Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Moral Foundations Theory, applied to all the presidential candidates (not just Donald Trump and Ted Cruz)

Vox has published an interesting study by Emily Ekins and Jonathan Haidt about Moral Foundations Theory today.  The title, “Donald Trump’s supporters think about morality differently than other voters: here’s how” is a bit leading.
The article decomposes moral tastes into six categories: (1) Care / harm; (2) Fairness / cheating; (3) Liberty / oppression; (4) Loyalty / betrayal (or “snitching”); (5) Authority / subversion ; (6) Sanctity / degradation.

To study the presidential candidates, the article compacts these categories to just four.  Category (1) becomes  Compassion and Empathy with the color blue, and tends to emphasize the relative fairness to people conceived first as members of groups.  Bernie Sanders seems to emphasize this area.  Race obviously fits, but some people see religion and sexual orientation as having more elements of personal behavior and choices embebdded.  Category (2) becomes Proportionality, or just desserts, with the color green.  The ability to justify one’s own station in life with one’s own effort and accomplishment is a virtue.  Therefore, professional athletes (Bryce Harper) or software prodigies (Mark Zuckerberg) may be viewed as earning what they have competitively, even if the rewards are excessive (“winner take all” – along the lines of Donald Trump).  This idea is popular with libertarians.  Rand Paul and (to a surprising extent) Ted Cruz are depicted with this quality.  Sometimes this quality is important to stir technological innovation;  will Taylor Wilson answer Zuckerberg by re-inventing the entire power grid?  Will Jack Andraka put an end to most forms of cancer?  Marco Rubio (“Little Rubio”) shows a lot of this quality, having become a United States Senator from a humble background.  Category (3) becomes Liberty, and pretty much defines libertarianism.  It emphasizes freedom from bullying and oppression, and can involve prevention of the misuse of government, in areas like crony capitalism, overuse of trademark and copyright to protect the establishment, and accepting personal personality differences, including their influence on sexual orientation, as beneficial in the long run. Cruz and Rubio may turn out to be better in this area than expected;  and both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump worry me about possible misuse of some government powers.  (4), (5), and (6) are grouped together as “loyalty-authority-sanctity” and typically occur with authoritarianism, with both communism and fascism, as well as theocracy. Huckabee was viewed as the most dangerous, and Trump and Cruz were about the same, with both Clinton and Sanders below the line; the color is “red”. These qualities matter more in smaller, tribal communities where there are plenty of external enemies or natural dangers, and where socialization of everyone is perceived (maybe sometimes with some good reason) as essential for the long term survival of a relative compact group. But it is easy for demagogues to use  theories of mandatory socialization to blame specific groups or the embedded behaviors (Jews, gays) as posing a danger for everyone else, to advance their own power status. For example, Vladimir Putin tends to suggest that homosexuals add to Russia’s low birth rate and threaten its ability to maintain its population.  The narrative of Walter Shaw (the film “Genius on Hold”, yesterday’s Movies Blog) shows how authoritarianism can destroy lives even in a society that thinks it is democratic and means well.

My own view is that personal morality plays out a differently when looked at “relativistically” by a person rather than as a component of political theory. The libertarian starts with “do unto others” and emphasizes non-aggression, keeping voluntary promises (Cato), and more recently, as in Mary Ruwart’s writings, a certain compassion.   There are some postulates, like essentialism, immediacy, secularity (or ecumenicalism), relevance of intent, and existence of some common good interest;  and there are  derivable components, that I see as (1) accepting interdependence (2) starting with some kind of immediately loyalty (3) facing inequality (4) resilience (a big one) (5) sustainability and (6) respect for life.

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