Sunday, December 15, 2013

In Which I Disagree with Haidt (Again)

It has been almost two months since this article on Jonathan Haidt and this brief review came out, but I have felt the need to follow up on it ever since.  Haidt argues that what seems like immorality to us is simply a different kind of morality.  When Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul if a health 30-year-old man did not buy health insurance and then was diagnosed with cancer, should be let him die.  The crowd cheered.  Liberals considered this immoral.  Haidt explains that it really wasn't immoral, it meant the crowd saw morality in terms of karma, and that any attempt to soften the harsh effects of karma is  evil.  Likewise [can't find link] a liberal with a care-based morality might favor closing Guantanamo prison, but a conservative with a group-loyalty based morality would be more concerned about protecting Americans from outsiders and want to keep it running.  And yes, I suppose it is worth understanding how someone else's morality is different, but in cases like that, I am simply not willing to say one morality is just as good as another.

Keep in mind, I have argued something like what Haidt is saying in other posts.  Psychologist Robert Altemeyer seriously annoyed me when he claimed that "authoritarians" have "compartmentalized thinking" and "double standards."  To support this view, Altemeyer offers several examples.  "Authoritarians" are more willing than liberals to censor ideas they consider harmful, including right-wing ideas.  When a fight breaks out between pro- and anti-gay demonstrators, they sentence the instigator more or less seriously depending on which side he is on.  The support Christian prayers in school in a predominantly Christian country on the basis of majority rule, but oppose Muslim prayers in a majority Muslim country on the basis of minority rights.  They claim to favor parental authority, but would try to convert a teenage runaway from an atheist home, even as they would insist atheists refrain from trying to convert a runaway from a Christian home.  But none of these show inconsistency or hypocrisy at all.  Willingness to censor just means that you favor promoting truth over a morally neutral free speech.  Differing sentences depending on who incited a riot shows that you consider violence more or less reprehensible depending on whether it is done in a just or unjust cause.  And clearly Altemeyer's authoritarians are being entirely consistent on the matter of promoting Christianity trumping all other values.  The fact that Altemeyer does not consider promoting Christianity to be a legitimate value does not mean that conservative Christians have to agree with him.

But simply acknowledging that other people are following their values is not the same as acknowledging that those values are good ones.  Nothing is stopping Altemeyer from arguing, say, that a value-free concept of freedom of expression is the best way to promote the truth, or that violence must be equally prosecuted no matter who commits it, or that promoting Christianity should not trump all other values.  But he does not argue these things; he simply assumes them.  So in my next two posts, I want to make the case that even if punishing the uninsured and keeping Guantanamo open reflect genuine values, they reflect bad ones that we should oppose.

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