The data set he used to come to his conclusions is largely based on an extensive questionnaire, and you can add Haidt's and his colleagues' data set by going to Your Morals.org. I'm about 70% done. This jit is extensive! But so far I'm being too dry about this. Here's a good one for us to ponder:
Remember when Andres Serrano came out with his work of art titled Piss Christ? He was being deliberately shocking, of course. Liberals tended to support his right to express himself freely, but conservatives tended to see Serrano's work as an affront to all they held dear. Now here's a question for liberals: what about an artwork that had a little statue of Martin Luther King submerged in the artist's own urine? When interviewed the artist said he just thought "the Left" had made too much of MLK's contribution to history, that the Rev was "overrated" and a "sacred cow ripe for hamburger meat."? Do you still feel the same way about "free expression"?
I like this one even more, and it's directly from Haidt and colleagues:
Mark and Julie are brother and sister. ("Ut-ohhhh...I think I see where this is going!") They go on vacation from the US to the south of France and have a wonderful time. One night, while drinking wine in Provence, one thing leads to another and they have sex. They use two different types of contraception. They really enjoy it, but afterwards decide to never do it again. The experience, they both agree, made them even closer. They swear each other to undying secrecy and indeed, they never tell anyone.
Here's the Q: was doing what they did okay? If not, why?
Now, I confess that when I first read this scenario, I only needed about three seconds to say to myself, "I see nothing wrong with what they did." Haidt says most people don't think it's okay, they often forget the two forms of contraception. When reminded they say, "Oh yea." And they're still not okay with it, and try to find a reason why. Haidt calls Qs like this "moral dumbfounding."
Haidt says liberals have a harder time with this one than conservatives, which I find puzzling. Then, in one interview - the one from The Believer - (see near the end) he says liberals highly value Avoiding Doing Harm to others. Incest usually means some harm has been done, so "liberals" try to find "the victim" to justify why it's wrong. Haidt identifies himself as a liberal - or he did up until around two years ago, more on this later - so he knows; because he's an insider/expert on morality he knows there's no victim, so he says it's a trick question. He seems smug to me there, in 2005.
I wonder if "liberals" really do try to find victims more than conservatives. I don't know. I'm dubious. But maybe he's right.
Okay, so Haidt and colleagues have decided there are Six core moral values in which moral systems are built: Care, Fairness, Liberty, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. (Earlier he had four, but he asserts coherent systems can be built on combinations of all Six, or four, and he even uses a Chomskyan term, "grammatical," in a sense very reminiscent of Noam's idea that there are countless possible sound-patterns and syntaxes, but only a few are/were used in the real world of humans speaking the world's languages.)
[An aside: 20th century conservative and champion of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, Mortimer Adler, got together with a few tweedy friends and eventually decided there were 102 Great Ideas in the Western Tradition. I think maybe I'm morbidly fascinated about how intellectuals make their models, reify them, then move in, fall in love with their own models - Robert Anton Wilson called this "modeltheism" - and then push their models on all of us, in attempt to Enlighten us all.]
I like that, in a recent interview, Haidt says that there are no universal human moral values that are right; they are a social construction, and the proof being the very fact there are many moral systems in the world. And they're all right in their own way.
Here's where I part ways with Haidt: his data set is self-selecting. But worse than that, the Six seem arbitrary to me. But worse than that, even if we grant him his Six, he conveniently builds an edifice in which all the values are good, right, true and equal. He's in, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb would put it: Mediocristan: he can use his data and a whole world can be built out of it - which he admits moral system are anyway: they're "castles in the air that are nevertheless 'real' castles, and we live in them," to paraphrase one of his lines. He can plot his values in some Bell Curvey-way and then come up with "insights" that help him build his intellectual capital. But it gets more and more puzzling to me from there on in...There's some horrible Platonicity in Haidt's scheme, as I see it.
Haidt was always a liberal, and really hated the George W. Bush administration, and he also says he despises the "current" Republican party. And yet, in looking at all his data and writing his latest book, he realizes that conservatives (I really wonder who these people are?) are playing all Six, while liberals only play Two of the Six: Care and Fairness. This is absurd to me on so many levels that this blogspew would be far too long if I enumerated why this is just...well...okay, I'll say it: stupid. Why? Read on. (I vehemently assert that I admire the attempt, though.)
Another huge problem for me with Haidt's system is it's synchronic. It doesn't explain history very well. I'm not sure he wanted it too. I think Haidt honestly and earnestly wants "liberals" and "conservatives" to try to understand each other. One of his best lines, for me, is that he hopes liberals and conservatives will stop hating each other and see each other as part of a yin-yang. Bless him for this peaceful thought, for whatever it's worth.
I must amend something from the above paragraph, and it sheds light on another problem in Haidt's thinking here: if we're talking about deep, evolutionary time, clearly Haidt addresses this. He's read The Selfish Gene. He's well-versed in Evolutionary Psychology. And he defends religion against the "New Atheists" of Dawkins himself, Dan Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens: religion, although there's quite a downside to it, evolved so that larger groups of non-immediately-blood related people could co-operate and attain bigger goals. Okay: but the thrust of the book is about the fierce, ugly acrimony in Unistat today between Haidt's abstract "conservatives" and "liberals." The problem is: the partisan ugliness is fairly recent. Let's say 1980. Or 1960, to be charitable. This is why I leveled the charge of synchronic...I'm not so sure his evolutionary psychology is fully baked with the ingredients of the artificial construct of Pick Six Core Moral Values and then tabulated questionnaire data-world Haidt dwells in.
Anyway, Haidt was furious with W's administration, but now that Obama's in, time to collate his data and come to a better understanding.
But he goes to Occupy Wall Street's Zucotti Park and becomes a liberal scold, telling them "conservatives believe in equality before the law." (What???) Why? Because Obama's in now? Just HOW has Obama made that much of a difference from Bush?
Haidt had recently realized that "conservatives" are playing on all Six, and "liberals" on only Two, or maybe Three. He observes the Occupiers have no sense of Hierarchy, which is derived from one of the Big Six, Authority. Is Haidt even paying attention to what's going on in the world? Whether it was Liberals or Conservatives, they allowed the bankers, and the rich to plunder the economy. Obama has not made significant amends to the banking rules that allowed this to happen. People's lives are ruined; many are desperate. What a time to realize you're not a liberal! Especially when a long-term study by U. of Georgia and NYU scholars showed that the current Republicans are the most conservative in 100 years.
The Occupiers - as good liberal types - want Fairness, one of Haidt's Six. But if you've got your degree from a fine institution and can't find a job and your student loan debt is massive, how are you going to exercise your Liberty? And in doing the right things - working hard, delaying gratification so you can get your degree and go out and work hard, contribute Loyally to the country you love - how are you supposed to value Authority, when the Authorities have looted the treasury, stacked the deck in their favor, and pepper-sprayed you because you're trying to exercise your rights (Liberty) under the Constitution? (To those who watched OWS on TV and didn't actually hang out and talk with at least twenty or hundred people at rallies, and really listened, I can honestly report that, in my experience, about a third of the OWSers I talked to were thoughtful, patriotic, and brilliant young people. Another third were well-meaning but seemed - for lack of a better word - "lost" to me. Another third were Street People. And while I'm parenthetically ranting, furthermore, as an American, I'm disgusted that we allow so many of our fellow Americans to live like that..."disgust" is highly correlated with "conservative" values, according to some non-Haidt studies on social morality, but I wildly digress...)
This bit about "conservatives" playing with a full Six and "liberals" not seems ridiculous to me. The OWSers that were astute are not crazy about the Democratic party, but they see the Dems (and I concur) as less harmful than the Republicans, who seem to value whatever the Billionaire Class favors.
Haidt seems to not see how Congress and the Presidency are bought. (Where's the Sanctity there?) Does he pay attention to stories about how the Conservative Supreme Court has ruled that police can strip search anyone for any reason? That the Unistat Prez - whether under the "conservative" Bush or the "liberal" Obama - can kill, detain without due process, and torture whoever they want, all while talking about "transparency" yet becoming more and more opaque every day? Does he ever read stuff like THIS? What about this article, which I found via my colleague Annabel Lee at Double Dip Politics: is accurate, current knowledge about how the world works not a core moral value? I suspect he doesn't. Hell, I hope he doesn't or he's probably just another tool who believes that information "is" liberal. What world does Haidt live in, where, right when the country implodes, he writes a book extolling "conservative"s' morality of Authority, Loyalty, and Liberty, and he tells his wife "I can't call myself a liberal anymore." He's a "centrist."???
Oh yea: in passing Haidt says "libertarians" are totally different from liberals and conservatives. But I guess I'll have to get hold of his book to see if he says anything substantive about libertarians. My experience with libertarians is that they are smarter, but more disparate concerning The Six. I know libertarians who don't seem to care all that much about Three (Sanctity [unless you're talking about The Market or Mother Nature], Authority, or Loyalty; but they differ in very interesting ways about the Other Three (Care, Fairness, and Liberty). If anyone can flesh out Haidt on libertarians for me (perhaps you have the money to just buy the new book; I have to wait on a library list), I'd be grateful to hear it.
Someone once said you can't be neutral on a moving train. I have no idea what it means, brass tacks, to be a "centrist" in this world, 2012 Unistat. I think you have to live in Mediocristan to understand it. Richard Nixon would be an extreme "liberal" today. Haidt must be making some good money, or wants to please those who can make things even better for him. (<----That's me being a dick, blowing off steam. I apologize. That was below the belt. But I can't wait to hear him talk about how Romney's got a point on some topic, that strict Authority really is important, if you want all your taste buds firing on all cylinders or all your rods and cones seeing the ultra-violets when others can't, or the graphic equalizer in your brain is giving vent to the whole audio-political spectrum of values...)
Now: all I've blathered on here is subject to the same proto-sociology of knowledge contained in Max Weber's quote that "Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun." But I can also take a page from Weber's student, Karl Mannheim, who said that knowledge will take on certain shapes for people depending on their socioeconomic status. I'm going Old School on Haidt here: he's doing really well as a Public Intellectual. I think he's honestly trying to solve a Very Hard Problem. And from what I can see from here, he's not helping things much. Now Haidt would say to me, "You admit you haven't read my new book. And I understand you're a struggling freelancer. Your politics and values reflect that..." Etc.
I bet I would like Jonathan Haidt if I met him. I would ask him what he made of studies like this one, which make a lot of sense to me. Or UC Berkeley's Jennifer Stellar and her colleagues' findings as explained in this article. Or, how do you explain the very many historical examples of people like Arianna Huffington and David Horowitz? Are the self-indentified "conservatives" who answered Haidt and Co's Qs roughly the same people Monbiot is talking about here?
Is the Daily Show's studio audience - packed with liberals - response to Elon Musk's response to a question about Musk's futuristic thinking (Internet, sustainable energy, and space exploration) solely due to their "liberalism," or are they maybe glad to hear something from someone who's a neophile towards scientific research? And this is something virtually non of their "leaders" mention, or if they do, it's really lip service?
Earlier I hinted that I preferred my Grand Narratives concerning Big Ideas to be diachronic, and explain things within a historical perspective. I'm biased this way.
Recently I re-read the introduction to a sleeper of a book - Gordon Rattray-Taylor's 1954 gem Sex In History. Rattray-Taylor says when he reads scads of history books the historians very often present a maddening epistemological problem, and one is "influence." Historians will explain that something changed because someone was influenced by someone else or some cultural event, or whatever. But, as Rattray-Taylor writes, "He seems to feel that the development of a trend has been 'explained' if it can be shown that the people concerned came under the influence of some similar trend elsewhere. Thus, historians have laboured to show that the appearance of a school of lyric poetry in twelfth-century Provence was due to the influence of Arabic poetry of a similar kind." Similarly maddening for Rattray-Taylor was the explanation of people coming under the "spirit of the times,"without explaining why they came under the Spirit.
As you might have guessed from the title of the book, Rattray-Taylor's proffered explanation - which to me is just as great as Haidt's and I happen to like it more, and I do think these things are comparable and should be compared and contrasted and played with and pondered and possibly incorporated into a yet newer vision - is summed up by Robert Anton Wilson on a basic chart based on Rattray-Taylor's book, in Wilson's Ishtar Rising.
Rattray-Taylor saw a yin-yang/pendulum-like cycle of oscillations in history's values, based on attitudes that emanate from deeper attitudes towards sex, and he's influenced a tad by Freud, but also other Germanic thinkers who came after Siggy. I will copy the chart out here, and then bid the blogspew adieu because, once again I've typed far, far too much and if you're reading this now I bet you're the only one who stuck with my harangue, but anyhoo:
- Restrictive attitude toward sex
- Limitation of freedom for women
- Women seen as inferior, sinful
- Chastity more valued than welfare
- Politically authoritarian
- Conservative: against innovation
- Distrust of research, inquiry
- Inhibition, fear of spontaneity
- Deep fear of homosexuality
- Sex differences maximized (dress)
- Asceticism, fear of pleasure
- Permissive attitude toward sex
- Freedom for women
- Women accorded high status
- Welfare more valued than chastity
- Politically democratic
- Progressive: revolutionary
- No distrust of research
- Spontaneity: exhibition
- Deep fear of incest
- Sex differences minimized (dress)
- Hedonism, pleasure welcomed