August 20, 2014

Jonathan Haidt

Green Army: Persons of Interest

An ideology of extreme personal freedom can be dangerous because it encourages people to leave homes, jobs, cities, and marriages in search of personal and professional fulfilment, thereby breaking the relationships that were probably their best hope for such fulfilment.

Jonathan Haidt (1963), The Happiness Hypothesis, 2006, p 133.

The Happiness Pill

Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment.
Would you take it?

Suppose further, that the pill has a great variety side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy and trust.
It even improves memory.

Suppose finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing.
Now would you take it?

The pill exists.
It is [called] meditation. …

(The Happiness Hypothesis, 2006, p 35)


The Righteous Mind
The Happiness Hypothesis

Jonathan Haidt (1963)

Henry Kaufman Visiting Professor, Stern School of Business, New York University.

  • The Coddling of the American Mind, Sunday Extra, ABC Radio National, 30 September 2018.
  • Capitalism and Morality: Beyond Left and Right, RSA, 22 November 2016.
  • The Americas update, Counterpoint, ABC Radio National, 27 May 2013.
  • The Righteous Mind, Counterpoint, ABC Radio National, 25 June 2012.
  • Born this way?, 10 April 2012.
  • The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, Pantheon, 2012.

    Vote for Me (Here's Why)

    We Are All Intuitive Politicians

    Phil Tetlock, a leading researcher in the study of accountability, defines accountability as
    [the] explicit expectation that one will be called upon to justify one’s beliefs, feelings, or actions to others,
    coupled with an expectation that people will reward or punish us based on how well we justify ourselves. …

    [Tetlock] found two very different kinds of careful reasoning.
    • Exploratory thought is an “evenhanded consideration of alternative points of view.”
    • Confirmatory thought is “a one-sided attempt to rationalize a particular point of view.”

    Accountability increases exploratory thought only when three conditions apply:

    1. decision makers learn before forming any opinion that they will be accountable to an audience,
    2. the audience’s views are unknown, and
    3. they believe the audience is well informed and interested in accuracy.

    When all three conditions apply, people do their darnedest to figure out the truth, because that’s what the audience wants to hear.
    But the rest of the time — which is almost all of the time — accountability pressures simply increase confirmatory thought.
    People are trying harder to look right than to be right.
    Tetlock summarizes it like this:
    A central function of thought is making sure that one acts in ways that can be persuasively justified or excused to others.
    Indeed, the process of considering the justifiability of one’s choices may be so prevalent that decision makers not only search for convincing reasons to make a choice when they must explain that choice to others, they search for reasons to convince themselves that they have made the “right” choice.
    Tetlock concludes that conscious reasoning is carried out largely for the purpose of persuasion, rather than discovery.
    But Tetlock adds that we are also trying to persuade ourselves.
    We want to believe the things we are about to say to others.

    Reasoning (and Google) Can Take You Wherever You Want To Go

    Tom Gilovich [has found] that when we want to believe something, we ask ourselves,
    Can I believe it?
    [We then] search for supporting evidence, and if we find even a single piece of pseudo-evidence, we … stop thinking.
    We now have permission to believe.
    We have a justification [— just] in case anyone asks.

    [By] contrast, when we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves,
    Must I believe it?
    Then we search for contrary evidence, and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it. …

    Scientists are really good at finding flaws in studies that contradict their own views, but it sometimes happens that evidence accumulates across many studies to the point where scientists must change their minds. …

    But for nonscientists, there is no such thing as a study you must believe.
    It’s always possible to
    • question the methods,
    • find an alternative interpretation of the data, or, if all else fails,
    • question the honesty or ideology of the researchers.
    And now that we all have access to search engines on our cell phones, we can call up a team of supportive scientists for almost any conclusion twenty-four hours a day.

    We Can Believe Almost Anything That Supports Our Team

    Many political scientists used to assume that people vote selfishly, choosing the candidate or policy that will benefit them the most.
    But decades of research on public opinion have led to the conclusion that self-interest is a weak predictor of policy preferences.
    • Parents of children in public school are not more supportive of government aid to schools than other citizens;
    • young men subject to the draft are not more opposed to military escalation than men too old to be drafted; and
    • people who lack health insurance are not more likely to support government-issued health insurance than people covered by insurance.

    Rather, people care about their groups, whether those be racial, regional, religious, or political.
    The political scientist Don Kinder summarizes the findings like this:
    In matters of public opinion, citizens seem to be asking themselves not
    What’s in it for me?
    but rather
    What’s in it for my group?
    Political opinions function as “badges of social membership.”

    The Rationalist Delusion

    Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason.
    We all need to take a cold hard look at the evidence and see reasoning for what it is. …
    [Reasoning has] evolved not to help us find truth but to help us engage in arguments, persuasion, and manipulation in the context of discussions with other people.
    This explains why the confirmation bias is so powerful, and so ineradicable. …

    We should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play.
    But if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system.

    The Moral Foundations of Politics

    [If] you look for links between evolutionary theory and anthropological observations, you can take some educated guesses about what was in the universal first draft of human nature. …

    • The Care/Harm foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of caring for vulnerable children.
      It makes us
      • sensitive to signs of suffering and need; [and]
      • despise cruelty and want to care for those who are suffering.

    • The Fairness/Cheating foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of reaping the rewards of cooperation without getting exploited.
      It makes us sensitive to indications that another person is likely to be a good (or bad) partner for collaboration and reciprocal altruism.
      It makes us want to shun or punish cheaters [and freeloaders].

    • The Loyalty/Betrayal foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forming and maintaining coalitions.
      It makes us sensitive to signs that another person is (or is not) a team player.
      It makes us trust and reward such people, and it makes us want to hurt, ostracize, or even kill those who betray us or our group.

    • The Authority/Subversion foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forging relationships that will benefit us within social hierarchies.
      It makes us sensitive to signs of rank or status, and to signs that other people are (or are not) behaving properly, given their position.

    • The Sanctity/Degradation foundation evolved initially in response to the adaptive challenge of the omnivore’s dilemma, and then to the broader challenge of living in a world of pathogens and parasites.
      It includes the behavioral immune system, which can make us wary of a diverse array of symbolic objects and threats.
      It makes it possible for people to invest [sacralized objects, places, people and principles] with irrational and extreme values — both positive and negative — which are important for binding groups together.

    (emphasis added)

    The Conservative Advantage

    [In revising] Moral Foundations Theory to do a better job of explaining intuitions about liberty and fairness:

    • We added the Liberty/Oppression foundation, which makes people notice and resent any sign of attempted domination.
      It triggers an urge to band together to resist or overthrow bullies and tyrants.
      This foundation supports the egalitarianism and antiauthoritarianism of the left, as well as the don’t-tread-on-me and give-me-liberty antigovernment anger of libertarians and some conservatives.

    • We modified the [Fairness/Cheating] foundation to make it focus more strongly on proportionality.
      The Fairness foundation begins with the psychology of reciprocal altruism, but its duties expanded once humans created gossiping and punitive moral communities.
      Most people have a deep intuitive concern for the law of karma—they want to see cheaters punished and good citizens rewarded in proportion to their deeds.

    (emphasis added)

    Why Are We So Groupish?

    Suicide terrorism [is rare] in human history [and occurs,] almost exclusively, in situations where a group is defending its sacred homeland from culturally alien invaders.
    (Note 15)

    Religion is a Team Sport

    If you think about religion as a set of beliefs about supernatural agents, you’re bound to misunderstand it.
    You’ll see those beliefs as foolish delusions, perhaps even as parasites that exploit our brains for their own benefit.
    But if you take a Durkheimian approach to religion (focusing on belonging) and a Darwinian approach to morality (involving multilevel selection), you get a very different picture.
    You see that religious practices have been binding our ancestors into groups for tens of thousands of years.
    That binding usually involves some blinding—once any person, book, or principle is declared sacred, then devotees can no longer question it or think clearly about it.

    Our ability to believe in supernatural agents may well have begun as an accidental by-product of a hypersensitive agency detection device, but once early humans began believing in such agents, the groups that used them to construct moral communities were the ones that lasted and prospered.
    Like those nineteenth-century religious communes, they used their gods to elicit sacrifice and commitment from members.
    Like those subjects in the cheating studies and trust games, their gods helped them to suppress cheating and increase trustworthiness.
    Only groups that can elicit commitment and suppress free riding can grow.

    This is why human civilization grew so rapidly after the first plants and animals were domesticated.
    Religions and righteous minds had been coevolving, culturally and genetically, for tens of thousands of years before the Holocene era, and both kinds of evolution sped up when agriculture presented new challenges and opportunities.
    Only groups whose gods promoted cooperation, and whose individual minds responded to those gods, were ready to rise to these challenges and reap the rewards.

    We humans have an extraordinary ability to care about things beyond ourselves, to circle around those things with other people, and in the process to bind ourselves into teams that can pursue larger projects.
    That’s what religion is all about.

    Can’t We All Disagree More Constructively?

    The Left's Blind Spot: Moral Capital

    Both major parties have serious problems, in my opinion.
    I wish the Democrats would become more Durkheimian, and I wish the Republicans would become more utilitarian.
    But right now I have less hope that the Republicans will change because they are so caught up in the binding (and blinding) passions of the Tea Partiers.
    Since 2009, and in particular in 2011, the Republicans have shown themselves to be less willing to compromise than the Democrats.
    And the issue they have sacralized is, unfortunately, taxes.
    Sacredness means no tradeoffs, and they are willing to sacrifice all the good things government can do to preserve low tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.
    This commitment exacerbates the rapidly growing income inequality that is poisonous to social trust, and therefore to moral capital.
    As a Durkheimian utilitarian, I see much to like in conservatism, but much less to like in the Republican Party.
    (Note 36, emphasis added)

    Liberal Wisdom

    Some Problems Really Can Be Solved by Regulation

    [The phaseout of leaded petrol,] which began in the late 1970s, may have been responsible for up to half of the extraordinary and otherwise unexplained drop in crime that occurred in the 1990s.
    Tens of millions of children, particularly poor children in big cities, had grown up with high levels of lead, which interfered with their neural development from the 1950s until the late 1970s.
    The boys in this group went on to cause the giant surge of criminality that terrified America — and drove it to the right — from the 1960s until the early 1990s.
    These young men were eventually replaced by a new generation of young men with unleaded brains (and therefore better impulse control), which seems to be part of the reason the crime rate plummeted.

    This one regulation saved vast quantities of lives, IQ points, money, and moral capital all at the same time. …

    [Moreover, when] young children are exposed to
    • PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls),
    • organophosphates (used in some pesticides), and
    • methyl mercury (a by-product of burning coal),
    it lowers their IQ and raises their risk of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
    Given these brain disruptions, future studies are likely to find a link to violence and crime as well.
    Rather than building more prisons, the cheapest (and most humane) way to fight crime may be to give more money and authority to the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Would you like to know more?

  • The Happiness Hypothesis, Basic, 2006.

    The Myth of Pure Evil

    [Social psychologist Roy Baumeister believes] that we have a deep need to understand violence and cruelty through what he calls "the myth of pure evil."
    Of this myth's many parts, the most important are that
    • evildoers are pure in their evil motives (they have no motives for their actions beyond sadism and greed);
    • victims are pure in their victimhood (they did nothing to bring about their victimization); and
    • evil comes from outside and is associated with a group or force that attacks our group.
    (p 74)

    Furthermore, anyone who questions the application of the myth, who dares muddy the waters of moral certainty, is in league with evil.
    The myth of pure evil is the ultimate … cause of most long-running cycles of violence because [it locks] both sides … into a Manichaean [ie Good vs Evil] struggle.

    {Baumeister found that violence and cruelty have four main causes.
    The first two are obvious attributes of evil:

    1. greed/ambition (violence for direct personal gain, as in robbery) and
    2. sadism (pleasure in hurting people).

    But greed/ambition explains only a small portion of violence, and sadism explains almost none. …
    The two biggest causes of evil are …

    1. [unrealistic or narcissistic] high self-esteem and
    2. moral idealism [ie ends justify the means.]}

    When George W Bush said that the 9/11 terrorists did what they did because they "hate our freedom," he showed a stunning lack of psychological insight. …
    [The hijackers] did what they did as a reaction to America's actions and impact in the Middle East, as they see it through the [filter] of the Myth of Pure Evil. …
    (p 75)

    The major atrocities of the twentieth century were carried out largely either by men who thought they were creating a Utopia or else by men who believed they were defending their homeland or tribe from attack. …
    If you are fighting for Good, or for God, what matters is the outcome, not the path.
    It is thus not surprising that the administration of George W Bush consistently argues that extra-judicial killings, indefinite imprisonment without trial, and harsh physical treatment of prisoners are legal and proper steps in fighting the Manichaean "war on terror."
    [Victory is to be achieved at any cost, by any means necessary.]
    (p 76)

    Group selection creates interlocking genetic and cultural adaptations that enhance peace, harmony, and cooperation within the group for the express purpose of increasing the group's ability to compete with other groups.
    Group selection does not end conflict; it just pushes it up to the next level of social organization.
    Atrocities committed in the name of religion are almost always committed
    • against out-group members, or
    • against the most dangerous people of all:
      • apostates (who try to leave the group) and
      • traitors (who undermine the group).
    (p 235)

    Would you like to know more?

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