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Moral Foundations Theory

Human History Explained in Ten Statements

This is first attempt at communicating an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while.  It has finally formed clearly enough out of a cloud of thoughts for me to write it down.  With time I may refine or enhance it, expand or contract it, or morph it into something else.  For the moment, here’s what I’m thinking:    

I propose that the ideas in The Righteous Mind can be summarized in a few short statements which, if worded well and arranged in just the right way, can explain the psychologies and motivations that drive, and have driven, all of human social and political history.  

1) Humans evolved to form into social groups for the mutual benefit and protection of the individuals within them.

2) At least six psychological “senses,” or threat/opportunity awareness modules, evolved in the human psyche to help individuals form into, and maintain the strength and integrity of, groups.

3) There are two types of social senses, 

a) Individualizing; focused on the autonomy, liberty, and well being of the individual, and

b) Binding; focused on the strength, health, and well being of the group.

4) The six social senses are primary, but not all, of the sources of our Fast intuitions about good and bad social behaviors (i.e., of right and wrong); and of our intuitions to like or dislike, approach or avoid, and fight or flee other individuals or groups.

5) Groups form around shared sets of intuitions called ideologies or moralities.

6) An individual’s ability to maintain membership and good standing in a group depends largely on the individual’s skill at managing his own reputation.

7) The human ability to reason (i.e., The “slow” thinking Daniel Kahneman describes in Thinking, Fast and Slow) evolved to help with reputation management; reason is for winning, not truth finding.

8) Groups compete with other groups for scarce resources, territory, and political power.

9) For the benefit and protection of the group, its members attempt to consolidate and concentrate political power into it.

10) The enemy of “individualizing” is consolidated, concentrated, political power.

In sum: The natural tension that exists between the opposing forces of individualizing and binding is the spark that lights the fire of human social and political action within and between groups.      


2 thoughts on “Human History Explained in Ten Statements

  1. Interesting stuff. I would suggest, though, with regard to point seven, “reason is for winning, not truth finding” fails to take into account that truth will often provide a path for winning, because you can rely on the outcome without having to work as hard as you would to support a lie, or to discredit opposition to a convenient non-truth

    Indeed, I would suggest that this point ties in with my concerns about the rationalists; rationalising is self-justification where empiricism is in fact a sincere truth-seeking approach, which is ‘rational’ in the way that word is most often used today.


    Posted by COEXISTential | August 23, 2015, 12:49 pm
    • Thank you for commenting.

      I think you’re right that truth can provide a path for winning, and I think you’re right about the reasons why this is so.

      But it can take decades, or even generations, for that to happen. Human history is full of stories about the shunning (or worse) of ideas, and of the people who proposed them, when those ideas did not comply with the current status quo.

      And a large part of the reason it can take so long is point seven.

      Haidt’s first principle of moral psychology is “Intuition comes first, strategic reasoning second.” We all have instant, automatic, subconscious intuitive reactions to the things we see around us in the social world, and reason evolved to help us defend those reactions and convince other people that our own reactions are the right ones.

      This is why refuting another person’s argument with empirical truth so often fails to win them over; the thing you refuted was not the true source of their belief.

      Everyone thinks they are sincere empirical truth-seekers, even the rationalists. Especially the rationalists.

      Replacing false beliefs with empirical truths is so difficult and it takes so long because the underlying beliefs are cultural; tribal. Many underlying beliefs are what Haidt calls “sacred values,” in the sense that, to the people who believe them, they are inviolable self-evident ground truths that “everybody knows.” Sacred values become part of the very identity of the persons – and the groups of people – who believe in them. When sacred values are challenged the first things that are thrown under the bus are truth, facts, logic, and empirical evidence.

      One of the hardest, most time consuming things to do is change the sacred values that make people who they are, even if those values are myths.


      Posted by The Independent Whig | August 24, 2015, 2:04 am

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