Jonathan Haidt waits until page 313 of his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion to present his definition of morality.
He explains the wait as follows:
You’re nearly done reading a book on morality, and I have not yet given you a definition of morality. There’s a reason for that. The definition I’m about to give you would have made little sense back in chapter 1. It would not have meshed with your intuitions about morality, so I thought it best to wait. Now, after eleven chapters in which I’ve challenged rationalism (in Part I), broadened the moral domain (in Part II), and said that groupishness was a key innovation that took us beyond selfishness and into civilization (Part III), I think we’re ready.
The idea I wish to express in this post is similar. I think many people are not ready to hear and assimilate it. In some circles this idea might be considered blasphemy against the conventional wisdom, and therefore would raise the ire of many.
But I’m going to dispense with the 313 pages of preceding material and put this idea out there anyway because its central to my thesis that much of the rancor that flows back and forth across the political divide is due to the fact that we humans – The Social Animal– have a generally poor understanding of ourselves and of those who think differently from us.
There’s a very good reason that the byline of this blog is “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Many of the assumptions about ourselves and about each other that lie hidden beneath the nearly two and a half century ongoing debate between liberals and conservatives are false. And since the assumptions are false, so too are many of the conclusions we draw about ourselves and about those with whom we disagree.
In presenting this idea I ask that the reader let go of “for and against,” as Dr. Haidt admonishes in his first TED Talk:
These two stanzas contain, I think, the deepest insights that have ever been attained into moral psychology. From the Zen master Seng-ts’an: “If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The struggle between for and against is the mind’s worst disease.” Now unfortunately, it’s a disease that has been caught by many of the world’s leaders. But before you feel superior to George Bush, before you throw a stone, ask yourself, do you accept this? Do you accept stepping out of the battle of good and evil? Can you be not for or against anything?
Try to wipe your mental slate clean of preconceived notions about liberalism and conservatism, and read with an open mind. If it helps any, the reader might consider the other one hundred twenty five or so posts on this blog, and all of Haidt’s work, and the work of others he relies on, the preceding material
So, here we go:
The Village Square is at the leading edge of The War On Partisanship. An upcoming event of theirs is The Hidden Wound.
Here’s an overview of the event, from The Village Square’s web site:
This Friday’s “Faith, Food, Friday” program – “The Hidden Wound“ – is the second in a series of three consecutive programs taking on the difficult issues that confront us related to poverty, racial disparity and community unrest.
Five years ago, Wendell Berry titled his book on the damage that racism has done to our identity as America’s “The Hidden Wound.” Recent events – from Ferguson to Baltimore to the nationally devastating racially-motivated murders in Charleston – have made the depth of that damage achingly clear. They compel us to put discomfort aside and launch more honest and open conversations about what progress Americans have made in addressing the continued devastating cost of America’s “original sin.” We’ll also talk about how “the hidden wound” plays out personally in our lives and relationships.
The God Squad will delve into this topic this Friday, Dec. 4, from noon to 1 pm at one of our new program venues this season – Bible Based Church, 3986 Woodville Highway, a short drive from downtown straight down Monroe Street. They will be joined by special guest Chuck Hobbs, attorney at Harper Gaines and freelance writer. Lunch will be available beginning at 11:30, followed by the program starting promptly at noon. The lunch menu includes: Chicken tenders (there’s no vegetarian option this time, so please bring your own lunch if necessary), Potato salad, Tossed green salad, Dessert and Drinks.
The program will be moderated by Pastor Darrick McGhee of Bible Based Church. Joining Darrick and our special guest are God Squad regulars Rev. Betsy Ouellette-Zierden of Good Samaritan United Methodist Church, Father Tim Holeda of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, and Rabbi Jack Romberg of Temple Israel.
All Faith, Food, Friday forums are free and open to the public. Lunch is available for $8 if you RSVP by this Tuesday, or $10 with a late reservation or at the door – all lunches are paid cash or check at the door. You may also bring a brown bag lunch. For a menu, more information or to reserve your seat go online to http://wiki.tothevillagesquare.org/x/QYDf, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 570-3327.
The phase, “The Hidden Wound” has more meaning than I think Wendell Berry and The Village Square might be aware of.
If we’re going to get all the way to the truth about the partisan divide, eventually we’re going to have to put the following question on the table and talk about it openly and honestly.
How much of the hidden wound is real, and how much of it is overblown by a moral matrix that values only “care” and thinks only in terms only of identity, victim-hood, vindictive protectiveness, and cognitive distortions?
One of the key assumptions behind most discussions of social issues is that left and right are equally right and equally wrong, and merely come at the issues from a different perspective.
It’s a false assumption, contradicted by reality.
Reality is more like my metaphor of the moral rainbow, in which the colors are the moral foundations. Liberals think conservatives are crazy for seeing moral colors everybody knows just aren’t there, and conservatives think liberals are naive and misinformed for NOT seeing moral colors everybody knows ARE there.
Both sides believe with sometimes seemingly equal vehemence and even anger that the other side is wrong and doesn’t get it.
But factually, empirically, historically, conservatives actually do see the moral rainbow more accurately. Objective measurement (Haidt’s statistical data) and honest analysis (Haidt’s assessment that conservative thinkers have a better grasp of human nature; here and here.) prove that there really are more colors in the moral rainbow than just the ones liberals see.
The liberal moral matrix acts like a catalyst in a chemical reaction, or like gasoline on a fire. The original chemical reaction or fire (the original “hidden wound”) are real, but the care-only victimhood mindset of the liberal moral matrix acts like a gasoline catalyst that turns it into a conflagration deemed worthy of disrupting society by marching in streets and libraries and screaming at professors as in The Yale Problem. The liberal gross overreaction to every perceived slight creates wounds in the fabric of civil society that it need not create. In their militant fight for redress, Our One-Eyed Friends exacerbate the very wounds they seek to heal, and unnecessarily create brand new wounds they need not create.
There’s no denying that The Hidden Wound of racism exists. But how big is it, really, and how much of it is exaggerated by a moral vision that’s fixated on finding victims under ever rock, and then angrily disrupting society in militant demands for “justice”? Sometimes, where’s there’s smoke there’s just smoke. But liberalism always seems to turn every smoldering ember into the Chicago fire, and in this way it creates not so hidden wounds of its own.
ADDENDUM: Jonathan Haidt echoes my idea in a comment he made in a blog post entitled Centerville Students Debate Coddle U. one of his blog posts at HererotoxAcademy.org, sayin “[those] who claim that they are being attacked might be over-interpreting their own discomfort at having their views challenged; they could be engaging in “emotional reasoning” as well.“
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