Tuesday, March 01, 2016

4. Three Domains of Morality

I'm about three chapters behind in my summaries of Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind. I've blogged on

1. Introduction
2. Intuitive Dogs and Rational Tails
3. Elephants Rule

1. I have been so crazy busy that I haven't had time to blog much lately. Unfortunately or fortunately, my Haidt book is at the office also, so I can't flip through to catch all the notes I've made, but I'm awake so here are a few notes on two more chapters since I last posted.

2. Chapter 4 is called, "Vote for Me (Here's why)." His point in this chapter is that "intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second." This summary line captures it well: "Conscious reasoning functions like a press secretary who automatically justifies any position taken by the president."

I find this to be overwhelmingly true. Facebook proves it. I know that a lot of the people in my world will vote for Trump even though they despise him now. They will find moral justifications when the time comes. Why? Because a Republican always represents their values the most? No, because their elephant is Republican. :-)

In sum, we are mostly irrational elephants with clever press secretaries pretending to be the real drivers of the elephants. There are some partial exceptions. Those of us who grew up prizing objectivity have developed the value of trying to understand opposing points of view and of submitting to opposing perspectives if they have more evidence, even if it is different from our preferred perspective.

3. Unfortunately, our postmodern environment has largely kiboshed the value of objectivity, even in university settings. Liberal or conservative, universities are mostly places of moral indoctrination, be it Yale or Liberty.

I think my classes push back on this trend. To be sure, I represent certain moral points of view. But we discuss alternatives and we try to discuss them objectively. I always say that a student can take any position in class--they just might not be able to get a job teaching at IWU later if they take certain positions. :-) It's not that we can actually be objective. But if we don't try, all is lost.

In a class last week at Asbury Orlando, a student argued rather strongly against a strongly held moral position. There was a good exchange. Nothing got out of control. We all went to lunch together. That's the way it should always be at any educational institution worth its metal. Any program that teaches the truly "enlightened" way, while dismissing other points of view without due consideration, is simply a program for elephants with clever press secretaries. Ironically, such programs of indoctrination can convince themselves that they are programs for the truly intelligent.

4. The fifth chapter is, "Beyond WEIRD morality." WEIRD means, "Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic." Haidt says what I have long taught--the Western way of viewing the world is not the way most people in most places throughout time have viewed the world. Someone from Africa is far more likely to read the Bible with the right intuitions than someone from the USA.

WEIRD Westerners, to put it in perhaps better terms, are hyper-individualists. Our moral muscles in two other areas--corporate identity and the disgusting--are severely atrophied. Other cultures have weak individual muscles and robust corporate or purity muscles.

So it is almost impossible for many of us WEIRD folk to understand the Old Testament when it comes to purity rules. We want to make the food laws into a matter of health concerns because we don't have categories for pork as morally disgusting to Israel, a food brought into the land by those disgusting Philistines with their reprehensible gods.

5. So we largely do not have categories for the morally defiling (our reaction to male homosexuality is sometimes one of the last vestiges of this moral muscle). We similarly lack comprehension of corporate morality. We reduce "the sins of the fathers passed on to the sons" to consequences of sins, because we understand cause and effect, but we do not understand corporate contagion or holiness.

We read, "you are the temple of the Lord" and we think, "I am the temple of the Lord." What Paul said was "Ya'll are the temple of the Lord." "May the God of peace sanctify me holy" is actually, "May he sanctify ya'll." "Work out my salvation" is "work out ya'lls salvation."

We largely do not understand a world of arranged marriages and corporate guilt, even though that is the world of much of the Bible.

6. I find those three categories of morality helpful: individualist, corporate, and disgusting/pure. He calls them (following Schweder) autonomy, community, and divinity.

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