Month: July 2014

Three book reviews everyone needs to read today! Now!

Capital in the Twenty-First Century

The first is Noah Millman’s superb summary and short analysis of Thomas Piketty’s Captial, the current bible of the lefty stateniks and redistributionistas. I’m being snarky. Actually, Millman defends Piketty and concludes that Piketty’s theory is plausible and worrisome:

From these very simple, largely unassailable ideas, Piketty derives an alarming conclusion: that, absent political intervention, wealth will compound more rapidly than income grows, swelling to a larger and larger multiple of national income and claiming an ever larger percentage of the national income itself, to the point where inherited wealth comes to matter more than earned income. At which point we will have returned to the very patrimonial world that preceded capitalism.

This is the first irony of Piketty’s analysis. Although his book is titled to recall Marx’s, Marx told a story about how capitalism changed economic relations, tearing apart old hierarchies in a ruthless quest for efficiency. Piketty tells a story about how capitalism did not change economic relations. Heredity mattered a lot in Balzac’s Paris, but it surely mattered even more in Louis XIV’s—and Piketty argues that it matters more now than it did in 1950 and will matter in the future as much as it did in 1850. Piketty’s book could have been titled The Capitalist Road Back To Serfdom.

More:

Thomas Piketty is to be commended for putting the question of distribution at the center of discussion about our economic future, rather than, as is more common in the dominant neoliberal framework, treating it as important only inasmuch as it bears on questions of mobility and growth. He is to be commended as well for demanding a humbler empiricism from the community of economists. But if we are to proceed from analysis to action, we still need a more robust theory of what is actually causing the problem that we observe. And while there is a certain French elegance to single, universal solutions, it may be that a diversity of attacks, tailored to the economic situations of different countries and regions, is not only more plausible than a new, global tax regime but more optimal as well.

Read the whole article here (http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/piketty-is-the-anti-marx/). It’s excellent. Use it to impress your lefty friends at parties. You don’t have to read the book.

The Pathologisation of Everyday Life

The spikedonline book review of Allen Francis’ Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life.

Frances’ arguments about the dangers of inflating psychiatric conditions and psychiatric diagnosis are persuasive – maybe more so because he honestly admits to his own role in developing such an inflation. He is keenly aware of the risks of diagnostic inflation ‘because of painful firsthand experience’, he writes. ‘Despite our efforts to tame excessive diagnostic exuberance, DSM-IV [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV (DSM-IV) (published in 1994)] had since been misused to blow up the diagnostic bubble’. He is particularly concerned about the exponential increase in the diagnosis of psychiatric conditions in children, writing: ‘We failed to predict or prevent three new false epidemics of mental disorder in children – autism, attention deficit, and childhood bipolar disorder. And we did nothing to contain the rampant diagnostic inflation that was already expanding the boundary of psychiatry far beyond its competence.’

Read the whole thing: http://www.spiked-online.com/review_of_books/article/saving-normal-in-a-world-gone-mad/15364#.U8VOLPaprdy

Why suicide is a crime against humanity

From the June issue of the New Criterion, Emily Esfahani Smith explains:

The rise in suicide has been accompanied by a loss of the moral questions that once surrounded it. G. K. Chesterton was one of our last full-throated critics of suicide. His insistence that suicide is immoral sounds strange to our individualistic ears: “Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin,” Chesterton wrote: “It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.” Chesterton goes on to say that the act of suicide is selfish: “A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything.” It would be difficult to imagine anyone writing such a polemic today. We do not consider suicide the moral catastrophe that people like Chesterton once thought it was.

Smith reviews Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book titled Stay:

An important new book does just that. Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It by the poet and philosopher Jennifer Michael Hecht challenges our culture’s acceptance of suicides and reinvigorates the moral arguments against it. At a time when few philosophers or intellectuals are offering strong, compelling, secular arguments against suicide, Hecht’s book steps in as a reminder that our liberal stance toward suicide is relatively new, in fact quite radical, and should be unequivocally challenged. Partly an intellectual history and partly a polemic—a gentle one—against suicide, the book fills a hole in the cultural conversation about choosing to end one’s life. Hecht writes, “The arguments against suicide that I intend to revivify in public consciousness assert that suicide is wrong, that it harms the community, that it damages humanity, that it unfairly preempts your future self.”

Read it; it’s good. http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/The-catastrophe-of-suicide-7902

 

Bad cyclist, very bad cyclist

Here’s what happens when a young 20ish cyclist decides to ride on the crowded sidewalk on Danforth Avenue near Pape at rush-hour on a Monday then decide to steer onto the street straight into oncoming traffic – to avoid the crowd I guess – and straight into – you guessed it – the conservative cyclist who was moving fast with the traffic and needed to be alert to avoid a head-on collision! image That was from her pedal raking my shin. Unfortunately she fared much worse and was not wearing a helmet. I actually used the F-word and called her an idiot, after I made sure she was okay and helped her off the road, of course. Idiot!  Not very Christian of me I admit! She needs a lesson in the rules. She’s lucky she didn’t run into the electric bike that was just behind me. That would have been worse. Don’t worry – the Wabi Lightning is fine.

Liberalism is a religion and it’s forcing me to convert

Sorry this is another lengthy post but worth the read.

I’ve been thinking about how to write about this topic for the past week. It doesn’t resonate in Canada like it does in the US because the majority of Canadians are already true believers and any dissenters have been for the most part shunned from the public square. Liberalism-progressivism long ago became the Canadian state religion. But in the US, these things still matter. I mentioned in a previous post how the Hobby Lobby decision has sent the American Left into fits of rage and intolerance – the Supreme Court ruled in favour of religious liberty which at one time was THE cornerstone of Western democracy. Now the Democrats and their leftist allies want to overturn even this very narrow ruling. There is only one right way to think and it is dictated by the state. Against gay “marriage” and contraception? That’s unacceptable and akin to racism. Either shut up or face the human rights tribunal. And you better apologize while you’re at it. Not that it matters

How Liberalism Became an Intolerant Dogma

In a July 11 article for The Week, Damon Linker explains “How liberalism became an intolerant dogma” (http://theweek.com/article/index/264546/how-liberalism-became-an-intolerant-dogma).

My own cherished topic is this: Liberalism’s decline from a political philosophy of pluralism into a rigidly intolerant dogma.

The decline is especially pronounced on a range of issues wrapped up with religion and sex. For a time, electoral self-interest kept these intolerant tendencies in check, since the strongly liberal position on social issues was clearly a minority view. But the cultural shift during the Obama years that has led a majority of Americans to support gay marriage seems to have opened the floodgates to an ugly triumphalism on the left.

The result is a dogmatic form of liberalism that threatens to poison American civic life for the foreseeable future. Conservative Reihan Salam describes it, only somewhat hyperbolically, as a form of “weaponized secularism.”

I have often argued with my liberal friends and acquaintances that their worldview, despite their adamant denials, is a religion. Of course they take great offence saying they are atheists and don’t believe in the invisible God or the quaint and outdated idea of Truth. But they do: their God is the State and their Truth is what the State says it is. To my liberal readers, I mean no offence – I’m just pointing it out.

The Church of Illiberal Liberalism

As you would expect, Rod Dreher (http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/illiberal-liberalism-church/) is excellent on this issue:

Under traditional liberalism, maintaining religious liberty is of vital importance; under the new, illiberal liberalism, religious liberty is a threat. In her analysis of the reaction to the Hobby Lobby ruling, Megan McArdle says that contemporary liberalism, as distinct from earlier iterations, drives religion out of the public square by abandoning the concept of negative rights (the right not to have to be forced to do something) in favor of positive rights (the right to force others to do something to serve you). Excerpt:

In the 19th century, the line between the individual and the government was just as firm as it is now, but there was a large public space in between that was nonetheless seen as private in the sense of being mostly outside of government control — which is why we still refer to “public” companies as being part of the “private” sector. Again, in the context of largely negative rights, this makes sense. You have individuals on one end and a small state on the other, and in the middle you have a large variety of private voluntary institutions that exert various forms of social and financial coercion, but not governmental coercion — which, unlike other forms of coercion, is ultimately enforced by the government’s monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

Our concept of these spheres has shifted radically over the last century. In some ways, it offers more personal freedom — sex is private, and neither the state nor the neighbors are supposed to have any opinion whatsoever about what you do in the bedroom. Religion, too, is private. But outside of our most intimate relationships, almost everything else is now viewed as public, which is why Brendan Eich’s donation to an anti-gay-marriage group became, in the eyes of many, grounds for firing.

For many people, this massive public territory is all the legitimate province of the state. Institutions within that sphere are subject to close regulation by the government, including regulations that turn those institutions into agents of state goals — for example, by making them buy birth control for anyone they choose to employ. It is not a totalitarian view of government, but it is a totalizing view of government; almost everything we do ends up being shaped by the law and the bureaucrats appointed to enforce it. We resolve the conflict between negative and positive rights by restricting many negative rights to a shrunken private sphere where they cannot get much purchase.

A totalizing view of government — good phrase. In the new American liberal dispensation, we begin to approach what in modern France is called laïcité – the idea that maintaining the secular nature of the public realm and the state’s monopoly on power requires keeping religion and religious expression firmly privatized. It may ordinarily be understood as the principle of the separation of Church and State, which almost all Americans, left and right, favor. But in France, it is generally taken to mean that religion may be tolerated only insofar as it does not interfere with the state and its purposes. If that’s not a totalizing view of government, I don’t know what is. These different emphases of what secularism is may seem subtle, but they’re important — and we’re seeing them take hold in this country.

He continues:

The Church of Illiberal Liberalism worships a jealous god, who will brook no rivals.

And here’s the most important thing to grasp about the Church of Illiberal Liberalism: its communicants do not have the slightest understanding that theirs is a creed, a set of dogmas, a worldview that makes exclusivist claims. They think their ideology is not an ideology, but reality, plain and simple. The book to read to understand where we are and where we are going is James Kalb’s The Tyranny Of Liberalism. The Mark Levin-esque title is misleading; this is a philosophically serious book. From a 2009 interview with Kalb:

Ignatius Insight: You spend quite a bit of time, understandably, in the book defining liberalism and variations thereof. For the sake of clarity, what is a relatively concise definition of the liberalism you critique? What are its core principles and beliefs?

James Kalb: By liberalism I mean the view that equal freedom is the highest political, social, and moral principle. The big goal is to be able to do and get what we want, as much and as equally as possible.

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That view comes from the view that transcendent standards don’t exist–or what amounts to the same thing, that they aren’t publicly knowable. That leaves desire as the standard for action, along with logic and knowledge of how to get what we want.

Desires are all equally desires, so they all equally deserve satisfaction. Nothing is exempt from the system, so everything becomes a resource to be used for our purposes. The end result is an overall project of reconstructing social life to make it a rational system for maximum equal preference satisfaction.

That’s what liberalism is now, and everything else has to give way to it. For example, traditional ties like family and inherited culture aren’t egalitarian or hedonistic or technologically rational. They have their own concerns. So they have to be done away with or turned into private hobbies that people can take or leave as they like. Anything else would violate freedom and equality.

More:

Ignatius Insight: You argue that liberalism “began as an attempt to moderate the influence of religion in politics, [but] ends by establishing itself as a religion.” How is liberalism a religion? What are some examples of its religious nature? What significant challenges do these pose to serious, practicing Catholics?

James Kalb: People in authority treat liberalism as true, ultimate, and socially necessary. So far as they’re concerned, it gives the final standards that everyone has to defer to because they’re demanded by the order of the community and also by the fundamental way the world is. That’s what it means to say it’s the established religion.

Like other religions it helps maintain its place through saints, martyrs, rituals, and holidays. A candlelit vigil for Matthew Shepard is an example. There’s also education. All education is religious education, so education today is shot through with liberal indoctrination. Liberalism even has blasphemy laws, in the form of the laws against politically incorrect comments on Islam, homosexuality, and other topics that you find in Europe and Canada.

It also has some special features. Liberalism is a stealth religion. It becomes established and authoritative by claiming that it is not a religion but only the setting other religions need to cooperate peacefully.

The claim doesn’t make much sense, since religion has to do with ultimate issues. The religion of a society is simply the ultimate authoritative way the society grasps reality. As such it can’t be subordinate to anything else.

Liberalism has been successful at obfuscating its status as a religion, and that’s been key to its success. People believe they are keeping their own religion when they give first place to liberalism. What happens though is that their original religion gets assimilated and becomes a sort of poeticized version of liberalism.

You can see that tendency vividly in my former denomination, the Episcopal Church. At least at its upper levels “mission” now means promoting things like the UN Millennium Development Goals. I was in an Episcopal church recently in which the Stations of the Cross had been replaced on the wall by the Stations of the Millennium Development Goals.

That’s not a special oddity of the Episcopalians, of course. You can see the same tendency in all respectable mainline Protestant denominations. You also see it among many Catholics. That kind of assimilation is, I think, the biggest danger to the integrity of religious life today.

Read the whole thing. It’s really important. It is vital to fight in court and elsewhere to maintain authentic religious liberty against the dogmatic advances of the Church of Illiberal Liberalism, but in Kalb’s reading, it is more important for the traditional churches to fight within themselves to maintain their traditional self-understanding, in the face of MTD, which is the only kind of overt religiosity the Church of Illiberal Liberalism can tolerate. This is why Kalb, a Catholic, endorses what I call the Benedict Option:

Still, we’re stuck with liberalism right now. As things are, to live a life as free as possible from its poisons probably does require moral heroism. Certainly it means a break with the usual middle-class lifestyle. I can’t give a lot of useful advice to moral heroes, but it seems likely that a better way of life today will require things like homeschooling and other forms of intentional separation. We need settings in which a different pattern of life can be established. We all do the best we can, though.

There are lessons here for Canadian conservatives – maybe we should not have surrendered so easily? That quaint and cherished concept of the separation of church and state that liberals used to love so much means nothing. Now the state IS the church. Problem solved.

Is there really a war between cyclists and drivers in Toronto?

Elizabeth Renzetti makes some good points in her article in today’s Globe and Mail (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/are-drivers-justified-in-their-irritation-maybe-they-should-just-think-like-cyclists/article19578005/). Although I disagree with her assertion that there is some kind of war between cyclists and drivers in Toronto, she offers good advice to both:

I have no idea how to calm the discord between cyclists and drivers. You can’t throw buckets of water on them, like you would with snarling cats. I can only say what works for me: When I ride, I think like a driver. I watch parked cars, thinking “Do I sometimes open my door distractedly because my mind is in four thousand unrelated places?” When I’m driving, I think like a cyclist: “Have I ever snuck up along the curb in order to grab a few seconds’ lead when the light changes, hoping I can outrace this car turning right?”

I think it’s good practice to think like each other but that only works if you actually do both. The vast majority of people in Canada and the US don’t ride a bike (one or two per cent according to Renzetti).

Her solution, of course, if for North America to emulate Northern Europe and to increase bicycle use to 30 per cent. All North American lefties love Northern Europe – it’s their utopia. The Swedes, The Danes and The Dutch can do no wrong. My wife and in-laws are Danish so I’m not prejudiced but haven’t we learned yet that North America is vastly different than Northern Europe and we can’t expect to do things the same way. European cities are more compact; the weather generally is much milder making it easier to ride longer throughout the year; there is a tradition if cycling in Europe that we don’t have in NA. We should stop comparing ourselves to them and do things our way.

As an aside, my father-in-law told me the story of his nephew, an avid cyclist, who came to the US from Denmark to complete a five-week ride from Montana to Texas. He had done some similar rides in Europe – Denmark to Italy for instance – but he was not prepared for the variations and extremes in weather and the distances between civilized outposts. He lasted five days.

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Anyway, in my opinion, there is no war on cyclists in Toronto that I am aware of. I generally have no trouble riding in this city.

But Renzetti continues:

The war has heated up as summer arrives, and cyclists shake off their winter wariness. Just this week, a Washington Post columnist, Courtland Milloy, wrote an anti-bike rant suggesting it might be okay to run down pesky riders: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.” (Cyclists descended in indignant protest outside the newspaper’s office.)

I’ve heard similar grumblings from drivers: Cyclists are sanctimonious risk-takers who don’t obey the rules of the road, who run stop signs and don’t put lights on their bikes. (These same drivers have never rolled through a stop sign or checked a text message while driving, of course.)

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My advice to cyclists in Toronto: be mindful of the fact that you represent only two per cent of commuters. Stop acting entitled. Obey the rules. Don’t get into arguments with drivers – it’s never worth it. The onus is on you to be alert and to be skilled. And for pity’s sake, drive a car once in awhile.

I admit I am an aggressive rider – I take my lane, I pass cars on the left frequently, I run stop signs when no one is around, I jump lights to get ahead of vehicles and to own my lane. But I’m also courteous to drivers – I ride straight, no bobbing and lolly gagging. I ride fast to keep up with traffic. I move to the right to let vehicles pass when I’m slower then they are. I use lights and wear reflective clothing at night. I signal my intentions. I very rarely get into arguments with drivers and tend to wave off minor indiscretions (but I won’t hesitate to enlighten an ignorant driver about my rights – I just keep it civil).

What do you think? Is there a war with cyclists? Certainly not with the conservative cyclist.

 

 

 

What are the foundations of your morals? Care to find out?

In previous posts, I have written about Jonathan Haidt’s theory of moral foundations and I thought it would be interesting to give my followers an opportunity to complete Haidt’s quiz.  Do you consider yourself liberal, moderate or conservative? Where do you score on the scale?

Or perhaps you’re a member of the “activist centre” as our new Premier likes to call her brand of extremism – just kidding, well not really.

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Anyway, the whole purpose of the exercise is not to pull people apart but to bring them together, to better understand our motivations and opinions and to find the things we have in common. Alan Jacobs at The New Atlantis blog Text Patterns (http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/) summarizes Haidt’s theory and book nicely:

In his recent and absolutely essential book The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt tries to understand why we disagree with one another — especially, but not only, about politics and religion — and, more important, why it is so hard for people to see those who disagree with them as equally intelligent, equally decent human beings. (See an excerpt from the book here.)

Central to his argument is this point: “Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. Moral intuitions arise automatically and almost instantaneously, long before moral reasoning has a chance to get started, and those first intuitions tend to drive our later reasoning.” Our “moral arguments” are therefore “mostly post hoc constructions made up on the fly, crafted to advance one or more strategic objectives.”

Haidt talks a lot about how our moral intuitions accomplish two things: they bind and they blind. “People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds.” “Moral matrices bind people together and blind them to the coherence, or even existence, of other matrices.”

Complete the Moral Foundations Questionnaire at YourMorals.org (http://www.yourmorals.org/)

You have to register but it’s easy to do, there is no spam, and you are doing a service by contributing to the research. The quiz is located under the “Explore Your Morals” tab and it’s the first quiz in the list titled “Moral Foundations Questionnaire”. There are many other surveys as well, if you’re interested.

As you might expect, dear reader, the conservative cyclist scored high on four of the five foundations. On Harm, I scored near the average liberal position at 3.6; on Fairness (my lowest score), I scored 2.6, lower than both the average liberal and average conservative scores; On Loyalty (3.7), Authority (3.8) and Purity (3.3), I scored above the average conservative score.

738385 “Haidt found that in general, the moral mind of liberals rests on two of the five bases: Harm and Fairness. The moral mind of conservatives rests on these two bases, but also the other three: Loyalty, Authority, and Purity. Because of this, Haidt says, liberals have a much harder time understanding conservatives than vice versa.” courtesy of Rod Dreher

Start your morning with Rod Dreher

Sorry to harp on about Rod but he has another terrific post from July 2nd that I missed yesterday in which he analyses the Supreme Court of the United States decision Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby. I am a keen follower of American politics but some of you may not be so here’s a quick explanation of the decision from Wikipedia:

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 573 U.S. ___ (2014), is a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court allowing closely held for-profit corporations to be exempt from a law they religiously object to if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest. The case is the first time that the court has recognized a for-profit corporation’s claim of religious belief,[1] but it is limited to closely held corporations under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The court did not address whether such corporations are protected by the free-exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. For such companies, the court directly struck down the contraceptive mandate, a regulation adopted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), requiring employers to cover certain contraceptives for their female employees. The court said that it was not the least restrictive way to ensure access to contraceptive care, noting that a less restrictive established alternative is already being provided for religious non-profits. The ruling could have widespread impact, allowing companies to be religiously exempt from federal laws.[2][3]

The decision has caused quite a stir. US lefties have gone bonkers.

Anyway, Dreher’s post is titled: Jonathan Haidt Can Explain The Liberal Hobby Lobby Freakout. Note: The mentions upfront of Fishtown and Belmont are references to Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. (http://www.amazon.com/Coming-Apart-State-America-1960-2010/dp/030745343X).

Jonathan Haidt Can Explain The Liberal Hobby Lobby Freakout

by Rod Dreher

A reader who posts under the name Salamander left this comment on the thread about the Left, epistemic closure, and the culture war, in which I made the point that so many on the cultural left are so confident in their own judgments, even though they don’t know what they don’t know. Salamander writes:

Rod, this is so true. I have long joked that my liberal friends love diversity, as long as the diverse persons in question behave exactly like the right sort of upper middle class white people.

I’ve also noticed my nice liberal friends assume that everyone thinks exactly like them. For example, my nice liberal upper middle class female friends know that the only reason they would possibly have gotten pregnant as a teenager would be that they were completely ignorant of how babies are made, or that they were ignorant of contraception, or evil patriarchs blocked all access to contraception, or they were raped – because why else would you jeopardize your college education and career plans? Hence they truly believe that since working class and underclass girls get pregnant frequently, it must be a combination of all of those – complete ignorance about sex and birth control, no doubt because of rape culture and patriarchy – hence more sex ed classes and burning down hobby lobby will fix it. None of them even know an actual baby mama, and have no idea that life’s priorities and circumstances are a little different in Fishtown.

Btw we live in a very Belmont-ish town, a short distance from a very Fishtown-ish town…but there is surprisingly little mixing between the SWPLs in iur town and the working class folks down the road. The five miles between us might as well be fifty in some ways. Both towns are about 99.9% white so it’s not racism. Our church is in the Fishtown-like town so we probably have more firsthand knowledge of the problems Fishtown folks face than our nice liberal friends do (they all go to the UU church in our town where they can obsess about which bathroom hypothetical transsexuals should use while ignoring the unemployment, drug addiction, and broken families down the road.)

She adds:

Rereading that, I sound a little harsh on my nice UU liberal friends. Many of them do serve in soup kitchens and do care about the poor…but I get the vibe that they prefer faraway poor, preferably of another color, because they can blame that sort of poverty on racism which they of course are against. The nearby dysfunctional white people are more problematic, because they refuse to behave like the proper sort of white people. As it is often difficult for upper middle class white people to imagine NOT being upper middle class, they can’t quite figure out why the lack of clear cut rules and moral norms has caused so much chaos in the lower socioeconomic groups, when it hasn’t affected them nearly so much.

This brought to mind something I write about from time to time: the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s finding that conservatives understand liberals better than liberals understand conservatives.

In his invaluable book The Righteous Mind, Haidt — a secular liberal — talks about how our moral intuitions inform our worldview far more than does reason. You can get a basic idea of his thesis in his TED talk. From that talk, here is a very basic outline of Haidt’s theory:

Let’s start at the beginning. What is morality and where does it come from? The worst idea in all of psychology is the idea that the mind is a blank slate at birth. Developmental psychology has shown that kids come into the world already knowing so much about the physical and social worlds, and programmed to make it really easy for them to learn certain things and hard to learn others. The best definition of innateness I’ve ever seen – this just clarifies so many things for me – is from the brain scientist Gary Marcus. He says, “The initial organization of the brain does not depend that much on experience. Nature provides a first draft, which experience then revises. Built-in doesn’t mean unmalleable; it means organized in advance of experience.” OK, so what’s on the first draft of the moral mind? To find out, my colleague, Craig Joseph, and I read through the literature on anthropology, on culture variation in morality and also on evolutionary psychology, looking for matches. What are the sorts of things that people talk about across disciplines? That you find across cultures and even across species? We found five — five best matches, which we call the five foundations of morality.

The first one is harm/care. We’re all mammals here, we all have a lot of neural and hormonal programming that makes us really bond with others, care for others, feel compassion for others, especially the weak and vulnerable. It gives us very strong feelings about those who cause harm. This moral foundation underlies about 70 percent of the moral statements I’ve heard here at TED.

The second foundation is fairness/reciprocity. There’s actually ambiguous evidence as to whether you find reciprocity in other animals, but the evidence for people could not be clearer. This Norman Rockwell painting is called “The Golden Rule,” and we heard about this from Karen Armstrong, of course, as the foundation of so many religions. That second foundation underlies the other 30 percentof the moral statements I’ve heard here at TED.

The third foundation is in-group/loyalty. You do find groups in the animal kingdom – you do find cooperative groups – but these groups are always either very small or they’re all siblings. It’s only among humans that you find very large groups of people who are able to cooperate, join together into groups, but in this case, groups that are united to fight other groups. This probably comes from our long history of tribal living, of tribal psychology. And this tribal psychology is so deeply pleasurable that even when we don’t have tribes, we go ahead and make them, because it’s fun. (Laughter) Sports is to war as pornography is to sex. We get to exercise some ancient, ancient drives.

The fourth foundation is authority/respect. Here you see submissive gestures from two members of very closely related species. But authority in humans is not so closely based on power and brutality, as it is in other primates. It’s based on more voluntary deference, and even elements of love, at times.

The fifth foundation is purity/sanctity. This painting is called “The Allegory Of Chastity,” but purity’s not just about suppressing female sexuality. It’s about any kind of ideology, any kind of idea that tells you that you can attain virtue by controlling what you do with your body, by controlling what you put into your body. And while the political right may moralize sex much more, the political left is really doing a lot of it with food. Food is becoming extremely moralized nowadays, and a lot of it is ideas about purity,about what you’re willing to touch, or put into your body.

Haidt found that in general, the moral mind of liberals rests on two of the five bases: Harm and Fairness. The moral mind of conservatives rests on these two bases, but also the other three: Loyalty, Authority, and Purity. Because of this, Haidt says, liberals have a much harder time understanding conservatives than vice versa. Todd Zywicki explores this point:

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.”

More Zywicki:

As an aside, I think the “thinness” of the liberal moral worldview may explain a phenomenon that has puzzled me, which is the speed at which liberal views harden into orthodoxy and the willingness of liberals to use various forms of compulsion to enforce that orthodoxy. Consider same-sex marriage. For conservatives, this is actually quite a difficult topic and one sees a wide variety of opinion and discussion on the “conservative” side of the fence. “Conservative” opinion is not uniformly opposed to same-sex marriage and conservatives who support same-sex marriage are not ostracized or silenced for doing so. I think Haidt gives a sense why: same-sex marriage cuts across a lot of these moral dimensions in different ways–it simultaneously triggers sanctity (for religious conservatives) and authority (tradition), but it also triggers equality/fairness impulses and care/harm impulses for the individuals affected by it. So conservatives, I think, tend to see it as an issue on which reasonable minds can disagree and that those who hold contrasting views are not generally thought to be immoral or evil. I think this sense that there is room for legitimate disagreement is also consistent with the one near-consensus view of conservatives, which is that regardless of one’s position on the issue there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage, as opposed to allowing the issue to evolve through democratic processes that permit disparate moral and other views to be heard and compromised.

Liberals, by contrast, appear to broach little disagreement from the orthodoxy on this issue (and others for that matter), and I think Haidt gives us a sense why. If they are processing this only through the care and fairness moral value frameworks, then that implies that only immoral people could be opposed to same-sex marriage. And if these people are immoral, then their opposition is hateful and unjustified. So a notion quickly hardens into an orthodoxy–no moral person could oppose same sex marriage. It is then a logical step to a willingness to demonize and try to silence opponents of same-sex marriage as holding not just wrong-headed but illegitimate views, much like the Inquisition, which was premised on the idea that there is potential harm and no value in tolerating “error.” (‘That’s an oversimplification of the Inquisition, of course.) Ditto for more petty forms of censorship and suppression of speech, such as university speech codes.

I think this is right, and it goes far to explain why I am very pessimistic about the future of religious liberty in post-Christian America. You will remember that in the 1996 Romer v. Evans decision, Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court majority, said in striking down a Colorado’s Amendment 2, which banned special protection for gays and bisexuals:

Its sheer breadth is so discontinuous with the reasons offered for it that the amendment seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects; it lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests.

This is a classic example of the Haidtian disconnect between liberals and conservatives (N.B., Justices Kennedy and O’Connor, both nominated by Reagan, are more libertarian than conservative). The Court majority could not imagine any reason other than hatred as the basis for disapproving of homosexuality. This formed the basis for all subsequent gay rights jurisprudence, specifically Lawrence (2003) and Windsor (2013). And it will be on this basis that the Court eventually constitutionalizes same-sex marriage.

What does this have to do with the thermonuclear pants-crapping freakout from liberals over this week’s Hobby Lobby decision? Many liberals seem incapable of grasping that there were and are profound moral issues present in the controversy. Conservatives can, or should be able to, easily understand why liberals who do not believe that Purity, Authority, or Loyalty are morally significant qualities disagree with the decision. Conservatives can also understand why liberals who don’t believe that life begins at conception cannot grasp why it’s such a big deal to those who do, based on the Harm foundation. What is remarkable — and deeply worrying — is not only that so many liberals cannot imagine why conservatives conclude the things we conclude, but that they assume our beliefs only come from illegitimate assumptions. As Zywicki wrote, it’s a quick step from concluding that one’s opponents are only driven by hatred to concluding that they must be thoroughly stamped out, because their irrational animus must not be allowed any quarter. Error has no rights. Suffer not a witch to live. Etc.

The country has unmistakably become far more liberal on gay rights and sexuality in general over the past 50 years — and more individualistic too. When a majority of Americans accept the liberal view of sex and its meaning (or lack thereof), they will be much less sympathetic to religion-based dissent from the mainstream, precisely because they will not be able to comprehend how any decent person could believe the things that traditional religionists do. The Millennials are well on their way: according to the Pew study, they are more liberal than older Americans in their attitudes toward sexuality, they are less religious, they are less trusting of others, and they are more disconnected from institutions.

All this would not be as concerning to me if I had confidence that liberals empathized with conservatives, even as they disagreed with us. But on Haidt’s view, many (though not all) liberals see us only as crazy and/or bad when we disagree with them. And they don’t want to try to understand where we’re coming from, because what good can come from practicing empathy towards evil bastards?

What compounds the fear and frustration is that according to Pew, I am a “faith and family leftist” — that is, a moral and social conservative whose moral and social conservatism (my Christianity, frankly) causes me to break ranks with the mainstream right, usually over issues of economic fairness, including protecting the poor. I left the GOP and registered as an Independent because I no longer believe that the Republican Party’s agenda is one I can identify with. I consider myself more open to voting for Democrats today than I have been since college, especially on matters of foreign policy.

Yet seeing the grotesque animosity towards people like me from liberals over the small-beer Hobby Lobby decision compels me to face up to the fact that the only political force standing between me, my church, and my community, and a State dominated by people who think we traditional church people are cretins who deserve to be pushed around, is Republicans.

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