Moral Polarization and Many Pussyhats

by John Holbo on January 22, 2017

I agree with a lot in this piece by Will Wilkinson. But I disagree with stuff he says after asking the question ‘why is our moral culture polarizing?’

One place to start is to ask why it is that people, as individuals, gravitate to certain moral and political viewpoints. Jonathan Haidt’s “moral foundations” theory—which shows that conservatives and liberals have different moral sensibilities, sensitive to different moral considerations—is perhaps the best-known account. But there are others.

In a 2012 piece for the Economist, I surveyed some of the research in personality psychology that indicates a correlation between political ideology and a couple of the “Big Five” dimensions of personality—conscientiousness and openness to experience, in particular—and then connected that to evidence that people have self-segregated geographically by personality and ideology. It’s an interesting post and you should read it.

The upshot is that liberals (low conscientiousness, high openness to experience) and conservatives (high conscientiousness, low openness) have distinctive personalities, and that there’s reason to believe we’ve been sorting ourselves into communities of psychologically/ideologically similar people.

Wilkinson goes on to talk about other, non-Haidt stuff that contributes to polarization. I like that better. (I think Wilkinson does, too.) But I want to grouse about Haidt, who I think has done interesting empirical work but who commits what I regard as terrible howlers when it comes to moral theory, and when it comes to reasoning about practical, normative implications of his work.

Let me start with a logic problem, pointing to a crack in the empirical work. (Plus pussyhats and protests, for topical value.) Haidt is highly bothered about two problems he sees with liberalism on campus – and in other environments in which lefties predominate. He’s written a lot of popular stuff about this.

1) An unbalanced moral ecology. Allegedly liberals have a thinner base of values, whereas conservatives have a broader one. Everyone, liberal and conservative alike, is ok with care/no harm/liberty – although liberals are stronger on these. Conservatives are much stronger on the loyalty/authority/purity axis, since allegedly liberals are weak-to-negligible here. (Haidt used to say there were five, now there are six foundations. I’m not going to quibble about that.) So: not enough conservatives in liberal environments to ensure a flexible, broad base of values. How illiberal!

2) Political correctness. Haidt has a real bug in his ear about this one.

The logic problem is this. If 2) is a problem, 1) is necessarily solved. And if solving 2) is important, then the proposed solution to 1) is wrong (or at least no reason has been given to suppose it is right).

To explain: if the absolute very worst that Haidt says about PC run amuck is utterly true, then campus liberals/progressives are, in terms of his moral foundations scheme, shooting through the roof along the loyalty/authority/purity axis. Because that’s what PC is. An authoritarian insistence on ‘safe spaces’ and language policing, trigger warnings and other stuff. If it’s true that universities have turned into PC prison camps – narrow, orthodox, rigid authoritarian, etc. – then it logically follows that universities have successfully broadened their moral bases to flexibly encompass all 6 values. The university is, by hypothesis, filthy with folks who are strong on all 6 value axes: SJW’s, as they are called.

In short, if 2) is a problem, it is logically impossible for 1) to still be a problem, if ever it was.

There is another way to put it: Haidt likes the irony that liberal refusal to see the value of tribalism has made them paradoxically narrow – hence tribal. This seems like the joke is on liberals. But, so far as I can tell, the joke is also on Haidt. The problem solves itself. If the problem is as Haidt says.

Now, outside the groves of academe, and in the news: protests. Why is everyone wearing pussyhats at Protest Marches? (More power to them!) Because the Prez is a professed pussy-grabber, which is a harm but also (this is important) a purity violation. Sacred values are often sacred spaces. Women’s bodies. Trump – who has never attempted to purify himself for former violations – is now in violation of a second sacred space, the White House. It’s wrong for a guy like that to be sullying the White House with his presence. Also, the Russians. That’s a purity violation of the election, to put it mildly.

I’m not saying liberals/progressives just have some sort of weird cult of purity. Not at all. They care about justice. But, quite understandably, symbols and issues and talking points that reach out and grab you not just up here but down there (pardon my locker room banter) are more potent. They touch upon that-which-should-not-be-touched (without performance of proper rites, i.e. getting consent from the proper authorities over that space.)

And conservatives are unmoved by all this protest. They’re all boys-will-be-boys. (And the Russians love their children, too!) Maybe women should be open to new experiences! Not so uptight!

No, obviously conservatives have their own purity values. No transgenders in wrong bathrooms! Don’t say they lack old time religion.

What do we conclude from all this? First, I don’t think it would be sensible to grant Haidt’s premise that universities are PC hellscapes. I argued that IF they are, THEN it follows that universities must be very morally broad-based places, by Haidt’s lights. What we should conclude is not that PC is, or is not, a problem, but that having a broad moral base, in Haidt’s sense, is not as automatically ecologically sound as it sounds; neither here nor there with regard to the question of how to avoid problems of moral narrowness and rigidity, in individuals or communities or institutions. Haidt has a sense that he wants some kind of pluralistic, healthy ecology of values. But his recipe for that has no obvious tendency to correlate with anything of the sort. Why would it?

More generally – and relevantly to Wilkinson’s discussion – I think we should be highly skeptical of the practical, political significance of these correlations between personality-types and political ideologies. I want to be careful here, too, because there is interesting empirical work. But my suspicion is that we have a relatively small effect (the correlations are not that strong) that is going to be totally swamped, overwhelmed, by the vastly stronger tides of tribalism and group identity. It may be that liberals-progressives are marginally less tribalistic – more open and all that – because they have stronger cosmopolitan values of care and no-harm.

Well, I would like to think so.

But, honestly, I doubt systematic personality differences explain much about current polarization patterns, either to liberals’ credit or discredit, on Haidt’s story.

(Setting sociology aside: what matters, morally, is that liberal-progressive symbols of purity violation – pussyhats – and conservative symbols of purity violation – transgender bathrooms – point us towards justice issues, concerning which those on the left are in the right, those on the right in the wrong. I think. I have my doubts about any holiness that bends towards injustice. Why would it do that? Haidt tends to assume liberals are unaware of non-liberal values, rather than aware-but-skeptical.)

Getting back to Wilkinson: he’s right that we should try hard to understand both the mechanisms behind polarization and how – someday – we might get to a better place. I think Haidt’s foundations stuff has something to it, as moral psychology. That stuff has obviously bearings on partisanship, as a normal state of the human moral mind. But it has not much mechanical bearing on political differences between liberals and conservatives. There isn’t some piety gap, and the partisan warfare isn’t asymmetrical. As a result, the stuff Haidt (and others) say at Heterodox Academy mostly makes no sense whatsoever.

I feel bad that Trump is President. But the hats are much appreciated.

{ 385 comments }

1

Chet Murthy 01.22.17 at 10:22 am

Once upon a time I read a full article by Haidt. Turned my stomach. He fundamentally neither understands (nor values) that (for example) the right of a tennage gay child to grow up and not fear being beaten to a pulp by his schoolmates is non-negotiable. All his sophistry is just an attempt to cover up this basic moral deficit.

And of course, many other basic rights, but this one example is enough.

2

Saurs 01.22.17 at 12:45 pm

I find it peculiar to take cues from the horse’s tiny hands or mouth or whatever that sexual assault is a violation of a highly symbolic “purity,” the assault a “harm,” one method to eradicating that harm a “ritual,” when what is being discussed is the liberty of women, a liberal value you name-check the once and then swiftly abandon, possibly because it’s inconveniently muddying up something nice and special. Seems a wasted opportunity, with the added deficit of badly mishandling what people talk about when they talk about objectified bodies (the knitted pussies thank you for your permission to exist but ask you to reconsider the synecdoche of body part/woman). I do wonder about what the sanctity of black and female bodies is for, given that when a white man is murdered he is murdered but when a person embodying a marked subcategory experiences the same, suddenly something is taking place on the “site” of a “body.”

Nevertheless, always lovely to hear that when women talk about what has been done to them, a disinterested party becomes concerned about whether the potency is enough to get to wherever, politically, he wants to be going. Woman as this year’s talking point (it’s 1992 all over again!), something to be used as an illustration of something or a cosh to wield against one’s intellectual opponents, whether we’re pissing in public or wearing a punny hat. Male commentary over the last 24 hours seems to have doubled its normal bloated rate. Mighty chatty.

3

Pretendous 01.22.17 at 12:52 pm

An alternative moral psychological account, propounded by Kurt Grey, I believe, is that all morality is based on care/harm and that liberals and conservatives are just attuned to different objects of care/harm. Liberals are more concerned about care for/harm to individual autonomy and conservatives are more concerned about care/harm to traditional institutions.

Perhaps some evidence for this alternative interpretation is that when issues of, what Haidt would identify as, purity are litigated in the public sphere they are often rhetorically expressed as issues of care/harm. Touching someone without first seeking consent is wrong because to do so is harmful to them; it diminishes their power over their own bodies. Allowing people with penises into restrooms designated for people with vaginas is wrong because it is harmful to the people with vaginas; it harms their sense of security.

4

John Holbo 01.22.17 at 1:10 pm

“I find it peculiar to take cues from the horse’s tiny hands or mouth or whatever that sexual assault is a violation of a highly symbolic “purity,” the assault a “harm,” one method to eradicating that harm a “ritual,” when what is being discussed is the liberty of women, a liberal value you name-check the once and then swiftly abandon, possibly because it’s inconveniently muddying up something nice and special.”

Saurs! ya ol’ troll! (Where have you been, lo these many months?)

UPDATE: This was unfair of me. Saurs is trolling in this case, but not always in the past. We regret the error.

In answer to your query: of course it’s an assault. Of course you cannot ritually eradicate it. (Don’t be silly.) See post. It’s a justice problem, at bottom. Equally clearly, this sort of protest – these symbolic acts will clearly quality as expressions of ‘purity’ values on Haidt’s scheme. There is no reason why one act can’t be two things. A protest against injustice. A kind of ritualistic expression of views or attitudes about what is sacred.

5

John Holbo 01.22.17 at 1:22 pm

“Perhaps some evidence for this alternative interpretation is that when issues of, what Haidt would identify as, purity are litigated in the public sphere they are often rhetorically expressed as issues of care/harm. Touching someone without first seeking consent is wrong because to do so is harmful to them; it diminishes their power over their own bodies. Allowing people with penises into restrooms designated for people with vaginas is wrong because it is harmful to the people with vaginas; it harms their sense of security.”

I think that may be somewhat a function of US legal/public culture. If someone is doing something you really don’t like – that seems disgusting – you reach for harm arguments because you know that probably those are going to be trumps. This gets the causation the other way around. At bottom are values of purity/reactions of disgust but they induce confabulatory harm arguments.

6

engels 01.22.17 at 1:32 pm

Didn’t ‘low conscientiousness’ used too be the wingnut pseudo-scientific explanation of poverty? If so, does Wilkinson think that liberals tend to be poor?

7

John Holbo 01.22.17 at 1:51 pm

“If so, does Wilkinson think that liberals tend to be poor?”

It’s not Wilkinson’s theory, just to be clear. It’s a term in a fairly standard framework for studying personality.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_traits

8

engels 01.22.17 at 2:00 pm

Sorry—I know the Big Five framework is mainstream psychology; I didn’t think using it to predict earings or political allegiance was.

9

Cheryl Rofer 01.22.17 at 2:09 pm

John, nice analysis and thanks for the pointer to the Wilkinson article, which is the first I’ve seen that carefully analyzes the splits we’re seeing in the US. Also, thanks for the critique of Haidt. It may be that he is applying his narrow view of what constitutes his categories (trans use of bathrooms bad; grabbing pussy – eh) to come up with his dour picture of liberals.

And seeing how the comments have started off, with the usual male devaluation of women, I think I’ll just leave after this comment. Yesterday was energizing, and I’ll leave the trolls to you.

10

John Holbo 01.22.17 at 2:18 pm

“I didn’t think using it to predict earings or political allegiance was.”

I don’t see Wilkinson saying we can predict earnings or political allegiance on that basis. If something is VERY strongly correlated, you can use it to predict but the sorts of correlation strengths he is talking about would not tend to support that sort of inferences. It’s pretty tenuous-sounding, right?

11

Lee A. Arnold 01.22.17 at 2:28 pm

Ought to be pointed out, that this election may have flipped the liberal/conservative moral calculus. If conservatives have a “stronger sense of moral purity, contamination, and disgust”, then at least one of three things must be true: 1. They did not vote for Trump, 2. they are intellectually incompetent and believe lies, 3. they just destroyed themselves morally.

The Trump voters I know (some of whom are bluecollar social liberals) exhibit an uneasy sense of #3. They are unconscious of this; they don’t want to admit it to themselves. But they stumble repeatedly over the obvious logical conclusion from this election: that they just showed the kids that you are ALLOWED to make fun of the way people look; act outrageously on a public stage; be a racist about a Federal judge; tell obvious lies; say one thing then next day say the opposite; manhandle women and boast about it — all of this, and STILL you can be elected President!

And of course the kids all took note of their elders’ hypocrisy. This is a stain that will be on the moral fabric for a few generations.

The next scientific surveys ought to incorporate an exploration of the “moral relativism” this has induced into the Trump-half (or, a little less than half) of the U.S. population. It might also explore the “denialism”: even now, Trump voters on social media are still lashing out at Hillary and the “progressives” — who lost the White House, like, 3 months ago! Or the surveys might wait a few more months, to explore the likely “self-loathing”: when the Trumphalf realizes that 90% of anything good that Trump does is what Hillary would have done too, but with Trump, we added the incalculable cost of degrading the public morals indelibly, — well then, they may really start hitting the booze.

12

engels 01.22.17 at 2:37 pm

If something is VERY strongly correlated, you can use it to predict but the sorts of correlation strengths he is talking about would not tend to support that sort of inferences.

OT but I don’t know if that’s true: if there’s a weak correlation you can still use that to make a prediction, it’s just going to be less reliable…

Relatedly, Cambridge Analytica (advisors to Brexit campaign and Trump) claims to have used this scale along with internet surveillance to build very detailed profiles on every US voter for targeting ads.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-plan-for-a-comeback-includes-building-a-psychographic-profile-of-every-voter

13

bob mcmanus 01.22.17 at 2:40 pm

Many thanks for the Wilkinson article, which is good, if not unique. I agree with your criticisms of Haidt. I missed any mention of Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort which is sort of a detailed history of the geographical division. Of course, none of those sources deal well with the economic reasons for the Sort, so material on late capitalism and neoliberalism need to be added. Difference can be commodified and profited from.

I am also reading up on settler colonialism (J Sakai, James Belich), which is usually connected to patriarchal Whiteness, but defined as “moving to someone else’s territory so as to remake it in your own image or Utopia) can apply to current San Francisco as well as early Australia, to the Democratic Left which is invigorating Whiteness settlerism more than rural Republicans who are maintaining settler traditions while remaining in place. The Big Sort is global, but will express itself in more colonialist ways in the nations built on settlerist ideology.

Which leads us to neo-colonialist and post-colonialist theory, which has been used for Global analysis (Chinese capital buying agricultural land in Africa) but has not been applied as much to internal political-economic processes. Manhattan-LA-SF is to Iowa as 19th century London is to Manchu China (Oxycontin-Opium) and our current troubles something like the Taiping or Boxer Rebellions? Said rebels not looking all that liberal at the time.

I am sure there is plenty to disagree with in the above, without directly offending Rofer, but probably everybody else. Out to look for Inglehart, Welzel, and F Moretti.

14

SusanC 01.22.17 at 2:49 pm

It may be quite hard to disentangle the direction of cause and effect with respect to purity violations.

e.g. (with a slight nod towards Moses Maimonides), did pork become categorized as non-kosher because of the risk of illnesses carried by it, or is the disease risk a confabulation to rationalize the purity taboo?

15

John Holbo 01.22.17 at 2:51 pm

I hope no one thinks I was unfair to Saurs.

UPDATE: On second thought, I think I was unfair to Saurs. Rather ironic that it should turn out to be me. But life is full of injustice and error.

16

EB 01.22.17 at 3:01 pm

@3: ” An alternative moral psychological account, propounded by Kurt Grey, I believe, is that all morality is based on care/harm and that liberals and conservatives are just attuned to different objects of care/harm. Liberals are more concerned about care for/harm to individual autonomy and conservatives are more concerned about care/harm to traditional institutions.”

This is an interesting (and fairly convincing) addition to the conversation started by Haidt & Co (let’s at least give them credit for opening up this topic in the minds of the general public).

17

stevenjohnson 01.22.17 at 3:32 pm

Haven’t read Haidt directly, because I don’t think doing statistically controlled experiments with a falsifiable hypothesis is necessarily science. To me it seems like the OP is trying to analyze how individual psychology is supposed to be expressed as a political phenomenon in the example of “PC.” Whether or not the analysis is fair to Haidt, I can’t say. But I very much doubt that individual psychology is all that determinative of social behavior, because people tend to conform to social roles, rather than social roles conforming to their personalities. But Haidt and other variants on him (like Corey Robin) don’t appear to consider this alternative. It seems like parapsychologists doing falsifiable experiments without establishing psi is actually a thing.

Or so it seems. The other thing of course is the obvious political utility of a “scientific” attack on liberalism.

18

nastywoman 01.22.17 at 3:32 pm

Having a Republican Grandfather who despises F…face von Clownstick to the utmost degree – mainly because of of him being ‘a pig’ – there might be still some truth about what Haidt had argued – that ‘progressives prioritize the moral foundations Care, Fairness, and Lifestyle Liberty in their reasoning while libertarians prioritize Lifestyle and Economic Liberty; while conservatives value all six metrics roughly equally – but otherwise it’s like otherwise ‘all over the map’.

As did you guys lately participate in a US Spring Break?

There is very little ‘politics’ or ‘philosophical’ thought in getting blasted and trying to garb some p….

19

Jake Gibson 01.22.17 at 3:33 pm

The philosophical contention that I find between left and right is justice versus order.

Overgeneralizing, but for the right, politics and law are intended to maintain the traditional order and hierarchy; whether economic, racial, religious, etc.
For the left, politics and law are intended to give everyone equal access to
the benefits of society, not limited to equal opportunity to obtain that access.
To me, it seems that many on the right operate as though “liberty” is zero sum.

20

EB 01.22.17 at 3:35 pm

The idea that SJW’s are expressing loyalty when they insist on restrictions on speech and opinion (to the extent that that is happening, and we can disagree on that extent), is plausible. But, consider that they are not expressing loyalty to a group, a history, or a social system so much as an attempt to lift up those who have been harmed by oppression in the past. So right back to harm/care.

21

Omega Centauri 01.22.17 at 3:40 pm

As a physicist who is aware of the potential for phase changes even a small correlation might have large consequences in the bulk (collective) properties of a system. Consider two water molecules, one with a temperature of 32.1 F, and one with a temperature of 31.9F. If you looked at them separately it would be hard to tell which is which, the energy levels of the various degrees of freedom being statistically determined quantum values. But create two bulk samples each with trillions of such molecules, and the difference will be very noticeable. A lot of system can exhibit such tipping point behavior, there can be critical points where a tiny change in the control knob can lead to strikingly different outcomes. Perhaps an otherwise minor sorting of social propensities between two communities will have little effect, or perhaps the effect will be huge.

Now, modern technology is enabling increasing sorting, both physically, as the best academically inclined people move from the country to the city, but also our ability to select media has been growing by leaps and bounds. My fear is that the tipping point could bring us into civil war kind of territory.

22

John Holbo 01.22.17 at 3:43 pm

“But, consider that they are not expressing loyalty to a group, a history, or a social system so much as an attempt to lift up those who have been harmed by oppression in the past. So right back to harm/care.”

I think it’s fair to say that when people get really fired up about identity politics – or when the attraction of action is, in part, that of belonging to a group of the righteous – then it can’t be pure harm/care. Remember, we’re talking psychology, not normative theory. This is what makes Haidt almost trivially wrong, in my opinion. Every protest march is always going to be about loyalty and purity and authority as well as justice. The idea that liberals all march because utilitarianism, or something, whereas conservatives are tribal – that’s just not on.

23

William Timberman 01.22.17 at 3:48 pm

John Holbo @ 15

When someone is weaseling around behind your argument, looking to sneak a nip at it’s Achilles tendon, a baleful glance in acknowledgment of what the wee bugger is up to never hurts. Gives the rest of us a chuckle, too. Well done, sir.

24

bob mcmanus 01.22.17 at 3:59 pm

Every protest march is always going to be about loyalty and purity and authority as well as justice.

Right. And one of the main points of the West and the Enlightenment was to find universalist abstractions (opposing localized tradition) that as authority and discursive power could be used by Whites against the Iroquois as well as merchants against Charles I and capitalists for enclosure (efficiency! It’s just Science and good for all!) in other moments of accumulation by dispossession. Or, Foucault.

25

JHW 01.22.17 at 4:02 pm

I think this post illustrates my biggest problem with Haidt: the ways in which his list of values map on to actual issue positions is always ambiguous and contestable. Further, it is at least sometimes the case that thinking of issue positions in these terms elevates (at most) rhetorical distinctions over substantive ones. PC is a case where you can easily tell a care story, a do-no-harm story, a loyalty story, or a purity story—and I’m not sure these stories are even really different stories, or just different ways of saying the same thing. If I say “I think racist harassment violates the sacredness of a university,” that sounds like a purity story, but my cashed-out version might be that it does so because a university’s sacredness is bound up with its commitment to equal educational opportunity–does that make it a harm story?

The obvious response from a Haidt defender would be that actually I’m just illustrating his point: liberal JHW can tell purity stories, sure, but at bottom they’re “really” harm stories. OK. But I’m not sure this is less true for conservatives. Opposition to same-sex marriage might sound like a classic case of “purity”: traditional marriage is sacred and it is defiled when its traditional contours are broken down. But just as with PC and the sanctity of the university, there are substantive commitments lurking beneath: a view that sex-based statuses and roles are important to the well-being of human beings in marriage (harm); a view that gay sex is self-instrumentalizing and inflicts a kind of damage on yourself (harm); a view that traditional marriage embodies norms of responsible procreation that are important for child welfare (harm). These arguments may not be credible, even as accurate explanations for why people in fact oppose same-sex marriage, and we might suspect that instead the purity rhetoric is just a rhetorical expression of underlying irrational feelings of disgust and discomfort. But that’s exactly the same point as many prominent conservative critiques of PC.

26

John Holbo 01.22.17 at 4:02 pm

“The idea that liberals all march because utilitarianism, or something, whereas conservatives are tribal – that’s just not on.”

And of course Haidt doesn’t think so either. But he flourishes this late in the performance, like a rabbit from the hat. But it was obvious from the start.

What I should do is go through the literature and review what the questions/prompts have been, to elicit purity responses – allegedly more strongly from conservatives. (Once upon a time, I was sort of up on that stuff.) One way to put the problem is that if you did it with political pieties/partisan shibboleths as ‘purity’ candidates (instead of: how would you feel about eating a cockroach antennae that’s been sterilized in an autoclave? or whatever) you would surely find them strongly on all sides.

27

Yan 01.22.17 at 4:56 pm

The fun thing about “natural kinds” is that as long as you draw arbitrary category lines consistently and define the qualities enclosed according to their stipulated meanings, they always magically work. “Purity” means what x’s do in contradistinction to y’s. All x’s are defined by purity. Ta-da!

I get the attraction and rough if misleading half truth of these sorts of attempts to pathologize politics into a kind of essentialism. The sedative worked because of its soporific qualities. Criminals commit crimes because of their criminality. Lock them up, problem solved.

And sorts sort themselves because God/nature predestined them as sorts. (The author doesn’t consider the possibilty that this is one of Nietszche’s “four great errors”: mistaking cause for effect. Or Althusser/Foucault’s: the material kind is the product of the idea, the individual the product of the ideological social order.)

But let’s ignore that. Even if the claim that the cause of sorting is sorts is true, then what? Well, we can’t lock them up, but at least we’re not to blame for failure since it’s natures will that there will always be bad people for us to righteously resist.

But I still find it surprising how rarely anyone, in response to such exercises of political psychological essentialism, notes how utterly the *reverse* it is of at least one mildly influential characterization of political kinds. On that obscure theory, the political right is associated with capitalism as cosmopolitanism and the “disruption” (hey, that’s a cool word no one in the left sorted territories would ever use!) of order:

“All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

But these guys’ views about the psychology of the right are probably too obscure to take precedence over our insightful current intuitions that right = uptight square and left = cool, man. (What is Obama but a centrist liberal’s fantasy of a perfect synthesis of slide rule square and leather jacket awesome dude come true?)

One might even wonder, wildly, if the proper psychological division of political types might cut across our comforting, self flattering contemporary intuitions of right and left in precisely a way that explains both the disaster of contemporary politics and the cluelessness of both parties and tribes to see or respond to that disaster. And our doom to repeat it.

28

Kiwanda 01.22.17 at 5:29 pm

It may well be that Haidt circa 2017, discussing “PC run amuck” and what he calls the “illiberal left”, is actually evidence against Haidt circa 2012, finding differences in moral foundations between liberals and conservatives.

Has Haidt himself addressed this? One response might be that the empirical findings pre-2012 did not include as a category for study the recent rise of a particular illiberal part of the left, which de-values free speech, free inquiry, due process, and egalitarianism. Haidt thinks this rise was fast, post-2013, via social media; presumably Russlyn Ali’s 2011 Dear Colleague Letter that required weaker protections for accused students, played a role. That letter also committed to ensuring that “all students feel safe” (as opposed to ensuring that all students *be* safe), which may have contributed to some tactics and language used currently.

29

SusanC 01.22.17 at 5:32 pm

The links in John Quiggin’s earlier post led me to this poll on belief in various conspiracy theories.

There’s a strong “purity” element in many of the conspiracy theories covered (“Do you believe that there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism, or not?”, “Do you believe that the government adds fluoride to our water supply, not for dental health reasons, but for other, more sinister reasons. or not?”). The one about the shape-shifting reptiles arguable has a purity element too. (Come one, no-one believes that one! Well, Ok, 4% of the sample said they believed it and about 7% were not sure)

Anyhow, by the crosstabs in the survey, many of the purity conspiracy theories correlate with political affiliation.

But: belief that global warming is a serious problem has a definite “purity” aspect (defilement of the sacred earth, etc.) and on that one Republicans swing the other way, not buying into the purity concern and thinking global warming is a hoax (12% Obama voters vs. 61% Mitt Romney voters think its a hoax).

Someone (probably including John Quiggin) will object that the difference between global warming and the aforementioned extraterrestial reptiles is that there is some scientific evidence that global warming is actually happening. [Null hypothesis: 4% of CT readers will disagree, and think the alien reptiles are an issue…]

but in any case, “purity” related issues can swing towards one party affiliation or the other, depending on the specifics.

30

engels 01.22.17 at 5:35 pm

This seems interesting

http://www.alternet.org/story/105089/can_you_guess_a_person%27s_politics_by_their_personality_psychologist_team_says_yes/

Apparently American conservatives are happier than liberals because ‘they don’t let the inequality in the world get to them’…

31

Asteele 01.22.17 at 6:15 pm

I remember when this Haidt stuff started 5 years ago or so, and I thought, oh a man who wants to make money telling shitty people their shitty views are ok, nothing subsequent has made me need to revisit this.

32

David 01.22.17 at 6:30 pm

I just wonder whether, outside the very narrow and specific American context, trying to divide people into “liberals” and “conservatives” is even useful. That distinction certainly doesn’t map onto the historical distinction between Left and Right for example. The best we can do, I think, is to establish a tendency to pursue radical social and economic individualism (“liberalism”) and another tendency to pursue collective projects, even if not everybody’s individual wish list can be met (“collectivism”, perhaps, which can manifest itself in Left or Right varieties). If you accept that (very rough) analysis, then for the last decade we’ve been going through a cyclical process of moving from “liberalism” back to the “collectivism” of the post-1945 era.

33

Eric Kaplan 01.22.17 at 6:49 pm

This is excellent, marked up to super-excellent for including the hilarious phrase “PC hellscape”. My question is — what’s the right amount of polarization? We need a BIT right or we just fall into complacency. You wouldn’t want the abolitionists to have been too much like “different strokes for different folks — some like slave-holding some don’t, who are we to say?”, right? On the other hand you don’t want everybody thinking everybody else is pure evil or nobody will ever convince anybody. But sometimes it seems like the anti-PC brigade just don’t like being scolded, and this is a bogus point because the point of being scolded is that you shouldn’t enjoy it. That’s why parents and prophets and moral scolds do it.

34

Jake Gibson 01.22.17 at 6:54 pm

I don’t see Haidt complaining about the harassment of left leaning academics by the
right. Or, does he see it as much less of a bothersome problem since he hasn’t been
attacked for offending the wrong people.

35

stevenjohnson 01.22.17 at 7:42 pm

bob mcmanus @24 “And one of the main points of the West and the Enlightenment was to find universalist abstractions (opposing localized tradition) that as authority and discursive power could be used by Whites against the Iroquois as well as merchants against Charles I and capitalists for enclosure….”

The notion that Enlightenment thinkers took aim at the Iroquois seems to erase Abbe Raynal (and Diderot) from the ranks of the Enlightenment thinkers. It also seems to think Locke, who did aim to justify expropriation, was the Enlightenment in America. On the other hand, it seems to me Edward Coke (and Roger Williams,) Algernon Sidney, Cato’s Letters and Blackstone’s Commentary probably had more to do with the Enlightenment in America, if you can really speak of such a thing apart from Benjamin Franklin’s birthday. Speaking of Franklin, the Iroquois, so far from being targets of Franklin, were inspirations for a non-monarchical, republican of sorts kind of empire. The Iroquois were both genocidal and territorially aggressive and perfectly appropriate as models for the new nation, as Franklin knew.

In short, Foucault is like Kropotkin, very inspiring emotionally but of dubious relevance to real thinking.

36

nastywoman 01.22.17 at 8:16 pm

– and if I forgot F…face von Clownstick is everywhere now –
Even thinking Italy!

https://youtu.be/KPCzEFItwJw

37

Chasm 01.22.17 at 9:08 pm

” At bottom are values of purity/reactions of disgust but they induce confabulatory harm arguments.”

I’m going to jump in way over my head here, but it seems that the purity/reaction to disgust is not zero-sum, for the left anyway. Cosmopolitans can appreciate transgressive art as having social/expressive value, and can support transgender bathrooms as a matter of respect and equality (liberty) while still giving a high value to purity. Conservatives cannot tolerate any amount of disgust without a sense of violation. For them, purity/disgust is a sliding scale, liberals give a slider to each.

I agree that the pussyhats were great. Day-late-dolla-short: perhaps someone should have handed out copies of ‘Lysistrata’ at the rallies. I’d love to see a “No Humps for Trumps” meme take-off. It might even work.

38

Jerry Vinokurov 01.22.17 at 9:10 pm

I remember when this Haidt stuff started 5 years ago or so, and I thought, oh a man who wants to make money telling shitty people their shitty views are ok, nothing subsequent has made me need to revisit this.

Indeed; Holbo is a more generous reader than I am, but my impression of Haidt’s schtick is that he makes his hay concern-trolling liberals. His function is to play the Reasonable Academic who tells conservatives the soothing stories they so deeply crave.

39

Jesse M. 01.22.17 at 9:13 pm

“Allegedly liberals have a thinner base of values, whereas conservatives have a broader one.”

Does Haidt use “broader” in the sense of a value judgment (the way we praise broad-minded people), or in a simple mathematical sense of having a larger number of moral criteria they draw on? From the articles I’ve read I got the impression it was more the latter than the former. And I think Haidt recognizes the point that the characteristically “conservative” values are precisely the ones that are harder to square with moral universalism and cosmopolitism, so that there may be good reasons for liberals to pay less attention to them, rather than it just being a quirk of biology akin to colorblindness (that said, I have seen number of articles summarizing his work that make it sound more like liberal colorblindness, so it is at least a popular misconception of Haidt’s work). For example, in this article Haidt is quoted saying:

the Confucian/Hindu traditional value structure is very good for maintaining order and continuity and stability, which is very important in the absence of good central governance. But if the goal is creativity, scientific insight and artistic achievement, these traditional societies pretty well squelch it. Modern liberalism, with its support for self-expression, is much more effective. I really saw the yin-yang.

And here is an excellent article from Haidt on globalist vs. nationalist moralities, in which he makes the point that as countries industrialize and grow wealthier, they tend to move away from “traditional” values towards more “secular-rational” ones, and away from “survival” values to more “self-expressive” values, again suggesting that there is good reason (perhaps a form of memetic selection) that the left would emphasize care and fairness over the other values which are more tilted towards tradition, tribalism and nationalism. That article also aligns nicely with a memorable blog post from slatestarcodex which proposes a thrive/survive schema for understanding left vs. right views, which to me seems intuitively like a very promising way of thinking about what unites the motley collection of positions that are characteristic to each side.

40

engels 01.22.17 at 10:14 pm

I just wonder whether, outside the very narrow and specific American context, trying to divide people into “liberals” and “conservatives” is even useful.

+1—and conflating the socialism with left-liberalism seems increasingly unhelpful even in the US

41

engels 01.22.17 at 10:18 pm

42

Chet Murthy 01.22.17 at 10:25 pm

I feel compelled to point out Haidt’s hypocrisy on something else: I’ve never seen him excoriate the enormous hypocrisy of conservatives — their covering-up and enabling of rape, of women and children by men in power. I never see it from conservative leading lights.

But maybe I’m wrong, and there’s a large faction of otherwise-well-established conservative worters and pundits, who have made it a big part of their writings.

I’d love to be wrong.

43

Chet Murthy 01.22.17 at 10:38 pm

I just clicked-thru from Jesse M’s (#39) comment to an article about Haidt on Alternet. Oboy. I thank Jesse for introducing me to this particular corner of the Haidt hog-waste lagoon. Jesse quoted

the Confucian/Hindu traditional value structure is very good for maintaining order and continuity and stability

and I found

Purity/sanctity. The body and certain aspects of life are sacred. Cleanliness and health, as well as their derivatives of chastity and piety, are all good. Pollution, contamination and the associated character traits of lust and greed are all bad.

If the description of Haidt’s views on Hindu traditional values is accurate, then I’m … appalled. How to put it? The notion of “honor” in re: female chastity is …. not about cleanliness, except at a superficial level. Others have studied the subject deeply, and all I can say is, it’s about controlling female reproductive organs *per se*. As organs. And if the organ has a mind of its own, it needs to be taught a lesson, by fire if necessary. If for no other reason, than for the education of all other such walking reproductive organs.

It’s got nothing to do with cleanliness, and everything to do with treating them as walking wombs. I recall reading at LG&M that it wasn’t -so- different in the US in the mid-19th century (the specific reference was to Indiana, 10-year-old girls kidnapped off the street in broad daylight, and judges who ruled against the plaintiffs, b/c they should have kept their womenfolk under control — or something like that).

It angers me when I read these …. bland, fact-free defenses of what are in fact violent totalitarian regimes. And Haidt’s really good at it.

44

Chet Murthy 01.22.17 at 10:48 pm

Pretendous (#3) wrote

Allowing people with penises into restrooms designated for people with vaginas is wrong because it is harmful to the people with vaginas; it harms their sense of security.

But this isn’t at all why some men are violently against transgender people. As a cis-male, raised in Texas, I think I have some insight into what traditional Southern men are thinking on this subject. And we are ALL terrified of “getting to third base, only to find out it’s with a guy”. *That* is why cis-males want to outlaw transgender females. Of course, the (far worse, but somewhat) mirror situation (females getting date-raped) happens …. oh, I can’t put a number on it, but I’d guess, several tens of millions of times more often. And really, the only reason these males have anything to fear, is that they’re so intent on “scoring a home run” that they can’t be bothered to actually get to know the woman they’re … (just say it) attacking. It’s the same reason so many men are angered by laws and rules about consent — their feeling that “well, you can’t exactly stop yourself in the middle of the act if she changes her mind” is really a decoy for “push and push and push until she violently resists, and then claim she changed her mind at the last minute”.

Back to Haidt: these are the kinds of things hiding under and behind those “traditional values”. And (at least as far as I’ve been able to find), he never dicusses them. Never.

45

Sebastian H 01.22.17 at 11:11 pm

“There is another way to put it: Haidt likes the irony that liberal refusal to see the value of tribalism has made them paradoxically narrow – hence tribal. This seems like the joke is on liberals. But, so far as I can tell, the joke is also on Haidt. The problem solves itself. If the problem is as Haidt says.”

There is still another way to put it, which is so obvious that it surprising that no-one mentioned it:

Perhaps psychological/personality traits are not in fact tightly linked to political propensity on any grand scale–they just appeared to be in the very narrow time and very narrow political space in which they were studied.

This explanation seems obvious when you notice that for example nearly all of the “who is associated with authoritarian personality types” studies took place in the West AFTER Communism fell out of favor on the left in the West. Perform all the studies 40 years earlier and it would have been unsurprising to see a much larger correlation right?

So perhaps the very premise that the personality types described are logically linked to political propensity is incorrect.

Then complaints about illiberal exclusion in universities doesn’t seem solved by your personality data.

46

engels 01.23.17 at 1:06 am

nearly all of the “who is associated with authoritarian personality types” studies took place in the West AFTER Communism fell out of favor on the left in the West

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=authoritarian+personality

47

Jesse M. 01.23.17 at 1:16 am

@Chet Murphy:

‘How to put it? The notion of “honor” in re: female chastity is …. not about cleanliness, except at a superficial level.’

I doubt Haidt is saying it’s about some innocent desire for cleanliness, rather he’s probably drawing on the idea that all human cultures tend to frame social taboos in terms of cleanliness/purity metaphors which color the way we think about about them, see books like Mary Douglas’ “Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo” or Martha Nussbaum “Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law” by Martha Nussbaum. And for a general argument about how most of our high-level concepts (moral, philosophical, etc.) are deeply associated with bodily metaphors, see some of George Lakoff’s work like “Metaphors We Live By” and “Philosophy in the Flesh”.

48

Sebastian H 01.23.17 at 1:18 am

Thanks engels, except you may not have read what google tells you. There is a difference between the speculative definition making, and the study of where it actually maps.

49

Picador 01.23.17 at 1:56 am

I had an email exchange with Haidt back in 2008 in response to one of his early pop press pieces. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but I was… unimpressed by his attention to factual details that might cast doubt on his pet theories. He is good at sucking up to conservatives and dressing his Islamophobia in the language of dispassionate scientific inquiry. His work is lousy with confirmation bias. I wouldn’t spend any more time discussing him than you need to.

50

harry b 01.23.17 at 2:01 am

Sebastian H says “Perhaps psychological/personality traits are not in fact tightly linked to political propensity on any grand scale–they just appeared to be in the very narrow time and very narrow political space in which they were studied.”

Exactly!! I’d have said the same if i) I were as articulate and concise as you are and ii) I didn’t keep thinking that, because nobody has said it yet, I must be missing something.

As a sort of aside: in the world I was raised in Conservatives insisted that being gratuitosuly rude to, and insulting, other people was really not ok — so not ok that you would be punished in school for doing so. This always seemed to me so entirely sensible that I didn’t even regard it as an insult. Trump, Rush, etc. Most of the people I hear railing against political correctness seem to be complaining about restrictions on the kind of rude and obnoxious behaviour (and, in cases of people like Rush, Ann Coulter, and Trump, seem to relish in engaging in such behaviour) that would have resulted — quite rightly — in automatic detentions in the school I attended. If a teacher at the particularly conservative school I attended for 4 years had been caught in public using the language Trump routinely uses in public he’d have been fired. Its not conservative to license this sort of behavior, it is arsonist.

51

Dr. Hilarius 01.23.17 at 3:26 am

harry b @ 50: Excellent point.

When I was a child (raised by a conservative father from a blue collar background) I often was told about the dignity of all labor, no matter how menial or unskilled. Someone who did their job well was worthy of respect. Now, I often hear conservatives insult low-wage workers as mere “burger flippers” who deserve only scorn.

52

Barry 01.23.17 at 3:33 am

“conservatives (high conscientiousness, low openness) “

Riiiiiiight. The right who loved Bush, no matter what he did, then Tea Partied and Birthered Obama, a far better man and president, and then went for Trump, have high conscientiousness.

No, this is just believing right-wing propaganda.

53

Smass 01.23.17 at 3:35 am

Sebastian H @ 01.22.17 at 11:11 pm
“Perhaps psychological/personality traits are not in fact tightly linked to political propensity on any grand scale”

Isn’t that pretty much what the OP says when he expresses scepticism about the significance of any (weak) correlation between personality type and political ideology and suggests that any small effect of personality type on political ideology (and thus polarisation) is “going to be totally swamped, overwhelmed, by the vastly stronger tides of tribalism and group identity”?

I am a little surprised that anyone has ever taken Haidt’s work in this area seriously: as has been pointed out already, the division of the entire population into the binary of “conservative” and “liberal” seems, well, less than useful. Not to mention that the values ascribed to “conservatives” by Haidt do not really accord with the actions of a lot of real, living conservatives (a general topic that has been explored many times at CT).

54

dilbert dogbert 01.23.17 at 3:58 am

Re: Pussy Hats
It just struck me that Pussy Hats are at least made in American not China like Trump Caps.

55

nastywoman 01.23.17 at 4:44 am

@50
‘Its not conservative to license this sort of behavior’

That’s why F…face von Clownstick and his bunch of freaky F…faces never was accepted to be ‘conservative’ by the type of American Conservatives who (still) always open the door for a Lady and never utter four letter words.

And that’s why Trump never was – and never will be accepted by New Yorks true ‘Conservatives’. They see in him the ‘socially unacceptable creature’ he truly is – and that makes a discussion about different moral sensibilities between conservatives and liberals a bit difficult if the subject of the discussion is neither…

56

CDT 01.23.17 at 5:38 am

I’d suggest not over thinking this. There’s no hidden ideogical core to unshakeable movement conservatives. They’re usually poorly informed, dim, insecure, or paid.

57

ZM 01.23.17 at 6:21 am

I think one factor to question is whether someone’s values are part of what we call their personality.

If you do categorise values as being part of personality, values will necessarily link personality type to political ideology, because someone’s values informs their political judgements.

But it is also possible to stop short of categorising someone’s values as part of their personality type, and say personality is more about a person’s temperament, demeanour, outlook etc.

I think the Westminster system is structurally designed to predispose for polarisation — with the debating style division of the Parliament into Government and the Loyal Opposition.

America seems more predisposed to polarisation than Australia, so maybe the American system of government which is based on Westminster but with significant changes, promotes a polarised citizenry even more than the Westminster Government/Opposition debating team style system.

Your last 4 Presidents the other side of politics has said are invalid — Bill Clinton with the Lewinsky fiasco and impeachment, George W Bush with the stolen vote, Barack Obama with the birther conspiracy theories he was born in Kenya or something, and now Trump who Russia stole the election for plus he has a company.

I don’t know if this happened before these 4 Presidents or not, but it seems really unusual to me that so many people think the President is not only not their best choice for President, but that the President’s installation in the office is invalid.

Also how the structure of the House of Congress and Senate and office of President promotes obstructionism seems likely to predispose the system to polarisation too.

58

Sebastian H 01.23.17 at 6:29 am

Smass, part of the problem is that we are overtrusting an area of ‘science’ that is far too new and untested to treat with the seriousness that something more like chemistry or biology command. The study of personality types and political beliefs is so scattered that one of the most cited recent studies (“Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies” Verhulst, Eaves & Hatemi 2012) miscoded the conservative and liberal poles such that they reported their findings exactly the opposite of what their research showed (they reported that the conservative pole was linked to their Psychoticism index [which associates to authoritarianism and tough mindedness] when it was actually the liberal pole that was linked) –but were so ungrounded that it went unnoticed by any reviewer, and more than 100 citations despite the fact that it baldly went against the literature in the field. See here.

My critique is not that researchers resist corrections, even of very blatant errors. My critique is that when an error which causes key findings to be entirely inverted can be published and very widely publicized without the finding immediately being questioned, you aren’t talking about a mature field. In a mature field you would have a broad enough understanding of the mechanisms of your field such that accidentally reversing your findings would immediately cause serious re-evaluation.

If a physicist suddenly had findings that gravity caused repulsion, it would cause her to look carefully at everything before publishing and after publishing it would cause huge amounts of investigation in the field because it so clearly violated conventional understanding. If a chemist suddenly saw a study which suggested that adding huge amounts of heat to water caused it to freeze rather than boil, his initial though would be that the researchers clearly screwed up.

This field isn’t mature enough to have such general understanding of the mechanisms it is studying, so when you accidentally invert your findings it isn’t obvious. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be investigated. I’m saying that it is at such an early stage that we probably shouldn’t be making major political decisions based on it. So in that I’m agreeing with Hoblo’s post, but from very different grounds. I’m not saying that the personality/political links might be swamped by other factors. I’m saying that the study of personality traits on the level of relatively normal people is so early formed, that it doesn’t even really make sense to talk about it as if it might have practical consequences.

59

Sebastian H 01.23.17 at 6:32 am

To clarify one point. I may have been confused when Holbo writes “Conservatives are much stronger on the loyalty/authority/purity axis, since allegedly liberals are weak-to-negligible here.” It may be that he is only explaining Haidt, rather than actually ratifying the sentence.

60

John Holbo 01.23.17 at 6:49 am

” It may be that he is only explaining Haidt, rather than actually ratifying the sentence.”

Most certainly I am only expounding Haidt. I am absolutely certain the thesis I was stating is false.

61

Jesse M. 01.23.17 at 7:06 am

@John Holbo – Are you just certain the “negligible” part is false, or do you feel equally certain they are not weak relative to conservatives even in a statistical sense? One could certainly believe they are weaker on these values in a statistical sense while at the same time acknowledging that most leftists may have issues on which they do think in terms of purity (or other of Haidt’s values besides care and fairness), and that some minority of leftists may even draw on these values more than the average conservative.

62

John Holbo 01.23.17 at 7:48 am

“Are you just certain the “negligible” part is false, or do you feel equally certain they are not weak relative to conservatives even in a statistical sense?”

Good question. Here’s the problem. (To do this part right I should revisit those question sets that have established these interesting results: the set of those who won’t eat sterilized cockroach legs overlaps, to an interesting degree, the set of those who are conservative.) The problem is that I’m very confident that if I could design the question set differently, I could get different results. For example, if I asked people about ethnic slurs – acceptability of use – or affirmative consent laws, or microaggressions, or the appropriateness of safe spaces on campus, I could generate the result that liberals are very concerned not just with no-harm but with ‘purity’, whereas conservatives are not. They are very ‘open’ – not so conscientious. Obviously I could do the same conservatives. So it’s interesting if conservatives tend to be neat freaks, or slightly more germophobic, or whatever. That’s interesting, and thanks to Haidt for doing the lab work on that. I am (non-ironically!) appreciative. But I just don’t feel that can carry the general implications Haidt wants it to. It’s like there’s cleanliness-for-conservatives and cleanliness-for-liberals, and there isn’t any neutral question set I can devise that can test which is more cleanly-minded, per se. It’s obvious to me that sometimes attitudes towards cleanliness drive other arguments. If something is disgusting, you will reach for a harm argument. It must be harmful! But the opposite is clearly true as well. To build partisan unity and strength you grow a sense that the other is not just wrong but disgusting, unclean. (I really should re-study that literature to have my opinions about this better grounded in specifics. Sorry about that. No time today.)

63

Sebastian H 01.23.17 at 8:08 am

I’m sorry about misreading you Holbo. I see now that I was confused about what you meant to show as your thinking on the topic and what was Haidt’s. I knew that you were disagreeing with him on a number of points, but I was confused about which ones they were.

64

J-D 01.23.17 at 8:56 am

nastywoman

That’s why F…face von Clownstick and his bunch of freaky F…faces never was accepted to be ‘conservative’ by the type of American Conservatives who (still) always open the door for a Lady and never utter four letter words.

Do these people who refrain from using four-letter words also refrain from using expressions like F…face?

65

soullite 01.23.17 at 8:58 am

What morality is there to a woman’s march where a woman who hates men enough to torture and kill them (Donna Hylton) was invited to speak?

I mean, you guys love to talk about empathy and not inviting bigots or criminals into the political system. And then you turn around and do just that. And you wonder why nobody takes your ‘moral’ posturing seriously? The only reason any of you are engaging in this exercise at all, is to convince yourselves that everyone like you is perfect, noble and good, and that everyone who disagrees with you is an immoral, barely human monster.

But there are monsters on all sides, and all sides are willing to be blind to their own.

66

Sue 01.23.17 at 9:11 am

If you want to see how “conservatives” really do their applied politics check out the latest essay on the website The Open Tabernacle – and the entire contents of the website too.
Remember too that the “catholic” church operates the worlds largest privately owned propaganda apparatus in both paper and electronic forms. It quite literally reaches into almost every village on the planet.
Then check out references to The Family – the “conservative” outfit that convenes prayer groups in Washington, and all over the world too.

67

J-D 01.23.17 at 10:30 am

soullite

I mean, you guys …

No, you don’t mean. Mean is exactly what you don’t do. There is no ‘you guys’. ‘You guys’ does not exist. You have created a target out of your own imagination, apparently for the satisfaction of berating and castigating it.

You don’t, for example, mean that I invited Donna Hylton to speak, do you? No, of course not. Do you then, perhaps, mean that John Holbo invited Donna Hylton to speak. Not that either. Who, then, do you mean? You don’t. You don’t mean at all.

68

Z 01.23.17 at 10:56 am

Perhaps psychological/personality traits are not in fact tightly linked to political propensity on any grand scale […] I just wonder whether, outside the very narrow and specific American context, trying to divide people into “liberals” and “conservatives” is even useful.

Further to Sebastian H, Harry B and engels, reading such articles as a foreigner is amusingly troubling: on the one hand, the tools (fundamental psychological traits) are very general and supposedly of universal application (heck, Wiki claims the Big Five are even discernible among Chimpanzees), on the other the conclusions drawn for them are incredibly parochial (some segments of the US electorate circa 2016) and laughably inadequate when applied to infinitesimal variations of the context (the US in 1980, Germany in 2016, or more maximal effect, Canada in 2016). To me, it looks like someone trying to predict the trajectory of the ball when Ma Long serves from the sole knowledge of the fact that objects at the surface of the Earth are subject to a 9,8m/s^2 downward pointing acceleration: the endeavor is not completely absurd and you will uncover some general truths (the ball will indeed eventually fall) but there is a feeling that the tools are not quite up to the task.

69

Saurs 01.23.17 at 11:20 am

Getting mighty Chait-y here.

Accepting for the point of advocating on the behalf of devils (a fast-growing sector!) the characterization of opposition to rape and sexual assault as a gesture of purity, a signaling of a specific, obscure virtue held only by one of several wings within human society, is the precise impetus for naming rape culture as a function of patriarchy, not the other way round. This political framing implies the existence of wiggle room and grey areas where our condemnation of the act of rape becomes negotiable and relative, a matter of partylines and allegiances rather than an unremarkable, uncourageous act that requires no cookies. It’s, quite literally, the least humanity can do, to acknowledge that rape is indefensible, an act of violence and cruelty and selfishness.

“Purity” suggests compromise, brainwashing, moral bribery, removing the victim from the stage to be replaced with the nominally impartial observer, whose endorsement is being courted and whose experiences are what matters and are what is interesting. I am unaware of any other act of violence treated in this fashion, as an inconvenience that requires close, but ultimately reluctant, passive handling, a mild and disinterested shrug. We may argue about whether or not a specific person deserved or contributed to their own murder, but one is rarely lectured as stubborn and divisive and radical for espousing a general anti-murder philosophy*.

In reality, such opposition is also, with exceptions, multipartisan, though not universal. Heaven knows conservatives certainly never engage in a “kind of ritualistic expression of views or attitudes about what is sacred” and we occupy a parallel world where Emmett Till never existed.

*unless discussing the marginalized being terrorized and murdered, at which point we need to be reminded that all lives matter and that we might be taking this anti-murder jazz a bit too far

70

engels 01.23.17 at 12:17 pm

Thanks engels, except you may not have read what google tells you. There is a difference between the speculative definition making, and the study of where it actually maps.

First rule of holes:

http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/06/how-world-war-ii-scientists-invented-a-data-driven-approach-to-fighting-fascism/

71

John Holbo 01.23.17 at 12:32 pm

“Getting mighty Chait-y here.

Accepting for the point of advocating on the behalf of devils (a fast-growing sector!) the characterization of opposition to rape and sexual assault as a gesture of purity, a signaling of a specific, obscure virtue held only by one of several wings within human society, is the precise impetus for naming rape culture as a function of patriarchy, not the other way round. This political framing implies the existence of wiggle room and grey areas where our condemnation of the act of rape becomes negotiable and relative, a matter of partylines and allegiances rather than an unremarkable, uncourageous act that requires no cookies.”

Getting mighty Conway-y here!

Alternative factual, that is. Saurs, if you truly think my post implies any of this stuff – if you aren’t just trolling – then make the argument. Honestly.

72

John Holbo 01.23.17 at 12:44 pm

OK, I think there’s a chance that you are just really really really really really confused about what the post actually says, Saurs. Honestly. So, on the off chance, let me ask you a question. Why do YOU think many conservatives consider pussyhats to be a rude gesture, rather than a righteous symbol of protest against sexual assault and rape culture? Let’s start there. Give me your honest answer. Why do they not like them? In your considered opinion?

73

Lee A. Arnold 01.23.17 at 12:45 pm

I just read an outline of Donna Hylton’s life story. What she did was horrible, but so was what was done to her before that, and afterward, she paid her debt to society, and so her present reaction to the Predator-in-Chief is perhaps understandable, and allowable. On the other hand, further drive-by shootings by Soullite might be banned, as being “impure”.

74

casmilus 01.23.17 at 1:21 pm

@21

“As a physicist who is aware of the potential for phase changes even a small correlation might have large consequences in the bulk (collective) properties of a system. Consider two water molecules, one with a temperature of 32.1 F, and one with a temperature of 31.9F. “

I presume you are using “temperature” here to simplify for the benefit of the non-scientists, and you mean to refer to the total energy of the respective molecules. Talking about the “temperature of a molecule” is less meaningful that “the population density of a person”.

75

MB 01.23.17 at 2:20 pm

What’s the problem with an “unbalanced moral ecology” supposed to be at any rate? Is the supposed idea the following,

(1a) You need different character types to find the truth (moral and otherwise), or you need to be attuned to different types of evidence, so (1b) universities are deficient insofar as they are populated primarily be lefties, who only exhibit a limited number of character types, or are only attuned to certain types of evidence;

Or is the argument supposed to be more direct,

(2a) Diversity/pluralism are valuable, so (2b) universities are deficient insofar as it is populated primarily by lefties, who are only sensitive to a limited number of values.

But you need lots of extra stuff to establish either of these arguments. I don’t know the Haidt stuff well, but if all it shows is that adherents to different political views think in different political categories, or exhibit different character traits, you have not yet established (1a) or (2a). Alternatively, it’s not clear to me why we need to sort people along “harm”/”purity” lines to make this kind of argument. You could much more simply argue for the (supposed) epistemic or intrinsic benefits of political diversity, without taking a stance on what ultimately explains left/right differences. Or am I missing something obvious in the puzzle here?

76

MB 01.23.17 at 2:25 pm

Indeed, if you think that it only matters to have pluralism along the “purity”/”harm” dimension, then you open yourself precisely to the kind of counterargument the post provides: i.e., that the entire “purity”/”harm” spectrum might just as well be found on one political wing all by itself.

77

John Holbo 01.23.17 at 2:49 pm

MB,

Haidt is a bit of 1a, a bit of 1b. And, yes, you need lots of extra stuff, which he just ain’t careful about.

“if you think that it only matters to have pluralism along the “purity”/”harm” dimension, then you open yourself precisely to the kind of counterargument the post provides: i.e., that the entire “purity”/”harm” spectrum might just as well be found on one political wing all by itself.”

He’s just not thinking it through. He’s got this result that conservatives are more broad-based, values-wise. (Less likely to eat sterilized cockroach antennae and such.) He sees lefties predominating on campus and thinks that looks a bit narrow. He just kind of associates the two, even though this leaves the logical connections hanging loose, so far as I can see.

78

Val 01.23.17 at 3:13 pm

John Holbo @ 72 and elsewhere
Well I guess saurs can speak for themself (actually I think it’s ‘herself’ but not certain so I’m going with the gender-neutral-plural-pronoun-used-as-singular construction in my ‘politically correct’ or just polite way as a proper SJW)

– but anyway I’m interested in taking a guess at the objection, and I think at least part of it might be that you, a male commentator, are appropriating the (imagery of the) pussy hats for an argument you are making about purity. By doing this you may also be diluting or obscuring the messages of the pussy hats.

Also in terms of saurs and others being confused about what you are saying, it is really hard not to be, there is so much referencing and cross referencing, and referencing to other references within references, going on in this post.

79

MB 01.23.17 at 3:53 pm

Thanks, that’s helpful. The curious thing is that I find “we need more conservatives in the academia, otherwise it’s too one-sided” at least a prima facie plausible concern, while “we need more people in academia who think in terms of ‘purity’, otherwise it’s too one-sided” I find rather puzzling, and much easier too dismiss. (And yes, the “broad” vs “thin” values just looks like a metaphor gone wrong.)

80

John Holbo 01.23.17 at 4:07 pm

Val: “you, a male commentator, are appropriating the (imagery of the) pussy hats for an argument you are making about purity. By doing this you may also be diluting … the messages of the pussy hats.”

Appropriation and dilution! Touching by members of a class who are not permitted familiar contact! Classic purity-type concerns! If you are right, Saurs is moved to preserve the purity of the pussyhat symbol against the dirty charge that it is a symbol of purity. Well, you may be right.

81

nastywoman 01.23.17 at 6:14 pm

@64
Do these people who refrain from using four-letter words also refrain from using expressions like F…face?

Oh – absolutely – they are shocked – I tell’ya shocked if a Comedian uses the expression F…face von Clownstick.

But y’all knew this – Right?

82

stevenjohnson 01.23.17 at 6:32 pm

The morals I’m getting from this thread are, don’t bother reading Haidt and give up on contesting the philosophy of science, that’s all Mont Pelerin everywhere you look (exceptions are apparently written in Martian.) Mirowski really missed a trick by not adding Popper to his study.

83

J-D 01.23.17 at 6:33 pm

Saurs

… I am unaware of any other act of violence treated in this fashion, as an inconvenience that requires close, but ultimately reluctant, passive handling, a mild and disinterested shrug. —

You state that you’re unaware, but the statement is inaccurate. You’re not unaware, but you have pushed your awareness aside into a footnote:

— We may argue about whether or not a specific person deserved or contributed to their own murder, but one is rarely lectured as stubborn and divisive and radical for espousing a general anti-murder philosophy*.

*unless discussing the marginalized being terrorized and murdered, at which point we need to be reminded that all lives matter and that we might be taking this anti-murder jazz a bit too far

84

engels 01.23.17 at 6:37 pm

John’s argument reminds me of one of my favourite Wittgenstein comebacks:

14. Imagine someone’s saying: “All tools serve to modify something. Thus the hammer modifies the position of the nail, the saw the shape of the board, and so on.”—And what is modified by the rule, the glue-pot, the nails?—“Our knowledge of thing’s length, the temperature of the glue, and the solidity of the box.”—–Would anything be gained by this assimilation of expressions?—

85

Sebastian H 01.23.17 at 6:38 pm

Engels, you are confusing what the psychologists are researching, with what they have found. You are also confusing what they say they have found about “authoritarian personality” and what we are talking about the linkages between authoritarian personality and political leanings.

Now I don’t actually believe that the science of understanding personality traits is all that developed beyond what a good school-marm could tell you (which is to say that there are truths to be had there, but that they are currently just as accessible to emotionally intelligent people all over the world. And I’m not claiming to be particularly emotionally intelligent by the way). I also believe that a huge amount of the research in this area is subject to enormous garden-of-forking paths criticism. See herefor a surprisingly easy explanation of the concept.

But if you do believe that it relatively advanced, and you seem to, you need to look at what the research suggests. The research (which I think is unreliable) suggests that the authoritarian markers are stronger on the left. (See especially Verhulst, Eaves & Hatemi 2012 where they whoops miscoded the data and originally reported it as being on the right).

86

Sebastian H 01.23.17 at 6:56 pm

The ‘purity’ thing illustrates the problem with over-scientizing things before we really understand them. By all means investigate them, but hold back on general applicability until we’ve proven a lot more.

There is a lot of trying to cram things down into labels by analogy. That’s fine as a starting point. We have to start somewhere. But don’t fall in love with it.

So we have something like honor killings. They have lots of the characteristics of what we think of as purity concerns. We have a ‘stain’ on the family even if they weren’t involved. We have a lack of distinction about how sex came about (consent neither helps nor hurts the case). We have the enormous reaction to the ‘stain’ (death, not something like putting her away for nine months to prove that there is no child or something).

Ok, but what have we learned about wide applicability? We’ve learned that in extreme cases, things that we label ‘purity’ concerns can lead people in a culture to kill their own daughters.

Ok, but does that tell us what things we need to count as purity concerns? Not really.

Does it tell us what things definitely aren’t purity concerns so we can distinguish them? Not really.

Does it tell us whether or not purity concerns are more of a socially learned trait or more of a temperamentally fixed trait? No.

Does it tell us that purity concerns are a big deal most of the time or only in extreme cases (say do purity concerns come to the fore the closer you live to survival mode)? No.

Does it tell us that purity concerns are linked in a meaningful way to political party? Definitely not.

So is this a fruitless area of search? Who knows. We probably will need to study it for a long time before we can actually answer those questions usefully. Along the way we will probably find that the idea of purity was a good starting point but not really what the issue is. We will probably find out the linkages weren’t at all what we sort of think now.

While we are in the spirit of investigating, all that stuff is good.

While we are in the spirit of judging people generally on the basis of this ‘science’, it is terrible. We would be better off with things like “He’s being mean” which at least has useful content.

87

engels 01.23.17 at 7:36 pm

Engels, you are confusing what the psychologists are researching, with what they have found. You are also confusing what they say they have found about “authoritarian personality” and what we are talking about the linkages between authoritarian personality and political leanings.

Wha??? I disagreed specifically with the following assertion:

nearly all of the “who is associated with authoritarian personality types” studies took place in the West AFTER Communism fell out of favor on the left in the West

Googling ‘authoritarian personality’ or ‘F-scale’ would inform you that it is wrong, as would reading my link.

88

Chris S 01.23.17 at 7:57 pm

@77

He does go further than that, in that he purports to show that conservatives are more able to predict the mind of a liberal in certain situations than the other way around.

89

bob mcmanus 01.23.17 at 8:02 pm

81: Yeah, it remains interesting how little this site intersects or interdisciplines (?) with the rest of the social sciences: women’s studies, post-structuralism, cultural/media studies, various criticals, etc even to the extent of the links on the right. That’s ok, there are whole other blogospheres, with somewhat younger participants, available and waiting to be discovered by others.

This is what it is, and am not complaining or even asking for a response, CT is built around economics and political science/philosophy and the problem of isolation and insularity appears endemic to those fields. The references to Mirowski and Mount Pelerin might be on point.

90

Collin Street 01.23.17 at 8:25 pm

He’s just not thinking it through.

Or maybe that’s the best he can do, and he doesn’t actually have the intellectual chops to be an intellectual.

91

Hidari 01.23.17 at 8:32 pm

It seems that psychology has a lot more problems than just ‘the big five’.

https://hardsci.wordpress.com/2016/08/11/everything-is-fucked-the-syllabus/

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Alex SL 01.23.17 at 9:28 pm

Great post!

I am sorry for not having the time to read all comments, so maybe somebody has already said the following:

Two additional things have always bothered me about these ideas of liberal brain / conservative brain and five or six axes of moral values. First, the idea that there are a liberal box and a conservative box is so parochially contemporary USA that it isn’t even funny. Does somebody like Haidt assume that he could have comfortably placed most people of China 600 CE or of Australia 10,000 BCE into those two boxes? And if not, then how useful and generalisable can this concept be?

Second, and I guess one could say that this just marks me as a liberal, but I think that seeing authority and purity as moral issues is a category error. They just aren’t; one could just as well claim that an obsession with military strength is the seventh axis of morals. And loyalty, if deserved, folds into justice but is at best amoral if undeserved. So the claim that liberals are somehow “lacking” some moral dimension seems to be a complete non-starter.

93

bruce wilder 01.23.17 at 10:33 pm

Being an actual liberal, I’ve always found Haidt’s “I used to be a liberal . . . ” schtick very hard to take as a preface to his thesis that we remaining liberals are moral pygmies. So, I appreciate the pushback in the OP and comments on his general conceit and sanctimony.

What I take to be the Enlightenment liberal notion is not that the “foundations” (as Haidt would have it) of moral concern should be reduced in number, but rather that they should be rationally aligned. Which doesn’t mean utilitarian consequentialism all the live long day either, but it does mean that a liberal would tend to think that if we are to have a taboo and moral panics, those ought to be focused on behaviors that we really want to discourage from a care/harm or rights/autonomy perspective. So, we could attach purity concerns to germs and cut down on food poisoning — go science! Or, we could have a taboo on childhood sexual abuse and a moral panic about priests and altar boys instead of, oh say, Jews and the blood libel.

In the scrum of 21st century politics, where political campaigns to change the culture take place, and the boring of the hard boards of taboo are worn by repeating mindless slogans and narratives and new institutionalization of reformed moral imperatives takes place over years and decades, it can be difficult amid that back and forth to see that a consensus in favor of alignment already exists, that the designated “conservatives” are Enlightenment liberals, too, philosophically. What makes most conservatives resistant in fine detail isn’t usually a completely different way of looking at things morally.

Haidt’s approach seems, sometimes to me, to be a subversion on this liberal alignment project. (Of course, most of my academic experience is with business schools, which somehow never seem to lack for conservatives and that imbalance also doesn’t seem to trouble Haidt. (Google “Business School and ethics”, if you don’t think this conservative domination of business schools might be a social problem. )

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John Holbo 01.23.17 at 10:34 pm

“John’s argument reminds me of one of my favourite Wittgenstein comebacks.”

Well, I didn’t write my diss. on Wittgenstein for nuthin’, I should hope!

95

Raven Onthill 01.23.17 at 11:01 pm

Paul Krugman once commented, based on research, that there were two main axes that explained most US voting behavior: racism, and I forget the other one, perhaps income or some other economic factor. (Wish I could find the article.)

I wish we would ask if all the fancy philosophizing on morality and personality that we see from the likes of Haidt is motivated reasoning, or at least results study of a small minority, perhaps some fraction of the 15% or so that make their voting decisions on something like policy.

96

Placeholder 01.23.17 at 11:07 pm

The obvious problem with the Wilkinson article that personality-morality as an explanation for political change is unsatisfactory because personality does not and has not changed as fast as politics. They say a week is a long time in politics but I don’t know about the subconscious. Attempting to explain it by ‘sorting themselves’ is a necessary antecedent if it’s not.

Engels@86: These people need Freudo-marx. Don’t wait for them to google it.

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” – James Baldwin

“The electoral political valence of these trends is clear. The higher the death rate from overdose and suicide in Rust Belt areas, the more Trump tended to outperform Romney.”

97

Martin James 01.23.17 at 11:07 pm

What is the competing hypothesis for how the tribes form? If we rule out personality, how much is existing social situation and how much socialization and indoctrination?

98

John Holbo 01.24.17 at 1:19 am

“What is the competing hypothesis for how the tribes form?”

The moral psychology that allows us to get along with the 100-odd monkeys in our troop has an unfortunate tendency to set us at odds with the monkeys in the troop that lives over the hill. (This isn’t an answer, just a schema. The point is: no need to hypothesize that the monkeys over the hill have a different fundamental ‘personality’. They have the same personality. They get along with the monkeys in their troop but not with the monkeys in the troop that lives over the hill.)

99

SusanC 01.24.17 at 9:02 am

Some of this discussion treats “the left” and “the right” as monolithic entities (or at least, sets of individuals that have been grouped together for the purposes of a statistical test). But the libertarian right and the social conservative right are not the same at all on issues related to purity.

The Marxian “all that is solid melts into thin air” etc. could well be applied to the libertarian right. There is definitely a segment on the right that is in favour of gay marriage, regards laws against pornography as in intolerable infringement of the right to free speech etc.

100

Z 01.24.17 at 9:55 am

What is the competing hypothesis for how the tribes form?

The question presupposes that there are tribes to be formed to begin with. Now, sometimes this the case, but not alway, and part of the unreal quality of the discussion to me is how quickly the topic of interest shifts from “In the very specific historical and social context of the US in the early 21st centuries, political affiliation is getting increasingly tribal, probably much more so than in the US thirty years ago or in comparable countries now (or so it is commonly believed), is this true and if so what could explain the trend?” to “What fundamental mental and personality traits could explain who joins which tribes?” in which it is apparently a given that political affiliation is, always has been and always will be mostly a question of tribal affiliation.

I find it analytically weird but also somewhat morally depressing, as the “tribal analysis” (of which the slate star codex post linked to above or the famous “I can tolerate except the outgroup” by the same are examples) seems to me to be almost definitionally antithetic to politics. Which would not be such a problem if the people living and apparently voting along these lines were not inflicting Bush and Trump on themselves and the rest of us.

101

Val 01.24.17 at 12:39 pm

John Holbo @ 80
Now you are appropriating what I said as well.

I am using ‘appropriate’ in a combined cultural/political/economic/gender meaning to suggest that you, like a white patriarchal capitalist, are taking something (ideas) that were not produced by you, but by politically subordinate groups, and using it to make an intellectual profit for yourself, while simultaneously impoverishing them (since the value, at least the cultural-political value, of their original product-idea, has been reduced by you to a cheap commodified intellectual product, the concept of ‘purity’).

102

Val 01.24.17 at 12:46 pm

If I may be excused for two posts in a row, that’s the same thing I hate about the term ‘identity politics’. It takes a lot of complex, historically, socially and geographically located, and gendered, experiences of oppression or subordination and reduces them to a flat, commodified, simplistic concept that can be exchanged and traded for profit by patriarchal white male academics and their fellow travellers.

(Even the idea of ‘identity politics’ actually has a richer origin than that, but it has been reduced to that)

103

John Holbo 01.24.17 at 3:01 pm

“Now you are appropriating what I said as well. I am using ‘appropriate’ … to suggest that you … are taking something (ideas) that were not produced by you … and using it to make an intellectual profit for yourself”

Val, look around you: you are commenting on a blog post authored by me. (All the evidence supports this contention.) If you are so worried that I am going to profit from your comments, by responding critically, wouldn’t it solve that problem to just … not?

If what you are looking for is something like a John Holbo-free safe space, then you have quite spectacularly mis-selected your venue. I’m not threatening to ban you – even though it is pretty high-handed that you consistently dismiss my arguments, rather than addressing them, on the grounds that they ‘impoverish’ your ideas and so forth. But I’m not going to ban myself either. Then what? If you want to comment on my posts, you have to accept the very real risk that I, too, may show up in comments. If you say I am wrong, but I don’t think so, I may argue that you’re wrong. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.

104

Sebastian H 01.24.17 at 4:28 pm

““In the very specific historical and social context of the US in the early 21st centuries, political affiliation is getting increasingly tribal, probably much more so than in the US thirty years ago or in comparable countries now (or so it is commonly believed), is this true and if so what could explain the trend?””

This is almost certainly the wrong way to look at it. Tribalism is the historical norm. You would do better to investigate how certain small periods in history have avoided it to see what they did to overcome the historical norm.

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’m certain it is a better question.

105

bob mcmanus 01.24.17 at 4:37 pm

Data Streams New Inquiry 1/23/17, longish interview with Hito Steyerl and Kate Crawford about AI and correlated data sets being used to predict and manage human behavior. Thought about Holbo when I saw the ad for the thirties German Hollerith system.

but the most interesting example I found recently was the Chinese sincerity social score. I’m sure you heard about it, right? This is a sort of citizen “super score,” which cross-references credit data and financial interactions, not only in terms of quantity or turnover, but also in terms of quality, meaning that the exact purchases are looked into. In the words of the developer, someone who buys diapers will get more credit points than someone who spends money on video games because the first person is supposed to be socially “more reliable.” Then, health data goes into the score–along with your driving record, and also your online interactions. Basically it takes a quite substantial picture of your social interactions and abstracts it into just one number. This is the number of your “social sincerity.”

…Steyerl

There is a lot of interesting work being done that makes Haidt look marginal, but that is part of why I commented at 89 about what people are reading.

106

bob mcmanus 01.24.17 at 4:55 pm

And sorry for a double, but I know for a fact that the Trump team had several hundred analysts (and I presume Clinton) pouring over Facebook friendings and Amazon purchases to see who to hit with a third contribution request or second GOTV message. “Personality types” based on experimental psychology is so 20th Century.

The subset of who finds Haidt interesting or useful is therefore a point of interest.

107

nastywoman 01.24.17 at 5:57 pm

– as there finally seems to be this question if ‘pussyhats’ are a ‘liberal-progressive symbols of purity violation – let me as a occasional wearer of a Pussyhat chime in.

I know nothing about Philosophy but a little bit about ‘art’ and the state of the art is such that the Pussyhat compliment the shape of my face and I was told I look pretty attractive –
And so like Mr. Holbo I think the hat is much appreciated.

And about a male commentator, appropriating the (imagery of the) pussy hats for an argument about purity. that’s great – let’s make whatever purity argument he wants to make – as it is such a welcome change to the next Spring Break in Miami Beach.

108

WLGR 01.24.17 at 6:43 pm

Do we need to rehash the “tribalism” conversation again? The word is an essentialist, oversimplistic, and ultimately not-so-subtly racist shorthand for what might otherwise be a relatively bloodless description of group cohesion around socially constructed identities, and it needs to go, period. Try to picture the most “Heart of Darkness”-esque possible image of a band of loincloth-wearing, spear-chucking, dark-skinned savage headhunters with bones through their noses, living in the jungle beating drums and shouting “ooga booga booga!” at anybody from the outside world… all of us Westerners have this kind of imagery in our cultural memory, even people who literally make a living parading their own “wokeness”, and that’s what terms like “tribalism” and “tribe” signify. Maybe the idea is to invoke a vague aura of social-scientific intellectual authority (we’re not just talking about a modern socially/politically constructed abstraction, we’re talking about a deep innate psychological tendency as old as human nature itself!) but actual scholars in relevant fields like cultural anthropology or social psychology have long regarded the concept of a “tribe” as uninformative and outdated at best, or obfuscatory and racist at worst. And on the flip side, if these terms seem to possess a certain pejorative oomph! absent from potential alternatives like “ethnonationalism”, “proto-fascism”, “dominant identity politics”, “national chauvinism”, and so on, this only further underscores the instinctive appeal of casually racialized vocabulary in a racist society.

The topic at hand illustrates a more specific problem with the current use of “tribalism”, as reifying a questionable distinction between the “good” non-“tribalist” nationalism of polite respectable liberals and the “bad” “tribalist” nationalism of red-cap-wearing jingoistic proto-fascists. (Not to go full Godwin or anything, but recall the classic Nazi distinction between the “good” capitalism of hardworking ordinary Germans and the “bad” capitalism of parasitic multinational Jewish financiers, which of course was delusional not merely because of its racism but because “good” industrial capitalism and “bad” financial capitalism are irrevocably interdependent to begin with.) A topical case in point has been US liberals’ descent into jingoist histrionics about sinister Rooskies sapping our precious bodily fluids: for all the talk about standing up to Trump for his xenophobia, I can hardly imagine a more fanatical and paranoid form of xenophobic nationalism than trying to delegitimize an elected head of state with the accusation that they’re actually a treasonous agent of a malevolent foreign power, based on unsubstantiated allegations from the most powerful and least accountable organs of the security state, and with an underlying premise that entirely ordinary forms of international espionage and propaganda should suddenly become grounds for a drop-everything-else ideological temper tantrum when the target happens to be the United States of America. In short: the fault, dear libs, is not in their “Make America Great Again”, but in our “America Is Already Great”, that we are nationalists. (Well the fault is in both, but you know what I mean.)

109

Trader Joe 01.24.17 at 7:01 pm

“The upshot is that liberals (low conscientiousness, high openness to experience) and conservatives (high conscientiousness, low openness) have distinctive personalities, and that there’s reason to believe we’ve been sorting ourselves into communities of psychologically/ideologically similar people.” – Haidt from the OP.

Then there’s this from Lady Gaga – Born This Way

“I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way

Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way (Born this way)

Oh there ain’t no other way
Baby I was born this way
Baby I was born this way
Oh there ain’t no other way
Baby I was born this way
Right track baby I was born this way”….etc.

“Born this way” is normally cited as a liberal anthem supporting, well most everything from sexuality to gender, race, and most anything else one wishes to proudly proclaim. But at the same time, there’s the key line “”I’m beautiful in my way ‘Cause God makes no mistakes” which seems torn straight out of the Conservative playbook.

Seems that Lady Gaga has reconciled the apparent Haidt paradox in one song – both liberals and conservatives are what they are because they were born that way, nothing more, nothing less.

110

J-D 01.24.17 at 8:50 pm

Val

That analysis doesn’t withstand scrutiny.

If John Holbo (or anybody, but he’s the example here) takes an idea originated by somebody else and makes use of it, there is the possibility that the way he uses it gives it less value than it had when used by its originator; but that doesn’t reduce the value of the idea when used by its originator, so there’s no impoverishment.

111

engels 01.24.17 at 8:54 pm

Personality types” based on experimental psychology is so 20th Century.

According to the link above, Cambridge Analytica, Trump’s data mining people, were in fact using the same scale as Wilkinson and Holbo (nb. not types, it has five continuous variables).

112

Z 01.24.17 at 9:14 pm

@Sebastian H, to me the question of “how certain small periods in history have avoided [tribalism]” is equivalent (at least logically) to the question of “why some other periods (today’s US maybe) cannot avoid it” so I agree with your reformulation.

That said, I am interested in your assertion that tribalism is the historical norm. That’s what I referred above as the slate star codex analysis, and I am really skeptical about it myself (in order to avoid stupid bickering about definitions, let me also impose a spatiotemporal frame to the discussion: I am implicitly assuming that political affiliations have a meaning so I am talking about societies in which at least 50% of adult males have access to primary literacy, so roughly the post-Reformation world if we are talking about the Protestant world, the long nineteenth century for the rest of the European world and later for most of the rest of the world; there is no disputing on my part that much of human prehistory was tribal in nature).

In that context, do I believe that political affiliations reflected mostly deep, subconsciously held values and hence were largely immutable within the life of individuals and immune to rational discourses or analyses? Sure. Do I believe that they were mostly tribalistic, that is to say the offshoot of ” strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group” as my dictionary defines it (which is just one particular form of deep, subconsciously held value)? No, I disagree with this statement. In fact, I find it quite strikingly empirically false (or logically vacuous, as usual). People throughout the time period I indicated proved perfectly able to imagine in a matter of years (sometimes months) heretofore unknown or unthinkable communities, act in accordance to their principles and as a consequence quite suddenly fraternized with former bitter enemies or conversely equally suddenly viciously massacre esteemed neighbors. I therefore see no empirical validity in the tribal analysis of political phenomena (unless one defines one’s tribes as “people we agree with” and strong loyalty as “whatever I believe right now”, in which case it becomes vacuous).

To put it more concretely, if a coherent and informative account of say the spread of Reformation doctrines, or antimonarchist republicanism, or counter-revolutionary monarchism, or support for parliamentary regimes, or irredentist nationalism, or authoritarian revolutionary communism, or fascism, or social-democracy, or neoliberalism exists, I have never seen it, and if I am right that none exists, how can it be true that tribalism is the historical norm when it explains none of the major (European) political events of the last five centuries?

113

Z 01.24.17 at 9:27 pm

Going back to the ostensible topic of the post, I am not sure it is worth remarking it (and I’m not even sure I understand this “broad/thin base of value” shtick) but it occurred to me that perhaps Haidt does not see the contradiction between 1) and 2) you point out because he considers the the outré PC of 2) (which I assume to exist and to be significant for the sake of the argument) is anarchical in nature and directed towards members of the liberal group in aims.

In other words, perhaps he would grant that extreme PC indicates a strengthening of the purity axis, but arguably a weakening of the authority and loyalty ones (as, for instance, a respected antiracist activist could now be demoted by a crowd of anonymous Twitter users for being insufficiently receptive to transgendered issues or vice-versa) so that on the whole the basis of value remains thinner on the “liberal” side. (This is possibly mostly an Internet phenomenon with no real-life counterparts but purely on the anecdotal level, I do have the impression that there is a higher level of hostility between fellow liberal/leftist than between conservatives of various stripes.)

114

John Holbo 01.24.17 at 11:11 pm

WLGR: “Do we need to rehash the “tribalism” conversation again? The word is an essentialist, oversimplistic, and ultimately not-so-subtly racist shorthand for what might otherwise be a relatively bloodless description of group cohesion around socially constructed identities, and it needs to go, period.”

A passage from Joshua Greene, Moral Tribes:

“Each of us occupies the center of a set of concentric social circles. Immediately surrounding us are our closest relatives and friends, bounded by a larger circle of more distant relatives and acquaintances. Beyond our circles of kith and kin are strangers to whom we are related through our memberships in groups of various kinds and sizes: village, clan, tribe, ethnic group; neighborhood, city, state, region, country; church, denomination, religion. In addition to these nested groups, we organize ourselves by political affiliation, the schools we attended, social class, the sports teams we root for, and other likes and dislikes. Social space is complex and multidimensional, but at least one thing is clear from both common sense and boatloads of social scientific research: We humans pay exquisitely close attention to where people reside in our egocentric social universes, and we tend to favor people who are closer to us. Call this tendency tribalism, which is sometimes known as parochial altruism.”

What is the argument, WLGR, that anyone who thinks we need to study parochial altruism as a complex and multidimensional social phenomena is doomed to ‘ooga booga’ racism and oversimplified essentialism, merely due to the word ‘tribe’?

Why was that word chosen (rather than some other?) Because the idea is that the human moral minded evolved for small-group living and that this generates characteristic patterns in modern moral life which are worthy of study and consideration. If you think that is false, then why do you think it is false? If you agree that it is true, or is at least reasonable as a hypothesis, then what is wrong with ‘tribe’ as a tag for it?

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Val 01.24.17 at 11:17 pm

John Holbo @ 103
I think you have missed my point. This is a theoretical, hypothetical argument, right? And if you remember the context, I was trying to explain why saurs might have been angry about your post.

I’ll try to keep this brief – I think if you are discussing the pussy hat phenomenon, ‘women resisting male dominance by making fun of men’ is a more useful concept than ‘purity’ (even though it still can capture the whole meaning). Any my comments are also making fun of you. Perhaps I should have said “Now you are appropriating what I said as well (smiley face emoji)”.

Anyway if you are talking about banning me, I should be serious. It is genuinely not clear to me in your post and later comments whether you are suggesting that the concept of ‘purity’ is one that can be usefully deployed in understanding the pussy hat phenomenon. I have been giving you the benefit of the doubt (by not taking this too seriously) because you are a good guy, but if you are suggesting that, I think it is offensive and you should reconsider (or clarify, if you don’t actually mean that).

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Val 01.24.17 at 11:19 pm

Apologies for two in a row again, but:
“I think if you are discussing the pussy hat phenomenon, ‘women resisting male dominance by making fun of men’ is a more useful concept than ‘purity’ (even though it still can capture the whole meaning)”
– should of course be “(even though it can NOT capture the whole meaning)”.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.25.17 at 12:23 am

There are actually good reasons why there should be such things as tribes. Actually as is in “actuating”. Here are 20 short videos (about 1 minute a piece) that show the social mechanics, with a few musical interludes:

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F. Foundling 01.25.17 at 1:08 am

WLGR @ 108

I don’t think it’s racist to recognise that some cultures and societies (regardless of the physical features of their bearers) are less advanced (materially, but also ideologically) than others. It’s depressing that even self-identified Marxists in the West are willing to abandon the notion of historical progress for fear of not faring well in the PC environment.

John Holbo @ 114

IMO, the term tribalism implies not only favouring ‘people who are closer to us’ and reserving the opposite treatment for those farther from us (WLGR’s ‘headhunters’, ‘shouting … at anybody from the outside world’), but also displaying loyalty to them by means of conformism (WLGR’s ‘bones through their noses’). It’s about loyalty to the *group* itself, not just the unsurprising psychological propensity to empathise more with *individuals* we find it easier to imagine being. Thus, tribalist behaviour occurs across the political spectrum, although the left still tends to be more opposed to it in theory (and often simply forms its own tribes in practice). As for the ‘human moral mind’ (really? there is one?) having ‘evolved’ – I don’t know, this sounds dangerously close to EvoPsych with all of its defeatist=>conservative implications again.

OP:
>if the absolute very worst that Haidt says about PC run amuck is utterly true, then campus liberals/progressives are, in terms of his moral foundations scheme, shooting through the roof along the loyalty/authority/purity axis.

Exactly. Unfortunately, they are, and not only on campus.

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John Holbo 01.25.17 at 1:32 am

“This is a theoretical, hypothetical argument, right? And if you remember the context, I was trying to explain why saurs might have been angry about your post.”

And I explained why, if your hypothesis is right, Saurs is guilty of a flagrant performative contradiction. (I know why Saurs is angry. Saurs is always angry.) And you objected that, by pointing out what I see as a flaw in the argument, I was ‘appropriating’. And I pointed out that it’s weird that you think it’s objectionable that I would respond to comments in my own thread.

“I think if you are discussing the pussy hat phenomenon, ‘women resisting male dominance by making fun of men’ is a more useful concept than ‘purity’ (even though it still can capture the whole meaning).”

I know you think that. What you lack, so far as I can see, is any justification for your thinking. What is inherently ‘impoverishing’ about discussing moral psychology, and its bearing on practical politics, with reference to the news? Nothing, so far as I can see.

“It is genuinely not clear to me in your post and later comments whether you are suggesting that the concept of ‘purity’ is one that can be usefully deployed in understanding the pussy hat phenomenon. I have been giving you the benefit of the doubt (by not taking this too seriously) because you are a good guy, but if you are suggesting that, I think it is offensive and you should reconsider (or clarify, if you don’t actually mean that).”

I hasten to assure you that I am 100% pure serious that the concept of purity can be usefully deployed to understand the pussy hat phenomenon. (No danger of any dilution of my views!)

I perfectly well know that you think it is offensive because you have said so repeatedly. But, since you have, so far, no argument that I am wrong – besides the performative self-contradiction you offered on behalf of Saurs – I remain unmoved. Why is what I say offensive?

Something about commodification-something-something. I am peddling a cheap product and that’s bad. But that begs the question. If I’m wrong, my thoughts may be cheap products yes-yes. But what if I’m right? You haven’t considered that possibility.

I think any view that denies that human moral psychology characteristically expresses itself along an axis of purity/contamination (not just no harm/harm and fairness/cheating) is going to be too reductive, an oversimplification. Morality isn’t just one simple thing. Values are plural and not reducible cleanly to one master value. Saurs basically suggested that if I think purity is a value – even just at the level of psychology, not normative theory – then I can’t think justice is one – even at the level of normative theory, not psychology. Nothing can have two qualities, all values must be one value. Ergo any acknowledgement that fights for justice are, in practice, psychological expressions of an impulse to purify, amounts to an implicit apology for rape culture. But that’s just no-one-thing-can-be-two-things nonsense: most moral impulses are mixed impulses, psychologically. A protest march for justice is an expression of tribalism. That means justice gets mixed with purity and loyalty and authority, among other things. That’s how anthropology goes. We are humans, not Platonic spirits of pure reason. And that’s ok – unless you know better. (I know you say you think it’s complicated, too, but all your actual claims seem to me highly reductive in spirit. If you actually have a complex alternative to my view, and not just some reductionist thing, then spill it – even at the risk of intellectual contamination!)

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John Holbo 01.25.17 at 1:41 am

“I don’t think it’s racist to recognise that some cultures and societies … are less advanced (materially, but also ideologically) than others.”

I don’t think the claim that some cultures are less advanced ideologically is inherently racist, but it obviously uselessly unclear, at best.

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John Holbo 01.25.17 at 2:00 am

“this sounds dangerously close to EvoPsych with all of its defeatist=>conservative implications again.”

I believe:

1) the human mind evolved.
2) the human mind didn’t evolve yesterday. It evolved a long time ago.
3) human morality is a function of how humans think and feel, which is partly a function of what we are like as organisms – our brains, our bodies. Morality is also a function of our cultures, societies – our arguments and philosophies, etc. But the latter never raises us above our biology/psychology, cleanly, like Munchhausen pulling himself up by his own pigtail.
4) We’ve studied humans and they are pretty darn tribal. We are never going to socialize or argue ourselves out of parochial altruism of various forms. People will always form small groups. They won’t be little social atoms. They won’t act like bees, even if we try to make them. If this is dangerous defeatism, then color me dangerously defeatist. I just call it psychological/anthropological realism.
5) The relationship between the truth of 4) and the details of 2) will likely remain forever obscure, in the mists of evolutionary history. But the following seems pretty solid: way back when, our species evolved to live in small groups. Now our brains are hardwired for that. Our hardwiring is highly flexible. We can turn out all sorts of different tribal ways. But we are never non-tribal. If true morality is non-tribal, then the true morality is non-livable for humans.
6) I actually sort of believe that the true morality is non-tribal, hence non-livable for humans.
7) I recognize that 6) and 3) are in tension. I honestly don’t know what to do about it.

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John Holbo 01.25.17 at 2:08 am

“I honestly don’t know what to do about it.”

I mean besides reading Nietzsche. Which only gets you so far. Namely, too far.

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J-D 01.25.17 at 3:34 am

John Holbo
There has been evolutionary change in the size of human teeth (they’ve got smaller) over just the last few thousand years.
There has been evolutionary change affecting lactase persistency in human adults, probably also over a similarly recent period.
So I don’t perceive any basis for ruling out the possibility that the human brain and mind have been affected by evolutionary change over a similar time scale, covering the period of transition to living in huge urban agglomerations rather than small groups. Our teeth and (in some populations) our lactase production have not remained fixed adaptations to the African savanna small food-gathering band environment; no reason is evident for supposing that our brains and minds have.

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John Holbo 01.25.17 at 3:43 am

“So I don’t perceive any basis for ruling out the possibility that the human brain and mind have been affected by evolutionary change over a similar time scale”

That’s fair enough. It’s interesting that there does seem to be movement in the direction of: evolution might have happened – be happening – more recently and quickly than we think.

But here’s the bottom line: why do I believe that humans are incorrigibly tribal? It isn’t because I am attached to a particular speculative view of how we managed on the savannah or am certain we can’t have changed, biologically, since then. What do I really know?

But I think Tajfel’s ‘minimal group’ results, etc. seem pretty solid:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Tajfel

And other stuff. It’s the stuff that we know now about people now that convinces me. Evolutionary speculation is icing on that cake. If you prefer your cake unfrosted, fine.

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F. Foundling 01.25.17 at 4:32 am

@121
>We are never going to socialize or argue ourselves out of parochial altruism of various forms. People will always form small groups. … They won’t act like bees, even if we try to make them.

Forming various small – or, for that matter, large – groups for socialising or for trading favours is one thing (and I don’t see a compelling need to attribute this to hardwiring). Not maintaining a common moral standard for treatment of insiders vs outsiders is another. The question is, for example, whether you harm or allow the harming of an outsider to benefit an insider (including yourself); whether you side with an insider who is wrong against an outsider who is right. It is *not* biologically impossible to refrain from this and to treat people fairly, using the same standard. Some people practice nepotism, others don’t. Some people are kind/fair to strangers that they’ll never see again, others aren’t. These are moral choices and cultural practices, not hardwiring. We don’t need to attribute the unfairness, when it occurs, to high-level hardwiring either – there are trivial reasons at work, self-interest and the very mechanics of empathy being the most obvious ones.

A strict and crucial distinction between small groups and large groups doesn’t strike me as particularly convincing. Apparently, we can teach people not to help a person of their race to rob a person of another race, but we can’t teach people not to help their relative/friend/colleague to rob a stranger? This doesn’t work for me. And while this sounds like a trolley problem, I do find myself – as I’m sure everyone does – in real-life situations where one has a choice between unjustly/inhumanely siding with (some members of) a small in-group that belongs to and justly/humanely defending outsiders/strangers. Again, I don’t accept the defeatist notion the (different) choices that various members of my in-group make in such cases are due to (different) hardwiring – these are, simply, matters of moral choice. Yea, the flesh is weak, but no amount of studies will convince me that we humans are not, in fact, capable of moral choices.

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F. Foundling 01.25.17 at 4:43 am

@ 120:
>I don’t think the claim that some cultures are less advanced ideologically is inherently racist, but it obviously uselessly unclear, at best.

Certainly, such a claim presupposes a shared view of what constitutes progress in the history of culture and ideas (and the idea of ‘progress’/’advancement’ includes both an element of value judgement and an objective claim about human history). And yes, either one subscribes to such assumptions, or one doesn’t. The relevant question in the present case was whether one recognises that past stages in the development of societies – and present societies that remain more similar to the conditions found at those past stages – tend to display certain features that one considers undesirable and/or obsolescent (in this case, tribalism) to a greater extent or in a purer form than one’s own does. Answering this in the positive is not racism, chauvinism or xenophobia. Or else one may skip the whole optimistic ‘objective assumption about human history’ part and just observe a certain feature which one would like to get rid of and which does, in fact, happen to be more represented in *certain* cultures and *certain* time periods than in one’s own. Still not racism, chauvinism or xenophobia. Or, of course, even less optimistically, one may actually believe that the overall prevalence of the feature under discussion is the same in the cultures or time periods being compared, but it is more visible to us when found in a different cultural context, and so it’s useful to refer to that more visible form as a metaphor. Still acceptable, IMO.

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Val 01.25.17 at 4:43 am

John Holbo @ 119
There’s a lot of stuff you said which I think is a misrepresentation of what I said and unfair to me, but I am not going to focus on all that because I think this argument is complicated enough already, both your argument and mine (even if you can’t see the complexity of my argument). So I will try to simplify by focusing specifically on certain remarks in the OP by you (so not worrying about Haidt for example, because I haven’t read Haidt and it’s unclear whether you think there is any value in Haidt anyway):

“… Why is everyone wearing pussyhats at Protest Marches? (More power to them!) Because the Prez is a professed pussy-grabber, which is a harm but also (this is important) a purity violation. Sacred values are often sacred spaces. Women’s bodies. …

… symbols and issues and talking points that reach out and grab you not just up here but down there (pardon my locker room banter) are more potent. They touch upon that-which-should-not-be-touched (without performance of proper rites, i.e. getting consent from the proper authorities over that space.)

(Setting sociology aside: what matters, morally, is that liberal-progressive symbols of purity violation – pussyhats – and conservative symbols of purity violation – transgender bathrooms – point us towards justice issues, concerning which those on the left are in the right, those on the right in the wrong. I think. …”

(sorry I haven’t quite preserved all your emphases)

I feel I should be able to leave it there and you should be able to see why a woman might think this is offensive (even if you think it isn’t, or isn’t meant to be). But presumably that’s not going to happen, so I will try to explain my concerns. Please recognise that this is complicated and I can’t say it all simply, so if in the interest of brevity I am not clear please accept that maybe I could be clearer in a few thousand words etc.

Women’s bodies as sacred or taboo spaces is a masculine/patriarchal construction. “consent from the proper authorities” is a joke but kind of a yuk joke that maybe, sort of, ridicules women. Purity as a concept applied to women’s bodies carries a lot of patriarchal weight – the way that rape was seen as a crime against fathers and husbands, violation of their property. Honour killings are still about men ‘purifying’ themselves and their families and honour by killing/getting rid of the woman/body who has been defiled. So there’s a lot of baggage around the idea of purity as it relates to women which at the very least you are not acknowledging.

It’s quite common in the women’s movement to create movements or memes or shared jokes ridiculing sexist public statement by men. For example, we had ‘Destroy the Joint’ here when a shock jock asserted that women in public positions were doing that (http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/destroying-the-joint-on-the-way-to-the-postpatriarchy-20120903-25a7h.html). I would even suggest that’s a particular contribution of feminist protest (though it seems it is being copied now for example by the right eg in relation to Clinton’s Basket of Deplorables, which is now being claimed by some of the right – by women on the right? interesting research question) – though I think all subordinated groups probably do it, maybe just not so publicly as the women’s movement does nowadays.

From this perspective, ‘women’s rights are human rights’ is more relevant than purity – that is, women have a right to say who can or can’t touch our bodies because all humans should have that right, not because we, or any particular part of our bodies, are sacred or whatever. (I am also not denying that there is a special significance attached to both sexual organs and women’s bodies because of having children, but that doesn’t change my argument – both things can be true – they can have special significance socially but also be ordinary to us). So the pussy hat then can be about asserting women’s rights over our own bodies and about making fun of Donald Trump – holding him up to ridicule (and about more than this, as I’ve said, but those things I think are important). It’s a particular form of non-violent protest (I could go into a long side track here about Margaret Atwood’s comment about men being afraid of women making fun of them and women being afraid of men killing them, etc, but won’t). Whether it ‘works’ politically or not is another issue.

And you using the pussy hat to discuss ideas about purity does seem like appropriation in that context because it clouds the issue and takes away from those strong meanings. And pace to JD as well, when someone who is a member of the historically dominant group (indeed the currently politically dominant group) labels something in a particular way, it can have much more influence than the meaning than the members of the subordinate group actually gave to it.

I’m not of course trying to suggest that you are making “profit” from this in any literal sense. But I definitely think there can be a problem when an academic who is a member of a dominant political group tries to fit ideas expressed by a subordinate group into a different conceptual frame, which he is interested in.

It’s possible that I have completely misunderstood what you are trying to do here, but hopefully you can understand my concerns at least.

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John Holbo 01.25.17 at 4:44 am

“It is *not* biologically impossible to refrain from this and to treat people fairly, using the same standard. Some people practice nepotism, others don’t. “

There’s a scope ambiguity here. It is always possible to refrain in any given case. It is not possible to refrain in all cases. All people practice nepotism, for several values of nepotism.

“We don’t need to attribute the unfairness, when it occurs, to high-level hardwiring either – there are trivial reasons at work, self-interest and the very mechanics of empathy being the most obvious ones.”

The ‘very mechanics of empathy’ is hardwiring of a sort. Hence, it is one of the main candidates to explain why I’m right. Your job, I take it, will have to involve debunking the notion that there is any such thing as ‘the mechanics of empathy’.

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William Timberman 01.25.17 at 4:57 am

So, no family of man then? (And yes, Val, I know that man in this context is inflammatory, but I’m a fan of literature left the way it was at its inception. What we create from now on should reflect what we’ve learned since, but correcting what was in the light of later insights strikes me as coming far too close to accepting a job as Winston Smith, and I’d rather not go there.)

Anyway, tribal may be where we came from, but I’m not at all sure that it’s so indelibly engraved in our genes, psyches, conditions of socially necessary labor, etc., etc., that we can’t see ourselves in others far removed from our own circumstances. Someday, eventually, come the Revolution or the New Jerusalem, or the return of the Messiah of your choice. we may be better than that.

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F. Foundling 01.25.17 at 5:01 am

@127
>There’s a scope ambiguity here. It is always possible to refrain in any given case. It is not possible to refrain in all cases. All people practice nepotism, for several values of nepotism.

I don’t see why it should not be possible to refrain in all cases. As for the values of nepotism, I don’t know what you mean. It is only a matter of practical organisation that people should collaborate within their social groups, and I don’t consider that nepotism. On the other hand, I have not, to the best of my knowledge, wronged anyone to benefit a relative, nor do I intend to do so in the future.

> The ‘very mechanics of empathy’ is hardwiring of a sort. Hence, it is one of the main candidates to explain why I’m right. Your job, I take it, will have to involve debunking the notion that there is any such thing as ‘the mechanics of empathy’.

No, empathy only determines what we feel like doing. Moral choice is about what we must do. Of course nobody in their right mind could deny that empathy is finite and influenced by experience and sensory stimuli, to take even the most obvious cases of non-alignment between it and abstract justice.

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John Holbo 01.25.17 at 5:50 am

“Women’s bodies as sacred or taboo spaces is a masculine/patriarchal construction. “consent from the proper authorities” is a joke but kind of a yuk joke that maybe, sort of, ridicules women.”

Patriarchy has constructed women’s bodies as sacred or taboo spaces. But it doesn’t follow that constructing women’s bodies as sacred or taboo spaces is patriarchical. Compare: all patriarchy has favored some form of justice. It does not follow that favoring some form of justice is patriarchal.

All cultures, in all times and places, have sacralized the body – male and female. It’s an anthropological universal.

“but kind of a yuk joke that maybe, sort of, ridicules women.””

Maybe. Or maybe not. As it happens: not.

“It’s quite common in the women’s movement to create movements or memes or shared jokes ridiculing sexist public statement by men.”

You are doing it again with the ‘if something is one thing, it can’t possibly also be another thing’. Many things are more than one thing. Obviously the pussyhats are a joke. But they are also assertions of a space that shall not be violated. That’s why they are a good symbol. Women are saying to Trump: don’t touch this! (Without our consent.) Protests are political rituals. Political rituals are always polyvalent.

“And you using the pussy hat to discuss ideas about purity does seem like appropriation in that context because it clouds the issue and takes away from those strong meanings.”

‘That context’ is a post about Haidt and my opinions about Haidt. You write: “so not worrying about Haidt for example, because I haven’t read Haidt and it’s unclear whether you think there is any value in Haidt anyway”. It’s not unclear whether I think there’s any value in Haidt. Obviously once you set aside the actual point and focus of my whole post, it starts to look cloudy. You are treating my post as it if were an unclear discussion of something it isn’t about. I hope it’s a clear discussion of what it is about – which you admit you are not interested in, not knowledgeable about, etc. I can understand that I didn’t write the post you would have preferred to read, but it isn’t offensive of me to have failed to anticipate and meet your preferences in this regard. And it for sure isn’t offensive to women generally that Holbo failed to write the post Val would have preferred to read.

“I’m not of course trying to suggest that you are making “profit” from this in any literal sense.”

No, but that only makes it more absurd. If I were selling your comments for profit – putting them on t-shirts or something – then at least your objection would make sense. What you are objecting to – I get it! – is that I am trying to profit intellectually by engaging with your comments. I just think it’s absurd to suggest this is a bad thing. And it’s doubly absurd for you to leave comments here if indeed you think trying to profit, non-monetarily, by commenting, and commenting on comments, so forth, is ‘impoverishing’, inherently. Then don’t comment!

“But I definitely think there can be a problem when an academic who is a member of a dominant political group tries to fit ideas expressed by a subordinate group into a different conceptual frame, which he is interested in. “

Well, I guess there can be a problem. (There can always be a problem with everything.) But why should it be a problem in this case?

“It’s possible that I have completely misunderstood what you are trying to do here, but hopefully you can understand my concerns at least.”

Val, you have accused me – by your own admission, without having done any thinking whatsoever about the thing my post is actually about – of peddling commodity crap ideas that harm women. You have not bothered to substantiate in any way – you don’t even have a bad argument! – that my ideas are commodity crap. (Is the whole idea of purity commodity crap? Is every book ever written about religion commodity crap?) You also don’t have any argument that my post contains ideas that should be deemed offensive to, or harmful to women. Why is it harmful to women If I say that the protest march is an example of an anthropological universal: ideas of justice and ideas of purity characteristically tend to go together, and are often run together? It’s harmful to Haidt, because he has a wrong theory that liberals/leftists don’t go in for this purity stuff. Every pussyhat is a counter-example to Haidt, hence their inclusion in the post. But you aren’t Haidt, and you don’t care about Haidt, so what’s the cost to you?

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Z 01.25.17 at 6:50 am

I am completely with F.Foundling on this, and (of course) I am going to deploy the whole evo-psych jiu-jitsu if need be.

We’ve studied humans and they are pretty darn tribal. We are never going to socialize or argue ourselves out of parochial altruism of various forms. People will always form small groups.

But isn’t there at the very least an equivocation between two sense of tribes going on here: a trivial sense (a small group of people getting along) and a strong sense (with a connotation of strong loyalty to the group as group). Nobody disputes that human beings are tribal in the first sense. Some people (for instance myself) dispute they are always tribalistic with respect to their political affiliations in the strong sense. So, yes people tend to share the political opinions of the people they closely associate with (weak sense) but no their political behaviors do not always (or even mostly) “stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe” as my dictionary defines the strong sense. Or maybe I’m wrong, of course, but one needs an argument beside “People will always form small groups.”

the human mind evolved […] Morality is also a function of our cultures, societies – our arguments and philosophies, etc. But the latter never raises us above our biology/psychology, cleanly, like Munchhausen pulling himself up by his own pigtail.

Well, sure.


4) We’ve studied humans and they are pretty darn tribal.

Wat a minute! In the weak sense or in the strong sense?

We are never going to socialize or argue ourselves out of parochial altruism of various forms. Now our brains are hardwired for that. Our hardwiring is highly flexible.

But here comes the expected kicker: taking for granted that we hardwired for social interactions within a tribe (in the weak sense), the most natural hypothesis is that we are hardwired for valuing any form of social values created and valued in our own tribe (the alternative of content-specific valuation being less adaptative; not to mention obviously empirically weak). So if we happen to belong to a tribe which values non-tribality, we thus become non-tribal. That’s the whole “agents whose self-interest is to be disinterested” of Bourdieu, or if you prefer more classical reference Weber’s habitus as a solution to the wearied interest/disinterest dilemma, and that seems obviously pertinent here.

We can turn out all sorts of different tribal ways. But we are never non-tribal.

Nah. We may very well be (some times, in some specific circumstances) non-(tribal in a strong sense) with parentheses added for clarity (as a point of tribal identity in the weak sense, if you wish). Of course you know that, but as you do, I don’t see the tension you perceive in your 6). At all. It means true morality (with all the specific context is presupposes) is hard and context specific (but we expected that, didn’t we?), but not non-livable. Quite the contrary, in fact, eminently livable.

They won’t act like bees, even if we try to make them.

Bees are pretty amazingly tribal in the strong sense, so funnily I agree: people won’t act like bees, even if we try to make them, that’s exactly why I entirely agree with F.Foundling, again and again “in real-life situations where one has a choice between unjustly/inhumanely siding with (some members of) a small in-group they belong to and justly/humanely defending outsiders/strangers”, people make the second choice.

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Sebastian H 01.25.17 at 8:35 am

“Some people (for instance myself) dispute they are always tribalistic with respect to their political affiliations in the strong sense. So, yes people tend to share the political opinions of the people they closely associate with (weak sense) but no their political behaviors do not always (or even mostly) “stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe” as my dictionary defines the strong sense. “

Your strong sense is too strong and your weak sense is too weak.

People are tribal in the sense that they will tend to excuse bad behavior for members of their tribe while overplaying bad behavior for people outside of their tribe.

People are tribal in the sense that they will tend to over-value good behavior for members of their tribe while underplaying or finding reasons to dismiss good behavior for people outside of their tribe.

People are tribal in the sense that they will tend to find rationalizations for the beliefs of their tribe, while nitpicking the beliefs of people outside of their tribe.

As far as politics and tribe go, a vast majority of people are of the tribe their parents were in. Sure there is an intellectual component. Sure if your tribe goes too far you might rebel. But you’ll give them much more leeway than someone of the other tribe who acts exactly the same with respect to you.

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Sebastian H 01.25.17 at 8:39 am

” “in real-life situations where one has a choice between unjustly/inhumanely siding with (some members of) a small in-group they belong to and justly/humanely defending outsiders/strangers”, people make the second choice.”

No, lots of times they make the first choice. Especially when the level of injustice doesn’t seem too extreme. I would even venture that the majority of people side with their in-group the majority of everyday real-life situations they encounter because the just/injust valence isn’t strong enough to really register. You don’t even notice you are treating the out group people a little bit unfairly because your confirmation bias is working hard enough to filter you away from thoughts of justice/injustice into interpreting it more like “the out group guy kind of deserved it because he didn’t perfectly follow X norm of our group”.

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John Holbo 01.25.17 at 8:47 am

“But isn’t there at the very least an equivocation between two sense of tribes going on here: a trivial sense (a small group of people getting along) and a strong sense (with a connotation of strong loyalty to the group as group).”

I don’t think there is an equivocation. A continuum isn’t an equivocation. What we have are a continuum of effects, small to large. All humans exhibit lots and lots of small (Tajfel minimum group membership-grade) effects. And all humans exhibit some large effects. There are differences in kind, no doubt, as you get stronger. But I don’t see that I have introduced a split that endangers the coherence of my claims.

“4) We’ve studied humans and they are pretty darn tribal.

Wat a minute! In the weak sense or in the strong sense?”

Again, a continuum. So: both.

“But here comes the expected kicker … if we happen to belong to a tribe which values non-tribality, we thus become non-tribal.”

As Nietzsche writes in The Gay Science, section 255:

“A: What, you want no imitators? B: I do not want to have people imitate my example; I wish that everyone would fashion his own examples, as I do. A: So?”

And so I reply to you – A to Z-style: So?

“I don’t see the tension you perceive in your 6). At all.”

Ah, that must be a wonderfully free feeling. I envy you it some days.

“Bees are pretty amazingly tribal in the strong sense”

Oh, I don’t think of bee sociality as tribal in my sense. Tribal is a tipsy but functional equilibrium point for creatures that are essentially social, yet self-interested – like us. Tribal is a solution to a problems bees don’t have. So: bees, no. But language us free. If YOU want to use ‘tribal’ as a strict synonym for ‘social’, then ok, bees are tribal. But I meant: bees exhibit a quality of sociality that would be impossible for (non-brain-damaged-or-otherwise-Borgized) humans. If you want to rewrite that: there are forms of tribalism we humans can’t live, fine. I’m sure that’s also true in my sense of ‘tribalism’.

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J-D 01.25.17 at 9:00 am

And pace to JD as well, when someone who is a member of the historically dominant group (indeed the currently politically dominant group) labels something in a particular way, it can have much more influence than the meaning than the members of the subordinate group actually gave to it.

As a generalisation, I agree with that; it seems to me to be subtly different from your earlier phrasing, but possibly a worked example would show an equivalence, or at least a partial equivalence.

But what’s our worked example in this case? That John Holbo, interpreting the symbolism of pussy hats in one particular way, has more influence (because he’s a man, if I’m following you correctly) over the general reception of their symbolic significance than do the women wearing them? That doesn’t seem likely.

Also, I’m afraid I’m not sure I grasp what you mean by ‘pace to JD’. Can you explain that?

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John Holbo 01.25.17 at 9:01 am

Sebastian H: “Your strong sense is too strong and your weak sense is too weak.”

I think this is half-right. On the one hand, there is no social grouping that does not generate tribalism, of a very slight sort. This was Tajfel’s surprising discovery. He wanted ‘neutral’ control groups, i.e. ones whose membership basis was so trivial that no group-ish psychology was induced, so he count contrast the other sort. His accidental discovery: there is no such thing. No basis of association is trivial enough to generate a perceivable grouping, without generating some degree of tribal loyalty. I agree with Sebastian that the heroic independence you envisage at the other end, Z, is probably a myth. I commend your cleavage to hope over experience but cannot go so far myself.

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Val 01.25.17 at 10:07 am

JD @ 136
It means ‘despite what you said’. I think it’s the ablative case of the Latin word pax (peace) and I think the normal form is ‘pace JD’ rather than pace to JD, as I said. I’m not quite sure how ‘by, with or from peace’ translates to ‘despite what (x) said’ but I can sort of get it.

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Z 01.25.17 at 10:21 am

Sebastian H “People […] will tend to excuse bad behavior for members of their tribe while overplaying bad behavior for people outside of their tribe.” and others.

OK, people are like that, but isn’t that just saying that people like what they like, and dislike what they dislike? Saying people are tribalistic seems to me to be saying a little more: namely that people cling to beliefs, opinions, behaviors… because their group does so (and my dictionary agrees with the connotation). More precisely, I would say a phenomenon is meaningfully tribalistic if you can identify the relevant in-group beforehand and based on this independent prior observation then derive some predictions of independent interest. I don’t see that this is obviously the case most of the time in politics (but I’m willing to be convinced by empirical evidence to the contrary). I mean, even in a pretty starkly tribalistic political environment-the US of 2015-could you have identified in January 2015 the in-group that ensured the victory of Trump in the primary then the general election (keeping in mind that the conventional wisdom was that his primary campaign would crash and burn and that the National Review was publishing an Against Trump special issue, what, one year ago)? Did you do so (kudos if you did, of course)?

John Holbo “Again, a continuum. So: both.”

I understand that this is your thesis and I understand the evidence for the weak end of the spectrum. But I disagree. What are the evidence for the strong end of the spectrum? (Of course, I am looking for “for all” type statements; nobody disputes “there exists” type statements.)

“And so I reply to you – A to Z-style: So?”

Ah. Already, I find Nietzsche confusing in my own language. So after translation and parody, I have absolutely no idea of what you intend to convey. Sorry about that.

“Ah, that must be a wonderfully free feeling. I envy you it some days.”

Oh how wrong you are to envy me (you and I agree we are failing; you believe the task was perhaps hopelessly hard, I believe we could sure achieve it if we tried a little harder).

“Tribal is a tipsy but functional equilibrium point for creatures that are essentially social, yet self-interested”

Now I am linguistically confused. The way I see it, tipsy carries a connotation of instability whereas tribal carries a connotation of excessive rigidity. Which is it (you already had me with the “highly flexible” hardwiring above, where hardwired means that something is “determined or compelled” according to my dictionary and flexible means “able to be easily modified to respond to altered circumstance”)? Because I’m perfectly fine with the statement “political affiliations are the outcome of tipsy but functional equilibria between social and self-interested creatures with mental capabilities which are easily modified in response to altered circumstances” while I disagree with “political affiliations are the outcome of excessively rigid beliefs stemming from strong loyalty to groups of social and self-interested creatures with mental capabilities which are genetically determined and compelled.” Which one is closer to your claim?

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Bill Benzon 01.25.17 at 11:27 am

John Holbo said: “7) I recognize that 6) and 3) are in tension. I honestly don’t know what to do about it.”

We muddle through?

Maybe an important driver in cultural change/evolution is incoherence at the heart of human “nature.” Each society, each group, tries to achieve some kind of stable relationship between various not-necessarily-competing and not-necessarily-harmonious interests and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. So things drift.

I’ve played around with versions of this in some posts:

From the Building Blocks of Human Relationships to Starving Artists

Hierarchy and Equality: The Essential Tension in Human Nature

Mode & Behavior 3: Music, Language, and Beyond

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John Holbo 01.25.17 at 11:47 am

“The way I see it, tipsy carries a connotation of instability whereas tribal carries a connotation of excessive rigidity.”

I don’t think you’ve seen many movies about tribes. The Mafia for example. They get tipsy all the time.

No, seriously. Tribal dynamics are delicate. (Alcohol can help sometimes.)

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M Caswell 01.25.17 at 12:17 pm

“6) I actually sort of believe that the true morality is non-tribal, hence non-livable for humans.”

Why “non-livable,” rather than, say, “difficult”? We’ve always known that fine things are difficult.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.25.17 at 12:34 pm

There is nothing but tribalism. Tribalism doesn’t have to be one tribe against another. We might make “one tribe”: the world tribe. It is tribalism all the way up, and tribalism all the way down.

What the moderns cannot articulate is the loss of the central functor of the tribe, the orator. Capitalism/liberalism replaced classical oration with scientific individualism. This might work someday — a million years from now! — but in the mean time tribes are emotional things, and congregate around orators. Tribes need trust to trade with each other; trust is an emotional thing. Orators provide the glue, by being individuals who combine the pathos, logos, and ethos in the single person, because emotions are learned by personal modeling.

The 18th Brumaire is perhaps the first to show that, lacking someone virtuous to do this, modern society gets a Louis Napoleon, a Hitler, a Trump. The orator doesn’t have to be capable of beautiful verbal flourishes, there just has to be an orator.

Classical rhetoric has a scientific function (perhaps ultimately it works via the “mirror neurons”), this idea has been lost in modern social science theory. Consequently we get the multiple categories and logics of “moral foundations” theory and the like. But social action requires, and only requires, the categories of virtue and sympathy, from Plato through Aquinas to Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (to pick a late 18th-century compendium). Anything beyond that just loses, and loses big time!, on the 18th of Brumaire.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.25.17 at 12:35 pm

P.S. Trust is needed to trade with each other by reducing costs in the institutional-economic sense, the theory being built in the video series at #117, above.

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Val 01.25.17 at 1:18 pm

John Holbo, you may be using the word ‘purity’ in a certain way, which relates to Haidt, and requires people who want to engage with you to – ideally, in your view – have read Haidt. But you’re not the Red Queen, and words don’t just mean what you want them to mean, even if you have arguably more power than your interlocutors. You can’t stop other people from having a set of associations about the word ‘purity’ or being upset when you use it in certain contexts. I think it would be better if you tried to understand this rather than attacking people for it.

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Catchling 01.25.17 at 1:38 pm

Regarding the purity ethic, I wonder whether that’s more a cause or effect of other moral beliefs. It seems like disgust is one of the most basic elements of our minds. Disgust-based insults are what prompts “Oh, he went there”.

It’s tempting to say that conservative homophobia is simply a consequence of disgust, but it’s not like liberals support gay rights while “admitting” homosexuality to be inherently disgusting or something. They just don’t think it should fit in the purity axis at all.

It’s almost more like disgust is one of the most powerful weapons available, and when divisions intensity, it’s the big gun to be brought out. The body-shaming of Donald Trump is partly a retaliation for his decades of body-shaming, and both things serve to rally the troops, possibly in a more emotionally effective way than appealing to purer (hmm, interesting that the word can be used this way — am I implying that disgust is itself contaminated/profane?) motives.

Something else I thought of when righting about attitudes on gay rights — insofar as PC serves as a left-wing purity ethic (with, say, a racial caricature spurring the same emotional reaction as gay porn might in a fundamentalist), I can see a fair number of conservatives who do take a stance of “We support this even though it is disgusting/impure/weird, because freedom.” And then I realized that pro-gay-rights liberals talked that way about homosexuality not long ago. This way of talking makes sense when the prevailig taboos were against you, but doesn’t work (nor is needed) if society has decided to recognize you as holding the high ground.

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bob mcmanus 01.25.17 at 2:00 pm

What the moderns cannot articulate is the loss of the central functor of the tribe, the orator. Capitalism/liberalism replaced classical oration with scientific individualism.

I think I disagree, and would ask that for instance, this site place “tribe” Crooked Timber be looked as a possible model and real-life example of new forms of chosen and perhaps temporary affiliation. I am not involved in my geographical or biological tribes to any extent but have a half dozen affective attachments like this one.

Whether or not these new distributed and democratic “tribes” can generate the emotional energy required, or how to structure them so they do so, remains to be seen.

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Faustusnotes 01.25.17 at 2:45 pm

Val I think you’re overreacting here. I understand that there is a strong feminist reaction to discussion of purity and sexual assault but not wanting to have your pussy grabbed by an orange shitgibbon is obviously about purity. Our bodies are sacrosanct and revulsion at the violation of that sanctity is an obvious expression of “purity”on haidts shallow measure. similarly the comment about proper authorities is obviously a piss take of the idea that men decides who gets to grab whose pussy, not some kind of veiled insult.

remember that a lot of the feminism were exposed to is American, and therefore inherently conservative, and reacting against a very conservative view of sex and women. That conservative feminism has bred natural suspicions of the concept of purity 1 but it also fails to allow women to enjoy their own bodies as they want, because it’s always reacting against Puritanism that we as Australians don’t have to deal with. Don’t judge johns argument by those conservative American feminists standards. His point is simple and right – not wanting some spray tanned fuckwit to grab you by the pussy is a commitment to purity just as much as is not wanting people to wear pussy hats. Different (better) kind of purity, is all.

Also the pussy hats aretrolling right wing conceptions of pussy as dirty – dworkinning those losers – but it wouldn’t have the same meaning if the girls doing it didn’t accept the purity of their own bodies, in contravention of how they’re supposed to be dirty. I think johns point that this pisses all over haidts idea is great.

Don’t let yourself be dragged down by the conservatism of American feminism. Defending your body against this shitgibbon is an act of Puritanism, but not in a bad way.

My iPad did a really weird and impure thing to my keyboard as I typed this do please bear with the typos.

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Faustusnotes 01.25.17 at 2:47 pm

Also can we call it cunt? Pussy is a juvenile word and Ursula le guin used “cunt” in “always coming home” so we can too.

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engels 01.25.17 at 3:07 pm

I don’t agree with everything Val’s said but I think she’s right it’s unfortunate you reached for women’s rights for examples for your point, as that does seem to resonate with a patriarchal rationale for those rights as concerned with women’s value as property to be protected from defilement or unauthorised use. If you really think you can make the case that liberals re fundamentally as motivated by concerns about purity and the sacred as religious conservatives are (as I implied, I find this implausible in the extreme) you ought to be able to provide examples from across the range of party-political debate, should you not? How does it apply to eg the death sentence, the welfare state, free education, police britality? Not very well I should think. (Confession: I haven’t read the post or thread in their entirety so apologies if I’m misunderstanding….)

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John Holbo 01.25.17 at 3:53 pm

Val: “I think it would be better if you tried to understand this rather than attacking people for it.”

You attacked me. Why should I take extra steps to understand you when you are unwilling to take ordinary steps to understand my post before attacking it – and me? I’m not the one playing Humpty Dumpty (it was he, not the Queen, who thought he could make words mean anything.) You are right that I “can’t stop other people from having a set of associations about the word ‘purity’ or being upset when you use it in certain contexts.” But I can, and do, use ‘purity’ in a standard way. What more can I really do? I’m trying to construct reasonable arguments and I’m not insulting or attacking anyone.

Catchling: “And then I realized that pro-gay-rights liberals talked that way about homosexuality not long ago. This way of talking makes sense when the prevailig taboos were against you, but doesn’t work (nor is needed) if society has decided to recognize you as holding the high ground.”

Interesting fact about Haidt. He got that bug in his ear about PC after having a personal bad experience. He got hauled up on administrative charges of some sort – creating a hostile environment or something. He tells the story in one of those video links in the post. He was showing an intro psych class a film of an experimenter reading a script to a subject. For years Haidt has done these so-called ‘harmless taboo violation’ tests. The brother and sister commit incest but use birth control and they have a great time and promise never to tell anyone (so no one is harmed.) The family decides to eat the dog after it is hit by a car, to see what dog tastes like. The guy has sex with a (dead!) chicken he buys at the supermarket. Predictably, lots of people say this stuff is morally wrong but are then a bit challenged to explain why. Disgust and morality. Purity stuff. Anyway, on with the story. The experimenter, at a certain point, is supposed to deploy standard liberal arguments – basically Mill-type no-harm no-foul stuff. Play devil’s advocate, in a sense: “Of course, I may find gay sex to be disgusting – I wouldn’t want to watch it. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s wrong, much less that it should be forbidden.” The point being: let’s see if, by leveraging the gay case, we can get the subject to flip on the brother-sister-safe-incest, or whatever. But a student in Haidt’s class stood up and objected that the film was homophobic because it said gay sex is disgusting. Haidt didn’t want to admit it said that, because it really didn’t. Well, he got wrapped up in a lot of uncomfortable administrative charges and lost a month, dealing with them. He was cleared but he’s bitter about it, I guess. (All I know is his side of the story. Don’t ask me if it’s true. If it all happened exactly as he says, he was indeed the victim.) Anyway, I mention it because it fits with your point, Catchling. Haidt has been using the same experiment script for years – obviously you want to stick with the script for consistency. But what was once a fairly standard liberal line, to win over wobbly conservatives, ‘we support this even though it’s disgusting because freedom’, has tipped. I don’t suppose the new attitude is coherent or settled. If you find some kind of sex disgusting, or some kind of food disgusting, or certain activities disgusting, the presumption should be that we tolerate your disgust. People don’t choose their ‘yuck’ responses, by and large. (No one thinks it’s objectionable that straight people may decline to engage in homosexual acts, preferring not.) Then again, the presumption now is that expressing verbal disgust at homosexual sex – what if the subject the experimenter is talking to is gay? – is inconsiderate, hence an index of intolerance. By saying it, you are basically saying: I don’t give a crap if I make gay people uncomfortable. And, given everyone knows this is the norm, if someone breaks it, he or she probably is trying to say just that. So Haidt needs to update that script, even though that plays hell with longitudinal consistency. What are you going to do? Sometimes, in order for things to stay the same, things must change.

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John Holbo 01.25.17 at 3:59 pm

“If you really think you can make the case that liberals re fundamentally as motivated by concerns about purity and the sacred as religious conservatives are (as I implied, I find this implausible in the extreme) you ought to be able to provide examples from across the range of party-political debate, should you not?”

Huh, this is interesting. You really find this implausible, Engels? I thought you were pulling my leg. It’s late. I need to sleep. I’ll tell you what. Maybe other folks can say what they think about the plausibility of my position overnight (if anyone is interested.) And then tomorrow I’ll write a response, either way. We shall let the Plain People of Crooked Timber decide whether it is plausible that purity impulses are quite commonly intermingled with other social justice imperatives.

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engels 01.25.17 at 4:07 pm

Take your time!

We shall let the Plain People of Crooked Timber decide whether it is plausible that purity impulses are quite commonly intermingled with other social justice imperatives.

I think it’s hard to disagree they’re ‘quite commonly intermingled’ but I’d have thought it was clear they play a central role in religious/conservative psychology/politics that they don’t in secular/liberal thought. I guess I’m a bit uncertain about the strength of the claim you’re making.

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casmilus 01.25.17 at 4:44 pm

Rod Dreher has a new item that may be of interest:

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/creating-the-white-tribe/

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WLGR 01.25.17 at 4:59 pm

John Holbo: What is the argument, WLGR, that anyone who thinks we need to study parochial altruism as a complex and multidimensional social phenomena is doomed to ‘ooga booga’ racism and oversimplified essentialism, merely due to the word ‘tribe’?

If you look more into scholarly literature than popsci bestseller-list-fodder by Harvard celebrity scholars, you’ll find that this argument has been articulated repeatedly and prominently for at least the past half century. (As a fan of anthropologically literate cognitive science by scholars like Michael Tomasello and Russell Gray, I’m generally skeptical toward the recent boom of “ideological assumptions about timeless innate human nature …now featuring fMRI!” style work in cogsci/neuro, which seems defenseless against the kind of pseudo-scholarly anti-intellectualism one might expect from a reactionary huckster like Sam Harris.) In any case, as far as oversimplified essentialism, here’s the preface to Morton Fried’s The Notion of ‘Tribe’ (1975):

The Notion of Tribe assaults the generally held concept of “tribe” by attacking the notion of highly discrete political units in pre-state society. Although we are accustomed to think about the most ancient forms of human society in terms of tribes, firmly defined and bounded units of this sort actually grew out of the manipulation of relatively unstructured populations by more complexly organized societies. The invention of the state, a tight, class-structured political and economic organization, began a process whereby vaguely defined and grossly overlapping populations were provided with the minimal organization required for their manipulation, even though they had little or no internal organization of their own other than that based on conceptions of kinship. The resultant form was that of the tribe.

This book presents comparative ethnological evidence to show that tribes, as conventionally conceived, are not closely bounded populations in either territorial or demographic senses. They are not economically and politically integrated and display political organization under hierarchical leaders only as a result of contact with already existing states, although such contact may be quite indirect. They are not either war or peace groups and rarely if ever show congruence with language communities or with religious communities.

Nothing is more quixotic than to attempt to change the meaning of a word firmly rooted in the lexicon. The intention of this assault is to sensitize the reader to a battery of preconceptions about the nature of pre-state society.

As far as ooga-booga racism, here’s from a brief article by David Wiley titled “Using ‘Tribe’ and ‘Tribalism’ to Misunderstand African Societies” (1981):

The success of the term “tribe” in shaping our perceptions of the African societies may be seen in the widespread usage of the term by African journalists and scholars. Because English, French, Portuguese, and occasionally Afrikaans were the languages of the schools and the city, tribe, tribu, and the other cognates defined the language of urban and political interaction and defined the categories into which rural and urban societies were allocated during the colonial period. Now, prominent African leaders use the term in appealing for “an end to tribalism,” referring to the urban and national struggles for political power in utilizing ethnic and language ties as a means to aggregate power and authority. They too miss the ethnic dynamic and mistakenly link the urban ethnicity to the rural societies. Finally, tribe is a source of misunderstanding the great diversity of rural Africa by labeling small hunting and gathering groups of less than 100 persons as a tribe as well as a far-flung, multinational Fulani trading group of millions of persons across circa 19 nations as a “tribe.” The term had no validity for describing the pre-colonial period. It has less legitimacy now. And the term is as demeaning as ever.

And here’s from a slightly longer but still pretty brief article called “Talking about ‘Tribe’: Moving from Stereotypes to Analysis” (1997):

The general sense of tribe as most people understand it is associated with primitiveness. To be in a tribal state is to live in a uncomplicated, traditional condition. It is assumed there is little change. Most African countries are economically poor and often described as less developed or underdeveloped. Westerners often conclude that they have not changed much over the centuries, and that African poverty mainly reflects cultural and social conservatism. Interpreting present day Africa through the lens of tribes reinforces the image of timelessness. Yet the truth is that Africa has as much history as anywhere else in the world. It has undergone momentous changes time and again, especially in the twentieth century. While African poverty is partly a product of internal dynamics of African societies, it has also been caused by the histories of external slave trades and colonial rule.

The idea of tribe particularly shapes Western views of ethnicity and ethnic conflict in Africa, which has been highly visible in recent years. Over and over again, conflicts are interpreted as “ancient tribal rivalries,” atavistic eruptions of irrational violence which have always characterized Africa. In fact they are nothing of the sort. The vast majority of such conflicts could not have happened a century ago in the ways that they do now. Pick almost any place where ethnic conflict occurs in modern Africa. Investigate carefully the issues over which it occurs, the forms it takes, and the means by which it is organized and carried out. Recent economic developments and political rivalries will loom much larger than allegedly ancient and traditional hostilities.

The bottom-line problem with the idea of tribe is that it is intellectually lazy: it substitutes the illusion of understanding for analysis of particular circumstances.

None of this is particularly groundbreaking stuff, and neither you nor Joshua Greene nor anybody I’ve seen defend the term “tribalism” seems to be claiming expertise in fields that involve examining the history of “small-group living” in human social evolution through actual empirical fieldwork as opposed to armchair conjecture. If want to continue using terms with the ideological baggage of “tribe” and “tribalism” as your shorthand for ideas that you and Greene both at least seem capable of describing in less loaded terms like “parochial altruism” (to your credit!) then the least you can do is critically examine your own reasons for doing so.

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nastywoman 01.25.17 at 5:43 pm

‘We shall let the Plain People of Crooked Timber decide whether it is plausible that purity impulses are quite commonly intermingled with other social justice imperatives.’

Being (hopefully?) – ‘plain’ I read the definition of ‘purity’ again – and it said:

‘the condition or quality of being pure; freedom from anything that debases, contaminates, pollutes, etc.’

Or
the quality or state of being pure: such as
a : lack of dirty or harmful substances
b : lack of guilt or evil thoughts

and ‘the definition for children’:
Freedom from guilt or sin-

And as I prefer the definition for children I have come to the conclusion that my very conservative grandfather -(who wants to be free from sin because he soon hopes to be in heaven) – and I -(ME) – who gladly wear my Pussyhat because I want to have Freedom from guilt or sin too – have a lot in common.

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engels 01.25.17 at 5:50 pm

…I’m also a bit concerned you’re diluting (ooh pardon!) the meaning of ‘purity’ and similar terms more than a little to make your argument. Imo they have substantive meanings in the reactionary weltanschaung of which the metaphorical uses you’re leaning on so heavily are but distant echoes.

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AcademicLurker 01.25.17 at 6:23 pm

I guess it depends on what you mean by “liberal”. I suppose that squishy middle-of-the-road liberals might not be overly concerned purity, but the tendency certainly becomes more pronounced the further you move to the left. Among online tumblr-style activists, I’d say that purity rituals comprise a pretty significant chunk of what they do.

And of course back in the day there were various Marxist groups obsessed with purging themselves of “deviationists”.

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engels 01.25.17 at 7:34 pm

Is disinfecting an operating theatre really just the same thing from a sociological point of view as sprinkling holy water over a shaman’s hut? Maybe sorta kinda in a way but then again maybe no.

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AcademicLurker 01.25.17 at 8:03 pm

I realize that Marxists aren’t liberals, but I’m assuming that, for the purposes of this thread, “liberal” is denoting the left more generally (maybe I’m wrong).

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Val 01.25.17 at 8:09 pm

@ 150
Oops thanks for correction about Humpty Dumpty and the Red Queen, I should have checked my memory.

Anyway you have given some examples of Haidt’s work, which is useful for those who don’t want to read Haidt (I should say my reluctance to do so springs partly because you’re quite ambivalent in the way you talk about him, and because of time, but partly for the more important reason that I think trying to understand political positions by individual psychology is misguided – maybe you can find differences but I think the direction of causation is wrong here). But have you read any feminist critiques of Haidt? Maybe CT authors should make a rule that for every male they cite, they should cite a woman (I’d say a feminist actually because otherwise you get the problem of fellow travellers etc)

Fn I think to suggest that I’m influenced by American puritanical feminism is not correct here. I’m more interested in the way men try to fit women’s experience into theoretically de-gendered categories – which as I’ve argued is like a form of cultural imperialism or appropriation. By contrast there was a man on Balloon Juice, who’d been to the marches, and was advocating that women should lead the resistance to Trump and men should take a support role. I like that. But your explanation helps me to understand what JH may be getting at a bit more I think.

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Val 01.25.17 at 8:19 pm

Also again sorry for posts in rapid succession but “fellow travellers” is the wrong expression (in this context for women who go along with/don’t question male-centric or patriarchal discourse) but I can’t think what the right one is. Maybe someone can help?

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Trader Joe 01.25.17 at 8:39 pm

“If you really think you can make the case that liberals re fundamentally as motivated by concerns about purity and the sacred as religious conservatives are (as I implied, I find this implausible in the extreme) you ought to be able to provide examples from across the range of party-political debate, should you not?”

One might make the case that the mere fact the average liberal is prepared to march and protest their position is at least some evidence of the purity they ascribe to it. In the last few weeks alone there have been major marches held in support of Women’s rights, African American causes/MLK day and various LBGTQ concerns. Environmental protesters continue to block Dakota in support of that cause.

When was the last gun rights march?
When was the last black lives don’t matter march?
Has there ever been a Build the Refinery protest?
Did anyone ever burn a flag to protest same sex marriage rights?

The conservatives might believe in the purity of their cause, but they don’t tend to get sore throats, hand-cuff burns and sore feet marching and shouting about it.

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engels 01.25.17 at 8:57 pm

the tendency certainly becomes more pronounced the further you move to the left

Some evidence might be a good idea, otherwise it might look like you’re just mindlessly regurgitating American centrist idées reçues…

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engels 01.25.17 at 9:02 pm

(Personal experience: I know a lot of people on the far Left who are far more interested in rational debate and potentially changing views on matters of substance than the average Hillaryite, Daily Show watcher or post-Rawlsian scribbler…)

166

M Caswell 01.25.17 at 9:45 pm

Val, how do you know Haidt isn’t a feminist?

167

ZM 01.25.17 at 10:18 pm

John Holbo,

I think the American and Australian cultural contexts might be somewhat different and behind your argument with Val.

What Val is saying is standard university gender analysis in Australia, the sort of thing I have heard in several different university subjects and also by 2nd wave feminism public intellectuals in Australia like Anne Summers (Damned Whores And God’s Police) and Germaine Greer.

I think the point of the pussy hats is the gesture to the profane tied in with questions of women’s sexual rights and justice, I think the conservatives are more right on this the hats are deliberately playing with the rude connotations, the hats are not signifying purity to my reading, and it would be sort of icky if they were signifying purity like that at a political march.

Also I would question what you are arguing about notions of purity in relation to women’s bodies, bodily harassment, and rape — some women are not going to adopt or believe notions of purity in relation to their body in the way you are suggesting and would push back against ideas that women’s bodies are supposed to be pure like that; and other women who do adopt or believe ideas of purity attached to their conceptions of their body would only be more damaged by harassment and rape if these were seen to violate their purity.

The latter has been the case historically in many societies, and women who were raped could be seen as unclean or fallen women etc.

America is a more puritan religious country than Australia, so notions of purity might have more sway there than here.

168

Sebastian H 01.25.17 at 10:19 pm

“but I’d have thought it was clear they play a central role in religious/conservative psychology/politics that they don’t in secular/liberal thought. “

“Central” is a rather strong word. Like nearly all bad things, purity concerns are a good thing which has gotten out of control. You seem to know about the right-style cases so I won’t get into them. Some concerns commonly seen on the left in the last decade or so which tend to have heavy purity concern aspects:

“Porn is bad!”
“Video Games make people violent!” (Just ask the Japanese!)
“Is so-and-so tainted by X company association?”
“GMOs can’t be good for our bodies because they’ve been DESIGNED by evil corporations”.
“Is Clinton really ‘left’ enough?”
(It may just be California) “Vaccines!!!!”
Greater-than-safety concerns reaction to the word ‘nuclear’ in anything.

Also intersectionality is a useful concept, which gets morphed into purity silliness when in the hands of the unwary (or malicious) on a regular basis. (I saw it recently when trying to talk about banning gay police officers from the Pride Parade in Toronto. I talked about the fact that gay and trans police officers face at least as much discrimination and often more than gay people in all sorts of other professions and should be allowed to express their identity and gayness together if they so choose, and was told that being a member of any police force anywhere was too much of a taint).

169

Sebastian H 01.25.17 at 10:53 pm

And how did I forget?

GLUTEN!

[yes I know two people with actual celiac’s disease. I’m grateful that they can get gluten-free things because lots of purity concerned people suddenly all became worried about wheat].

Before gluten we had FAT!

And it looks like we are about to move into SUGAR!

170

engels 01.25.17 at 11:10 pm

Some concerns commonly seen on the left in the last decade or so which tend to have heavy purity concern aspects:

Question: what does ‘purity’ mean here, other than ‘opinions I find irrational/silly’?

171

Bill Benzon 01.25.17 at 11:45 pm

@WGRL: Yes, using “tribe” as a term of art is ill-advised.

172

Bill Benzon 01.25.17 at 11:47 pm

Whoops! Got the letters in the wrong order. Corrected:

@WLGR: Yes, using “tribe” as a term of art is ill-advised.

173

Faustusnotes 01.26.17 at 12:35 am

I would have thought all the posturing about not giving your vote to killary like it was the first time you ever had sex was a pretty clear case of purity virtue signaling. Made all the worse because so much of it was obviously driven by disgust at an old woman. The anti sex work left is often driven by notions of purity – they don’t believe whole and healthy women would rent out their bodies and so try to pretend they’re all victims. The women’s March organizers tried to write sex workers out of their script too, presumably not wanting the March sullied by dirty women. I think their are lots of examples of purity as a concept in leftist politics, they aren’t hard to find.

Also it’s worth noting the response of the Christian Right to trump – they love this man who superficially is an affront to all their values. It’s pretty clear that purity for the right is just s convenient act. What does that say about haidts theory?

174

Asteele 01.26.17 at 12:54 am

Haidt should of saved himself some trouble and just declared spite and white-supremacy moral values, that would of made his job easier.

175

John Holbo 01.26.17 at 1:23 am

OK, this is going to take a while, I’m just going to work down, responding as I go. Engels up first (I will probably have to take a break before I get done, to get some actual work done.)

“I think it’s hard to disagree they’re ‘quite commonly intermingled’ but I’d have thought it was clear they play a central role in religious/conservative psychology/politics that they don’t in secular/liberal thought.”

I took you to be denying even the ‘quite commonly intermingled’ claim. Be it noted, Val is quite strongly disagreeing with this thing you find ‘hard to disagree with’. She (like Saurs) regards it as not just mistaken but rather indecent to suggest that social justice claims could be ‘diluted’ (her word, not mine) with the taint of purity-mindedness.

So the points I make to you apply to you, Engels. The points I make to Val, below – if I ever get that far – shall apply to her.

I don’t have a disproof that conservative thinking is more purity-minded than lefty thinking. My thesis is that purity-thinking on all sides is always very high. That is consistent with lefty thinking being highly purity-minded, and conservative thinking being super-high-purity-minded. You think that? You go right ahead. My own back-of-the-envelope guesstimate is that our sense that conservatives are even somewhat ore purity minded is an illusion, due to the fact that conservative tropes and themes and symbols are more traditionally religious. If there were a Christian’s March and we saw as many crucifixes and we saw pussyhats a few days ago, no one would bat an eye at the proposition there was some kind of sacred/profane thing going on. Haidt occasionally goes out on ‘hunts for liberal purity’ and he comes back with a few instances; worries about genetically modified food, concern about ‘natural’ stuff, so forth. But, to my mind, he misses the forest for the trees. The proper conclusion, if you do that is: holy crap! (more on that in a moment!) Politics and social life generally is filthy with purity on all sides!

This is probably a good point at which to anatomize ‘purity’ a bit more. Val has suggested there is something totally non-standard about the way I am using it. It does not seem so to me. It seems to me I am following Haidt, but Haidt is himself operating within touching distance of ordinary notions. The reason my conclusions are a bit nonstandard, if they are, is not that my premises and terms are weird. It’s that I’m noting concepts we already use, and claims we already accept, imply things we maybe haven’t noticed.

First, some even more general conceptual clarification. The following is me, not Haidt, but it actually isn’t that far from Haidt (and I have learned from Haidt.)

When humans think about morality and values, when they ask ‘what should I do?’ What should be praised, permitted, prohibited? – their thoughts may run along various types of rails. They may be utilitarians. What would maximize the greatest good for the greatest number? Or Kantians. Can I universalize a categorical imperative hereabouts? Or they can think like actual humans. Harm = bad. Care = good. Bit of both of those. You look and see if people seem to be harming each other or caring for each other. It’s often a crude heuristic, but almost invariably deployed as a matter of course. Humans are highly likely to answer moral questions by turning them into issues of purity/contamination. Let me add to the mix: authority and loyalty because, although these are plausibly separate, they are very difficult to separate, plausibly. How so. Well, purity/contamination seldom occurs without high/low. Religion births to religious authority – figures of purity who are higher; dirty-types who are lower. And loyalty is, arguably, a subset of purity. Purity is concerned with circles: what is in is clean, what is out is dirty. You hold the line. But obviously that makes all in-group/out-group thinking – all tribalism (pardon me if you find that term contaminating, we’ll get to that.) I think that’s just right in some sense. So everywhere you see groups, you see purity-mindedness. Now this is a bit of a paradox: am I turning ethnocentrism (if you prefer to cleanse ‘tribe’ of taint by translating it into Greek) into a sub-branch of theology, or religion? Well, yes and no. I am merely making the point that, at the level of psychology and society and culture, religion and politics are often not that different. This is, at bottom, why I regard the attempt to regard lefty politics as free from purity-mindedness as absurd. There are theoretical constructions of politics that don’t place any normative value on groupishness. Many theories of liberal fit that bill. But real politics is always groupish. Ergo, purity-minded. Any attempt to deny this, in practice, is nonsense.

176

Martin James 01.26.17 at 1:27 am

The source of my question about where the moral tribes come from is that they seem very disconnected to the locality of an actual tribe. In other words, one’s family, friends and workplace do not seem as similar morally as do the more abstract and extended tribes of political party and “moral team” to use a slightly less historically loaded term. Certainly, social class, race and occupation play a strong role in moral identity, but there seems to me a consumerist trend of moral identity that may not be based on personality or genetic propensity, but I’m not sure what applies better than personality. What concept applies better to people who like war movies versus talk movies or team sports versus individual sports. I’m willing to consider socially constructed theory but I can’t keep track if it is capitalists or racists or media entrepreneurs that are dong the constructing. Why do some people turn from their socialization and others not, if there is not a personality component?

177

Martin James 01.26.17 at 1:35 am

“But real politics is always groupish. Ergo, purity-minded. Any attempt to deny this, in practice, is nonsense.”
I thought the point of the purity scale was specifically bodily in a way that differentiated it from just group rules. For example, variety in food or fear of spiders. Are you just saying that all groups have taboos and hence purity or are you making the stronger point that the form of those taboos is equal across types of categorization so a category like purity will find a similar number of instances in all groups? Or are you just saying that purity can’t be made categorical in a way that meaningful can measure group differences?

178

John Holbo 01.26.17 at 1:44 am

I’m cutting this up a bit. Let me say, briefly, what makes purity different from authority. What makes clean/dirty different from high/low? Again, they almost invariably go together. What is clean is regarded as high, what is dirty as low. But there are distinctive dynamics to purity thinking. (Here I am agreeing with Haidt but, seriously, a lot of good books have been written about the anthropology of the sacred. Just go to the library and check out books on the subject if you are curious how this thing, religion, tends to work. Or ask your priest/religious authority about morality and note the tendency of sacred guidance to be purity guidance.)

A few features:

1) purity thinking is asymmetrical. It’s easy to make things dirty. It’s hard to clean dirty things. One teeny tiny mouse turd in the punch ruins the whole party. Sure, there’s the five-second rule for stuff you dropped on the floor. But, seriously, people tend to be pretty squeamish about contamination of food. Same goes for morals and politics. One tiny mouse turd in the (political) party ruins its whole punch, i.e. seems to deprive it of force and righteousness.

2) Purity thinking is highly sensitive to the little things. This follows from 1. If you notice so much as a hair in your food, it is quite unpleasant. And moral beliefs, when they are running along purity rails, are likewise very hair-trigger.

3) Purity thinking is contagious thinking. Again, this follows from 1. A lot of political logic is, frankly, contagious magical thinking (old-fashioned term but it will do.) A was touched by B. B is dirty. A is dirty. There’s a lot of tracing of genealogies and paths, with a sensitive eye: was any dirty contact made on this path?

4) Purity thinking is homeopathic (sympathetic magic, to be all old-school Frazer about it.) Only clean cleans clean. And it does. Cue priests and other sanctified individuals (who enter stage right – and left): if you have a dirty thing and you want it cleaned, you have to get it blessed by a priest. Or equivalent. A pure person. In a sense this may be reverse contagious magic. Just as one touch of dirty dirties, so one touch of absolute clean cleans.

Authority – high/low stuff – connects to all this. As I said, you seldom get clean/dirty without high/low, and the two dimensions are typically almost perfectly congruent. But, per above, purity thinking is still distinctive.

I’ve gotta go do some other stuff now for a while. Back later.

179

J-D 01.26.17 at 1:46 am

Val

It means ‘despite what you said’. I think it’s the ablative case of the Latin word pax (peace) and I think the normal form is ‘pace JD’ rather than pace to JD, as I said. I’m not quite sure how ‘by, with or from peace’ translates to ‘despite what (x) said’ but I can sort of get it.

Ah! Thanks for the explanation. With that information, I checked a few online dictionaries. Only one of them agrees directly with you by defining it as ‘contrary to the opinion of’; the others suggest things like ‘with due respect to’ or ‘with deference to’ or even ‘with the permission of’, which perhaps makes clearer the etymological link to ‘peace’ (and, yes, the etymology is confirmed). Also, if we follow the dictionaries it should be ‘pace J-D’, not ‘pace to J-D’ (come to think of it, I suspect Latin doesn’t have a word for ‘to’ in that sense, you’d just use the dative of ‘J-D’, except that in English there isn’t one).

Another thing: one of the dictionaries suggests that the usage signals either politeness or ironic politeness — did you intend one of those?

180

John Holbo 01.26.17 at 1:47 am

My comments are crossing with some others. Martin, I hope my comment, crossing yours, answered your question.

181

John Holbo 01.26.17 at 1:52 am

OK, one more point before I go. I didn’t mention, in explicating purity above, that disgust responses are important. Ick implies ought-not. (Can an ick imply an ought? Well, that’s a normative puzzle, ain’t it?) It doesn’t follow that ick is the foundation of purity thinking, in a causal sense. Because, of course, ick can be acquired, conditioned in. But ‘the wisdom of repugnance’ is always operating when we have purity-mindedness.

182

John Holbo 01.26.17 at 2:00 am

One last last thought until I can spare more time: if purity seems tightly linked to religion, you’re right. But remember the food cases. We all have strong pure/impure reactions to what we take in our bodies. Groups are bodies. Political parties, for example.

183

Lee A. Arnold 01.26.17 at 2:13 am

Bob McManus #147: “this site place ‘tribe’ Crooked Timber be looked as a possible model and real-life example of new forms of chosen and perhaps temporary affiliation”

A discussion group has various tribal characteristics such as a purpose, a set of rules, a group affect, a reduced cost for individual interaction, etc. But there is no orator. A discussion group is a group of individuals who are in the process of defining themselves. They don’t need or want an orator in the classical sense of someone whom a tribal audience has gathered to listen to, and who is employing the cultural heritage to move that audience to political or judicial action using ideas and emotions. (It is not the job description of a teacher or professor.)

Moderns think that rhetoric in the classical sense is worthless, a superfluity, and the orator’s function has been denatured to a politician giving a speech. The basic dream is that a system can be set up which gets to its goals automatically: don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters. Not only liberals think this way — conservatives & Marxists too. They should all be chastened by the way in which Trump, a bad speaker, was able to sway emotions and get results.

184

Lenoxus 01.26.17 at 3:45 am

engels @ 159:

Is disinfecting an operating theatre really just the same thing from a sociological point of view as sprinkling holy water over a shaman’s hut? Maybe sorta kinda in a way but then again maybe no.

I think it can be helpful to ponder whether or not the same parts of the brain light up in both circumstances. Of course it would be silly for anyone to dismiss sanitization as mere holy purification, but also mistaken to say there’s zero interesting psychological similarity.

185

John Holbo 01.26.17 at 4:48 am

OK, I’m back. Let me address WLGR. I challenged him/her:

“What is the argument, WLGR, that anyone who thinks we need to study parochial altruism as a complex and multidimensional social phenomena is doomed to ‘ooga booga’ racism and oversimplified essentialism, merely due to the word ‘tribe’?”

Here is the response:

“If you look more into scholarly literature than popsci bestseller-list-fodder by Harvard celebrity scholars, you’ll find that this argument has been articulated repeatedly and prominently for at least the past half century. (As a fan of anthropologically literate cognitive science by scholars like Michael Tomasello and Russell Gray …”

OK, pause right there. Anthropology literacy is a fine thing but you have to pass logic to make good use of it. There’s no way to meet my challenge as stated. It’s patent nonsense that anthropology has – or could ever – demonstrate that the word ‘tribe’ has this inherent, inexpungable, quality of toxicity. That thing is sheer contagious magic nonsense on stilts. The right thing for WLGR to do was back up and make a run at a different, potentially sane point in the vicinity, not double-down. But no. As a result, everything past this point in WLGR’s comment is semi-nonsensical.

WLGR cites Martin Fried’s work. (This is Fried, talking about his own book, in the Preface to it.)

“The Notion of Tribe assaults the generally held concept of “tribe” by attacking the notion of highly discrete political units in pre-state society. Although we are accustomed to think about the most ancient forms of human society in terms of tribes, firmly defined and bounded units of this sort actually grew out of the manipulation of relatively unstructured populations by more complexly organized societies. The invention of the state, a tight, class-structured political and economic organization, began a process whereby vaguely defined and grossly overlapping populations were provided with the minimal organization required for their manipulation, even though they had little or no internal organization of their own other than that based on conceptions of kinship. The resultant form was that of the tribe.

This book presents comparative ethnological evidence to show that tribes, as conventionally conceived, are not closely bounded populations in either territorial or demographic senses …”

OK, that’s enough.

What we are looking for (please recall) is proof that the word ‘tribe’ is hopelessly contaminated by earlier contact with imperial/colonial/racist discourse about Africa (and elsewhere.) Ergo, there is no way scholars can clean it up. The word can only be discarded. Bury it far away in unhallowed ground. Yet what we have instead is an example of a scholar, Fried, trying to do the very thing WLGR denies can be done: namely, recover the term ‘tribe’ for some coherent, reasonable, scholarly purpose.

So now WLGR is on the hook for explaining why Joshua Greene necessarily fails AND why Fried (whom he evidently thinks actually succeeds) necessarily fails.

WLGR concludes:

“If you want to continue using terms with the ideological baggage of “tribe” and “tribalism” as your shorthand for ideas that you and Greene both at least seem capable of describing in less loaded terms like “parochial altruism” (to your credit!) then the least you can do is critically examine your own reasons for doing so.”

I duly flip the script: if you want to keep complaining about use of terms like ‘tribe’ and ‘tribalism’ as unusable shorthand, then the least you can do is critically examine your reasons for being fine and dandy with use – for purposes of overwriting bad old meanings with new ones – when someone like Martin Fried writes a book with that word on the cover. You worry: but what if people read Joshua Greene, anatomizing parochial altruism, and think ‘ooga booga’? Well, that’s a risk, isn’t it? What if someone reads Martin Fried pretty much just for the cover and concludes ‘ooga booga!’ Is that an objection to Fried? No.

So what’s the difference?

I expect WLGR will want to reply: but it’s still imprudent of Greene to use the term.

If this is the response (allow me to presume, for the sake of prebuttal!) I say it is inadequate. It fails to account for the intensity, yet selectivity, of WLGR’s animus to ‘tribe’ and ‘tribal’. If you merely deem Greene’s (and my) use of terms understandable but inapt, liable to misunderstanding or failure, you won’t get indignant over it. You won’t take mere use, for purposes of attempted recovery, as proof of shameful moral failing. Of racism, to put precisely the right degree of fineness on the point.

This is, incidentally, a good index of the difference between scholarly or scientific complaints about terminology and purity-based moral concerns about dirty words. Selecting the wrong scientific term is an error. Uttering a dirty word is a sin. I think WLGR is accusing Greene – and me – of sin, not error.

Not that I mind! But I have a different take on the situation.

A final note. One reason Greene picks ‘tribe’, if memory serves, is that he is responding to an oft-quoted bit from Darwin. I just googled it up from somewhere. (It gets quoted a lot.)

“When two tribes of primeval man, living in the same country, came into competition, if the one tribe included…a greater number of courageous, sympathetic, and faithful members, who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other, this tribe would without doubt succeed best and conquer the other….A tribe possessing the above qualities in a high degree would spread and be victorious over other tribes; but in the course of time it would, judging from all past history, be in its turn overcome by some other and still more highly endowed tribe. Thus the social and moral qualities would tend slowly to advance and be diffused throughout the world.”

Greene is interested in investigating the degree to which claims like this make sense. There is obviously a huge, raging debate about group selection and all that. (Please don’t tell me, as if I don’t know. I know!)

186

John Holbo 01.26.17 at 4:55 am

nastywoman, “Being (hopefully?) – ‘plain’ I read the definition of ‘purity’ again – and it said …”

Perhaps I should clarify, for the few not in the know, that Plain People of Crooked Timber was an homage to Myles na Gopaleen and The Plain People of Ireland, which reminds me of a bit that might be appropriate to this thread:

“A few weeks ago I was interrupted when about to give the public my long-awaited description of my own face. Several anxious readers have written in asking when they might expect it. My answer is that they may expect it to-day. Let us take the features one by one and then stand back, as one stands back from a majestic Titian or Van Gogh, and view the whole magnificent-
The Plain People of Ireland: Is this going to be long?
Myself: Not very.
The Plain People of Ireland: How long roughly?
Myself: Well, say ten lines for the vast Homeric brow, the kingly brow that is yet human wise and mild. Then the eyes, peerless wine-green opal of rare hue, brittle and ebullient against the whiteness of Himalayan snow–
The Plain People of Ireland: Another ten lines?
Myself: Say seven each. That’s fourteen altogether.”

I’m glad you are all so interested in my wise views on purity. Surely I am glad to be able to presume so heavily on your interest.

And now I’m off again for several hours.

187

Sebastian H 01.26.17 at 7:57 am

I agree with John that purity politics/thinking is everywhere, and to the extent that conservatives may have more of it, it is a Huge v. Super-Huge thing. It isn’t a ‘little here on our side’ and ‘OMG everywhere’ on their side thing.

I wonder if it is more recognizable on the left if you think of it as tightly linked to self righteousness. The difference between feeling you’re right and exhibiting self righteousness has to do with the purity of you and your group and the impurity of the object of your scorn. Surely you’ve seen a fair amount of self righteousness on the left?

It seems that much of the discussion about Brexit voters and Rust Belt voters takes on a self-righteous/purity character. It isn’t just that they are mistaken, foolish, misguided or otherwise wrong. They are nearly all racist and evil. (See recent threat here of very nearly that title.)

188

Bill Benzon 01.26.17 at 10:21 am

This “tribe” business is getting curiouser and curiouser, which is to say, interesting. Here’s the usage note attached to the entry for “tribe” in the dictionary that came w/ my computer (a Mac):

usage: In historical contexts, the word tribe is broadly accepted (the area was inhabited by Slavic tribes), but in contemporary contexts, it is problematic when used to refer to a community living within a traditional society. It is strongly associated with past attitudes of white colonialists toward so-called primitive or uncivilized peoples living in remote undeveloped places. For this reason it is generally preferable to use alternative terms such as community or people.

Now, I’m quite aware the problematic status of the word’s usage, which is why, up there in #172, I said that using it as a term of art seems ill-advised. But I think of that as mere error, not sin (as John says in #185).

Holbo also introduces a passage from Darwin. What did the word mean to Darwin? I don’t really know. I’d guess that he’s mostly using it in the sense that Fried is criticizing in that preface, that is, projecting characteristics of state societies onto small-scale pre-state societies (along with a bit of colonial administrative apparatus), and that it may also have carried some of the ‘ooga booga’ connotations. Darwin, after all, was a Victorian gentleman. Along comes Joshua Greene, Holbo says, and snatches the term from Darwin for a related use, but one that has nothing to do with colonialism, Africa, and so on. Oh, the connotations are still there, but they’ve been cut free of the colonial locus. Those connotations inhere to “parochial” in “parochial altruism.”

Still, I’d just as soon not use the term. But I suspect the horse may have left the barn on that one.

189

John Holbo 01.26.17 at 12:26 pm

Wow, I didn’t read any news today now. Just this thread, plus all my work. Now I’ve read about Trump’s executive orders. I … didn’t think it could get so bad, so fast.

I think I might not be in the mood to argue anthropology for a while – but do feel free to criticize what I said. Up to you.

I’ll sign off with a quick response to ZM, who writes: “I think the point of the pussy hats is the gesture to the profane tied in with questions of women’s sexual rights and justice, I think the conservatives are more right on this the hats are deliberately playing with the rude connotations, the hats are not signifying purity to my reading, and it would be sort of icky if they were signifying purity like that at a political march.”

Yeah, that whole profane/sacred thing can get pretty fine line. You can’t touch this. That cuts both ways so you can flip it. The cross. Once upon a time a symbol of shame, degradation, exposure. Nothing more exposed and vulnerable than a man on a cross. Nothing more profane and contaminated than a corpse nailed to wood. What a symbol of domination. Then some folks took that and transvalued it into a positive symbol of resistance. Think what it must have been like to be a Roman in those days, looking at people actually wearing a crucified corpse around their necks as a positive symbol of power and purity. How rude. Dirty hippies. Here’s hoping Caesar gets what’s coming to him this time. But it won’t be this week or this year, I’m afraid.

Ugh. The news.

190

John Holbo 01.26.17 at 12:33 pm

Hi, Bill, sorry to be signing off at the very moment I converted you to tribalism. Use it with care, of course!

191

nastywoman 01.26.17 at 12:41 pm

@186
‘Plain People of Crooked Timber was an homage to Myles na Gopaleen and The Plain People of Ireland’

I didn’t know that – as I took it just like the definition:
‘Clear or distinct to the eye or ear’.
And perhaps that’s the problem. There is more and more of ‘homage’ in the subject and less and less ‘Clear or distinct to the eye or ear’ – as there is this tendency to turn ‘things’ ironically around like ‘Tribe’ or ‘Pussy’ or ‘nastywoman’.
And that makes a discussion about ‘my tribe’ -(said proudly) mighty confused.

192

Z 01.26.17 at 12:45 pm

Comments 175 onward are why I read CT. They deserve a post maybe. But of course part of the reason I find them so interesting is how deeply I disagree with them (especially 175 and 178).

Yes, anthropology and its structural oppositions (pure/impure, raw/cooked, high/low what have you) exists. Yes, all politics is phylogenetically as well as ontogenically anthropological and, in particular, religious. As Patrick Boucheron said, there is no denying that any political involvement is not only as a matter of psychology, anthropology and sociology but also as matter of actual history “the outcome of this long history that made of the Eucharistic Sacrament the active metaphor of all social organization” (purity!). But saying that “only that which has no history is definable”, making ipso facto the role of purity in politics undefinable, does not entail that this role can be anything we want, nor can the “concepts in which an entire process is semiotically concentrated” be identified (even as matter of first approximation) with any step of the process or any other (something that Nietzsche consistently misses in Genealogy of Morals and that I think you minimize as well). Concepts may, without contradiction, become the exact opposite of themselves.

This is evident in hygiene-sympathetic principles of primitive pharmacopeia and tumah/taharah of the Leviticus can become Paracelsus, then Pasteur, then the oft-quoted study according to which fecal bacteria abound in the kitchen sink and on tooth brushes but are sparse in lavatories (amusingly, even my computer apparently knows about this evolution as reversal, as its autocorrect suggested I replace tumah by tumor)-but since we are discussing politics, yes “groups are bodies” but (some) groups (political parties, for instance) are bodies and at the same time something else and though we may have “strong pure/impure reactions to what we take in our bodies”, we may have even stronger reaction with respect to the something else they are so that “real politics is always groupish. Ergo, purity-minded. Any attempt to deny this, in practice, is nonsense” does not follow, and I am still not convinced. A challenge, perhaps: show me how political militancy in favor of freedom of the press or the right of free migration-two major issues of past and current political debates-are in any reasonable sense purity-minded (that is, more purity-minded that any other conceivable human activity)?

Because Corey Robin has apparently deserted these parts lately, let me offer as summation what seems to be one of his favorite quote, or how the epitome of differentialist thinking, in-group mentality, pure/impure obsession ever put in a book (Leviticus) can become the very opposite of itself: the foundation of exemplary reciprocal universalist morality.

“Four hundred years of bondage in Egypt, rendered as metaphoric memory, can be spoken in a moment; in a single sentence. What this sentence is, we know; we have built every idea of moral civilization on it. It is a sentence that conceivably sums up at the start every revelation that came afterward…”The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.””

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Lee A. Arnold 01.26.17 at 12:47 pm

Bill Benzon #188. I agree with you, although “tribe” currently has the connotation of necessarily possessing a shared affect, which “community” or “a people” does not.

I think the word “tribe” should be restricted to its anthropological use, as a small living group, located geographically, with political (or proto-political) functions, up to the level of small chiefdoms (so a tribe tends to be less than 15,000 people). But clearly we are way beyond that! So I just use the word “group” for everything.

I think what we are really talking about is something that segues into Koestler’s “holon”. This does not necessarily have an affect, but it specifies some other, obvious systems-theoretical functions, such as: pass-through energy flow; having a leader or else acephalous; the ability to nest in hierarchical structures; possibly having smaller structures nested in it; not necessarily with a single location in space; and a few other things. Some social scientists are trying to introduce the word “assemblage”.

I think word definitions have gotten out of control — but again, we live in the age of individualists! For example, I also think the word “evolution” should be restricted to Darwinian, biological evolution. But now, it means almost any kind of historical change. Your opinions can “evolve from one day to the next”, and that sort of nonsense.

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Bill Benzon 01.26.17 at 12:52 pm

No problem, John. But when you get back, could you teach me the sekret handshake?

I don’t know what’s on your reading list, but you might want to look at Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger. It’s relatively short (under 200 pp.), a classic, and very good.

And, yes, there’s purity all over the place. No safe place is so safe that it can’t be partitioned into an outer parlor and the inner safer-than-thou place. You can see where that leads: the safest place is vanishingly small.

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engels 01.26.17 at 1:24 pm

I wonder if it is more recognizable on the left if you think of it as tightly linked to self righteousness.

Personally I think of purity as tightly linked to yodelling and I find it very common in Switzerland.

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ZM 01.26.17 at 1:26 pm

I find crosses with Jesus on quite confronting just to look at actually, I have my grandmother’s one and frequently turn it backwards so you only see the cross side not the body on the cross side. I always found the violence on them horrible since I was a child, and I still find the violence confronting now.

Now I have read about the pussy hats on the website, I am still not convinced purity is exactly the right word, but you were more right than I thought I have to concede, the hats weren’t meant by the organisers as profane humour mixed with anti-rape and harassment sentiment which was what I had somehow assumed. I guess I wasn’t paying much attention to the news about the hats and didn’t get what they were about. Its kind of cute but part of me goes ick even though i have owned a few pink hats in my time and it reminds me of Hello Kitty somewhat.

Power of Pink: Pink is considered a very female color representing caring, compassion, and love – all qualities that have been derided as weak but are actually STRONG. Wearing pink together is a powerful statement that we are unapologetically feminine and we unapologetically stand for women’s rights.

Power of Individuality Within Large Groups: We created this hat pattern to be easily made no matter where you live or what your level of knit- ting is. Worsted weight is easily available at any knitting store or craft store. Please choose any shade of pink that delights you. At the march, with everyone wearing hats in different shades of pink, the overall effect will be beautiful. Please make any warm hat – you can knit it, crochet it, it can have cat ears, it can have a pom-pom, etc. We include the of cial “Pussy Power Hat” knit pattern to inspire you and help you.

Power of the Handmade: Knitting and crochet are traditionally women’s crafts, and we want to celebrate these arts. Knitting circles are sometimes scoffed at as frivolous “gossiping circles,” when really, these circles are powerful gatherings of women, a safe space to talk, a place where women support women. Anything handmade shows a level of care, and we care about women’s rights, so it is appropriate to symbolize this march with a handmade item, one made with a skill that has been passed down from woman to woman for generations.

Power of Pussy: We love the clever wordplay of “pussyhat” and “pussycat,” but yes, “pussy” is also a derogatory term for female genitalia. We chose this loaded word for our project because we want to reclaim the term as a means of empowerment. In this day and age, if we have pussies we are assigned the gender of “woman.” Women, whether transgender or cisgender, are mistreated in this society. In order to get fair treatment, the answer is not to take away our pussies, the answer is not to deny our femaleness and femininity, the answer is to demand fair treatment. A woman’s body is her own. We are honoring this truth and standing up for our rights.

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engels 01.26.17 at 1:29 pm

Nb. I’m not denying people on the Left can be self-righteous or annoying, I just think using the word ‘purity’ to describe this dilutes (yeah yeah I know) meaning of a term which has a very real and substantive meaning in discourses of eg. white supremacy, xenophobic nationalism, heterosexism or patriarchy beyond recognition.

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Layman 01.26.17 at 2:12 pm

Shorter Sebastian H @ 187: Anti-Racists are racists, anti-bigots are bigots, and Both Sides Are The Same.

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Bill Benzon 01.26.17 at 2:14 pm

Though this is secondary, I suspect that at least some of the pussyhat women are aware of Code Pink, a very active and visible women’s anti-war organization formed in 2002 to protest the looming invasion of Iraq. According to Wikipedia “The group’s name is a play on the United States Department of Homeland Security’s color-coded alert system in which, for example, Code Orange and Code Red signify the highest levels of danger.” So there is precedent in the USA for associating pink with protesting women.

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engels 01.26.17 at 2:14 pm

I dunno—maybe you need to distinguish between purity-as-political-value and purity-as-psychological-reflex? Even if you did, I’m not convinced in Sebastian’s usage it means anything more than ‘opinions I find to be silly’.

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Bill Benzon 01.26.17 at 2:30 pm

@engels: If you take the anthropological analysis of purity that Mary Douglas offers in Purity and Danger you end up with both the socio-political and the psychological.

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John Holbo 01.26.17 at 2:48 pm

“Now I have read about the pussy hats on the website, I am still not convinced purity is exactly the right word, but you were more right than I thought I have to concede, the hats weren’t meant by the organisers as profane humour mixed with anti-rape and harassment sentiment which was what I had somehow assumed.”

Honestly they are pretty obviously intended partly as profane humor (something that cannot be said for the cross). Only it probably didn’t seem serious enough to admit that on the website. They are also serious business, those hats. Sometimes a hat wears a lot of hats.

“Knitting circles are sometimes scoffed at as frivolous “gossiping circles,” when really, these circles are powerful gatherings of women, a safe space to talk, a place where women support women.”

I heard a story about a U of Chicago anthro seminar. There was a new female graduate student who ostentatiously brought a giant pile of knitting to every class she was taking. It was very performative. She was knitting from a giant bowl of Bolivian mountain wool or some equally (but non-fictional) exotic textile mater. She would clack away in every class. This ticked off some professor who made an off-color joke about how knitting was a form of masturbation. (It was the 80’s, you see.) The woman deadpanned: when I knit, I knit, when I masturbate, I masturbate. And continued knitting while the professor lectured about anthropology. I cannot attest that this is not some urban myth, but it sounds about right. Sometimes I miss U of C anthro in the late 80’s. Sometimes not. I never heard so many stories about Edward Sapir, before or since. (I’ve now forgotten most, and am sworn to secrecy about one.)

“Concepts may, without contradiction, become the exact opposite of themselves.”

I think of this as a key Nietzsche trope, Z, not something he neglects by any means. It seems to me that this is pretty much the whole game in Genealogy, no? I say that’s the game. Which is not to say that he always wins it.

“I just think using the word ‘purity’ to describe this dilutes (yeah yeah I know) meaning of a term”

Perhaps you would settle for an emendation. A lot of these cases of ‘purity’ are not pure. They are diluted cases. Cases that are lots of things, and you wouldn’t necessarily reach for ‘purity’ first. But it’s there, and that’s important. It adds up. Sometimes the fish needs to be reminded it’s in water – even if it’s pretty diluted.

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JimV 01.26.17 at 2:51 pm

“I also think the word “evolution” should be restricted to Darwinian, biological evolution. But now, it means almost any kind of historical change. Your opinions can “evolve from one day to the next”, and that sort of nonsense.” (Lee Arnold)

Button pushed. The word “evolution” existed before Darwin, just as “relativity” existed before Einstein. They used those words because they were a good fit for the concepts they were trying to explain, which doesn’t mean that they don’t fit elsewhere as well. Refinement by incremental improvements is a general process that fits well, for example with the human design process (compare the Model T or more primitive vehicles with Ferraris; consider Edison’s thousands of random experiments to design light bulbs and chemical batteries) and with the progress of human intelligence in math and science.

Believers in magic will never accept this, but trial and error plus memory (the general way that evolution works) is the fundamental way that progress is made. (Sez I.) (Progress relative to what? Relative to the selection criteria that determine the errors.)

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casmilus 01.26.17 at 2:58 pm

Could a Scottish clan be a “tribe”?

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engels 01.26.17 at 3:19 pm

To be clear, I’m not saying purity is one factor among others in your examples, I’m saying the sense in which it does (as vague group-psychological reflex) is completely different from the sense in which it applies in the Right (consciously normative concern with eg. sanctity of (heterosexual) marriage, purity of the white race or American nation).

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engels 01.26.17 at 3:23 pm

Dear Grandchildren—during the week in which the President of the US voted to build a wall on the Mexican border and ban immigration from seven Muslim countries I was arguing with Crooked Timber about whether the American Left is just as obsessed with purity as the Right because they wore pussy hats to a protest…

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Bill Benzon 01.26.17 at 3:36 pm

On the word “evolution.” There’s been quite a bit of work in cultural evolution over the past two decades or so. It’s being done in a variety of disciplines, archaeology, linguistics, biology, communications, media study, anthropology, and a new Cultural Evolution Society was formed last year. Those folks are acutely aware of biological evolution and the question of whether or not cultural evolution is Darwinian (in the sense of random variation and selective retention) is high on the agenda. I don’t expect it to be resolved any time soon.

The word “evolution” is also a term of art in the study complexity, where the state of a system can be said to evolve over time.

There is zero chance that the word can be restricted to the biological case.

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John Holbo 01.26.17 at 3:37 pm

“Dear Grandchildren—during the week in which the President of the US voted to build a wall on the Mexican border and ban immigration from seven Muslim countries I was arguing with Crooked Timber about whether the American Left is just as obsessed with purity as the Right because they wore pussy hats to a protest…”

Yes, there’s such a thing as truth in the world. But also: relevance.

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bianca steele 01.26.17 at 4:23 pm

How about during the week in which . . . I was trying to insist my liberal and left wing readers find something sincerely useful in the work of a man whose life’s work is to declare that conservative frames are simply true. (And that liberal frames must remain in the box conservatives put them in.)

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bruce wilder 01.26.17 at 5:36 pm

Lee A. Arnold @ 183

Appreciated.

Still, I wonder a bit about this:

. . . They don’t need or want an orator in the classical sense of someone whom a tribal audience has gathered to listen to, and who is employing the cultural heritage to move that audience to political or judicial action using ideas and emotions. (It is not the job description of a teacher or professor.)

Our society does use teachers and professors that way, even if it is often only in a fractured and somewhat de-natured way. “Motivational speaking” is a cottage industry (only the “cottage” is displaced to hotel “ballrooms” that have never seen a dance). Economists, it is frequently observed, function in the political society much like the priests of a civic religion, divining the future with all the authority and accuracy of augurs. And, business schools train a financial and administrative elite in an amoral incompetence with the same dedication once shown in teaching would-be professionals basic science and ethics or put into the patriotism of high school civics and history.

Anyway, none of that is an objection to your excellent observations.

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William Timberman 01.26.17 at 6:28 pm

Relevance. Slippery as an eel, that, especially as a political desideratum. if we’re talking about interests real or perceived, it depends, doesn’t it, on one’s tribe? — Are they really all of a piece, the Black Students’ Union’s demand fifty years ago for an end to the academic exclusivity of White Man’s history, and the Trumpista’s current demand that the decaying Nineteenth Century townships of rural Kansas or Idaho or Alabama be paid proper cultural as well as economic attention?

Whose job is it to take the broader view, assuming there is one? Full credit to John Holbo for declaring philosophy’s skin in the game. Far from irrelevance, that — in my view, at least. YMMV.

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WLGR 01.26.17 at 6:36 pm

John Holbo @ 185, that’s an absurdly bad-faith and evasive reading of both me and Fried, especially because you don’t bother to acknowledge either of the other (deliberately short) papers I linked/quoted, which address your objection — “What we are looking for (please recall) is proof that the word ‘tribe’ is hopelessly contaminated by earlier contact with imperial/colonial/racist discourse about Africa (and elsewhere)” — pretty much as directly as possible. I cited Fried as an early example (although of course there are earlier ones) of a direct, evidence-based attack on the non-evidence-based claim you’ve made central to your defense of the concept of “tribalism”, the assumption that “the human moral mind evolved for small-group living [i.e. tribes] and that this generates characteristic patterns in modern moral life”. Fried’s primary point is that the notion of “tribe” actually reflects “a battery of preconceptions about the nature of pre-state society” as opposed to necessarily reflecting the nature of such societies; his secondary point (which he makes because, as he puts it, “Nothing is more quixotic than to attempt to change the meaning of a word firmly rooted in the lexicon”) is that if the most precise possible understanding of “tribe” does relate to any actually existing form of human social organization, it points to a form that emerged alongside or even after the emergence of formal statecraft, in response to the rise of state societies or even as a direct political manipulation of non-state populations by states themselves.

After such a basic misapprehension of Fried, once you’ve claimed that “WLGR is on the hook for explaining … why Fried (whom he evidently thinks actually succeeds) necessarily fails”, the rest of your post goes even further off the rails. Not only do you demur from engaging with any of the points I present regarding the racist and imperialist historical connotations of “tribe”, but you double down with the kind of aggrieved defense against accusations of racism that one would expect from a rank reactionary. Interpreting the call to examine these kinds of implications on a social level (i.e. “your specific words/actions are contributing to the phenomenon we call racism”) as an individualized accusation of “shameful moral failing” (i.e. “you are a racist”) is exactly what reactionaries do in order to avoid actually challenging racism even while continuing to outwardly disavow it, the implicit syllogism being “racists are bad people, I’m not a bad person, therefore I’m not a racist”. And yes, I have an intense animus against these habits of thought and discourse, because I think racism is intensely harmful and should be intensely opposed in whatever ways we can — incidentally, I’m white and male so this isn’t necessarily applicable in this specific case, but do also bear in mind that accusing people of excessive emotionalism against what they see as wrong or unjust is a common marginalizing trope in both racist and sexist discourses (the stereotype of “angry black folks” or “hysterical women” or whatever) so avoiding the temptation to default to “u mad bro?” seems especially appropriate when talking about these issues in particular.

And just to be explicit, my point is not to accuse you of “sin” or “moral failing” or anything like that. I’m not a perfect person and neither is anybody else, as The Donald himself is fond of admitting, and I’m engaging with you about this because I respect you enough to assume that you’re capable of thinking critically about your own ideas, recognizing these kinds of implications, and consciously resolving to make some kind of change (and/or pointing out my own failings in equivalent good faith). “I expect better of you” can be a sincere expression of respect at least as much as it can be an insincere moralistic scold, and there are many people of whom I wouldn’t expect any better, with whom I wouldn’t go out of my way to pick this kind of argument in the first place.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.26.17 at 6:38 pm

JimV #203: “The word ‘evolution’ existed before Darwin”

It most certainly did, and “evolutionism” became a popular intellectual commonplace by the middle of the 18th Century, in what Lovejoy has called the “temporalizing of the Great Chain of Being.” But this was still underneath an Absolute that emanated downward, to cause the evolution upward, which modern science and biological evolution came soon and firmly to reject. A notable example is Hegel, who theorized a mechanism (thesis-antithesis-synthesis) for the evolutionistic upward movement toward the Absolute. (Indeed he supposed that his own philosophy had arrived at it.)

Darwin didn’t use the word in Origin of Species, perhaps because he was aware of its connotations going back a few hundred years.

The problem I have with using “evolution” for other things — now — such as for personal “learning” or “changing one’s opinions”, is that “refinement by incremental improvements” neglects some singular points about biological evolution, e.g. that it is 1. a choice out of random events (stochasticism), not premeditated — as, say, events in technological or cultural evolution often are. 2. The random events are always generated at the same level, i.e. in the genes. 3. Biological evolution is value-free and a species may evolve into an evolutionary (or ecological) dead-end that wipes it out — but on the other hand our regular expectation is that technology improves & reduces costs, and culture becomes more humane (despite our present setbacks).

In describing various kinds of “change”, there are plenty of metaphorical (and ironic) connections to biological evolution, but I think it just confuses the kids in classroom scientific instruction. Later on in age, who cares? You know what you’re talking about, and maybe your specialist colleagues do… The fact that a bunch of upper-level disciplines uses the same terms in various argots gives privilege to the imaginative impoverishment of experts, but little else. Go and “invent” another word instead! Go and “evolve” another word?… I mean really.

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nastywoman 01.26.17 at 8:12 pm

‘during the week in which the President of the US voted to build a wall on the Mexican border and ban immigration from seven Muslim countries I was arguing’ —
with a Cook if Avocados should or could be ‘tempurarized’ – and is there such a word? – as Avocados are substantially soft – and soft things are very difficult to be ‘tempurarized’ – and anywhoo would a Japanese ‘tempurarize’ Avocados or would he stick with the ‘purity’ of the usual vegetables and shrimps?

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John Holbo 01.27.17 at 12:30 am

WLGR: ““What we are looking for (please recall) is proof that the word ‘tribe’ is hopelessly contaminated by earlier contact with imperial/colonial/racist discourse about Africa (and elsewhere)” — pretty much as directly as possible.”

Look, the fact that you like Fried shows that you yourself don’t believe this. Fried’s use of ‘tribe’ right on the cover and it didn’t magically infect everything. So why should I believe this thing you yourself don’t believe?

“non-evidence-based claim you’ve made central to your defense of the concept of “tribalism”, the assumption that “the human moral mind evolved for small-group living [i.e. tribes] and that this generates characteristic patterns in modern moral life”.”

Well, first, Fried isn’t arguing that humans were living in modern-style states and cities and so forth millenia before we supposed. That’s good enough for me. It’s fine that our ancient ancestors lived in a variety of generally small groups. I quite understand that they were probably plural in structure. I also understand the concern that we may project recent formations on the distant past, mistakenly. I’m not ignorant of the literature. I just don’t see the relevance.

If you prefer to just subtract all speculative history-of-how-our-species-has-lived discussoin, fine. (But Fried talks about it, so why not talk about it?) Let’s just talk about Tajfel and minimal groups and so forth. I’m not picking ‘tribe’ to pick a fight. What’s important is the ideas, not the words.

“Not only do you demur from engaging with any of the points I present regarding the racist and imperialist historical connotations of “tribe”, but you double down with the kind of aggrieved defense against accusations of racism that one would expect from a rank reactionary.”

I thought I was more of a whimsical defense. Why should I engage any of the points regarding the connotations of ‘tribe’? They haven’t bothered me, I’m not going to bother them. No one is denying that imperialism and racism are bad, and the term got dragged through that. You yourself are not seriously defending the contagious magic doctrine that the term is toxic forevermore, due to that. So we’re done. If Greene says he wants to use ‘tribalism’ as a tag for parochial altruism then, on the whole, he is doing a little but to scrub ‘tribe’ of its former bad connotations. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.

“Interpreting the call to examine these kinds of implications on a social level (i.e. “your specific words/actions are contributing to the phenomenon we call racism”) as an individualized accusation of “shameful moral failing” (i.e. “you are a racist”)”

You’ve got it exactly upside down and backwards. Your idea that Greene’s book, by giving ‘tribalism’ this use, is contributing to racism in a material way, shows that you have not yet thought about the implications, realistically, on a social level. You are engaging in contagious magical thinking, concerning the word ‘tribe’, and leaving it at that, rather thinking about likely harms or any of that other stuff at the social level. I would encourage you to shift gears and think about likely harms at the social level – actually think about things like. Seriously: is Green’s book likely to cause social harm, merely due to the occurrence of the word ‘tribe’ on the cover, and due to his technical use of it as a synonym for parochial altruism? I think the answer is: obviously, no. But if you want to argue that it is, fine, I’ll listen: explain how this book is likely to shift attitudes in a bad way. What’s the causal harm model in a case with these features?

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Val 01.27.17 at 2:17 am

I really can’t continue this discussion any further partly because it would require me to do some anthropological reading which I don’t have time for. However would like to make some quick observations/reflections:

– what bianca said @ 209 sounds on the mark

– (partly echoing WLGR) I suggest that when you (male academic bloggers like JH, or similar) are criticised from a feminist standpoint you should try to avoid the ‘I’m angry because you are being rude to me personally’ or ‘x [eg saurs] is just always angry so I’ll ignore her’ response and try to understand why you are being criticised

– J-D, I wasn’t being ironic when I said pace (to) you – you can take it as ‘I don’t agree with what you said but I don’t want to get into a side argument with you on this because I want to focus on the main argument’ or ‘peace man but I don’t agree with you on that one’ or something …

– the elephant in the room stuff – I’ve said this before and USians can take it how you like – we had a dreadful Prime Minister here in Oz for two years, and for much of that time many of us were continually protesting and engaging in activism of various kinds, and in the end he went (the one we’ve got isn’t much better because he is too weak to resist the crazy right even if he doesn’t actively support them, but it was step forward) – it’s not entirely comparable but maybe it might give some hope in a small way to keep up the good work

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Val 01.27.17 at 2:49 am

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faustusnotes 01.27.17 at 3:01 am

In answer to this crucial question, nastywoman, recipes abound. Actually Japanese avocado cookery is pretty amazing – combining it with raw tuna for example, or with cucumber and pickled plum, grilling it with a kind of spicy fishy topping, and of course avocado sashimi.

Japanese eggplant skills are also quite impressive.

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JimV 01.27.17 at 3:04 am

Lee Arnold: as pointless as this digression is, I don’t want to let your points go unchallenged (but maybe the moderator will).

1. I doubt if Edison’s final (not first commercial) choice of bamboo fiber as the best light-bulb filament was far from random, since it occurred after about 1000 trials. Of course once a technology starts to evolve, choices become less random and more contingent – after Hox genes evolved, body plans tended to evolve symmetrically. Similarly, memory (existing genes, recorded data, the Engineer’s Handbook) is the basis for most choices engineers make. Same algorithm, different means of implementing that algorithm.

2. Factually incorrect, but that’s a quibble. It doesn’t change the algorithm if there is one or many forms of memory. A bubble-sort works on an IBM 704 with magnetic core internal memory and magnetic tape external memory; also on a modern semi-conductor PC; or an abacus; or pencil and paper.

3. The values in the evolution algorithm (which algorithm I posted for you once before and won’t take up space here repeating) are in the selection criteria. For biological evolution, survival and reproduction. (And for engineers, ultimately the same.)

Finally, pedagogically, it is better for students to first understand the general algorithm, rather than focusing on a specific implementation of it to the exclusion of all others – as if the bubble-sort algorithm was only ever presented in its Fortran implementation.

The algorithm can be mis-applied, granted, but it is far too important and widespread to be restricted to biological evolution. If you have traveled by jet airplane, chances are you were propelled by the GE-90 engine, whose flow-path was designed by a genetic algorithm.

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LFC 01.27.17 at 3:21 am

WLGR (cf. @108) I find — the word ‘annoying’ will have to do.

He cited a Timothy Mitchell article in the other thread and then didn’t bother to reply when I made a reasonable criticism of it.

In the comment @108 he uses what appears, on cursory inspection, to be a thread mostly about anthropology to make a semi-hysterical attack on US ‘liberals’, whom he loathes, for allegedly indulging in xenophobia b.c they don’t like the fact (and it does indeed seem to be a fact) that Russia interfered in the election.

To top it off, he uses the horribly overused and loosely used word “reifying”.

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Val 01.27.17 at 4:33 am

And (oops!) one more thing – this is the pussyhat website mentioned by ZM https://www.pussyhatproject.com/

and it’s where the bits ZM @ 106 quoted come from

(ZM you sometimes don’t bother about indicating when you are quoting and where you are quoting from. Probably everyone here gets that you are quoting, but if you were in one of my classes you’d get into some strife over that :) )

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Val 01.27.17 at 5:07 am

LFC @ 220
Some of your complaints may be fair enough, but reification is a useful concept, especially when one has to deal with people writing about ‘the economy’ or ‘the market’.

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John Holbo 01.27.17 at 5:12 am

“when you (male academic bloggers like JH, or similar) are criticised from a feminist standpoint you should try to avoid the ‘I’m angry because you are being rude to me personally’ or ‘x [eg saurs] is just always angry so I’ll ignore her’ response and try to understand why you are being criticised”

Val, comment threads are like a night out at the bar, but more like an iterated prisoner’s dilemma. The least-losingest strategy is tit-for-tat.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tit_for_tat

If you offer a reasonable critique of something I write from a feminist standpoint (or any other) I resolve to be the soul of consideration in response. But your signature move is to presuppose that I’m wrong, rather than proposing I’m wrong. The present thread is a case in point. I shut that down with my signature, passive-aggressive brand of round-we-go socratism. (Direct rudeness, in response to rudeness, is not my thing.) I’m not willing to assume I’m wrong, and in the wrong. You aren’t willing to NOT assume I’m wrong, and in the wrong. Anger isn’t the issue. The issue is: we’re stuck. I propose: YOU get us unstuck. Don’t assume I’m wrong, in argument, even if you are sure I’m wrong. (Obviously I would never tell you not to be sure I’m wrong!)

‘x [eg saurs] is just always angry so I’ll ignore her’

Saurs is a troll. Someone else turned on her first comment and I – shame on me – didn’t delete it. Or ignore it. I responded. I shouldn’t have.

UPDATE: Saurs #2 was trolling, but in the past she has been a positive contributor to discussions. We regret the unwarranted breadth of the indictment. It was unwarranted.

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nastywoman 01.27.17 at 5:22 am

@218
‘recipes abound’

Thank you for the recipes – but as the conservative cook insisted that Avocado Tempura was more of a… ‘liberal’ dish – and I suspected that it was more the ‘softness’ he couldn’t handle – and which made him afraid to overdose it – we finally settled for the ‘purity version’.

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John Holbo 01.27.17 at 5:43 am

A response to Sebastian, who writes various things, but I’ll quote this bit: “I wonder if it is more recognizable on the left if you think of it as tightly linked to self righteousness. The difference between feeling you’re right and exhibiting self righteousness has to do with the purity of you and your group and the impurity of the object of your scorn. Surely you’ve seen a fair amount of self righteousness on the left?”

Some other commenters have accused Sebastian of false-equivalence pox-on-both-your-houses-ism. I think there is merit to that, not because anything Sebastian says is false – I didn’t notice much I disagree with in what he wrote – but because the way he says it tends to carry an implicature (as we philosophers say) that is unwarranted. (An implicature: not a strict implication, but a pretty clear invitation for the hearer to think something.)

The implicature I would cancel is: that pox-on-both-your-houses thing Sebastian is kinda doing. Which other commenters have picked up. (That’s how implicature works!)

I cancel it thusly:

The ubiquity of groupishness (if ‘tribal’ really bothers people I’ll drop it, but ‘groupishness’ is not just lumpy-sounding but etymologically linked to lump as a meaning, and I don’t like that any more than the bad connotations of ‘tribe’.) Right, as I was saying: groupishness. Purity thinking feeds groupishness and then feeds back. As do all the other moral values Haidt anatomizes. And why stop at six? Anyway, the problem is that this is so psychologically ubiquitous – it really is! – that it’s like breathing. No one is going to say: Republicans hate Democrats and Democrats hate Republicans but they are both breathing! A pox on both their organs of respiration. There is no moral equivalence between Republicans and Democrats due to breathing.

Here’s the world we live in. The Republicans want morally terrible stuff – and I will defend that proposition rationally, upon request! And they are tribal in defense of their terrible stuff. The Democrats overwhelmingly want good or less terrible stuff – and I will defend that proposition rationally, upon request! And they are tribal in defense of their good-to-less-terrible values. For moral critique purposes, we divide through by the tribalism cleanly. It factors out from our final, relative normative judgments. We are left with justice, give or take, and the Democrats have something on those scales and the Republicans got nuthin. It’s not that they hate justice, per se, but they are defending so much injustice it’s hard for me to see a positive net on that side.

Now of course Sebastian will want to quibble with that ‘nuthin’. That’s fine. But I think he can probably agree with the idea that we should stop scolding people, in a bipartisan spirit, for tribalism/groupishness, as if David Broder-as-scourge were a useful attitude to bring us to some final judgment of the respective moral merits of both sides. I hope Sebastian agrees we can more or less divide through by ‘tribes’, and judge people by how good and decent and just their tribes made them.

In other words, it’s fine to critique tribalism/groupishness piecemeal. You can point out to people when partisanship is wrecking their ability to reason. If you can do that, you should. And it’s fine to lament tribalism wholesale, while admitting (paradoxically) that our tribalism is what makes us human, and we probably don’t even want to assimilate to the Borg collective, or become bees, or whatever. That way lies wry, Montaignean wisdom about the human condition. Meanwhile, back in politics: the Republicans want to build a wall and the Democrats are wearing pussyhats on behalf of human dignity. There is not an even approximate moral equivalence there, even though if you piled up all those pussyhats, you’d have a knit wall. Actually wall: bad, unjust, harmful, dangerous. Wall of pussyhats: good, just, beneficial, some hope for the future in a dark time. The fact that it’s all purity-mindedness, at bottom, psychologically, does nothing to equalize or relativize the balance in my view.

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ZM 01.27.17 at 6:10 am

Val,

I forgot to put in the link, I thought it was clear I was quoting from the website since I referred to the website in my comment and the text was clearly not from my own perspective. I generally try to put in links when I have quoted something.

John Holbo,

I can see why the student may have wanted to knit during that professor’s classes. Gosh how rude. The main Chicago anthropologist I’ve read is Marshall Sahlins, I am not that familiar with Sapir. My impression was that the 70s-80s was a particularly good time for anthropology, which maybe went into the early-mid 90s, and then the discipline shifted again. The stuff I like tends to be interested in time and reflexivity, the 90s-00s stuff seems to shift into cultural studies terrain with anthropology of American neo-Nazi groups or something, plus some ongoing disputes continuing about evolutionary psychology and “primitive” cultures etc. I think globalisation changed the discipline a lot as all around the world cultures converged to some degree and almost everyone has a mobile phone etc.

engels,

“Dear Grandchildren—during the week in which the President of the US voted to build a wall on the Mexican border and ban immigration from seven Muslim countries I was arguing with Crooked Timber about whether the American Left is just as obsessed with purity as the Right because they wore pussy hats to a protest…”

I honestly was thinking that the wall was too outlandish for anyone to actually carry it through as policy. Gosh the USA and Mexico will be like South Korea and North Korea with a militarised zone wall separating the countries. Strange times.

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ZM 01.27.17 at 6:13 am

I can remember being about 11 and watching the news in my small town in Australia and it was like all the English speaking world was rejoicing the Berlin Wall was being torn down, a bit over a quarter of a century later and America is building a similar wall. What went wrong?

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Dr. Hilarius 01.27.17 at 6:41 am

@ 224: what JH said.

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WLGR 01.27.17 at 6:44 am

John Holbo, most of what you write is a rehash of what you’ve already written, so here’s a rehash of what I’ve already written in response:

JH: Look, the fact that you like Fried shows that you yourself don’t believe this.

WLGR: I cited Fried as an early example (although of course there are earlier ones) of a direct, evidence-based attack on the non-evidence-based claim you’ve made central to your defense of the concept of “tribalism”

JH: That’s good enough for me. It’s fine that our ancient ancestors lived in a variety of generally small groups. … I just don’t see the relevance.

WLGR: [I]f the most precise possible understanding of “tribe” does relate to any actually existing form of human social organization, it points to a form that emerged alongside or even after the emergence of formal statecraft, in response to the rise of state societies or even as a direct political manipulation of non-state populations by states themselves.

JH: I’m not picking ‘tribe’ to pick a fight. What’s important is the ideas, not the words.

Chris Lowe via WLGR: The idea of tribe particularly shapes Western views of ethnicity and ethnic conflict in Africa, which has been highly visible in recent years. Over and over again, conflicts are interpreted as “ancient tribal rivalries,” atavistic eruptions of irrational violence which have always characterized Africa. In fact they are nothing of the sort. … The bottom-line problem with the idea of tribe is that it is intellectually lazy

JH: Why should I engage any of the points regarding the connotations of ‘tribe’? They haven’t bothered me, I’m not going to bother them.

WLGR: I respect you enough to assume that you’re capable of thinking critically about your own ideas, recognizing these kinds of implications, and consciously resolving to make some kind of change

That said, your final graf at #215 increases the bad faith to such a fever pitch that you might as well start rolling around on the floor babbling in Aramaic about how the power of disingenuous rhetorical tactics healed your stomach ulcers. Before you’ll deign to engage with any of the incredibly basic points about the problematic connotations of “tribe” articulated by me, several other commenters, and a great many social scientists, I’m supposed to provide a “causal harm model” describing the individual contribution a single book with a racialized word choice might make to an entire racist discourse? Do you want models for the contributions of a single unjustified traffic stop, or a single suspicious glance? A model for the contribution a single fused helium atom in the Sun might make to global climate change? How about a harm model for a butterfly’s wing flap causing a hurricane, would that fit through your narrowed goalposts enough for you to bother reading something before smarmily dismissing it? (Moreover, if I was taking a class of yours on Plato, would you respect me as a student if I did what you’re doing right now, deliberately ignoring whatever actual arguments you make about Plato, then trashing your conclusions about Plato as “magical thinking”?)

Just to reiterate, the idea that “tribe” is some combination of demeaning and analytically useless is utterly uncontroversial among people whose job is to empirically study the social organization of the people and communities one might describe as “tribes”. For an analogy, think of the difference between lay and scholarly conceptions of the term “racism”: the way laypeople often flatly refuse to consider the possibility that racism could ever encompass anything beyond one person expressing open hatred toward another on the explicit basis of “race”, and the way a scholar who studies racism might regard this very refusal as both a symptom of racist discourses and a contributor to them. Metaphorically but in a sense also literally, this exchange over “tribalism” has consisted of me arguing that even people who have black friends and don’t wear KKK hoods can still perpetuate racism, and you arguing that that’s impossible.

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Sebastian H 01.27.17 at 6:52 am

I agree with you that groupishness is everywhere–it is probably our most common mode of thinking. My take on it may come across as a pox on both their houses mostly because I’m not clear enough about how I’m implicated. I try to fight the groupishness (as anyone who really wants to think things through should) but I fail all the time and only notice it much later. But even worse than that is not realizing that groupishness is a huge factor in all sorts of things–and especially politics. It forms the core of one of the key errors of the liberal-ish parties in the world right now–that the middle and lower classes will vote for you even if they feel excluded from your group just because the other options aren’t objectively ‘as good for them’. That is false, and politically stupid.

The big reason why I harp on groupishness in politics (ugh, I can’t use that term, it is terrible) is because of the way it comes in a pretty much all or nothing package. I’ll certainly agree that the current iteration of the Republican party is uniformly awful. But I won’t agree that Democrats are generally good. They are generally not as bad, with some good points every now and then. What I object to is the fact that the tribalism is employed to defend all of the bad points just as strongly as the good points. We have to get past the tribalism before we can get to the merits. That seems to get worse as the Republicans get worse because every critique is answered with “What do you want, Trump?”

No. I don’t want want Trump. I also want to deal with the bad parts of the Democratic Party. I’m willing to compromise on those areas that actually might cause a likeliness of losing to Republicans, but there aren’t nearly as many of those as commonly supposed. (I think the Clinton debacle strongly suggests that papering everything over with “its politics, get over it” doesn’t always work.)

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John Holbo 01.27.17 at 8:45 am

WLGR: “I’m supposed to provide a “causal harm model” describing the individual contribution a single book with a racialized word choice might make to an entire racist discourse?”

Otherwise why should I believe you that it is likely to be harmful?

“For an analogy, think of the difference between lay and scholarly conceptions of the term “racism”: the way laypeople often flatly refuse to consider the possibility that racism could ever encompass anything beyond one person expressing open hatred toward another on the explicit basis of “race”, and the way a scholar who studies racism might regard this very refusal as both a symptom of racist discourses and a contributor to them.”

You are getting at the idea that Joshua Greene’s book could be racist, even if he doesn’t intend it – even if he doesn’t have ‘hate in his heart’, as the defensive phrase goes – so long as his book contributes to institutional racism. It’s like redlining. Or the penal system. But I can easily provide a causal harm model for any of the factors that we point to as institutional racism. I can explain why redlining is racist, even if those people just ‘prefer to live with people like themselves’. I can easily model harms/deprivations, prospectively, going forward (and backwards). I can explain why mass incarceration is racist, for its destructive effect on African-American communities, even if ‘wanting to lock up violent criminals’ is not, in itself, a racist motive.

“Metaphorically but in a sense also literally, this exchange over “tribalism” has consisted of me arguing that even people who have black friends and don’t wear KKK hoods can still perpetuate racism, and you arguing that that’s impossible.”

Metaphorically, and also literally, I can model the racist harms to black people incident on any number of lifestyles consistent with having black friends. and not wearing KKK hoods. So, metaphorically – if not literally – you are only underscoring the utter reasonableness of my request for a causal harm model, by your choice of metaphoric and literal examples.

Back to Joshua Greene’s book. If your analogies with institutional racism cases are good, the cases are analogous. Very well. Is there a model according to which publishing a book, stipulating ‘tribalism’ as a synonym for parochial altruism, hazardously risks a cascade of events, leading to a higher incidence of people picturing (cut and paste from your original comment) “the most “Heart of Darkness”-esque possible image of a band of loincloth-wearing, spear-chucking, dark-skinned savage headhunters with bones through their noses, living in the jungle beating drums and shouting “ooga booga booga!” at anybody from the outside world.”

If so, I concede the book is racist. Even if the author didn’t intend that effect. Even if he intended the opposite (as I am quite confident he did and does). What I don’t see is: that his book will indeed likely cause people to see that picture. You say: the history of the word ‘tribe’. But if you are right about the contagious power of the word ‘tribe’ to conjure this image, no matter how much an author tries to wrench the word to other uses, then the same argument would apply to Fried. Which you obviously don’t think it does.

And if the problem is that we are only considering one book, publish as many as you like, in your harm model, to induce the harmful effects. Let Joshua Greene conquer the intellectual world. Let 1000 books and 10,000 articles be published, all stipulating ‘tribalism’ as denoting parochial altruism. Why is it likely that spectacularly succeeding in giving the word a new meaning – one at odds with all the bad old, racist baggage – will paradoxically cause the old meaning to become only more vivid and painful? Isn’t it more likely that the old meaning will tend to fade at least somewhat, if indeed the new meaning spreads. (And if it doesn’t spread – if it falls stillborn from the press? – what’s the harm?)

So, yeah, a harm model. For one book. Or a thousand. Or a million. As you like it.

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Gareth Wilson 01.27.17 at 9:00 am

Don’t Maori accept the word “tribe” as a translation for iwi? As for the connotations:

Leaving savage headhunters aside, there are real cultures who wear loincloths, throw spears, have dark skins, wear bones in their noses, live in jungles, and shout open syllables at strangers. Maori have an entire ritual for that last one. If you see any of those as a negative, that’s your racism.

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phenomenal cat 01.27.17 at 9:26 am

” The Republicans want morally terrible stuff – and I will defend that proposition rationally, upon request! And they are tribal in defense of their terrible stuff.”

-Define “Republicans.” I get this is a blog and everyone has to define terms and deploy categoricals on the fly as it were, but that’s a not insignificant and very broad claim. So are you referring to R legislators, R lobbyists, R jurists, R dogcatchers, every R voter in the last election, R’s who usually vote R but didn’t this time b/c of King Wall-Maker, first-time R voters, Gay R’s, African American R’s, independents voters who sometimes R and sometimes D, rich R’s, poor R’s–or just all R’s henceforth and forevermore?

I’m not being pedantic. All R’s want the same terrible things and, more importantly, all have equal agency are thus equally morally responsible and reprehensible? You think this jives with reality? Anyone voting R becomes R, fundamentally-tribally so, such that their politico-moral comportment to the universe aligns essentially with…who or what? Prez Yuge Inaugural? ALEC? Mitch McConnell? fracking? Citizens United? ransacking predominantly Muslim nations (wait, a lot of D’s don’t mind comporting with that one, or some others come to think of it)? Representative politics consists not of fragmented and stratified coalitions and interests, a never ending series of uneasy compromises, but just whichever team one’s born into or defects to? Shouldn’t anyone who actually subscribes to the rational conclusion of this line of thinking be arming themselves against the other tribe with something more sharp and pointed than hats? Maybe we could just reread Mauss; develop some new elaborate rituals of exchange and gift-giving to keep the peace between the two tribes–or is the risk of pollution and defilement too great for that?

“The Democrats overwhelmingly want good or less terrible stuff – and I will defend that proposition rationally, upon request! And they are tribal in defense of their good-to-less-terrible values.”

–I find this universal claim a fraction more amenable, but it should go without saying that there are some yawning holes one could poke at. If one were to take the list of deplorables proffered above and sub the R for D there’s a couple I’d like to have a word with re: morality and justice–especially justice.

“Wall of pussyhats: good, just, beneficial, some hope for the future in a dark time.”

Fine, but is it effective? Does or will it do anything politically? What is the purpose and what is it leading toward? I’ve got no problem with said wall and its putting sundry assholes on alert, but it remains to be seen whether it amounts to anything more than strategic fear management for DNC inc. Because, hey, if that’s all that matters I guess I can rent an office on one of the letter streets in DC and join the “resistance.”

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John Holbo 01.27.17 at 9:51 am

“Define “Republicans.”

In my defense, you should be able to accept the point I was making at that point even if you think Republicans are great and Democrats are terrible. So you can certainly define ‘Republican’ any old which way and still appreciate my point about how we should divide through by the tribalism, in judging the moral merits of tribes.

“Fine, but is it effective? Does or will it do anything politically?”

Same point. You don’t like the case, or you disagree: pick another. Argument still runs.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.27.17 at 11:06 am

Jim V #219: “pedagogically, it is better for students to first understand the general algorithm”

Sorry I don’t see why that would be true, it may work for math students but it could be a pedagogical mistake for other students.

So now I disagree with you a little bit, in a few ways: 1. pedagogically, 2. on the general use of the word “evolution” for human learning and for cultural change, although all are stochastic presumably and although I conceded that the horse left the barn ages ago, but 3. mostly because my original point was elsewhere: on the unsuitability of scientific/technocratic language for moral oratory in the era of polarization into moral tribes. (I would include in this unsuitability, the language of the various modern theories of moral foundations.)

Oratory is the “science” of how this resolves. Which moderns, left, center, and even on the right, have forgotten. And it stays simple. Indeed this science hasn’t progressed much since the ancients, while the early-modern diminution of republican oratory has led us into the present pickle. “Republican” with a small “r”.

At this level, I’m not convinced that teaching the evolutionary algorithm will give the public much that is interesting or useful to say about the moral polarization into tribes, nor how to fix it. Moral dilemmas are not random (in fact the world should have seen this stuff coming). The memory is the cultural tradition. The selection values are trust and sympathy.

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Val 01.27.17 at 11:09 am

John Holbo @ 223
I’ve read this response twice and I still don’t get it. You seem to think I have a habit of assuming the worst of you but I don’t think that’s right. In this case I said there seemed to be something wrong in what you were saying about the pussyhats and purity, and then I went off on a bit of a frolic about appropriation, which was very smart in a theoretical sense, but you took it rather personally (understandable I realise), but I think you shouldn’t react that way, but rather examine your conscience to see if there’s anything in it.

I have this little ditty that I can’t get out of my head – it’s quite inappropriate really given what the original was all about, but it just scans so nicely:

Bourdieu did it
Foucault did it
Why shouldn’t you do it

Of course the fact that B and F both appropriated feminist ideas without giving credit to feminists doesn’t in itself mean you would, and what I accused you of is different anyway – potentially weakening the force of feminist activism by trying to squeeze it into a category of ‘purity’ that you’re interested in but I doubt any of the marchers are and which has some unpleasant connotations for women – but I may well be completely wrong. I don’t think I am, but I may be – I don’t really have all that much invested in this, I just thought you did seem unfair to saurs, and I still wonder about that, but I won’t try to do a search for all saurs’ comments to see whether you are (I don’t know how to anyway though obviously some people do).

Maybe it’s because I’ve never studied philosophy that I don’t quite get what you’re saying and why. Anyway I am happy to leave it at that unless you want to say anything further to explain, debate etc

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Lee A. Arnold 01.27.17 at 11:24 am

Bruce Wilder @210

Orators combined those abilities of teacher, politician, and expert, — add poet — perhaps before those functions were fully differentiated, who knows?

What the classical orator did was to unify the polity by creating consent of the audience. The goal was a plan of action, a decision to be made. This perpetuated everyone’s social trust in the polity.

The individuation of experts is one of the functions of modern technocracy.

Economists hold a special place (or at least they held it in the post-WWII era, until recently). This is because economic theory does a curious thing. It provides a mechanism that might supplant some of the conscious function that is necessary for social trust.

People can get along with each other by simplistic rule-following, so long as you have prices and market competition. Just let the thing go on blindly, no matter what happens, and everybody will always find a job & find a place in the world. It would automatically allow the most Liberty, and automatically be technologically most Efficient.

Now, people aren’t really born to believe this guff (as history shows), it requires rhetorical indoctrination. “But gee, if they did believe it, it could certainly benefit the rentiers!” Consequently there has been a conscious, concerted, financed rhetorical effort since the 1970’s to inculcate market ideology into the voting public, via funding for think-tanks that send op-eds to newspapers, etc. And sadly a lot of “real” economists jumped on that bandwagon. We can all name a few professors who are still on the graft.

The experts’ sales job has been quite effective. Most of the public, even now, still buys the notion that the market system could work automatically. Just follow the rules of the market, and everybody will get a job, the distribution will be fair, etc. Well okay, we might need a little automatic redistribution, but hey: in the main, it will still work. Okay, we might also need fiscal and monetary policies, but the promise remains: it will keep the whole mechanism going as if by invisible hand.

Thus the lack of jobs and incomes is today blamed on something else — the voters distrust the politicians who brought them globalization, and distrust the illegal immigrants who are taking the jobs, getting free welfare, running up the budget deficits. (Never mind that globalization and immigration had almost nothing to do with it.)

Is this confusion not enough? We now approach a new problem for maintaining social trust. We are moving into an era where there will be less necessary work, and voluntary leisure is on the horizon, while an increasing number of goods are no longer “economic goods”, but can easily be produced to satiety (due to automation, etc.) Already, most of the incomes growth for a few decades has been in the non-real sector of finance, through providing debt, credit, insurance, mortgage (none of which needs to be scarce at all). Oh, and financing the budget deficits, big money there! And let’s privatize retirement security and healthcare payment, more big money to skim-off there too!

So the idea of money has to change (again), and money is one of the things that is most intimately bound with social trust. It’s so close to the skin that people go irrational, haywire.

Economists as yet have no vision for this new state of “the economy” or perhaps it should be called “the satiety”. Satiety puts them out of business. They’ve got the mental toolbox to describe some of it, but no vision on where to go. I think the last economist to notice this lack of vision was Boulding, perhaps Heilbroner.

Vision is an oratorical thing, not a scientific one. But the orator combined teacher, politician, expert. Being an expert in economics and explaining it well to the public isn’t even achieved by economists themselves. So we are caught in quite a trap.

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Val 01.27.17 at 11:40 am

ZM – sorry to be a pain – I used to be an English teacher once and it still comes out sometimes – you do usually give sources I know but you don’t always indicate what part of your comment is a quote (though in fairness it’s usually pretty obvious, which is why I admit I’m being picky) – I know the HTML stuff is a pain but quotation marks are easy. Anyway I’ll say no more :)

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John Holbo 01.27.17 at 11:42 am

“which was very smart in a theoretical sense, but you took it rather personally (understandable I realise)”

Not in the least. I took it in a theoretical sense.

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Bill Benzon 01.27.17 at 12:04 pm

Axiom No. 738: Thou shall not use “tribe” as Haidt speech.

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AcademicLurker 01.27.17 at 12:39 pm

Seconding 230. It’s not the case that every criticism of the left implies a “Both sides do it a pox on both their houses” equivalence, although some people seem to be reading that into them. In any case, surely “We don’t need to clean up our act because look at how terrible those guys over there are” hasn’t proven to be a recipe for success for the left lately. Maybe the left could do with a bit more criticism.

Maybe people are hearing “both sides do it” because this thread started out about Haidt, and he really does specialize in “Both sides do it but really the left does it more” pablum. Perhaps the CT commenters deserve credit for not being Haidt, at least until proven guilty.

Val@236: “B and F both appropriated feminist ideas without giving credit to feminists”

I would hope that if people were to publish books or articles using arguments known to have originated with feminist writers then, consistent with scholarly norms, they would duly cite their sources. A blog comment thread is a bit more informal, yes?

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Val 01.27.17 at 1:49 pm

John Holbo @ 239
You said that I “attacked” you and you clearly implied later that I was rude, as well as talking about banning me. It certainly sounded as if you were personally offended since you also talked about how I’d accused you of selling cheap products. That was, as I think you can see, a theoretical analysis that I got a bit carried away with, and I shouldn’t have used the word “cheap” but I actually stand by the comparison of using de-gendered concepts to discuss women’s experiences or insights as being like commodification. That is the part that I think is actually quite smart. I could write a lot about how men have done this to women historically (and continue to do it) – I won’t here but it is a useful line of thought.

Anyway it was an analysis which should have been expressed as ‘what you are doing here could be seen as … ‘ but I got a bit carried away and didn’t keep it in those terms – and the “cheap products” phraseology was unfortunate and I think it’s fair enough to call that rude. But I’m not just assuming that you’re wrong eg you said the body was sacral in response to one of my comments, but that is de-gendering, you must surely be able to see that.

It’s well past time I should be asleep and I really can’t continue this, but I have had a good go at looking back and seeing who said what when, and I agree that some of my phraseology was rude, but not that I simply in this case (or ever) assume that you’re wrong and then proceed from there.

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Martin James 01.27.17 at 4:46 pm

” The Republicans want morally terrible stuff – and I will defend that proposition rationally, upon request! “
I thought the question you were getting at is why Republicans want morally terrible stuff, by way of Haidt’s categories not being a good explanation, rather than Haidt’s categories implying that Republicans do not want morally terrible stuff, just differently moral stuff.
It is tough to separate those that don’t think it is interesting why R’s want morally bad things, from those that think it isn’t clear what is morally terrible, from those that think morality should be rationally persuasive.
It seems to me that some of the reaction to R’s being in power and to Trump, is that without religion and only rationality on one’s side, being without power is a fairly hopeless proposition.
I know you gave an explanation above, but I’m still interested in what theories or writers you find most accurate on the question of why R’s prefer the morally terrible and what, if anything, might change that preference.

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Lamia 01.27.17 at 4:54 pm

@ Lee Arnold

“she paid her debt to society”

Hylton didn’t owe a debt to society, she owed a debt to the human being she kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered. That is a debt that she cannot ever pay and that neither ‘society’ nor ‘humanitarians’, none of whom the crime was personally done to, can forgive. If she had any human decency, she would live quietly out of the ublic eye and not climb on a stage to proclaim herself a victim and a humanitarian. She ought to be dead.

@ J-D

“You don’t, for example, mean that I invited Donna Hylton to speak, do you? No, of course not. Do you then, perhaps, mean that John Holbo invited Donna Hylton to speak. Not that either. Who, then, do you mean? You don’t. You don’t mean at all.”

Are we to believe, then, that no one invited Donna Hylton to speak? That she just magically put her own name on the list of speakers, appeared out of nowhere, spoke and then vanished unapplauded? That she had nothing whatsoever to do with the people who organised the march?

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phenomenal cat 01.27.17 at 5:07 pm

Holbo @ 234

That’s it? That’s the take away? Dividing by tribes (and why should one do this?) R=bad and D=good, or maybe if one listens to Rush Limbaugh R=good and D=bad.

Stunning moral analysis. Reminds me of Kant–spend thousands of philosophical words arriving at a conclusion almost no one disagrees with. Oh well, carry on dear partizan.

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engels 01.27.17 at 5:46 pm

Saurs comments can be a little intemperate and ad hominem at times but I don’t think she’s a troll, I often find her very persuasive.

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nastywoman 01.27.17 at 6:30 pm

‘It’s well past time I should be asleep and I really can’t continue this, but I have had a good go at looking back and seeing who said what when,’

Very well said – as it reminds me on some classical Woody Allen movies – and that’s why I finally give the emotional win to my fellow sister and not ‘the dude’!

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WLGR 01.27.17 at 7:49 pm

JH @ 231: Not to repeat myself again, but maybe you wouldn’t need such a “model” from me if you’d drop your bizarre stance against reading or acknowledging the other two links/quotes from #155 before dismissing the point they were meant to articulate. As I explained (or tried to explain) at both #155 and #229, the reference to Fried was intended to reiterate the common and long-held stance among anthropologists that “tribe” is an essentialist oversimplification that blurs our understanding of human social existence rather than sharpening it. The other two links grapple much more directly with the issue of why this analytically useless term continues to predominate among laypeople (in which category I include people like you, me, and Greene) by allowing us to continue in racist/imperialist habits of thought without being forced to directly interrogate them as “racist”.

In any case, it seems like an exercise in goalpost-shifting to ask for a “harm model” for the racialized subtext of an individual word in an entire discourse, along the lines of a “model” one might give for tangible institutional practices like redlining or blockbusting. A more apples-to-apples target for comparison would be discursive dogwhistles like “thug” or “savage”, and I find it hard to believe you’d be so insistent on “harm models” for terms like those if you weren’t already committed to them a priori. But for my own edification if nothing else, I’ll try to summarize the case as best I can in three sentences or fewer:

The notions of “tribe” and “tribalism” are symptomatic of a common view of human history, wherein the “natural” or “primordial” state of human social existence consists of small or medium-sized groups whose members exhibit near-absolute loyalty to each other and near-absolute hostility toward others, and wherein the relatively recent rise of large state societies with legal codes and mass politics has had a mediating or civilizing role on this otherwise fundamental attribute of human nature. As anthropologists have long pointed out, this view is factually mistaken or even diametrically opposed to reality: the separation between in-group loyalty and out-group hostility in non-state societies is often much less rigid than a vulgar understanding of “tribalism” would imply, and in fact the emergence of such rigid separation within non-state societies has often coincided with the influence of large state societies on neighboring populations. Concurrently, as scholars who focus on issues of racism have long pointed out, the erroneous view embodied in these notions plays a key role in both explicit and implicit racist ideology: since political divisions and hostilities characterized as “tribal” are often connected to or even directly created by the political intervention of Western imperialist powers in particular, depicting such conflicts as a primordial relic of the distant evolutionary past functions to absolve the West of responsibility for its own ongoing racist history, to substitute crude and misleading stereotypes for a historically specific understanding of individual societies, and ultimately to blame victims of imperialism (particularly those who resist identification with nation-state structures inherited from their Western imperial conquerors) for their own misery and oppression.

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WLGR 01.27.17 at 7:54 pm

Not to harp on you too much, JH, but I have to come down hard in favor of phenomenal cat’s #233 against your #234. Interpreting Republicans and Democrats as distinct “tribes” is actually a pretty straightforward example of how far the idea of “tribalism” can mislead you if you’re not careful: your point seems to be that Republican Party insiders plus people who quadrennially vote for Republican candidates are together part of one “tribe”, while Democratic Party insiders plus people who quadrennially vote for Democratic candidates are together part of another “tribe”, when in any meaningful sociological or anthropological sense the connection within either group is nanometer-deep compared to that within the group of Democratic Party insiders plus Republican Party insiders. In certain contexts members of this “tribe” will proudly announce this shared identification (perhaps most iconically Sally Quinn in dubbing it “the Village”) but in most contexts the shallow identification between either subgroup of DC political insiders and “their” respective voters seems to preclude an earnest discussion of this much deeper identification, even as it profoundly shapes the landscape of US electoral politics. Amazingly enough, while GOP insiders’ loathing for Trump during the campaign was a stress test of their perceived link with “their” voters — at various points when Trump’s defeat seemed certain, even high priests of the “Republican tribe versus Democrat tribe” scripture like Paul Ryan and Reince Preibus were mounting pro forma defenses at best — after the inauguration the script seems to have flipped entirely and Democratic insiders are now scrambling to convince “their” voters that they actually oppose Trump at all.

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John Holbo 01.28.17 at 1:34 am

“That’s it? That’s the take away? Dividing by tribes (and why should one do this?) R=bad and D=good, or maybe if one listens to Rush Limbaugh R=good and D=bad. “

Well, if that’s all you want to take away, then only take that. But it seems like a pitifully small portion to extract from the thread. So don’t call it ‘THE take away’. Since, obviously, other people may take away a lot more. See above.

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Faustusnotes 01.28.17 at 2:28 am

WLGR, this idea that repub and dem insiders are part of a single clique has let you and your fellow travelers down consistently. You thoroughly and completely fucked up your analysis of the rise of trump because of it; completely misunderstood what Clinton was aiming for and would have achieved because of it; and will no doubt fail to understand just how dangerous trump is going to be because of it. Four years from now you are going to be pretending you never offered such a shallow analysis of politics, but I’m not going to let you (or Bruce wilder, or f foundling, or rich puchalsky) ever forget how stupid and treacherous you have been.

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John Holbo 01.28.17 at 2:51 am

“In any case, it seems like an exercise in goalpost-shifting to ask for a “harm model” for the racialized subtext of an individual word in an entire discourse, along the lines of a “model” “

How about we settle for this. Whatever you say needs to pass the giggle test. That’s goalpost moving, of a sort, but in your favor. I am perceiving your difficulty moving the ball, and am hurrying the posts up the field to assist you. All I ask is this. You need to provide a sentence of the following form: ‘if Joshua Greene publishes a book stipulating ‘tribal’ as a synonym for parochial altruism, for discussion purposes, then there is a significant risk that this will cause X.’ And the statement needs to be not so absurd, on its face, that we giggle. (I’m not asking you for a scientific model, just for non-absurdity. That’s a pretty low bar. If you can’t clear this bar then I maintain that you aren’t really worrying about harms. You can’t be.)

Now, you have written this now paragraph – the italicized one – that no longer contains ‘ooga booga’! That’s a good start, because that was causing giggles. The very notion that Joshua Greene’s book would have the weird, contagious power to automatically cause people to think, uncontrollably in the most lurid racist cartoons. Funny. But we aren’t out of the woods yet. Greene’s book contains, or clearly implies, cogent arguments against most of the things your italicized paragraph criticizes. For example: “the “natural” or “primordial” state of human social existence consists of small or medium-sized groups whose members exhibit near-absolute loyalty to each other and near-absolute hostility toward others.” No one who reads Greene will fall for THAT old thing any longer, if they ever were before. (I have my doubts, honestly. ‘Near-absolute’?) There may be some points he doesn’t touch. But overall he is 1) cleaning up the term of bad associations or 2) everyone ignores him. Or somewhere in between. So what’s the harm?

I’ll stop there, since that’s your job, not mine.

I will say this: there’s no “discursive dogwhistles like “thug” or “savage”” argument to be made here. That dog won’t hunt. ‘Tribe’ has too many common, non-derogatory usages. It is neither negative, nor even characteristically ‘othering’. It is associated with ancientness and origins, hence with primitiveness, but not automatically in a negative way. For being associated, personally, with ancient things is 1) the universal heritage of all sons and daughter of Adam and Eve; 2) not a bad thing, albeit a mixed blessing. The word is old. The OED has entries going back to 1325. The twelve tribes of Israel. It is a rendering of Greek ‘phyle’. It is related to Roman ‘tribus’. Not that one expects the man or woman on the street to associate ‘tribe’ with any tripartite Roman political order (although twelve tribes is still a phrase people know.) But – again – ‘tribe’ has never been a thing applied only to the ‘other’. ‘Tribe’ is like clan or family or band or group. It carries an implication of a sort of social order that is not like that of the machinery of the modern state. But it’s not as though the machinery of the modern state carries only good connotations. People generally value family more than the legalized state order. If tribe is like family not like the state, then, in terms of connotations, it’s got good ones.

To sum up, ‘tribe’ is, at worst, a theoretically disfavored term within the tribe of anthropologists, for perhaps good intellectual reasons. If you can make a harm argument on that basis – Greene is committing some intellectual error, through ignorance of ethnography – I’ll consider it, for what it’s worth. But you can’t argue that he’s using a word like ‘thug’ or ‘savage’ that is inherently derogatory and othering. ‘Tribe’ isn’t that. Ask the OED if you don’t believe me. It concludes it’s sample of representative uses with an example from 1909: “I could fancy her writing lengthy epistles to a tribe of nieces.” From some novel. Note the typical combination of contrary connotative valences. ‘Tribe’ pushes away. Those nieces sound weird and a bit primitive. On the other side, it embraces. We all have our tribe, or tribes, in some sense. Greene wants to get precisely that push-and-pull that ‘tribe’, in English, actually has borne for going on 7 centuries. (It’s there in Shakespeare, push and pull. Check ‘tribe’ in Othello.)

Again, it’s fine if anthropologists have decided that the term has gotten too messed about in racism and imperialism for anthropological use. It’s very hard to use the term now in ways that are close to the bad old ways, yet keep clear of the bad old ways. That makes contagious sense. But that objection doesn’t apply to Greene.

“but I have to come down hard in favor of phenomenal cat’s #233 against your #234. Interpreting Republicans and Democrats as distinct “tribes” is actually a pretty straightforward example of how far the idea of “tribalism” can mislead you if you’re not careful”

Ah, the problem here is phenomenal cat’s #233 is a pretty straightforward example of how taking one off-the-cuff blog comment by me as intended to be sufficient for all intellectual purposes pertaining to this thread, can mislead you, since it’s not careful. I thought Sebastian was leaning too far in a pox-on-both-your-houses directions. I gave him a rough, corrective yank (for better or worse.) That’s not a good reason to suppose that I think the solution, for everyone, is someone to give them the exact rough yank I saw fit to give Sebastian. Not everything that is appropriate to say in one situation is appropriate to say in every situation. Situations may differ. Just look out your window. (We should all get outside more, perhaps. The thread grows long. But I find it fascinating. I feel like I’ve passed into another dimension where I am watching Bizarro Socrates argue with Bizarro Euthyphro about Not-Holiness. Bizarro Euthyphro thinks he knows exactly what Not-Holiness is and, as a result he is well-fitted for moral judgment and action. Bizarro Socrates is not so sure.)

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John Holbo 01.28.17 at 3:10 am

Since I mentioned the rough yank I applied to Sebastian – I think he, at least, understood I was administering what I deemed a neede corrective, not setting an absolute course to be followed forevermore – let me address his corrective to my corrective:

“What I object to is the fact that the tribalism is employed to defend all of the bad points just as strongly as the good points. We have to get past the tribalism before we can get to the merits. That seems to get worse as the Republicans get worse because every critique is answered with “What do you want, Trump?” “

We are shaving things finer now – that’s a good sign! – since I am, as I said, perfectly fine with piecemeal critiques of unhealthy tribalism. But I think Sebastian is still aiming too much into Mark Lilla territory. (He can correct me again if he wants.) I think Jacob Levy’s critique of Lilla is spot on

https://niskanencenter.org/blog/defense-liberty-cant-without-identity-politics/

It’s true that identity politics can be unhealthy but it’s also inevitable. There is no model of a healthy politics that lacks it. Even ideally. (Well, that’s tricky but let it stand.)

So here are two bad arguments I would avoid: 1) pointing out that some conclusion or position the other side has arrived at is supported, bolstered, waggon-circled by tribal formations – purity shibboleths, authority constructions. That’s all always going to be true, in a psychological sense. You need to ask instead: given that, is the position right or wrong? Don’t let indictments of tribalism, which are cheap, substitute for that.

2) lamenting generally that there’s tribalism. “We have to get past the tribalism before we can get to the merits.” That could mean various things – Sebastian can say what he meant, exactly – but I suspect he means something that includes, too my mind, a significant subset of baby, although it would take care of a vast subset of bathwater.

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John Holbo 01.28.17 at 3:12 am

And I’m off for the day, probably. I’ve been letting work pile up. I’ll look back in but I’ll try to hold my tongue. (Fat chance, I know.)

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engels 01.28.17 at 3:38 am

Chart in this article seems to refute John’s ‘back of the envelope’ claim that conservatives aren’t any more concerned with purity than liberals (lots of other interesting info, and it references Haidt among others):

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/01/06/opinion/campaign-stops/purity-disgust-and-donald-trump.html

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Sebastian H 01.28.17 at 3:42 am

” I thought Sebastian was leaning too far in a pox-on-both-your-houses directions. I gave him a rough, corrective yank (for better or worse.) That’s not a good reason to suppose that I think the solution, for everyone, is someone to give them the exact rough yank I saw fit to give Sebastian. Not everything that is appropriate to say in one situation is appropriate to say in every situation. Situations may differ.”

To be clear I don’t mind this. I can be wrong. It happens. I come from a very Christian, big church background. It has caused me to develop an extreme allergy to groupthink. Like all extreme allergies, it has to be admitted that it is an overreaction.

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John Holbo 01.28.17 at 3:55 am

As I once write in a piece no one ever had the decency to publish:

“As Kierkegaard writes of that great self-made counter-weight, Martin Luther, ‘a corrective made into a norm is eo ipso confusion.’”

I had no idea, at the time, that I was refuting phenomenal cat, avant la lettre

And so the failure to leave the thread for the day begins …

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John Holbo 01.28.17 at 4:09 am

Thanks for that link, Engels. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. The Haidt stuff. I think it’s generally interesting but I don’t buy the main conclusion for reasons I have been laying out in this thread. I agree completely that right partisanship is filthy with purity, per the article. But I think Haidt just misses – earlier I said the forest for the trees on the left, but that does not do justice to the degree of neglect. The devil is in the sample questions. Many lefty attitudes are about social justice, and will be coded thusly as harm/care – and that’s right. But the patterns of thinking about social justice run on purity/identity/authority rails. This is just true. It does not, as Rod Dreher self-righteously fulminates three times daily, show there is anything wrong with social justice. Or that these people are horrid, for wearing pink knit pussyhats. What it shows is that, as psychological types, many SJW’s (hate that term, but let’s let it pass, for present purposes) are like Rod Dreher. And the more Rod Dreher dismisses them for their disordered personalities, the more they are likely to share basic personality traits with him. This does not mean they are morally equivalent by any means. But it is an important thing to see, as far as it goes.

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Peter T 01.28.17 at 4:10 am

“There is no model of a healthy politics that lacks it. Even ideally. (Well, that’s tricky but let it stand.)”

Chimes with an earlier remark of John’s upthread, about sociality vs self-interest. I don’t find tribe as a term troubling (but hey, I did anthropology at uni decades ago!, and us Australians are the White Tribe of Asia…), but its many connotations only very partially overlap with political allegiance. Here at least – may be different in the US.

Doesn’t sociology usually talk about “identities”. As socially-formed beings, we have little or no self-interest outside our many and various social identities (maybe two people contesting for the last biscuit after a shipwreck are reduced to pure self-interest, but it’s hard to think of outside such contexts). Republican is a bundle of identities becoming tighter and more salient over time, but still a bundle potentially fracturable. The Democrat problem is that their bundle is looser, and Republicans have worked hard to untie it.

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J-D 01.28.17 at 4:54 am

Lamia

Are we to believe, then, that no one invited Donna Hylton to speak? That she just magically put her own name on the list of speakers, appeared out of nowhere, spoke and then vanished unapplauded? That she had nothing whatsoever to do with the people who organised the march?

I made no such suggestion.

The statements I did make I stand by. Your questions don’t appear to be relevant to them. If you think they are, perhaps you can explain how.

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Martin James 01.28.17 at 5:07 am

I’m not sure the ways Social justice thinking runs on authority rails but there were oddly(per Haidt) critiques about Bannon on Daily Kos for not dressing appropriately to White House standards and having a days grow and generally looking less than presentable from a health point of view.
Haidt’s categorization may be wrong but it seemed to me these critiques were not about “what is really morally right” as much as “who is on my team”. I was waiting for accusations of him opening the small end of the egg.

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engels 01.28.17 at 5:09 am

What it shows is that, as psychological types, many SJW’s (hate that term, but let’s let it pass, for present purposes) are like Rod Dreher. And the more Rod Dreher dismisses them for their disordered personalities, the more they are likely to share basic personality traits with him.

At least as I understood it, that’s NOT what the research mentioned in that article is saying. Eg. one strand claims to have identified a personality trait—’social dominance orientation’—that is linked to Trumpism.

Many lefty attitudes are about social justice, and will be coded thusly as harm/care – and that’s right. But the patterns of thinking about social justice run on purity/identity/authority rails. This is just true

I guess I’m just not seeing this. Take immigration: the right wing side wants to build walls etc to forcefully expel bad Others to make the nation great again whereas the left wing side wants openness for reasons of economics, common humanity and compassion. The first is as clear a case of purity/identity/authority as you can get, the second seems to be the opposite.

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John Holbo 01.28.17 at 6:08 am

“I’m not sure the ways Social justice thinking runs on authority rails”

Once it moves into the sphere of activism and struggle that is always the way of it. That’s not a bad thing, just a true thing. Tribal authority structures emerge. Identity politics. People construct moral high grounds, from which they presume themselves to have an innate strategic advantage in any ensuing argument. Of course there’s a fine line between thinking one’s conclusions are right and assuming a stance of moral superiority. Yet they are distinct psychological phenomena and, in activist politics, the latter is never absent.

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John Holbo 01.28.17 at 6:11 am

“The first is as clear a case of purity/identity/authority as you can get, the second seems to be the opposite.”

You don’t think there’s anything tribal about everyone wearing the same hat and marching together in solidarity? Nothing at all? That does not, in any way shape or form, appeal to anyone at an in-out/us vs. them group level?

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Sebastian H 01.28.17 at 7:44 am

Ugh, we are essentially dealing with ‘alternative facts’ here which interestingly provide a great window into the highly tribal effect of firmly embracing confirmation bias. To the extent that you believe these personality constructs (and again I would suggest that psychology/sociology isn’t nearly on firm enough ground to trust) the left is more associated with the authoritarian markers.

See especially Verhulst, Eaves & Hatemi 2012 which you probably remember being reported in 2012 and 2013 as conservatives being strongly associated with authoritarian markers and psychoticism. But whoops, it turns out they reversed the sign on their coding for conservatives and liberals. (Seriously, I am not making this up.) See here. It is a great article.

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Bill Benzon 01.28.17 at 7:52 am

I note that for some time now purity and tribalism have migrated, as it were, from objects of discussion to rhetorical tactics in the discussion. Thus the tribe of verbal purists would have the use of “tribe” and its morphological correlates 1) confined to talk about pre-state societies in Africa and then 2) banned from use because it is both incorrect and pejorative. I gather the underlying argument is that tribalism and purity thinking are aspects of our biological nature. To the extent that that is the case you would expect them to show up all over the place, like the Lernaean Hydra. You chop one off and two more spring up.

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Z 01.28.17 at 10:47 am

Eleven blog comments on Holbo’s tribes

1 The main defect of all hitherto-existing evolutionary psychology political analysis-including that of Holobo’s tribes-is that the external Object (political action, political movements) are conceived only in the form of the psychology impulses they rely on, but not as human, social, cognitive practices. Holbo’s tribes cannot conceive political activities themselves as cognitive. Hence they supposedly do not grasp the significance of revolutionary, or cognitive, activities.

2 The question whether impartial stances can be originate in tribalistic movements is not a question of psychology but is a cognitive question. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of objective political thinking which is isolated from cognitive concerns is a purely scholastic question.

3 The evolutionary doctrine that psychological impulses are products of evolutionary circumstances, and that, therefore, immutable tribal behaviors are the product of immutable evolutionary circumstances forgets that it is human beings who engage in the immutable behaviors and that impulses must themselves be socially expressed. Hence this doctrine is bound to unite society into a single part. The apparently similar expression of psychological impulses throughout changing historical or material circumstances can be conceived and rationally understood only as cognitive expression of anthropological stable systems of values.

4 Holbo’s tribes start off from the fact of affinities to group and the duplication of the world into an in group and an out group. His works consists in resolving the world of political activities into a psychological, anthropological and religious one. He overlooks the fact that after completing this work, the chief thing still remains to be done. For the fact that the political world cannot lift it from itself and cannot establish itself as an independent realm in the mind does not explain the intrinsic logic of anti-tribal, reciprocal of higher political movements. The latter must itself be understood according to its own internal logic. Thus, for instance, once purity impulses are discovered to be the secret of mass pussy-hat displaying demonstration, the logic of the latter must be analyzed, socially and cognitevely.

5 Holbo’s tribes, satisfied with group thinking, respond to anthropological values; but he do not conceive anthropological values as variable, cognitive patterns.

6 Holbo’s tribes resolve the essence of actual political engagement into the essence of humans at the early stages of their evolutionary history. But the essence of humans at the early stages of their evolutionary history is not a close set of affinities to one’s group of kins. In reality, it the ensemble of human cognitive capabilities.

7 Holbo consequently does not see that the psychological, anthropological impulses themselves are cognitive tools, and that the abstract tribes he analyzes belong in reality to a particular anthropological and cognitive form.

8 All social life is essentially cognitive. All mysteries which lead political analysis to basic psychology find their rational solution in human cognition and in the comprehension of this human cognition.

9 The highest point reached by pop-evolutionary psychology, that is evolutionary psychology that does not comprehend political activity as cognitive activity, is the contemplation of tribes and in-group behaviors.

10 The standpoint of the old pop-evolutionary psychology is tribes in the savannah. The standpoint of the new is human society as cognitive instrument.

11 Evolutionary psychologists have hitherto only explained the immutable aspects of the world; the point is to understand its capacity to change.

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Z 01.28.17 at 10:47 am

I hope I at least get points for effort…

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Lee A. Arnold 01.28.17 at 11:35 am

Lamia #244: “a debt she cannot ever pay”

A lot of the women’s protestors might feel the same way you do. Maybe you were one of them? I objected to the comment at #65 because it misled me into believing that society hadn’t dealt with it in the way that society is required to do. I wasn’t the judge, I wasn’t on the jury and I wasn’t in the courtroom to observe personally, which I feel are the only ways I can decide whether the sentence of punishment was just or unjust in this case.

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John Holbo 01.28.17 at 11:54 am

“Holbo’s tribes cannot conceive political activities themselves as cognitive.”

Aw, man, if my tribes can’t conceive political activities as cognitive that takes half the fun out of it. Why do other people’s tribes get to have twice the fun that mine do? Seems unfair and arbitrary. I don’t like your weird stricture, Z.

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Z 01.28.17 at 12:06 pm

” Seems unfair and arbitrary” well, yes, the fact that Feuerbach and Holbo’s tribes entertain a rough phonetic ressemblance is unfair and arbitrary.

” I don’t like your weird stricture”

Ah, you hurt my feelings, John… I was maybe not quite hoping for a prize for best Marx-parodic CT comment of late January 2017 but a nod perhaps? Damn, I thought the author of Zarathustra in Dr. Seuss’s style would be more receptive to the genre.

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Z 01.28.17 at 12:20 pm

Because distinguishing irony and sincerity in a blog comment probably is the absolute apex of impossibility, let me add that 1) the eleven blog comments on Holbo’s tribes were intended as harmless parody 2) that the epistemological critique underlying them (if it is at all discernible) nevertheless holds, in my opinion, for instance the remark about purity and pussy-hats demonstration or the deeper point that an anthropological analysis of mass political expression has to be a starting point, not an endpoint, and should be supplemented by a cognitive analysis and 3) that I’m not sure whether your comment 270 is serious or not.

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Bill Benzon 01.28.17 at 12:34 pm

Z: “The question whether impartial stances can be originate in tribalistic movements is not a question of psychology but is a cognitive question.”

But is no such thing as cognitive psychology? There is an interplay between psychology and cognition in your 11 theses (BTW 84 short of Luther’s 95) that I do not follow. But at times you seem to think that psychology is one thing and cognition is something else.

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engels 01.28.17 at 12:45 pm

“By marching to oppose war you lefties have become just as militarist as the militarists you think you’re opposing …” This is very weak tea indeed.

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Bill Benzon 01.28.17 at 12:50 pm

What of Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development? I have the sense that some of the evolutionary guys, maybe Haidt himself, may have explicitly rejected Kohlberg, but I don’t really know.

In fact, it’s right here in the Wikipedia entry:

Other psychologists have questioned the assumption that moral action is primarily a result of formal reasoning. Social intuitionists such as Jonathan Haidt, for example, argue that individuals often make moral judgments without weighing concerns such as fairness, law, human rights, or abstract ethical values. Thus the arguments analyzed by Kohlberg and other rationalist psychologists could be considered post hoc rationalizations of intuitive decisions; moral reasoning may be less relevant to moral action than Kohlberg’s theory suggests.

Note sure I buy this as stated.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is corruption. Consider this passage from a recent interview with Joseph Henrich (a cultural evolutionist at Harvard):

One of the things we always face in complex societies, meritocratic-based societies, is there’s a tendency for people to want to surround themselves by people that are loyal to them, by family and friends and people who owe them things, right? We call this corruption. In most human societies, this was called business as usual.

There is this tendency to want to surround yourself with those loyal to you, those of your same tribe, ethnic group, all those kinds of things. Maintaining well-functioning institutions requires constantly resisting the tendency to surround yourself with reciprocal partners and family members that would otherwise corrupt the system.

These complex societies also have legal systems that define corporate bodies as juridical persons rather than natural persons. When people take up functional roles in such juridical bodies their rights and responsibilities are defined by that body. Corruption is what happens when you ignore those rights and responsibilities in preference for friends and family.

Well, just how is it that complex societies actually construct these juridical persons with their abstractly conceived rights and responsibilities? An example of the sort of thing I have in mind is Prince Hal’s rejection of his old buddy Falstaff once he became King Henry V. Having assumed a new and different status in the world, one more tightly bound to the apparatus of the state than being merely a prince, Hal acts toward Falstaff in the capacity required by that status, not the capacity born of prior friendship.

What would Haidt have to say about that sort of thing?

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engels 01.28.17 at 1:20 pm

the left is more associated with the authoritarian markers. See especially Verhulst, Eaves & Hatemi 2012

Er, one study on psychoticism (not usually thought of as politically significant afaik) hardly refutes decades of research on fascism and authoritarian personality, etc

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Ronan(rf) 01.28.17 at 1:30 pm

Personally, I don’t really see the use of the “tribal” framing either. That people like forming groups, and that a lot of politics is based on group identity seems trivially true. But labelling what are, afaict, complicated webs of personal relationships, identities, assumed political/moral obligations etc as tribalism I think misses the interesting parts of why people build groups and adopt identities , implying it’s almost an atavistic urge devoid of any rational thought.
The part I don’t understand is , how does “tribalism” account for (or have any useful analytical use in explaining) the fact that we *have* built large, cooperative societies commited both to individualism and an expansive concept of who is “in group” ? If the default mode of humanity is tribal (and according to haidt conservative) then how do we explain our world as it actually is, which isn’t tribal in any meaningful sense ? ( ie as anything beyond analogy, or as a rough model.) I Also think there’s an excluded middle problem here. Most people aren’t activists or politically engaged in any extensive way. A lot of these conversations seem to centre around a small, not particularly representative part of the population*.

* this is also true of the most recent growing conventional wisdom, the anti “end of history” thesis, that says people are hardwired to want more from politics than incremental liberalism provides, they want something that stirs the emotions etc which liberalism can’t provide, and so this explains the return of ideological movements. But again this excludes the large middle by focusing on smaller unrepresentative groups. Afaict most people don’t desire a politics of heroism over a politics of incremental progress, and although they probably do vote on identity and instinct more than policy, this tends to get taken much too far, assuming all political behaviour is inherently irrational and primordial (particularly as this line of reasoning Is generalizing the voting patterns of the United states at this particularly divided moment in its peculiar two party system, and turning it into something approaching an eternal truth about people’s political behaviour)

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John Holbo 01.28.17 at 1:53 pm

Z: “Ah, you hurt my feelings, John… I was maybe not quite hoping for a prize for best Marx-parodic CT comment of late January 2017 but a nod perhaps? Damn, I thought the author of Zarathustra in Dr. Seuss’s style would be more receptive to the genre.”

You know what, Z. I honestly felt guilty after leaving just that squib. I had to run an errand. And while I was running, I felt guilty for not addressing your comment adequately. Truly, you deserve better of me. You are utterly correct.

So here goes.

“The question whether impartial stances can be originate in tribalistic movements is not a question of psychology but is a cognitive question. “

Yes and no. And that’s why I am a Nietzschean. “To breed an animal with the right to make promises [versprechen darf] – is not this the paradoxical task that nature has set itself in the case of man? is it not the real problem regarding man?”

That’s Genealogy of Morals, essay 2. And that’s why I wrote, upthread, that Nietzsche’s whole game is things turning into their opposites. That was the force of the “So?” that puzzled you so!

When I teach GM and we get to essay 2 I first ask the students to imagine a dog show. This dog can roll over and play dead, this one can beg. Finally, someone has bred a dog to make promises. That is, it can be conditioned to do things at a later date. It can be ordered to play dead tomorrow. Finally – the blue ribbon! – the dog that may make promises, that has the right to do so. There is is, sitting there on the platform with the other dogs. Not making a promise. Just – having the right to make promises. A cognitive result, but was it a cognitive achievement, the training? What training went into that!

Putting it another way. I’m reading “Democracy For Realists” right now.

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10671.html

Very cynical book, but data driven. Suppose you think in the aggregate, people are pretty unimpressive political actors, cognitively. The mean – the average voter – is basically a groupish emotionbot. That’s depressing. But suppose you accept it. It doesn’t strictly drive you to the conclusion that any given actor is incapable of high cognitive achievement. It just says those bursts of cognition are drops in the political bucket, on average. And, of course, there’s a bit of an issue of free will hereabouts. I don’t know what to say about that.

Does that help?

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John Holbo 01.28.17 at 1:57 pm

“1) the eleven blog comments on Holbo’s tribes were intended as harmless parody”

I did get it that you weren’t entirely serious, so my squib – even in its inadequacy, length-wise – never suffered from a surfeit of seriousness.

Anyway, it isn’t size or seriousness that truly matters. It is, as Nietzsche knew, the motion of the ocean.

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Z 01.28.17 at 4:01 pm

(BTW 84 short of Luther’s 95)

Yeah, I agree, when it comes to atrabilious German geniuses who set out to rectify the wold through the power of their words, I have always thought that Luther was the real deal, and Marx the quite distant second. But in the off-chance that your comment indicates that you’ve never read the 11 theses on Feuerbach, then you should: it’s a brilliant piece of mid-19th century critical materialism (and the original explains a lot of the oddity in my rather close parody you picked up).

There is an interplay between psychology and cognition in your 11 theses that I do not follow. [A]t times you seem to think that psychology is one thing and cognition is something else.

Insofar as there is something to understand in the 11 blog comments, it is indeed that I believe there are some forms of cognition which result from properly social interactions so which go beyond cognitive psychology narrowly understood (though of course these forms of cognition also rely on more fundamental human cognitive capabilities; the kind that I consider the object of cognitive psychology). In a mildly serendipitous turn, I just completed an article on the topic so if you’re interested to read a longer account, I’ll let you know if/when it is published (though I should say that is probably never, if only because that’s not the corner of the academic world I’m familiar with, to say the least, and I’m much too lazy to figure out the kind of journal which might consider publishing my junk).

@John “That’s Genealogy of Morals, essay 2. ” Yeah, that’s one of my all-time favorite part of Nietzsche (complete with the dyspepsia metaphor, if memory serves). “A cognitive result, but was it a cognitive achievement, the training? What training went into that!” I’m not sure I understand the semantics behind the question and exclamation mark here (nor am I absolutely sure I understand the intended referent of “that”, in fact) , but to me, you are exactly asking the right question: what is the social nature of the interactions that led a social animal (a dog or a man) to develop the cognitive ability to do X (make promise, march in defense of gender-equality)? Iirc, Nietzsche goes beyond asking the question, and proposes repeated tortures has the answer for promises. That’s the question I want to explore (but with different answers than his in mind).

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Z 01.28.17 at 4:14 pm

Oh, I missed that.

Suppose you think in the aggregate, people are pretty unimpressive political actors, cognitively. The mean – the average voter – is basically a groupish emotionbot. That’s depressing. But suppose you accept it. It doesn’t strictly drive you to the conclusion that any given actor is incapable of high cognitive achievement. It just says those bursts of cognition are drops in the political bucket, on average.

But my thesis is some sort of converse: that even if all social agents were “groupish emotionbots” the social structure may lead to higher cognitive outcome. A variant of Hayek’s argument on the cognitive qualities of markets, if you wish, in which no one has to be cognitively impressive for information to come out anyway (even if Corey would correctly point out that Hayek was indeed relying on impressive individuals ultimately, but that’s another question).

Bill Benzon’s 275 “Well, just how is it that complex societies actually construct these juridical persons with their abstractly conceived rights and responsibilities?” Exactly, precisely, very well put. And with that and after too many comments, I bow out. Thanks a lot for the discussion.

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Sebastian H 01.28.17 at 5:01 pm

Engels, you’ve gotten it completely backwards. I know the link I provided is long, but it is all right there. The whole reason why the error was discovered by Ludeke (a grad student having nothing to do with the study) was because their paper contradicted the well established link between authoritarianism and the liberal side of the conservative/liberal axis. That is why he was able to guess at reason for the error even before seeing the data. That is why his initial email was:

It looks to us like there may be a mistake in your interpretation of your results, based on the coding direction of the attitude scales. … I’m familiar with the literature on personality and politics, and it suggests the opposite direction for all of your correlations (our own datasets bear this out too). Liberalism is typically positively related to Psychoticism and negatively related to the Lie scale, and sexual liberalism is positively related to Extraversion. We are wondering if it’s possible that your attitude scales are coded backward in both articles.

Again, I think there are lots of reasons not to buy into this kind of research very deeply. But to the extent that you seem to buy into the research, you appear to be drawing the exact opposite conclusions from what it shows.

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Bill Benzon 01.28.17 at 8:48 pm

@Z I’m ever so slightly embarrassed to admit that, while I’m sure I’ve heard of the 11 theses on Feuerback, I’ve not read them and didn’t think of them in connection w/ your eleven, so I didn’t pick up on what you were doing.

As for cognition, when I talk of constructing juridical persons in #275, I think of that as cognitive construction, though not purely so. You may remember a rather contentious discussion we had some time ago about about EP and baboons. In that discussion I introduced the analogy of a board game, like chess. Biology provides the board, pieces, and basic rules, but culture works out the tactics and strategies necessary for effective place. Well, juridical persons are the sort of things culture constructs out of raw biology. I figure there’s a lot of that kind of thing going on.

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WLGR 01.28.17 at 10:03 pm

JH: “The very notion that Joshua Greene’s book would have the weird, contagious power to automatically cause people to think, uncontrollably in the most lurid racist cartoons. Funny.”

I hate feeling like I’m forced to cosplay as Fallacy Man, but this is an incredibly flagrant strawperson of a point that really shouldn’t be this difficult to understand. One could construct an equivalently bad-faith caricature based on literally any argument against the use of literally any problematic term or even any outright slur, because “automatically caus[ing] people to think, uncontrollably in the most lurid … cartoons” is not how this thing we call human linguistic communication actually works. Does the word “thug” have this kind of power? Does the word “n***er”? If not, would you still object to them anyway? If you would, think about why.

Invoking such a cartoonish image in my first comment was an attempt to draw out into the open connotations that aren’t always articulated explicitly (in fact hardly ever are, at least by ostensibly tolerant liberal types) but that nonetheless exist within our culture no matter how much we might disavow them. This doesn’t seem like a particularly far-out tactic, any more than it would be a far-out tactic to decry the dangers of veiled and “respectable” anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim rhetoric among mainstream Republican politicians by pointing out their place in an ideological constellation that also contains people like Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. For you to resort to such a cheap tactic in response, framing your response around the idea that I posited racially charged language as some kind of magic mind-control spell, seems like a sign that you’d prefer not to think too closely about the argument I’ve actually been making, which would fit the pattern of your explicit refusal to acknowledge or respond to the Wiley and Lowe links/quotes from #155.

“You need to provide a sentence of the following form: ‘if Joshua Greene publishes a book stipulating ‘tribal’ as a synonym for parochial altruism, for discussion purposes, then there is a significant risk that this will cause X.’”

The phrasing of “this will cause X” won’t do, because as stated, a direct causal link between individual contributions to a discourse and individual behaviors informed by this discourse isn’t necessarily how language and ideology function. But OK… if Joshua Greene publishes a book stipulating “tribal” as a synonym for parochial altruism, for discussion purposes, then there is a significant risk that this will contribute to our interpretation of conflicts we designate “tribal” as reflecting a fundamental element of human nature, and given the history of “tribe” as a vague catch-all for nearly any kind of non-Western and/or non-state society coming into contact with a Western imperial power, this perception of antiquity and immutability poses a significant risk of enabling us to ignore the modern Western role in the dysfunction, conflict, and misery of many of the so-called “tribal” societies we have oppressed. Of course I’m not entirely convinced that Greene’s use of “tribe” has nothing to do with the cultural imprint of ooga-booga et al (which, to reiterate, is not a moralistic allegation of individual sin but a simple recognition that all of us in a racist society are subjected to racist ideology) but even if he had just been revived from a centuries-long coma before writing the book and had never heard of Kipling, it would still be advisable for hypothetical-coma-Greene and any of his hypothetical-coma-readers to use a different word once someone made them aware of it, instead of insisting on “cleaning up the term of bad associations”. (Cf. mental health professionals’ reaction to the vulgarization of the term “retarded” as a popular insult by ceding its use as a clinical term.)

I actually kind of do appreciate being forced to circle around with the point looking for the best opening to wedge it through, sort of an explain-like-I’m-5 type of thing; as anybody with teaching experience knows, explaining a point in different ways can be a great boon to one’s own understanding. I wouldn’t necessarily expect to have to go through this with someone who by all appearances should be able to understand this particular point without so much handholding (although someone with an advanced philosophical background probably should have immediately recognized Z’s eleven-theses parody, which for my part I thought was excellent) but hey, if nothing else it’s good exercise.

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John Holbo 01.29.17 at 1:32 am

“I hate feeling like I’m forced to cosplay as Fallacy Man, but this is an incredibly flagrant strawperson of a point that really shouldn’t be this difficult to understand. One could construct an equivalently bad-faith caricature based on literally any argument”

One could, but I didn’t. You did. I cut and pasted from your own comment. You built the strawperson, to accuse Greene of the crudest racism. I merely asked you to defend your own charge. I can understand why now you want to separate from this strawman, who has bad faith written all over his face. That’s good. We are making progress. Greene (and I) stand acquitted on all charges as initially charged. Let us proceed to the later, modified charges.

“which would fit the pattern of your explicit refusal to acknowledge or respond to the Wiley and Lowe links/quotes from #155.”

Well, I did demur on the grounds that it seems irrelevant.

The passages you quote concern the way in which ‘tribe’ is misleading in the contexts of discussion of African ‘tribal’ life. I fully buy that. If Joshua Greene writes a book about African tribal life, he should be careful – although, note, the danger is not of confusion you predict. His book treats ‘tribalism’ as omnipresent. Thus, ‘tribe’ becomes a bland term and the risk would be that we would no longer even be able to perceive the difference between ‘tribes’ and the modern state order that oppresses them. I confess that would be bad. But I seriously doubt Greene’s book would have the power to cause such weird blindness.

The book is an argument against the attitudes you are worried it would inculcate: we don’t need to respect/worry about about them because they are ‘tribal’. The book argues: we are all tribal, hence we will always see others as tribal in a bad way. Their tribalisms will be glaring to us. Our own, relatively invisible. That ought to lead to distrust of any lazy ‘well, it’s just their tribalism that makes them so different’ attitude. Now, it’s possible that somehow Greene’s argument will perfectly and catastrophically backfire. Readers will systematically attach a ‘not’ to all his thoughts and conclusions. But I just don’t see why that would happen. In general, any book can be misunderstood. It’s always possible to get the author backwards, thinking she is arguing for what she is opposing. (We’ve all read student papers that contain weird interpretive errors.) Why would that happen here?

“I wouldn’t necessarily expect to have to go through this with someone who by all appearances should be able to understand this particular point without so much handholding (although someone with an advanced philosophical background probably should have immediately recognized Z’s eleven-theses parody, which for my part I thought was excellent) but hey, if nothing else it’s good exercise.”

Oh, I saw the parody, and responded with appropriate Nietschean-ness. But, speaking of handholding and the wonders of the things one has to go through, there’s this:

“Of course I’m not entirely convinced that Greene’s use of “tribe” has nothing to do with the cultural imprint of ooga-booga et al (which, to reiterate, is not a moralistic allegation of individual sin but a simple recognition that all of us in a racist society are subjected to racist ideology)”

Who said anything about individual sin?

Doesn’t anyone teach the kids about sin in school any more? You are actually arguing that it can’t be a notion of sin if it is, as it were, a vision of inherited, collective fall from grace? You can think of no possible religious formation that would ratify such a conception of sin?

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engels 01.29.17 at 2:41 am

Liberalism is typically positively related to Psychoticism and negatively related to the Lie scale, and sexual liberalism is positively related to Extraversion.

Who cares??

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Nicholas 01.29.17 at 3:21 am

I apologize if this has been brought up in the preceding comments. I think the problem with Haidt’s methodology on the moral foundations stuff is that the purity/authority/loyalty axes only test particular forms of those axes. The purity questions on his test only refer to Judeo-Christian purity. But there are other forms of purity in our culture–veganism, environmentalism, women’s rights (as John mentioned) all can have a an element of purity. Similarly, he tests loyalty to particular groups–family or country. But if he tested loyalty to party or marginalized peoples, he might get a different result.

There are also issues going the other way. To take one controversial example, abortion may be categorized as purity (?) in Haidt’s framework, but I guarantee you that most pro-life people think about it in terms of harm/care. Now, he does say that conservatives also use this foundation, but then you’d think liberals would be even more strongly pro-life, which they’re obviously not.

So while I think there is some merit to the theory, I don’t like how it has been operationalized. I think instead of substantive issues, the foundations are more about why someone cares about an issue, and that may differ across people for exactly the same issue.

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Saurs 01.29.17 at 3:33 am

Thank heaven for archiving. What you call trolling, I call normal blawgging business you are incapable of handling without losing your temper.

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Saurs 01.29.17 at 3:36 am

Also, Val @127 nailed, proverbially, it, proverbially. That you struggle to answer that commentary, some hundred comments later, is illustrative of how you approach female participants in these discussions.

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Val 01.29.17 at 4:18 am

So saurs at almost the start of the thread about 285 comments ago, said this:
Woman as this year’s talking point (it’s 1992 all over again!), something to be used as an illustration of something or a cosh to wield against one’s intellectual opponents, whether we’re pissing in public or wearing a punny hat. Male commentary over the last 24 hours seems to have doubled its normal bloated rate. Mighty chatty.

John Holbo says that saurs is just a perennially angry troll, but some of us have doubts about this characterisation. Anyway that comment seems completely borne out by what has happened in this thread. You all have taken the subject of a Women’s March, which used specifically gendered imagery, and turned it into a completely de-gendered discussion of concepts of interest to you. I’m amazed you all can’t see it. I shouldn’t be after all this time, but I still am.

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Val 01.29.17 at 4:18 am

Stuffed up the italics sorry. HTML is a pain.

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John Holbo 01.29.17 at 4:27 am

” apologize if this has been brought up in the preceding comments. I think the problem with Haidt’s methodology on the moral foundations stuff is that the purity/authority/loyalty axes only test particular forms of those axes. The purity questions on his test only refer to Judeo-Christian purity. But there are other forms of purity in our culture–veganism, environmentalism, women’s rights (as John mentioned) all can have a an element of purity. Similarly, he tests loyalty to particular groups–family or country. But if he tested loyalty to party or marginalized peoples, he might get a different result.”

No apologies necessary, Nicholas. I did make that point – or try to – in the post and in the thread. But I don’t think I made it clearly enough. This is precisely my view.

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LFC 01.29.17 at 4:31 am

I have very little interest in Haidt’s theory; haven’t even followed the Wikipedia link for it.

OTOH, the back-and-forth about ‘tribes’ and ‘tribalism’ did lead me to look up the brief Wikipedia entry for Harold R. Isaacs (1910-1986), author of among other things Idols of the Tribe (1975; reissued in 1989 with a preface by Lucian Pye). I’ve seen the book cited (not always favorably, though I forget the context(s)), but I hadn’t known much about the author. Though the Wiki entry is brief, he appears to have had an interesting career, esp. the early part in China.

Ok, back to Haidt or whatever this thread is about…

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Faustusnotes 01.29.17 at 6:56 am

Sebastian what are you trying to say about the hatemi et al controversy? At the time they published it was well established in their field that conservatism and psychoticism are. Egatively correlated (the article you link to makes this very clear) and they were going against everyone in the field in presenting and then defending their flawed results. Also to then the direction of the correlation doesn’t matter so they weren’t defending it out of some loyalty to alternative facts or out of tribalism – they were simply trying not to admit a mistake. Surely there are better examples of tribalism in these kinds of studies?

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J-D 01.29.17 at 7:29 am

Val

… Anyway that comment seems completely borne out by what has happened in this thread. You all have …

Plainly false, because there is no ‘you all’ in the case. ‘You all’ doesn’t exist; it’s a fabrication or a confabulation.

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John Holbo 01.29.17 at 7:56 am

“Women’s March, which used specifically gendered imagery, and turned it into a completely de-gendered discussion of concepts of interest to you.”

Yep, I used it as an example. To illustrate something that interested me.

Saurs: “What you call trolling, I call normal blawgging business you are incapable of handling without losing your temper.”

Apologies to Saurs for mis-stating the record. My memory of her past behavior was in error. It is clear that on numerous occasions she has been known to make worthy contributions to past threads (although I have to say, I spy with my little eye something that starts with ‘t’ in some of her comments in those old linked threads. Ahem.) But who is free of sin and all that jazz? Let the record show, let it be proclaimed: Saurs is not a troll. I shall go upthread and update my comments, lest future generations be misled as to my considered judgment of the case. I shall announce to the world: it is not so.

But, seriously, #2 in this thread? Straight-up trolling.

Also, I would like to maintain that I don’t really lose my temper very much. (Do I really come off as angry, rather than just high-handed and passive-aggressive? I wouldn’t like to think so!)

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engels 01.29.17 at 8:15 am

You all have taken the subject of a Women’s March, which used specifically gendered imagery, and turned it into a completely de-gendered discussion of concepts of interest to you. I’m amazed you all can’t see it. I shouldn’t be after all this time, but I still am.

Another way of looking at the matter is that you’ve taken Holbo’s post and turned it into a discussion of concepts (i.e. your Masters thesis again) of interest to you…

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Val 01.29.17 at 10:37 am

engels @ 297, can I gently point out to you that the title of the OP is “Moral Polarization and Many Pussyhats”
(I could do a primal scream of frustration but then I might be called an angry troll or something)

Btw I’m doing my PhD, I did my masters 20 years ago and I don’t think I’ve talked about my masters that much here.

Also one point for those who came in late – saurs’ and my posts coming after each other was chance – due to the moderation system I hadn’t seen hers when I wrote mine. Anyway thanks saurs and I didn’t think you were a troll, and I don’t think your comment @ 2 was at all trollish. I think John Holbo just doesn’t get it.
Also thanks nastwoman for earlier comment.

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ComradeSabotabby 01.29.17 at 11:14 am

@ #265, Sebastian H

This has gone on unchcked, but if you actually read the article you linked to, you’ll note that the article spells out exactly the opposite of what you want. The case was that Hatemi and Verhulst, using concepts from Hans Eysenck, published a paper that seemed to be contrary to the established literature: that is, Hatemi and Verhulst found that conservatives were high in “psychoticism”, or being less respectful of rules for being rules, and liberals were high the Lie scale, or (as the article indicates, quoting Steven Ludeke, the person who found the errors) what “measures both the tendency to try to present oneself in a saint-like manner as well as the tendency to be a bit saint-like” regarding behaviors like lying.

The problem is, like the article and even you yourself indicate, Hatemi and Verhulst scored the questions they asked wrong. In fact, as Ludeke pointed out, their papers were fully in line with the published literature: liberals were the one who had high psychoticism (again, here indicating an inclination against authoritarianism) scores while it was conservatives who were scoring high on the Lie scale. The rest of the article has to deal with Hatemi and Verhulst running interference so that their incompetence wouldn’t be put out in the open, but that doesn’t seem relevant to your point. Let me put it simply: the established literature says that conservatives are the authoritarian moralizing types and liberals tend to not be; and, when they are corrected, the data provided by Hatemi and Verhulst does the same.

In any case, it’s good for you that you think that “psychology/sociology isn’t nearly on firm enough ground to trust”, since the literature seems to say exactly the opposite of what you want it to.

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Val 01.29.17 at 11:16 am

J-D @ 295, I am not using “you all” to mean literally everyone except me commenting on this thread because that would clearly be wrong – I was using it loosely to mean the latest group of comments about tribalism etc, at the time I wrote it. I was also riffing a little on the American ‘y’all’.

I think you could make more substantive comments.

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stevenjohnson 01.29.17 at 11:25 am

The comment about Scottish clans seemed to me to be on target. Yes, it does seem to me they count as tribes and no, that example does not bear out the OP’s general picture of hostility to humanity. But maybe I have trouble separating that from references to Nietzcheanism?

So, I keep trying to get a handle on what this thread is really about, given the manifest content is not quite so manifest to my eye. (Maybe cataract is starting to affect daytime vision?) What I’m getting is something a giant quarrel between two parties about witchcraft. One insists that Wicca is an alternative religion, a secret pagan survival cherished by the marginal and oppressed. The other insists that witchcraft is a devilish conspiracy that perversely copies in negative Christianity, except not literally.

CT is not specifically a US operation, but it is still a little odd American Indian tribes haven’t provided any examples of tribalism. In the east, there were the widespread custom of adoption; the famed Indian trails by which someone like Tecumseh traveled hundreds of miles to visit the Creeks, for instance; the existence of Seminoles and Melungeons, and of course, intermarriage. And in the west there were the well established friendships between the Cheyenne and Arapahoes, or the Kiowas and the Kiowa-Apaches. And the notorious aggressions of the Pueblo tribes.! All these really do make the basic picture of human hostility to other humans across the hill to be sort of crankish EP drivel. It’s true of course that the Iroquois disliked the Hurons, but that seems to have had something to do with the fur trade?

There doesn’t seem to be any common sense reason to use “tribalism” in the context of a modern society. That usage implies some sort of innate social agoraphobia, except that phrase doesn’t connote human nature, expressed from time immemorial.

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John Holbo 01.29.17 at 12:01 pm

Val” “can I gently point out to you that the title of the OP is “Moral Polarization and Many Pussyhats”

I think I know my audience, Val. If I put ‘many pussyhats’ in the title, the Plain People of Crooked Timber will be expecting at least some pussyhats in the post. (Under the fold, maybe. But they have to be there.) So if the topic of the post is moral polarization, as discussed by Wilkinson, plus Haidt, what you get is: that.

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engels 01.29.17 at 12:59 pm

the established literature says that conservatives are the authoritarian moralizing types and liberals tend to not be; and, when they are corrected, the data provided by Hatemi and Verhulst does the same

Thanks for clearing that up.

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WLGR 01.29.17 at 5:39 pm

JH: “You built the strawperson, to accuse Greene of the crudest racism.”

I did no such thing, the very opposite in fact: the accusation is of respectable, intellectualized, plausibly-deniable racism! (Or to be more precise, the accusation is of participating in such racism, since the idea that “racism” consists solely of explicit individual conviction is a common dodge employed by de facto defenders of racism to avoid engaging with it.) If I were to claim that Hillary Clinton’s use of the term “superpredator” was racist, and I invoked the image of the black soldiers/politicians from Birth of a Nation ransacking white communities and trying to have their way with the white governor’s daughter to illustrate some of the connotations this kind of terminology might entail, surely nobody would be so dense as to assume that this means I’m literally accusing Hillary Clinton of consciously invoking Birth of a Nation herself, at least nobody who wasn’t actually trying to be that dense in order to better construct their strawperson.

“The book is an argument against the attitudes you are worried it would inculcate: we don’t need to respect/worry about about them because they are ‘tribal’. The book argues: we are all tribal, hence we will always see others as tribal in a bad way. Their tribalisms will be glaring to us. Our own, relatively invisible. That ought to lead to distrust of any lazy ‘well, it’s just their tribalism that makes them so different’ attitude.”

Here’s where the naïveté of trying to “scrub the word clean of its bad connotations” or whatever takes full flight. In your view, we seem to have at least two competing definitions of “tribalism”: first, a relatively value-neutral definition used within an idiosyncratic slice of popsci literature and semi-intellectualized political discourse to refer to what you call parochial altruism, presented as a key component of human social existence (maybe even the key component) stretching back into the far prehistory of hominid evolution, a definition you seem to think is useful and worth saving; second, a thoroughly value-laden definition used on a mass scale throughout Western society over the past several centuries as a catchall for the social organization of practically any non-Western society without a Western-style state, a definition maliciously employed by European colonial empires pointing to allegedly traditional tribal divisions (even those transparently propped up by the Europeans themselves, e.g. Hutus and Tutsis) as proof that “natives” were incapable of transcending their primordial state of nature without the “help” of European subjugation.

If we accept these definitions as entirely distinct, the question becomes, what would users of the first definition actually object to about the second one? They don’t object to the idea that “tribalism” is primordial, which in fact is central to their own claims as well, and they don’t seem to object to the idea that much of what a 19th-century British colonial official in Africa would call “tribalism” can in fact be unproblematically understood as tribalism. The objection seems to be the assumption that “non-tribal” European society has actually ever succeeded in distancing itself from “tribalism” as it might like to believe, so that the abovementioned British colonial official should properly be described as “tribalist” no less than the “tribespeople” whose affairs he administers. (I can’t help but think of William F. Buckley’s response on black voting rights at the Oxford debate with James Baldwin, “I think that what is wrong in Mississippi is not that not enough Negroes are voting but that too many white people are voting”.) Funnily enough, one might even say that in your and Greene’s view, we’re all born in the sin of tribalism.

But again — as anthropologists have been trying to drill into other scholars’ heads for decades and as I’ve been trying to drill into your head for days, the perception that the kinds of hard-and-fast ingroup/outgroup distinctions we might dub “tribal” are immutably primordial is itself fundamentally factually in error, and absolving the social/cultural/political structures of biologically-modern human society of their role in actively fomenting “tribalism”, above and beyond the innate evolutionary endowment of biological human nature or whatever, is central to what makes the second definition above so malicious and destructive. Even if separating these two definitions were as feasible as you seem to think it is, the central (false) claim of the first definition is the centrally problematic claim of the second one.

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J-D 01.29.17 at 7:38 pm

Val

I am not using “you all” to mean literally everyone except me commenting on this thread because that would clearly be wrong – I was using it loosely to mean the latest group of comments about tribalism etc, at the time I wrote it.

So loosely as to obscure communication.

I think you could make more substantive comments.

Do you? Maybe you’re right.

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Val 01.30.17 at 12:10 am

John Holbo @ 302
So you could claim that you could have just as well conducted your discussion without using the pussyhats as your prime example or illustration, or even that you just used pussyhats because they were topical, relevant (or even ‘sexy’)?

– doesn’t help.

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Val 01.30.17 at 1:44 am

J-D @ 305
Re substantive comments:

I could for example instead of using the loose term “you all” in my comment been more specific and said something like ‘John Holbo and the many commenters here who are talking about the OP in ways that obscure or elide the significance of gender in relation to pussyhats, most of whom (the commenters, not the pussyhats) appear to be male, although I can’t be certain, this being the internet”

– but it would have been extremely long winded and you – and anyone else interested – probably could have guessed that’s what I meant, so why bother to nit-pick that when you could have discussed the more important issues?

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John Holbo 01.30.17 at 1:45 am

Val, I know my 302 doesn’t help. It was a joke, premised on my view that no help was needed .What I did was innocuous. I wanted to blog about something. I used an example appropriate to the subject. That’s completely normal and fine. I don’t see why it makes you want to scream that I might choose the topics for my own blog posts, based on what interests me. You haven’t argued there is anything wrong with what I do say in the post – or that it isn’t a worthy subject. You merely assert I should have written about something else. But: why?

WLGR, “the accusation is of respectable, intellectualized, plausibly-deniable racism!”

Really. I quote again. “Try to picture the most “Heart of Darkness”-esque possible image of a band of loincloth-wearing, spear-chucking, dark-skinned savage headhunters with bones through their noses, living in the jungle beating drums and shouting “ooga booga booga!” at anybody from the outside world… that’s what terms like “tribalism” and “tribe” signify.”

If the latter statement is true, how can there be anything respectable or intellectualized about the use? If you say a book is in Heart of Darkness territory – as you did – you are not saying that it’s all plausibly-deniable etc. etc. (Plausible deniablity is not a thing we associate with Kurtz, in the book or movie.)

Right. I’m done arguing about that. If you want to mount a campaign to scrub ‘ooga booga’ of its bad connotations, making it more respectable, that’s on you. Leave me out of it.

As to the middle bits: your linguistic thinking is weirdly binary. I realize it’s just a blog comment, but still. Your objection depends on a lot of artificial-sounding stuff coming true.

Here’s a point that actually seems worth engaging.

“The objection seems to be the assumption that “non-tribal” European society has actually ever succeeded in distancing itself from “tribalism” as it might like to believe, so that the abovementioned British colonial official should properly be described as “tribalist” no less than the “tribespeople” whose affairs he administers. (I can’t help but think of William F. Buckley’s response on black voting rights at the Oxford debate with James Baldwin, “I think that what is wrong in Mississippi is not that not enough Negroes are voting but that too many white people are voting”.) Funnily enough, one might even say that in your and Greene’s view, we’re all born in the sin of tribalism.”

Here with WFB and Baldwin we have, I concede, the basis of a harm argument. Maybe it’s harmful to argue that all humans, in empirical fact, exhibit consistent parochial altruism in the way Greene thinks they do. Because – true or not – that would be cynical and would undermine faith in democratic values. That is, it would give comfort to the likes of WFB.

I’m reading a book about it! That’s part of the reason I wrote the post. I’m reading “Democracy For Realists” by Achen and Bartels. I already linked it upthread.

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10671.html

Here’s the book blurb:

“Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels deploy a wealth of social-scientific evidence, including ingenious original analyses of topics ranging from abortion politics and budget deficits to the Great Depression and shark attacks, to show that the familiar ideal of thoughtful citizens steering the ship of state from the voting booth is fundamentally misguided. They demonstrate that voters—even those who are well informed and politically engaged—mostly choose parties and candidates on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not political issues. They also show that voters adjust their policy views and even their perceptions of basic matters of fact to match those loyalties. When parties are roughly evenly matched, elections often turn on irrelevant or misleading considerations such as economic spurts or downturns beyond the incumbents’ control; the outcomes are essentially random. Thus, voters do not control the course of public policy, even indirectly.”

Now, this is a good example because Achen and Bartels don’t use ‘tribal’ as a key term. Checking the index, they use it incidentally, in passing at two points. My question for you is: do you objection to the authoring of such a book, not on grounds of truth – for all you know it could be true! – but on grounds of harm (or sinfulness)? It is true, after all, that the WFB’s of the world will take lizard-like comfort from cynicism about the prospects for functional democracy.

I am, in short, posing a dilemma: if you oppose the authoring of such books, then that’s 1) pretty strong stuff and 2) has nothing to do with ‘tribal’, the word. But if you don’t oppose the authoring of such books, then you can’t oppose Greene merely on the grounds that WFB might take comfort from something he said.

I also think it’s worth noting that Greene is a Peter Singer-style utilitarian. His project is: how close can we get to cosmopolitanism, realistically, given human tribalism? William F Buckley would regard Singerian utilitarianism as a turd in the punchbowl of politics, so we don’t need to worry too much about his likes partying down on “Moral Tribes”. If that is indeed the concern.

So which horn of the dilemma to do choose?

Is it that you object to people publishing cynical ‘realist’ empirical studies (psychological, sociological, whatever) that might undermine faith in the functioning of democracy?

Or are you truly concerned about the word ‘tribe’?

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Val 01.30.17 at 2:33 am

@ 308
“Val, I know my 302 doesn’t help. It was a joke, premised on my view that no help was needed .What I did was innocuous. I wanted to blog about something. I used an example appropriate to the subject. That’s completely normal and fine. I don’t see why it makes you want to scream that I might choose the topics for my own blog posts, based on what interests me. You haven’t argued there is anything wrong with what I do say in the post – or that it isn’t a worthy subject. You merely assert I should have written about something else. But: why?”

Could you please, at the very least, stop misrepresenting me? I’ve argued at length what I see wrong with your post: you have taken a clearly gendered protest, and tried to apply non-gendered or de-gendered analysis to it, thus eliding the issue of gender. It is not hard to understand what I saying so why keep denying it?

310

John Holbo 01.30.17 at 3:04 am

“you have taken a clearly gendered protest, and tried to apply non-gendered or de-gendered analysis to it, thus eliding the issue of gender. It is not hard to understand what I saying so why keep denying it?”

I understand perfectly, Val. My position is that there is nothing whatsoever wrong with doing what I have done. I haven’t elided the issue of gender in a mistaken or misleading way, after all. I have discussed a different subject. To discuss Q is not to elide P. It is merely to discuss Q. To discuss Q by means of an example that is relevant to Q, and also relevant to P, is not to elide P. That’s it.

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J-D 01.30.17 at 3:17 am

Val

You are mistaken: I couldn’t guess what you meant, not correctly; if I had guessed, I would not have guessed anything like what you have now written.

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Saurs 01.30.17 at 3:21 am

I see you, Val. My thanks to you for your work here.

I think I know my audience, Val. If I put ‘many pussyhats’ in the title, the Plain People of Crooked Timber will be expecting at least some pussyhats in the post.

The URL makes hash of this neat but dishonest explanation, of course. Choice bits of editing and time travel (my transformation from perennial to merely diminishing troll, by way of a second example) seems to be something of a theme. Along with misrepresenting dissenters — in this case, ones with an identical complaint — in subtext-rapidly-becoming-text fashion, each according to our means.

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John Holbo 01.30.17 at 3:23 am

“‘John Holbo and the many commenters here who are talking about the OP in ways that obscure or elide the significance of gender in relation to pussyhats, most of whom (the commenters, not the pussyhats) appear to be male, although I can’t be certain, this being the internet””

I agree with J-D that it didn’t come across clearly. I was basing my interpretation of what you meant on something you wrote upthread: “Maybe CT authors should make a rule that for every male they cite, they should cite a woman (I’d say a feminist actually because otherwise you get the problem of fellow travellers etc)”. I thought you were making a kind of equal-time argument. Kind of like this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal-time_rule

Or this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairness_Doctrine

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Saurs 01.30.17 at 3:25 am

(Do I really come off as angry, rather than just high-handed and passive-aggressive? I wouldn’t like to think so!)

Kettle braining the pot again, rather than taking up the scouring pad.

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John Holbo 01.30.17 at 3:40 am

“Along with misrepresenting dissenters — in this case, ones with an identical complaint”

Saurs, if I was wrong to dismiss your #2 as intended trolling, way back at the start, then the means to mend the trouble is in your own hands. Scour away. (I haven’t banned you or anything.) As early as #4 I polished off your complaint and didn’t see anything underneath. If I missed something of substance, then: what?

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Saurs 01.30.17 at 3:57 am

What trouble are you referring to? I’m speaking to an observed pattern. First post I linked to played out in the same fashion. Substitute “modesty” for “purity,” and then regard the concern about whether female participants in the discussion are too emotional or angry for their own good, fortified with the suggestion that they wouldn’t know raping if it hit them over the head, the hysterical dears. Eventually you get around to calling me a troll (surprise!) and lightly drop unsolicited hints about banning or not-banning me in between camp sighs of disgust and fleeting promises of “one last time” when someone who disagrees continues to, y’know, disagree because what they are encountering is neither particularly coherent nor persuasive and lacks a good bit of rigor beyond the initial post’s punchline. Polishing didn’t enter into it then, either. Wash, rinse, repeat, I guess, and cross our fingers the looking-glass is clearer the second time around.

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John Holbo 01.30.17 at 4:12 am

“What trouble are you referring to?”

The trouble that your comment 2 made no sense. See my comment 4. I’m not going to wash, rinse, repeat. You want to clean up your thinking, you do the thinkin! You want to say I’m wrong somewhere, say it. Up to you.

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Val 01.30.17 at 4:15 am

John Holbo, I don’t know whether you are incapable of understanding the points saurs and I are making or you just really, seriously, don’t want to, but this seems useless.

319

Saurs 01.30.17 at 4:19 am

I did, John. I did. Several times over now. Your confusion here and elsewhere can’t be helped as far as I can see, for when someone wants to be confused they stay, vociferously, confused. And now I’ve addressed your habit of plaintively howling “troll” whenever you butt up against a particularly ornery commenter. All that’s left is for the ribbon to be tied. I’ll leave that to you.

320

John Holbo 01.30.17 at 4:47 am

“but this seems useless.”

I think we can all agree this seems useless due to one side, or the other, refusing to face up to the obvious.

321

J-D 01.30.17 at 6:58 am

I think we can all agree this seems useless due to one side, or the other, refusing to face up to the obvious.

It is possible that both sides are mistaken about what’s obvious.

322

engels 01.30.17 at 3:10 pm

you have taken a clearly gendered protest, and tried to apply non-gendered or de-gendered analysis to it, thus eliding the issue of gender

Can you give a rough idea of how John could have mentioned the women’s march in his post without ‘degendering’ it? Or is your criticism that he shouldn’t have mentioned it at all?

323

engels 01.30.17 at 3:22 pm

If someone said ‘abortion isn’t a “women’s issue”, it’s about autonomy and human rights’ would they be degendering the issue of abortion?

324

J-D 01.31.17 at 12:32 am

engels
I assume your question is directed at Saurs and/or Val, but I’ll give you my answer, uncertain of whether they’d agree with it:
‘Abortion is a women’s issue’ and ‘abortion is about autonomy and human rights’ are both true statements, and affirming one does not require denying the other. If somebody said ‘Abortion is about autonomy and human rights’, that wouldn’t be (or at least wouldn’t have to be) a degendering of the issue, but if somebody said ‘Abortion isn’t a “women’s issue”‘, that would be a degendering of the issue (as well as not being true).

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engels 01.31.17 at 2:21 am

‘Abortion is about autonomy and human rights’, that wouldn’t be (or at least wouldn’t have to be) a degendering of the issue, but if somebody said ‘Abortion isn’t a “women’s issue”‘, that would be a degendering of the issue

Any particiular reason why?

(as well as not being true).

Because…?

326

Faustusnotes 01.31.17 at 3:37 am

Val your thing about J-D making more substantive comments was slimy and beneath you. You aren’t the police on this blog and it’s not necessary for you to be condescending like that.

327

J-D 01.31.17 at 7:17 am

engels

The reason that it is not true to say say ‘Abortion isn’t a women’s issue’ is that abortion is a women’s issue.

The reason that saying ‘Abortion isn’t a women’s issue’ is a degendering of the issue is that denying that abortion is a women’s issue is denying the gendered aspect of the issue.

The burden of laws criminalising abortion or obstructing legal access to it, or of social constraints on it, does not fall on people in a way that is independent of their gender; the impact varies with gender, and so the issue is a gendered issue.

Is there some part of this you’re disputing?

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Val 01.31.17 at 9:35 am

@326
I don’t think I was being slimy or condescending, I think I was just wrong. I thought J-D was nit-picking about something that was easy to understand, but it turns out from his further comment that he genuinely didn’t understand. As he said elsewhere, sometimes things that seem obvious to one person are not at all obvious to another.

Nevertheless I think J-D does sometimes focus on small details too much, when he could make more substantive comments. I think his more substantive comments are interesting. Anyway it was an exchange between us, so I guess J-D can say if he thought it condescending. If anything, I was ‘policing’ ZM earlier about not using quotation marks (because it is something that bugs me) but I’ve apologised to her about that already.

329

Val 01.31.17 at 9:35 am

Btw I’m not avoiding engels’ question, just thinking about it.

330

J-D 01.31.17 at 10:46 am

Val

Anyway it was an exchange between us, so I guess J-D can say if he thought it condescending.

Since you raise the point (and only since you raise the point), I was not offended. Probably my main reaction was amusement. Perhaps that seems condescending. I hope not.

I think J-D does sometimes focus on small details

True, and therefore, why (in reference to me) ‘his’ and ‘he’? Are you jumping to conclusions?
(Or is that perhaps not such a small detail?)

331

Val 01.31.17 at 11:06 am

engels, I think J-D has said it pretty well. You can talk about abortion as an issue affecting women, or a human rights issue (because women are human), or an issue affecting both women and men (because it does affect men also). But if you tried to talk about it as a human rights issue that affected men and women identically, without acknowledging that it has a particular impact on women, that would be ‘de-gendering’ and it would be dishonest.

By the same token, John Holbo was talking about a specifically gendered protest symbol, the pussyhats, which were (amongst their other meanings that ZM quoted from the website) a protest about Trump assaulting women and treating them as sex objects. It was saying ‘yes women have sexual organs and we are sexual beings and we are also human beings with rights which we are exercising here’. By talking about this only in terms of purity – a concept which he specifically said to me could apply equally to the sanctity of men’s bodies as well as women’s – John Holbo was ignoring or eliding the key significance of gender in this protest, and the history of patriarchy and gender-based oppression which Trump represents.

As I said, this de-gendering move is like the term ‘identity politics’ in that it elides all the history and present day reality of power, oppression and resistance that is attached to gender and race, and makes them into a matter of mere ‘identities’, as if we are all neoliberal individuals, free to make choices in the market of identities, which are all equal.

332

Val 01.31.17 at 11:13 am

@ 330 – thought you said in a prior conversation that you were male (or maybe you said that you were not a woman, or something like that).

333

ZM 01.31.17 at 11:23 am

Val,

J-D has done this to me as well, he thinks he can just pretend he might be male or female and no one can know as a rhetorical device in an argument sometimes if he wants to. I don’t know why.

334

John Holbo 01.31.17 at 11:32 am

“It was saying ‘yes women have sexual organs and we are sexual beings and we are also human beings with rights which we are exercising here’. By talking about this only in terms of purity – a concept which he specifically said to me could apply equally to the sanctity of men’s bodies as well as women’s – John Holbo was ignoring or eliding the key significance of gender in this protest, and the history of patriarchy and gender-based oppression which Trump represents.”

I would like to note for the record that this is false.

To say that there is an element of purity politics in the pussyhat phenomonenon is 1) true; 2) obviously not to elide or ignore the significance of gender in the protest. If something is both A and B and you mention it is A (in the context of a general discussion of A) there is no implication that it isn’t B. If I were to make a study of political marches in the US, and include the Women’s March in the data set, on the grounds that it was a march, that would not imply that the ‘Women’s’ part of ‘Women’s March’ was unimportant or insignificant. (It would be quite weird to exclude the march from the set, out of respect for women. That is, out of a desire not to downplay the role of gender, as opposed to marching, in the march.)

I have been pushing this bold thesis that one thing can have two different properties from fairly early in the thread. I consider it to be a very strong thesis.

335

Layman 01.31.17 at 12:17 pm

Val: “By talking about this only in terms of purity – a concept which he specifically said to me could apply equally to the sanctity of men’s bodies as well as women’s – John Holbo was ignoring or eliding the key significance of gender in this protest, and the history of patriarchy and gender-based oppression which Trump represents.”

I think this is both wrong and unfair to John Holbo. Every reader brings preconceptions to a text, and it strikes me that your preconceptions impute a ‘meaning’ to Holbo’s post for which there is no evidence he had any intention. Since he has several times now said as much, with no obvious effect on your claim, I’m inclined to agree with engels @ 297.

336

Val 01.31.17 at 12:24 pm

@334
If it’s a key element of the protest, and you analyse the protest without mentioning that key element, then that’s possibly “weird”.

I don’t think the concept of “purity politics” is convincing anyway. I did a it of reading about Haidt and the whole thing sounds pretty weak to me. At the least, correlation isn’t causation. So you seem to be using a non-convincing concept put forward by a right wing ideologue (arguably a right wing ideologue anyway) to analyse an important and clearly gendered protest in non-gendered terms. Why?

337

Jonathan Haidt 01.31.17 at 12:48 pm

Dear CT community:
I have posted my response to Holbo here:
http://righteousmind.com/how-not-to-improve-campus/

In brief: “I don’t say that the problem on campus is that there’s an absence of one or more FOUNDATIONS. I say, over and over again, that the decline in political diversity has led to a loss of institutionalized disconfirmation.”
So Holbo refutes a claim I do not make, and does not respond to my concern about the problems with politically purifying campuses.

338

Val 01.31.17 at 1:17 pm

Oops Professor Haidt, I presume you hadn’t seen my post when you wrote yours. I apologise for being rude (unfortunately I quite often am, always unintentionally). I’m not really familiar enough with your work to comment on it – I refrained from doing so before, should have kept on with that policy.

If you are still reading this, how would you describe your political position (even if you wouldn’t describe yourself as an “ideologue” since no one ever does), if you don’t mind me asking?

339

Val 01.31.17 at 1:20 pm

@ 335
I’m not attributing a ‘meaning’ to what John Holbo said, I’m saying he left the most important thing out.

340

engels 01.31.17 at 1:42 pm

Ok, I googled “abortion isn’t a women’s issue it’s a human rights ossue” and seems to get argued

-from the Right (people who think this ignores the interests of the foetus)
-by trans feminists (ignores fact women aren’t only people who can get pregnant and require abortions)
-by men (ignores men’s duty to defend abortion rights)
– by some feminists (ignores seriousness of rights violations of denying abortions)

The last last three of these at least certainly aren’t ‘denying the gendered aspect of the issue’ so I don’t think your opinion of the connotations of that rather elliptical statement is quite as obvious as you think it is JD.

My personal opinion is it would definitely be wrong to try to pretend women don’t generally have a greater interest in the right to safe legal abortions than men (I don’t think John denied this) but it isn’t wrong to discuss it in the abstract in terms of personhood and autonomy (iirc the most famous discussion of abortion in analytic philosophy, Judith Jarvis Thomson’s, does just this.) I don’t know whether this is ‘degendering’ or not but if it is then I think degendering is sometimes okay, and useful, in moral philosophy.

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John Holbo 01.31.17 at 2:13 pm

Hey, Jonathan Haidt showed up. How about that? Well, I’ll have to respond later.

342

John Holbo 01.31.17 at 2:25 pm

Val: “I don’t think the concept of “purity politics” is convincing anyway.”

You’re moving the goalposts something fierce, Val. You haven’t been arguing this whole time that my claims in the post are unconvincing. (By your own admission, you are largely unqualified to judge.) You have been maintaining – most fiercely, might I add – that the very fact that I made claims of that form was not just intellectually but morally illegitimate, whether the claims were true in themselves or not.

But if you want to argue that my ‘concept is unconvincing’ – weird phrase – well, then: convince me. Why is what I say wrong? I’m made my argument. It’s in the post and subsequent thread for all to see. What’s your counter-argument? (Don’t just say you are ‘unconvinced’. That’s not an argument and, besides, I obviously know already you are not convinced.)

343

Layman 01.31.17 at 4:00 pm

Val: “I’m not attributing a ‘meaning’ to what John Holbo said, I’m saying he left the most important thing out.”

I think you’ve gone further than that. In any event, I doubt you refrain from attributing meaning based on what you’ve written in this thread. If you say he made (in your view) a mistake, you imply a reason for that mistake, e.g. that he’s entrenched in male patriarchal thinking. When you express surprise that he doesn’t agree with your objection, you imply a reason for that, e.g. that his entrenchment is hopelessly blinding. If you say he did it deliberately, you imply a reason for that, e.g. that he’s engaged in a campaign to promote male patriarchal thinking. Whether you are right or wrong to think these things, you should at least acknowledge the consequences of what you’re claiming.

344

J-D 01.31.17 at 7:47 pm

Val

@ 330 – thought you said in a prior conversation that you were male (or maybe you said that you were not a woman, or something like that).

Then your memory deceives you. Memory plays tricks on people, I know — it does on me — but don’t you think it’s intriguing that it should play this particular trick on you?
Memory is playing tricks on ZM as well

J-D has done this to me as well, he thinks he can just pretend he might be male or female and no one can know as a rhetorical device in an argument sometimes if he wants to. I don’t know why.

This is not a fully accurate characterisation of our recent interaction, in which I observed that ZM does not know that I am not trans. ZM is obviously comfortable drawing conclusions about my gender identity (that I am cis and that I am male) even though I have made no explicit statements on the subject (affirmative or negative). I am not ‘pretending’ that I have made no explicit statements. I don’t know why ZM thinks avoiding explicit statements on the subject is ‘pretending’; most commenters here don’t make explicit statements about their gender identity, and why should they?

Obviously I can’t stop ZM (or anybody else) drawing conclusions about my gender identity, and true or false (and I’ve had experience of both) they don’t trouble me, but I think it’s only natural that I’m curious about how people draw these conclusions.

345

J-D 01.31.17 at 8:01 pm

engels

… I don’t think your opinion of the connotations of that rather elliptical statement is quite as obvious as you think it is JD.

Obvious? Did I assert that it was obvious? I did my best to spell my point out to you because it was apparent to me that it wasn’t obvious to you.

… (ignores fact women aren’t only people who can get pregnant and require abortions)
… (ignores men’s duty to defend abortion rights)
… (ignores seriousness of rights violations of denying abortions)

All of these points support the conclusion that abortion is not only a women’s issue (a conclusion I had already drawn; and at least some of those points were already in my mind). But ‘abortion is only a women’s issue’ (false) and ‘abortion is a women’s issue’ (true) are two different assertions.

My personal opinion is it would definitely be wrong to try to pretend women don’t generally have a greater interest in the right to safe legal abortions than men [i] … but it isn’t wrong to discuss it in the abstract in terms of personhood and autonomy [ii] …

Hence [i] it is a women’s issue and [ii] it isn’t only a women’s issue.

346

Val 01.31.17 at 8:49 pm

@ 342
I’m not talking about your concept, I’m talking about the concept you attribute to Jonathon Haidt, “purity” as a moral foundation and basis for political position (though from what I have read, he tends to use “sanctity” rather than purity, and his post above suggests he doesn’t agree with the general way you are using his concepts anyway in this discussion). I haven’t (as I acknowledge) read a lot about this (though more now than I had at the start of the discussion) and I don’t find the idea that you can use concepts such as ‘purity/sanctity’ to explain people’s political positions very convincing, for the reasons I discuss below.

I remember reading some reports of the earlier research about how conservatives feel more ‘disgust’ than progressives, or something like that, and being somewhat interested, but I think people’s political positions represent a combination of social circumstances and life experience (family, class, gender, education, etc) much more than personality (let alone ‘genetic’) factors. When I talk about correlation not equalling causation, I mean that conservatives may tend to experience more disgust (or be arguably more concerned about ‘purity/sanctity’) for the same reason they are conservatives, rather than one ‘causing’ the other.

I found the parts of Wilkinson about ‘moral polarisation’ interesting, but in fact you have not really focused on this either, in spite of the OP title. I do think it’s interesting, for example, how people sort themselves geographically, so that someone like me ends up in a very lefty/green area, without necessarily consciously having that as a criteria for where I chose to live. You seem, however, to be focusing on the ‘moral foundations’ analysis, and particularly the concept of purity, rather than moral polarisation as such. Prof Haidt claims you’re interpreting him wrongly here and his opposition to PC on campus is about the lack of diverse opinions rather than the moral foundations as such (I looked at the Heterodix Academy site, and I do think it’s about promoting right wing views rather than diversity as such – eg there was an article about a paper on PC vs ‘free speech’ in Australian campuses by the IPA, about which I do know something, particularly that the IPA is a lobby group financed – when they used to publish such details, which they no longer do – by right wing business interests), however leaving that to one side, I think the concept of ‘political purity’ that you are using has a weak analytical basis, if I may put it that way. Thus my question remains, why are you using a concept that appears to have a weak analytic basis, and appears (at least in the case of Prof Haidt’s Heterodox Academy) to be associated with right wing ideology, to discuss pussyhats?

Even if you had simply said that you were interested in these ideas, and in addition to acknowledging that you chose “pussyhats and protest” as an illustrative example because they were topical (which you did say) had also said that of course there were much more important issues involved in the pussyhat protest, but this just happened to be one you were interested in, it would be less annoying from a feminist perspective. I still think it’s a misguided and somewhat offensive frame, because of the connotations of ‘purity’ as discussed earlier, but it would have been a recognition at least that your particular interest here was a bit of a side issue to more important issues. Would it hurt you, or be intellectually wrong, to acknowledge this and give your feminist interlocutors a bit of credit, instead of trying to dismiss us?

Layman @ 343 – the fact that a feminist criticises a male blogger doesn’t mean they are necessarily saying ‘you represent all the evils of patriarchy’ – could be saying ‘this seems a bit insensitive’. As I’ve mentioned before, I got criticised once by an Indigenous woman I’d written about in my MA, because she thought I’d used her information insensitively. I didn’t say ‘how dare you accuse me of being racist’, I said ‘oh sorry, that wasn’t what I meant’ and explained what I was trying to do, after which she re-read the draft and decided she was ok with it. I’m not suggesting that could happen here, because I’ve re-read JH’s post a number of times already, but I think if he could bring himself to acknowledge my concerns rather than just dismissing them or saying they’re wrong, it would be a step forward.

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engels 01.31.17 at 9:39 pm

All of these points support the conclusion that abortion is not only a women’s issue

True, but that wasn’t the point I was making (implicature of the clause ‘abortion isn’t a “women’s issue”‘, which you seem to think—contra those refs—contains a denial that women’s interests are at stake…) But as usual this getting pretty tedious…

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engels 01.31.17 at 10:31 pm

I suppose we could do a straw poll (if it isn’t OT): how many people here would think reporting am acquaintance for stealing a sandwich from Tesco say was the right thing to do?

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Z 01.31.17 at 10:41 pm

Jonathan Haidt’s appearance and courteous invitation has had a weird effect on me. I went to his website, read his counter-arguments, clicked on a link and ended up listening to a one hour talk of him on the topic. And then… You know this proverbial, progressive, white guy who turns to the alt-right because he is too fed up with the crap from SJW? Well, I became that guy. I come from, work within and identify with an academic tradition that has a much more jacobinic attitude to the topic than the American one and whose answer to change in the curricula/demands for safe space/trigger warning etc. has been until now “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else, if you stay, shut up, and by the way, what were your grade at the last partials again?” After an hour of Haidt, I was half tempted to raise my hand at the end in favor of the SJW University in the sham poll he conducted (and felt that not all was lost when a member of the audience interjected “no show of hands against false dichotomies”).

In a mildly ironic turn, the motto he chose for his paradigmatic SJW University (the one whose telos is supposedly social justice) was the last of Marx’s theses on Feuerbach. As my parody above recalls, it takes about 60 seconds to read the original, OK two and half minutes if you don’t read German and want to double check alternative translations of German words you are unfamiliar with, so about this amount of time to see that in context “Philosophers have until now only interpreted the world; the point is to change it” does not mean “Yay for Social Justice” and that the other 10 theses may have something to say about the practice of institutionalized disconfirmation (the theses are about Feuerbach for God’s sake, but perhaps that doesn’t mean anything to him). So I am tempted to believe that Haidt never got to intellectually engage with anyone who understood (or perhaps even read) Marx (he also seems to imply that they were written in London, but I’ll let that pass). Live by the sword, die by the sword, I guess. I suggest a remedial course in intellectual diversity myself.

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J-D 01.31.17 at 10:47 pm

engels

I find it helpful to treat the word ‘only’ as making a significant distinction, and so I find it appropriate to treat ‘abortion isn’t a women’s issue’ as meaning ‘abortion isn’t only a women’s issue’. Also, given that it’s agreed that women’s interests are at stake when abortion is under discussion, I find it appropriate to state that abortion is a women’s issue and therefore misleading to state that abortion is not a women’s issue.

If you find the discussion tedious, I should have thought there was an obvious solution available to you.

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engels 01.31.17 at 10:57 pm

Apologies the above comment was intended for another thread—feel free to delete.

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Ronan(rf) 01.31.17 at 11:11 pm

I thought JD was male. I assumed it because s/he communicated, and or thought, in ways that were identifiably (to me) “masculine.” Is it wrong to think there are, on average, differences in behaviour between men and women , and with no other information we can generalise from these heuristics? This is implicitly accepted by most identity politics (ie white, middle class, men are more likely to do x) so why isn’t such assuming okay in these kinds of contexts , where identity isn’t obvious ?

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John Holbo 01.31.17 at 11:12 pm

Val, why aren’t political polarization and moral psychology important enough, in your view, that I can write about them, if I find them interesting, without apologizing for the fact? Why is it insensitive for me to find these topics interesting enough for a blog post?

“I still think it’s a misguided and somewhat offensive frame, because of the connotations of ‘purity’”

Is it ‘misguided and offensive’ for me to say the things I do about purity even if they are true? Or only if they are false? You say that you think the concept is weak analytically, but your analysis consists of privately consulting your own (rather vague) sense of the connotations of what I say, rather than considering … well, the denotations. You haven’t troubled to consider whether what I say is true or false. (Or if you have, you haven’t troubled to tell us your thoughts in this thread.) Do you really feel it is sufficiently analytic to say, in effect, ‘Holbo’s post kind of rubs me the wrong way, for reasons I can’t put my finger on, therefore it’s misguided and offensive’?

You fret that I am not giving you credit, dismissing you, but what else can I do, given the preliminary (I’m using the kindest word possible) quality of your critique? This is the problem I mentioned earlier: you are asking me to assume – without argument – that my own post is misguided and offensive. I don’t mind someone making an argument that I am wrong, but it is a bit much to be asked simply to assume I am fundamentally in the wrong, intellectually and morally. It’s basic intellectual courtesy to tell your debate partner where he/she has gone wrong, if you are going to accuse him/her of serious error/offense.

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John Holbo 01.31.17 at 11:44 pm

Also, lest I be misunderstood on the subject of ‘basic intellectual courtesy’, two thoughts:

1) the reason for it – for giving other people your reasons rather than just asserting they are wrong, and expecting them to take it on faith – is that anything less is just intellectually useless.

2) Val seems sincerely bothered that I don’t extend her some credit and charity, in making her critiques. My view of this matter is purely reciprocal. Val would never dream of extending that level of courtesy to me. That’s fine. (If only she had arguments.) But it means I regard my own duties in that regard as negligible. This is just elementary interlocutory safety. If you are charitable to someone who won’t be charitable to you, you’ll never get out. In a live discussion, charity is not a virtue unless both sides are willing to uphold it.

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John Holbo 01.31.17 at 11:50 pm

Thanks for that, Z, I myself am bemused by Haidt’s appearance and am contemplating a proper response. There is a through the looking-glass (or through the fiery brook! As Marx would say!) quality to the thing.

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Layman 01.31.17 at 11:54 pm

Val: “…but I think if he could bring himself to acknowledge my concerns rather than just dismissing them or saying they’re wrong…”

I don’t know what this means. If he thinks you are wrong, and argues that you’re wrong, he’s acknowledged your concerns. How could he discuss them without acknowledging them? I think you mean that you want him to agree with your concerns – that’s what you mean by ‘acknowledge’ – but that’s just a guess.

Also, I’m done. I weighed in with the hope that more voices might give you some cause to reconsider. If not, never mind.

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engels 01.31.17 at 11:58 pm

Is it wrong to think there are, on average, differences in behaviour between men and women , and with no other information we can generalise from these heuristics? This is implicitly accepted by most identity politics

Val-style identity politics is very different to the newer ‘you can’t tell me what gender I am online’ progressivism—possibly they’re diametrically opposed.

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engels 02.01.17 at 12:05 am

If you find the discussion tedious, I should have thought there was an obvious solution available to you.

There is.

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Val 02.01.17 at 12:31 am

@ 353
Ah well, maybe you and Prof Haidt can agree that I am one of those poor benighted snowflake students who have been conned by PC into thinking that things are offensive when they are not ‘objectively’, by ‘reasonable standards’ offensive. At least I will have brought you two together (and if you think that’s not a good outcome, well …)

– remembering of course that the reason I first bought into this was not that I found your OP deeply offensive, but when you were so rude to saurs, I looked at it again and thought, yeah, maybe there is some dodgy stuff here.

@357
“Val-style identity politics” – this is possibly the most ridiculous statement I have ever read on CT. Congratulations.

And ‘pace engels’ but I do have a PhD thesis to finish, in fact , so I am going to sign out and try very hard not to get involved in these conversations again until after 30 June.

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J-D 02.01.17 at 1:02 am

Ronan(rf)
As I observed above, I have no objection to people drawing conclusions about my gender identity (true ones or false ones). I’m just curious (and surely that’s natural?) about the basis for them. I communicate and/or think in ways that are (to you) identifiably masculine? but what are those?

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Ronan(rf) 02.01.17 at 1:20 am

I think your rhetorical style, which some might interpret as pedantic and others extremely logical, strikes me as masculine. I also thought you once spoke about being a father, but perhaps you said parent. I guess the way you spoke about parenting made me assume your gender.

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John Holbo 02.01.17 at 1:25 am

Layman’s way of putting it is better, and briefer, than mine: demanding acknowledgement is one thing, demanding agreement is another.

“but when you were so rude to saurs, I looked at it again and thought, yeah, maybe there is some dodgy stuff here.”

Well, if you ever manage to put your finger on what bits are dodgy, feel free to report back. After June 30, if necessary. I’m sure there will be some open thread then.

As to the Saurs thing – geez, of course I was rude to Saurs. What else would I be to someone that rude? (I have admitted Saurs is only a part-time troll. But she IS a part-time troll.) When I see that kind of stuff, I come down hard lest the comment thread go to hell. Rather than to purgatory, where we currently dwell, I trust we agree. If you want to defend Saurs’ early contributions on the merits – knock yourself out! But, yes, I would recommend getting back to your diss instead.

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engels 02.01.17 at 2:03 am

John, I could be wrong but I think the problem is that saying the women’s march was about ‘purity’ comes across as quite condescending and dismissive of it, and perhaps of feminist politics generally. If you’d applied the analysis across a range of political issues I assume no one would have interpreted it that way. Also, given that laws against rape were traditionally intended to protect a woman’s ‘purity’ (hence why marital rape and rapes of sex workers weren’t prosecuted) you could be misread perhaps as insinuating that political concern with rape is motivated patriarchal ideology, rather than women’s autonomy as human beings—something which many people would find offensive, although it is doubtless not what you meant. (I didn’t agree with the ‘degendering’ critique, as I said.)

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kidneystones 02.01.17 at 2:14 am

Hi John, This will be my comment for the week and is, I hope, generic enough to apply to issues broadly under discussion on a variety of threads: the new administration and what to do about it. I enjoyed the OP, your call for ACLU membership, and your ability to usually get past the chaff.

First, the polling since the suspension of visas/temporary ban on entry of the seven nations identified by the Obama administration as ‘countries of concern.’ Most Americans support the administration policy.

Second, Outrage fatigue. Pretty much everyone, including you I fear, has failed to understand that we are now living in American Apprentice: Oval Office Edition. Each week the contestant undergoes a series of challenges. The election and the non-stop hyperbolic outrage (should have) confirmed that plenty of people (enough to make a difference) tuned pundits out a long time ago, I reckon sometime between ‘Mission Accomplished’ and ‘If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.’ Trump supporters delight in watching bubble-head celebrity pundits and other performers cry crocodile tears from the inside of their gated lifestyles for people safely kept on the other side of their walls and patrolled security perimeters. Many of these celebrities can afford to travel with an armed entourage of guards. Madonna is worth 530 million. I’ve no idea whether Trump put her on stage last weekend, but I’m certain he wants her to remain one of the faces of celebrity outrage. Hey lookee! I’m adopting twins from Malawi!

3. Third, what to do about it all. Henry produced an excellent critique of what’s wrong with the Labour party several weeks ago, in which he raised the troubling question of the staying power and impact of affluent lefty members many of whom had never knocked on doors, or attended an actual meeting. There is a substantial core of left-leaning Americans who are opposed to Trump and to many of the policies of the establishment, including income inequality. Some on the left have suggested a left-wing Tea Party. For that to work, Democrats would have to, you know, actually get and meet some aggrieved white folks. Given that a great many (here) seem to find the notion of the aggrieved white voter as ‘normalizing’ white nationalism, and that a majority of Americans support Trump policies despite the outrage, I suggest that any notion of a sustained grass-roots movement against Trump is an extension of the delusions that have gripped the left for far too long. Trump stole the Democratic white base, destroyed the GOP establishment, and is now in the process of building a new coalition of independents and politically rebellious. This movement is unlikely to be derailed by protests, or by hysterical headlines.

The election (should have) taught us that much. For those sincerely interested in breaking out of the bubble: try volunteering with the poor, even if that means going for a drive to get there. I’m sure many already do.

Finally, chaff. When Steve Bannon insists he be quoted, that’s probably one comment all best ignore. If you don’t know how chaff functions, and how and why it’s deployed you need to find out. Not all noise is the same. I see no evidence whatsoever that the media, or the Dems have learned how to disengage from their assigned roles in American Apprentice: Oval Office Edition.

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stevenjohnson 02.01.17 at 4:00 am

Followed the link from Haidt. So far as any debate on the OP is concerned, the equivocations in the term PC have sterilized it of meaning. PC in its original sense is a demeaning way to refer to leftism, implying positions are held by in order to appease party superiors, rather than from conviction. Technically, it can mean mindless repetition of conservative opinions, but only evilly disposed ironists use it that way. In practice of course, given the absence of a left in the only meaningful sense of a Party, PC as a purely social practice means disapproving the use of vicious stereotypical insults. As such, PC is part of the civil discourse Haidt claims to favor. Therefore, his crusade against PC means he does not.

The most amusing part is how when Haidt disavows any notion that he ever complained about the foundations playing a role in the stifling of opinion on campus, he is implicitly disavowing his theories. Since his theories are supposed to be his expertise and authority, without it all we have left is a dude who thinks that somehow universities once had institutional disconfirmation. The very phrase stinks of Popperism, a sign of an inferior mind. Even worse, the notion that business schools, schools of divinity, law schools have been politically open so that they have operated as operational disconfirmation is pretty straight up insane. What Haidt wants is for the right(wing) politics to dominate everywhere in academia.

Haidt wrote “But do we want everyone to share the same presuppositions when it comes to the study of race, class, gender, inequality, evolution, or history?” Yes, actually, we do not want swindlers who pretend that race is a biologically meaningful category; classes do not exist; gender is biologically given; that some categories of people are unequal; that evolution is effectively the Hand of God (even, or perhaps especially if you’re not religious!); history cannot display any lawful behavior. These propositions are stupid and ignorant, the equivalents on politically significant issues to Flat Earthism he pretends to reject.

The ancient Romans, when a military unit failed miserably, invoked decimation to improve the performance. That was sparing nine men, then slaying the tenth. But they were a genial band of optimists. It is the Haidts of the world who teach us the academy’s performance could profit instead by anti-decimation: Slaying nine men and sparing the tenth. Why the Haidts want Roman efficiency is a mystery. These people should be the first to want PC, because it would be PC to instead consider them one long argument against tenure…which they’ve won.

Incidentally, if you scroll down to other posts, there a link to a demented cartoon which manages to attribute political positions to genes, but omits anything like having a rich parent or a lesbian sister or a lover from a minority or…Haidt actually thinks this sort of thing makes his approach look good!

(Most of the thread seems to have been devoted to the usefulness of the term “tribalism” when it refers to phenomena that have little or no resemblance to what have been called “tribes” in the real world or about…well, I’m not sure, but I tend to think it has nothing to do with the OP.)

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engels 02.01.17 at 7:07 am

Most of the thread seems to have been devoted to … well, I’m not sure but I tend to think it has nothing to do with the OP.

Shorter: saying the Women’s March on Washington was about ‘purity’ offended people. Only tangentially connected to the OP, but not unreasonable imo.

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Layman 02.01.17 at 12:33 pm

kidneystones: “First, the polling since the suspension of visas/temporary ban on entry of the seven nations identified by the Obama administration as ‘countries of concern.’ Most Americans support the administration policy.”

Must every kidneystones comment be framed around a falsehood? The Ipsos / Reuters poll shows that 48% – less than a majority and surely not ‘most’ – support the ban. Furthermore, only 31% say the ban will improve security, which means that a substantial number of supporters have other reasons for supporting the ban. Only 38% say that the ban is a good example of how best to combat terrorism. Put another way, a good many people who support the ban do so for reasons that have nothing to do with safety or security or combatting terrorism. It’s not hard to imagine what those reasons are.

http://www.ipsos-na.com/download/pr.aspx?id=16379

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Kiwanda 02.01.17 at 5:25 pm

Engels:

saying the Women’s March on Washington was about ‘purity’ offended people.

That’s a very strong “about”.
–> “saying that one thing at the Women’s March (pussyhats) related to one thing about Trump (grabbing…) which related to one thing about sexual assault (violation) which related to `purity’ offended people”.

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J-D 02.01.17 at 10:30 pm

kidneystones

Trump supporters delight in watching bubble-head celebrity pundits and other performers cry crocodile tears from the inside of their gated lifestyles for people safely kept on the other side of their walls and patrolled security perimeters.

Obviously Trump supporters delight in watching Trump, and people like Trump, or they wouldn’t be Trump supporters; but somehow I suspect you haven’t realised what a good description of Trump you’ve just given.

Finally, chaff. When Steve Bannon insists he be quoted, that’s probably one comment all best ignore. If you don’t know how chaff functions, and how and why it’s deployed you need to find out.

No close follower of your comments could be unaware of chaff.

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John Holbo 02.02.17 at 1:45 am

“John, I could be wrong but I think the problem is that saying the women’s march was about ‘purity’ comes across as quite condescending and dismissive of it, and perhaps of feminist politics generally. If you’d applied the analysis across a range of political issues I assume no one would have interpreted it that way.”

Well, I guess – looking on the bright side – my point that purity-thinking is everywhere, but we tend not to see it, is consistent with (although not strictly confirmed by) the strong resistance my frame has provoked in various quarters. Reread my exchange with Sebastian, way upthread (it starts in the 50’s). You might put it this way: we have a good liberal tendency to think that harm/no-harm and fair/unfair are trumps (except that word has been tainted now, sadly.) So we are all very well trained to cast and couch our claims in those terms. We want the marches to be about justice not some purity ritual expression of tribal solidarity. And so they are! One thing can be two things. Yet if you can say ‘those protesters are being tribal’ that may feel like a dismissal, a reason to disvalue their justice claims. This is fallacy. The proper response to this is not that they are NOT being tribal, NOT enacting a kind of ritual expression of values of purity – they plainly are. Rather, the proper response is that everyone is always mixed up in this stuff all the time. Pointing out that someone is expressing tribal loyalties, in their political actions, is kind of like pointing out someone is breathing. The question isn’t ‘who is focusing on justice rather than messing about with expressive tribalism and purity-mindedness’? The question is: ‘whose tribe is fighting for justice?’

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Layman 02.02.17 at 2:28 am

“The question isn’t ‘who is focusing on justice rather than messing about with expressive tribalism and purity-mindedness’? The question is: ‘whose tribe is fighting for justice?’”

Yes, precisely.

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.17 at 3:22 am

“If something is both A and B and you mention it is A (in the context of a general discussion of A) there is no implication that it isn’t B. “

Sure, but the question again is why is A(the purity aspect)important. To say there’s an element of purity politics in the pussyhat phenomenon is true, but trivially so. To say politics is tribal is also true, perhaps sometimes useful,but most often not. This seems to me the problem with a lot of the social physchology of politics dogma, it really doesn’t ever tell us anything important.
Put it like this. At one stage “signalling” used to be a semi technical term (I assume) used by game theorists (I think) to tell us interesting, but careful, things about politics etc. But now it’s a catchall term for any behaviour that an onlooker finds objectionable. Say I go and run a marathon for cancer research, and stick an “end cancer” avatar up on my Twitter account, and publicly try to get people to support my cause , so on and so forth. I’m obviously engaging in virtue signalling, to some extent. But what useful thing does concentrating on my virtue signalling tell us? Why is the A (the virtue signalling, the purity politics, the tribalism etc) more important than the B? My impression is concentrating on the As is just getting bogged down in trivialities, and missing the more factors at play.
I really don’t see what analytical use “politics is tribal/people signal/groups police purity etc” serves. It’s little more than common sense + rhetoric .

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John Holbo 02.02.17 at 4:00 am

“Sure, but the question again is why is A(the purity aspect)important. To say there’s an element of purity politics in the pussyhat phenomenon is true, but trivially so. To say politics is tribal is also true, perhaps sometimes useful,but most often not.”

It’s important if someone is denying the trivial truth – and not because they think it’s trivial but because they maintain it’s false, even offensive to suggest any such thing. (Saurs, Val, WLGR, others, in this thread.) Anyone who can’t see an obvious truth – even when it’s 4+ million marchers strong! – won’t be much use for non-obvious truth-finding – should we ever even manage to stagger on to that admittedly crucial next stage!

But I don’t think it’s trivial, in any case, to say that politics is tribal. See, again, my reference to the new Achens and Bartels “Democracy For Realists” book. You might agree or disagree with their findings, but I hardly think they are trivial, either way. Alarming would be closer to it.

“I’m obviously engaging in virtue signalling, to some extent. But what useful thing does concentrating on my virtue signalling tell us?”

Read Achens and Bartels, would be my advice, for starters.

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engels 02.02.17 at 7:37 am

everyone is always mixed up in this stuff all the time. Pointing out that someone is expressing tribal loyalties, in their political actions, is kind of like pointing out someone is breathing

That a predicate applies to a range of subjects doesn’t mean it’s equally salient in each case. With the far Right on the rise, right now seems like a singularly bad moment to be reminding people of your putative anthropological constant, that all politics involves desires for in-group conformity and antipathy to outsiders…

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.17 at 9:28 am

I haven’t read A & Bs book yet, but if they can answer these questions I’ll be a happy man. I do think there’s a difference between the sort of empirical social science achen & bartels do, and the handwaving about in group out group, moral orders,and life on the Savannah, that you get from social psychologists.
But I’ll read it first and report back.

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John Holbo 02.02.17 at 11:42 am

“right now seems like a singularly bad moment to be reminding people of your putative anthropological constant, that all politics involves desires for in-group conformity and antipathy to outsiders”

Yes, I can see that. But I don’t think this sentiment from the post is utterly out of tune:

“we should try hard to understand both the mechanisms behind polarization and how – someday – we might get to a better place.”

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casmilus 02.02.17 at 12:42 pm

“I really don’t see what analytical use “politics is tribal/people signal/groups police purity etc” serves. “

It deflates the pretensions of agents who pose as the rational & disjnterested opponents of the irrational archaic tribal loyalists.

How powerful that is as a debating point depends on which debate it is advanced in. Against Randians and “New Athiests”, it cuts badly, and they detest it. Against “the left”, its impact seems proportional to how far the target identifies as “liberal”. Against Trumpians and similar movements it would have no force whatever, since they already identify as acting in defence of their tribes.

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casmilus 02.02.17 at 12:47 pm

Observing others’ virtue-signalling is itself a variety of virtue-signalling. You signal that you are “hard-headed” and “not taken in”. Which in practice correlates strongly with uncritically accepting all kinds of libertarian/New Right drivel.

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.17 at 1:08 pm

That’s a rhetorical use though, not analytical. I mean there are numerous ways to talk about group Id driving politics , or preferences being driven by group socialisation , that don’t revert to this tribal nonsense.
Unfortunately a generation of social psychologists have convinced themselves that the savannah at the dawn of man is the most useful comparative case study for contemporary politics.

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.17 at 1:10 pm

“Observing others’ virtue-signalling is itself a variety of virtue-signalling. You signal that you are “hard-headed” and “not taken in”. “

I agree. One thing I’ve noticed from twitter is that those most vehemently opposed to virtue signalling are also the demographic who engage in the practice most often.

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stevenjohnson 02.02.17 at 1:25 pm

“With the far Right on the rise, right now seems like a singularly bad moment to be reminding people of your putative anthropological constant, that all politics involves desires for in-group conformity and antipathy to outsiders…” I’m not following the logic. Seeking common ground is always a logical step in making peace with new forces.

After reading Achens and Bartels, the next step is reading Jason Brennan Against Democracy. A critique of that will serve to signal “liberal” sentiment.

To speak less satircally, Achens and Bartels are not available in library loan where I live. When I contemplate seeing how cheap the used is on Amazon, I hesitate. For some inexplicable reason I am completely convinced their study of the engagment and knowledge of the wretched masses omits all episodes of quasi-revolutionary, pre-revolutionary and revolutionary ferment. And I’m strongly suspicious they will have very little international comparison. They might have US historical perspective. Maybe.

The ruling class likes to post snipers in the ivory tower, ready to take a shot at the unruly tiny ideas scurrying around out there, like ants looking for the kitchen.

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casmilus 02.02.17 at 3:54 pm

@380

Matthew Parris had a comment long ago, about people who strongly disliked AIDS ribbons always wore the biggest poppies every November.

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engels 02.02.17 at 4:49 pm

Against Trumpians and similar movements it would have no force whatever, since they already identify as acting in defence of their tribes.

This is connected with what I’ve been saying. For the Right, chauvinism, authority and hierarchy are part of what they want, for the Left, they’re things we have to work with.

Btw there’s been tonnes of thought and writing about this issue going back centuries on the Left. What exactly is the relationship between our universal values and the class politics which will bring them about? And how does the abstract idea of the proletariat relate to actual struggles which are local and particular in nature? Like Ronan, I don’t find ‘aren’t we all a bit tribal though really?’ a very useful approach to it.

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John Holbo 02.02.17 at 10:39 pm

“For some inexplicable reason I am completely convinced”

Don’t sell yourself short, stevenjohnson, it might not be as inexplicable as you think!

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J-D 02.02.17 at 11:53 pm

I find it helpful to treat the word ‘only’ as making a significant distinction, and so I find it appropriate to treat ‘abortion isn’t a women’s issue’ as meaning ‘abortion isn’t only a women’s issue’.
Whoops! I blundered there. I meant ‘I find it appropriate to treat “abortion isn’t a women’s issue” as meaning something different from “abortion isn’t only a women’s issue”. With that correction, the rest of the comment follows as written.

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