Thursday, June 23, 2016

Up on care and fairness

Brian Dickerson, editorial columnist for the Detroit Free Press, is well aware of the size of the political chasm in America. He encounters it every time he writes an opinion piece and lots of readers call and write to tell him how wrong he is. Though he is good at defending his position he is pretty sure he hasn't changed any minds.

Since dealing with this chasm is important (see: state of roads, schools, and gov't institutions) Dickerson is now exploring why we're so antagonistic. He says he'll explore that idea over the summer perhaps with "moral psychologists" as guides.

This first article takes a look at The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. Through his studies Haidt has found five foundations to moral systems that are pretty consistent in cultures around the world. These are:

The Care/Harm Foundation. For us to survive as a species we must protect the youngest and most helpless. That became the idea we have a duty to protect each other from death and injury. We admire those who are generous and condemn those who are cruel.

The Fairness/Cheating Foundation. Groups that collaborate have an advantage over those who don't. Problems arise when some either do extra work or reap extra rewards. That became the idea we encourage cooperation and discourage exploitation.

The Loyalty/Betrayal Foundation. Those same collaborative groups can be enhanced through loyalty and damaged through betrayal. This becomes loyalty to family, country, political party, and religion. Betrayal can be treated harshly.

The Authority/Subversion Foundation. Collaborative groups have leaders and develop a social hierarchy. The group works better when that hierarchy has clear lines of authority that are respected.

The Sanctity/Degredation Foundation. Defining one food as sanctified and another is degraded is an easy way to keep our early ancestors from eating toxic food. Defining a behavior as degraded can help avoid incest. The catalog of which food/behavior is good and which is not can lead to the sanctification of that catalog – such as the Bible or Bill of Rights.

Haidt explains out political divide by noting the different weights progressives and conservatives place on each of these five foundations. Progressives emphasize care and fairness. Conservatives emphasize loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

What happens when a person doesn't quite fit? That's a situation many LGBT people encounter. Here's a milder example: What to do with a child who colors the sky green? Praise the child for creativity? Punish the child for defying authority? Experiences like that teach a child which of the five foundations will guide his morals.

Dickerson suggests heading to the Your Morals site to see where you fit in. Warning: once you register there are two dozen different surveys you can take. The one that matches Haidt's book is the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. It rated me high (higher than progressives) in Care/Harm and Fairness. It rated me low (lower than progressives) in Loyalty, Authority, and Purity (Sanctity). My rating in Purity is quite low – all of that driven by what church people say about LGBT people. Yeah, in my opinion their purity codes – Would you avoid doing something "unnatural"? – are a lot of bunk.

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