Sunday, December 28, 2014

Moral Foundations - "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt

[From Billlifka, Graphics by Ira. Click HERE for previous Blog postings about Jonathan Haidt's work on moral foundations and how they differ for "liberals" and "conservatives". In his earlier work, Haidt had only five "channels of morality". Here, he has added a sixth: "Loyalty/Subversion". He seems also to have changed "Liberals" to "Progressives." NOTE: When you click, you will see this current posting on top, so please scroll down to the others. They have some sparkling back and forth discussion in the Comments sections. ENJOY! and THANKS Bill! Ira.]

Continuing their attempts to teach an old guy new tricks, a young relative gave me a book by Jonathan Haidt, “The Righteous Mind; Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion" 2012, Pantheon Books.

A few words about the author may encourage Liberals and discourage Conservatives. Such preliminary thoughts should be dispelled as Haidt’s findings are revealed. Haidt’s grandparents were Russian Jews who worked in New York’s garment district sweatshops and were drawn thereby to Socialism, FDR and the Democratic Party. Haidt attended Yale where he became a Liberal and an atheist. The Yale culture convinced him that Liberalism was absolutely ethical and the Republican Party was for war, big business, racism and Evangelical Christianity. Clearly, it was the Party of evil.

His continuing studies at the Universities of Chicago and Pennsylvania only verified this opinion. His specialty is Moral Psychology and it seems most of his associates in this field are of the Progressive and atheistic persuasions. One might ask why he has pursued a life of research and teaching on morals and be surprised that it has led him to conclusions that aren't exactly what one might expect.

His book is a long plod through research projects but the author’s writing style is appealing and he almost convinces readers of the possibility that Progressives and Conservatives could act together in a constructive manner and that atheists and religionists might coexist and even talk to each other civilly. Most of the book is devoted to the evolution of morality. Regardless of the true source of morality or differing moral views from group to group, Haidt concludes there are six foundations (categories) to all moral codes: Care/Harm, Liberty/Oppression, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation.

After reading the definitions, I concluded the divisions were reasonable. The surprising thing was Haidt’s conclusion from his research into how three political beliefs (and believers) rate in each of these moral foundations. The following array illustrates the contrasting moral focuses of Progressives, Conservatives and Libertarians based on Haidt’s research:

Foundation................. Progressive Conservative Libertarian
Care/Harm................. 45% .......... 16.66% .......   5%
Liberty/Oppression..... 25% .......... 16.66% ......... 65%
Fairness/Cheating....... 15% .......... 16.66% ......... 15%
Loyalty/Betrayal.........   5% .......... 16.66% .......... 5%
Authority/Subversion...  5% ...........16.66% .......... 5%
Sanctity/Degradation....  5% .......... 16.66% .......... 5%

The differences in moral focus of the three political groups provide a good explanation for why respective group members fail to reach agreement on national policy. If 45% of Progressive thought is having concern for the downtrodden, they will propose welfare actions much more than Conservatives think is rational. Conservatives aren't heartless; one sixth of their moral code is focused on care or absence of harm to the downtrodden. However, they value other moral aspects equally and fear lesser focus on these will destroy the “Social Capital” of America. If 65% of a Libertarian’s political concern is for individual freedom, he may well appear to be a rabble-rouser to a Conservative, although both may vote as Republicans.

Some of Haidt’s research aimed at finding the extent to which Progressives, Moderates and Conservatives could empathize with members of the other groups. He found that Moderates and Conservatives could imagine themselves inside each other’s head and also within the heads of Progressives. Progressives could not do the same for either Moderates or Conservatives. Haidt didn’t include Libertarians in these particular studies but I believe they, like Progressives, would find it extremely difficult to empathize with the other groups, they’re having such a high focus on one or two moral foundations to the near exclusion of the remainder.

It shouldn't be understood that every Progressive will be 45% focused on Care/Harm nor will every
Conservative be exactly balanced across the moral range. Some Progressives have more equal balance
and some Conservatives will be somewhat unbalanced. (That’s a straight line for the loyal opposition.)

However, Haidt used an averaging of individual scores and I accept his characterization of the groups as a whole. The finding doesn't mean that Progressives are good because they are overly focused on Care/Harm nor does it mean they are bad because they have little focus on three of the six moral categories. It just means that the respective moral codes of different political groups vary and this should be considered in any attempt to attain bipartisan action on policy and process.

In theory, one can visualize how this could be done with numbers. Imagine if Progressives want to push through legislation that is very strong on category one rationale. Conservatives may well be repelled by such a proposal quantitatively, if not qualitatively. One response would be to deny all parts of the Progressive proposal. Lines would be drawn causing much talk and no results except hard feelings.

Another approach might be a compromise proposal by Conservatives to support the Progressive ideas if they accepted Conservative proposals in moral categories four, five and six, each having about one third the impact of the Progressive proposal in category one. If quantified so neatly, the math is obvious but the point is by “horse-trading” on issues not directly opposed, agreement might be reached in a spirit of accommodation.

Some lawmakers and some citizens believe compromising with the opposition is fundamentally wrong. That may be a correct point of view, at times, but such times and issues should be few and far between. If large percentages of the American population are directly opposed on a key issue, the only options are: 1. Reach an accommodation. 2. Avoid going either way. 3. Fight it out; violently, if necessary. A #2 choice may not be possible, given the situation. If #3 is an only resort, American society will have failed. Political implications of differing emphases in moral codes will be continued in future notes and essays.

Grampa Bill

1 comment:

Stewart Denenberg said...

Nice analysis. As you point out, if we can't learn to play nice with each other (i.e. compromise), there doesn't seem to be much hope for the future.