Friday, March 06, 2009

morality, anti-racism, Haidt and Thandeka

"...the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way." When Republicans say that Democrats 'just don't get it,' this is the 'it' to which they refer."

So writes Jonathan Haidt. He also gives "the first rule of moral psychology: feelings come first and tilt the mental playing field on which reasons and arguments compete. If people want to reach a conclusion, they can usually find a way to do so. The Democrats have historically failed to grasp this rule, choosing uninspiring and aloof candidates who thought that policy arguments were forms of persuasion." This is what Thandeka wrote in Tikkun years ago.

Haidt gives this example: "The book of Leviticus makes a lot more sense when you think of ancient lawgivers first sorting everything into two categories: 'disgusts [the ancient lawgiver]' (gay male sex, menstruation, pigs, swarming insects) and 'disgusts [that lawgiver] less' (gay female sex, urination, cows, grasshoppers )."

Moral laws were formulated to explain, or at least codify, their disgust. And note that their common disgusts contributed to their group identity.

Haidt offers this definition: "morality is any system of interlocking values, practices, institutions, and psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible." He believes that societies must do five things: protect the vulnerable, legislate fairness, and promote loyalty, respect and purity. The first two are class Liberal values; the latter are classic Conservative values.

Haidt says these five foundations, harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity, are all part of our evolutionary past, and all necessary for a rich society. He offers ways for Liberals to understand and authentically promote all five of these. ("Environmental and animal welfare issues are easily promoted using the language of harm/care, but such appeals might be more effective when supplemented with hints of purity/sanctity.")

At first, I disagreed with this paragraph: "A recent study by Robert Putnam (titled E Pluribus Unum) found that ethnic diversity increases anomie and social isolation by decreasing people's sense of belonging to a shared community. Democrats should think carefully, therefore, about why they celebrate diversity. If the purpose of diversity programs is to fight racism and discrimination (worthy goals based on fairness concerns), then these goals might be better served by encouraging assimilation and a sense of shared identity."

Then I imagined doing both--upholding individual rights and fairness, *and* building shared identity. The ol' UU "both/and." That seems like a better--more inclusive, probably more effective--approach. *Ding!* This is Thandeka, too: rather than beginning from "fairness," honor our shared identity (all human, all wounded, all doing what we can) and build toward fairness from there.

This post is already way too long, but it feels like something important is happening here. Feedback is welcome.


At 9:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your post is just vague enough that a real position is hard to discern.

I would, however, say this: Racists tend to love the idea of fairness second, and assimilation first, because that gives them the power. They can put off fairness until the group jumps through enough hoops (and some never jump enough) before they extend fairness.

Assimilation First is the rally cry of the passive aggressive bigot. The Angry white male who hates having to give up any of his privilage or percieved perks, but is just smart enough to know he can't say that openly. So he cites some eastern culture to provide him cover for, usually misinterpreting bhuddism, so he can say: "Oh wait, I'm not a racist, i'm just trying to reach out and find a bridge. See I cited this other culture to expaline things" When in reality they are only looking for a reason not to change and treat minorities as their equals.

Republicans and conservatives love the idea because it gives them power, but never get it. Republicans never get why only a few tokens are part of their party and their morally corrupt ideology. Clueless UU's also are drawn to it, and then never get why our faith has so few minorities.

That is the it, that they never get.

There is a phrase that people of color, tend to use for whites who use abstract philosophical arguments, just to retain the right to provide fairness at their discretion and under their rules at their whim.

"Thanks, that's mighty white of you."

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Chip said...

You make a good point, Chuck B. I do not think that Haidt is suggesting "Assimilation First." More importantly, I am not recommending it. My position is that Conservatives and Liberals all have a piece of the truth, and open exploration of these ideas is the best way to bring about real change. Focusing on racism here, if we work *only* from assimilation, or only from fairness, we are missing the boat. I hope our work includes *both* fairness and commonalities, in some balance, the fulcrum of which we can talk about.

At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your well thought out and reasoned response. I also think you just made a very important inference: What do we mean by conservatives?

When the discourse of race in America allowed bigots to adopt the PC title "conservative" I believe we not only skewed the coversation onto the wrong track, but it was a disservice to real conservatives.

I would say this a person who's position is really to deny the existance both current and past racism is a not conservative. A person who is against racial diversity is not a conservative. A person who refuses to believe that remedies are required because of the past and on goig systematic issues of racist based injustices is not a conservative.

A person who can see these problems, but wants a cost effective, well thought out resolution that will stick...that's a concervative. A person like that should be at the table.

The issue with the others is that the inherent worth and dignity of minorities must be respected if you want them to trust you. Few with the ability to lead others will believe you if you lend credence to the opinions of the oppressors. Those people by the very nature of their being the majority already have enough stages and they will not give up their power.

Here's a good question, should germans who are proud of their family being in the SS be part of any solution to resole anti-semitism?

Should fundamentalist Christians, and right wing conservatives who use slurs and say gays will burn in hell be a part of any discussion to bring about marriage equity?

So are we talking conservatives....or racists?

At 2:35 PM, Blogger Mudwitch said...

Chip, I'm new to the blog world, so I haven't read any previous posts. Is any of your thinking today informed or stimulated by the recent articles in the UU World? I was excited by the juxtaposition of the two articles on Darwin and our primate heritage followed by one article addressing our UU use of shame. Robinson talks about shame, scorn & fear as obstacles to UUs developing a binding spiritual identity. The last article was about Morrison-Reed addressing both race and spirituality.

You are talking about morality, identity and diversity. If you remove the human "systems of interlocking values and practices" The rest of Haidt's definition of morality could be a working definiton of shame, "psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible." If moral codes are our human fine tuning of our genetically inherited shaming mechanisms, how are we doing? Has human culture harnassed shame yet? I think we (I'm including UUs) have got a ways to go.

I suspect that a good many UUs as well as a good many Democrats feel threatened by any heavy handed enforcement of Haidt's values 3-5, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity, while they are O.K. with harm/care, fairness/reciprocity. Ronald Heifetz (Leadership Without Easy Answers) talks about the relationship of authority to dominance and how in some primates the dominate leader provides direction, protection and order. Heifetz's direction & protection are close to Haidt's harm/care, fairness/reciprocity. It's how order gets maintained where liberals and conservatives part ways. Liberals want to keep fine tuning 3-5 ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity, which Heifetz refers to in terms of status, conflict and norms--who gets what.
Conservatives are more comfortable following their guts on this, hence they get what liberals "just don't get," the power of an appeal to order (3-5)to win hearts, minds and votes. If liberals, religious or political, want to persuade the undecided or conservative, (religious or political) that a liberal order is trustworthy, we've got some work to do on understanding the needs of our own "inner apes."

My favorite Heifrtz quote goes: "some of us are ambivalent about giving power, and other are ambivalent about taking it. Having been disappointed or abused in these relationships, some of which may strongly resemble dominance, many of us do not like to be dependent, or depended upon." That hits home with me. The abuse is often a clumsy, untuned use of shame. Whether a religion or a political party, any group who reaches out to people so abused, disappointed and uncomfortable with power had better be prepared to both heal spirits and to have a fine tuned order of their own.

I'd like to see UUs redeem shame, give it the respect it deserves as parent to our individual conscience and guardian of our cohesiveness, while never, ever underestimating its power.

At 4:52 PM, Blogger Robin Edgar said...


May I ask why it is that Republicans have "only a few tokens" who are part of their political party, whereas U*U's have "so few minorities"? Who is to say that U*Us don't have "tokens"?

I must say I got quite a chuckle out of the 97% White Unitarian Church of Montreal promoting it's alleged "multicultural community" with a "slide show" which shows that, with the exception of a few "tokens", it is far from being genuinely multicultural in terms of ethnicity and race.


Robin Edgar

At 8:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Republicans and conservatives love the idea because it gives them power, but never get it. Republicans never get why only a few tokens are part of their party and their morally corrupt ideology. Clueless UU's also are drawn to it, and then never get why our faith has so few minorities.

That is the it, that they never get.

Works for me, just replace Republican with Democrat and Conservative with Liberal,
If the UU were to have better sense of hell, and sing louder they would attract more minorities.

The powerless change nothing by deffinition. Give up the diatribe against power. We can not be civilized or even survive without it, Nob


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