NeuroPsychology Of Politics – Haidt Three


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I don’t want to believe this.  I want to believe that moderate political beliefs are choices!  That the different beliefs exist so that compromises can be made.  No one SHOULD believe on face value.  Competition of ideas promotes better ideas.   That’s why I am a proud Conservative.  Let the best ones one win.

But Haidt seems to say, “No”.  The rest of this interview should clarify this discrepancy.   Let’s see what happens next.  After we read this, let’s have some discussion.

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BLVR: Let’s take a more concrete question. Gay marriage. You brought this up in your talk at Dartmouth and the one I saw at Duke. You say that conservatives in America employ all four of the modules, whereas liberals only employ two. You said that liberals have an impoverished moral worldview, and that conservatives somehow have a richer moral life. Now, I don’t know if that’s just a way to shock the liberal intelligentsia…

JH: No, I meant it, although I don’t mind doing a bit of shocking.

BLVR: You said that we as liberals have pared down our moral foundations to two modules, fairness and do-no-harm—whereas perfectly intelligent conservatives have all four modules

Er…I want him to re-conceptualize that.  Maybe Haidt hasn’t fine-tuned his categories.  One thing I’m learning about neuro-psychology is that the field is much too young for anyone to make sweeping generalizations.

JH: Exactly.

BLVR: So if you take gay marriage, and let’s say we’re not in Massachusetts, we’re in Mississippi, and you have people who have the intuition that gay marriage is really wrong, it’s impure. Because they have that purity module that liberals lack. Do you want to say that in that culture that gay marriage is really wrong?

JH: I think it depends on the kind of society you have. I’m glad that we have a diversity of societies in this world. And some societies become experts in lives of piety and sanctity and divinity. The four modules are not virtues themselves. Virtues come out of them. America is very much about individual happiness, the right to expression, self-determination. In America you do need to point to harm that befalls victims before you can limit someone elses’ rights. While there’s not necessarily an objective truth about whether gay marriage is right or wrong, when you look at the values and virtues that we hold dear in America, and you look at who is helped and harmed by legalizing gay marriage, if you start with a utilitarian analysis, so many people benefit from gay marriage and no one is directly harmed by gay marriage. So that in itself argues in favor of gay marriage.

On the other hand, conservative morality looks not just at effects on individuals, but at the state of the social order. The fact that acts that violate certain parts of the Bible are tolerated is disturbing to conservatives even though they can’t point to any direct harm. So I do understand the source of their opposition to it. And this is a difficult case, where it can’t work out well for everyone. Somebody has to give. If we were in a Muslim country, or a Catholic country where much of social and moral life was regulated in accordance with the purity and hierarchy codes, then it would be very reasonable to ban gay marriage. But we are not in such a country. We are in a country where the consensus is that we grant rights to self-determination unless a limiting reason can be found. So in this case, I think conservatives have to give. It is right to legalize gay marriage.

BLVR: I want to make sure I understood that. If we were in the 1930s—I don’t want to stereotype—but 1930s Alabama, there’s a pretty safe one, maybe the modules of purity and tradition played more of a role then than they do now. Let’s say you’re the father of a man who wants to marry another man. You would feel comfortable saying to your son that it’s wrong to marry—it’s wrong for you do that…

JH: I do think that facts about the prevalence of homosexuality and the degree of repugnance to it are relevant. In the present case, 5 percent of people are gay. That’s a lot of people. And in the present case, repugnance against homosexuality is not nearly as strong as it used to be. I think we are now at the point where we ought to legalize gay marriage, and some people just won’t be happy about it. But now look at Justice Scalia’s argument in opposing Lawrence v. Texas. Scalia’s argument is very interesting. I think it’s ultimately wrong, but wrong for an empirical reason. I’m paraphrasing: he said, “If we have to legalize sodomy, the next step will be incest and sex with animals.” But I don’t think that would be the next step. Five percent of people cannot live full happy lives if homosexuality is outlawed. If 5 percent of people could not live full happy lives without having sex with their siblings, or with sheep, then we’d have a difficult moral problem on our hands. But we don’t. Very few people fall into either category. So legalizing homosexuality is not the first step on a slippery slope to legalizing everything.

BLVR: OK, but getting back to my question, we’re in 1930s Alabama. Five percent of the people are still gay, I imagine, but repugnance is much higher. Is it wrong then? Or maybe you think it’s not a proper question.

JH: No, I think it’s a very good question. The amount of shock and outrage would have been much greater then than it is now. Plus back then they didn’t know the facts about homosexuality; they didn’t know that it’s caused by hormonal conditions in utero, it’s not a choice. Now that we know these facts we’re in a much better position than they were then. I don’t know if that answers your question.

BLVR: Well, maybe it does. Correct me if I’m wrong. Maybe you want to say yes, in that case it probably would have been wrong. Maybe you want to say to your son: no, you ought not marry that man, or even carry on a relationship with him. But given that we’re not in that situation now, that’s changed. Is that not a fair analysis of what the implications of your theory are?

JH: Yes, I think so. Given that there’s not an objective (nonanthropocentric) fact of the matter, and what makes our moral life so interesting is that any particular act can be justified or opposed by reference to a different constellation of these four modules, of these foundational intuitions, it really is a matter of argument, public discussion, triggering people’s intuitions, and somehow or other the chips fall in a certain way. Sometimes, with time, they fall in a different way. Ten years ago, or even three years ago, we never thought that we’d be this close to having gay marriage—we have it, actually.


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7 thoughts on “NeuroPsychology Of Politics – Haidt Three

  1. And this is where a moderate comes in. “Gay marriage, none of my business”. While I agree that I feel like there’s a sanctity of a marital union, I disagree that it should be illegal. Personal freedoms and whatnot.

    I devised my own suitable alternative, and found others came to the same conclusion. I would be totally for it if they didn’t refer to it as “marriage” rather “partnership” or “union” or something else synonymous with marriage. I am not a devout anything, but some kind of religious something bubbles up inside of me when I say phrases like, “I’m pro-gay marriage” and “I don’t believe in Jesus”. (Please, don’t shoot. Other topics for other times).

    Back to the more important topic are the four pillars. He had a definite point about the differences in moraltiy. However, he seems to dismiss that morality is relative, and in today’s global society, that matters. Our value system is inevitably going to shift to accomodate conflicting points of view.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love a good political sparring match as much as the next person. (Maybe more. No religion though. I don’t do religion.) And it is important to keep the opposing sides so that we can continue to feed the progress machine. It is the struggle that breeds it. We are humans. We seek conflict and are prone to creating some when there is none. But, at the same time, I don’t feel it’s as black and white, clear-cut as he draws the lines.

    According to his theory, morals are fixed to produce certain opinions. Everything can fall under those four pillars. It’s not that cut and dry. There are people that cross between the lines and sometimes catch crossfire as a result. For instance, I am firmly against abortion. For me. I can’t take that choice away from another woman because it’s not my body. I will catch all kinds of crossfire from both sides. I’m a hypocrite? Really? Doesn’t my own personal sense of morality count?

    1. We have very similar foundations, I believe. Some decisions are best left FAR AWAY from XXpoliticsXX, no, i mean “government”. But ‘politics’ is a human endeavor. people do use political power.

      Centuries ago, a father told the family what to do. It wasn’t a good system. But it was the only system. or a church, or whatever. didn’t like it…get thee to a nunnery! no father, no church, no nothing any more. the State has power now.

      But some one has to decide. Who? Not me! I can’t hardly make my own decisions. But we can’t have anarchy.

      So what we have is a slow, s-l-o-w-l-y evolving system in a culture that wants immediate change. What I WANT is slow change. S-L-O-W CHANGE. Slow hope and change. slow. slow! the it all in. consider the possibilities. pros/cons consider!

      when you do psychotherapy, PROCESS is everything. Take the time you need. Don’t hurry the river. But so mant therapists DO hurry the river. the politics of the psychothrapy process is a wierd river to swim in. been there, done that.

      any way…that’s a rant/raft for a different river.


      1. I don’t like that the singular power belongs to the state. That’s why there is a separation of church and state. Supposedly, the church should have a say too. But, since there’s no political power with the church (or religion or however you want to phrase that. I don’t affiliate myself with a particular established religion), (and rightfully so, because we see what happened in the history when politics and religion were in bed together), there is no voice. People discard it like it doesn’t even matter.

        Morality? Does morality even matter anymore?

        And that’s one of the things that tearing the fabric of our society apart. No social order. I’m not saying it has to be rigid, and not one has the particularly the only or right one. But, it has to exist. And I really don’t see any other way than organized religion. I got my morality from a sturdy Christian education. While, I will admit, I am no longer a practicing Christian, those values are the foundation of my life and the guide of my moral compass.

        An anarchy is unwise, because it eliminates order entirely. Order is necessary. Again, not rigid order, or else we’d end up with caste system. People have to have some kind of code and law to abide by. We are not yet evolved enough to be able to choose wisely enough. One day though, one day.

        And I agree. Slowly. Everything has evolved slowly, and it should continue to do so. Immediate change is never permanent. We can see that in yo-yo diets, self-esteem seminars, etc. All of these gimmicks promise that you’ll be a different person overnight. Except, you didn’t become that person overnight. How can someone expect any different?

        Because of hedonism. We want it, and we want it now. Everyone wants their own way, everything thinks that they’re right, and they want things to happen for them, and only them, now, now, now. Humans are born hedonistic creatures because we have to be. It’s survival. A baby doesn’t think about how mom and dad need to sleep. That baby needs fed and changed now.

        And now we’re back to Freud. The Id, the Ego, and the Superego. You know, curiously enough, I’m not a fan of Freud. However, some of his theories are pretty sound. Except that one about penis envy. I like my parts, thank you. Another topic for another day.

      2. Back to MDw/A. Great conversations while Rome burns. But what else can be do?

        F@@k Freud! Columbus discovered, but he had no idea what to do with it. Freud discovered, but had no idea what to do with it. The new ‘god’ is neuroscience. It will fail us too, if we demand too much of it.

        All we have is today; the choices we make today. “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. It’ll soon be here” That’s that last political slogan I ever believed!

        But admiration and respected are time tested values. I love talking to you, LS.


      3. I love talking with you too TD! Although it is hilarious that I can refer to you as TD and my son as T.D (first initial, middle initial). Sometimes, I wish I could refer to him by his actual name because it is really a rockin’ name! Just presented with his initials, no one could ever guess. So many male T names – Thomas, Timothy, Talin, Taylor, Travis, Trevor, Toby, etc. Not his name. And as for the D names, they go on and on! David, Daniel, Darrin, Derreck, Donald, Dustin, etc. And still none.

        So, I’ll provide a hint. A 90’s rockstar and a greek name.

        Anyway, do you think you would’ve known what to do with it? It makes me long for the days before science where one could philosophize (sp?), aboiut the nature of humans. I’ve always thought of psychology as being the point between where philosphy and science meet. I’m patrial to Skinner, only because his the first groundbreaking, scientifically proven evidence. His ABA is amazing, and has practical applications.

        Jung is great too. I like Jung. There are a few others, but their names escape me. I had a really bad day (I’m about to post about it), and I’m heavily medicated and particularly useless right now.

    1. The is always “hope”. The recession will right itself by the general economic processes. The BIG question is…when? I’m relatively poor…on social security. But I’ll survive. I think the best possibility is for the government to stop mucking up the works. Its like when you over-steer a car and you get wild swings from one side to the other. The ways out is to go through the middle.

      I think! Or I think?


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