Social Question

laureth's avatar

What do you think after viewing this video on morals?

Asked by laureth (27199points) September 6th, 2010

Here’s a video about morals in the world today.

Although I have some issues about this guy’s theory, he also says some interesting, worthwhile stuff. I’m interested in knowing what you fine Jellies have to say about it.

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24 Answers

Trillian's avatar

Interesting video. I feel better about my answer to this question asked a couple days ago. I’m curious to know what your issues are….

nikipedia's avatar

Wow, that was great. I have been so confused by all this tea party business and their inability to attach themselves to anything more concrete than “honor”; I feel like Haidt makes sense of all their nonsense.

laureth's avatar

@Trillian – My issue is mostly that he puts both Conservatism and Liberalism (as seen in modern USA) at par with each other in terms of validity, as symbolized by the yin/yang symbol. In principle, I can agree that they both have something important to say, but for me it falls apart when one side of the debate espouses action based on things that are demonstrably untrue. For example, people seem to think that NPR and FOX News are the mirror reflection of each other, one liberal, one conservative, both equidistant from center, and say that everything is opinion. However, this is not true.

faye's avatar

He has made me think about myself and my views. I do agree with the five basics he discussed. He packed a lot into that short talk.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. I feel no one is every really a staunch conservative or liberal. Because there is always spillover from one side to the other.

Another interesting part was the experiment with the money and the community pots, when giving money could be used to punish the slackers giving with up. It seems like the logic I have always told people that most of the time you need the carrot and the stick. People are motivated by only 2 things though in varying degree inspiration and desperation. Something will get done because someone thought of a way to do it better or it got done because It had to get done or something would have been lost. The iPad was done because it was a newer way to use the computer and the Internet. Capping the BP well was a had to issue; leaving it alone was not an option. Fairness is often confused with legal because we see the law as supposing to be fair.

If liberalism is to buck authority I think that is innate in most people. Who really likes to be told what to do? I believe most of those who subscribe to conservatism realize you have to have captains, lieutenants, sergeants etc in order for the machine to work correctly. I think conservatives are more like Vulcans, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Where liberals say even if 500 people get held up in something every soul counts and every right be addressed.

People are social beings, that is why most would go crazy if stuck alone in some cabin somewhere when there was no one else around to chat, or worse if their was someone around but he/she just didn’t care to talk.

By the way, great to see you back posting again :-)

iamthemob's avatar

First of all, @laureth is my new favorite person. This is exactly the kind of question we should be asking.

After watching the video, I can say this is exactly what I feel about how morals, and all significant and world-changing ideas, must be discussed. I myself have been wondering this same thing, and joined fluther in hopes that it might have the capacity to be a forum for such things. The internet allows us the possibility to really start crowdsourcing important ideas to get at the best solutions. However, crowdsourcing (putting questions to a general public group in it’s most basic sense) will provide the right answer (crowds are notoriously accurate when the various answers in a group are averaged together) in most cases when the crowd is diverse and when no one is there influencing the answers. Often, initial responses will set the tone for the rest because of social pressures – but on the internet this effect can be reduced because you can’t see what others are really doing (this is a classic psychological phenomenon where we know what we should do but because we do not see anyone else doing it or doing something different it’s because they know something we don’t). It also solves some problematic issues of the same psychological phenomenon when people don’t do anything because we feel it’s someone else’s responsibility or we don’t want to get involved (the most tragic example is when a woman was stabbed multiple time and murdered over a long period of time right in the courtyard of her NYC apartment with dozens of witnesses listening…and not a single one called the police).

The problem is just the one described, in part. Internet communities like this one, and like Ted, can be self-selecting: people of one way of thinking dominate, and the liberal position of a lot of people on Fluther is assumed as shown in this recent thread. This bias is reinforced because the perception begins to select out the majority of people of a differing opinion because they feel it’s not for them.

The bias can also be reinforced, ironically, by the very same impersonal aspect of the internet that is the very thing that allows for the potential for discussion without judgment. This recent thread brought up the question of why we’re so quick to judge each other, which is natural and enhanced by the internet. For one, we can end up being much more nasty in a conversation here because the costs are much less immediate and palpable than they would be if we said something nasty in a normal conversation. We can also easily dismiss people by leaving the room after we’ve made our point – the equivalent in some ways of sticking our fingers in our ears and humming. This is why we have such problems with cyberbullying and damage caused by “sexting”, which is discussed a little in this thread.

Aside from that, things like “road rage” show that, because we are biologically inclined to attribute motivations to one another quickly, we do so without the information necessary for such judgments to be helpful like facial cues or tone of voice. We often attribute motivations or tone, therefore, to questions posted here that, whatever they may be, may be inappropriate to attribute and regardless are inappropriate if we can still address the substance of the question, issues addressed in this thread.. The internet allows us to respond to questions or issues instead of people, which has unbelievable productive potential.

The problem is getting people to think outside their own assumptions, as I encountered in both this thread on what I saw as the assertion that atheists do not have a belief, but rather a more likely perspective of the truth, (which was asked in a provocative manner, I completely admit) and this thread regarding whether we should ban handguns. In both cases, the conversation could not get past the point where one side refused to state that there was an assumption underlying what they were saying, and that the refusal allowed them to claim that they were right, when it’s an issue that doesn’t necessarily have a right or wrong answer. The gun debate I found particularly troubling (note: I am in favor of gun ownership. I am also in favor of requiring general insurance on a gun to spread the cost of gun injuries only to gun owners and not the taxpayers generally), because I saw what I thought to be evidence of the problem of the “commons” discussed in the video but in a weird breakdown. I seemed to work from a point of gun owners and sellers on one side, and non-gun owners on the other, and I thought that one side should not have to pay for participation in an industry that it did not want to have around – if you exercise the right, in essence, you have the responsibility associated with paying that cost. The other side seemed to see us all as Americans, and since we all have the right to own a gun we should all pay for the right to do so regardless, and only those who use it irresponsibly should be required to pay on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, I know realize we both believed in the commons and punishment to make it work, but I wanted the punishment to be associated with the exercise of a right, and they wanted it associated with the improper exercise of it. Both reasonable, but neither of us budged because we weren’t seeing the reasons why we were both right, and thereafter see what the best practical way to deal would be.

In both of these discussions, the most posts came when it became a debate (where one side was perceived as trying to win against the other). It came when we brought our baggage, in essence, to the argument. And this seems to happen all the time on fluther, as this post shows, where almost no one claims to have had an opinion or belief changed by a discussion on fluther. I think in a lot of ways I think that the video addresses that issue the most clearly…and although I agree it’s factually inaccurate to discuss Republicans and Democrats as two sides, I think that he was trying to show how we believe that and it’s only reinforced by the fact we self-select our groups. The gun debate is a clear example. Democrats claim they are liberal and want to celebrate individuality and therefore think in-group controls are less desirable, and understandably. Republicans are conservative and therefore are more keen on a moral superiority to govern. However, Democrats are more keen on gun control which requires someone to control the guns because “guns are bad,” where Republicans stand on the individuality and responsibility of the choice demonstrated in the second amendment, which was included in order to ensure that the individual could rise up against the government – the absolute opposite of the belief in control mechanisms. But if we had figured out how to say how we could reasonably discuss how to spread the harm, which both want to stop, how great is that?

SORRY to go on, but I think this has helped me consolidate a lot of things I’ve been thinking about – this question and the link has been massively inspiring (gotta love TED). I think that what this brings us to on the question of how do we enact change (because it is something we can actively DO – we “do” change) is (1) how do we attract and retain diversity (e.g., how do we eliminate the self-selecting and assumptions that contribute to the intensity of it) and (2) how do we pose questions so the discussion allows for people to determine the similarity of their positions and move forward from their assumptions without forming opinions about the nature of the speakers but rather of the ideas?

@laureth , you’re awesome.

mammal's avatar

@laureth absolutely….

what we are saying is that the Dalai Lama is the embodiment of both Liberal and Conservative values, OK well that’s nice (i’m a fan) if we take abstract principles from idealised versions of both political positions and present them as yin & yang, but the realpolitik is that conservatives are sponsoring a behemoth in the voting booth, that doesn’t represent anything wholesome about conservatism, it is a warped and twisted and gargantuan thing that is gobbling up our world and spurring reactionary groups into ferocious retaliatory behaviour.

kevbo's avatar

I like what this guy has to say and believe he’s definitely on the right track with respect to the political and social dynamics of individuals and groups. In fact, I’ve cited his article on the same topic many times before and found it to be one of the most insightful things I’ve read since joining Fluther.

What I find interesting is how easy it is to forget that the yin/yang exists (and I’ll explain what I mean in a minute). Even after reading that article so many times and watching the video today, I can say that I was engaged in sniping with conservative points of view as recently as last week.

@laureth, I think it’s a mistake to equate the data with the antics of FOX or the bias or lack thereof with NPR. While there certainly is a symbiotic relationship with their viewers, the rightness or wrongness or truth and falsehood of any media source is irrelevant. This is especially true with regard to FOX and conservative individuals, because the “program” and its adherents would simply say that they speak to a deeper truth which is that liberals are blatently disregarding three of the five components of morality and thereby are threatening the social order. Just the fact that supposed liberals are in power is a de facto threat to the social order in the mind of a conservative. Just like they play fast and loose with the poor, indigent and foreign to maintain “civilisation,” they feel justified in playing fast and loose with small facts in order to protect the big facts.

Back to yin/yang, what is also fact is that both mindsets inherently exist. As much as each of us would assume their opposite mindset disappear, it probably will not happen. It would be really interesting to see if we could evolve to a point where each is respected for their strengths and employed to the best of their ability rather than set against each other for control of society. It would also be nice to get to a point where each tendency is moderated to a degree that is tolerable to the other side, but I suppose that is asking an awful lot.

iamthemob's avatar

I think so much of it has to do with the way that we argue. It seems like we inevitable focus on two sides (even yin/yang).

I was trying to think of this when I was wondering about how to get discussions to be based on more of a dialtectical strategy (based on a dialogue between two or more people who may hold differing views, yet wish to pursue truth by seeking agreement with one another) as opposed to debate…where there needs to be a winner.

I feel like I might be a Jainist – which is basically relativistic philosophy where something, where truth and reality are different from every perspective, and that the only being who can see all perspectives (and therefore “Truth”) is perfect.

I like the idea of “Assuming your right, might this be better?”

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Thanks for sharing that @laureth.

I don’t personally have much problem with what Haidt said. It’s all worthy of deep and thoughtful consideration.

But one thing stuck out that didn’t sit so well with me. A comment that he made at the end and alluded to in the beginning. It’s odd to relate because what he said did not match what was written on the power point slide.

At 16:26, the final pp slide is shown, titled And the point? It says:
“Our Righteous Minds were “designed” to…”

But Haidt didn’t say that. Haidt said:
“Our Righteous Minds were “designed” (by evolution) to…”

Well, I wonder why his statement didn’t match the Power Point slide.

You know my position about code and authors. But I’m seeing a growing tendency for scientific minds to embody Evolution with a personage, as a Designer. I don’t believe this is healthy or productive. Claiming that Evolution is a Designer is a dangerous metaphor.

Also, he seems to equate Mind with Brain.

This is all quite unfortunate. For ultimately, Haidt is suggesting that mindless Evolution can somehow Design a mindful human. How does a Mindless thing Design?

If Haidt would recognize the processes involved with genuine Design, he would not have made that statement. And he doesn’t need to get into God or personification of Evo whatsoever to acknowledge that the five pillars of his moral foundation are perfectly in line with the way that genetic mutations occur.

1. Harm/care… at 5:45 Haidt says: “We all have a lot of neural and hormonal programming.” I suggest that the only program that is running in mammals is a genetic code.

2. Fairness/reciprocity… (the Golden Rule)... Well, cells must cooperate in line with their programming. Those that don’t are considered cancerous.

3. Ingroup/loyalty… Again, perfectly in line with genetic programming. When RNA builds a protein for an eyeball it is eyeball specific, and not to be truant as a bone cell. The justification for embryonic stem cell research is built upon this foundation. Haidt even says that it occurs mostly in “small groups” naturally. And he also relates that though it could be formed into larger groups by humans, that it stems from our heritage of smaller tribal groups in the past.

4. Authority/respect… Cells must respect the authority of their programming. Otherwise nothing living would form out of them. They wouldn’t even form in the first place. Again, those cells which do not respect the authority of their programming are considered cancerous or tumorous.

5. Purity/sanctity… Haidt tells us this is more about attaining virtue by controlling what is done with the body. The idea of control is paramount, and so again, cells and mutations are controlled by the genetic code which programs them for very specific duties. As Haidt says, it is not about suppression. It’s about acknowledging the benefits of being under the control of mindful actions.

Haidt goes on to tell us that, “The worst idea in all of psychology, is the idea that the mind is a blank slate at birth… Developmental psychology has shown that kids come into the world already knowing so much… _AND (they are) PROGRAMMED to make it really easy to learn certain things and hard to learn others.“_

I suggest Haidt attribute our programming to where it is due, by drawing analogies between human behavior and our genetic code. We are of it, so does it not follow that we would adopt its ways? For instance, it’s really easy for the body to follow the genetic code as written, and it’s really hard for the body to implement random mutations as successfully beneficial.

Simply acknowledging that humans act exactly as our genetic machinery acts is all the support Haidt needs to make his point.

Finally, at 4:59 Haidt attributes the “Best definition of innateness I’ve ever seen…” from the brain scientist Gary Marcus:

“The initial organization of the brain does not rely that much on experience… Nature provides a first draft, which experience then revises…”

Here we go again with Nature somehow “Drafting”. Beyond my obvious problems with how a mindless nature can draft anything, Haidt and Marcus must at least acknowledge that this “first draft” is drafted as the genetic code.

Marcus goes on to say: “Built-in does not mean unmalleable; it means organized in advance of experience.”

And how is this accomplished without a code to organize upon?

I’ve stated many times on this forum that our human lives are based upon two codes. One is our genetic code which gets us started. The second is the code we author ourselves throughout our experiential lives.

iamthemob's avatar


Excellent discussion! I think your argument misses a key point, which is the one I was basing my reference to the discussion of atheism on, and that is that you are attempting to form an argument that your position is correct when there is no evidence, and no beneficial result, that can really come from such an argument.

You know my position about code and authors. But I’m seeing a growing tendency for scientific minds to embody Evolution with a personage, as a Designer. I don’t believe this is healthy or productive. Claiming that Evolution is a Designer is a dangerous metaphor.

Your analysis of Haidt’s discussion following this assertion, however, do not reveal how the assertion is supported. You claim your position is known, and I’m assuming that it’s against the idea of aspects of evolution as being designed. You then say that there’s this growing trend to recognize this is so, or describe it as so, and state that you don’t “believe” that it’s healthy or productive. Of course, this implies that you believe that it very well (but I won’t assume “necessarily” might be unhealthy and destructive or just unproductive. But that in essence is doing much of what the overall message of the talk seems to be – you’re putting your position out as the one that is right, and the other as the one that is wrong, which the argument shows seems to lead us to points of contention rather than production.

If Haidt would recognize the processes involved with genuine Design, he would not have made that statement. And he doesn’t need to get into God or personification of Evo whatsoever to acknowledge that the five pillars of his moral foundation are perfectly in line with the way that genetic mutations occur.

But again, the fact that he doesn’t need to doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t. The mind as a blank slate discussion is actually appropriately conceived of in terms of “the mind” as opposed to “the brain,” in my opinion, as the mind has to develop the concepts in a way for us to be able to articulate them in the first place…we can’t really say that the brain has an immediately coherent concept of harm that we can articulate because we have no idea what it’s like to think pre-language (this is why so many say we experience infantile amnesia – we can’t remember what it’s like to be born and the period up to a certain point because we remember things when we are given the tools to know what they are).

Additionally, if we discuss the genetic code as the only programming, aren’t we faced with problems? We strive to respect the feelings of our spouses even though, if we are financially well off, we want to “spread the seed.” And if spreading our genes creates a greater probability that they will continue after us, it is beneficial from an evolution perspective to keep spreading them to the extent of our ability to support the resulting children’s continued survival. Of course, people still cheat, etc., but often feel guilty about it. There are benefits from an evolutionary perspective that can be attributed to the ability to conceive of the effects of our actions down the line to maintaining a stable family unit, sure…but I don’t think that genetic code mandates any particular choice on that level. Society seems to evolve on an completely separate but comparable parallel track, one that can be but not need be dictated by relation to our genetic code, and sometimes it may be beneficial to, in fact, differentiate the evolution of our cultures from that of our physiology.

I’m not trying to debate, again. :-) What I am saying is that drawing analogies to both physical and metaphysical beliefs when we’re talking about culture and societies provides potentially infinitely more beneficial modes of analysis than sticking to one set of assumptions about why were here or what caused us as another. Completely unsupportable (from a physical standpoint) spiritual ideals or concepts can provide for useful development as much as they may be “harmful” or “unhealthy” this way. Cutting those assumptions out because of a claim that your position is more healthy seems to be just the problem that is getting us into these messes.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Perhaps I should just keep my mouth shut so not to be accused of being “the problem that is getting us into these messes”.

What mess are we in?

It’s just another position friend. You can take it, leave it, or misrepresent it as you have. I’m not one to promote “completely unsupportable” propositions. Believe it or not, there is reason behind my statements. Yet attributing my comments to “spiritual”, when I have made no such comments, reveals a misunderstanding on your part.

@iamthemob “I’m assuming that it’s against the idea of aspects of evolution as being designed.”

You might do well to follow your own advice and consider “Cutting those assumptions out…”

@iamthemob “you are attempting to form an argument that your position is correct when there is no evidence, and no beneficial result, that can really come from such an argument.”

No evidence that you know of or would consider accepting in the manner Haidt suggests. But there is evidence, and beneficial result that meets with my satisfaction just fine.

Do you think I pull this stuff out of my ass just to cause trouble? Perhaps I’m just confused or have been misled. Heaven forbid that I might actually know what I’m talking about.

Maximillian's avatar

Call me lazy not, willing to read the answers or answer myself. I would just like to tell laurteth that I did like this video. Good job.

Go fetch…please.

iamthemob's avatar


I introduced the whole thing saying your points were great…I tried to say my entire theory in this thread is that I’m not inherently assuming motivations behind why people make statements but only assumptions upon which those statements are based…I want open dialogue in order to get all ideas out there so I don’t want anyone to shut their mouth…and I admitted my assumptions (actually, I thought fairly long about whether I should, but if you say something is unhealthy, unproductive, and dangerous I have to state my assumptions about what I think you’re saying to continue with my counter).

I didn’t say any of your actual propositions were completely unsupportable – I think there’s merit in them. I was saying that some of the more spiritual analogies that can be drawn cannot be supported if you’re using a model that’s based solely on a model of the engine of design being solely our DNA – all of the quotes you put in were references to things that cannot be supported if we’re dealing solely with the physical, but that seem to lend depth to the consideration and can help us move forward.

I’m saying simply that when you say it’s dangerous to think of this from a designer perspective. But if you can’t say “assume that there’s a designer” you just cut a whole bunch of people out of the argument. You can’t talk to people who believe in a god, or a designing force, because you automatically are saying they’re wrong…but if I’m missing something there that allows you to include those people in a conversation that starts off with a proposition that their belief is totally faulty, and in which you’d think they would participate without not being offended, I’d be interested (I really would…I just can’t think of any).

I don’t think anything is pulled out of your ass in terms of the points you made. I agree with your points. I made a few counters to the points themselves about how I thought your analogy to the evolution engine might be faulty…but that’s really it. My argument is that you’re framing your proposition that this is a better way to look at it as the right way to look at it, and that another way would, again, be dangerous. That’s stifling conversation.

Please tell me if on my end I’m missing something.

laureth's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies – I agree with your points about “designed (by evolution).” I actually cringed when I saw that on the screen.

@iamthemob – re “Both reasonable, but neither of us budged because we weren’t seeing the reasons why we were both right, and thereafter see what the best practical way to deal would be.” I think this cuts to the heart of a lot of issues in the world today. I can see it especially in the health care debate. For example, I simultaneously think that people ought to take responsibility for their own health, and also that there needs to be some kind of communal effort to provide a safety net. There is no real right answer, so I think about it in terms of, “Which society would I rather live in? One where we all must be ruggedly independent, or one where we all help each other?” (Personally, I favor “helping each other” as one of the perks of civilization.)

@kevbo – If you (the general you) build an argument of Big Truths on a base of Small Lies, it weakens the argument. It’s like building a house on sand: when you need to rely on it, the sand crumbles out from underneath, and the whole house cracks and falls down. One needs a good strong level base of concrete and bedrock to build a solid structure, and one needs to base a solid position on things that are true – not just things that one wishes were true.

iamthemob's avatar


Ah! But you negate possibilities where being ruggedly independent IS helping each other. :-)

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@laureth Thank you.

@iamthemob You don’t have the slightest clue as to what I’m talking about. I’m sorry if you think you do, but you just don’t. You’re reading way too much into my comments and go far beyond what I’ve said into your own assumptions about where I’m coming from.

I wonder what your true motivations are, and if you simply enjoy arguing or really consider the comments presented, and the thoughts they represent.

I’m not going to divert this discussion into one of the many debates about the genome I’ve had over the years here on Fluther. I don’t believe that we are compatible with one another for effective communication. I’m not interested in buzzy chit chat and I’m having trouble understanding how you form some of your sentences.

I simply gave the vid a thorough critique from my earned perspective. That’s all. Take it or leave it. Perhaps you could address questions to me as point by point and I’d be able to digest them more readily.

Perhaps you will allow me to present the comments of Nobel Prize Winning Geneticist Barbara McClintock to speak her own words in my defense.
“Over the years I have found that it is difficult if not impossible to bring to consciousness of another person the nature of his tacit assumptions when, by some special experiences, I have been made aware of them.”

kevbo's avatar

@laureth, I agree with you with respect to my personal beliefs, but it’s obvious that a good chunk of the populace doesn’t see this as a problem (or doesn’t see how their repression and lies become sublimated and expressed in other ways). Interestingly, one might say that we build big truths on lies of all sizes as a matter of policy.

zophu's avatar

Oh wow, are we questioning the distinctness of the line drawn between liberal and conservative values? Maybe we shouldn’t let our psychology-based sentiments control our political views? Nahhh. Then the only t-shirts I wear that aren’t supposed to be ironic would become ironic as well. Unacceptable.

YARNLADY's avatar

This is the best discussion I have read in a long time – thanks for the great question. I’m amazed at how much I agree with @RealEyesRealizeRealLies in the observations here.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Thanks @YARNLADY. You embody the very notion that Haidt suggests we offer one another. That being, simple thorough and thoughtful consideration. That means a lot to me. I hope to use your example as catalyst for me offering it to others in return. Not always easy to do, for me at least.

talljasperman's avatar

I can relate this to Dungeons and Dragons… Conservatives are “Lawful Neutral” and Liberals are “Neutral Good”...and moderates are “Lawful Good” or “True Neutral”

augustlan's avatar

The first thing I thought of was that excellent article that @kevbo posted so long ago, and referenced up there ^^. It’s all so interesting to me. It seems to me that it’s the liberals (myself included) who will have to be the ones to step out of the ‘moral matrix’ and approach dialogues with a new mindset, as conservatives are likely less open to change. I wonder, if all liberals in the world suddenly adopted a new method of advancing change, would we have more success in actually achieving it?

iamthemob's avatar

I realized that my stated assumption about the designer perspective in @RealEyesRealizeRealLies‘s statements above was based on a misreading of what was said. Therefore, my statements have to be separated from those statements to be read as helpful. What I believe is that when, as I think the video is arguing, you start working from a position where the contrary view already is less likely, you are automatically positioning your argument as right, which can be problematic and stifle other viewpoints. Although such an assumption may be appropriate at times, it might not be in others. I apologize for that getting muddled.

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