I like Haidt’s approach of peeling the onion back to evolutionary adaptations. It seems to me that that’s where the psychological and ideological buck stops.
I’m surprised he stopped peeling where he did (with moral foundations).
It seems there are deeper layers that his curious mind would be positively aching to explore. (I suspect that this is in fact the case, and he feels, at times, trapped, in the sense that the momentum of what he’s created is forcing him down a path he might not choose if it were completely up to him. He’s a victim of his own success.)
Speaking of deeper layers, the political divide seems to be between two psychological profiles, distinguishing traits of which seem to include:
- epistemic confidence/arrogance vs epistemic humility
- Primacy of feelings vs primacy of social capital (for lack of a better term right now)
- Presentism vs a longer, ‘arc of history’ mindset
All of these traits seem to be different ways of describing two fundamentally different underlying senses, feelings, perspectives, of existence; dispositions of what it means to “be;” of what is a “self,” and where that self fits in the universe, and of its relationship with all the other selfs, and even of its relationship with time (e.g., item c above). (rereading this paragraph it seems very “out there,” but I don’t feel it that way. To me it feels as immediate, real, and down to earth as, say introversion and extroversion)
That sense seems to precede moral foundations. The one-foundation and all-foundation moral matrices seem to follow from the two essential senses of self.
From this perspective, terms like liberalism and conservatism seem quaint, anachronistic, and, frankly, a mental smokescreen that obfuscates our view of what’s really going on, and a cognitive roadblock that shuts down paths of inquiry that could potentially yield greater insights.
From an onion-peeling, evolutionary, perspective, WHY are there only two main profiles? Why aren’t there three, or seven? And why THOSE two? Why not two other, different ones? Where, when, and why did the evolutionary path split the way it did? Are the two profiles the human equivalent of, say, beak sizes of Darwin’s Galapagos birds? (Think in terms of Charles Murray’s perspective on genetic differences. Aside: I can tell you from first-hand experience that genetics is beginning to play a HUGE role in medicine, see this )
I’m a bit surprised Haidt steps out of his wheelhouse and delves into day-to-day politics as much as he does. Because of his roots in philosophy, I’d expect Moral Foundations Theory to lead him down the path of more onion peeling toward more “Big Ideas” rather than down the path of speculating about things like nationalism/globalism, or authoritarianism.
Or, because of his roots in psychology I’d expect more from him about mental health, along the lines of his “Coddling of the American Mind” article, and his “like” of my observation that Campus Protesters Match the Symptom List for Behavioral Disorders.
Speaking of which, the left seems to have jumped the shark. Rather than learning any sort of lesson from this election, and from the cumulative effect of the past few elections – from which Republicans now own something like 33 Governorships and hold majorities in a similar number of state legislatures (almost the 2/3 majority needed to change the Constitution at will, were Republicans so inclined) – the left seems to be doubling down on, well, everything; identity politics, the culture of victimhood, and cognitively distorted thinking, all of it.
Which leads to the idea that Tribal Moral Communities harm not only science, the credibility of academia, and free speech, but mental health as well. At the risk of sounding like an angry polemicist, I’d bet good money that a serious, careful, vetted, peer-reviewed, study along the lines of “Coddling” and “Behavioral Disorders” would yield an official diagnosis of some sort of collective groupthink syndrome or disorder on the left brought about by the cognitive inbreeding (metaphorically speaking) that results from its isolation from the real world in the insular, cognitive/behavioral/psychological bubble of the Super Zips.
Even before the new administration takes office the Democratic Party is now clearly the party of “No;” the party of obstructionism, the party of resistance to change, and the party of blind dogmatic adherence to an out of touch dogma that’s a relic of the past. If the left continues this way over the next four and maybe eight years it may cause Haidt to do a lot of re-thinking about a recurring theme of his recent years about the Republican Party and Republicans as a group (e.g., Conservatives Good, Republican Party Bad). My point in saying this is not so much an “I told you so,” (though I admit to some of that), but rather that a lot more of what goes on is basic human nature that’s common to everyone, regardless of which way their elephant leans, than we like to think, and that the number of real differences between left and right is actually quite small, but the effects of those few things are far reaching and profound.
Yes, linear vs complex is a good way to look at it. Stated another way, one could explain the problem, consistent with how we know the human mind works, as clashing political narratives vs problem solving. We have made such tremendous advances in understanding human decision making, but our political dialogue is still confined to these clashing narratives that provide no common denominator in which to have an intelligent debate. We know how to solve problems, we do it every day in science, medicine, technology and dozens of other fields. However, we do not apply these proven methodologies, scientific method or innovation, to politics because the narrative is the dominant force in our political culture, not solving problems. It has the enviable feature of a built-in explanation when the inevitable failures emerge – the other dogma ate my homework.
Well, yes, but because of the narratives even what we think of as problems are different.
For example, depending on our narratives we can have different, mutually exclusive, concepts in mind when we use the same words; like liberty, equality, fairness, and justice.
So, of course, the things we consider “solutions” will also be different.
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All true, so very true. Therefore, the question becomes how do we shift our political culture from clashing political narratives to problem solving. The mechanism I propose is the most powerful tool in human history-Innovation. Our Founding Fathers were political innovators and other great thinkers of modern democracy, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Smith were as well. After that generation, even as innovation (or the scientific method applied to the social sciences) was being applied to technology, industrial processes, transportation, communications, agriculture, scientific research, and so many other areas, leading to exponential progress, we have halted what Jefferson called the, “Great Experiment.” Let’s reignite that experimental approach of creative problem solving and innovation and get our political process moving onward and upward and not unproductively back and forth from left to right.
You are quite right that the unifying theory here is not one of left vs right, but of linear thinking versus complexity. The common denominator by which all of these issue can be understood is that human nature forces us to view the world in linear narratives, but the world isn’t narrow and one-dimensional, it is a complex, and therefore must have a complex analytical and policy framework to be successful.
Conservatives, Liberals, Libertarians, Socialists, all make the same exact mistake, they believe their political instincts and emotional responses, emboldened by the false-cogency of an ideology, are the solution to all of society’s ills. Until we can shift the framework to what works and doesn’t work in the real world, we will continue to go back and forth from left to right in an endless cycle of incompetence and corruption.
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Thanks for commenting.
Love your phrasing: “Linear thinking versus complexity.” Succinctly captures the essence, I think.
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It’s not true that all ideologies are equal in regards to linear vs complex thinking.
See “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathan Haidt. Here’s a passage.
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Well, it is a good thing then that I didn’t assert all ideologies are equal in their distortion. And even though they well may be different in their levels of disambiguation of reality, when one has flawed assumptions in one’s foundation, the whole edifice is in question. That applies to a 20 story building or 100 story building.
A major component of my thesis (world view?) is that a great deal of the reason for political rancor is that we humans in general have a very poor understanding of ourselves. Many of the unspoken assumptions that “everybody knows” are false.
A more accurate understanding of human nature could be the common ground, the common platform, if you will, upon which we have our discussions and arguments.
But as it stands we’re operating on different assumption sets, talking past each other, and wondering why the other guy doesn’t get it.
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It is particularly interesting to me that the “Left” explicitly denies Authority, Loyalty and Sanctity, yet they exhibit these morals very strongly. Without acknowledging and cultivating positive moral stances in these areas, they have allowed their worst motives to inhabit these tendencies. The Left strongly exhibits pernicious behaviors regarding Authority (they tolerate dictators, and follow their own journalists and pundits slavishly), Loyalty (observe their behavior to the “out group”, namely conservatives versus their tolerance for bad behavior from the “in group”) and Sanctity (magic words, forbidden words, dietary and environmental extremism). Perhaps there is a principle at work that moral foundations must be acknowledged, understood and cultivated with good intentions,otherwise, destructive behavior will fill the void.
Agree. Well said.
I love your idea about an additional, as yet unseen, principle at work.
A lot of this blog reflects my attempt to tease out what that might be.
You bring a new angle to it that I had not thought of.