25 August 2005

The Folks at Stonesthrow - far too nice

So, the G man as I like to call him (not really), posts today about the work of a psychologist called Haidt (that's really his name, and I don't know how to pronounce it, but yes, 'hate' works for me).

Haidt argues, says G, that folks make decisions based on 4 moral intuitions. Roughly, these are intuitions about, 1. suffering, 2. reciprocity, fairness, and equality, 3. hierarchy, 4. purity and pollution. He then claims that 'liberals' tend to draw from only the first two intuitions, while conservatives draw from all 4. G then goes on to say other interesting things.

But I want to stop right here and yell: the folks at Stonesthrow are being far too nice today.

And thus I ask rhetorically, liberals stop at the first two but conservatives have all four? Does Haidt mean genuine cultural conservatives? If so, fine. But there aren't any genuine conservatives running the country or taking up the far right side of this country's political spectrum. And the right in this country doesn't have much at all to say about fairness, equality, reciprocity and suffering.

I'd put it the other way around: conservatives stop at the last 2, while liberals have all 4. (I mean, Pat Robertson has asked God to strike down another Supreme Court justice and called for the US assasination of a world leader, all in the same week!)

Finally, those 4 moral intuitions should be weighted toward the first two, especially reciprocity and fairness - that's what the democratic revolutions of the last few centuries have been all about. If so-called 'conservatives' want hierarchy and purity, then they should sign up for a trip through time back to early 20th century totalitarianism. After all, Hitler and Mussolini...those guys knew purity and hierarchy.

Why on earth would we want to value purity and hierarchy on the same plane as we value fairness, justice, and a sense of duty toward other suffering human beings???? They are not, and should not, be equal values. And if they are equal 'moral intutions' then we need to do some work on our intutions'.


ewan mcgregor said...

I took Haidt's comment about conservatives having all four to be a point about their rhetoric, not their principles, and certainly conservatives do uses fairness rhetoric (the death tax) and equality rhetoric (against affirmative action), and if his point is limited to rhetorics, I also agree with him that the left has failed to use all of the rhetorical levers at its disposal, and to its detriment.

sageblue said...

goodness me!

anywho, let me try to clarify what Haidt's is saying, though I'm sure I'll get it wrong or something.

first, he says that "the four modules are not virtues themselves. Virtues come out of them." does that clarify anything? to me it does. now, he says as a liberal himself that liberals have an "impoverished moral worldview." but, again, that doesn't mean that they are "less moral." it is that we derive our morals from a more limited set of sources. in that sense, then i would have to agree with him; i could read that as he was saying that i was morally impoverished, i suppose, but i think instead that he is saying that the way i get to my morals is less rich, less nuanced, less complex than (intelligent) conservatives who are thinking about a lot more than i am.

second, as you say, democracy values the two first modules, and so Haidt says, "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 [did i get you attention?]. But we are not 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."

Now, let me end with another quote: "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." thus, this does turn into rhetoric at a certain point. however, i think perhaps that sam and ewan are perhaps blinded by our hatred of what conservatism stands for; i think that Haidt is probably describing what conservatism could stand for in a non-Bush/non-Robertson world and how "true" conservatives go about making their moral decisions.

I think this comment is longer than my original post.

sageblue said...

two more things.

--i too have problems spelling intuitions (and i kept typing warn instead of ewan)

--this here liberal doesn't use all 4: i don't care about purity at all, and i'm pretty sure i don't care about hierarchy, but i could be being disingenuous.