Purity, Partisanship, Pluralism

by John Holbo on February 7, 2017

A lifetime ago – in subjective Trump-time! – I made a post about how pussyhats are potent symbols. Social justice! Purity politics. Sacred values. This seems obvious to me. Then again, as a young man they made me read Durkheim. (There’s a myth about the U of Chicago: they make you read all Plato-Thucydides-Tocqueville, all the time, your first year. In my experience they had so many darn anthropologists, many of us spent our first year reading Geertz, Boas, Benedict, Levy-Bruhl, others. Not anything Allan Bloom might have approved for our tender-minded consumption. Anthropologists are mad, you see, so keep them busy lest they make trouble. They were tasked with instilling ‘core values’ in the young: relativism! Yes, yes, Durkheim is a structural functionalist. Close enough for scandalizing rubes and maroons! Ah, mid-80’s memories.)

The point of my pussyhat example was to to illustrate my allegations about blindspots and contradictions in Jonathan Haidt’s popular writings on the subject of partisanship, PC and pluralism. Things got hot in comments. (Not everyone has read Durkheim, it must be.) Then Haidt showed up in comments (Crooked Timber gets results!) He linked to a post he made, rebutting mine. So now I’m going to rebut the rebuttal.

A word before we dive in: I feel weirdly time-warped, engaging the classic Kulturkampf ‘conservatives in academe?’ issue, in February, 2017. There aren’t more than a handful in Congress; and none in the White House. Trumpism reigns! Why expect conservatives to show up in academe and only academe, apparently? Nevertheless, I’ve been personally engaged by Haidt’s ideas for a long time, and he did respond. I do feel these issues are relevant to American politics. I think it’s good to think about empirical evidence concerning the character of partisanship, in US politics in particular. And about the normative status of partisan impulses and forms. If addressing such topics seems to you misguided, even profane (some commenters to my previous post took this pious line), I can’t think the rest of this post will please you. (Don’t blame me if I make fun of you in comments, if you take that line!)

On we go!

In his post, responding to mine, Haidt made two rejoinders.

First: “Holbo seems to think that if you were to start with a campus faculty entirely composed of non-authoritarian progressives … and then you added in some authoritarian progressives, who punish dissent on their most sacred issues, you would improve the campus ecology.”

No. This is a complete misreading of my post. I constructed this absurd line as a reductio ad absurdum on Haidt’s own position. If Haidt’s ideas lead to this, his logic has slipped. Not my bright idea. His.

This brings me to Haidt’s second rejoinder: he thinks his own position is not contradictory but a sensible and rather mild-mannered conjunction of empirical results and a Millian normative premise. See his recent paper. (There’s a nice bullet-point summary of its main points at the link.)

The argument in that paper admittedly doesn’t sound much like the thing I indicted in my post. Nothing there about Moral Foundations. Haidt is one of five co-authors; the paper as a whole does not mention, let alone presuppose, Haidt’s pet moral theory. The article consists substantially of collected/presented data about political affiliations/attitudes of social psychologists (not many conservatives, turns out!) And, based on the data, normative concerns about how and why the notable skews could be a problem when psychologists study matters about which liberals and conservatives are known to have deep, ideological disagreements. And some proposals – some quite modest, some less so. The article opens with a famous tag from Mill, which – in his post responding to me – Haidt expands to full (not famous but pretty darn well-known!) passage length. It’s from On Liberty, of course:

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.

Haidt sums up his own post: “We don’t care about balance. We don’t need every view to be represented. We just want to break up orthodoxy. Is that illogical?”

It doesn’t sound awfully illogical, no. Maybe not convincing, but not like what I attributed to him in my post. So it looks like I’m making stuff up! Charging him unfairly!

Dear reader, I’m not. The blindspots and contradictions I highlight are evident – and take the form I say they do – in his most recent book, The Righteous Mind. They are especially glaring in this TED Talk from a few years back, which is pretty much Righteous Mind material, TED-ed up (or down, YMMMV.)

Let me just make my argument again, this time with quotes from Haidt himself to back me up. (If you haven’t read my first presentation, in the earlier post, feel free to do so, but I won’t just repeat that presentation since evidently it didn’t work the first time.)

Let me try to be orderly about it.

Premise 1: Haidt’s Moral Foundation Theory is well-supported.

By the time we gets to the bits of The Righteous Mind I think go right off the rails, Haidt is working within this framework he favors. It’s basically a descriptive, psychological theory. Read the Wikipedia article for a summary, if you don’t want to bother to read Haidt himself (which would probably be the responsible thing to do.) I don’t have a major problem with this first step. I’m not sure I buy this picture of six foundation values, but it makes a certain amount of sense. It’s well worth thinking about. Indeed, it’s because I think so that I think everything past this point is even worth bothering with. I tend to think that Haidt is either right or exactly wrong about most things he says. (This is not because he’s perverse, merely that I tend to accept the categories of his thinking, but not his thinking.) In the exactly wrong cases, I can often negate, invert, or perform some other reverse-engineering of his thoughts and get something that isn’t broken any more, by my lights. (Haidt gets a lot of hate, for being a TED-style simplifier, which he is. But he gets a lot right, I think.) Now we get to several such exactly wrong bits. It’s going to look and sound like I’m flogging a dead horse, but I think of it as extracting useful bits that were tragically mis-assembled in the original.

Premise 2: Liberals suffer from a sacredness gap.

I’m going to say that because it’s punchier than ‘liberals suffer from a purity/authority/loyalty gap’; more intuitive than an acronym like, ‘liberals suffer from a PAL gap.’ (America knows NTSC is the one true way!)

Here is Haidt from The Righteous Mind, summarizing some earlier stuff that he is now expanding: “In the remainder of the essay I advised Democrats to stop dismissing conservatism as a pathology and start thinking about morality beyond care and fairness. I urged them to close the sacredness gap between the two parties by making greater use of the Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity foundations, not just in their “messaging,” but in how they think about public policy and the best interests of the nation.”

There you have it. His idea, not some thing I slapped on him artificially. (I honestly didn’t remember that he used that very phrase himself until I went back and checked; when I made my first post I dubbed it ‘purity gap’, I think.) Haidt definitely says this thing. He also definitely thinks it’s normatively vital to close the gap. Another quote:

“Until Democrats understand the Durkheimian vision of society and the difference between a six-foundation morality and a three-foundation morality, they will not understand what makes people vote Republican.”

I’ve read Emile Durkheim and you, sir, are no true Durkheimian!

Let me start with why Haidt is wrong even to credit this gap.

In his TED talk on liberalism and conservatism, he asks a (somewhat rhetorical) question (classic TED!): how did our ancestors manage to get it together as well as they did, the last 10,000 years?

The answer, I think, is that they used every tool in the toolbox. It took all of our moral psychology to create these cooperative groups. Yes, you do need to be concerned about harm, you do need a psychology of justice. But it really helps to organize a group if you can have sub-groups, and if those sub-groups have some internal structure, and if you have some ideology that tells people to suppress their carnality, to pursue higher, nobler ends. And now we get to the crux of the disagreement between liberals and conservatives. Because liberals reject three of these foundations. They say “No, let’s celebrate diversity, not common in-group membership.” They say, “Let’s question authority.” And they say, “Keep your laws off my body.”

OK, we are already waaay off. ‘Keep your laws off my body’ is a fine counter-example to what he is saying, not an appropriate illustration of it. ‘Keep your laws off my body’ is effective rhetoric because it super-charges the autonomy/no-harm values with an overlay of profane/sacred. To a first approximation, any time someone says ‘keep your x off my y,’ as a slogan, they are constructing a dirty/clean dichotomy. Also high/low. ‘Keep your laws off my body’ challenges conservative law-makers to shrug off the heavy hint that they are dirty, no-account low-lifes, unfit to associate with decent folk. ‘Your laws’ rhymes with ‘your paws’. It’s a nice bit of table-turning on Republican taste in legislation-as-slut-shaming. Republicans need to learn to suppress their bad, carnal desire to suppress women’s sexual autonomy! It’s pervy! The law should be a noble thing, not some old panty-sniffer: Vote Democrat!

And this is where the pussyhats enter, stage left – mobile, marching, sacred space from which the pussy-grabber-in-chief is implicitly excluded as profane.

But surely pussyhats are symbols of justice and liberty, not holiness! (This caused considerable controversy in the previous thread.) I say, against this: one thing can have two properties (though that may seem a mad thought!) Moral symbols can be polyvalent. This is hardly the first time, after all, that a group has managed to make potent use of the fact that both poles – clean/dirty – imply ‘don’t touch!’ So if you can, paradoxically, manage to combine them, you get an extra strong jolt of power. As I wrote in comments in the other post: “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.”

If you can understand how the cross became a holy symbol, how not a pussyhat?

In general, what infuriates conservatives most about liberals is not that they seem narrowly fixated on justice and no-harm but that they have the social and cultural means and motive to cast conservatives down as low, dirty violators. Worst of all (to hear conservatives tell the tale) are charges of racism. Racism is harmful but the state of being a racist – even if you are doing no demonstrable harm by being one at the moment – is a flagrant purity violation. In American culture, to be a known racist is to be a member of an untouchable caste. (There are no acceptable ‘Yes, he’s a horrible racist but …’ excuses that will gain you re-entry in polite society.) If liberals have the authority to declare who is impure, they have the power of drawing political and social in-out circles to suit themselves, and they may do so in ways that reinforce loyalty to leftist causes. Conservatives who feel they should, by rights, be the ones commanding the high ground, dictating sacred values to the dirty liberals, find this transvaluation of values most galling.

If someone seriously wants to argue that the conservative complaint that liberals have this clean/dirty high/low thing set against them is sheer projection – utter illusion – that would be … relevant, admittedly. But not remotely plausible, surely. I believe, in my heart, that conservatives yield the palm no other tribe when it comes to high achievements of excellence in the field of ressentiment, chronic minor grievance-mongering, recreational victimology, and all-around farting into the same couch cushion over and over about how the other side is biased – until no decent person could stand to be in the same room with them. (As Nietzsche said: it’s the smell!) Nevertheless there is no question those on the left have, in many ways, comprehensively flipped the purity script, sacralizing things conservatives don’t value, making profane (not profaning!) things they do. Them’s just the moral facts. The 60’s and the 70’s, man. They happened. There are reasons conservatives hate those decades.

I am on-balance fine with leftist purity politics because holy makes whole and, as Jacob Levy eloquently argues in this post (which got linked around, which deserved to be linked around even more widely), “The Defense of Liberty Can’t Do Without Identity Politics”. Eyes on the prize. The leftist tribes are sacralizing real values of justice, fairness and liberty. The conservatives, to my eye, are sacralizing unjust privilege, inequality … and some good stuff. And a lot more stuff that ought to be generously tolerated. But, man, their tribe has some seriously ugly idols. Them’s just moral facts. (I’m not a relativist!) Jacob Levy:

Identity politics at its best, in other words, isn’t just a matter of being on some group’s side. It’s about fighting for political justice by drawing on the commitment that arises out of targeted injustice, and about having the intellectual resources to let us diagnose that targeted injustice. It lets us spot the majority group’s identity politics rather than treating it as the normal background state of affairs, and to recognize the oppression and injustice that it generates.

By all means, we should criticize identity politics when it goes wrong, as it often does in moments of symbolic, cultural, and campus politics. But there’s no source of political energy and ideas that doesn’t sometimes go wrong; goodness knows that a commitment to abstract philosophical principles often does. But a revitalized liberalism must be a vital liberalism, one with energy and enthusiasm. The defense of liberal principles—freedom of speech and religion, the rule of law and due process, commerce and markets, and so on—has to happen at least in part in the political arena. In that arena, in liberal politics, we’ll always depend on the passionate and self-conscious mobilization of those who are the victims of state power and domination.

Black Lives Matter is on balance a force for justice. It’s fine if people want to have a lot of personal pronouns. (At worst, it’s silly. Ergo, it’s at best silly to be bothered.) There is a lot of PC nonsense on campus (if we must use the term ‘PC’, but consistently it ought to apply to much conservative nonsense as well, yet somehow it doesn’t.) College students can be dumb. Activism can get unfortunately deflected into groupthink bullying. And that’s bad. But it’s wrong – since inaccurate – to set up those cases as synechdoches of what’s going on off-campus. Conservatives – and Mark Lilla – wonder why liberals don’t talk about Yale and Halloween costumes. Honestly, the reason is because, unlike Lilla, we haven’t lost our sense of moral proportion. Unlike conservatives, we don’t seek to apologize for greater wrongs under cover of indicting far lesser ones. Maybe it’s wrong to pass over any wrongs. But I say, if you are going to ignore wrongs, better to ignore lesser ones. (And for sure conservatism is not a political philosophy of ‘let justice be done, though the heavens fall.’ So that’s some serious process hypocrisy, if they are flying that flag over the Yale Halloween costume controversy.)

BE IT NOTED: I DO NOT WANT COMMENTS TO THIS POST TO DEVOLVE INTO A PC-ON-CAMPUS SHOUT-FEST. YOU MAY EXPRESS YOUR OPINION ON THAT SUBJECT BRIEFLY, using your indoor voice. I WANT THIS POST TO BE ABOUT HAIDT AND WHETHER MY CRITIQUE IS VALID. SERIOUS THREADJACKS WILL BE DELETED.

Getting back to Haidt: he might have argued, not that liberals suffer from some critical sacredness gap – which is plain nonsense – but that they suffer from an awareness gap concerning their own acts of sacralization. That’s plausible. Liberals and leftists like to think of themselves as champions of justice and fairness and liberty – because they are! – not as tribal totem fetishists, shibboleth-minded enforcers and all that – which they also often are! Liberals and leftists are, after all, human.

But no, Haidt said the first thing and, as a result, he falls into serious contradiction and confusion.

But what about the alleged result that conservatives are better at understanding liberals than liberals are at understanding conservatives? (This is per the Haidt paper linked upthread.) This is operationalized, for experiment purposes, by asking conservatives to fill in a Moral Foundations Questionnaire as a typical liberal would, and vice versa for liberals. This ought to work (e.g. it doesn’t presuppose some perhaps tendentious construction, by the experimenters, of what liberals and conservatives ‘really are’.) But, having taken the Questionnaire myself – here are my personal results! –

– I think I have a perfectly good explanation. (An alternative explanation that fits the data.)

The experimental instructions read (for one batch of questions):

When A TYPICAL LIBERAL [CONSERVATIVE] decides whether something is right or wrong, to what extent are the following considerations relevant to the liberal’s [conservative’s] thinking? Remember, instead of selecting your own answers, answer all questions as a typical liberal [conservative].

Now suppose, as is indeed the case, I think the values typically relevant to a conservative’s thinking are not the same as those a conservative would typically say are relevant. (And the same is true of liberals.) See the problem? The details of how this is likely to have affected the results depends on the actual set. If the questionnaire provides more fodder for liberals to suspect conservatives of typical false consciousness than conservatives to suspect liberal false consciousness, then … well, this is very speculative. The bottom line is: I’m not impressed by this data as evidence on any kind of ‘sacredness gap’, blinding liberals to the very possibility that someone might hold things sacred, as a moral value.

Let me indicate how Haidt gets from his alleged (but in fact unreal) sacredness gap to the normative conclusion that 1) it ought to be closed and 2) it can be closed by getting a few more conservatives around the place.

Premise 3 – something something plurality something pluralism something diversity?

I think Haidt’s own thinking, past this point, gets loosely associative. (Usually I find he is tighter than this!) He runs thoughts together such that I can’t find or formulate any canonical statement of his argument. He thinks (social) diversity is good, and he tends to equate that with healthy (political?) pluralism, which he tends to run together with exhibiting a larger (psychological) plurality of values. So conservatives turn out to be more pluralistic and, inherently, diverse by nature. There’s a fallacy of composition looming: getting a critical mass of ‘plural-valued’ individuals might catalyze pluralism at the social level! (Anyone who has read Plato’s Republic should be aware these micro-macro arguments-by-analogy oft go astray.)

This is all kind of an echo of stuff you get from Lionel Trilling, in The Liberal Imagination. (I would recommend Haidt read that. I’ve never seen him discuss it.) Some of it could come straight out of Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind. I actually think both Trilling and Kirk are pretty confused, running distinct thoughts together just as Haidt does. Still, three confused heads may be better than one?

Well, anyway, one symptom of this confusion is that Haidt seems to be asking for healthy (diverse) Durkheimian social values, for stability’s sake, and also healthy (pluralist) Millian political culture. But Durkheimian societies are not automatically ideal in Millian terms. Rather, there is an inherent tension. Haidt sees this but thinks he has somehow emerged on the other side, the wiser for having seen both sides. (One of those T.S. Eliot “and know the place for the first time” kind of trips.) It seems to me he is, rather, falling flat, right out of the gate.

In my first post I said the absurdity is this: if there really is a purity-authority-loyalty gap on the left – Haidt thinks so: he says so! – then there just can’t be a problem with PC. Because, at their worst, SJW’s are a bunch of lockstep authoritarian puritans about progressive values of justice, no-harm and liberty. (Let it be so. Haidt certainly thinks it is so.) So: one problem solved at least. All that narrow authoritarianism perforce must broaden the moral foundations of academe to a healthy six-wide. And now we see the absurdity of equating psychological plurality of values with healthy pluralism, in a social or political sense. And now the argument that more conservatives in academe would fix the problem evaporates as well. Because, officially, the advertisement for them is the same as for the PC fanatics. Whom we don’t like. Something has slipped. That is my reductio ad absurdum on Haidt’s argument.

Still not convinced Haidt is on the hook? You are a stubborn one! Alright, a few passages from Chapter 5, The Righteous Mind. Haidt likes to harp on how narrow, hence weird, WEIRD people are. (Western, educated, industrial, rich, democratic.) He talks about how WEIRD-ly Millian all his college students were, for instance.

They were unique in their unwavering devotion to the “harm principle,” which John Stuart Mill had put forth in 1859: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” As one Penn student said: “It’s his chicken, he’s eating it, nobody is getting hurt.”

Never you mind about that chicken! You get the idea.

[A well-known study by cultural psychologists] reviewed dozens of studies showing that WEIRD people are statistical outliers; they are the least typical, least representative people you could study if you want to make generalizations about human nature. Even within the West, Americans are more extreme outliers than Europeans, and within the United States, the educated upper middle class (like my Penn sample) is the most unusual of all. Several of the peculiarities of WEIRD culture can be captured in this simple generalization: The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships.

Related to this difference in perception is a difference in thinking style. Most people think holistically (seeing the whole context and the relationships among parts), but WEIRD people think more analytically (detaching the focal object from its context, assigning it to a category, and then assuming that what’s true about the category is true about the object).5 Putting this all together, it makes sense that WEIRD philosophers since Kant and Mill have mostly generated moral systems that are individualistic, rule-based, and universalist. That’s the morality you need to govern a society of autonomous individuals. But when holistic thinkers in a non-WEIRD culture write about morality, we get something more like the Analects of Confucius, a collection of aphorisms and anecdotes that can’t be reduced to a single rule. Confucius talks about a variety of relationship-specific duties and virtues (such as filial piety and the proper treatment of one’s subordinates). If WEIRD and non-WEIRD people think differently and see the world differently, then it stands to reason that they’d have different moral concerns. If you see a world full of individuals, then you’ll want the morality of Kohlberg and Turiel — a morality that protects those individuals and their individual rights. You’ll emphasize concerns about harm and fairness. But if you live in a non-WEIRD society in which people are more likely to see relationships, contexts, groups, and institutions, then you won’t be so focused on protecting individuals. You’ll have a more sociocentric morality, which means … that you place the needs of groups and institutions first, often ahead of the needs of individuals. If you do that, then a morality based on concerns about harm and fairness won’t be sufficient. You’ll have additional concerns, and you’ll need additional virtues to bind people together.

When I returned to America [from field work in India] social conservatives no longer seemed so crazy. I could listen to leaders of the “religious right” such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson with a kind of clinical detachment. They want more prayer and spanking in schools, and less sex education and access to abortion? I didn’t think those steps would reduce AIDS and teen pregnancy, but I could see why Christian conservatives wanted to “thicken up” the moral climate of schools and discourage the view that children should be as free as possible to act on their desires. Social conservatives think that welfare programs and feminism increase rates of single motherhood and weaken the traditional social structures that compel men to support their own children? Well, now that I was no longer on the defensive, I could see that those arguments made sense, even if there are also many good effects of liberating women from dependence on men. I had escaped from my prior partisan mind-set (reject first, ask rhetorical questions later) and began to think about liberal and conservative policies as manifestations of deeply conflicting but equally heartfelt visions of the good society.28 It felt good to be released from partisan anger. And once I was no longer angry, I was no longer committed to reaching the conclusion that righteous anger demands: we are right, they are wrong.

If you grow up in a WEIRD society, you become so well educated in the ethic of autonomy that you can detect oppression and inequality even where the apparent victims see nothing wrong. But years later, when you travel, or become a parent, or perhaps just read a good novel about a traditional society, you might find some other moral intuitions latent within yourself. You might find yourself responding to dilemmas involving authority, sexuality, or the human body in ways that are hard to explain. Conversely, if you are raised in a more traditional society, or within an evangelical Christian household in the United States, you become so well educated in the ethics of community and divinity that you can detect disrespect and degradation even where the apparent victims see nothing wrong. But if you then face discrimination yourself (as conservatives and Christians sometimes do in the academic world),30 or if you simply listen to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, you may find a new resonance in moral arguments about oppression and equality.

Obviously one good example of the sort of non-WEIRD ‘thickening up’ that Haidt is appreciating, in this passage, would be PC: a narrow orthodoxy of purity, in which individuals are subordinate to social cohesion. And so … fast forward to 2017. Haidt has flipped over from being someone who advocates confronting WEIRD Millians with more broad-based moral characters who insist on enforcing their purity structures to tighten the Durkheimian ties that bind – thereby forcing the Millians to think outside of their narrow box – to being a staunch Millian, insisting on one ‘telos’ for the university.

As Haidt writes in the next chapter: “Morality is so rich and complex, so multifaceted and internally contradictory.”

Indeed it is. But, as I said, I do not believe he has managed to land himself on the far side of all that, with a nice view looking back.

The problem is really that, not only has he not thought through the Durkheim stuff to its logical conclusions; he hasn’t thought through the Mill stuff.

Suppose Haidt were to say: ok, you got me. That Righteous Mind stuff was confused. But the stuff I am writing now over at Heterodox Academy has risen above these contradictions. I’m just advocating Mill now. I’m WEIRD and I’m proud!

I don’t honestly know that he would be willing to take that step, partly or fully. But even if he does, it seems to me that it’s not enough. I think the Mill stuff is too vague … aspirationally associative … as formulated. There are several agreeable-seeming thoughts that feel like they fit together. But on closer examination it’s all much more complicated. Haidt is kind of coasting on the mental momentum of his Righteous Mind stuff and his Moral Foundations, past all the tricky bits. It won’t do. (But it reminds me of a scene from The Phantom Tollbooth … the film version where the dog desperately shouts out “John Stuart Mill!” and pushes the kid out of the Doldrums! You remember that? But you can’t necessarily believe it, even when its great literature. John Stuart Mill is not an infinite power unto himself to clear up muck and muddle, great as he is.)

{ 217 comments }

1

Chet Murthy 02.07.17 at 8:32 am

[John, thank you for writing this. For me, as with _Closing of the American Mind_, it’s nearly impossible to read the stuff, without wanting to hurl it out the window (I couldn’t get thru the introduction to that book, I was so livid with anger.)]

Having been -born- in India, and struggled for a decent part of my youth against the “values” of that “traditional society”, and having seen friends and relations struggle against same, I have difficulty not hearing Haidt say

“white man goes to India, sees many people thinking and doing awful things, decides that means those awful things are all cool and returns to USA where he now has a great excuse to do what he wanted to do all along: oppress women”.

It’s like he showed up in some diocese where the priest raped altar boys over a period of years, and decided that -that- was OK, so hey presto! NAMBLA is a *good* thing, a *sacred* thing.

2

Faustusnotes 02.07.17 at 10:54 am

In his response haidt says we only want one viewpoint in science but we need many in the humanities, and includes history in the list of multiple viewpoint eligible topics. It’s not clear to me why he excludes science and he certainly just hand waves away his reasons. Does history not have facts? What about sociology? Is the bell curve wrong because it’s science or acceptable because at sociology? It seems he needs to explain that a bit more, especially since the main opponents of pc – the dudes who are big on the sanctity axis and low on the justice one – also demand the right to their own scientific viewpoints, on things like global warming, evolution, vaccines etc. presumably the same epistemology that tells us we need to accept people in history who say that the north started the civil war also justifies treating evolution as “just another theory” for a reason. How can haidt throw out half of this epistemology? I think he needs to explain where the boundaries are and why there should be boundaries at all. Is “more guns less crime” a scientific fact or a viewpoint? What about the bowling green massacre? If kellyanne conway’s alternate history is unacceptable in academia then why isn’t a bunch of other non scientific stuff? And if we should accept alternate viewpoints like Conway and spicers, what value does academia have? Before haidt moves on to dissing liberals for being too pc he needs to establish the bounds and rules of his new epistemology. Why are some alternate viewpoints important and some beyond the pale in his theory, and why is it that the ones he wants to be allowed in the academy (even when wrong) all racist and homophobic?

And if conservatives are big on thisnpurity thing compared to liberals, how does he explain the finding that 20% of catholic clergy in Australia were involved in child sexual abuse?

Also there seems to be a tension between his idea that we needed small groups controlled by sanctity politics in order to make humanity better, and the recent wave of semi-right wing theories about how humanity has been getting better recently. Steve sailer claims human behavior has become way less violent since world war 2 – precisely the period of time the anti pc mob claim we have been stifling their speech and destroying their purity barriers that stop us being barbarians. How does haidt square these two things? Could it be that the way colonial brits talked about Indians, the way the Japanese talked about the Chinese, the way white Aussies talked about aboriginal people, is part of the reason why the world was so horrible until recently? Maybe stifling that shit and driving it out of the public voice is why we are better? Every step forward in human history has been a struggle to widen those small groups haidt talks about and to remove the shackles of purity. Could it be there’s a reason for that?

3

Neel Krishnaswami 02.07.17 at 11:36 am

Premise 1: Haidt’s Moral Foundation Theory is well-supported.

It’s worth noting that this premise is false. The replication crisis is going to get it, just like practically every other result in social psychology.

Basically, the way Haidt derived his moral foundations framework is by (a) giving people quizzes about moral intuitions, (b) doing a principal components analysis on the results, (c) defining the moral foundations to be an English gloss of the top principal components, and then (d) making some new quizzes where the new quiz questions were validated by how closely they adhered to the PCA.

But this methodology is hilariously sensitive to the initial quiz questions. If his first set of questionnaires had included more questions about (say) organic food, wildlife conservation and nuclear power, it’s basically certain that left-wingers would have gotten the sanctity/purity foundation (and Haidt would have “explained” how this maps to the hippie/hard-hat distinction).

Despite my sarcastic tone, I’m not really accusing Haidt of unusually bad behaviour: it’s actually incredibly hard to look at a PCA or factor analysis and not think you’ve discovered a causal story. But in most cases you’ve discovered a just-so story: actually establishing causality requires controlled experiments of the sort that psychologists mostly cannot do, when they are asking questions of the kind where the “social” in “social psychology” is meaningful.

4

John Holbo 02.07.17 at 11:45 am

“It’s worth noting that this premise is false. The replication crisis is going to get it, just like practically every other result in social psychology. “

I’m open to it being falsified. It isn’t obviously right. I think it also makes a certain amount of semi-a priori sense. That is, if you just sit in your armchair and reflect on ‘what kinds of moral values are there?’ this gives you a reasonable-looking spread. I’ve tried to poke at it, thinking about all the anthro I’ve read, all the moral philosophy I’ve studied. I can’t confidently reduce any of the 6 to one of the others or say ‘there’s this huge swathe of human life you forgot to mention.’ I can certainly imagine slicing up the terrain differently. It doesn’t seem like an obligatory frame. But it seems workable – that’s not nothing. I agree that the causal story could easily turn out to be not demonstrable or falsified. But that’s ok. You’re supposed to say stuff that could be falsified.

5

John Holbo 02.07.17 at 11:47 am

Saying it is well-supported was maybe ambiguous. I was speaking in Haidt’s voice, not my own. His premise. Not mine. But I’m not hostile to it. I’m moral foundations-curious.

6

Z 02.07.17 at 1:08 pm

What struck me about Premise 3 (aptly summarized by something something plurality something pluralism something diversity?) in Haidt’s talk is how self-contradictory it was. I understand that self-awareness is hard to achieve but
1) Making students drone “Differential outcomes does not indicate differential treatment” (a particular cringeworthy moment),
2) Instructing them to shout it back at teachers if they catch them making this mistake,
3) Complaining about the underrepresentation of politically conservative beliefs and bemoaning the ensuing lack of institutionalized disconfirmation,
4) Complaining about students’s knee-jerk reactions,
5) Cheering pitifully at the majority of student choosing Truth U. vs. Justice U. (now that’s cringeworthy for you)
6) Misinterpreting a quote by Marx to illustrate Justice U. and thereby missing the elephant in the room (the quote is very much about institutionalized disconfirmation)
7) Arguing that Universities may center around truth or around Social Justice but not both,
8) Arguing that “equal outcomes in the absence of equal contributions” is not justice
and finally
9) Concluding that only truth brings real change
all that in the span of a single one-hour talk without a hint on his part that these different positions are-well, how should I put it?-not all obviously compatible is still quite remarkable.

7

Cheryl Rofer 02.07.17 at 1:43 pm

Thanks, John. This is helpful and necessary.

8

William Timberman 02.07.17 at 2:08 pm

Chet Murthy @ 1

I wasn’t born and raised in a traditional society, as you were, but — and mine is a very American story in this respect, I think — in the remnants of one. My father was a white, Appalachian, Presbyterian, professional military, padre/padrone sort of authoritarian. My mother, an Anglican from New Jersey, succumbed early on in their marriage to his thunder, leaving me, as the eldest son, without much of a defense against his intention to use me as a vehicle for his own self-replication. (A side note: feminists ask me if I truly comprehend the depredations of patriarchy. Yes, I say, I honestly think I do. I don’t expect them to believe me, of course, but I think I ought to be excused for finding a good deal of irony in such exchanges.)

Anyway, my solution was not literally to slay my father, but to run away, to slay the father in me as best I could, and to transform myself into a rootless cosmopolitan. At least in part, this is the story of Nineteenth Century America writ small. America became, in its own imagination as well as the imagination of its potential immigrants, the place people ran away to to become rootless cosmopolitans, to remake themselves, and, perhaps, to get rich enough to fend off anything or anyone who resembled the embedded predators of traditional societies.

And now here we are, 150 years or so later, and it’s Trump City, baby. That’s what we get for forgetting that, despite the Enlightenment — which nowhere near everybody signed on to, even in its heyday — not everyone wants to be a rootless cosmopolitan, or can stand being one if it means giving up the pleasures of home, hearth, and the warm embrace of a community, which does after all supply some comforts in exchange for its often stultifying demand for orthodoxy.

John Holbo’s eloquence notwithstanding, there’s a paradox lurking here somewhere, and Jonathan Haidt is far from the only one confused about its implications. My own belief is that we’ll ultimately have to come up with some new and hopefully more enduring form of negotiation between the individual and the collective, one which respects both our diversity and our ambivalence about being together. I’m not holding my breath.

9

John Holbo 02.07.17 at 2:32 pm

Thanks, Cheryl, glad you appreciated it. (Writing it out and was several times thinking: is anyone actually going to read this?)

10

Lee A. Arnold 02.07.17 at 2:37 pm

Seems to me that Duterte et al. (2015) in their first example, “Example 1. Environmental Realities”, are objecting to Feygina et al. (2001)’s use of the phrase “environmental realities” in their top abstract. But the word “reality” is not in the NEP questionnaire nor in Clark et al. (2003)’s revision. Later in their paper Feygina et al. (2001) change that phrase to “environmental problems”, but this may not be PC enough. After all, on the other important word in the offending list, “denial”, Duterte et al. (2015) state:

“The term ‘denial’ implies that (1) the claim being denied is a ‘reality’ – that is, a descriptive fact – and that (2) anyone who fails to endorse the pro-environmental side of these claims is engaged in a psychological process of denial.”

But wait a minute — those two implications are not found in the dictionary definition of “denial”.

11

Lee A. Arnold 02.07.17 at 2:43 pm

It’s very odd that conservatives should deny liberals and progressives the sacred. Has Haidt anywhere noticed that the health of the biosphere has become a sacred object? This sanctity emerged full-blown in the 1960’s (nor was this the first time; it can be traced back far as the Romantics.)

I would argue that the sanctity of the biosphere has become, for many, a primary moral feeling in the response to technology.

The idea of sanctity in this area was explicitly identified early as the 1970’s by Gregory Bateson, whose last several books focus ever more tightly on the sacred and its relationship to consciousness and adaptation. Roy Rappaport wrote a study showing how a sacred ritual in a preliterate tribe (the Maring in New Guinea) may have been linked — quite directly linked — to carrying capacity in their local ecosystem, and he produced two more books theorizing the anthropological functions of sacred ritual, right up into modern day. I synthesized some of their arguments in the context of traditional religion, here:

12

Cheryl Rofer 02.07.17 at 2:55 pm

Yes, I read the whole thing and Haidt’s response too. Friends have cited Haidt as one of those writers whom liberals need to read. Like you, I don’t have an immediate quarrel with his six elements, although it seems to me that they could be divided up in a number of ways. I have neither time nor the philosophical vocabulary to dissect his work the way you have done, but I can follow the arguments. It has seemed to me that his own blindness on issues tilts his arguments toward conservatives. You have analyzed that very clearly, without resorting to personal psychology, as I just did.

13

bob mcmanus 02.07.17 at 2:57 pm

rootless cosmopolitan. At least in part, this is the story of Nineteenth Century America writ small.

Not really. The 19th Century settler explosions were mostly about replicating and reconnecting with Anglo culture, Britain and NE America, in a new “virgin” territory. Portland OR and Melbourne are not radically different than Ohio or Sussex. This did change a little with the change in immigrant patterns after 1900. The degree to which new cultures changed Anglos or assimilated to Anglo culture, and the degree to which Anglo settler culture endures to this day in very slightly different forms is also interesting.

Do the core values of Silicon Valley and San Francisco essentially replicate 19c boomtown St Louis and Chicago? Anybody up for monarchy or theocracy in newish settlements? Do migrants to Austin want to adapt to what’s already there, go there because the place is congenial, or plan on making the place according to some Utopian image they bring with them?

14

JHW 02.07.17 at 3:01 pm

What if we construed the argument a bit differently to respond to this line of argument:

“Liberals, like conservatives, have authority, sanctity, and loyalty as part of their psychological value set. But their invocation of these values is (usually) derivative in some way from considerations of harm or fairness. So, a racist is impure because racism inflicts interpersonal injury and is unfair, but liberals have nothing analogous to, say, conservative sexual morality, where certain kinds of sex can be degrading (violative of sanctity) even if mutually enjoyable and consistent with the Harm Principle. And, ironically, the difficulty liberals have comprehending this kind of position just reinforces their derivative use of authority, sanctity, and loyalty (call it “PC”): if you think the person opposed to same-sex marriage ‘really’ just doesn’t care about the harm to gays and lesbians, rather than simply having a wider set of moral considerations, you are especially likely to cast them out as impure.”

I don’t think Haidt is required by his argument to say that any kind of sanctity (etc.) thinking by liberals would be a good thing. Indeed, as you say, he’s required by his argument to think that some sanctity thinking is bad (the sanctity thinking that says, “Conservatives are bigots and thus shouldn’t be allowed to corrupt our university”). But that leaves room for him to still say that other kinds of sanctity thinking are good, or at least would enlarge our mutual understanding; maybe if I understand why conservatives are worried about premarital sex, my discussions with them can be more fruitful.

To be sure, to make this sort of argument, Haidt can’t be purely engaging in psychology. As a matter of psychology, for liberals as well as conservatives, it is almost certainly true that the causation work both ways. People concerned about divorce’s harms to kids (harm) might become attracted to moral conservatism about sex (sanctity); people who see conservative political stances as a sanctity violation will be especially prone to thinking of them as harmful. He has to be engaging in a kind of moral theory: “The arguments that make sense of what liberals think proceed from a narrower set of moral considerations than the arguments that make sense of what conservatives think.” And maybe he’s no good at moral theory. (That’s my suspicion, at least; I don’t think he has a good grasp of what differentiates “liberals” and “conservatives” philosophically.) But I’m not sure he falls into the problem you point out.

15

Theophylact 02.07.17 at 3:18 pm

Thanks, John. One of the things that bothered me most about Haidt’s Righteous Mind is that he seemed to be unconcerned with the truth of many of the beliefs he finds valuable, only with their putative social utility.

16

William Timberman 02.07.17 at 4:00 pm

bob mcmanus @ 13

Good questions. Distinctions must no doubt be made between those who became the good burghers of Lake Woebegone, and those who became the appassionatas of the ILGWU, or the founder of Cooper Union. I admit I wasn’t thinking of the intentional communities of English dissenters, or the Italian winegrowers of Northern California, or the fierce identity warriors of La Raza, but rather of the sort of character who appears as Yankele/Jake in the film Hester Street. I guess that’s why I ended up hedging my bets with the at least in part part of the snippet that you quoted. America as the Mother of Possibilities admits of all possibilities, including those which aim only at making a better version of something which had disappointed the huddled masses elsewhere. Maybe that’s what B. Dylan had in mind when he allowed as how he would pity the poor immigrant when his gladness comes to pass.

17

Tyler 02.07.17 at 4:55 pm

The other irony here being that it is people on the far left of the academy who are the most vocal and outspoken about acknowledging and respecting non-WEIRD values and value systems.

So, like, Haidt brings up Confucius, but it is people way on the left in philosophy who advocate reading, learning from, and incorporating Confucius and other non-Western thinkers into professional philosophical teaching and research (e.g.). Do we think philosophers who vote for Republicans are really more likely to support the inclusion of Conufucius in philosophy canons?

Or David Graeber is all over relational and holistic approaches to value. Or Lila Abu Loghod on veiling: ” It does not do justice to anyone to view her life only in terms of rights or that loaded term, freedom.” (Isn’t this what Haidt says he wants??) Honestly even someone very mainstream like Annette Laureau is trying to point out the different (and legitimate) values that inform working class parents’ childrearing practices compared to wealthier families in ways that Haidt should find comforting.

Obviously Haidt’s politics are blinkered but he doesn’t even have any idea what actually happens in his fantasy of the liberal university. (Or, maybe, social psychology really is just plain liberal? In which case Haidt should be advocating that social psychology look more like anthropology or English or education or sociology, where narrow liberalism may still be dominant but vocal critiques of it are reasonably well-represented and even influential.)

18

Patrick 02.07.17 at 5:24 pm

This post was eerily depressing.

I agree with the basic in-Holbo-fashion-never-quite-stated premise: that Haidt interprets sacred values different from his own as none at all, and interprets inclusion of his particular conclusions as inclusion of an entirely different meta level moral perspective.

I also agree that if one must ignore harm, better to ignore the lesser harm than the greater, and worse to focus on the lesser harm to shield the greater.

And Donald Trump is President, and Breitbart is in the White House. Which means that concerns about “social justice warriors” are pretty far down the list of priorities, for the same reason no one worries about weevils in the flour jar while a flesh eating beetle is ripping it’s way out of their eyeball.

I strongly disagree with the claim that the left has sacralized values like justice, fairness, and liberty. To it’s credit OP concedes that the left is human and shibboleths also abound, but I think this both misunderstands the left and the very nature of sacralization. I don’t think anyone, ever, has sacralized a value like “fairness.” I don’t think sacralization is the sort of tool that’s capable of such a thing. I think the most you can ever ask from sacralization is that at the moment, in a specific context, it motivate people to accomplish something useful. And I think that’s tough because the natural ground state of sacralization is in defining the clean and unclean, and patting yourself on the back for being among the clean.

So no, I DON’T think the worst case scenario for left wing shibboleths is silliness. I don’t think black lives matter is on balance a force for justice, I think it’s a force for using the less admirable of our moral instincts to insist that actual discussions of systemic bias against black people be suppressed in favor of shibboleths of the same- down with discussing the effects of under funded schools and poverty on inner city violence, up with personalized Haidt style in group / out group politics that focus on an insistence that wrongs can only be instantiated in an identifiable group of people whom we can vilify as racists, and condemn anyone for defending. I don’t think activism sometimes turns into groupthink and bullying, I think that’s the whole point and the natural and inevitable outcome of activism built around sacralization and conservative style over sensitivity to perceived slights your activism is built around finding and indulgently resenting.

But Breitbart is in the friggin’ White House and if the chance to be snippy and prideful about how everyone is a racist but you is what motivates people to try to stop the President from selling our national parks to mining companies for a dollar while intentionally prepping for and bringing about a catastrophic three way clash of civilization between the US and Islam and China, then pass me my damn pussyhat. I’ll restrict my carping to blog comments and publicly vote for and support whatever lesser evil I’m offered.

19

Jake Gibson 02.07.17 at 5:44 pm

It seems extremely cynical to me to promote
something as having value to society regardless of truth. Religionists do promote faith as a universal good. But it seems awfully
Straussian to say that faith is good for the rabble, but not necessarily for the elites.

20

politicalfootball 02.07.17 at 5:59 pm

Now suppose, as is indeed the case, I think the values typically relevant to a conservative’s thinking are not the same as those a conservative would typically say are relevant. (And the same is true of liberals.) See the problem?

Yup. Haidt is a sharp guy, and I literally cannot imagine how he can miss this distinction.

If you ask me what conservatives think about an issue, you’ll get one answer. If you ask me what conservatives say they think, you’ll often get another. Haidt compared liberal answers to the first question to conservative answers to the second question and found a discrepancy. Presto! Liberals don’t understand conservatives!

Meanwhile, we find that conservatives asked about liberal thought will give answers that more closely resemble what liberals say. Amazing! Somehow it never occurs to Haidt that part of the liberal ethos (at least in the US in these latter days) is to try to make words match thoughts.

I don’t know how Haidt managed to do this research without internalizing the lessons of Orwell. Surely, though, in the Age of Trump he has to understand that this research requires a rethink.

21

RJB 02.07.17 at 6:14 pm

Thanks for another interesting post! I have a working paper using Moral Foundations Theory to shed light on moral attitudes toward distorted reporting (I’m an accounting prof), and thought I’d share a bit of what I think I’ve learned. This is preliminary work, but you can find it here: Moral Attitudes toward Measure Management

First, MFT seems to hold up pretty well in our samples (two samples of 1000 random-digit-dialed US residents, 3000 MTurkers claiming to be US residents). As in prior studies, those with traditional conservative demographics (republican social-conservative churchgoers) care a bit less about the individualizing values (benevolence and equity) and a lot more about the binding values (authority, loyalty, purity). We did use the same questions as Haidt, though, so it could still be that. (Btw, those with high education, income and both care somewhat less about both classes of values).

Second, we find that values show some strong associations with judgments about behaviors like (study 2) principals directing teachers to “teach to the test” in a public school to look good on state metrics, or to cherry-pick students whose tests scores are/aren’t reported to the state, and (study 3) hospital directors delaying costly care to hit numbers this period, or delaying the reporting of such care to do so.

But third, and this is the big point for this discussion, MFT says little about what we call the “view of the moral terrain”. It isn’t enough to say that some people value benevolence more than others; there is likely to be even more variation in who someone thinks deserves a “duty of care”. Similarly, it isn’t just a matter of deferring to authority or being loyal to an in-group; people must have a view of which authorities are legitimate and what constitutes an in-group.

We didn’t look directly at variation in such beliefs (next time!), but we did find some interesting indicators that people don’t seem to see bosses (who can be harmed by misreporting) as deserving much of a duty of care, but they do see hospital patients that way. Even more interesting, our respondents seem to see school principals and hospital bosses as owing a duty of loyalty to their organizations, rather than to their students or patients. And there seems to be an element of sacredness (only what we see as sacred falls under purity) in reporting grades more than teaching.

My guess, which I hope to look at in the future, is that there is a lot more variation in views of the moral terrain than in the value placed on various moral foundations, and that (as Neel suggests above), the two might be confused by questions that impose a view of the terrain. For example, a key question on loyalty is about how proud you are of your country, which presumes that your country is due an obligation of loyalty, which everyone might not agree with. Are criminals in police custody owed a duty of care? Would everyone think a CEO is a legitimate authority?

Or to go full Godwin, did Nazis do what they did because they didn’t value benevolence, or because they didn’t see Jews as being owed a duty of care? Does it matter? I think it does, for reasons illustrated by the difficulty of the arguments discussed in this post. But if we can sort out variation in values from variation in views of the moral terrain, I think we will be ahead of where we were before we had MFT to kick around.

22

Paul 02.07.17 at 6:22 pm

Isn’t that what is meant by “sacred” – something whose truth value is not subject to dispute?

23

anymouse 02.07.17 at 6:45 pm

That was a really good post.

I am extremely skeptical about premise 1 but there is no contradiction between 1 and the desire for more political diversity on campus. The left does sacralize their core values and is authoritarian about it. Incorrectly assuming that there is some sort of left on campus that looks more like what is described in premise 1 than holy SJWs provide premise 1 diversity. A whole group of people still exist that hold an entirely different set of values sacred and are authoritarian in a different way. You can argue for including them based on something different than premise 1 without any contradiction. Now if you correctly point out that SJWs are authoritarians etc and call for more conservatives based solely on premise 1 you are probably missing something.

The post was really good and does touch on a lot of topics, so, I think a short tangent is justified. You keep saying you are on the side of justice with maybe a bit of equivocation, but really, no, you say it . Please stop. You are not on the side of justice. Even accepting your premise all good on your side a lot of good but some evil on the other side. (Thank you for that. Most folks assume all evil on the other side.) Your conclusion that you are on the side of justice is not really all that justified.

You say that, ‘Black Lives Matter is on balance a force for justice. ‘ I call BS. The violent crime rate is up. There is a very plausible explanation that this is because of the general Black Lives Matter movement. Is that true? Maybe or maybe not. Also you have no idea if ‘Black Lives Matter is on balance a force for justice.’. None. This holds true whenever the rubber meets the road and your sacred ideas get transformed into public policy outcomes. At best as a rough rule of thumb we might conclude that because your premises are better, your inane grab bag of favored policies, is on average, a bit better than their inane grab bag of policies. Even with a bit of variation you could be on the side of evil. If any of your premises are wrong that is even more true. If are wrong about the moral worth of a fetus and the responsibilities owed it and right about everything else there is a high probability you are on the side of evil. All of this is along one important but narrow dimension of justice. I might be on average be more correct along one important but narrow dimension of justice does not equal being on the side of justice.

24

Raven Onthill 02.07.17 at 7:33 pm

Thank you. I think this is brilliant, and I am going to study in some depth. I am not a philosopher, but rather a dilettante amateur political scientist with a background in the physical sciences and engineering, and it is hard going for me. But, from another field, I was caught by Haidt’s own concluding remarks.

“We don’t care about balance. We don’t need every view to be represented. We just want to break up orthodoxy. Is that illogical?”

Now, suppose this statement were made by a physical scientist. The person who made it, if not one of the rare successful scientific revolutionaries, would be an obvious crank. To take an example, the theory of special relativity (I do hope we don’t get an argument over the scientific usage of the term “theory,” which in scientific parlance means “true, as far as we can tell”) is orthodoxy. It is orthodoxy because it is true, as far as we can tell, and we have worked hard to test it.

We are not required to entertain the hypothesis of the flat earth as a serious challenge to the theory of the round earth and, in fact, cranks in the physical sciences often rail against scientific orthodoxy. The opening page of the Heterodox Academy’s web site makes this exact argument (I did not know when I started writing this!) and does so in defense of hypotheses with appalling political implications. This echoes both the Soviet and Nazi meddling in the physical sciences and climate denialism; in the end that heterodoxy was and is just well-dressed authoritarianism.

So is an attack on the “orthodoxy” of liberalism a valid one, based on anything like facts? Are some conservative academics figures like Alfred Wegener, who first made the case for continental drift and was never able to persuade American geologists of its validity, despite presenting overwhelming evidence? (The theory of continental drift was ultimately accepted some 40 years after Wegener’s death.) Well…perhaps.

And here this little essay slides from firmly grounded thinking into speculation. Historian of science Naomi Oreskes comments that “The problem with continental drift was a conflict with prior intellectual commitments;” intellectual conservatism, in other words. I will venture also a psychological motivation: Americans became geologists as part of a desire to ground their work on solid rock. Wegener’s hypothesis threatened their identity; hence the intense opposition.

Somewhere, perhaps, there is a conservative academic or would-be academic who will add something major to our understanding of the liberal arts, overturning liberal thinking. But I think many more conservative academics are people who became that because they wanted something to ground their beliefs. There is a hunger for certainty, for truths that are not relative, and while, as in special relativity, these exist, they are not the comforting ones preached from so many pulpits.

I can’t judge the academic work that Haidt is defending, beyond some of the most basic and horrific failures, but I can say that many conservative academics are more aligned with the American geologists who rejected Wegener’s work because, ultimately, it threatened their understanding of their place in the universe.

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stevenjohnson 02.07.17 at 7:41 pm

This all seems to be premised on the assumption Haidt isn’t a dead horse. That’s such a poor bet, it comes across more like a salvage effort. Seems to me like there’s nothing but a little low grade glue in that nag.

Re “rootless cosmopolitans,” and variations thereof, devotion to the cause of humanity and solidarity with others seem to offer the consolations of ideals, to those so inclined. It’s the consumer as the atom of the market that forbids all those warm and gushy feelings supposedly offered by traditional communities, which are still going on the block no matter what the Haidts say.

My impression the ultimate goal is divide et impera, rather than spiritual balm for economic man, still keeps me from doing the responsible thing and reading Haidt.

26

Raven Onthill 02.07.17 at 8:09 pm

William Timberman@8: “My own belief is that we’ll ultimately have to come up with some new and hopefully more enduring form of negotiation between the individual and the collective, one which respects both our diversity and our ambivalence about being together.”

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, who am I?” It is a very old question and, like you, I do not expect to see it answered in our time.

27

kent 02.07.17 at 8:24 pm

Thanks for this. I somehow missed the earlier thread on Haidt, so I got to procrastinate a bunch today reading both pieces (and a bunch of the comments).

Before today, I would have been willing to grant that we liberals lack much interest in purity, especially. But your reply makes more sense. It’s a situation of Whose Purity/Which Sacredness, as it were.

But if Haidt’s conclusion is inadequately specified and vague, I think yours is too. We need a better conclusion than “it’s all complicated”!

28

TheSophist 02.07.17 at 9:14 pm

Wait, pussyhats made you read Durkheim?? (That’s how I read the first couple of sentences of the OP ) :)

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Trader Joe 02.07.17 at 10:10 pm

One wonders how Haidt is coloring his view with the ‘data’ from his moral questionnaire. I tried it just for kicks and the first time (answering it honestly) my purity score was a 1.5, not dissimilar to the average ‘liberal’ as self-reported.

I then tried it again (you have to create another account) and tried to answer the way my most conservative minded friends would answer and could only summon up a 3.6, just above the stated ‘conservative’ average. It makes me wonder how the algorithm codes the difference between self-reporting as a conservative as compared to self-reporting as a liberal since I didn’t think the ‘strength’ of the difference in my underlying answers was quite as wide as the outcome in the scores would suggest.

For example in questions that seemed to be directed towards purity outcomes – the responses were sometimes only one remove apart such as saying “very important” vs. “fairly important” (or not important vs. occasionally important) not really much of a distinction when answering morality type questions which sometimes might have some fact dependency.

30

Chet Murthy 02.07.17 at 10:18 pm

Theophylact:

Thanks, John. One of the things that bothered me most about Haidt’s Righteous Mind is that he seemed to be unconcerned with the truth of many of the beliefs he finds valuable, only with their putative social utility explanatory power.

would that be an OK revision (to you)? I -do- think it’s interesting, that he doesn’t care whether conservatives are odious excuses for humans, but only how they describe themselves. And of course, the questions he asked don’t cut to heart of anything — stuff like “disgust”? What about the disgust I feel when I read about a priest raping a little boy and getting away with it? Does that not count?

31

Salem 02.07.17 at 10:26 pm

Ah, so liberals know Conservatives so well that they understand not merely their arguments, but their secret reasoning behind it, which they don’t divulge (perhaps not even to themselves?).

Perhaps. But this line would be more convincing if liberals could accurately reproduce the arguments conservatives actually make. Haidt shows they can’t, so your hypothesis is at best implausible.

32

John Holbo 02.07.17 at 10:38 pm

Sorry comments got kind of backed up in the queue overnight, might time. (I have to sleep and I guess no one else was on duty.)

“Wait, pussyhats made you read Durkheim?”

Pussyhats made me read Durkheim.

Sounds … kind of like a Frank Zappa album title. But not really.

In general, thanks for the kind comments. As I said upthread, I really wasn’t sure whether people would be interested. It does seem like an untimely meditation, in the age of Trump.

33

Dave Maier 02.07.17 at 10:42 pm

So conservatives turn out to be more pluralistic and, inherently, diverse by nature.

It’s a good thing he’s only being “associative” at this point because if he actually gave an argument with this conclusion, all I can say is, I got modus tollens all fired up and ready to deploy.

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John Holbo 02.07.17 at 11:04 pm

“One of the things that bothered me most about Haidt’s Righteous Mind is that he seemed to be unconcerned with the truth of many of the beliefs he finds valuable, only with their putative social utility.”

That’s actually a good way to put it, come to think of it. The tension between his Durkheimian side (social function, not truth) and his ‘telos of the university is truth’ line.

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bruce wilder 02.08.17 at 12:07 am

I imagine the six (plus?) elements of a modular moral foundations as a box of tinkertoys, with “some assembly may be required” printed prominently on the label. Surely, the morality of a political personality must be constructed, no? And, for whom and for what strategic purpose is the moral face of political personality constructed?

I am sure I am not quite following the argument, but I want to ask, whither hypocrisy? Are we sure that we are all in earnest? or, should be?

If politics is a culture of contesting culture, as the OP seems to allow may be the context for contrasting moral strategies, then each cluster of views and attitudes constitutes a fortified redoubt (oh, if only I had time to expand that word as metaphor; let ressentiment eat its heart out) of ideas and associated arguments, emotional associations and personal or familial relationships to be tested at Thanksgiving Dinner. It doesn’t seem to me that we can quite credit conviction ahead of convenience, let alone leap to a surmise about moral intuitions.

36

Pavel 02.08.17 at 12:43 am

@anymouse
>”You say that, ‘Black Lives Matter is on balance a force for justice. ‘ I call BS. The violent crime rate is up. There is a very plausible explanation that this is because of the general Black Lives Matter movement. Is that true? Maybe or maybe not. Also you have no idea if ‘Black Lives Matter is on balance a force for justice.’. None.”

Is… is this memes? I mean seriously, this must be some form of trolling. You’re like pre-reformed Glenn Beck. “Is Obama a Communist Muslim? There’s a good reason to think he is. I don’t know. I’m just asking questions!”

But in case that was an honestly held opinion, let’s examine it. Violent crime rates (like all crime rates) fluctuate significantly. Between 2002 and 2004, the violent crime rate decreased by 31 points and between 2004 and 2006 the violent crime rate shot up again by 16 points. It’s been steadily falling since then until rising in 2015, but the reality is that like all aggregate statistics, it’s going to fluctuate based on a number of factors. Looking at any small number of data points and extrapolating anything meaningful from them is pretty much the original sin of statistics. What is worse however, is smearing an entire activism group devoted to pointing out the plight of PoCs in the US, based on some shoddy understanding of numbers.

37

John Holbo 02.08.17 at 1:04 am

“Perhaps. But this line would be more convincing if liberals could accurately reproduce the arguments conservatives actually make. Haidt shows they can’t, so your hypothesis is at best implausible.”

I am not sure whether Haidt shows this. The survey I linked does not involve subjects reproducing arguments. Does he have a separate study where he asked liberals to argue like conservatives and conservatives to argue like liberals?

38

John Holbo 02.08.17 at 2:13 am

“You keep saying you are on the side of justice with maybe a bit of equivocation, but really, no, you say it . Please stop. You are not on the side of justice. Even accepting your premise all good on your side a lot of good but some evil on the other side. (Thank you for that. Most folks assume all evil on the other side.) Your conclusion that you are on the side of justice is not really all that justified.”

This is a misunderstanding of the intended force of the rhetoric, but I can understand how maybe I was leaving too much implicit. Obviously arguments about justice are another issue entirely. Not the job of this post. In this post I am saying: if you want to argue liberals vs. conservatives it’s NOT useful to argue ‘who is more tribal, who isn’t tribal enough?’ We should ask: who’s more RIGHT (irrespective of who is tribal, which everyone is.) And I indicated my strong prior conviction that justice is overwhelmingly on the side of the left. I am on the side of justice. I say so and am prepared to defend that proposition. But I obviously don’t defend it in the post, and fully expect conservatives (wrongly!) not to go along with me about the whole ‘I am on the side of justice’ thing.

Putting it another way: conservatives, when challenged on the justice point, tend to deflect to ‘but you are tribal, too!’ Or ‘Ah, everyone is tribal but we conservatives have the wisdom to see it!’ The left may try to deny, as if ‘this pussyhat functions like a seminar paper on justice’ had any chance of being correct. The proper rebuttal is: true but irrelevant!

39

John Holbo 02.08.17 at 2:18 am

“Isn’t that what is meant by “sacred” – something whose truth value is not subject to dispute?”

No, that’s a subset. One way of drawing the sacred/profane line is to insist that some things shall be held true (it is not permitted to sully them with the dirt of criticism) and others shall be held false (it is not permitted to bring them into the temple of debate, as if they could ever be made clean.) Some religions get very concerned about belief. Thou shalt believe X. Thou shalt not believe Y. Some religions don’t so much care what you believe. You just have to do things in a just – that is, regular – way. Thou shalt wash thusly and observe the sacrifices thusly. So forth. Justice-as-regularity. That’s another thing, actually. A way in which ritual and justice get overlaid.

40

Theophylact 02.08.17 at 2:19 am

Chet Murthy @ 30: No, I wouldn’t agree with your revision. I don’t think explanatory power (with respect to the “foundation values”) is a concern of Haidt’s except insofar as it pertains to behavior, not reality.

41

John Holbo 02.08.17 at 2:22 am

“You say that, ‘Black Lives Matter is on balance a force for justice. ‘ I call BS. The violent crime rate is up. There is a very plausible explanation that this is because of the general Black Lives Matter movement. Is that true? Maybe or maybe not. Also you have no idea if ‘Black Lives Matter is on balance a force for justice.’. None. This holds true whenever the rubber meets the road and your sacred ideas get transformed into public policy outcomes.”

This is a fairly crude way to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, anymouse. You are assuming that if there is any cost to BLM – let’s suppose you are right! – then there can’t be a benefit. I think you are not so much looking to where the rubber meets the road as insisting that everyone steer around your own sacred cows, in the middle of the road. Possible?

42

William Berry 02.08.17 at 2:23 am

@pavel:

I think anymouse[88] is the same commenter as someguy88. He sometimes pretends to “leftist” sentiments; ad other times the mask slips. I once complained about the “88” and he dropped it (with pained protestations and support from certain fair and balanced commenters). I take back my objection. I think he should just own the “88”.

I might be wrong, but since I post under my real name, I am available to be sued.

43

John Holbo 02.08.17 at 2:26 am

“I strongly disagree with the claim that the left has sacralized values like justice, fairness, and liberty. To it’s credit OP concedes that the left is human and shibboleths also abound, but I think this both misunderstands the left and the very nature of sacralization. I don’t think anyone, ever, has sacralized a value like “fairness.””

I disagree. Fairness is justice and justice means even-ness, and people have a very strong tendency to equate even-ness with regularity, and regularity with ritual observance. Think about the beginning of Plato’s Republic (as I often do.) The old man wants to be just. What do he think justice is? Speaking truth and paying debts. What does paying debts mean? Balancing accounts and – this is not a coincidence – tending the sacrifices in a regular way.

44

John Holbo 02.08.17 at 2:30 am

“It’s very odd that conservatives should deny liberals and progressives the sacred. Has Haidt anywhere noticed that the health of the biosphere has become a sacred object? This sanctity emerged full-blown in the 1960’s (nor was this the first time; it can be traced back far as the Romantics.)”

Haidt has noticed this. He will cheerfully point out that liberals will pay a premium for stuff that says ‘nature’ on the bottle – the suckers! But he thinks of this as a thing that happens around the margins. It’s the exception that proves the rule that liberals by and large desacralize, on behalf of fairness and no-harm. I just think he’s totally wrong about that. He really wants to be able to bring the message home to liberals that there are these things – sacred values! The hero’s journey! It would kind of take the fun out if the hero returned from over the hill with the boon of wisdom and everyone in the liberal village he left, to see larger things, was like ‘yeah, yeah, throw it on the pile with all our other liberal sacred things!’

45

Jake Gibson 02.08.17 at 2:56 am

I wonder why the response to “Black Lives Matter” is almost uniformly “All Lives Matter?” I suspect that the reluctance to say Black lives do matter is that it makes a concession that BLM does have a legitimate grievance. Which many I interact with usually refuse to concede.

46

Lee A. Arnold 02.08.17 at 3:20 am

Gell-Mann’s book The Quark and the Jaguar has a brief section on “the moral equivalent of belief”:

“The question naturally arise whether there is any way to capture the splendid consequences of mythical beliefs without the associated self-delusion and without the intolerance that often accompanies it… Can humans derive the spiritual satisfaction, comfort, the social cohesion, and the brilliant artistic creations that accompany mythical beliefs from something less than the acceptance of the myths as literally true? Part of the answer might lie in the power of ritual. The ancient Greek word muthos, from which myth is derived, is said to have referred in ancient times to the spoken words that accompanied a ceremony. The acts were central, in some sense, and what was said about them was secondary…”

Rappaport argued that the sacred is the product of ritual, but it always escapes from ritual’s confines. It “emerges out of canonical invariance and its performance, first investing certain sentences expressed in ritual but flowing… [to] affairs of society.” (from the essay, Sanctity and Lies in Evolution).

It strikes me that a protest may be felt as ritual, with pussyhats a canonical invariance.

It could be that there isn’t so much difference between conservatives and liberals on the ultimate importance of the values of purity, authority, ingrouping etc., but rather a difference in the levels of social discourse and transaction upon which those values are to be placed.

47

John Holbo 02.08.17 at 3:25 am

“I wonder why the response to “Black Lives Matter” is almost uniformly “All Lives Matter?” I suspect that the reluctance to say Black lives do matter is that it makes a concession that BLM does have a legitimate grievance. Which many I interact with usually refuse to concede.”

Honestly, I think a better way to reconstruct the psychic cascade would be: If “Black Lives Matter” had a legitimate grievance, it would have to be with people who think Black Lives Don’t Matter. But anyone who thought that would be a dirty racist. Therefore, if Black Lives Matter has a grievance with me, I’m a dirty racist. I’m not dirty, therefore I’m not a dirty racist, therefore Black Lives Matter must have no grievance. In order for BLM to have no grievance – even though incarceration, etc. seems like a problem – it must be that they are themselves causing more trouble than they are complaining about. Therefore, there must be some serious unintended consequence of BLM. QED, the Ferguson Effect must be real.

Note how the modus ponens/modus tollens hinge, tipping the argument one way or the other, is implication that someone is dirty/refusal to accept that one might be dirty. Purity stuff. Obviously there are real questions about the actual crime rate over the last 3 years. Real questions about lots of stuff to do with BLM issues. I’m only mapping the dynamics of what people want to believe, who are against BLM. They want to not be dirty. Reading Heather MacDonald op-eds follows from not wanting to be dirty. (She might be right, she might be wrong. But that’s why she is widely read. She feeds desire for purity.)

48

Lee A. Arnold 02.08.17 at 3:41 am

There is also the question of cleansing, purification. Trump just taught all the kids in the country that you can tell obvious lies, make racist comments about a Federal judge (who is sitting on your own case, no less!), make fun of the way people look, manhandle women and get away with it, etc. — do all of these things and more, and still be elected President!

Quite a moral stain!

How is a mark so indelible to be cleaned, in the eyes of the world? Continuous opposition and protest may be the only possible, the only correct ritual.

49

John Quiggin 02.08.17 at 3:47 am

My impression of Haidt’s big finding is that liberals perceived conservatives as hypocritical bigots, Trumpists avant le nom , whereas Haidt found them to have a strong moral code the liberals didn’t understand. I guess we know how that worked out.

50

Lee A. Arnold 02.08.17 at 4:03 am

I believe that the health of the biosphere is the most important sacred object. Includes the sanctity of wilderness and biodiversity, the stability of concentrations in the biogeochemical cycles (of which CO2 is only one), and the avoidance of new kinds of pollution.

Not only does it link to ancient totemic rituals — I believe in this, for a scientific reason.

Holding these things sacred may be the only way to ensure survival, because the biosphere is a complex system which can never be deterministically predicted. A true conservative would think it hubris to maintain that human ingenuity will prevail.

51

John Holbo 02.08.17 at 5:27 am

I just reread the post and it’s true: I do imply that, as a young man, pussyhats made me read Durkheim. Possibly that’s a Freudian slip? I did go to the University of Chicago. It’s not a healthy place.

Obviously I meant ‘they as in They – Them: you know, the Man.

52

Pavel 02.08.17 at 5:37 am

@William Berry

Ah well, I promise not to respond to such risible nonsense again. I guess people who sport the 88 don’t seem to think that the rest of us know what it means.

I guess I’ll try to constructively add to the conversation by noting that the strains of scepticism and analyticism (for lack of a better word) that currently run through most of the modern left, makes holding truly sacralized positions very tenuous at best. Even sacred objects like “pussyhats” and the biosphere are often questioned within the relevant subgroups (note the current row about the pussyhat itself) that spawned them. Any position that is taken too much at face value eventually acquires the stench of faith and that’s often a fairly (and rightly) despised epistemological dead end. This shouldn’t be confused with the position that some on the left have adopted of refusing to argue the basic points of a position with the right. This also shouldn’t be confused with adopting generally tribalistic expressions (in the form of protest, chanting, etc), which seem more universal than simple ideological divisions would suggest. Sacralized positions do take root on the left (i.e. Marxism), but seem to wane somewhat in front of the general drive towards analysis and deconstruction. The status of the sacred as a category seems to divide quite well along sceptic/religious lines and therefore along left/right lines in general.

53

Chet Murthy 02.08.17 at 7:04 am

John (H) and John (Q):

Thank you for this. Both for the careful dissection, and the lovely/succinct/pithy summary. “I guess we know how that worked out” indeed.

54

Gabriel 02.08.17 at 7:36 am

I guess, in the end, I don’t find convincing evidence that modern conservatives are all that fussed about purity, authority, or the sacredness of tradition. If they were, there would be a consistency in their actions. Having witnessed, in the span of two decades, a war hero attacked in order to elect a draft-dodger and a crude businessman supported by the Traditional Enemy of the People elected over a technocrat, it’s difficult to come to any other conclusion that modern conservatism is fundamentally about pursuing political power in support of an agenda, an agenda that is far more important than the conflicting reasons publicaly given for the pursuit of power.

I’m open to the possibility that most modern conservatives are not aware of this, attributing their own inconsistencies to momentary pivots, but it doesn’t change the fact that, if conservatives are claiming that they are authoritarian (unless the authority is Obama) and beholden to the sacred (unless it’s convenient to claim the opposite thing is sacred temporarily), they are wrong. Like, factually wrong. And any theory built on these foundations is wrong as well.

We can then have a discussion about whether it was always thus – George Will seems to think it hasn’t, and I’m open to either possibility – but that’s a very different discussion, isn’t it.

55

RichardM 02.08.17 at 9:12 am

@47: That’s one theory, no doubt partially true.

Another is that if you run the numbers, there are a substantial block of people who had a white acquaintance, like a friend of a cousin or something, shot by the police in circumstances where they wouldn’t have ended up dead in any other developed country. And no doubt the story they hear is that they were fully innocent and killed for no good reason; that may even be true.

When such people hear about Black Lives Matter, they naturally think ‘ok fair enough, that must be the Black chapter of some larger organization. Where do I go to sign up to the one that applies to my dead friend?’

Then they find out White Lives Matter is a race hate group, All Lives Matter is basically against whatever BLM stands for, and Blue Lives Matter thinks their friend should have been shot twice. No one, apart from the racists, is even pretending to stand for them.

I guess the message here is that if you start up a campaign, consider the marketing to all demographics in advances, and reserve all the domain names. Hard task for a spontaneous movement started by young adults without much life experience outside their city.

But no one said political action was going to be graded on a curve.

56

Steve 02.08.17 at 9:55 am

I was very struck by the idea of properly conducting the rituals as a demand of (a form of? an instantiation of?) justice. It clearly provides an interesting way of understanding many features of liberal democracies – I think the idea of protests as cleansing in 48 is really spot-on. Oddly, however, despite being one of those things which you find in Confucius or Plato, you never see it discussed in contemporary political philosophy (at least, of the broadly Anglo-American sort I know best: I can’t imagine one of those embedded Parfit-lite examples followed by, “intuitively, John should fulfil the rituals, even if this means that five innocent bystanders would die”).

In a funny roundabout way, this makes me think that there might be something important in Haidt’s mass of accusations: at least one group of (broadly) “liberal” theorists take, say, the everyday morality of fairness very seriously indeed (“intuitively, fairness demands that John let the five bystanders die” could be a premise in a political philosophy paper), but another aspect of everyday morality is overlooked. Or maybe that’s slightly wrong: there are lots of papers and books on notions like “symbolic value”, but you always feel that this form of value needs to fight to be taken seriously in a way in which concepts of “well-being” or “rights” do not. (I know, the latter concepts are contested, but nearly everyone thinks they – or some close cousin – have some role to play in normative theorising about justice; hard to say the same about ritual). To stress: this is not to say Haidt is right. He’s not! Just that there is some interesting topic lurking here.

57

Z 02.08.17 at 10:29 am

In the department of “he did say it”, last July, Haidt’s offered advice on his blog to counter Trump and part of it was “to link to moral intuitions about loyalty, authority, and sanctity” with his concrete examples being respectively Trump pals with our adversaries (Putin), Trump brings chaos and Trump degrades the Presidential legacy of “Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Reagan [sic]”. So not only should liberal reinforce these moral values, but they should do so exactly in typical American Conservative idiosyncratic ways: attack Russia and revere Reagan.

But I’m more interested in “people have a very strong tendency to equate even-ness with regularity, and regularity with ritual observance.” That is correct, but as in the previous thread, I believe that you gloss over important distinctions, or at least that you are presuming it is intellectually harmless in first approximation to neglect differences in level of analyses without an argument it is indeed so. The different levels I am referring to are 1) fundamental psychological patterns (e.g parent/children, kin/alien) 2) anthropological patterns building on them (e.g authority/obedience, clean/unclean) 3) values stemming from these anthropological patterns and in particular their mobilizing effects (e.g mass popular support for the 尊皇攘夷 i.e “Revere the Emperor, expel the Barbarians” movement at the outset of what would become the Meiji Restoration) and finally 4) the higher ideological categories coming to prevail in the wake of such mass popular mobilizations (e.g the political systems of Meiji and Taisho era Japan). Evidently, there is a direct genealogical thread from the first to the last level and it would be a severe mistake to reason on the any of the higher levels in disregard of the lower but it would also be seriously misguided (in my opinion) to equate them.

Apart from the riff on “it is necessary to educate the educators”, that was the point of my third thesis in the previous post, and I stand by it.

58

soullite 02.08.17 at 11:11 am

Ah, the old ‘everyone who disagrees with me must be stupid and/or ignorant’ argument. You never hear college liberals use that one…

59

Steve 02.08.17 at 11:15 am

(At the risk of undermining my more serious point above, I think it would be great to have Confucian texts rewritten in the style of Parfit, or, even better, vice versa. I’d love to read how a gentleman from BoShan asked the sage about a teletransporter only to get a complex metaphor about filial piety. Although maybe that Parfit style just is a variation on the Analects, where the author takes on the role both of student and teacher…)

60

Layman 02.08.17 at 12:38 pm

anymouse: “You say that, ‘Black Lives Matter is on balance a force for justice. ‘ I call BS. The violent crime rate is up. There is a very plausible explanation that this is because of the general Black Lives Matter movement. Is that true? Maybe or maybe not.”

I imagine anymouse in 1863: ‘You say that the Abolitionist movement is on balance a force for justice. I call BS. Look at all the violence! There is a very plausible explanation that this violence is because of the general Abolitionist movement. Is that true? Maybe or maybe not.’

61

chris s 02.08.17 at 12:53 pm

” So not only should liberal reinforce these moral values, but they should do so exactly in typical American Conservative idiosyncratic ways: attack Russia and revere Reagan.”

I would say that in general the ineffectiveness of accusations of hypocrisy would point to this kind of argument being similarly ineffective.

It also somewhat undermines Haidt’s claims about PAL of course.

62

Faustusnotes 02.08.17 at 1:03 pm

I agree with Gabriel. Where’s the evidence conservatives value purity? These “broad stance” men who oppose gay rights while soliciting in bathrooms, these family values warriors who get divorced three times and vote in a known philanderer … In Australia we just discovered that 20% of Catholic clergy were involved in child abuse and in the same week a Catholic blowhard politician has split from the conservatives because they aren’t catholicly pure enough for him. These people support everything dirty and crude in modern life. Before he can construct any theory of conservative anything haidt needs to deal with that.

63

politicalfootball 02.08.17 at 1:39 pm

I wanted to talk a little more about that Haidt study, but I can’t imagine improving on 49.

64

Patrick 02.08.17 at 2:03 pm

Holbo, going from justice to fairness to evenness to regularity, observing that the sacralization of rituals typically involves regularity, and concluding that justice is being sacralized, is ridiculous. This is not a mathematical equation, and simply comparing the two ends of your pseudo math is enough to refute it. If we observe a culture in which regular ritual observance is sacralized, can we be confident that said culture cares about justice in the sense that your argument requires? All of human history says no. So that’s that.

By contrast, when we find the trappings of the sacred, do we find prideful wars of escalation in which ones self worth and sense of superiority over others is tied to ones superior veneration of the trappings of the sacred? Always.

People want to think of themselves as good. Doing good things is hard. Far better to define the veneration of something as morally good, and to treat praising it more than your peers as evidence of moral superiority.

That’s sacralization. You can’t convince an entire people to sacralize “justice” because the whole point of making something into “the sacred” is to give people something they can veverate in order to serve their own emotional needs, and the emotional needs of the majority aren’t served well by moral goals they can’t personally achieve better than their neighbor. Trying to make something like “justice” into a sacred object inevitably leads to things like “I share more Black Lives Matter memes than anyone else, and I’m rudest to people who are critical of it, I’m such a good person, and if someone I know starts doing even more I had better escalate.” Because that’s what this aspect of the human psyche is FOR.

65

Lee A. Arnold 02.08.17 at 3:06 pm

Pavel #52: “modern left makes holding truly sacralized positions very tenuous at best”

They deny it, but they really do hold some things sacred. E.g. science, analysis. (Another thing they hold sacred, i.e. money as a necessary information system, is probably false. This belief is held by the right, too.)

This may sound like one of those, “You deny it, but you really do it” arguments — and I wouldn’t bother to care, but it’s become rhetorically very damaging.

The error is definitional, equating “faith & sanctity” with “magic & fantasy”. This equation should have been discarded after the (brief) ascendancy of systems anthropology in the 1970’s. Gregory Bateson once wrote that his father, the great English biologist William Bateson, made all of the children read from the Bible aloud at dinner. He wanted his children to be atheists, but he didn’t want them to be empty-headed ones.

A good secular definition of the sacred in ritual is “that which cannot be falsified”, and so instead, it is communicated — and “verified” — by repetition.

Note that science does not change this. The repetition of scientific results eliminates that which is falsified (Popper’s negative move). This reboots the definition of the verified “sacred” into a different realm of discourse and ritual. It is called truth (until falsified). Does not eliminate the sacred, just retranslates the mechanics of it.

This goes beyond mere “social utility”. Sanctity is part of the mechanics of epistemology (and will probably stay there, until brain science creates a different & total image).

I think these things matter because our general crisis is epistemological, yet it now brings us to real dangers. To take one, the financial system defends its pathological overgrowth by relying upon the (false) sanctity of the information system of money. It presents a Gordian knot.

To take another, in the case of the climate, the system is complex, so the scientific truth is statistical. This does not bring faith to the unconvinced. Climatologists are incapable when trying to explain to the average Joe & Joanne — i.e. all the people who are caught between science and denialism — why a statistical warning should hold sway over the gibberish that god will save us because he always did before.

I have done better against denialists by yelling, “God gave you a rational brain to understand science! Why in hell don’t you use it?!”

66

Jake Gibson 02.08.17 at 3:11 pm

Interesting that Moral Foundations Theory has no reference to order. Though order is related to Loyalty and Authority. Order is a primary element of Conservative morality along with hierarchy. Wonder how Haidt would respond to that.
Pussyhats are a violation of both sanctity and order.

67

Lee A. Arnold 02.08.17 at 3:29 pm

Gabriel #54: “I guess, in the end, I don’t find convincing evidence that modern conservatives are all that fussed about purity, authority, or the sacredness of tradition… I’m open to the possibility that most modern conservatives are not aware of this…”

I think, now becoming dimly aware. My observation is that the destruction of the children’s morals by their vote for Trump has so disturbed many of them, that their long hypocrisy may finally be abreacting out of the subconscious.

Hate to sound Freudian but the only other way I could put it is that some few of them are becoming aware that they have gravely sinned.

Anyway I talk regularly to a few handfuls of Trump voters, and I am fascinated by this moral problem, and I can report that they are very touchy and very sore around this issue. You may have noticed this too. They usually go into self-denial and launch into blaming Hillary for something or other. It has progressed to the stage where I can politely remind them that she lost, she’s out of the picture, his behavior isn’t her fault, & so why are we talking about her?

Things haven’t proceeded beyond this deflection yet. As you may know, therapy takes time!! I will take a wild guess that half the country needs a shrink, and may need it ’til the day they die.

What this does to the national culture may be bad, or there may be an artistic movement to provide a cure, it’s impossible to say but I always hope for the best.

68

Z 02.08.17 at 3:38 pm

Ah, I coincidentally found the shortest one sentence formulation of my critique of John’s approach (and of the general Nietzschean genealogical project) I could desire: aside and independently from the question of whether pussy-hats-wearing marcher march for justice (a proposition that I agree with but which is irrelevant), John argues that pussy hats have an Ausdrucksfunktion (expressive function) in the sense of Cassirer while I say that (correctly) saying that should not obscure their Darstellungsfunktion (representational function) in the same sense.

And with that, I’m going to rewatch Epic Rap Battles of History Eastern Philosophy vs. Western Philosophy.

69

John Holbo 02.08.17 at 4:04 pm

“Ausdrucksfunktion (expressive function) in the sense of Cassirer while I say that (correctly) saying that should not obscure their Darstellungsfunktion”

They’re both funky. Why not have both? I am amenable.

70

bianca steele 02.08.17 at 4:17 pm

faustusnotes@62

Evidence is a liberal value. That Catch-22 is the best catch there is.

Now I’m sure Haidt will say that he does has evidence (I tend to think Neel@3 is correct), and maybe he’d even accuse me of lacking self-knowledge because clearly the reason I’m ignoring his evidence is because of my hidden (and conservative, natch) agenda. I don’t have an answer to that.

But his conservative fans probably wouldn’t, and instead would reach for authority. I guess I’d have to choose who required an answer at that moment. I’d also have to decide whether the person demanding a response was gaslighting me to hide the fact that his sanctity values require the absence of women from the discussion.

I hope John H. will accept the left-handed compliment that I think this is the best of his Haidt posts to date.

71

Z 02.08.17 at 4:27 pm

“Why not have both? I am amenable.”

I understand that you are amenable, they have both, you agree, no problem. But would Nietzsche? Does he have a theory of meaning that allows this (honest question)? And in analyzing pussy hats political role, which function is the most relevant?

72

Pavel 02.08.17 at 4:41 pm

@Lee A. Arnold

I think it’s important to consider whether these systems are self-correcting/adjusting. You’ve noted that science alters and retranslates the mechanics of the sacred, but may have omitted the idea that by doing so, science exposes the sacred to further contestation and therefore undermines its inherent status. It’s true that some hold scientific results in an almost reverent fashion, but the process of science does not (or should not, human failing aside). Most scientific discoveries are contestable and overturnable on the same grounds that they were made and there is a widespread admission in the scientific community that results are at best contingent (and any knowledge reached by science at best an approximation). As you’ve noted, this contingency (especially as it applies to statistical conclusions in complex systems) actually undermines the claims of science to special meaning or status amongst a more purity-minded populace. Analysis is likely in the same position, subject to the same undermining of its conclusions by its own processes. It’s true that it’s never possible to conclusively undermine science with science or analysis through analysis, but it is possible to change the processes of both through the application of their own feedback loops. This is a far cry from the sacral/purity objects that retain their status through loyalty, obedience, unquestioning acceptance or self-evident axioms.

Also, to clarify, I’m not implying that the sacred is equivalent to the magical/fantastical. I’m simply implying that if you are more predisposed to the magical/fantastical, you may also be more predisposed to holding a larger variety of things sacred or working in frameworks that make it more difficult to question the sacred.

73

politicalfootball 02.08.17 at 6:01 pm

I think, now becoming dimly aware. My observation is that the destruction of the children’s morals by their vote for Trump has so disturbed many of them, that their long hypocrisy may finally be abreacting out of the subconscious.

Anecdata aside, there is little evidence of this in the polls.

There are a few consolations to be had from Trump’s victory. One is that I never again have to keep a straight face when rightwing bigots pretend they are deeply concerned about decorum.

I am curious (but not actually curious enough to investigate) how Haidt rationalizes the fact that an aggressively profane billionaire got such support from people who place paramount value on ingroup loyalty, sanctity and purity. I suppose if “ingroup loyalty” is a synonym for “racism,” then you can see some of the Trump appeal, but Haidt seems unwilling to do that.

In the Haidtian view, these are voters that abhor the subversion of authority and tradition. Are you kidding me?

74

Bruce B. 02.08.17 at 9:41 pm

Faustusnotes #62: Reminds me of Theresa Nielsen Hayden’s great line about the real right-wing stance on homosexuality – “Much too good for the common folk.”

It seems like the fetishization of covert dirtiness is much more a thing on the right than the left. There are people on the left for whom the thrill of hypocrisy seems to be a real turn-on, but it’s routine on the right. And I know the latter is an influence on how friends of mine on the left talk about virtues: they are actively interested in not sounding like the sort of moralizer who turns out to be a gambling addict in the mega-dollar range, or a serial philanderer, or a child abuser, or a rapist of any other kind, and so on. Language they might use otherwise feels off-limits because it’s, hmm, tainted and impure.

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John Holbo 02.08.17 at 11:05 pm

“Holbo, going from justice to fairness to evenness to regularity, observing that the sacralization of rituals typically involves regularity, and concluding that justice is being sacralized, is ridiculous. This is not a mathematical equation, and simply comparing the two ends of your pseudo math is enough to refute it.”

Patrick, have you ever met a human being? They often think in an associative manner such that, were it to be mathematically formalized, it would be exposed as strictly invalid. You can refute people but you can’t refute their existence by refuting them. Can’t be done.

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John Holbo 02.08.17 at 11:11 pm

“I understand that you are amenable, they have both, you agree, no problem. But would Nietzsche? Does he have a theory of meaning that allows this (honest question)? And in analyzing pussy hats political role, which function is the most relevant?”

Are you basically asking if Nietzsche can have a theory of justice, not just an expressive account of the twisty workings of will?

As to whether I think the hats are expressive or more … the other thing: representational, whatever you want to call it – I would say this case is almost pure expressive theater. But that’s just me saying that a political march isn’t a political theory seminar. Obviously it’s not.

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anymouse 02.08.17 at 11:30 pm

John Holbo,

I just want to briefly correct and clarify.

Not even close to possible. I am not assuming if there is a cost there can be no benefit.

Abstract justice is meaningless.

Ok, abstract is not meaningless, it is a good starting point, and sometimes all that matters, but for the most part where your abstract ideas get translated into reality is what is important. Where the rubber meets the road.

Does Black Lives Matter make a difference? Is it a force for concrete justice? Well are fatalities committed by the police down? Is excessive use of force by the police in general down? If so let’s all cheer and put a big plus in the benefit’s column for Black Lives Matter. If not how do you claim that ‘Black Lives Matter is on balance a force for justice.’?

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John Holbo 02.08.17 at 11:50 pm

“I am not assuming if there is a cost there can be no benefit.”

I was responding to what you said not to what you meant. A nudge in the direction of clearer presentation.

“Abstract justice is meaningless.”

If by that you mean leftist protest is always misguided – then I would encourage you to be more precise in your usage. If that is not what you mean then I fail to see the relevance.

“here your abstract ideas get translated into reality is what is important. Where the rubber meets the road. “

Accordingly, I am gently encouraging you to move the rubber of your abstract complaints at least a little less far away from the political road of reality.

“If not how do you claim that ‘Black Lives Matter is on balance a force for justice.’?”

My short answer would be: BLM is addressing real problems that are incredibly unlikely ever to be solved by any mechanism unlike that of BLM. Any critique of BLM – please, feel free! – should either 1) rebut this presumption in some cogent way or 2) concede it, and change up its stance accordingly.

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Mike Toreno 02.09.17 at 12:43 am

You’re making this way way harder than it is. Conservatives don’t have any principles. They are motivated solely by tribalism. Conservatives support or opposed policies based on whether or not liberals favor them.

Why do conservatives reflexively deny the evidence for global warming? Why did James Inhofe think that the presence of snow in Washington, D.C. was evidence against *global* warming? (OK, physicians don’t have to be as smart as I thought they did, but why didn’t the other Republicans just laugh at him?)? It’s not because they believe or disbelieve any particular evidence, it’s because they reflexively disbelieve everything liberals believe.

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Lee A. Arnold 02.09.17 at 12:56 am

Pavel #72: “science exposes the sacred to further contestation and therefore undermines its inherent status”

Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that usage. I don’t mean that scientific results are sacred, rather that the scientific process follows the same rules of the category of the sacred. The rules describe a process of the establishment of knowledge that is to be accepted as certain. Thus, science itself is sacred, though its products are continuously revised.

I would agree that this point seems trivial or useless, except that ignoring this way in which science is sanctified causes some of the miscommunication to confused nonscientists who are looking for an anchor to steady themselves.

Similarly with the question of feedback loops. A lot of Rappaport’s later work was on the function of sacred ritual as a self-correcting regulator in socio-ecological systems (much as the method of science is endlessly reapplied to keep modern knowledge on course).

Perhaps the concept of the sacred is outmoded, after the change in thought in the modern period, from static being to evolutionary becoming. The category of the sacred seems like it should remain applied to old, static objects.

There is also confusion because the sacred in traditional ritual refers to a sense of wholeness, whereas new knowledge, indeed science, was always mythologized as causing a rending of the whole, and destruction: Prometheus, Adam & Eve, Orpheus, etc. (This mythos is perhaps carried into the present day by naive environmentalists.)

It is difficult to argue that science is constructing a whole view of the universe, when a more accurate (and scientific) description is that science is a “progressive deepening and erasure” (Cavailles).

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Lee A. Arnold 02.09.17 at 10:51 am

Politicalfootball #73: “there is little evidence of this in the polls… curious (but not actually curious enough to investigate) how Haidt rationalizes the fact that an aggressively profane billionaire got such support from people who place paramount value on ingroup loyalty, sanctity and purity”

First opinion poll questions would have to be something like, “Do you have a sense of shame? Do you feel consciousness of sin?” !!

Academics aren’t trained to take confessions, indeed some of them scarcely understand the concept nor perceive the set and setting.

This field is reserved to personal one-on-one encounters, for (some) psychotherapists and historians of religious ecstasy.

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Layman 02.09.17 at 12:27 pm

anymouse: “Does Black Lives Matter make a difference? Is it a force for concrete justice? Well are fatalities committed by the police down? Is excessive use of force by the police in general down?”

Once again, anymouse in 1858: “Does Abolitionism make a difference? Is it a force for concrete justice? Well, are there fewer slaves? Are depredations committed by slaveholders down?”

Then, in 1863: “See, I was right! Aren’t more people suffering now than were before?”

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Rob Chametzky 02.09.17 at 7:15 pm

>”There’s a myth about the U of Chicago: they make you read all Plato-Thucydides-Tocqueville, all the time, your first year. In my experience they had so many darn anthropologists, many of us spent our first year reading Geertz, Boas, Benedict, Levy-Bruhl, others. “

Sounds like you did ‘Self, culture, & society’ as your Soc, not ‘Power’ or ‘Classics of social & political thought’. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (full disclosure: I was an assistant in SC&S).

–RC

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anymouse 02.09.17 at 10:41 pm

Layman,

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

Abolitionists did make a difference. Over a 1,000 slaves escaped per year via the underground rail road. So, yes there were fewer slaves. All this from a population that is 1/15 what today’s population is. I call that a resounding success.

Are fatalities committed by the police down?

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John Holbo 02.09.17 at 10:48 pm

“Sounds like you did ‘Self, culture, & society’ as your Soc, not ‘Power’ or ‘Classics of social & political thought’. “

I remember “self, culture & society” – the phrase – but I don’t actually remember picking one track or another. I remember having a very different experience in two different semesters: one, we read very classic U of C stuff, Thucydides and the Federalist Papers, I think. The other was straight anthro. Don’t remember how that happened.

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Layman 02.10.17 at 3:12 am

anymouse: “So, yes there were fewer slaves.”

I suppose you must be unaware that they actually counted slaves. Officially. And recorded the numbers…?

https://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/00165897ch14.pdf

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John Holbo 02.10.17 at 4:09 am

Anymouse, would you accept the following proposition as possibly true: BLM engaged in the right kinds of activities, for the right reasons. But it does not follow that they succeeded, rather than provoking a backlash that might even have made things worse for those very people they sought, rightly, to help. I would count them as being a force for justice, if that were true. You seem unwilling to consider they might be a force for justice. Is that because you do not regard this statement as (possibly?) true? If not, what falsifies it, in your view?

In terms of your own abolitionism example: do you think there were any activities undertaken by abolitionists that proved futile or, in the event, even counter-productive? If so, do you regard that as an adequate basis for blanket indictment of the morality of abolitionism? If not, why not?

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J-D 02.10.17 at 5:14 am

anymouse

Does Black Lives Matter make a difference? Is it a force for concrete justice? Well are fatalities committed by the police down? Is excessive use of force by the police in general down? If so let’s all cheer and put a big plus in the benefit’s column for Black Lives Matter. If not how do you claim that ‘Black Lives Matter is on balance a force for justice.’?

I don’t know, but I do know this: ‘has not yet had major successes’ is not equivalent to ‘is obviously a bad idea’.

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Chet Murthy 02.10.17 at 9:16 am

Z @57 quotes Haidt’s advice for the 2016 election

last July, Haidt’s offered advice on his blog to counter Trump and part of it was “to link to moral intuitions about loyalty, authority, and sanctity” with his concrete examples being respectively Trump pals with our adversaries (Putin), Trump brings chaos and Trump degrades the Presidential legacy of “Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Reagan [sic]”

It occurs to me that the Dems did exactly this — linking Trump to purity and sanctity. Of what? Why, of “our women” (sorry, quotes there b/c while I don’t view it that way, a lot of the rhetoric was about “I’m a father/husban/brother and …”). And it didn’t work, did it? If Haidt is so right about the sacred (and all that other rubbish), shouldn’t this have worked a treat?

So confused …. or maybe it wasn’t about the sacred, and all about keepin’ us dusky-hued ones down.

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Scott P. 02.10.17 at 3:12 pm

“I guess I’ll try to constructively add to the conversation by noting that the strains of scepticism and analyticism (for lack of a better word) that currently run through most of the modern left, makes holding truly sacralized positions very tenuous at best. Even sacred objects like “pussyhats” and the biosphere are often questioned within the relevant subgroups (note the current row about the pussyhat itself) that spawned them. Any position that is taken too much at face value eventually acquires the stench of faith and that’s often a fairly (and rightly) despised epistemological dead end. “

Was just having my students read Clement Greenberg. He defines the essence of Modernism as an intellectual movement as using the tools of each discipline to criticize that discipline, in order to ‘purify’ it (interesting use of purity language). He argues that religion is incapable of such self-criticism, so Modernism tends to reduce it to mere therapy. It would be interesting to try and map his concepts onto Moral Foundations Theory.

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anymouse 02.10.17 at 5:01 pm

John Holbo,

Of course Black Lives Matter might be a force for justice! I hope they are!

Implicitly they might not be a force for justice. Right? I feel like we are making progress.

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J-D 02.10.17 at 7:54 pm

Of course Black Lives Matter might be a force for justice! …

Implicitly they might not be a force for justice. …

Of course you might be spouting rubbish!

Implicitly you might not be spouting rubbish.

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anymouse 02.11.17 at 2:17 am

J-D,

So you agree that Black Lives Matter might or might not be a force for justice?

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Raisuli 02.11.17 at 3:06 am

“Save the Whales!” (or – Whale Lives Matter) — Why be divisive? All marine mammal lives matter!

“Save the rainforests!” (or – Rainforests matter) — Why be divisive? All forests matter!

Positions one would logically assume were taken by “All Lives Matter” people?

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John Holbo 02.11.17 at 5:23 am

“Of course Black Lives Matter might be a force for justice! I hope they are!

Implicitly they might not be a force for justice. Right? I feel like we are making progress.”

Not to be stubborn, but I think saying BLM is ‘on balance a force for justice’, which is what the post says, pretty clearly opens the door to someone saying that I’ve done the weighing operation wrong. (I wouldn’t use the balance metaphor unless I were saying there is balancing to be done. Which concedes, implicitly, I could have done it wrongly.) So I feel that, if we are making progress, it is towards realizing that the post already made it. Right?

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J-D 02.11.17 at 6:16 am

anymouse,

So you agree that you might or might not be spouting rubbish?

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OSweetMrMath 02.11.17 at 9:43 am

Scarcely pausing for breath, Vroomfondel shouted, “We don’t demand solid facts! What we demand is a total absence of solid facts. I demand that I may or may not be Vroomfondel!”

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szopen 02.11.17 at 10:27 am

Liberals and leftists like to think of themselves as champions of justice and fairness and liberty – because they are!” They are not, to my eyes. A lot of things leftists propose feels unjust, unfair and contra liberty. That’s the most iritating things about leftists, that they think their concept of justice, fairness and liberty is the only one (e.g. by labelling some blatantly unjust things as “social justice”)

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John Holbo 02.11.17 at 11:41 am

“They are not, to my eyes. A lot of things leftists propose feels unjust, unfair and contra liberty. That’s the most iritating things about leftists, that they think their concept of justice, fairness and liberty is the only one (e.g. by labelling some blatantly unjust things as “social justice”)”

Ah, now you are starting to get the idea, szopen! You are almost there! One more step! The step is this: now we argue about justice! Not about whether sjw’s are annoying for their tribalism, or their sense that they are right. Everyone senses they are right. For example: you do. You see? Makes sense?

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bob mcmanus 02.11.17 at 8:57 pm

Maybe only tangential to the topic, but maybe useful currently reading Michael Dawson on 20th century black radicalism (including black nationalism from Garvey to Malcolm X) and simultaneously reading Kevin Doak on the history of Japanese nationalism
(very roughly minzokushugi = ethnic; kokuminshugi = civic with heated and disastrous arguments) and skimming thru the above thread I am wondering if part of the problem is that we are not really understanding who we are talking about in conservatives, liberals, feminists etc and if a return to a concept of nations and nationalisms (or Appadurai’s “spheres” could be helpful.

Appadurai is useful because his affective spheres are sort of nationalism without borders, not entirely new in that the Comintern and black nationalism sometimes aspired to oh interstatism (? ) because cosmopolitanism as high-limit tolerance doesn’t fit the Bandung or umma idea.

So rather than good guys cosmopolitans vs bad guys white nationalists etc we could see our second Gilded Age of Surging trainwrecking toward conflagration as in part a set of borderless nationalisms (neoliberalism, feminism, etc) aiming for a nation-world-state or an important place therein.

Important here is “nation” as not necessarily ethnic. Could the Transatlantic technocratic elite or Global feminism or Greens be viewed under a lens of borderless nationalism? There is a case, much more comfortably made than in the 20s and 30s, that racism and white nationalism have to a degree crossed borders.

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bob mcmanus 02.11.17 at 9:11 pm

I am aware of the Antisemitic minefield that is contained in “cosmopolitanism = borderless nationalism” but would escape it by claiming that most professed cosmopolitanisms really ain’t all that. I await my invitation to Davos. The borderless nationalisms I am considering are both much broader and more inclusive than ethnic nationalism and at the same time much more strident as to shared values and cultures. And obviously globally connected via the Internet. I myself belong to the Sovereign nation of anime fans. But really, is the Global arthouse film festival circuit, from Cannes to Sundance to Seoul some kind of “borderless nation?”

The concepts of purity loyalty etc perhaps can be more usefully examined as wider-ranging phenomena if we use some of the tools of nationalism studies.

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szopen 02.11.17 at 9:16 pm

@John Holbo
Sure, but I accept that the other side has their own ideas about what is just and fair. I used to talk about justice and stuff, but now I don’t (except in Polish with other Poles – seems we are less divided than you are). It makes no sense to participate in a discussion when the other side thinks you are an evil person.

And, from my experience, I really do think a lot of left-wingers tend to think that “the other side” are plain evil and do not really believe right-wingers can have just different ideas of what is fair or just. For example, I’ve heard some SJWs (being proud of being called SJWs, so this is not a derogatory label here) saying things in the sense of “how can anyone be against us or use SJW as a slur, do they really are against justice?”

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J-D 02.11.17 at 11:56 pm

szopen

Sure, but I accept that the other side has their own ideas about what is just and fair.

Do you have grounds for supposing that this accepting attitude is prevalent on the right in a way that it is not on the left?

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PatinIowa 02.12.17 at 12:36 am

Ever notice that when conservatives (O’Reilly, National Review, WSJ) link Black Lives Matter with a rise in violent crime, nobody points out that they assume that it’s black folks, specifically young black men committing those crimes?

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s white yahoos who believe that Obama was coming to take their guns away.

Glancing at the FBI news release, it’s certainly people with guns.

We can call the person making the assumption whatever we like. The assumption itself is racist.

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John Holbo 02.12.17 at 1:30 am

“I really do think a lot of left-wingers tend to think that “the other side” are plain evil and do not really believe right-wingers can have just different ideas of what is fair or just.”

Do you think this is less true on the right?

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John Quiggin 02.12.17 at 2:54 am

“I really do think a lot of left-wingers tend to think that “the other side” are plain evil and do not really believe right-wingers can have just different ideas of what is fair or just.”

Leaving aside the implicit asymmetry pointed out by others, what do you mean by “plain evil”, if not something like “believe to be fair and just what is in fact evil”. Most relevantly in the present context, I assume most racists/bigots/Christian dominionists hold those beliefs to be fair and just.

To be sure, there are some on the right, and the left, who are hypocrites, espousing beliefs they know to be false out of self-interest. But they are the minority on both sides.

In the present context, what’s striking is how many people who hypocritically gave lip-service to norms like equality and civility have revealed their true adherence to racism and bigotry now that it appears safe to do so.

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szopen 02.12.17 at 9:08 am

@everyone
There is a research I read long time ago (I tried to google it now, but I gave up, so you unfortunately have to believe me) in which conservatives and liberals were asked to write arguments from “the other side”. Acc. to the study authors, conservatives were more or less able to present liberal arguments, but liberals were presenting only parodies of conservative arguments.

OTOH, I’ve found this: (HU-human uniqueness, HN – human nature)
“Outgroup antipathy (but not ingroup liking) mediated the relationship between liberalism and the mechanistic dehumanization of conservatives, operationalized as the tendency to assign more negative HU than HN traits to conservatives. Given that liberals define humanness more so in terms of HN than HU traits, this greater attribution of negative HU than HN traits to conservatives appears especially malicious. ” … “One of the more interesting findings in this study is that animalistic dehumanization of liberals occurred through more strongly associating liberals with positive, not negative, HN than HU traits. It does not appear that conservatives believed liberals have a deficit in positive HU traits, as their average rating of liberals on positive HU traits (M = 3.68, SD = .85) is above the midpoint of the 6-point scale. Instead, this finding suggests that conservatives believe liberals have an excess of positive HN traits.”

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szopen 02.12.17 at 9:21 am

FOund it! Though it’s not about arguments, but about pretending to be “the other side” while answering questions about morality, so my memory definetely have failed me, to some extent.

https://theindependentwhig.com/haidt-passages/haidt/conservatives-understand-liberals-better-than-liberals-understand-conservatives/

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John Holbo 02.12.17 at 9:27 am

“There is a research I read long time ago (I tried to google it now, but I gave up, so you unfortunately have to believe me) in which conservatives and liberals were asked to write arguments from “the other side”. Acc. to the study authors, conservatives were more or less able to present liberal arguments, but liberals were presenting only parodies of conservative arguments. “

I think you may be thinking of Jonathan Haidt. Maybe you should read the OP for more information? I am unaware of a clinical study that asks for arguments and grades them on some sort of scientific ‘is this a parody’? scale. That would require knowing, objectively, what the actual arguments are on both sides and being able to more or less mechanically operationalize measures of relative distance from the ‘correct’ results. If you think about it, that’s going to be hard to do in an airtight, clinical, quantitative manner that everyone on both sides can agree is neutral and therefore reasonable. In general, I think both liberals and conservatives are able to meet the standard you yourself attain here – the ‘there’s research that supports me but I can’t google it right now’ bar. You’ve cleared that. But do you have anything better? It sounds like you are reluctant to take it to the next level – i.e. arguing about justice. You’d prefer keep it at the lower level – complaining about the other side’s personality faults? So you can keep complaining about how the other side’s personality fault is to focus excessively on the other side’s personality faults?

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John Holbo 02.12.17 at 9:34 am

In short, if the problem is that liberals won’t actually argue about justice, what’s wrong with trying to focus on justice, as a solution to that problem? (It may not work, of course, but if that’s the problem – a neglect of justice – what other solution is possible?)

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Peter T 02.12.17 at 10:13 am

“In the present context, what’s striking is how many people who hypocritically gave lip-service to norms like equality and civility have revealed their true adherence to racism and bigotry now that it appears safe to do so.”

In a spirit of (misdirected) charity, perhaps these are less hypocrites than closet believers? While most faiths celebrate martyrdom, not all insist on it. These people held to the true faith underground while the infidel reigned, but are now free to emerge and again proclaim openly their sacred truths rather than, as in the Time of Darkness, celebrating them only in the close confines of the country club.

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John Holbo 02.12.17 at 11:15 am

szopen: “FOund it! Though it’s not about arguments, but about pretending to be “the other side” while answering questions about morality, so my memory definetely have failed me, to some extent.”

szopen, that very study is referenced and critiqued in the post. See above. In short, you plainly haven’t read my argument yet here you are in comments arguing that the problem with my side is that we don’t bother to understand where the other side is coming from, argumentatively.

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szopen 02.12.17 at 11:18 am

JOhn Holbo, you are right about Haidt – it’s exactly the same claim you have investigated above. My memory, it seems, created a false image of the study, most likely twisting it to suit better my preconceived notions about liberal/conservative divide.

“what’s wrong with trying to focus on justice, as a solution to that problem?”
Nothing wrong, obviously. However, sometimes in order to focus on solution, you first have to neutralize the factors preventing you from reaching the solution, and second, sometimes it’s quite hard to just “focus on justice”, as it may be indistinguishable from “being against justice” from liberal perspective, and – moreover – it may require me to stop any discussion.

For example, let’s take the problem unique for my country, a “convention against domestic violence”. The convention is written from a liberal perspective, and at least in Polish translation, it included a lot of loaded verbiage, blaming domestic violence on patriarchy and requiring state to actively fight traditional female/male roles. Any discussion in which I, or other conservatives tried to explain our objections, always ends with “what’s wrong with you, you think it’s OK to beat women?”. It’s either we accept convention in whole, or we have to also fight against things in the convention which are undeniably good.

What “focusing on justice/care” would mean in this case?

That we accept the convention, because it includes a lot of good things and despite it has loaded verbiage and is worded in a very suspectful manner?

Or that we should shot it down, despite the fact that it includes a lot of good things, because it has loaded verbiage etc?

Trying to just “solve a problem” (of domestic violence) requires me to support things I think are wrong and which, from my point of view, introduce more problems.

Focusing on things which are, from my point of view, just, fair and moral, requires me to also being against some other things which are too just and fair, and it may prevent solving the problem (of domestic violence).

It’s like if your president Trump would propose a legislation giving additional funds for centres of domestic violence, but in the legislation they would have domestic violence described as mostly African-American problem, exacerbated by abandoning christianity and it would require states to fight traditional African-American lifestyle and spread words of Jesus Christ. How would liberals react?What “focusing on justice” would mean in that case?

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szopen 02.12.17 at 11:20 am

John HOlbo, No- I have read your argument. However, as I wrote above, my memory did me a bad service and I was quite sure there was more to the study than there actually was.

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engels 02.12.17 at 1:00 pm

Love trumps Haidt.

As you were.

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J-D 02.12.17 at 8:00 pm

szopen
I suggest you should focus on the probable effects (so far as they can be estimated) on people’s lives — making them better or making them worse — of adoption of the convention, as compared to the probable effects of not adopting it (and as opposed to focussing on whether you are comfortable with every detail of its wording).

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Guy Harris 02.12.17 at 8:58 pm

szopen:

OTOH, I’ve found this: (HU-human uniqueness, HN – human nature)
“Outgroup antipathy (but not ingroup liking) mediated the relationship between liberalism and the mechanistic dehumanization of conservatives, operationalized as the tendency to assign more negative HU than HN traits to conservatives. …

And you found it here, for the benefit of those of us who like to read the original when we see quotes.

As for

One of the more interesting findings in this study is that animalistic dehumanization of liberals occurred through more strongly associating liberals with positive, not negative, HN than HU traits. It does not appear that conservatives believed liberals have a deficit in positive HU traits, as their average rating of liberals on positive HU traits (M = 3.68, SD = .85) is above the midpoint of the 6-point scale. Instead, this finding suggests that conservatives believe liberals have an excess of positive HN traits.”

note that “an excess of positive HN traits” is not a good thing; to quote the paper in question:

According to dehumanization theory, people dehumanize others along two separate dimensions of humanness: human nature and human uniqueness. Human nature (HN) en- compasses traits that are seen as essential and fundamental to human beings (e.g., friendly, impatient). In contrast, human uniqueness (HU) entails traits that are seen as unique and distinctive to human beings, separating us from non-human animals (e.g., polite, shallow). Mechanistic dehumanization involves denying HN traits (or attributing an excess of HU traits) to groups, thereby characterizing them as unemotional, cold, and rigid, and likening them to robots, automatons, and machines. On the other hand, animalistic dehumanization involves denying HU traits (or attributing an excess of HN traits) to groups, thereby characterizing them as overly emotional, instinctual and lacking culture, and likening them to lower forms of animal life or children (Bain, Park, Kwok, & Haslam, 2009; Haslam, 2006; Haslam et al., 2009).

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Val 02.12.17 at 9:10 pm

John Holbo and szopen, the problem with both of you seems to be that – in different ways and to different degrees, I acknowledge – you are both so enmeshed in the ‘teddy bear patriarchy’ that you can’t see it, like the fish proverbially can’t see the water. And I am not going to explain any further because I don’t have time (thesis, as I’ve already said), but I’ll just put it there for you to think about.

One suggestion – look at what Haidt says about the embedding of ‘liberal’ values in the first example in the piece you (JH) linked to as his “recent paper” in your OP, and then go back and read “Teddy bear patriarchy” (which you must of course have read before because it’s both entertaining and brilliant). As a busy feminist, there is not time enough in the world for me to keep deconstructing patriarchal assumptions, especially when other feminists have done it so brilliantly already.

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PatinIowa 02.12.17 at 10:46 pm

Just for shits and giggles from Wonkette’s weekly digest of banned commentators:

Democrats, especially of the liberal persuasion, are scrambling. The hatred and evil they have for all is a clear sign of the relationship they have kindled with Satan himself; their teacher and mentor of darkness. There is no one who is safe from their wicked and venomous attacks. The senator from Massachusetts received exactly what she deserved. It was a long time coming. I for one find it quite refreshing to see what was once idle threats by Republicans turn into action. For all of you libs who leeched onto the failed Obama socialist agenda there is a new leadership in town. A leadership that will WORK hard to make this country one that it’s citizenship will be proud of again. The time of chaos and confusion is over. The prayers of many have been answered; Almighty God is in control, He will take care of this nation. You can either work with us or stay on the porch and out of the way. Your time is up. It is time to rebuild a nation.

Read more at http://wonkette.com/612649/deleted-comments-demons-are-real-elizabeth-warren-is-fake#rPXQZSxgmYFyDEsu.99

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John Holbo 02.12.17 at 10:46 pm

If you go down to the blogs today
You’re sure of a big surprise.
If you go down to the blogs today
You’d better go in disguise!

For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain,
Because today’s the day the
Teddy Bears have their patriarchy.

121

John Holbo 02.12.17 at 10:50 pm

Patriarchy for Teddy Bears
The little Teddy Bears are having
A lovely time today.
Watch them, catch them unawares,
And see them through your Haraway

122

J-D 02.13.17 at 12:22 am

Val

I hope I can be the first to acknowledge your generosity in taking time out of your busy schedule to explain that you aren’t able to take time out of your busy schedule to explain.

Perhaps time pressure is responsible for the flaw in your chain of reasoning:

… and then go back and read “Teddy bear patriarchy” (which you must of course have read before because it’s both entertaining and brilliant).</blockquote
Sadly, the world contains so much reading matter that is both entertaining and brilliant that it is impossible for any individual to read all of it.

But perhaps I have misunderstood and your remark was intended ironically? If so, I would have an ironic response for you.

123

Val 02.13.17 at 1:10 am

@ 120 and 121
Thank you, that’s beautiful. Gave me a good laugh.

124

Val 02.13.17 at 1:31 am

Ok I’ve written quite a bit of thesis this morning so I reckon I can justify taking some time to discuss this. Excuse me for not going back and reading this carefully, but the examples that Haidt gives in that discussion I mentioned, as I remember, are of researchers’ ’embedded liberal values’ being demonstrated in the choice of whether people support a female colleague who complains of sexual harassment and whether they think that environmental harms are more important than the (interests? success? profit? not clearly specified) of a company.

So presumably an ‘objective’, ‘even-handed’ non-liberal view of these things would be that there is no reason why people should support the female colleague (not necessarily that she is ‘correct’ in her claim but support her right to make such a claim) and there is no reason why the environment should be seen as more important than the success of a business – it’s all just a matter of ‘values’. However, as Haraway (and so many other feminists) have shown, that is to ignore history – that the history of our societies is one in which men (white men) were seen as the central actor, the normative being, the one who was in charge/superior to both women and the natural environment. I guess in some ways I am just an empiricist, a historian who is saying to so many people here, and to Prof Haidt in this case, ‘but you guys, this stuff isn’t just about “values’ – it’s the way our ancestors actually thought, it’s the way they saw the world and the way they shaped society’

probably most people won’t understand this and I don’t blame them because I’m writing it in such a hurry, but I hope some of it may be clear or make people think. But at least in one part of the argument I do think a lot of the ‘liberals’ or ‘lefties’ here would agree, and several have already mentioned, that you can’t just leave the environment out of the discussion (as Haidt et al do in the Moral Foundations theory also), because ultimately it’s not just a ‘value’ – empirically we can’t survive without it. Conservatives are wrong on this.

125

Layman 02.13.17 at 2:51 am

Val: “As a busy feminist, there is not time enough in the world for me to keep deconstructing patriarchal assumptions…”

If only this were true.

126

Landru 02.13.17 at 4:43 am

Re 107-108 above:

This kind of observation (assuming it’s true, not disputing it here)

Acc. to the study authors, conservatives were more or less able to present liberal arguments, but liberals were presenting only parodies of conservative arguments.

or similar/equivalent statements like

conservatives-understand-liberals-better-than-liberals-understand-conservatives

may not always mean what you’d like them to.

Consider an example, where one were to observe that “Astrologers can reproduce findings and arguments made by astronomers, but astronomers were unable to recognizably reproduce the output of astrologers.” And, if you like, you can push this into simply “Astrologers understand astronomers better than astronomers understand astrologers.”

Contrary what some might like to think, this does not mean that astrologers are more open-minded or observant or better at logical thinking than astronomers. The real cause of the discrepancy here is, of course, that astronomy is a real field of study based on reality while astrology is stylized gobbledygook. Thus it is possible for anyone, even astrologers, to study and follow logical arguments used by astronomers and then describe them as such; while astrology, which has very little grounding in reality and similarly has very little need for logic, amounts to “making stuff up and repeating it among the like-minded” and so of course it can’t be imitated successfully by people outside the brotherhood.

In short, the observation that “B’s can reproduce A’s arguments, but not vice-versa” is perfectly consistent with an underlying reality, that “A’s use actual logic, while B’s have only cant and irritable mental gestures.” Not a proof, of course, but consistent.

127

Val 02.13.17 at 5:24 am

Why can’t you guys just ever admit that you’re wrong and I’m right? I wouldn’t have to keep telling you then.

128

Val 02.13.17 at 5:29 am

Also Landru @ 126 – that’s a good point.

Also similar to what I was saying about empiricism – it’s hard for ‘liberals’ to present conservatives’ views effectively if the conservatives are empirically wrong, eg if conservatives ‘view’ on climate change is denying that it is happening.

129

Sebastian H 02.13.17 at 6:54 am

“The step is this: now we argue about justice! Not about whether sjw’s are annoying for their tribalism, or their sense that they are right.”

But to be clear we also sometimes have to talk about tribalism, because sometimes (oftentimes perhaps?) tribalism strongly influences how we talk about justice.

For example, there are alot of seemingly good thoughts about abortion morality. There is weighting personal autonomy, human sanctity (on both sides), there is weighting scales of humanness, there is weighting responsibility (or not) to helping others, there is the precautionary principle (on both sides), there the question of how much the government ought to be involved in regulation.

Yet no matter where you end up on the grounding questions, if you are a Democrat you will profess a fairly radical by world standards (and even by Western country standards) anti-regulation stance. If you are a Republican you will tend to be pro-life after about 4 months of gestation or so with a small but noticeable number of Republicans advocating a radical anti-abortion stance.

You’ll see libertarian arguments that would be laughed out of the discussion in any other argument mouthed without the slightest bit of self reflection. You see liberals saying things like “there is no duty to sacrifice anything of yourself to keep someone else alive”, and conservatives arguing that “there is a duty sacrifice lots to keep someone else alive (so long as it doesn’t involve taxes)”.

Similarly, on the issue of the death penalty, Republicans suddenly forget their skepticism of government efficiency. Suddenly the government which allegedly can’t investigate its way out of a paper bag on environmental issues, and which should allegedly be protecting maybe-persons in the womb under the precautionary principle of “they might be persons so we shouldn’t risk it”, is capable of even-handedly sorting guilt from innocence with enough certainty to kill people.

It is almost as if certain issues aren’t sorted into political parties, but rather that the beliefs come from the fact that you are already associated with a certain political party.

If you want to talk about justice, you have to really be willing to think about things like “Why am I using libertarian arguments here when I ridicule people for using them elsewhere?” or “Why am I making an argument to trust the government on this life or death issue when I won’t even trust it to regulate light bulbs?”

130

Pavel 02.13.17 at 7:31 am

@Val @Landru

… and many conservative views are deeply faith-based and therefore not constrained by any kind of predictable internal structure (i.e how did Christian Libertarianism become the new norm? Internal consistency is for losers, clearly). As a Liberal™ I have a tough time predicting where the next religious awakening or CT theory is going to take the Right, so yes, I would personally fail the test of replicating their exact set of current positions.

131

casmilus 02.13.17 at 10:42 am

@124

“So presumably an ‘objective’, ‘even-handed’ non-liberal view of these things would be that there is no reason why people should support the female colleague (not necessarily that she is ‘correct’ in her claim but support her right to make such a claim) and there is no reason why the environment should be seen as more important than the success of a business – it’s all just a matter of ‘values’. However, as Haraway (and so many other feminists) have shown, that is to ignore history – that the history of our societies is one in which men (white men) were seen as the central actor, the normative being, the one who was in charge/superior to both women and the natural environment.”

None of the words after “However” actually amount to a rebuttal of the preceding view, unless one is already committed to a particular idea of fairness that values equality in all dimensions of social identity.

It’s really simple: if all “values” are “constructed” and the product of prevailing society, then that also applies to the “progressive” morality that puts equality above all, in an entirely ahistorical, non-pragmatic way that seems to be appealing to timelessly objective notions of “human nature”, yet that appeal is entirely omitted because the preferred rhetoric is to deny that move in order to undermine the non-progressive enemy viewpoint.

It is at this point that writers like Alasdair MacIntyre decide that the only way to save liberal humanist values is to rescue them from liberal humanists, and their “radical” offspring. Namely, to openly rehabilitate the despised notions of “human nature” and pose them as a challenge to the plastic forms that conservative politics prefers in practice, when it wants to servile workers for its factories.

Citing Haraway and every other hand-wringing critical theorist is no use to anyone who doesn’t already agree with their vaguely defined ideals of “progress”.

132

Val 02.13.17 at 11:41 am

@ 131
I’ve got no idea what Haraway thinks about ‘progress’, I’m referring to her as a historian. Can you engage with the history? That’s what I keep asking. Patriarchy and racism describe social phenomena that happened historically. They have left a mark. You can’t just pretend they never happened.

133

Val 02.13.17 at 12:08 pm

Also, I suppose (hope) it’s obvious that my comment @ 127 was aimed at Layman in particular, and was a joke.

I wish I didn’t have to say that, but maybe it’s useful for J-D at least

134

Layman 02.13.17 at 12:54 pm

Sebastian H: “Yet no matter where you end up on the grounding questions, if you are a Democrat you will profess a fairly radical by world standards (and even by Western country standards) anti-regulation stance. If you are a Republican you will tend to be pro-life after about 4 months of gestation or so with a small but noticeable number of Republicans advocating a radical anti-abortion stance.”

This turns out to be spectacularly wrong.

According to Pew, 60% of self-described Republicans think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases (68% of self-described conservative Republicans and 42% of self-described moderate Republicans).

On the other side of the aisle, 24% of all Democrats say some abortions should be illegal.

http://www.pewforum.org/2017/01/11/public-opinion-on-abortion-2/

135

engels 02.13.17 at 1:15 pm

…A teddy bear company renowned for repellent sexist marketing is hawking a 4-foot stuffed bear to moron dudes who persist in having no clue about how to get laid on this gross holiday. According to the TV ad, no woman can resist the allure of this vapid-faced oversized toy. The commercial features sexy lingerie models flopping in slow motion onto puffy beds with this giant fluffy bear. Their expressions are pornorgasmic with the same closed-eye ecstasy you see in commercials for love-replacement foods like chocolate and whipped cream. They are really getting off on mating with this bear. Possibly they sense that its emotions are more genuine and its conversation more scintillating than any dude who would think a huge stuffed animal is an appropriate gift for an adult woman…

http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/2015/02/10/get-stuffed/

136

Layman 02.13.17 at 1:37 pm

@ Sebastian H, is your comment 129 a sly attempt to demonstrate the effect of tribalism? Something like “I identify with Rs, belong to Rs, and of course my own views on X are reasonable, therefore the R view of X must be generally reasonable, and only a few odd Rs have unreasonable views on X “? If so, well done!

137

politicalfootball 02.13.17 at 1:42 pm

126: “Conservatives cannot support Trump” was, at one time, a prominent view among conservatives.

138

Lupita 02.13.17 at 2:21 pm

Their expressions are pornorgasmic with the same closed-eye ecstasy you see in commercials for love-replacement foods like chocolate and whipped cream.

Call me patriarchal, but I fully agree with capitalists and their advertisers peddling chocolate in my direction. I must get it from my father. Since I was little, if I was very nice, he would let me have a chocolate from his stash.

139

stevenjohnson 02.13.17 at 3:13 pm

Unwelcome news perhaps, but the comments by Landru and Pavel do reveal the uselessness of Haidt’s Popperian empiricism. Statistically controlled experiments that can falsify an hypothesis may not be science in any meaningful sense of the word.

casmilus @131 “It’s really simple: if all ‘values’ are ‘constructed’ and the product of prevailing society, then that also applies to the ‘progressive’ morality that puts equality above all, in an entirely ahistorical, non-pragmatic way that seems to be appealing to timelessly objective notions of ‘human nature,’ yet that appeal is entirely omitted because the preferred rhetoric is to deny that move in order to undermine the non-progressive enemy viewpoint.”

Not quite sure how casmilus feels about this, but I have to note two things. First, historical explanations of the emergence of new values derived from the pragmatic needs of evolving societies (maybe in consequences of equally pragmatic political struggles, by the way) are commonly rejected in principle on the ground that such historical explanations are mere narratives, historicism. It can be very convenient rhetorically to insist that your opponents’ values can only be as ahistorical and unpragmatic as your own because then they are just as irrational as your own. Epistemological skepticism is always fundamentally reactionary.

Second though, there is the positive content. Popper may deem actual evidence to be confirmation bias. Nonetheless conservatism of any kind, if engaged in rational debate, needs to provide evidence for the propositions that there really is such a thing as human nature, an independent causal factor in history and society and polity and economy; that human nature commands specific behaviors and forbids others, and, very useful to know, what these laws are; certain categories of humans as such are unequal, and, to the point, which ones are.

None of these propositions has been supported. Evolutionary psychology is pseudoscience relying on the charade of falsifiability. Otherwise, the conservatives are like the creationists trying to rebut evolutionary theory with foundational difficulties (are “foundations” in the sense of a logically complete set of axioms implicitly containing all possible conclusions even possible?) or gaps in knowledge. Or, like szopen’s counter-revolutionary etude, they play only amongst themselves.

140

casmilus 02.13.17 at 3:14 pm

@132

“engage with the history” – whose history? Haraway’s is just one amongst others. All contestable, none “objective”.

141

stevenjohnson 02.13.17 at 3:18 pm

PS @135 Well, yes, but how would she feel about diamonds for Valentine’s Day? It’s amazing how much this seems like a complaint about cheap, not patriarchy.

142

b9n10nt 02.13.17 at 3:33 pm

Sebastian H @ 129:

This echoes my thinking on the matter. My hypothesis would be: in relatively unconditioned situations (which do not trigger group identities) each of our supposedly distinct moral modules arise. When I get pissed off at someone driving very fast and changing lanes aggressively, is the trigger “harm” (as it should be for a good Leftist)? It feels more like “authority” ( the rest of us schlubs are following the Rules of the Road, you should too!).

A second (unrelated) hypothesis: Haidt’s moral foundations are all founded on an instinct for survival that is projected on to others. Perhaps “Obey authority” is a projection of my need to trust in the consistency of others’ words. I need to trust that my current sacrifice for the group will be payed back in the near future. I then project that need onto others: You need to show me that you are following through on commitments to (the Leader/the Law/the Gods), especially if these commitments are in conflict with your immediate desires.

143

Patrick 02.13.17 at 4:00 pm

I looked at the pew studies question wording.
I don’t know what the exact details on republican abortion positions are, especially on a person by person level.
But I don’t think that study refutes Sebastian’s claim.

It was literally just a “abortion, pick one: illegal in all, illegal in most, legal in most, legal in all” question. And then they added the two sides.

I can imagine a “no abortion after four months except if the mothers life is in danger and I mean real danger not this all pregnancy is a danger stuff” Republican answering “illegal in most.”

Maybe there’s some other study that shows Sebastion to be unambiguously wrong. I wouldn’t know. Just, that one doesn’t seem to do it.

144

Patrick 02.13.17 at 4:02 pm

I should add- maybe the unaggregated data refutes him. Or maybe not. I didn’t pull it apart that deep.

145

Sebastian H 02.13.17 at 4:16 pm

You’re right, the all or most cases Republicans is higher than I remembered, though you should probably use the Gallup polls to analyze my claim since they break things down by trimester in some of their polls. (To be clear it appears that the number of Republicans is still higher than I had remembered so it doesn’t help, but the difference between all and most can be rather vast depending on what cognitive biases affect the ‘most’).

Also too be clear I don’t identify with Republicans, though I was certainly raised to be one so I understand the point of view quite a bit better than many here.

It may very well be a great case of tribal bias in the discussion too. But to be fair we should note that you immediately seized on the part of the discussion that you think hurts the tribe that isn’t yours, while studiously ignoring the part of it which hurts the tribe that is yours.

It is an interesting data point all around.

146

Billikin 02.13.17 at 5:12 pm

Why does “Black lives matter” get the rejoinder, “All lives matter”? We can speculate about psychological reasons, but one reason is that “All lives matter” is an effective rhetorical reply. It makes it seem that to say, “Black lives matter”, devalues the lives of other races. Be we know that that is not the case. Rather, it means that Black lives matter, as well as other lives. So a response to “All lives matter” might be, “That’s what ‘Black lives matter’ means. People say it because Black people are treated as though their lives do not matter. All lives matter, including Black lives.” Such a reply defuses or diminishes the rhetorical power of “All lives matter” by pointing out that it does not disagree with “Black lives matter” and focuses the discussion on how Black people are treated.

147

politicalfootball 02.13.17 at 5:17 pm

szopen’s complaint fails to reckon with the issue: What if liberals are right to regard conservatives with contempt?

There is a case to be made that Donald Trump — the overwhelming favorite of conservatives in the US — is an extraordinarily poor president and a serious danger to … well, to everything a US president can be a danger to.

That belief may be incorrect, but it doesn’t seem frivolous to me. Anyway, I believe it. Given my belief, how should I think of folks who support Trump?

Likewise, there’s a strong view among conservatives that atheists and liberals are the witting servants of Satan Himself — indeed, that we are abetting a Holocaust on a scale with Hitler’s, among other things.

How on earth could I possibly expect people who hold that view to be tolerant of my views?

Speaking for myself, I will continue to regard the creationists, the racists, the pussy-grabbers, the global-warming deniers, the abortion fabulists, the Fake Newsers, etc. as anathema. But I won’t insult them, as you do, by suggesting their beliefs are so insincere that they ought to find me tolerable.

148

Chip Daniels 02.13.17 at 6:30 pm

“I really do think a lot of left-wingers tend to think that “the other side” are plain evil and do not really believe right-wingers can have just different ideas of what is fair or just.”

I believe I can speak to this, since from the late 70’s to the mid 90’s I was an eager Reagan conservative, then turned left winger.

Its possible to view conservatives as simply misguided but well intentioned. But in order for that to be a credible belief, there needs to be evidence of a desire for a just policy outcome.

For example, the old notion that the church and family should be the backbone of a social safety net, rather than the government.

This can be a virtuous and laudable goal one I might have embraced at one time.

If there was anyone actually saying it;
If there was any evidence of it being a sincere desire;
If there was any policy actually behind it;
If there was any evidence put forward that it could achieve its goals.

But there isn’t.

The contemporary conservative movement is on record as being presented with the question of what to do about those without health insurance, and to the answer “Let them die”, gave thunderous applause.

The contemporary movement has embraced Donald Trump, and not in spite of, but because of his ugliness.

I just can’t bring myself to believe in their good will or warm intentions. There isn’t any credible explanation that leads me to pick out a kernel of kindness in the mountain of excrement.
Can anyone, anywhere, sketch a vision of a Trumpian society that is just, righteous, and desirable? Even Trump himself hasn’t even bothered.

149

bruce wilder 02.13.17 at 7:34 pm

Sebastian H @ 129

Sometimes, I think we have to talk about culture and how culture changes and is made to change.

The “arguments” that get repeated as we catapult the propaganda in the political processes of cultural change are rarely deeply argued. There may be deep arguments elaborated sometime somewhere (and that’s likely to be in fictional narratives more than works of expository political philosophy or punditry), but when we put on our partisan team jerseys and go out onto the field of political discourse, we typically take not the depth of argument but slogans and cliches to kick around the water cooler or talk shows or family gatherings. And, in the back-and-forth, what we choose to hear is as much a strategic and combative choice as what we choose to say.

The arguments over the morality of abortion are a subset of arguments set off by the Sexual Revolution that overtook American and Western culture between the late 1950s and 1980, a culture transvaluation that manifested as a vast array of political reforms that are still playing out as whatever wave of feminism we are surfing and gay liberation and so on.

The leftish have been winning the culture wars while losing the economic wars, and the leftish have been losing the economic wars because so much of the culture war left has not seen fit to fight the economic wars, the class wars. They are looking to the transformation of consciousness. And, tolerating or even promoting neoliberalism among key politicians, and neoliberal leadership (e.g. Obama, Clinton) has left the leftish political parties in a shambles, while right-wing parties have become ever more radical and emboldened.

There’s a still small core of the Republican Party that is counter-revolutionary with regard to the Sexual Revolution. It is not about abortion, per se, with them; it is about restoring authoritarian control of sexuality (and in many cases fundamentalist religious domination of culture along with a not-incidental economic domination by certain classes of capitalists). Abortion is just a frontier issue, where they feel they can move popular opinion enough to provide cover for incremental “progress” on restoring authoritarian repression of sexuality. They choose their propaganda and slogans for the expected impact on people who do NOT have a deeply founded set of ideas. So, if you observe or analyse those “arguments”, what you are observing is how the fanatics see OTHER people who are not fanatics, people with, frankly, shallow notions, people whose shallowness might otherwise be termed, moderate and reasonable.

150

Val 02.13.17 at 10:26 pm

There’s a lot of stuff on the airwaves about #persisting in spite of being told to sit down and shut up, so
This is the argument
– JH originally used the pink pussyhats as an illustrative example for a discussion he was having about a theoretically non-gendered framework
– some feminists protested that he was missing or obscuring the point (or possibly worse)
– he said it was his blog and he could write what he liked
– he then wrote another post on the topic
– a feminist (me) argued that the framework actually demonstrated the point made by Haraway (and many others) that historically the non-gendered individual (‘he’) of patriarchal epistemology is implicitly a (white) man who is superior to and in control of ‘others’ (women, the environment, ‘inferior races’, other species)
– JH wrote a response that was funny but didn’t address the point
– Layman told me to shut up

151

John Holbo 02.13.17 at 10:46 pm

Val, how does a broad reference to Haraway show (or even suggest) that things I say in the post are mistaken?

“Why can’t you guys just ever admit that you’re wrong and I’m right?”

As you say, there’s a lot of stuff about #persisting in the air …

152

John Holbo 02.13.17 at 11:05 pm

“JH originally used the pink pussyhats as an illustrative example for a discussion he was having about a theoretically non-gendered framework”

Just to be clear: my framework wasn’t theoretically non-gendered. To theorize about A without theorize about B is not to theorize that not-B.

153

engels 02.13.17 at 11:06 pm

154

John Holbo 02.13.17 at 11:11 pm

Other people are owed follow-ups to their comments but I’m planning a follow-up where I actually address the Mill issue, so maybe that will cover it.

155

Helen 02.13.17 at 11:45 pm

“Why can’t you guys just ever admit that you’re wrong and I’m right?”

As you say, there’s a lot of stuff about #persisting in the air …

As we say in Australia, that was a joke, Joyce. Val has said as much upthread (predicting, accurately, that people would be literal about it.)

156

b9n10nt 02.13.17 at 11:57 pm

Chip Daniels @ 148

“The contemporary conservative movement is on record as being presented with the question of what to do about those without health insurance, and to the answer “Let them die”, gave thunderous applause.”

It’s a terrible sentiment and even worse public policy. But it’s a tragic sentiment, not an evil one. Hatred and ignorance are conditioned, and find fertile ground in a psyche wracked by unconscious (self-ignorant) self-hatred.

157

J-D 02.13.17 at 11:58 pm

Val
Everything is connected to everything else.

Therefore, if we are ever going to discuss anything at all, we must do so while omitting discussion of some of the things it is connected to.

Since everything is connected to everything else, everything is connected to patriarchy. If we ever discuss anything at all without discussing its connection to patriarchy, is that tantamount to pretending patriarchy doesn’t exist?

158

John Holbo 02.14.17 at 12:00 am

I definitely think if they ever film Emile Durkheim’s “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life” they should cast Wahlberg as Durkheim and give him a wisecracking talking teddy sidekick.

159

John Holbo 02.14.17 at 2:42 am

“As we say in Australia, that was a joke, Joyce. Val has said as much upthread (predicting, accurately, that people would be literal about it.)”

Helen, you are taking my comment too literally. As we Yanks say, that was a joke.

160

John Holbo 02.14.17 at 2:49 am

For the benefit of the possibly humor-impaired, I was also not serious about the Durkheim film adaptation idea. Wahlberg looks nothing like Durkheim. If I were seriously to cast Durkheim, the role would have to go to someone like Simon Pegg, maybe? What do people think? Pegg in a beard? A passable Durkheim. Then we could film “Elementary Forms of Religious Life” as the fourth film in the Cornetto Trilogy.

161

Peter T 02.14.17 at 2:52 am

Rather than supposing that conservatives (and perhaps everyone else except political philosophers) derive their commitments from their norms, it would appear from actual conduct that they derive their norms from their commitments. Respect for authority (unless wielded by black persons, Democrats, women…), loyalty to the group (unless that impedes access to office, power, prestige…), purity (exception for mixing precious bodily fluids with the properly subservient….).

162

Val 02.14.17 at 2:57 am

@ 157, and JH passim and layman and anyone else for whom this may be relevant

You know the pink pussyhats were (possibly I cannot emphasise enough how obvious this is without resorting to lots of full caps) a gendered protest.

It’s not like we were talking about weather or cabbages or something and I just tried to drag in the patriarchy (no really guys, it actually isn’t)

163

John Holbo 02.14.17 at 3:09 am

“It’s not like we were talking about weather or cabbages or something and I just tried to drag in the patriarchy”

No, Val, you falsely accused me of excluding discussion of it. That’s different.

164

John Holbo 02.14.17 at 3:15 am

No one is saying it’s wrong to discuss the patriarchy.

Yet some of us are saying it is not wrong to not discuss the patriarchy (in a given post, say).

165

Val 02.14.17 at 4:06 am

@163
“No, Val, you falsely accused me of excluding discussion of it. That’s different.”

There’s also a difference between choosing not to talk about something (which is what I thought you were doing, and took you to be saying) and “excluding discussion of it” (which I haven’t actually accused you of, although you apparently think I have).

Do you think Haraway’s et al’s critique can be applied to Haidt’s framework?

166

John Holbo 02.14.17 at 4:22 am

“There’s also a difference between choosing not to talk about something (which is what I thought you were doing, and took you to be saying)”

Val, you accused me of being very confused and doing something shameful. There’s obviously nothing confused or shameful about choosing to talk about something. QED, that wasn’t what you were accusing me of. If you are now retracting your original accusations, fine.

“Do you think Haraway’s et al’s critique can be applied to Haidt’s framework?”

Let me see if I have guessed the SAT-style analogy correctly.

Haidt is to Durkheimian cultures as Olmstead is to Central Park and Teddy Roosevelt is to shooting gorillas, so he can bring them home and mount them? Have I guessed your Harawayan riddle aright?

167

J-D 02.14.17 at 7:45 am

Val

You know the pink pussyhats were (possibly I cannot emphasise enough how obvious this is without resorting to lots of full caps) a gendered protest.

If it’s so emphatically obvious a point, then what makes you think it might be necessary to draw it to my attention? It’s not as if I made any suggestion to the contrary.

168

Val 02.14.17 at 7:46 am

I would have thought ‘something insensitive’ rather than ‘something shameful’.

I explained what I meant about Hathaway before. Here’s a good quote from Teddy Bear Patriarchy:

“Man [was not understood to be] in nature because he is not seen, is not the spectacle. A constitutive meaning of masculine gender for us is to be the unseen, the eye (I), the author”

169

Val 02.14.17 at 7:50 am

Actually I think I’ve mangled that quote (good thing I found out because I was using it my thesis) – I guess it should be

“Man was not [understood to be] in nature because he is not seen, is not the spectacle. A constitutive meaning of masculine gender for us is to be the unseen, the eye (I), the author”

Very careless, I will have to check it.

170

Val 02.14.17 at 7:52 am

Oh no I also put Hathaway rather than Haraway. Time for a break.

171

John Holbo 02.14.17 at 10:40 am

“Man was not [understood to be] in nature because he is not seen, is not the spectacle. A constitutive meaning of masculine gender for us is to be the unseen, the eye (I), the author”

I like my SAT-analogy answer better.

172

Layman 02.14.17 at 1:14 pm

Sebastian H: “But to be fair we should note that you immediately seized on the part of the discussion that you think hurts the tribe that isn’t yours, while studiously ignoring the part of it which hurts the tribe that is yours.”

Point me at the bit that I ignored, please. I promise to studiously un-ignore it. Also, I’m happy to look at the Gallup data, if you’d like to point me at it.

Patrick: “But I don’t think that study refutes Sebastian’s claim.”

I could say that this is going at it backwards, and instead of quibbling over whether the study I offer refutes his claim, you should be asking him for the data that supports it. At least I’ve offered something! What I’ll say instead is that you should look at the Pew study again, and decide whether it would cause you to opine that, for reasons of tribalism,

“…if you are a Democrat you will profess a fairly radical by world standards (and even by Western country standards) anti-regulation stance….”

What are world standards, or Western world standards? What is radical WRT those standards? Which Western countries have abortion regulations more strict than the median Democrat would support?

Or would you say that, among Republicans,

“…a small but noticeable number of Republicans advocating a radical anti-abortion stance.”

Does the survey indicate that? Again, what does ‘radical’ mean?

I say it reflects nothing so much as Sebastian H’s own view, which is that Democrats have nearly uniform ‘radical’ views on abortion while only a ‘small number’ of Republicans have ‘radical’ views on abortion. He says, in effect, that it is Republicans who are the reasonable ones on this matter.

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Layman 02.14.17 at 1:16 pm

Val: “– Layman told me to shut up.”

As we say in Australia, that was a joke, Joyce.

174

engels 02.14.17 at 1:24 pm

“…if you are a Democrat you will profess a fairly radical by world standards (and even by Western country standards) anti-regulation stance….”

Umm left/liberals have nothing against abortion being regulated—actually we’d rather it was (i.e. safe, legal and available to those who need it). Just because libertarians are stupid doesn’t mean everybody else is…

175

Sebastian_H 02.14.17 at 8:16 pm

“Which Western countries have abortion regulations more strict than the median Democrat would support?”

That isn’t a fair question because the Democratic Party is much more radical than the median voter on abortion–including the median Democrat. Which is precisely why abortion has retained its political salience over the years while many other culture war items have faded.

But to answer the question of which Western countries have regulations more strict than the Democratic Party would support:

France, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Finland, and Israel are all more restrictive than is supported by the Democratic Party. They all have various cut-off dates for abortions that are much earlier than the 6 months Roe allows, many of them right around 3-4 months. Many of them have strict waiting periods which Democrats strongly oppose. Most of them have strict rules for medical necessary abortions later in the pregnancy (and by that I mean later than their 3-4 month cutoff–not the post 6 months that are involved in the US late term abortion wrangling) which involve multiple doctor review with intensive documentation of medical danger (see especially France and Sweden). All proposals of this style are strongly opposed by the Democratic Party. On nearly every dimension on abortion–the regulation of timing, the regulation of reasons in later pregnancy, the oversight of doctors who perform abortions, and in opposition to waiting times–the Democratic Party is much more radically pro-abortion (or against abortion regulation) than the countries I have cited.

176

J-D 02.14.17 at 11:30 pm

Val

I would have thought ‘something insensitive’ rather than ‘something shameful’.

Here’s the bit from the previous discussion where you used the word ‘insensitive’:

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.

It seems to me that John Holbo has explained what he was trying to do. Does it not seem that way to you?

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Val 02.15.17 at 4:12 am

@ 173
Noted.
What are you doing in Australia? I was sure you were American.
Or as we say in Australia, is that meant to be a joke (too)?

178

Val 02.15.17 at 4:48 am

J-D @ 167
Maybe you should go back and read your own comment, and then you could possibly work it out for yourself.

179

J-D 02.15.17 at 10:45 am

Val

Nope. You’re giving me either too much credit or not enough.

180

Saurs 02.15.17 at 11:07 am

And so it remains that the best evidence presented thus far to support the thesis, as deft an example as any of circular reasoning, that it’s left-wing or liberal people who regard sexual assault as an impurity is the invocation of a right-wing trope: that sexual contact with men cheapens women, that male genitalia defiles things, that the only method for preserving female bodily autonomy is steadfast chastity and the kind of good luck that immunizes you from sexual violence. Liberal folk, picking on the poor rapists, are actuated by conservative dogma, ergo Pussyhats? That‘s the thesis we’re pitching a fit to defend? Well and truly lol at forever picking the most asinine, not-even-wrong battles. Can’t win for losing, though, eh?

181

John Holbo 02.15.17 at 11:36 am

Saurs!

You make me feel like a Willy Wonka meme.

Please! Tell me more!

182

Layman 02.15.17 at 1:53 pm

Sebastian H: “That isn’t a fair question because the Democratic Party is much more radical than the median voter on abortion–including the median Democrat.”

I’m confused. Before you were saying that (all) individual Democrats have extreme views on abortion because of tribal behavior. Now you’re saying that (most) individual Democrats don’t have extreme views on abortion, that it is the party platform which is extreme.

“Which is precisely why abortion has retained its political salience over the years while many other culture war items have faded.”

Good grief, what nonsense! Abortion retains its political salience because it is the stated objective of one party to outlaw it, and the it is the view of the majority of that party’s adherents that it should be illegal. Here is the Republican Party platform foundational statement on abortion:

“Accordingly, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to children before birth.”

If you believe and assert that fetuses are people, then you believe that abortion is murder, and there is no compromise available which does not make you complicit in murder. The Republican Party is not seeking to eliminate late-pregnancy abortions, it is seeking to eliminate ALL abortions. As a political tactic, it sometimes proposes or legislates lesser restrictions, but that is a tactic. It is committed to eliminating legal abortion.

As for your list, it is a good one. In which of those countries does a very large political faction – one large enough to be in power half the time – seek to outlaw abortion?

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bruce wilder 02.15.17 at 2:27 pm

Re: Sebastian H & Abortion

Continuing the discussion of abortion politics as an example of tribalism, etc

@ 175 Sebastian is repeating a narrative argument which is clearly and solely tribal: . . . the Democratic Party is much more radical than the median voter on abortion–including the median Democrat. Which is precisely why abortion has retained its political salience over the years while many other culture war items have faded.

Narrative arguments of this kind are not rooted in some deep consideration of what is right or wrong, ethically or politically. The implicit premise is that the politics itself — the bickering — is a bad thing. This is an argument that is aimed squarely at those moderate and reasonable folks who do not like politics and mostly pay little attention because in politics people disagree and argue and generally fight and that is confusing and disturbing and they don’t like it. What this narrative has to say about the Democrats is two-fold: the Democrats are at fault for keeping the argument heated, but not all Democrats, oh no. It is only the bad Democrats in charge of the Party: most Democrats are less radical, the median Democrat isn’t like that. So, it is also an invitation to abandon the Democrats on this issue.

The anchor for this kind of manipulative argument is usually counterfactual and Sebastian stays true to form: why abortion has retained its political salience over the years is an imaginary Democratic Party radicalism.

I did a little Googling, and apparently the notion that the Democratic Party has become “more radical” over time on abortion became a talking point on the political right repeated by the Republican Wurlitzer during the election: it is the Democrats driving the endless fights on abortion — not the nice reasonable Dominionists assassinating doctors, you see. This was an electoral tactic, not a serious analysis.

The international comparison Sebastian proposes seems to me to be tendentious at best. France, the first country on his list, has a 12 week standard, within which a woman can obtain an abortion on her own mere motion and that’s less than the vague “viability” standard in legal effect in the U.S. which is usually taken to be 20+ weeks. But, of course in France, the abortion would be practically available and would be paid for within the national system of health care. And, the “strict” standard after 12 weeks is that 2 medical doctors agree that a medical standard is met justifying abortion. France was the pioneer of the abortion pill that was subject to extended controversy in the U.S. The recent trend of French policy has been to reduce or eliminate waiting periods and other burdens placed on women.

The Democratic Party on this issue is responding to a fully sorted constituency that finds the initiatives of extreme anti-abortion activists on the Right genuinely threatening to an eroding status quo of law and custom. In the U.S., the frontier issues are whether insurance or the government will fund abortion or reproductive services in general and whether abortion will be a practical option in large swathes of the country. Find me a Western country other than the U.S. where abortion doctors are under a threat of assassination or where either funding within the usual channels of health care finance or medical advice within the usual channels of patient consultation is under ban or assault.

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engels 02.15.17 at 3:45 pm

Maybe of interest—Robert Paxton’s defn of fascism from The Anatomy of Fascism:

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a massed-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

185

stevenjohnson 02.15.17 at 3:53 pm

Saurs@180 ” left-wing or liberal people who regard sexual assault as an impurity is the invocation of a right-wing trope: that sexual contact with men cheapens women, that male genitalia defiles things, that the only method for preserving female bodily autonomy is steadfast chastity and the kind of good luck that immunizes you from sexual violence. “

Holbo as a Nietzchean of some sort (critical, reconstructive, post) should neither be assumed comprehensibly consistent, nor assumed to be on the side of the angels, which is not a comment on the person Holbo, but on Nietzche. (No doubt my opinion can be safely dismissed as ignorant of philophy.) Neither understanding clearly what Holbo is about here nor sure it’s good as well as wise, I’m not really interested in your criticism of Holbo as such.

But it would be interesting to clarify the quote cited? Looking at the characterization of the right wing trope, I was puzzled by several oddities. I thought the prevalent right wing view is that sexual contact outside marriage cheapens women, while sexual contact within marriage cheapening women is a minority view? I thought the prevalent right wing view is that contact with female genitalia (and any effluents) defiles things. The c-word is the filthiest word because the c- is the filthiest thing by the right wing lights, no?Also, when is the right wing concerned with female bodily autonomy, rather than female virtue? And doesn’t the right wing view hold that female virtue can be restored after being lost to an assault by punishment of the rapist? Metaphorically (or perhaps it is hoped literally?) the blood of the rapist washes away the sin of the raped?

As to the left-wing or liberal people, I presume you meant an impurity in the victim here? At any rate, such a view I think implies the necessity for a severe retribution upon the rapist, sufficient to compensate the loss of virtue. This would include permanent shaming, like that of the victim; harsh imprisonment conditions; rejection of rehabilitation (and deterrence even) in favor of long sentence; presumption of guilt; purge of the judiciary to support proper punishments. Well, Crooked Timber is certainly widely regarded as left-wing, and it’s favored these things. So perhaps there are left-wing or liberal people who do in fact regard sexual assault as a sexual impurity.

But, do you mean to approve this position (sexual assault=sexual impurity) as genuinely left-wing or liberal? I’m not sure, but it seems like the simplest interpretation of your comment is outrage at a left-wing or liberal position being misrepresented as right-wing. Except your version of “right-wing” isn’t quite right. Even worse, it’s not quite wrong, which means maybe the left-wing or liberal equation of sexual assault=sexual impurity really does overlap with a right-wing attitude. (“Trope” seems a little too specific here, being close to synonymous with “cliche.”) But it’s hard to believe you meant this. A note: Other parts of the post seem to imply conservatives go easy on rapists. It seems to me to be much more accurate to imply conservatives are quite harsh on rapists when they are satisfied the victim defended their virtue.

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Sebastian H 02.15.17 at 4:49 pm

Bruce, I don’t understand what you are trying to say about France. A woman can choose an on demand abortion in France in the first three months. She can do so in the United States as well. But the second three months are incredibly different. In the US a woman can choose to get an on demand abortion in months 4-6. In France she can only get one if two physicians certify that the abortion will be done to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; a risk to the life of the pregnant woman; or that the child will suffer from a particularly severe illness recognized as incurable.

That is an enormous difference. Sweden has similar rules to France except at the 18th week (month 4.5), after which you need to get special authorization from the National Board of Health and Welfare.

You write “The Democratic Party on this issue is responding to a fully sorted constituency that finds the initiatives of extreme anti-abortion activists on the Right genuinely threatening to an eroding status quo of law and custom. “

This makes me want to talk about slippery slopes and politics. First we should remember that in the 1970s, states had the ability to restrict abortions in the second trimester, just like they do in France. It wasn’t until the Supreme Court destroyed that status quo of law and custom and set it behind the difficulty of getting a Constitutional amendment that abortion issues evolved into a “fully sorted constituency “. Until then there was a wide variety of abortion opinion across both political parties. In the view of the discussion, the tribal valence of abortion was not high in US politics until after the ability to pass abortion restrictions in the second trimester (as is done in all of the European countries I noted above) was removed.

Nearly all of the discussions I have about the issue quickly raise some formulation of “but we can’t have moderate abortion restrictions because the pro-lifers in the US are uniquely evil”.

There isn’t a slippery slope that rolls straight down from extremist Democratic-side abortion rules to extremist Republican-side total abortion bans. It is more like a valley. If you prop the boulder precariously up on one side and your support beams fail it can roll down the valley and up into the other side (where the extremists hope to make it stop. But if the boulder is sitting at the bottom of the valley already, everyone is going to have a lot of trouble pushing it way up either side. Cutting off the political channels that far from public opinion CREATES radicalization and PROMOTES tribalism.

That doesn’t excuse radical pro-lifers at all. They engage in all sorts of evil things all on their own. But like dealing with radical Islam in the West, the proper response isn’t to try to crush Islam, but rather make things good enough for the center that the radicals won’t be able to gain traction. Choosing to take an orderly approach of bringing abortion regulations more in line with the moral intuitions of the vast majority does that. Choosing to try to defend the more radically pro-abortion current state of affairs is one side of a dynamic that leads to risks of catastrophic failure because you make the more radically pro-life side look closer to public opinion than it really is. Yes it is only half of a nasty dynamic. Yes pro-lifers have their own nasty half of the dynamic.

But to bring it all back to the original topic, it is tribalism which only lets us see our opponent’s half (which we can’t fix) instead of our half (which we can fix).

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bianca steele 02.15.17 at 5:27 pm

It isn’t at all clear why Haidt is supposed to be helpful here.

If Democrats and liberals make nice to religious conservatives, will they feel less hostile and more inclined to teach religious adherents that killing doctors is wrong?

If Democrats and liberals make nice to “respectable” (presumably not Domininionist) religious conservatives, will they be strengthened, and the Dominionists accordingly weakened, without disturbing liberals’ and non-Christians’ separate peace?

Or if Democrats and liberals listen to religious conservatives, read conservative books the way conservatives read them, and stop trying to study those books in modern, “liberal” ways, will modern liberal ways of reading those books just arise naturally like fog from the morning dew, and be shared peaceably by left and right alike?

Or is there some other, more probablistically feasible outcome?

TL;DR What Saurs said is true.

Also I think I will seriously consider Haidt again when George Lakoff writes a serious book responding to him, and not before.

188

J-D 02.15.17 at 8:18 pm

Saurs

Liberal folk, picking on the poor rapists, are actuated by conservative dogma, ergo Pussyhats? That‘s the thesis we’re pitching a fit to defend?

No, that’s not it.

189

Val 02.16.17 at 1:13 am

J-D
ok I will respond

So you referred to a previous example I had given where in my thesis on maternity, I got an angry response from an Indigenous woman I had interviewed because she felt I was using her interview material in an insensitive way. So I discussed what I was trying to do further with her and fortunately for me, she agreed it was ok.

My point there was that rather than getting cross with a person from an oppressed group if they accuse you of being insensitive (as John Holbo did with me), you should try to talk with them about why they think that. The ‘I’m going to get angry with you because you accused me of racism/sexism’ response is really questionable and I think JH was definitely close to that.

You went on to say that I said I’d explained what I was trying to do and the person in question had accepted that, so why wasn’t I happy when John Holbo explained what he was trying to do. But the two cases aren’t comparable.

Briefly, what I was doing was writing about women’s experiences of maternity, and the difference between Indigenous women’s experience and white women’s experience was an important theme in that, but not the central theme. My research participant could have said ‘well I thought that was the central theme and that’s why I talked to you and in the circumstances I withdraw permission for my information to be used’ – but she didn’t, fortunately for me. But that example is not comparable to what John Holbo is doing.

What I suggest would be more comparable to what John Holbo did would be if I had written the thesis using some other conceptual framework in which differences in women’s experience due to racism were not considered: for example if I had used women’s age or marital status as a key marker of difference and only acknowledged racism as something that was important but that I wasn’t going to look at it in detail because it wasn’t my area of research interest.

And in this sense Haraway’s remark is relevant: John Holbo is like the authorial “I (eye)” who chooses what to write about, and protests from those being written about (in which I include myself broadly as a feminist who was sympathetic to the pussy hat marchers although I didn’t march) aren’t relevant unless they specifically address the issue he has chosen to write about.

Now I am being too harsh to John Holbo, because I’m giving a hypothetical example of someone who would choose to interview an Indigenous women about her experiences and then ignore what she saw as a key point, which would be egregious. However I am choosing this extreme example to illustrate a distinction that is certainly very important in current debates – are we, as academics, researchers, etc, ‘objective authorities’ who examine ‘material’ and present certain truths or facts about it, or are we part of that which we examine, so that we must always be reflective and self-critical about our relationship to that which we are studying or writing about? So when one of our ‘subjects’ pops up and says ‘hey I don’t agree with what you are saying about me or those like me’, should we engage in dialogue with them or should we tell them that they are wrong or irrelevant because what they want us to talk about is different from what we want to talk about?

None of this addresses the fact that I think Haidt’s moral foundations framework is flawed, and that JH’s failure to recognise those flaws is part of the same problem. Briefly, JH recognises flaws of logic in the way it’s used, but he doesn’t engage with the basic problems in the framework that also relate to Haraway’s point about the authorial ‘I’ as implicitly a white male expert, the normative person, who ‘knows’ in a way that others don’t, because they can only ever be part of the ‘other’, that which is known.

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John Holbo 02.16.17 at 2:38 am

“What I suggest would be more comparable to what John Holbo did would be if I had written the thesis using some other conceptual framework in which differences in women’s experience due to racism were not considered: for example if I had used women’s age or marital status as a key marker of difference and only acknowledged racism as something that was important but that I wasn’t going to look at it in detail because it wasn’t my area of research interest.”

Val, this relates to a question I asked you earlier, but you did not answer. Suppose I wanted to write a history of political protest marches in the United States – maybe going back to the Populists and Fry’s Army, and including a lot of rather unsavory items: KKK marches. Suppose I wanted to include the 2017 Women’s Marches as examples of political protest marches in my history. This apparently falls foul of your stricture against discussing such stuff except on the context of writing that is primarily about feminism and women’s issue, per se.

So what do you think about that? Is it kosher to write such a history or not. If not, isn’t that kind of extreme? If so, how is that consistent with your stricture?

I don’t see the relevance of the Haraway stuff. You namecheck, but namechecking is not an argument. What is the evidence I am guilty of asserting that I know in some privileged way? (I mean: besides the Willy Wonka joke.) Is the evidence just that I wrote a blog post, and I surely wouldn’t have done that unless I thought I had something to say? Ergo I must think I know a thing or two. If so, that seems pretty mild and generic, as assertions of epistemic privilege go. If not that, then what?

191

J-D 02.16.17 at 3:07 am

Sebastian H

Bruce, I don’t understand what you are trying to say about France. A woman can choose an on demand abortion in France in the first three months. She can do so in the United States as well. But the second three months are incredibly different. In the US a woman can choose to get an on demand abortion in months 4-6. In France she can only get one if two physicians certify that the abortion will be done to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; a risk to the life of the pregnant woman; or that the child will suffer from a particularly severe illness recognized as incurable.

That is an enormous difference. Sweden has similar rules to France except at the 18th week (month 4.5), after which you need to get special authorization from the National Board of Health and Welfare.

I wonder whether you are taking sufficient account of the difference between theory and practice?

There are many situations in life where you can’t have something, or can’t have it done, without first obtaining a particular approval. Sometimes that approval is, in practice, very easy to obtain; sometimes it is very difficult. Your description of the formal position in France gives no indication of how difficult it is in practice for a woman to obtain the specified certification from two physicians; your description of the formal position in Sweden gives no indication of how difficult it is in practice to obtain the specified authorisation from the National Board of Health and Welfare.

On the other hand, if I can believe what I have read, the actions of State governments in many US States have made it very difficult in practice for women to obtain abortions which, in theory, they are legally entitled to have access to (although if I’ve been misled by what I’ve read I’d appreciate being straightened out on that point).

192

Layman 02.16.17 at 11:50 am

Sebastian H: “First we should remember that in the 1970s, states had the ability to restrict abortions in the second trimester, just like they do in France.”

Why stop there? We should remember that abortions of any kind were illegal in 33 states, and subject to a variety of restrictions in 13 more. Those restrictions read more or less like the GOP’s standard ‘compassionate’ anti-abortion preferences: that abortion is only available in cases of rape, incest, or risk to the life or health of the woman.

“In the view of the discussion, the tribal valence of abortion was not high in US politics until after the ability to pass abortion restrictions in the second trimester (as is done in all of the European countries I noted above) was removed.”

Or, in other words: In the wake of Roe v Wade, one party adopted a position in opposition to the ruling, which morphed into a position of opposition to most legal abortions, and then into that of opposition to any legal abortions at all; and the other became, in your view, the extreme one.

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engels 02.16.17 at 12:08 pm

the normative person, who ‘knows’ in a way that others don’t, because they can only ever be part of the ‘other’, that which is known

I think I’ve seen this approach to discussion somenwhere, can’t think where

194

John Holbo 02.16.17 at 2:01 pm

The most normative person on the internet:

https://xkcd.com/386/

If so, I plead guilty as charged.

195

J-D 02.16.17 at 8:23 pm

Val

Thank you. I appreciate your effort.

I would say this:

In a situation where I have said or written something at which you (or some other person) has taken offence, I may have a number of possible responses available to me. I might respond along the general lines of ‘I did not mean what you have taken me as meaning, and I had good reason for saying [or writing] what I did’. Or, I might respond along the general lines of ‘I understand how it can have happened that you took offence and I regret any offence caused; still, I did not mean what you have taken me as meaning, and I had good reason for saying [or writing] what I did, although perhaps I could have expressed myself more clearly’.

Often, and perhaps always, the second kind of response is to be preferred to the first.

I can’t be sure what relationship there is between what I have just written and any point you were trying to make, but it’s the thought clarified in my head by reading your comment.

196

Val 02.17.17 at 4:47 am

JH @ 190

“Val, this relates to a question I asked you earlier, but you did not answer. Suppose I wanted to write a history of political protest marches in the United States – maybe going back to the Populists and Fry’s Army, and including a lot of rather unsavory items: KKK marches. Suppose I wanted to include the 2017 Women’s Marches as examples of political protest marches in my history. This apparently falls foul of your stricture against discussing such stuff except on the context of writing that is primarily about feminism and women’s issue, per se. “

It doesn’t “fall foul” in any way, but the fact that you think it does seems to suggest that you haven’t understood what I was saying at all. As to why that is, I guess we would both have different answers.

Just to clear up a bit of the apparent misunderstanding, I presume you would acknowledge in your hypothetical history that the march was a ‘women’s march’ and the pussy hats had a range of different meanings but were particularly intended to protest against Trump’s (and his supporters’) attitudes towards/treatment of women, particularly, but n0t only, the sexual objectification of women.

Of course if you were using some weird theoretical approach that meant you couldn’t acknowledge that, then yes, I would object. However, even if you were writing ‘The History of Protest Marches in America Analysed in terms of Haidt’s Moral Foundations Framework’ at least the potential lack of significance given to people’s protest symbols, as they themselves understood them, would be even-handed, rather than applying just to a woman’s march.

Just to pose you some questions, in return. Below is a link to signs at a protest march in Australia against our former female Prime Minister. My questions:

1. Which of Haidt’s Moral Foundations is “Ditch the Witch” appealing to?
2. Could a protestor at a protest march against a male Prime Minister or President achieve the same effect by carrying a ‘Ditch the Wizard’ sign?
3. If not, what does that tell you about the possible limitations of using Haidt’s Moral Foundations Framework as a way of analysing political protest?

https://www.google.com.au/search?q=Ditch+the+Witch&rls=com.microsoft:en-AU&tbm=isch&imgil=YvqpZ60vgMfndM%253A%253BNpwiS3UlGe15HM%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.smh.com.au%25252Ffederal-politics%25252Fpolitical-news%25252Fnotorious-julia-gillard-ditch-the-witch-sign-up-for-sale-20150210-13al4r.html&source=iu&pf=m&fir=YvqpZ60vgMfndM%253A%252CNpwiS3UlGe15HM%252C_&usg=__Ixkd-6JdA37WDOvnXnCdmKwAGVM%3D&biw=1920&bih=1105&ved=0ahUKEwipqsivqZbSAhUBJZQKHb9HCQUQyjcILg&ei=9H-mWKngJIHK0AS_j6Uo#imgrc=YvqpZ60vgMfndM:

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engels 02.17.17 at 2:25 pm

Could a protestor at a protest march against a male Prime Minister or President achieve the same effect by carrying a ‘Ditch the Wizard’ sign?

No, but in many cases they could achieve something similar with an epithet referring to race or ethnicity (Obama, Sanders), age (Corbyn), personality/mental health (Trump), etc

Anyway you appear to be leading Holbo socratically to the insight that misogyny exists. That is undoubtedly true and important but I can’t help synpathising with his view that it doesn’t seem to be devastating objection to the fact he wrote about something else.

198

John Holbo 02.17.17 at 2:41 pm

“It doesn’t “fall foul” in any way”

OK, this is good! Let me push it a step further! Suppose, instead, I wanted to write a History of Anasyrma (man, what a thread this is turning out to be!) and I want to include a chapter on pussyhats as recent manifestation of this very ancient form of ritual symbolic display. Would THAT still be kosher, according to you?

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

I see there’s a recent book on the subject as well. Don’t know if it’s any good. Not my thing, most days.

https://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Display-Magical-Figures-Eurasia/dp/1604976748/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487337084&sr=8-1&keywords=Sacred+Display%3A+Divine+and+Magical+Female+Figures+of+Eurasia

Now be it noted: if you say ‘yes’, that amounts to admitting that my theoretical approach doesn’t have to be as weirdly narrow as you keep insisting it has to be (for reasons that continue to escape me, honestly.) There’s no reason why you can’t mix good old apotropaic anasyrma and up-to-the-minute social justice activism.

If you say ‘no, that couldn’t possibly be a thing’ then I have to ask: sweet sheela na-gig, why not?

I’m obviously not saying that the marchers literally think their hats have magic powers. I’m just saying that, here as elsewhere, symbolic action and communal social practices that appeal to modern secular folks often have striking analogies to religious rituals, often of a quite ancient sort. (So sue me, I’m a Durkheimian. Kind of.)

Also, what’s your counter-explanation/analysis of the pussyhat symbol? How and why is ostentatious objectification of a female body part into a display item an effective symbolic protest against the objectification of women? My account explains how that works. What’s your explanation of how that works? Riddle me that.

Speaking of which: I don’t find your female Prime Minister puzzler all that puzzling. It’s obvious why ‘ditch the wizard’ isn’t going to work. ‘Wizard’ isn’t an insult, whereas ‘witch’ is. Wikipedia says: “wiche as a contemptuous term for an old woman is attested since the 15th century.” The slightly more interesting question is, WHY is ‘witch’ an insult? Here we could speculate. Accusations of witchcraft serve to punish/exclude from the community women who seem like violators of some norm. So there are quite likely authority/hierarchy/purity elements at work, in Haidt terms. Accusations of witchcraft are going to be ways to tighten social bonds and maybe keep women in line – maybe that explains why what was once a gender-neutral term became feminized? But it isn’t the job of a theory like Haidt’s to provide a causal explanation of all human action and symbolism. Why did THIS word become an insult starting in the 15th century – and stay one ever since? – but THAT one didn’t? Who the hell knows? It isn’t reasonable to expect a framework like Haidt’s to allow us to deduce fine detail like that.

“If not, what does that tell you about the possible limitations of using Haidt’s Moral Foundations Framework as a way of analysing political protest?”

Well, when we started this discussion you – and others – didn’t admit that there even could be an element of Durkheimian (not really Haidtian) sacred/profane line-drawing in pussyhat politics. Haidt himself largely misses that purity politics is quite standard on the left. He thinks it’s normal on the right but anomalous on the left. I think that’s quite mistaken. If I’m right, that seems kind of interesting.

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engels 02.17.17 at 2:42 pm

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John Holbo 02.17.17 at 2:46 pm

That’s hilarious, engels.

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AcademicLurker 02.17.17 at 3:59 pm

It’s obvious why ‘ditch the wizard’ isn’t going to work. ‘Wizard’ isn’t an insult

Fun fact: back in 1991, David Duke ran for Governor of Louisiana. Back then at least some white Americans had a sense of shame, and so an open KKK leader running for Governor and making a credible showing was considered scandalous. He only did as well as he did (he lost with 38% of the vote) because his opponent was utterly and shamelessly corrupt. Since Duke has been the grand wizard of the KKK, one newspaper at the time dubbed the campaign “The Wizard vs the Lizard”.

Connections of this to Haidt, purity, and/or pussy hats are left as an exercise for the reader.

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John Holbo 02.17.17 at 4:03 pm

OK, it turns out wizards are bad. I stand corrected. In my defense, I sort of knew it already:

http://crookedtimber.org/2016/03/02/monster-manual/

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Ogden Wernstrom 02.17.17 at 5:41 pm

A protest sign for a narrow audience:

Trump Loves Haidt

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SusanC 02.17.17 at 9:51 pm

‘Wizard’ isn’t an insult, whereas ‘witch’ is.

In British English, yes. But I have heard that your mileage may vary considerably across European languages i.e. the direct translation of “wizard” may have rather stronger connotations of maleficium than it does in Br. English; “witch”, on the other hand, has negative associations even in Br. English.

(There was considerable gender politics at work in trials for maleficium in the Early Modern period, obviously).

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SusanC 02.17.17 at 10:40 pm

For the negative sense of “wizard” in English, see eg. Leviticus 19:31 in the KJV: “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.”

But you’ld probably say something like “necromancer” in English if you wanted the male/gender neutral version of the negative term. Interestingly, though “witch”/”wizard” are often used metaphorically, “necromancer” really is a literal accusation of necromancy. (Which, if you’re being pedantic, is a more narrow and specific category than maleficium. I can also imagine a few people’s RPG characters arguing that necromancy is not necessarily maleficum … probably shortly before their character meets an unfortunate end …)

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Val 02.17.17 at 10:49 pm

Sometimes trying to defend a feminist position on CT feels like having to stand there and try to make sense while a group of men throw random references and vaguely worded insults at you. In other words, an experience that is both useless and unpleasant.

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Val 02.17.17 at 11:37 pm

Once more into the breach:
“Also, what’s your counter-explanation/analysis of the pussyhat symbol? How and why is ostentatious objectification of a female body part into a display item an effective symbolic protest against the objectification of women? My account explains how that works. What’s your explanation of how that works? Riddle me that.”

You must be similarly puzzled by expressions like ‘black is beautiful’, ‘gay power’, ‘queer politics’, and so on, I presume.

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ZM 02.18.17 at 1:20 am

Witch doctors can be men, so that could be an effective insult to a male politician on a political sign. Although the term carries racist and/or primitive overtones more strongly than witch does. But you could presumably call some male politician who was peddling some anti-science policy a witch doctor.

John Holbo,

What makes you think the pussy hats are more of a symbol of purity as opposed to a symbol of women’s rights or autonomy?

Looking comparatively at female clothing, something like the hijab or chador seems to be more of a symbol that denotes and is protective of ideas about female purity, where the pussy hats seems to be more about presenting a display about ideas surrounding female rights and autonomy.

I don’t think these are the same…

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ZM 02.18.17 at 1:23 am

(A problem I have noted with insults is it’s very difficult to find good politically correct ones, the politically correct ones mostly sound arch rather than very insulting)

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Tramp 02.18.17 at 1:52 am

Val, all I’m really getting from you is that you want Holbo to acknowledge that the pussyhats were a gendered symbol, which he has.

But what Holbo wants to do is engage with Haidt on Haidt’s terms, Haidt’s so-called Moral Foundations theory, and specifically Haidt’s argument that liberals lack a few of them and that’s bad and why conservatives are necessary (on campuses, to tell liberals about their lacking moral foundations, etc.); Holbo is using pussyhats as a counterexample i.e. as a purity symbol,”keep your hands off my pussy”, something Haidt insists that liberals generally don’t do. The discussion of the pussyhats as a gendered symbol don’t enter here simply because Haidt doesn’t work, at least on the base level of moral foundations, on the level of gender.

Now, you could be making the argument that it is fundamentally wrong to not talk about sex and gender as a defining moral foundation, thus it is wrong to engage on Haidt without criticizing this oversight, if that is your argument. Or you could be arguing that Haidt’s moral foundations theory is agendered and ahistorical, a la your Haraway reference, and therefore is fundamentally wrong and you shouldn’t engage with Haidt at his level at all. In whatever way, what you’re doing is criticizing Haidt at the, ahem, foundations; which is not what Holbo is doing, at least not here. But this is not really Holbo’s fault–it’s Haidt’s theory, after all.

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John Holbo 02.18.17 at 2:05 am

SusanC: “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.”

It IS kind of interesting to track the history of ‘wizard’ and ‘witch’, which branch from the same word. How and when did the former get relatively more positive? It is certainly true that if you try to perform Ben Jonson’s “Poetaster” at Comicon, some of the lines will take on an anachronistic sense:

“Alb. I have read in a book, that to play the fool wisely, is high
wisdom.

Gal. How now, Vulcan! will you be the first wizard?”

Val: “vaguely worded insults”

‘Apotropaic anasyrma’ is neither vague nor insulting, if that’s the one causing the trouble.

“You must be similarly puzzled by expressions like ‘black is beautiful’, ‘gay power’, ‘queer politics’, and so on, I presume.”

I did not claim to be puzzled by such expressions. That’s the trouble. No one claims to be puzzled by such expressions, but maybe we all should pause and try to be at least a little bit puzzled over something that we know happens, so we tend to take it for granted. (As you yourself say, Val, “we must always be reflective and self-critical about our relationship to that which we are studying.”)

How is this sort of transvaluation of values achieved, in real symbolic practice? How does ‘reappropriation’ actually work?

Sometimes it may be as simple as a will to flip the witch: take that which was derogatory and will it to be the opposite.

Call this the Humpty-Dumpty theory (which you yourself brought up earlier, I think, Val):

“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’ “

On this theory – which is a good one! but perhaps not a complete one! – it is a pure contest of wills. This helps explain why conservatives are so upset about phrases like ‘queer power’ and such, even if they are not especially interested in criminalizing homosexual behavior (so why can’t they lighten up?) It’s very galling to those with power when those without power manage to change the language, because that’s a sign of … mastery. A lot of PC conflict is Humpty Dumpty stuff because ‘who is master’ really matters to people.

But that’s not the whole story. I think that often such re-appropriations – transvaluations of value – occur in virtue of the fact that purity values have a peculiar ambiguity to them. Purity is about clean/dirty. But in a practical sense it’s about touch/don’t touch. And these binaries don’t line up. Because there are two possible reasons why you can’t touch something: it’s too clean (you would get it dirty); it’s not clean (it would get you dirty). A lot of symbolic reappropriations proceed from ‘too dirty’ to ‘too clean’ under cover of ‘can’t touch this’. A lot of people wonder at the fact that old Irish churches have sheela-na-gigs on them. It seems kind of rude! But, then again, they also have a dead guy nailed to a cross. That also seems kind of rude.

A good example of this is language use. Take the n-word. Or take a term like ‘queer’. Because of their histories they end up being effectively forbidden to the dominant class that once used them exclusively. In this way their use becomes, paradoxically, a mark of privilege on the part of a formerly subordinate group. It’s a strategy of tongue-tying the former masters with too-clean/too-dirty ambiguities.

There’s a lot of apotropaic power in thrusting forth a thing that is, at once, both too pure to touch and too dirty. That’s ‘don’t come too close!’ times two.

All of which is an elaborate way of saying: a lot of the symbolic work that social justice activists want to achieve proceeds, in part, via the fact that humans are pretty hard-wired to process moral values in terms of purity (dirty/clean can/can’t touch). Maybe this isn’t the most important thing to see, in practical terms. But it seems to me interesting and, perhaps, even important. It’s the basis for my refutation of Haidt’s claim that the left lacks strong purity values. I say, to the contrary, that the symbolism on the left is often a matter of attempts to transvalue dominant values – the low being placed high – which often proceeds via an ambiguous purity logic.

Anyway, that’s my argument.

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John Holbo 02.18.17 at 2:14 am

ZM: “What makes you think the pussy hats are more of a symbol of purity as opposed to a symbol of women’s rights or autonomy?”

Maybe this will help: I don’t think of it as being more one or the other. The goal of the symbol is to push for women’s rights/automony, obviously. But the question is: what makes the symbol effective? Symbols are effective when they are 1) especially appealing to the side that employs them; 2) especially hard to deal with by the other side. Analyzing the symbol partly (not wholly, of course!) in terms of purity values helps explain 1) and 2).

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John Holbo 02.18.17 at 2:57 am

OK, I just found an amazing illustration of the kind of view I’m inclined to push against Haidt. It just occurred to me – after writing my comment to ZM – that a good example of a view that is akin to mine is that put forth by Kwame Appiah Anthony several years back in “The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen”. He takes three cases: dueling, foot-binding, slavery (in the British Empire) and considers how they went from being morally acceptable to being unacceptable. He points out that the rational arguments against these practices long predate the moral revolutions against them. So what does the pushing against honor, at the moment the push against them succeeds? Answer: honor. There needs to be some way in which what was honorable is first transvalued into dishonor before it can be effectively argued to be just plain morally wrong (harmful, unfair). I am making a parallel argument about purity (sorry, I don’t have time to make all the parallels clear in a blog comment). So I was googling to find a book review of “Honor Code” so I could link to it, for reference, and I discovered that Jonathan Haidt reviewed it and – this is perfect! – said exactly the wrong thing I would expect him to say:

” I have just one criticism of this fascinating, erudite and beautifully written book: Appiah thinks honor survives in WEIRD societies. He distinguishes “competitive honor,” which accrues to people who excel, from “peer honor,” which governs relationships among members of an “honor world” who acknowledge a shared code. Appiah is certainly right that people in modern societies seek competitive honor — earning the highest grade or largest bonus, for example — but this pursuit often motivates unethical behavior, and so this is not the kind of honor that most interests him. Rather, he believes that we moderns have retained a form of peer honor, stripped of gender and re-engineered for a large and diverse society whose moral triumph has been the extension of dignity to all. “Honor is no decaying vestige of a premodern order,” he writes. “It is, for us, what it has always been, an engine, fueled by the dialogue between our self-­conceptions and the regard of others, that can drive us to take seriously our responsibilities in a world we share.”

Yet by Appiah’s own analysis, peer honor can survive only in an “honor world,” and that is precisely the kind of world that WEIRD societies asphyxiate.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/24/books/review/Haidt-t.html?_r=0

Suffice it to say: I am with Appiah here, and against Haidt. I don’t believe in WEIRD moral monoculture, as Haidt does. I believe in moral pseudo-monoculture. I believe you can have societies that, nominally, are all about fairness and justice (or nominally only about purity, if it comes to that). But, under the surface, it’s all still there, working in the background. I have been talking about purity whereas honor is a hierarchy value, but the dynamic is similar.

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ZM 02.18.17 at 3:10 am

“Because there are two possible reasons why you can’t touch something: it’s too clean (you would get it dirty); it’s not clean (it would get you dirty). “

But there is also another reason – property rights: the thing doesn’t belong to you.

I think it’s probably possible to see the meaning of the pussy hats as being multiple given the numbers of women involved and also the lack of a very specific and clear manifesto defining the symbol by the organisers: one woman might choose to wear the hat as a symbol of purity, another woman might wear the hat as a symbol of rights, others might combine symbols, etc.

I think you run into a slight problem with the purity analysis because of history – both in terms of the left and feminism and anti-racism, has been to counter notions of purity being linked to rights.

The left challenged the idea that the aristocracy is naturally better and higher and should have more rights saying that class or wealth or profession doesn’t make someone better or worse and that “dirty” (literally) blue collared working class people should have the same rights; feminism challenged the idea that women have to be pure and childlike and fight for women getting an education and becoming worldly, for getting voting rights to participate in the blood sport of national politics, for entering hitherto male professions in the workforce etc.

I can sort of see you seem to be arguing that a new conception of purity comes in to the discourse of the left more recently, maybe aligning temporally with identify politics?

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John Holbo 02.18.17 at 3:27 am

OK, I just realized I misunderstood ZM’s point a bit:

“Looking comparatively at female clothing, something like the hijab or chador seems to be more of a symbol that denotes and is protective of ideas about female purity, where the pussy hats seems to be more about presenting a display about ideas surrounding female rights and autonomy.”

Fair enough. Pure items are typically hidden away, protected, concealed, walled in. But not invariably by any means. They may be brandished, thrust forth, displayed prominently. Also, sacred/profane is about marking territory. Territory may be defended or new territory may be claimed. Purity can get kind of aggressive.

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John Holbo 02.18.17 at 4:02 am

“But there is also another reason – property rights: the thing doesn’t belong to you. “

The trouble with property rights is that it gets a bit abstract and bloodless. “Keep your laws off my body” vs. “My body is my private property, legally.” The former is a way more potent poster slogan. It doesn’t give up the property point. It supercharges it. It overdetermines rights with righteousness.

“I can sort of see you seem to be arguing that a new conception of purity comes in to the discourse of the left more recently, maybe aligning temporally with identify politics?”

I don’t really think it’s a recent thing, although you are right it connects with identity politics. I think of it as being a fairly constant thing in the history of the left – which is always identity politics, in real practice, if not in theory. Conservatives are always complaining that leftists sanctify victimhood. To be a member of a formerly subordinate/despised minority group makes you noble and pure. It becomes a mark of distinction. You enjoy extra privilege in virtue of being the one who can tell others to ‘check their privilege.’ I’m not bothered by it, in principle. It’s a psychologically inevitable over-correction on the way to justice. (If you don’t want former victims to get high-handed when they finally get out from under your high-hand, maybe don’t give them the high-hand to begin with?)

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engels 02.18.17 at 9:04 pm

Sometimes trying to defend a feminist position on CT feels like having to stand there and try to make sense while a group of men throw random references and vaguely worded insults at you.

Alternative view: you’re making bad arguments and people are politely disagreeing (with reasons, that you’re then ignoring…)

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