Monday, June 11, 2012

Hating on Haidt

I read Jonathan Haidt's book The Righteous Mind, and may have a full review eventually. It's getting some quite nasty commentary from the left, due to its both-sides-do-it-can't-we-all-get-along conclusions. Haidt presents himself as a standard-issue liberal who has, through the course of study, come to appreciate conservatism for something other than mere selfish stupidity, and thinks that we all have to do the same. This bland bipartisanship infuriates a certain kind of leftist.


I'll reserve my own judgement about all that. But I wanted to note that some of the virulent reaction to this from the left actually works to disprove Haidt's thesis. Among the six dimensions of morality Haidt identifies, "Loyalty" is one of the three he says that liberals are generally deficient in, or do not appreciate, or do not factor into their own judgements. Yet here Haidt is getting dumped on essentially for the sin of apostasy, the quintessential sin against loyalty. Those angry leftists sure do seem to have a highly tuned sense of loyalty after all.


Yes this is only based on a random smattering of blog comments, but I thought the reflexive irony or whatever it is was so sweet as to be worth noting.


Here's a more serious critique of Haidt's sloppiness, and here's a humorous leftist jibe at former leftists.

6 comments:

Joe said...

Haven't read the book but have watched a few of his talks. To respond to your point: isn't there a difference between a) *demonstrating* loyalty (as seen when leftists circle the wagons, and even call JH out for his betrayal) and b) identifying loyalty as a fundamental moral value. Even a leftist whose rhetoric leans on the consequences of such "betrayal" is not necessarily doing the latter.

mtraven said...

Not sure I see a pragmatic difference. Why would you suppose that indignant leftists are being hypocritical (any more than any other moral display)? They seem offended, so my base presumption is that they actually are morally offended.

Joe said...

I may be charitably reconstructing Haidt's actual thesis (again, I haven't read the book). But having skimmed your links I would say they actually bolster this interpretation: liberals may react *out of* a sense of betrayal (loyalty) but they do not point to it explicitly as the issue, and a fortiori as a moral issue. It's not that liberals and conservatives disagree about whether people have a "sense" (feeling, emotion, intuition) of loyalty, the question is whether it is a moral, or even salutary, intuition.

Joe said...

To put it a bit differently: of course both liberals and conservatives believe that everyone has the same "moral intuitions", the disagreement is as to which intuitions are "right".

scw said...

You write: "some of the virulent reaction to this from the left actually works to disprove Haidt's thesis. Among the six dimensions of morality Haidt identifies, "Loyalty" is one of the three he says that liberals are generally deficient in, or do not appreciate, or do not factor into their own judgements. Yet here Haidt is getting dumped on essentially for the sin of apostasy, the quintessential sin against loyalty. Those angry leftists sure do seem to have a highly tuned sense of loyalty after all."

There is a small but significant difference here between loyalty to an ideology and loyalty to one's family, people, and home. Sometimes - but not always - these loyalties coincide. The interesting cases are those in which they do not.

My observation is that leftists tend to be loyal to their ideology at the expense of family, people, and home. An example is the large number of Jewish Communists who toed the party line dictated from Moscow from August 23, 1939 through June 22, 1941 - the duration of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Their loyalty to Communism trumped their loyalty to their co-ethnics and relatives.

Rightists, on the other hand, tend to be loyal to family and home at the expense of ideology. An example is Enoch Powell's statement that "we do not fight for values. I would fight for this country even if it had a communist government... values exist in a transcendental realm, beyond space and time. They can neither be fought for, nor destroyed."

Thomas said...

If you think the response from the left disproves Haidt, I think you've misunderstood him. Perhaps Haidt is wrong, or perhaps I am the one who misunderstands, but I expect that Haidt would see no contradiction.
You seem to mean something like "The left is attacking Haidt for his disloyalty, therefore they care about loyalty, therefore Haidt is wrong to say that the left disregards loyalty and embraces only care/harm." Am I close?
If I try to channel Haidt, I predict that none of the attacks against Haidt attack him specifically for being disloyal, using the words 'loyalty' or 'disloyal' etc. Instead, I expect their complaints heavily loaded with care/harm language, that to the extent that loyalty enters the picture, it is entirely subservient to care/harm. Certainly, we can interpret their rage as a response to Haidt's betrayal, or better, his blasphemy against their sacred texts. But Haidt does not claim that leftists do not respond to the loyalty foundation at all, rather that it is weak compared to conservatives when measured by his 'harmless questions' (the respondent is asked to evaluate the morality of someone who acts disloyally without harming anyone). According the Haidt, for conservatives loyalty is a separate virtue that stands on its own, it is wrong to violate it even if there are no consequences. Again according to Haidt, for liberals loyalty is merely instrumental, not significant when isolated from issues of harm. So Haidt gets shot down because his disloyatly has consequences, by undermining (in their eyes) the case for care/harm.
Haidt sees liberals as valuing loyalty, authority, and sanctity primarily when they working for care/harm, rarely in isolation.
I just finished reading Haidt's book and plan to write an extensive review, trying to point out where Haidt is pulling a fast one. Actually, he may end up mostly convincing me. I have a preliminary comment on Haidt at http://brimpossible.blogspot.com/2012/10/hating-haidt.html. The near-coincidence of our titles explains how I found your blog entry - I was checking to see if google had indexed me yet.