Sunday, December 29, 2013

One Final Comment

And one last comment on Haidt that I have made before.  Haidt is one of many psychologists these days who argue that facts are irrelevant to persuasion, and that only people's intuition matters.  But that poses the same problem for Haidt as to any other psychologist.  Facts have no obligation to conform to anyone's moral intuition, and the mere fact that they offend people's intuition does not make facts go away.

Global warming is an obvious example.  I have commented, somewhat jokingly, that our whole debate on global warming sounds a bit like a Monty Python skit that goes somewhat like this:

Denier:   I don't believe in global warming.  It's against my principles.
Scientist: But there's no principle involved.  It's undisputed scientific fact.
Denier:   Your undisputed scientific facts are against my principles.

Well, guess what.  If global warming is real, then being principled against it will not stop it.  Nor will being principled against receding coast lines stop them from receding.  And if it is against your principles to believe that there will be flooding on land you mean to develop, your principles will prove to be very ineffective at flood prevention.

The same applies to economics.  What is needed to fight recession tends to be deeply counter intuitive. But the public demands that the economy be fixed.  Maybe some future Tea Party politician will respond to a financial crisis by letting banks fail, shredding the safety net, cutting spending to balance the budget, and maintaining tight money.  Maybe that politician will tour the resulting economic devastation and boast that it is a proud achievement in making people suffer the consequences of their bad decisions.  Maybe Haidt will defend that politician's actions as the logical outcome of karma-based morality.  But somehow I wouldn't bet much on that politician's future.

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