In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt argues libertarians value liberty, liberals (American) value “caring” and to a lesser degree liberty/oppression, and conservatives care/harm, liberty/oppression, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation fairly equally.
Conservatives sense the world is complex & proportionality leads to better solutions; indeed, conservatives are often more pragmatic. Despite his occasional (leftist) tics, he fits the more skeptical study of human nature we see in Franklin & Adams, Hamilton & Madison. Neither he nor the readers here would be surprised by a story which should make those who profess “caring” a bit uncomfortable: Unemployment Rate Dropped In Every State That Elected A Republican Gov. In 2010
Update: Arthur Brooks uses Haidt and makes an argument about who cares.
8 thoughts on “Who Cares?”
I found “Righteous Mind” to be one of the most intellectually exciting books of the last decade, at least. I haven’t read anything as revealing of the human condition since Wilson’s “Sociobiology.”
Yes, the author is acculturated to academia liberalism but he tees up enough obvious trains of thought that show that having a full moral compass as with conservatives gives one a much more completely human range of thought and action. We’ve evolved the full compass and only in a decadent, non-competitive hot house environment or era can liberalism survive.
Yes, I really enjoyed it. It’s nice that he seems to fit with those great old guys in his perspective – but its sad, too, that we moved away from that for 200 years and I’m not sure what we gained.
And it is a bit depressing to look at a story like that one and know that it still won’t register – people will still say they “care” and still follow policies that lead to a stagnant economy and a sadly narrow set of values.
Haidt can adjust, as well. When he first came out with this type of data five years ago I started railing that liberals also used sanctity/degradation and loyalty/betrayal, but the questions he used only noted the conservative tropes: whether you would, if you had noting else, use a flag to clean the toilet, but not whether you would wipe your butt with a newspaper photo of MLK. (I wouldn’t do either, myself.) I can’t have been the only one, because he has moved in the direction of noting that and mentioning it.
Haidt is becoming an ex-liberal in spite of himself, partly because of the snootiness and pigheadedness he is encountering. He is almost even-handed at this point, and I would call him center-left. I like his willingness to follow the data.
As to the “caring,” see also Arthur C Brooks book “Who Really Cares?” I think liberals use a limited and convenient definition of many words.
I too found “The Righteous Mind” to be exceptionally interesting.
I just happened to be reading “The Road to Freedom” by Aurthur Brooks concurrently, and had the great pleasure of seeing a practical application of Mr. Haidts’ research findings, as Mr. Brooks attempted the “moral case” for the free enterprise system in a way that would not spook the “elephant”.
I found all three of Haidts’ major insights to be very thought provoking.
1) When it comes to morality, intuitions come first, and reasoning follows in support of those intuitions.
2) The above mentioned, moral foundations theory.
3) Our dual nature of selfishness and groupishness.
In this last I kept thinking that if he were not such a “leftist” he would have benefited from Hayek’s thoughts on “group selection”. And then I laughed when he revealed that he eventually did (along with Adam Smith, Thomas Sowell, etc.).
I think that it is so important to “actually” understand how others think as opposed to how we (with our own world views) imagine that they think.
Ideas for practical applications are keeping me up late at night…
I was clearing out old printouts and ran across this one – from not so long ago:
Richard Epstein’s “Psychology vs. Public Policy” addresses Haidt. Epstein is somewhat critical, but clearly his perspective is policy rather than moral psychology, Haidt’s area. But, he notes the similarity to “faculty psychology”, which defined so much for the founders and still obsesses David Walker Howe’s Making the American Self. (A book I really love as well.) The resemblance was actually one of the ways I, like you, Victor, had been musing. Haidt really is interesting.
Epstein thinks Haidt asks the wrong question (well, has a different context than Epstein’s is probably the way we might think of it). But, interstingly, Epstein’s answer is one the founders valued; Epstein argues “What is needed is a system of strong property rights so that people who differ on how they wish to live their lives can do so without getting permission from the dominant faction. At that point, they can adopt any allocation of resources they see fit, including charitable contributions.”
When it comes to university professors in the behavioral sciences, Haidt is actually about as conservative as they come. See, for example, his comments about liberals/conservatives at (read down about half way):
You can’t exactly expect him to start channeling Rush Limbaugh. One element of human moral behavior is the predisposition to perceive others in terms of ingroups and outgroups, and by doing so, Haidt would immediately class himself in one of his milieu’s outgroups.
The Righteous Mind: The left is apparently so afraid of this book that they have created a fake Amazon page (with a book cover that includes the Italian salute) that comes up before the real Amazon page on more than one search engine. Just enter “the righteous mind jonathan haidt” in your favorite search engine…
The point where he goes to a book store and he pulls out an anthology Conservatism edited by Muller; suddenly, he finds himself sitting down on the floor, reading it almost hungrily. Then he reads Hume & Burke, Hayek & Sowell – and, well, he starts thinking. That’s what must be scary. Liberals are having to tap dance awfully fast – caring for indigenous people means giving jobs to Elizabeth Warren. At times the dissonance must be difficult to bear. And how many people have said reading Hayek changed them. Haidt is right; experience has started to get the elephan to turn, then reading the reasons works. His experience had taught him those theories were true, described human nature. (I’ve got to say, something like this happened to me and some of those writers were the catalyst. I do wish he didn’t feel it was necessary to throw in a footnote saying he’d never vote for Bush – it’s like academic writers always have to say, I’m one with you. But then, well, then that’s not enough.)
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