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Moral psychology and the necessity of a consensus goal

I've been fascinated by some of Jonathan Haidt's work in moral psychology for some time. His explanation of how we think trumps the ideas of politics, because in politics we phrase ourselves in terms of justifications instead of values and reactions, which is probably the origin (cause, not effect) of our mental cogitation.

Of course, we like to think our thinking is both cause and effect because that's how the personality/ego sees it, but in reality, we're many impulses and the ego just picks the biggest monkey among them.

This is really death metal because it denies the higher plane of intention. Only consequences matter. Even more, our intentions are rarely what they seem -- what we call our intentions are often our justifications. Haidt divides moral psychology into five silos for measurement:

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1) Harm/care, related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. This foundation underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

2) Fairness/reciprocity, related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. This foundation generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulate the theory in 2010 based on new data, we are likely to include several forms of fairness, and to emphasize proportionality, which is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]

3) Ingroup/loyalty, related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. This foundation underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."

4) Authority/respect, shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. This foundation underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

5) Purity/sanctity, shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. This foundation underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/mft/index.php

Interestingly, for liberals only two of these five are action items; for conservatives, all five are.

I found purity interesting because it's where a lot of metal comes in, albeit in a pragmatic and not "intention" way:

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Purity, the final moral sense, is the hardest one for secular liberals to understand, but the psychology of purity isn’t necessarily about God; it’s the idea, deeply felt by most people, that human beings have a nobler, more spiritual self as well as a baser, more carnal self. It’s the idea that life—both private and communal—should have some higher purpose than the maximisation of pleasure, profit, and efficiency.

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2009/02/obamasmoralmajority/

Peering under the skin of the human beast helps us learn more about who we are, which is the one thing most people fear.

Part of this is reaching an ultimate truth which is that our social mores are adaptations, not inherent truths:

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“There are indeed moral facts, but they are nothing like as relativistic as you’d infer from a study of anthropology or comparative religion.”  

http://secularright.org/wordpress/?p=4019

We either face those moral facts, or we work around them through mechanisms like status competition or pretense.

I found this especially germaine:

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Take attitudes to contemporary art and music. Conservatives fear that subversive art will undermine authority, violate the in-group’s traditions and offend canons of purity and sanctity. Liberals, on the other hand, see contemporary art as protecting equality by assailing the establishment, especially if the art is by oppressed groups.

Extreme liberals, Dr. Haidt argues, attach almost no importance to the moral systems that protect the group. Because conservatives do give some weight to individual protections, they often have a better understanding of liberal views than liberals do of conservative attitudes, in his view.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/18/science/18mora.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&pagewanted=all

It's not in-group/out-group psychology; it's two totally different views of civilization. One is based in the consensual trust of values, and the other, in the individual as a client of the civilization


Yes, good stuff.

I use to sympathize with the marriages of heaven and hell. My own form of conservatism, and I'm pretty sure that other's people here, is conformed by a strong and rich dialogue with the best of liberalism.

But, as Conservationist points, I think that conservatives have a richer spectrum in action items. Also, if you see the graphics, you will notice that the importance given by conservatives is more balanced than liberals'.

We can conclude:

-Liberals strongly believe that care and fairness will conform the best authorities, social cohesion and health.

-Conservatives tend to think that all these aspects are almost inseparable.

As much as the idea of a focused society appeals to me I cannot agree with it. When there is a clearly defined spiritual destination (not necessarily in the religious sense) how does one enforce it?  This spiritual elitism allows the musings of a few to dominate with few if any checks to their power. Since anything can be sacrificed in the name of this ideal anything that is deemed as threatening in any capacity to it can be destroyed. It could be a book, piece of music, a truthful account of history or even public enquiry but if it endangers the goal it can/must be dealt with. Even if the goal is one that agrees with ones personal philosophy the almost king like power of those in charge means the system is very susceptible to self interest with the pretense of spirituality and it can be seen that the goals that people are forced to follow are by and large grossly abhorrent.

Consider the stranglehold Christianity had on Europe. Nothing was above the pursuit of the Christian God. Inquisitions, holy wars and massive censorship including that of science to name but a few of the ills it brought. Much the same can be said about the Communism, the divine rite of kings and apartheid era South Africa. At least in this aimless society we are given space to pursue our own lofty ideals even if we must travel these great ways alone. It is a far better thing than to be forced under pain of death to be not just a Christian but a particular kind of Christian.

It comes down to how dispersed or how concentrated our goals need to be. Dispersal as in individual pursuits doesn't amount to much or bear much longevity, but concentrated interests like the pyramid building of the pharoahs or the works of other ancient greats lasts across the ages to benefit many. What sort of lasting benefit is wothwhile and for what sacrifice?

I'd say conserving all biodiversity is worth eliminating many present individual self-interest liberties. In turn, new things may be created that work around the imposed limitation by both giving us desired benefits and not violating the conservation principle. Thus far, we have been taking the easy path using accessible fuels, widespread waste dumping and wasting abundant fresh water but the hidden costs are catching up with us nonetheless.
”The Revolution ends by devouring its own children” – Jacques Mallet du Pan, 1793

Group Psychology comes into play especially with the massive population expansions within both liberal and conservative groups. It's like the textbook psychology examples in which an emergency situation comes up, and everybody waits around for somebody to tell them how to react. People do this because in terms of the social aspects, nobody wants to react first and be responsible for a bad decisions that may have negative repercussions later. So they wait to be told how to react. Generations of people conditioned by religion and media to wait to be told what to think(not to mention public school systems) are used to waiting to voice their opinions until they have been given acceptable options by others. Conservationist's quote about moral psychology was dead on. Most "average" people feel like its not their place to discuss goals, or to plan moral action, but to wait until they are given clear moral choices from their perceived higher ups in the primate hierarchy. I just don't think a "focused society" is possible, nor would it be healthy in many ways. Moral Conflict sews the seeds of critical thinking and discussion. So really I think any moral goals for society work more like a virus, we just have to get those memes traveling strongly enough to affect the psychology of the greater mass of society. And that takes time. The Crusasdes didn't happen overnight, took a coupla hundred years or so to work up to really. The migration of people to America with the goal of freedom took quite awhile, and after that, several decades to iron out anything organized enough to put on paper. The "green" movement really started in the latter part of the 1950s, and the goals have really just become clear to american society in the last 8 years or so, that's really a pretty long time to try and convince a nation to quit being so wasteful and damaging to the world we live in, and people are really only beginning to come around on that. . . . .its insane how long it takes for clear moral choices to be made by very vast populations, but it all begins by critical analysis and discussion.
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adriftinchaos@myspace

Most "average" people feel like its not their place to discuss goals, or to plan moral action, but to wait until they are given clear moral choices from their perceived higher ups in the primate hierarchy. I just don't think a "focused society" is possible, nor would it be healthy in many ways. Moral Conflict sews the seeds of critical thinking and discussion. So really I think any moral goals for society work more like a virus, we just have to get those memes traveling strongly enough to affect the psychology of the greater mass of society. And that takes time.

Structure and conflict are like Ying and Yang, but both need consensus and morality. When people watch TV within the structure or take a farming fork and a torch to revolt, they are moved by consensus about what's right and what's expectable.

Thus, in any case the real counterpart of moral collectivism would be individualism, not conflict, but although conflict and structure are moved to some extense by self-interest, in order to be effective, that means permanent or conflictive, this theoretical "individualism" must allow cooperation (which goes through symbolic language).

Thus, in any case the real counterpart of moral collectivism would be individualism, not conflict, but although conflict and structure are moved to some extense by self-interest, in order to be effective, that means permanent or conflictive, this theoretical "individualism" must allow cooperation (which goes through symbolic language).

That seems really complex. I see it this way: in order to have individualism, we must have collectivism at least in agreement on that individualism. Because there's nothing else to agree on but that individualism, it becomes the sum total that unites the collective. Culture, heritage and values are a better option.

I see it this way: in order to have individualism, we must have collectivism at least in agreement on that individualism.

I think it's even more sinister than that. In order to have true individual, our ONLY value can be individualism -- and we need to enforce it through collectivist means.

But when you think about it, every act in a civilization is collectivist, or it's anarchy and helps destroy that civilization.

Do Liberals Suffer from Arrested Moral Development?
New article over at reason.com about Haidt and his work.