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The Heart of the Problem

The essay Cornell J’Accuse…! by Loretta Malakie at Social Matter is the best thing I’ve read all year.  It slices to the very heart of the current political,  which is to say moral, climate. 

It’s an emotionally powerful expression of Western Culture’s decades-long decline into ever greater dehumanization of humans as it moves ever farther away from an innate appreciation of social capital – our inner innate sense of our core humanity – and ever closer to WEIRD secular rationalism. 

The Trump and Brexit votes represent an effort to forestall, and possibly reverse, this trend. They are the societal equivalent of an individual brain’s response to possible drowning.  The most survival-oriented parts take control of our actions. In the Trump and Brexit votes we see the “is” of our essential human dignity reaching past the “ought” of our WEIRD reductive culture to save itself from drowning in the relentless tide of the anti-social, anti-human anomie of rationalism.

The WEIRD rationalism of Western culture tends to normalizes unlike things so that they appear alike, and then compare them relative to one another as if they were alike.  In effect it treats a broken clock and a functional clock as morally or intellectually equivalent – they’re both clocks, after all – and then concludes that “both sides see things the other does not,” and are therefore morally and intellectually relatively equal.  It ignores the veracity of the actual content of each side’s position in favor of a sacred value of “farness.” 

The Two Stories about capitalism and the two grand narratives of liberalism and conservatism illustrate this. Moral foundations are the color receptors of our moral minds. The conservative mind uses all of them in relatively equal balance. The liberal moral mind uses only about half of them, and of that half mostly just one. No narrative is 100% correct, but like the functional clock and the broken clock neither are they equally right and equally wrong.  The fully sighted conservative narrative is an essentially accurate recitation of human history, whereas the colorblind liberal narrative is essentially a conspiracy theory woven from cherry picked facts. The “Two Stories” approach normalizes the fully sighted world view with the colorblind world view and then compares them as if they’re equals. It’s a Procrustean imposition of moral and intellectual symmetry on an asymmetrical world followed by a plea for each side to recognize the “insights” of the other.  

It identifies a problem that doesn’t exist, and therefore prescribes an ill advised, counter productive, antidote for it that in the final analysis exacerbates it. 

Instead, we should be training (nudging?) all elephants to see all the colors equally well such that both narratives reflect an equal grasp of human nature and offer an equally accurate narrative about human history. 

Unless and until we do that all the talk about populism, nationalism, authoritarianism, etc., etc., does nothing to fix the actual problem and everything to exacerbate it.   



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I Support Viewpoint Diversity


A politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities. We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

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