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Lesson Plan, Version 1, First Rough Draft


Several months ago I attempted to write an outline that might eventually morph into a lesson plan, or a text book, or a curriculum, or… something, aimed at “mythbusting” the many false assumptions and presumptions people have about themselves and each other that underlie probably most of the partisan rancor and divisiveness we see in the world.  I’m not sure why I didn’t post it here then, but anyway, here it is.  The sooner I give birth to it by publishing it on this blog the sooner it can begin to grow (I hope).

This is very much a rough first draft, work in progress.  Ultimately I hope to develop this idea into a full suite of materials, a tool box if you will, that can be used to create anything from a single ten minute talk to a full series of lectures that comprise an entire course.  It’s based mostly on The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, but goes beyond it in places to include other materials and suggestions.

I imagine educators using it like a tool kit or a menu, picking and choosing the bits that seem apropos, and using them to create age-appropriate modules for every level from kindergarten through post grad. The ideal would be if most or all of the material were covered by the end of high school.

Even though this is very rough I hope the reader will realize the potential for a program like this and agree that making  knowledge like that summarized here the sort of thing that “everybody knows” in our culture might go a long way toward ameliorating partisan divisiveness.    I know this might seem merely more or less like The Righteous Mind in outline form.  But it’s a start.  It helps me organize my thoughts and communicate them to others.

Learning Objectives:

Ideally students should be able to describe each of these concepts in their own words, and should be able to accurately represent the viewpoint of the other side in a way the other side would consider fair (kinda like marriage counseling).

  1. The Rider and the Elephant
  2. The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning
  3. Groupishness
  4. Moral Foundations
  5. Ideology / Morality / Religion
  6. People want what’s best
  7. People who think differently are not stupid, evil, or duped by their leaders

Part I – Thought and Behavior

  1. Intuition comes first, strategic reasoning second
    1. Intuition
      1. Imagine you’re in a museum with a friend. You turn a corner and see a work of art for the first time.  Almost  immediately and without even really thinking, you say “Oh, I like that.”  Your friend asks why you like it.  Only then do you consciously begin to develop a rational explanation for why you like it.
      2. Human social interaction works the same way. We have an instant and automatic reaction of like or dislike to the things we see in the social world around us, and then later we develop a rational explanation of that reaction.
      3. “Like-O-Meter” concept from The Happiness Hypothesis
        1. For hundreds of millions of years humans evolved along with all the other animals. And just as with the other animals, we operate mostly on instinct and intuition.
        2. By “instinct and intuition” I mean the instant and automatic feelings of like or dislike, approach or avoid, and fight or flee we feel in response to the things we see in the social world around us.
        3. These feelings come from some of the oldest, most deeply embedded parts of the brain.
    2.  Reason
      1. Reason takes time.
        1. It requires language
        2. It requires the construction of a logical argument
        3. It is NOT instant and automatic
      2. Reason came along much later in the evolutionary process.
        1. It did not, could not, replace instinct and intuition.
        2. After millions of years of fine tuning instinct and intuition, evolution did not all of a sudden turn over the reins of decision making to reason.
        3. Reason is, and can only ever be, a post-hoc rationalization of feelings already felt, and decisions already made.
    3. The Role or Purpose of Reason
      1. For a long time people assumed that the purpose of reason is to help us make better decisions and find truth
      2. But reason is full a flaws and biases
        1. Confirmation bias
        2. Motivated reasoning
        3. Reason based choice
        4. Fundamental Attribution Error
        5. Naïve Realism
        6. Transparency assumption
        7. Objectivity assumption
        8. Anchoring
      3. It’s actually not very good at finding truth
      4. It can lead us to BAD decisions
      5. So what’s wrong?
        1. If we assume that reason is not really for truth finding but rather that its true purpose is to justify and defend our intuitions and to convince other people that our own intuitions are the right ones, then all the flaws make sense
        2. The “flaws” of reasoning are actually features. They’re examples of the brain doing exactly what evolution “trained” it to do to help us survive and thrive.
        3. As it turns out, it’s the assumption of the role of reasoning that was wrong
        4. Reason is for winning arguments, nor for making better decisions or finding truth
        5. The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning
        6. http://edge.org/conversation/hugo_mercier-the-argumentative-theory
        7. The Argumentative theory suggests that it’s the initial assumption about reason, not reason itself, that’s wrong.
    4. Why It’s So Hard To Win an Argument or, Why Reason Seldom Changes Minds
      1. Ever wonder why perfectly sound reasoning seems to have so little effect in changing somebody else’s mind?
      2. The answer is above. Reasoning does not address the source of a person’s opinions, views, beliefs about something.
      3. The real source is intuition.
    5. In Sum: The Rider and the Elephant
      1. The rider is conscious reason.
      2. The Elephant is intuition
      3. The rider’s job is to serve the elephant. It’s role is like that of the President’s press secretary, or like a lawyer.  It creates the rational arguments that justify and defend the Elephant, and it attempts to persuade others to come over to the elephant’s way of thinking.
      4. The Elephant is the other 99.9% of the brain’s functions
    6. Other Resources:
      1. “The Happiness Hypothesis” by Jonathan Haidt
      2. “Thinking Fast And Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
      3. “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell
      4. “The Blank Slate” by Steven Pinker
      5. “Predisposed” by Hibbing, Smith, and Alford
  2. Humans are “groupish”
    1. We’re the only animal on the planet that forms ultra social groups
      1. Very large groups, sometimes numbering in the undreds of thousands or even millions
      2. Not related to one another.
        1. Other animals that operate in groups are almost always kin. They’re related to one another.  They’re family.
    2. Our brains are “Wired To Connect.”
      1. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-are-wired-to-connect/
      2. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/books/review/social-by-matthew-d-lieberman.html?_r=0
      3. We’re very good at “reading” other people
        1. We really are “The Social Animal.”
        2. http://www.amazon.com/The-Social-Animal-Character-Achievement/dp/0812979370
    3. Groups form around shared values or traits
      1. People like to be around other people who are similar to themselves
    4. “Sacred” values: The trick through which we achieve the “absolute miracle” of human groupishness
      1. Some of the values, ideas, principles, narratives, world views, visions around which groups form become “sacred”
        1. Not in the religious sense
        2. In the sense of being fundamental truths
        3. Unquestionable, beyond doubt or debate, unviolable
      2. We develop irrational commitments to sacred values
      3. It’s through our sacred values that we bond with the other members of or group
      4. A threat against sacred values can be perceived as a threat to the group.
      5. When sacred values are challenged we throw truth, facts, evidence, logic, under the bus in their defense
    5. Groups compete with other groups for political power and scarce resources
    6. Other Resources
      1. “Moral Tribes” by Joshua Greene
      2. “The Social Animal” by David Brooks
      3. “Social” by Matthew D. Lieberman

Part II – Where Do Intuitions Come From?

  1. Moral Foundations: Evolved Psychological Mechanisms
    1. The study of cultures and values from around the world revealed a small number of common denominators that appear to be universal ingredients among “like-o-meters” the world over.
    2. Psychological studies and research corroborate the findings
    3. These common denominators seem to be evolutionary adaptations of the human psyche.
    4. They’re some of the most important “evolved psychological mechanisms” that “make cooperative societies possible.”
    5. They operate like subconscious radars, constantly scanning the social environment for patterns of ideas and behaviors that represented threats/opportunities to our genetic ancestors.
    6. They send “flashes of affect,” or intuitions, forward into consciousness when such patterns are detected.
    7. They are the basic building blocks from which all of the various value systems that exist around the world are constructed.
    8. They are the tools in the toolbox that make human cooperative society possible
    9. The moral foundations, stated in terms of the Opportunity / Threat for which they are evolutionary responses (i.e., adaptations) are:
      1. Care / Harm
        1. Haidt’s description
        2. Example(s)
      2. Fairness / Cheating
        1. Etc
      3. Liberty / Oppression
      4. Loyalty / Betrayal
      5. Authority / Subversion
      6. Sanctity / Degradation
    10. The first three foundations are considered “individualizing.” Their focus is primarily upon the autonomy and well being of each individual.
    11. The latter three foundations are considered “binding.” Their focus is on the social connections among individuals.

Part III – Ideology, Morality, and Religion

  1. Narratives
    1. The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor
    2. We tend to see the world and our role in it as a narrative, a story
    3. A lilberal narrative:
      1. “Once upon a time, the vast majority of human persons suffered in societies and social institutions that were unjust, unhealthy, repressive, and oppressive. These traditional societies were reprehensible because of their deep-rooted inequality, exploitation, and irrational traditionalism …. But the noble human aspiration for autonomy, equality, and prosperity struggled mightily against the forces of misery and oppression, and eventually succeeded in establishing modern, liberal, democratic, capitalist, welfare societies. While modern social conditions hold the potential to maximize the individual freedom and pleasure of all, there is much work to be done to dismantle the powerful vestiges of inequality, exploitation, and repression. This struggle for the good society in which individuals are equal and free to pursue their self-defined happiness is the one mission truly worth dedicating one’s life to achieving.” (The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt, p 331)
    4. A conservative narrative
      1. Once upon a time, America was a shining beacon. Then liberals came along and erected an enormous federal bureaucracy that handcuffed the invisible hand of the free market. They subverted our traditional American values and opposed God and faith at every step of the way …. Instead of requiring that people work for a living, they siphoned money from hardworking Americans and gave it to Cadillac-driving drug addicts and welfare queens. Instead of punishing criminals, they tried to “understand” them. Instead of worrying about the victims of crime, they worried about the rights of criminals …. Instead of adhering to traditional American values of family, fidelity, and personal responsibility, they preached promiscuity, premarital sex, and the gay lifestyle … and they encouraged a feminist agenda that undermined traditional family roles …. Instead of projecting strength to those who would do evil around the world, they cut military budgets, disrespected our soldiers in uniform, burned our flag, and chose negotiation and multilateralism …. Then Americans decided to take their country back from those who sought to undermine it. (The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt,pp 332-333).
  2. Religions and Ideologies
    1. Different names for morality
      1. e.g., Ideologies are interlocking sets of values, virtues, etc., etc.,
      2. e.g., Religions are interlocking sets of values, virtues, etc., etc.,
  3. Value Systems
    1. The collections of values, virtues, norms, practices, etc. – sacred and otherwise – around which groups form
    2. The group’s shared “vision” of what the world is, what it can be, and what it should be
    3. A lens or a filter through which we perceive, interpret, and react to the world, and judge good and bad events, processes, social constructs, policies, goals and objectives.
      1. Historical
      2. Current
      3. Future
    4. A “closed epistemic system” that answers all of its own questions
      1. http://www.onbeing.org/program/jonathan-haidt-the-psychology-behind-morality/transcript/6347
  4. The Moral Matrix
    1. Value systems differ in the degree to which they use, or prioritize, the moral foundations.
    2. People differ in the degree to which they prioritize the moral foundations
    3. Ideologies differ in the degree to which they employ the
  5. Morality
    1. For our purposes we define “morality” as a combination of all of the above, and more:
      1. Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperatvie society possible. – Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind, p. 313
  6. Conservatism, Liberalism, Libertarianism,
    1. Conservatism: A moral matrix/morality/ideolgy that employs all of the moral foundations relatively equally
    2. Liberalism: A moral matrix/morality/ideology that weights the first three foundations higher than the latter three, and of the first three weights “care” higher than the other two.
      1. When I speak to liberal audiences about the three “binding” foundations – Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity – I find that many in the audience don’t just fail to resonate; they actively reject these concerns as immoral. Loyalty to a group shrinks the moral circle; it is the basis of racism and exclusion, they say. Authority is oppression. Sanctity is religious mumbo-jumbo whose only function is to suppress female sexuality and justify homophobia.” – Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind, p. 334
    3. Libertarianism: A moral matrix/morality/ideology that weights “liberty” higher than the other foundations.
  7. Part Nature, Part Nurture
    1. We are predisposed but not predestined to lean toward one of the major ideologies
    2. Experience can nudge us toward or away from the ideologies
      1. Education
      2. Direct experience
        1. Keith Richards Example
  8. In sum:
    1. Ideologies and the people who adhere to them ALL want to do good.
    2. People who see things differently from the way we do are simply looking through a different lens of moral foundations.
    3. They’re not stupid, evil, or duped by their leaders.
  9. Other Resources:
    1. “A Conflict of Visions” by Thomas Sowell
    2. “The Great Debate” by Yuval Levin
    3. “The Cave and the Light” by Arthur Herman
    4. “The Origin and Principles of the American Revolution, Compared with the Origin and Principles of the French Revolution,” by Friedrich Gentz

Part IV – Putting It All To Use

  1. Classwork of an exercise like in the sample lesson plans
  2. Homework of book reports or analyses of speeches or historical events would come in. Based on the information above, students should be able to identify which moral foundations were, or are, in play in any given social situation
  3. The objective of this aspect of the lesson plan (curriculum?) is to foster understanding. NOT to take sides.
  4. Ideally, students will be able to make the argument of the other side, even if they disagree.

 

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