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Thesis Part Four – Recommendations (Update 3/28/15)

I believe that the greatest single reason for the political divide is general ignorance among people of all political persuasions about why we humans feel, think, say, and do the things we do in the moral and social realms. I believe it’s true that we tend to demonize that which we do not understand.

It is my suggestion, therefore, that we can work to ameliorate these problems by using our K-12 (and beyond) education system to reduce the ignorance.

Just imagine, in a John Lennon sort of way, if everyone understood the knowledge that current social science offers to us.  Specifically…

  • …that people who believe differently from themselves were not crazy, stupid, or evil but rather that their beliefs were grounded in something real and legitimate and not just blind faith or superstition, and that that something is our social intuitions.
  • …that our social intuitions come from a set of psychological mechanisms that were hard-wired into our psyche by evolution as we became the only species that forms into large cooperative groups of individuals who are not blood relatives.
  • …that groups form around ways of thinking and sets of values that are shared by the members of the group, and that groups then compete with other groups for scarce resources and political power. 
  • …that the shared value systems around which groups form are what we know as moralities, ideologies, and religions (hereinafter called moralities or morality).
  • …that moralities differ in the degree to which they employ each of the evolved psychological mechanisms, which is why we call those mechanisms moral foundations.
  • …that a) there are at least six moral foundations, b) how each one came to be, and c) how each one helps to maintain the health of the group and the well-being of the individuals who belong to it.
  • …how each foundation is put to use in each morality.
  • …that moral reasoning is always, and can only ever be, a post-hoc rationalization of our social intuitions, and that our capability to reason evolved not to help us find truth but to help us win arguments. 
  • …that our ability to reason is fine-tuned to detect the tiniest of flaws in the reasoning of those with whom we compete, but is largely blind to the flaws that exist in our own reasoning no matter how glaring those flaws may be.
  • …that within each morality are values that are held to be inviolable, sacred, such that we defend them even at the expense facts, logic, truth, and science when we feel they are threatened. 
  • …that science is the process of subjecting our own ideas to the fine-tuned abilities of others so that the flaws within the ideas can be found, such that eventually truth wins out. 
  • …that this is how knowledge is developed.

I honestly believe there is no reason, none whatsoever, that we cannot turn this imaginary tale into reality. I believe this because every idea in it save one represents current knowledge about human nature, and that one is the imaginary part; the notion that “everyone understands” all of these things.

I also honestly believe that it will be very, VERY hard to make this tale come true. I believe it will face tremendous resistance from some circles. I believe it will take a long time, possibly generations, to achieve.

But stranger things have happened. So why not give it a shot? There’s nothing to lose, and much, MUCH to gain.

In the introduction of The Righteous Mind Dr. Haidt says:

People who devote their lives to studying something often come to believe that the object of their fascination is the key to understanding everything. Books have been published in recent years on the transformative role in human history played by cooking, mothering, war . . . even salt. This is one of those books.

I believe Dr. Haidt is more right than even he imagines. I believe he is offering us a Rosetta Stone with which we can better understand not only ourselves and our political adversaries, but current and past historical events as well. I believe that the phenomenon of the righteous mind Dr. Haidt describes in his book is an integral part of the history of mankind, and certainly of politics. For example, I believe that the liberal and conservative righteous minds provided the intellectual underpinnings of the French and American Revolutions, respectively, and more recently of the Occupy and Tea Party movements in America. The two outlooks are also reflected, I suggest, in the economic visions of Keynes and Hayek.

In fact, as I write this Haidt is currently in Asia doing research for his next book, and in the future will travel to other parts of the world to do the same. The working title of the book is Three Stories About Capitalism. You can see the video of a recent talk Haidt gave on the subject here, and you can read some things he’s already written about it inThree Stories About the Ethics of Capitalism, and in Three Stories About Capitalism.

So here’s how I imagine we can accomplish the daunting task of ameliorating the size and venom of the political divide.

This part of my tale applies the lessons of The Righteous Mind, in which the definition of morality is not offered until after all the necessary groundwork has been laid out in a way that prepares the reader to fully grasp its meaning:

  • Imagine if, through the course of a school year, the stories read to our preschool and early elementary school kids in class touched on the virtues and ethics related to all the moral foundations.
  • Imagine the same for the bulletin board messages about good behavior the teachers craft out of construction paper. 
  • Imagine that, in the later elementary grades, by the end of the school year, the virtues and ethics of all the moral foundations were touched upon in the readings that are assigned to our kids.
  • Imagine that, upon reaching the age at which thinking about abstract concepts begins to become possible (around puberty), a module that could be covered in a day to a week of classes were to be included in English and Social Studies, in which the moral foundations and the virtues and ethics associated with each were presented to our kids, and the kids were asked to be aware of when and where the foundations, virtues, and ethics might be observed in operation.
  • Imagine that, in high school, similar modules were included in each subject to which moral foundations apply; English, History, Government/Civics, Economics, and even Health, with the added requirement that our kids write a paper, for example a book report in English or a summary of an event in History, in which they identify the moral foundations that were in play and how they influenced the action.

There will always be liberalism and conservatism – the compulsion toward compassion and the compulsion toward the preservation of social capital – of that I have no doubt. But there’s no reason in the world that both of those compulsions cannot be equipped with a full and accurate grasp of fundamental human nature and an understanding of why it can be so difficult for humans of differing moralities to “all get along.”

I am confident that if our children understand how Moral Foundations influence the way people think in all walks of life and how they affect the way people relate with one another in the social world then future generations will have a deeper grasp of human nature and will thus be better equipped to get along, and leaders who emerge will make better decisions through an increased empathy for how our righteous minds really work.

One thing’s certain: We cannot possibly expect future generations to get along unless we “change the path” in a way that gives them a truer grasp of why getting along can be so hard to do.

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I Support Viewpoint Diversity

www.heterodoxacademy.org

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.

An Interpretation of Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory

This sidebar lists a series of posts which together make up an essay relating Moral Foundations Theory to today's politics, and even a little history, as viewed through The Independent Whig's six-foundation moral lens.

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Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Traits and Moral Foundations and

Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Traits and Moral Foundations

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