10 March, 2013

Why Jonathan Haidt is wrong

Jonathan Haidt is a remarkable man. He is the dominant thinker on the psychology of morality today. And he got there by doing something amazing. He listened to what conservatives have to say about moral issues! For someone with his liberal background that was a wrenching move. Leftist psychologists have built up in their own minds a caricature of what conservatism is and work with that (e.g. here). It is however a caricature that is more or less totally divorced from reality. But since they never talk to conservatives they never find that out. Haidt did talk -- and listen.

And what Haidt found was a real revolution in psychology. He found that liberals were simplistic thinkers on questions of right and wrong (can you get much more simplistic than: "There is no such thing as right and wrong"?) while conservatives had a much more complex account of moral issues. And that conclusion was precisely the opposite of what Leftist psychologists had been preaching for over 60 years at least.

I share that broad conclusion. In my own academic career in the 70's and 80's I regularly got research published which challenged the prevailing notion that it was the conservatives who were the simple thinkers.

So where does Haidt go wrong? I have set that out previously (also here) but the essence is that Haidt believes what people say about their own motivations. He believes Leftists when they talk about their noble motivations of achieving equality etc.

Haidt has therefore built his castle on sand. Ever since the work of LaPiere in the '30s psychologists have known of the large gap between people's attitudes and behaviour. What they say about their values and intentions is a poor guide to what they will actually do in any given situation.

Why is that so? Why can you not rely on what people report about their own inner life? A very common answer to that which has been around for a long time is that people commonly "fake good": They say what they think will make you think well of them. They hide their real thoughts because they suspect that other people will disapprove of such thoughts. And as a result, psychologists routinely use "Lie scales" or "social desirability scales" in their questionnaires to get some handle on such distortions.

I would argue that looking at what actually happens or has happened in politics (history) gives us a much more accurate interpretation of what actually drives people.

Leftists for instance are big preachers of tolerance but just listen to what they regularly say about conservatives and Christians. Very often it is pure hate. They have no actual tolerance at all. They tolerate only their own views. I document it often on my TONGUE-TIED blog.

And they rail against discrimination. But as Haidt himself has emphasized, liberal professors discriminate heavily against conservatives in hiring and firing. See also here.

And Leftists regularly claim to be anti-authority but in the global warming debate almost their only argument is that "the authorities" support global warming. That the whole global warming scare relies on totally hypothetical (and improbable) "tipping points" seems generally to be unknown to them. I document that authoritarianism regularly too -- on my GREENIE WATCH blog. And that arguments from authority are among the classic informal fallacies of logic seems to bother them not a bit.

And what about the great volte face from pre-war Leftism to modern-day Leftism? Before WWII, Democrats and socialists generally energetically advocated eugenics, were great patriots, convinced racists and were by far the most antisemitic. FDR turned back Jewish refugees and TR (founder of America's "progressive" party) and his allies built battleships, invaded several other countries and glorified war, seeing it as a purifying force. But Hitler had those ideas too so, when he was defeated, Leftists reversed direction and disowned most of their previous enthusiasms. In other words, they stand for nothing. They have NO lasting principles or moral anchors.

So what DOES motivate Leftists and their Greenie fellow-travellers? I think it's obvious if you look at real-life politics: Anger/Rage/Hate, closely related emotions that readily morph into one-another. Leftists are always claiming that hate motivates conservatives but that is just projection. And projection is a good protective strategy. It tends to make people say: "A pox on both their houses!"

Like that great hater, Karl Marx, today's Green/Left hate just about everything in the world about them and want to change it. And the torrent of abuse directed at those who disagree with them is patently in many cases pure hate. Abuse is their shtick, not factual argument. Haidt is failing to see the wood for the trees. He is naive in a way that no psychologist should be. He needs to look at real life political behaviour, not self-serving lies and airy theories.

Go to John Ray's Main academic menu
Go to Menu of longer writings
Go to John Ray's basic home page
Go to John Ray's pictorial Home Page
Go to Selected pictures from John Ray's blogs