Tuesday, September 18, 2007

more on Liberals vs. Conservatives

This one makes more sense to me than the one about conservatives being "rigid" and liberals being "flexible," which seemed tautological. Whereas that article really couldn't say anything about non-liberal, non-conservative people like Marxists (who I guess would be both rigid and flexible simultaneously), this one might: Marxists might be saying that the five different moral principles that Haidt posits have been ripped apart by the rise of modern capitalist society and that this alienation needs to end, to find harmony among them. -- Jim

from the Science section of the NY TIMES, 9/18/07: >>“Imagine visiting a town,” Dr. Haidt writes, “where people wear no clothes, never bathe, have sex ‘doggie style’ in public, and eat raw meat by biting off pieces directly from the carcass.”

>> He sees the disgust evoked by such a scene as allied to notions of physical and religious purity. Purity is, in his view, a moral system that promotes the goals of controlling selfish desires and acting in a religiously approved way.

>> Notions of disgust and purity are widespread outside Western cultures. “Educated liberals are the only group to say, ‘I find that disgusting but that doesn’t make it wrong,’ ” Dr. Haidt said.

>> Working with a graduate student, Jesse Graham, Dr. Haidt has detected a striking political dimension to morality. He and Mr. Graham asked people to identify their position on a liberal-conservative spectrum and then complete a questionnaire that assessed the importance attached to each of the five moral systems. (The test, called the moral foundations questionnaire, can be taken online, at www.YourMorals.org.)

>> They found that people who identified themselves as liberals attached great weight to the two moral systems protective of individuals — those of not harming others and of doing as you would be done by. But liberals assigned much less importance to the three moral systems that protect the group, those of loyalty, respect for authority and purity.

>> Conservatives placed value on all five moral systems but they assigned less weight than liberals to the moralities protective of individuals.

>> Dr. Haidt believes that many political disagreements between liberals and conservatives may reflect the different emphasis each places on the five moral categories.

>> Take attitudes to contemporary art and music. Conservatives fear that subversive art will undermine authority, violate the in-group’s traditions and offend canons of purity and sanctity. Liberals, on the other hand, see contemporary art as protecting equality by assailing the establishment, especially if the art is by oppressed groups.

>> Extreme liberals, Dr. Haidt argues, attach almost no importance to the moral systems that protect the group. Because conservatives do give some weight to individual protections, they often have a better understanding of liberal views than liberals do of conservative attitudes, in his view. [what about the "extreme conservatives"?]

>> Dr. Haidt, who describes himself as a moderate liberal, says that societies need people with both types of personality. “A liberal morality will encourage much greater creativity but will weaken social structure and deplete social capital,” he said. “I am really glad we have New York and San Francisco — most of our creativity comes out of cities like these. But a nation that was just New York and San Francisco could not survive very long. Conservatives give more to charity and tend to be more supportive of essential institutions like the military and law enforcement.”<<


19 comments:

Jack said...

Econo.,
It is very disheartening to see that this piece of drivle makes any sense to you. This is the kind of social research that begs to be misinterpreted, misconstrude, and misapplied. If the Journal of Social Psychology is accepting this level of assumptive interpretations then it's a far cry from the journal that it once was. If a social psychologist publishes their work in an alternative journal you know it's probably not up to standards. I guess it's only an economics blog that could discuss such "research" without a tongu-in-cheek tone to the characterization.

Haidt's comment, "..three moral systems that protect the group, those of loyalty, respect for authority and purity" is an enormous assumption on the part of the investigators. What objective evidence is offered to support this assumption? In fact the idea that purity as a moral system protects the group lacks even face validity. As for loyalty and respect for authority, these are traits abundent amongst the most die-hard supporters of totalitarian regimes. That fits very well with Dr. Haidt's observation that "conservatives are more supportive of essential institutions like the military and law enforcement." Staunch supporters and members of the Klu Klux Klan were said to be much concerned with the concepts of purity and were strong supporters of law enforcement. I'd also question what body of literature the good Dr. Haidt might refer to in support of his absurd statement, "...liberal morality will weaken social structure and deplete social capital."

This stuff is silly crap that doesn't deserve serious consideration. It does, unfortunately, give "conservatives" a basis for further ridiculing a liberal point of view.

leigh-anne said...

Hear hear, Jack. This is pretty weak. Conservative group morality sounds a lot like prejudice and ethnocentrism to me.

juan said...

two sides of the same side

'where's the grub'

coberly said...

jack

face validity:

sexual jealousy is a potent source of in-group disharmony. in order for societies to evolve beyond the bonobo stage of evolution means for controlling or at least hiding the sorts of behavior that lead to homicide had to evolve.

they are slightly different in all human cultures, but fairly universal for all that.

whether they still apply or not i don't claim to know. you might ask your wife.

especially after she has been out all night visiting a sick friend.

i am sure you could imagine reasons for unquestioning loyaty and obedience to authority if you could imagine a small family-size or tribal group fighting for survival against hungry neighbors.

again, whether that still applies, or has become counter productive, i don't know.

for what it's worth, a famous liberal in Palestine raised the same questions.

Jack said...

I can imagine many things. I can speculate about even more things. Imagination and speculation have no place in a report that is presented as research findings. Assumptions about the usefulness of purity, loyalty or anything else have less place in research investigation. Haidt seems to have left out the part where the investigators spend some useful time providing operational definitions, and the data that back them up, for his assumptions. I imagine and assume lots of things, but those ideas are suited only to social conversation.

Before we can make assumptions about the value of purity as a moral system we should be required to explicitly define what is or is not purity of behavior. One man's tea is another's coffee, if you get my drift. Purity is not limited to sexual behavior. What level of purity shall we choose as appropriate? That of the orthodox jews. Or maybe that favored by conservative islamists. My personal preference is the purity of the body as an art form, but Mapelthorpe is a bit too pure for my taste. The point is that purity and loyalty are subjective concepts which do not lend themselves easily to objectification.

coberly said...

jack

and yet we objectify them all the time.

or, research without imagination...?

i noted that i forgot to mention... proving that even those of us who know everything can forget to think...that old unexamined concept about a strong family being needed to raise human children who are notoriously slow learners...

and you may not realize that men who are not as good looking as you are can sometimes worry all night about not being able to get another woman by the weekend for impure purposes not to mention true love or a mother for their child.

of course i would not expect to find pure science in the science section of the NYT, but i would expect purity to be in the mind of the beholder, defined by the culture... but then perhaps the researcher was only talking about ritual purity.
clearly not up to your high standards of objective purity.

bad Jim said...

In a comment at Pharyngula, Hank Fox said that liberals piss in the shower, and at least half a dozen of the following commenters were, um, pissed off by the very suggestion.

Conservatives fear that subversive art will undermine authority, violate the in-group’s traditions and offend canons of purity and sanctity.

There's nothing like walking into a house and encountering an anatomically realistic depiction of a sacred heart, dripping blood, to assure you you've left the dangerous nihilistic world in which paintings show humorously distored household objects.

Econoclast said...

Jack writes:
> It is very disheartening to see that this piece of drivle makes any sense to you. This is the kind of social research that begs to be misinterpreted, misconstrude, and misapplied. If the Journal of Social Psychology is accepting this level of assumptive interpretations then it's a far cry from the journal that it once was. ... Haidt's comment, "..three moral systems that protect the group, those of loyalty, respect for authority and purity" is an enormous assumption on the part of the investigators. What objective evidence is offered to support this assumption? ... This stuff is silly crap that doesn't deserve serious consideration. It does, unfortunately, give "conservatives" a basis for further ridiculing a liberal point of view.<

Jack, you forgot something very important: I didn't quote the whole article (because to do so would have been obsessive). Haidt's basic idea is that there is a distinction between the emotional bases for morality (the 5 parts) and moral reasoning. You may not know it, but just because someone has an emotional reaction within the moral sphere does not mean that it's morality in some more accurate sense (i.e., the way I would define morality).

Jack also writes: >What objective evidence is offered to support this assumption?< and: >I can imagine many things. I can speculate about even more things. Imagination and speculation have no place in a report that is presented as research findings. Assumptions about the usefulness of purity, loyalty or anything else have less place in research investigation. Haidt seems to have left out the part where the investigators spend some useful time providing operational definitions, and the data that back them up, for his assumptions. I imagine and assume lots of things, but those ideas are suited only to social conversation.<

Second, you should remember that no NYT article can summarize all of the research that went into Haidt's story of morality. I haven't read his books and articles. But his point of view (which might have been explained poorly by the NYT) is based on evolutionary and social-scientific research. It's been subject to criticism and debates by other people who know a lot about these subjects. That doesn't mean that Haidt's research is correct, but we can _provisionally_ think about what it means. I find the general view plausible, separating the evolutionary-biological basis of morality from the more intellectual thinking about moral questions. (Clearly, there would be a dialectic between these two levels, but the NYT doesn't discuss that.) The idea that there might be a number of basic emotions behind morality makes provisional sense. But like everything else in social and natural science, it's a _working hypothesis_, not a Truth.

BTW, Haidt's stuff also gives "liberals" a basis for further ridiculing the conservative point of view. As I cryptically noted in my cryptic heading comment, this stuff also gives "Marxists" a basis for further ridiculing both sides of the liberal/conservative divide: if we accept Haidt's 5-fold division, each of the two main ruling moral ideologies covers only some of the emotional bases. Each is incomplete.

This incompleteness may be the result of the way that capitalism has split society, alienated each of us from the community. In that case, "Marxism" might find a way to reunite the pieces, to end the alienation by creating a new society when such reunification is possible.

-- (good) Jim

coberly said...

bad jim

i am one of those who did not freak out at robert maplethorpe and the national endowment

on the other hand i wouldn't have gone out of my way to admire his work either

so, while i waste a lot of my time trying to persuade "conservatives" that there is no angry god demanding they seek the blood of the impure..

i have my suspicions about the extreme emotionalism of "liberals" who insist we are morally defective unless we embrace the holy iconoclasm of saying dirty words in public.

and with more reservations about what passes for scientific research than you would believe... on the whole i'd like to see more... careful... inquiry into the bases for political belief

because i sure as hell can't find any intellectual bases.

coberly said...

leigh anne

prejudice and ethnocentrism are facts of life.

especially hard to recognize when it is your own.

here is a modest suggestion:

recognize that all those terrible conservative hangups are not going to go away just because you waggle your private parts at their aunties.

realize that the bad guys have fooled you: the important issue is not who thinks cheating by his wife is the end of the world or no big deal

the important issue is how to use government to keep the otherwise sure winners of the economic game -- not you -- from turning their relative advantage into your grinding poverty.

you'd be surprised how many of those "social conservatives" would be on your side in a politics based on that.

J.Goodwin said...

I'm not bothered by Bonobos screwing each other in the mountains of Africa, nor am I particularly bothered by the sex parties and orgies that happen routinely in the United States behind closed doors.

I'd be uncomfortable at such a party, and I'd definitely leave, however, there is only a tenuous distinction between what happens behind closed doors in my own town and what happens in public in another town.

coberly said...

tenuous distinction?

i'd only point out that what a liberal would "call disgusting but not necessariy "wrong," " is what a conservative might say threatens the very foundations of personal safety if not civilization itself.

i'm trying not to take sides here, but i suspect a decent respect for the feelings of the natives might keep you from ending up in the stew.

and might make it possible for you to collaborate with them on issues of economic security and climate change.

Jack said...

jim(good or bad),
No doubt that a summary in the NYTs is not the best basis for understanding or criticizing a body of research. Still, when an investigator seeks to study concepts like loyalty and purity, which have enormous breadth of meaning, it behooves the investigator to be precise in the definition of those terms. In addition, those same terms are themselves emotionally charged. Is loyalty different from fealty? Is purity the absence of some specific ideation or intention? I did not see any trace of an intention to objectify the terms in the post, as it described Haidt's study. Haidt's work may be a good starting point in an effort to better understand these concepts and how they influence our behavior. In that sense it seems to be pre-hypothetical, at a stage where it makes for some stimulating conversation which may be social (get me a drink so I can think this through more carefully) or theoretical(can we come up with something that NIH will fund out of this stuff?)

coberly, Re. your comment to leigh ann: What the devil are you talking about?

coberly said...

jack

leigh ann said that "conservative group morality sounds a lot like prejudice and ethnocentrism" to her.

in my weak way i was trying to point out that we all suffer from prejudice and ethnocentrism.

then i fell away into a running battle i have with certain people who think they are liberal while they are despising native white americans. these people are often careful to flaunt their rejection of the mores of the simple folk just in time to play into republican hands before an election.

because i think the proper role of government is to protect the people from the excesses of those with power, i despair to see those who i believe are intelligent enough to know this throw away their chances of winning an election by emphasizing their contempt for the "prejudices" of the masses.

that's the devil i was talking about.

Jack said...

I was afraid that that was the point, or points as the case is. I'll give you my take just briefly and leave the conversation at that as I note that you have a tendency to prolong a discussion beyond its useful life. Possibly you think you can beat a point into another's head regardless of its validity or not.

You argue for a better more representative government. However, when the point is made that a serious educational process is required to that end because of the inclination of too many people to think in predefined ways that are self defeating you suddenly jump to the defense of rights of those voters to think in their own peculiar way. You suggest that the "conservative" individual will be alienated by the truth. We should all be so lucky to have genuine conservatism make a showing in American politics. What passes for conservatism on our political landscape is mostly egocentrism. Something like the me generation to the nth degree. Fear, bigotry, selfishness and self aggrandisement color all aspects of American political, and too often social, life. You accomplish no good end by repeatedly finding fault with the point that the people create a flawed political landscape by their own faulty perceptions of social equality and fairness.

Cian said...

I don't know Haidt's work, but the summary in the NYT suggests I probably don't want to. Granted newspapers are pretty bad at reporting academic research, but there are certain things that seem very problematic.

a) He treats politics as simply being in two camps - liberal and conservative. This is very naive, disturbingly ethnocentric and suggests a man who does not question cultural assumptions. not good traits in a researcher.

b) Purity does not have the single unproblematic meaning, nor the cause, that the article suggests. I'm not sure that you can meaningfully study it in the way that it suggests. You could study certain types of purity, but then you've have to unpack how they relate to the overall culture. This is difficult, careful, work.

c) You simply can't draw the conclusions he does from the kind of work he's discussing. Either he's done a whole lot more work, or he likes to get his name in the paper. Again, I start to lose interest in his academic work.

Evoluationary psychology tends to be the worst kind of waffly crap, which makes loads of culturally loaded assumptions about human nature. Pseudo-scientific pub talk as a friend calls it. An awful lot of it can be contradicted by anthropological evidence, that evolutionary psychologists are oblivious to (Hmm, this reminds me of many economists).

Social psychologists tend (and there are some fine exceptions) to be methodologically sloppy, use vague and imprecise terms, poor experimental technique and run culturally subjective experiments. A field to be wary of unfortunately.

"The idea that there might be a number of basic emotions behind morality makes provisional sense."

It doesn't just make provisional sense, its been fairly well proven using a number of techiques.
However if it hadn't, the fact that you think it sounds plausible does not make it any more likely to be true. In fact, your own bias is something to be wary of if you are interpreting data.

"But like everything else in social and natural science, it's a _working hypothesis_, not a Truth."

That's not an excuse for sloppy work. The point is to increase one's confidence in the data and one's interpretations using a variety of techniques.

coberly said...

jack

given that my thesis is that most people cannot even recognize their own prejudices and ethnocentrism, it would indeed be foolish of me to imagine that i could teach you anything simply by trying to find a better way of explaining it to you.

you are the sort of person who will not learn anything until you hear it from the hundredth monkey. then you will not only believe it is true, but believe it is obvious, and that you always knew it.

all i can do is my part as the 73'd or 22'd monkey.

But I will point out that you began with a diatribe about how the concepts of the referenced article did not even have "face validity." When I suggested a face validity, you came back with a diatribe on "operational definitions."

As a matter of strict "science," the study in question achieves an "operational definition" if he simply points at his questionaire and describes the manner in which the subjects were selected and the conditions under which the questionaire was filled out.

This is in principle no different than the scientist who describes a particle collider and uses a word like "quark" to describe one of the replicable results of colliding "protons" at a certain "energy."

As an old-school teacher the best I could ever hope for was the three R's: Read, Repeat, and Report Card.

Absent that, especially the last, you will continue to believe that your free associations are not only "logical," but "true."

Jack said...

coberly,
I now understand your several points more clearly. I'm pleased that we have been able to find common ground on this issue. There is little that I could add.

donna said...

Stop insulting bonobos. They are just as evolved as we are.

And have a hell of a lot more fun.