Haidt Me All You Want

Why are progressive/SJW checkbox stories sooooo predictable and boring?

Sure, they replace actual story with checkboxes, and the “blessed” characters can’t have real failings, just the fake ones you see in job interviews “I sometimes care too much”

Barf. Like, totally.

Valley-gull speech aside, I’d like to propose that maybe, not only are they limited in what they consider allowable, they can’t even imagine it.

There are a small handful of TED talks that I consider worth paying attention to, as most are so full of unexamined assumptions (interesting, because so often they try to present the conclusion as if its new, instead of boringly predictable by the politics they signal by their mannerisms and language) and leaps of faith that are easily picked apart just by looking at the structure of the presentation, or key facts overlooked – like why the country provinces in England, like, say, Rotherham, may have voted more strongly against Brexit than Londoners, and not just because they haven’t met those wicked furriners.

What we have here, is not just a failure to communicate, but even to imagine what needs to be communicated.

In short, Haidt identified five, maybe six, moral axes. One can quibble about the axes, but it seems to match against reality well enough to be a useful model. Unlike Peterson’s “Big Five” personality profile, this is not about personality traits, but moral values. From this article:

He says the 5 core dimensions for the moral mind (abstracting from anthropology, neurology, psychology, etc.) are:

1. Harm/care – as a species care a lot about others

2. Fairness/reciprocity

3. In group/out group – only among humans are there large groups that are united together for common purposes, and as a species we self-consciously produce or reinforce tribes (for wars, sports team loyalty, etc.)

4. Authority/respect – often based out of love

5. Purity/sanctity (either with regard to things like sex, or the foods we put in our body)

What’s fascinating is that if you chart individuals across parts of the world you find that in all societies, conservatives treat all these five factors as moderately important; liberals however focus almost exclusively on the harm/caring or fairness/reciprocity principles. In most societies, the increase in attention given by Conservatives to factors like Respect, Authority, Order, Purity rises much more sharply than the attention to Caring and Reciprocity falls. Haidt describes conservatives as having a 5-channel moral equalizer.

Again, one can quibble about the exact five moral values and whether or not the left maps something else in for purity – but in a different way. There is real-world evidence that there is something to this model though. As described at the Volokh Conspiracy:

One other point that I find really interesting and important about Haidt’s work is his findings on the ability of different groups to empathize across these ideological divides. So in his book (p. 287) Haidt reports on the following experiment: after determining whether someone is liberal or conservative, he then has each person answer the standard battery of questions as if he were the opposite ideology. So, he would ask a liberal to answer the questions as if he were a “typical conservative” and vice-versa. What he finds is quite striking: “The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who describe themselves as ‘very liberal.’ The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives.” In other words, moderates and conservatives can understand the liberal worldview and liberals are unable to relate to the conservative worldview, especially when it comes to questions of care and fairness.

In short, Haidt’s research suggests that many liberals really do believe that conservatives are heartless bastards–or as a friend of mine once remarked, “Conservatives think that liberals are good people with bad ideas, whereas liberals think conservatives are bad people”–and very liberal people think that especially strongly. Haidt suggests that there is some truth to this.

If it is the case that conservatives understand liberals better than liberals understand conservatives, why is that? Haidt’s hypothesis is that it is because conservative values are more overlapping than liberals–conservatives have a “thicker” moral worldview that includes all five values, whereas liberals have a “thinner” view that rests on only two variables. Thus, the liberal moral values are constituent part of the liberal views, but not vice-versa. So conservatives can process and affirm liberal moral views and liberals literally cannot understand how someone could be both moral and conservative–the moral values that might be animating a conservative (say, tradition or loyalty) are essentially seen by liberals as not being worth of moral weight. So conservatives who place weight on those values are literally seen as “immoral.”

In short, despite seemingly simple “yes/no” or “good/bad” moral choices by “conservatives” or those on the right, a more complex worldview is taken into consideration – one where the considerations that liberals most care about are but a subset. It’s almost like those accusations of liberals being children who never outgrew what they learned in kindergarten are true. But then there is at least one book bragging about just that, so…

It also may be a factor in why Colbert’s impersonation of a conservative pundit before his current late-night gig was so painfully shallow.

But beyond the question of what is “acceptable” in “the current year” – if you can’t even imagine or wrap your head around honor, loyalty, sanctity, then how can you truly write characters to whom anything but fairness and harm matter? Or write any stories that involve anything deeper, or spiritual, beyond that?

 

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