Monday, October 10, 2011

Stenosophic Liberalism.

In my previous post, commentator KJJ made the following comment:
Have you considered Jonathan Haidt's examination of the moral reasoning of "liberals" and "conservatives"?

It dovetails with your concerns about overoptimization for one set of priniciples.

Whether by custom or nature, liberals tend to overoptimize for the "caring" and "fairness" virtues, while conservatives have a broader moral palette.

Haidt has noted that liberal populations tracks with major trade centers, especially longtime port cities.

This suggests to me that liberalism is the default governing morality for a diverse, commercial society in a time dominated by global trade.

And so our policies end up being set by specialists in equality and utilitarian analysis, with traditionalist concerns going by the wayside.
I'd like to thank KJJ for the link to Jonathan Haidt, whom I'd not heard of before. Haidt's specialty is the psychology of morality, particularly with regard to how people come to moral determination. He began by analysing the moral codes of many different cultures and was able to identify five common meta-themes. They are:

  1. Care for others, protecting them from harm. 
  2. Fairness, Justice, treating others equally.
  3. Loyalty to your group, family, nation. 
  4. Respect for tradition and legitimate authority. 
  5. Purity, avoiding disgusting things, foods, actions.
Haidt notes that the meta themes had different functions. Care and fairness seemed to related to our personal relationships with one another, whilst loyalty, respect and purity are group binding virtues.
Now, he is not the first person to have identified these themes. C.S. Lewis, in his book the Abolition of Man, recognised  this concordance amongst religions which he described as the  "Tao of Life". (He had a few more categories than Haidt). What Haidt notes is that loyalty, respect, and purity are virtues necessary for group binding. But what Haidt then proceeded to do is analyse how liberals differ from conservatives when it comes to moral determinations. The result is fascinating :

Haidt discovered when it comes to moral discernment, Liberals tend to weight Fairness and care above all else, whilst conservatives tend to weigh all elements equally. He described liberal moral reasoning as being a "two channel" [Ed: parameter] determination whilst conservatives were five. Conservatives take more factors into account at coming to moral determinations than liberals do: They are more multiparametric.

Now, Haidt doesn't ask why liberals are less "parametric" than conservatives, he simply registers the fact,  but it does demonstrate that there are different cognitive process which separate the two.  Now, it's my theory that multiparemetric analysis is computationally intensive and a high "broad" IQ is harder to achieve than than a "thin" high IQ. It would appear that there is now some evidence for this hypothesis in an experiment performed by Wright and Baril. In this experiment, conservatives defaulted to a liberal morality when they were intellectually distracted or cognitively exhausted. In other words, conservatism is a computationally intensive exercise. Liberalism is intellectually undemanding.
Previous research on moral intuitions has revealed that while both liberals and conservatives value the individualizing foundations, conservatives also value—while liberals discount—the binding foundations. Our control group displayed this same pattern of responses. This study examined two alternative hypotheses for this difference—the first that liberals cognitively override and, the second, that conservatives cognitively enhance, their binding foundation responses. We employed self-regulation depletion and cognitive load tasks, both of which have been shown to compromise people’s ability to effortfully monitor and regulate automatic responses. In particular, we were interested in determining whether, when the ability to monitor/regulate their automatic moral responses was compromised (either by exhausting their cognitive resources or by distracting them), liberals would give more moral weight to the binding foundations or conservatives would give less. What we found was support for the latter: When cognitive resources were compromised, only the individualizing foundations (harm/fairness) were strongly responded to by participants, with the binding foundations (authority/in-group/purity) being de-prioritized by both liberals and conservatives. In short, contrary to Joseph et al.’s contention that the “…automatic moral reactions of liberals could be similar to those of conservatives”, we found that the automatic moral reactions of conservatives turned out to be more like those of liberals.
Haidt gives a very good talk on the subject here.  It's well worth the look.


Thursday said...

Will Wilkinson also found a study where people tended to score higher on the binding moral foundations when they were afraid or under some sort of threat:

Since we in the West live in a very comfortable and secure environment, we naturally tend to downplay the conservative moral foundations.

Thursday said...

That actually may be the same study you cited.

Anonymous said...

How about like in your previous post, individuals with IQ ranging from 120-130 thought in a multiparametric way than those that have over 130 IQs?

Liberal Whites do have higher IQ than Conservative Whites.

Average IQ from Wordsum conversions for whites:

Lib Dems - 107.5
Con Dems - 94.9
Lib Reps - 96.0
Con Reps - 102.1

Source: Audacious Epigone

I suppose many highly intelligent liberals are like Mozart or people with Aspergers and extremely focused on a single discipline.

The Social Pathologist said...

@ Thursday, yep same source for the quote. I'm still trying to get the original paper but having difficulties.


Something for you in the next post.

David Foster said...

It would be interesting to see how these patterns have changed over time. "Liberal" in 2011 means something quite different from liberal in 1900 or even liberal in 1965...for example, a 1965 liberal might well believe in American particularism and the importance of a strong national defense ("Loyalty to your group, family, nation"), whereas a 2011 liberal ("progressive") would be much less-likely to have this view.

Also, it strikes me that the same meta-theme can be manifested very differently. "Purity," for example, could imply the importance of sexual virginity---to a modern-day "progressive," it is more likely concerned with the purity of food.

KJJ said...

Haidt speculates elsewhere on the cause of "stenosophy":

"How did it come to pass that in much of Europe, and in some parts of the United States, moral concerns have been restricted to issues related to harm/welfare/care and justice/rights/fairness? We believe that a team of historians and sociologists could easily tell such a story, probably involving references to the growth of free markets, social mobility, science, material wealth, and ethnic and religious diversity. Mobility and diversity make a morality based on shared valuation of traditions and institutions quite difficult (Whose traditions? Which institutions?). These factors help explain the electoral map of the United States in the 2004 presidential election. When viewed at the county level, the great majority of counties that voted for John Kerry are near major waterways, where ports and cities are usually located and where mobility and diversity are greatest. Areas with less mobility and less diversity generally have the more traditional five-foundation morality, and therefore were more likely to vote for George W. Bush – and to tell pollsters that their reason was “moral values.”"

This resembles the account of the rise of philosophical Liberalism: when Christendom broke apart, political theory trended towards the "least common denominator" of shared morality. See Hobbes' denial of the highest good or Locke's attempt to reduce political morality to property crimes. (Pardon the caricature)

The Social Pathologist said...


This resembles the account of the rise of philosophical Liberalism: when Christendom broke apart, political theory trended towards the "least common denominator" of shared morality. See Hobbes' denial of the highest good or Locke's attempt to reduce political morality to property crimes.

I'm mulling over this point. I think the explanation is more complex.
Firstly, most of the centers near the water are advanced commercial centers. In order to be commercially successful these areas would employ large numbers of people who have specialised intellectual skills.

Now, specialisation in thinking is akin to the division of labour. Efficiencies are gained by concentrating on a specific task, and as such, cognitive demands are lessened. Specialisation therefore, tends to breed irrationality in areas outside the specialists field. The wealth of the city, on the other hand, provides a cushion which protects people from the consequences of their actions. (These are my preliminary thoughts on the subject)

The Social Pathologist said...


I think that there are certain genetically determined personality types. The strident dogmatic feminists of today are of the same type as female prohibitionists in the past. Same hardware, different software.

Every time I see Richard Dawkins, I can't but help form the association with between him and a fundamentalist preacher: except that his fundamentalism is Darwinism.

I imagine that most of today's food puritans, if born a century ago, would have ended up being sexual puritans instead. Once again, same hardware, different software.

jmperry said...

It seems like loyalty, respect, and purity, while they may involve morality themselves, are mostly important as ways of regulating care and fairness. They help ensure that care doesn't go to people who violate the social contract or who aren't part of the social contract in the first place (i.e., outgroup members).

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