criteria for foundationhood, and admonishes against being too quick to look toward “groupishness” as the basis for a new foundation:
given the power of the human imagination and the epistemological predations of the confirmation bias, one could invent an evolutionary story for just about any candidate foundation, especially if one is allowed to appeal to the good of the group. But a good evolutionary theory will specify—often with rigorous mathematical models—exactly how a putative feature conferred an adaptive advantage upon individuals (or upon other bearers of the relevant genes), in comparison to members of the same group who lacked that feature. A good evolutionary theory will not casually attribute the adaptive advantage to the group (i.e., appeal to group selection) without a great deal of additional work, for example, showing that the feature confers a very strong advantage upon groups during intergroup competition while conferring only a small disadvantage upon the individual bearer of the trait (see Wilson, D. S. (2002). Darwin’s cathedral: Evolution, religion, and the nature of society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; and see The Righteous Mind, chapter 9, on group-selection for groupish virtues). If no clear adaptive advantage can be shown, then that is a mark against foundationhood.
Still, I wonder. Isn’t an individual’s desire to be part of the “in” group innate, especially when one considers that it seems to be part of the entire process of growing up? Doesn’t innateness point to foundationhood rather than to an intuition? I mean, Haidt says that intuitions are ideas that emerge into consciousness, but they’re not necessarily innate. Foundations, on the other hand, are innate and they help to shape the intuitions. Doesn’t the desire to be part of the “in” group qualify? Also, wouldn’t being part of the “in” group, as opposed to being a cast-out, ostracized, have helped individuals to survive? Isn’t that, too, one of the requirements for foundationhood; individual survival from the standpoint of natural selection? And finally, doesn’t it seem that the desire’s separateness from morality, yet a potential influence of it, such that it could be a factor in causing the elephant to lean one way or the other, also point to foundationhood? This desire is quite a different thing from in-group loyalty, by the way. It’s not that foundation. I’m not sure what I’d call it, “inclusion/ostracism” maybe?
Hmm… I’ll have to think about this as I try to clarify my “challenges” to MFT. Maybe it helps with my ongoing conundrum of the seeming incompleteness of MFT; the strong feeling I have that there’s something else going on, that there’s some other factor, whether it’s a foundation or not, that influences morality. (e.g., maybe an “overlay,” or maybe foundations have “aspects,” like The Big Five personality traits do (referred to in the Haidt article linked above), such that MFT has increased “granularity” which helps to explain and to distinguish between “positive” and “negative” connotations of liberty, equality, justice, and fairness). I’m not sure this would completely fill the hole I see, but maybe partly?