MFT and predictions based on Righteous Mind

Good Day Bryan*,

Haidt’s MFT might be garbage science, but no other book has made me more comfortable with disagreeing with other people than the Righteous Mind. I think I’m pretty good at catching myself in the act of motivating reasoning, but he’s done a better job of helping me avoid that or realize that I might be doing it than anyone else has. Robin Hanson had the chance to do the same, but my only takeaway from Elephant was that I can feel sanctimonious in my judging others for going to political demonstrations. And I usually do!

In regards to his book’s rendition of his research, I’m puzzled by two things in particular:

He describes the process of moral dumbfounding, and explains the variation between cosmopolitans and traditionalists in their answers to his puzzles but from what I can remember, he never talks about who is morally dumbfounded. For instance, he talks at length about the motivated reasoning that follows the probing questions about why chicken fuckery and conceptionless incest are bad, but he never identifies who is doing this reasoning.

I could see this playing out in two very distinctive ways and which of the two ways it is is very important to where the West is heading.

I assume that if you ask a recent immigrant cab driver about the chickens, he’ll confidently say it is wrong and appeal to islam or whatever justifying it. But what about the subjects Haidt describes?

Potential Case 1:

Traditional Americans reflexively think that it is wrong to bang a dead animal, but, when trying to appeal to more universally accepted harm reduction rather than religion or taboos, they are flummoxed. While cosmopolitans shrug their shoulders and say, “I guess it’s okay?”

Potential Case 2:

Cosmopolitans that still have the visceral reflex when confronted with banging a dead bird but don’t have the beliefs to back it up. Traditionalists say it’s wrong in the same way my hypothetical cab driver does and are confident in their reasoning, even if it demands an appeal to religion or whatever.

Or maybe Potential Case 3:

Everyone has the reflex and the stupefying, but for different reasons depending on which category they fall in.

(Also, is it really that difficult to explain why one shouldn’t have sex with his sibling, even with pregnancy off the table? Let’s refer to Haidt’s previous book, where he has a chapter on how humans evolved to get romantically attached to people they have sex with. The gamble one takes when forming a romantic relationship with family is that it blows up. Breakups and divorces are rough enough. Doing that with people that share a family sounds devastating for the family. Anytime you have sex with your sister, you’re setting up the chance to ruin the most important and permanent relationships of the people you should care about most.

As for having sex with frozen chickens, I actually don’t have any objections to this that I don’t share with using a fleshlight. The only conceivable trouble I can think of is it somehow jumps to a sexual interest in live chickens.)

The second unanswered question for me is on the subject of purity. He shows that cosmopolitans don’t value purity in the religious sense, but then says (without any research, if I remember correctly) that they do in the food and environmental sense. I’ve been trying to come up with ways that he is wrong, but I really can’t. Even if, for instance, there are really good reasons for a GMO aversion, the common person’s objection in America and Europe is very misinformed and is probably more counter to prevailing science than denying climate change is. Even with myself, the best information I have says that I should be throwing all of the plastic and glass that I dispose of in the trash, but I instead put them in the commingled recycling bin. If I was to do what is best, in my judgement, for my local economy and the earth as a whole, I would throw them in the trash, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. For that matter, when I was in high school, I literally saw the janitor dump all of the trash and recycling bins into the same trash can at the end of each school day, yet I couldn’t bring myself to not do my part to sort ahead of his guaranteed recombination.

I recommend doing this for fun, by the way. Ask someone why it is bad to throw away plastic and they will tell you that it is bad because it doesn’t decompose. But it can’t sit in the ground under a park undecomposed (composed?) either.

But back to the question at hand; which is it? Do cosmopolitans and traditionalists just have different things that they honor? I thought his research was supposed to show that cosmopolitans don’t respect purity. I, as a Catholic, don’t respect the sanctity of Buddhist and Shinto buildings in Japan (though I treat them with respect, out of curtesy to the Japanese people). But I am very traditional in the genuine respect of Catholic stuff.

And this reminds me, what is going on with the anti-catholic art? Why is that okay? In the same way I respect the Japanese stuff that I have no sincere feelings for, would the artists not treat their fellow westerners’ sincere beliefs with similar curtesy? Unless it really is meant to be hostile, in which case, does that not necessitate that anyone that supports that stuff is taking a stance for offending Catholics for the sake of offending Catholics? I sincerely respect our cultural norm of freedom of speech, but I also think it’s wrong to yell “n*****!” in a crowded theater.

MFT seems to say that you have cosmopolitans and everyone else (which includes more conservative, rural, westerners and almost all non-westerners). Cosmopolitans believe in harm reduction and fairness. Everyone else believes in all the “moral matrices.”

why break them down any further. For instance: is sanctity and respect for authority really very different? Do we really need to graph a bunch of things to show that everyone believes in two things and everyone but cosmopolitans believe in all the things but to slightly varying degrees? I actually think that there are PhD types that have more recently done just this, including perhaps that English fellow you recommended (though, at the time, I was not ready for). Because of this, I think we should just say that there are cosmopolitans (harm reduction and equity types) and traditionalists (all moral matrices considered). A more logical MFT would be, cosmopolitans believe in harm reduction for individuals and equality of outcome. Traditionalists believe in harm reduction for individuals and respect the culture they live in.

I don’t think MFT gives any explanation as to why anything is the way it is. I understand why New York City would revert to harm reduction. When you have huge crowds, you must resort to live and let live or be angry all the time. I don’t think I understand why a place like Bombay is so traditional then. Is it also that cultures collide converge to turn to harm reduction? Actually, it’s probably exactly this, diversity plus proximity. Maybe he says this and I can’t remember. If not, I’m pretty sure someone else would have flushed this out by now.

But is New York City’s population self selected in some way? I’m guessing it was filled with hyper traditional folks by modern American standards during the waves of immigration during the early twentieth century. Were they that segregated or was everyone just angry all the time? (Probably a bit of both.) But did they rapidly turn into harm-reducers? If Lagos and Islamabad were dumped into the same city today, what happens? Do they become tolerant? Fight a bunch of gang battles? Segregate completely? I really hope there’s a history/psychology team working on this if it hasn’t been done already.

But then what about the hereditary predisposition in it all? I’ll take myself as an example. When I was a kid, I was really high in the disgust trait. Our son is the same way. No surprise, but as I got older, I leaned more conservatively. But then I learned about libertarianism and was swayed toward that, at least in terms of legal preference. But living in New York City, I was very comfortable with authoritarian things like gun control, drug prohibitions, locking up homeless and government aid for poor people.

But it wasn’t that my neighbors were more liberal. My coworkers and friends were relatively conservative. Especially compared to where I had lived immediately before, which was very liberal, but not very dense compared to New York. And so there, like suburban PA, I really just wanted the government to leave me alone.

Bottom line for me, I change my disposition depending on place (probably density), not peers.

And for that matter, how come places start turning to voting for Democrats as soon as they reach a certain density (right now, I think it sits at about 1,000 people/sq mile)? I’d guess there is some self selection in migration, but what is really going on here? In the American context, liberals should just breed themselves out of existence. Or are all humans traditionalists that leak out genetically-predisposed American liberals? I doubt it. There are way too many liberals for that to be likely.

Why did I change? And clearly it wasn’t evolving, because I changed back as soon as my circumstances changed back.

It seems to me that diversity plus density is what leads to this moral regression to harm reduction. I don’t mean moral regression to sound as bad as I think it connotes. “Reversion?” I don’t know. “Retreat!” Haidt doesn’t, in my opinion, explain this or demonstrate it, or maybe even think it. Am I right? I think that I am. I don’t picture Lagos or Islamabad, or even Shanghai as being full of SJWs or even the culturally tolerant. In fact, the most racist people I’ve ever known have all been from places like these.

I like Haidt’s take on nationalism. This was best summed up for me, not in his book, but when Haidt talked to Harris on his “Waking Up” podcast. The idea was that since we are bound to be tribal, the best way to structure the world is in a bunch of nations that look out for their citizens but respect the other nations. Basically that a world wide government is a pipe dream that is impractical and incongruent with human nature so why not settle for something that can be almost as good but way more stable and way more easily attained.

From here, to where now do we go?

As we lurch forward to an ever urbanized and multicultural society, harm reduction becomes more and more the only goal. Which means the best way to get your way is to be a victim. In a traditional society (to the best of my knowledge) people have norms to conform to. And when competing interests arise (which an effective traditionalist culture should minimize), judges or elders or whatever could work it out.

Trivial examples (sort of).

  • Lady is anxious and wants dog on flight. Dog makes me anxious. Who wins?
  • Every psych person I have asked (which includes two PhDs, a psychiatrist, and a mental hospital worker) all say that there’s no reason that a person should have a dog or any external thing to reduce anxiety for long terms. It should be used, if at all, for acute things and patients should work up to not needing external things to be comfortable. But when I was at Fordham, a girl had a dog in her dorm for legitimate anxiety, but she had no plan nor even an intention to get rid of the anxiety.
  • A friend’s niece has a dog that travels with her on planes because she is too anxious and can’t fly without it. Except when she flies to her parents’ house. They don’t allow the dog. To their house, she flies just fine without it.

With harm reduction as the goal, I fear that we have no practical way of sorting out competing interests, we don’t encourage people to get better (and maybe celebrate them not doing so), and we encourage bad faith abuses of nobly intended accommodations.

As to the cosmopolitan take on fairness, equality of outcome versus equality of process. I think in some regards, this is un-American, but perfectly reasonable and workable in a vacuum. Being raised in America, I certainly don’t feel any draw to the Danish style of social support, but I can’t object to it in a vacuum. I do agree with Tyler Cowan’s take on it with regards to immigration: if you want to be an open society to immigrants, you’re going to draw different types of people if you say, “this is the land of opportunity for entrepreneurs” versus saying, “this is the land of government redistribution.” I’d rather be a country full of hard working immigrant laundromat owners with Harvard student children, but if we really want to close our borders for a bit and go with the Sanders-style government, maybe it’s time to give it a try. On the other hand, I am gravely concerned with due process applications of the same equity mindset. Including the enthusiastic steps towards bills of attainder and prosecuting people, rather than crimes, that my former state has taken to lately. I’m especially frightened by the gleeful discarding of due process in cases based on the class of the accuser and the class of the accused.

I’m fearful that it wasn’t religion that was the mind virus. Liberalism was the mind virus all along. I think that is the conclusion to Haidt’s work, though he doesn’t get there. I can’t finish Patrick Deneen’s book to save my life (it contains the worst sentence structures I’ve ever read in a published book), but so far I find it pretty convincing.

I fear that harm reduction logically leads to one place, and illogically leads to another. I think if you want to minimize harm to individuals, you minimize living individuals. I’m not sure how seriously taking harm reduction doesn’t ultimately lead to anti-natalism. I think a less thoughtful, but equally serious endpoint is hedonism.

I thought (or maybe it was hope plus motivated reasoning) Mormons would be to America what Catholics were to Rome. But they are seemingly just a step behind the rest of us in their fertility problems.

*Unless you’re Bryan, this wasn’t written for you, though I invite you to read anyway. Unless you’ve read The Righteous Mind, this likely doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. You should probably go out and read it.