The 2012 book The Righteous Mind by Dr Jonathan Haidt is clearly the book that has most affected on the way I see politics. I find myself constantly referring to this book so perhaps it would be appropriate to write something about it. So here we go.
Dr Jonathan Haidt is an evolutionary psychologist specialized in the study of morality. That is not to say he is a philosopher telling us what is a moral way to behave but a scientist researching what kinds of factors contribute to our morality and do they have a biological basis. They most certainly do.
Heidt found that there are 6 moral “tastes”, that are hard wired in our brains ( or in some videos he talks about 4 or 5. Some of these tastes are strongly coupled). These tastes are
Now you might be thinking that what’s the moral about authority, loyalty is not moral and you like to defile what some crazy religious people fins sacred. The point is that this is not a philosophical take on morality, it’s biological. Haidt found clear differences in three voter blocks named in the American fashion as Conservative, Liberal and Libertarian. I’ll be using these terms in this post, all though I’d generally go for “progressive” instead of “liberal”.
This model might do with a bit of retouching since I imagine it was built to explain the landscape of American politics in the early 2000’s, but the wave of the sjws (radical feminism, trans-genderism, anti-white ideology, commitment to Islam etc.) and its counter reactions Trump populism and the alt-right muddies the waters a little bit.
Earlier I stated that morality has a biological basis. By that I mean that people’s brains react differently to different moral tastes, and much of it is based on biology. Genetics and early development play an important role, but so does our later social exposure. That means that others see violations against sanctity – for example – as a very serious thing and tend to get morally outraged while others are mildly offended and some people just don’t seem to care. However what people view holy differs greatly so different reactions might be explained by their personal concept of holiness too. Let’s take a look at the factors.
This is something all people seem to value quite a bit (except for psychopaths I imagine). It’s about protecting the weak and helpless ones and helping the suffering. The people who respond the most to Care/Harm factors identify as liberal. More liberal, more weight is given to this factor but it is shared by all people and everybody puts quite a bit of weight on it on their moral decisions.
This is an interesting point, because the liberals see fairness in one way and conservatives/libertarians rather differently. To liberals it’s more about making sure everyone gets a good amount of resources and are less concerned about somebody getting a free ride as long as everybody is taken care of. To conservatives and libertarians it’s about not letting anybody try to leach on others, to them fairness is reciprocal and cheating is an abomination. This is a clear distinction in political discourse and itself enough to explain much of what’s happening in politics. However this factor is again very important to liberals and somewhat less decisive for the conservatives and the libertarians might not care about other things combined as much as about this one.
Loyalty is a factor that the libertarians don’t have, liberals value little and conservatives tend to put a high emphasis on it. This can mean serving your country or not letting your friends down. It is about in-group preference and has an obvious evolutionary purpose allowing the community to thrive. Loyalty is a key value to the sense of belonging somewhere. Conservatives tend(ed) to be triggered by words such as betrayal and treason, but nowadays the tables might have turned a bit.
As a comment to the current situation I’d argue that conservatives (at least the political right) are more favorable to whistle-blowers like WikiLeaks than they used to be during GWB era partly because they feel less connected to the state and it’s institutions, and the sjws seem very outraged about these leaks.
Sanctity is one of the most divisive of the moral tastes. Of all the moral tastes it shows the greatest variance across the liberal- conservative axis in terms of importance. It is of great importance to very conservative individuals and of very little value to the very liberal people. This is clearly visible with conservatives who tend to value religion, purity, ritual cleanliness and the extreme liberals who mock these things trying to provoke conservatives by deliberately degrading the things they consider holy. Sanctity as a moral taste is highly connected to another characteristic – disgust sensitivity. Examples of low sanctity would be for example the old Monthy Python sketches.
Again, the rise of the sjws has changed the dynamics. They seem to be extremely sensitive to sanctity/degradation. When their holy values regarding feminism, trans-genderism and Islam for example are mocked and denigrated – something that the new right repeatedly does on purpose - they literally can’t control themselves but scream out of rage. The alt-right also seems to have a taste for sanctity, but much of the – let’s call it new right – doesn’t necessarily share that. The new right basically seems to be a bunch of shit posters that have taken the role liberals had while the sjws are the counterpart of the old censervatives -at least on the internet domain. This is what Styxhexenhammer666 for example means when he is calling them the new church ladies eg. the religious right.
Again, this is a moral taste less pronounced with the liberals and more so with conservatives all though it is less diverse than sanctity. This moral taste defines how do people see the position of institutions such as the police, military, judicial system and the people in authority position such as teachers and doctors and how they viewed the hierarchy at work places. Conservatives tend to find disrespecting authority – at least the one they seem valid – quite distasteful. This is connected to the fact that a highly hierarchical place such as the military tends to be rather conservative in many aspects.
As with the previous two cases the arrival of the sjws and the climate change hysteria forces us to rethink this position. It is the political left that is increasingly appealing to authority in their discourse getting furious when their authorities are not taken seriously.
This is something that is extremely important to the libertarians. One of the two tastes that they are the most receptive to. They really don’t want to be oppressed or controlled. This tends to be seen differently by different political factions since the liberals emphasize the “positive” freedom – ability to do things, whilst the conservatives and libertarians value the “negative” side of freedom – not being forced to do things. Typically liberals wish to allocate resources to the poor and needy and libertarians especially want to repeal laws that limit their behavior, say drug laws for example – even in the case they do not use any drugs them selves. They are almost allergic to limitations in their personal liberty.
Haidt builds a case arguing that we do most of our living on something that some people have called the auto pilot. That is our powerful subconsciousness, that Haidt calls the elephant. Elephant is a powerful and highly intelligent animal that is capable of handling almost any task without input from our conscious self – the rider. Think of an elephant in an Indian forest working on moving tree trunks from a clearing with a rider on its back. This is our brain. The rider is seemingly in control, but only as long as the elephant allows it to be. The rider is working for the elephant, not the other way around. That means, that the elephant makes our moral decisions and decides our attitudes before our conscious self has any idea about it and then it tells the rider to come up with a justification for what the elephant wants and a way to get it. This is also why it is extremely difficult to rationally argue someone to change a position that the elephant has taken. It is possible – sometimes – but usually emotional arguing works better. This is one of the most important lessons to take away from the book. People are (mostly) not rational, stop arguing (purely) rationally if you want to change somebody’s mind and address the elephant.
Liberals are people who care a lot about the well being of others and have a strong response to negative emotion. They want to protect the weak and vulnerable almost at all cost. Their moral matrix consists almost purely of Liberty, Care and Fairness moral tastes with the highest emphasis on care. Haidt says they are the most sensitive to injustices in our societies and we should pay attention to their woes because if undressed the matters are just going to get worse.
Libertarians are mostly focused on Liberty and fairness. They tend to focus on things the free markets and personal liberty. They are by far the most consistent group in their reasoning and very logical, but some libertarian philosophers are at least borderline autistic. That makes them the group most blind to other people’s issues and certain aspects of the human condition. Haidt says to pay attention when they talk about the markets because they are the ones sensitive to these things and first notice the bad practices.
Conservatives are the most difficult group to classify. That is because their morality is “broader” than the other groups in a certain sense. Haidt begins defining conservatives by saying what they are not: they are not orthodox. Orthodoxy is an ideology derived directly from a clear source of principles or laws but conservatism is something else. It’s caution, it’s doing what your father did instead of doing what a man did hundreds of years ago. It’s having an implicit understanding that things in our societies are not isolated from each other but influence each other. Haidt says to listen to their worries about things changing too rapidly, because they have their finger on the pulse of the social cohesion that is extremely important for a functional society.
People are 10 % chimps, 90 % bees. This means that we differ from chimpanzees in one aspect on a profound way. We work together. Chimps don’t. The males might hunt together or form alliances to gain status but you’ll never see two chimps carrying something together. It’s not that the idea would be too difficult for their brain but they don’t have that collaboration built in to them. We human collaborate automatically, just a s bees do. We have no choice, it’s in the human nature.
Conservatives understand libertarians and liberals perfectly, they have all the moral tastes active and working. It’s only that they disagree. Form their point of view the others have a limited vision.
Liberals and especially libertarians don’t understand conservatives. Some of their moral taste buds are not active or respond poorly to stimuli. To hem it seems that conservatives are idiots, their ramblings don’t make any sense. How could they after all, imagine describing the difference between red and green color to a person that doesn’t see them. They’d think you are crazy.
As a result conservatives can accurately predict how will liberals respond to questions about morals and politics. They are almost always able to tell what would a liberal say about an issue. Liberals can’t predict what conservatives say. It really makes no sense to them.
Conservatives are the most inconsistent group in their answers and logic. That is because they weigh the issue from several points of view. Their moral matrix is more extensive than the others.
Moral arguing works. Mitt Romney was ranked better than Barack Obama in almost all political questions by the American people in 2012 presidential election including all his policies. What Obama won was “Who do you think cares more about you?”. Haidt argues that this is because Romney’s message about Obama was around the lines of “He is a decent guy but his policies are not as good a as mine.” whereas Obama’s message about Romney was “He is a bad man.” - and the fact that Romney did not present himself in a way that would indicate that he cared a lot. It’s not the economy, stupid! Factual arguing get’s you nowhere in a presidential election.
We humans tend to rally around things. It might be a flag, a totem or a leader. Presidential elections are a quasi-religious thing where we choose our totem – a leader to be lifted above others. It’s not about the policies. Forget about that.
Put something for people to circle around and watch what happens.
Conservatives are far more sensible to threat than liberals.
Liberals are somewhat more intelligent than conservatives on average and far more interested in academic careers.
Liberals, conservatives and libertarians are not bad. They are different. The conservatives don’t want to hurt the poor or the foreigners.
In the light of the moral matrix model and what I’ve witnessed I’d argue that the sjws are not liberal in any sense of the word. I’d go as far as to argue that they are actually conservatives in the Haidtian division, since they fit the part rather well. Naturally they do not follow they pillars of the conservative politics in general, but their morality seems to be fundamentally similar. The only difference is the things they view holy.