Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Applying theories from Haidt and Lakoff to the issue of immigration.

Reaction Paper written by a student, with additions made by myself:
Through these first few weeks of the course I have learned a lot of interesting information that opened my eyes, not only about policies, but also about how situations and morals can influence someone’s actions or beliefs. I used to think that everyone had different morals and no one had the same as me. When we got our assignment that we were to complete for week three, it included taking a few moral foundations tests. The moral foundations theory was created by Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues (and George Lakoff has developed a theory about metaphors and moral narratives that people use to interpret and filter information about the world and how they should evaluate policies and behaviors). The moral foundations theory originally theorized that everyone has the same five more foundations, but people over the past few years have argued there was a sixth moral foundation (for liberty, against oppression), and perhaps a seventh (for conservation, against waste and destruction). The first five moral foundations are care, fairness, loyalty, authority, and purity. 

After taking the moral foundation tests my eyes were opened. Through these tests, I have learned what are my strongest moral foundations. My three strongest moral foundations are care, fairness, and liberty. My scores for these three moral foundations were 83.3% for care and 72.2% for fairness and liberty. Along with the moral foundations tests, we were also instructed to read and learn about George Lakoff’s theories about metaphorical understanding of reality. Even after reading the information on George Lakoff’s moral narratives theory, I was still confused on what exactly it all meant. During class we discussed in depth George Lakoff’s moral foundations theory and went over what our scores meant. After learning what exactly the moral foundations theory meant and going over scores and comparing ours to others, I began to realize that we all had different levels of how much we cared about each moral foundation. I compared mine to my three of my classmates and the person I was closest to in class I found had about the same exact scores as mine for their moral foundations. As we learned about our moral foundations, we were able to better understand how it made us libertarian or conservative. We were able to see how each moral foundations fit into being a libertarian or conservative. I kept receiving scores on our political tests as a left-liberal. I began to understand exactly what it meant. My top three moral foundations reinforced my liberal views. 

We then went over situations on policies that our moral foundations fit into. One example is, we went over the example of what types of moral foundations a person would have if they were for immigration and what a person would have for moral foundations if they were against immigration. People who are for immigration might have strong moral foundations in care, fairness, and liberty. These people care for others and want to help the immigrant. These people believe that everyone deserves the fair chance to come into this country and gain citizenship. These people believe that everyone has a right to liberty and freedom. People who were against immigration might have strong moral foundations in authority, purity, and loyalty. These people would believe that authority should control immigration, and feel that immigration without following the laws is a transgression that cannot be allowed. Their loyalty values lead them to emphasize that we need not worry about the immigrants, and should instead care most about protecting and supporting the current citizens. These people have a lot of trust in the government as an institution that ought to enforce the laws and protect citizens from immigrants who could compete for resources. These people would also possibly believe we need to keep our country pure and not let outsiders in; they might feel uncomfortable about the “impurity” of seeing people all around them who have different cultures or values, who speak non-English languages, or who have unusual religious beliefs. These people would have a large amount of loyalty in the government and a vision of “traditional” America with its old values and cultural practices, and so they want to have the government strictly control immigration and enforce laws against undocumented immigrants. Anti-immigrant beliefs could also be informed by the justice moral foundation, as the persons who oppose immigration might be concerned that those who “cheat” by staying in America without following the law are getting advantages over those who obediently wait for their paperwork to allow them to legally immigrate here, and so it does seem unfair that cheaters would get ahead of those who are playing by the rules. 

From Lakoff’s theories, we can see that the pro-immigrant position is informed by an idea that the government ought to act like nurturing parents, and the government ought to take care of everyone who lives in our country and contributes to our society, and that would include an obligation to treat undocumented immigrants with kindness and benevolence.  The anti-immigrant position is informed by the metaphor that the American government (and perhaps the “free market”) ought to act like a strict father who imposes discipline. In this view, the government must step in to protect the “real” children (American citizens and legal immigrants) from the neighborhood children who have come to live in our household instead of staying in the households where they belong, and the government ought to force the undocumented immigrants to go back where they came from. 

Knowing the moral foundations theory and Lakoff’s theories about metaphors and moral narratives can help us understand why people have different views from each other and what they believe in and what they don’t. While some of us may strongly support better policies to help most undocumented immigrants, others may just as strongly desire that all undocumented immigrants be forced to depart. It is not the case that one side is moral, while the other side is selfish or foolish and immoral.  Both sides have moral reasoning and value assumptions that make their positions seem correct, and the other positions seem irresponsible or wrong. While I may strongly support one side on some policy issue, it’s important to listen to what the other side says, and consider what they believe, so that I will not demonize or dismiss the concerns of the other side.  Only by understanding the assumptions and values of all sides can we be persuasive and thoughtful in debate about policies.

I contributed significantly to the middle (third paragraph, and wrote most of the fourth and fifth paragraphs.  The student wrote the first two paragraphs, and I only slightly edited those, and contributed most of the third paragraph.  


The Independent Whig said...

The section summarizing the so-called "anti-immigration" position is so oversimplified as to be, well, wrong.

The reason it is wrong is because ideologies, moralities, world views, etc., are emergent systems that are greater than the sum of their parts.

The focus on loyalty, authority, and purity is the intellectual equivalent of looking only at individual trees in the hope of understand the emergent eco-system of the forest. It is, in a nutshell, an example of WEIRD thinking.

It's not true that the so called "anti-immigration" position is based only, or even mostly, in the binding foundations.

What is true that it is based on an innate, intuitive, grasp of the importance of moral capital.

The common misperception in all of this is the notion that the difference between left and right is an either/or situation, in which the left focuses on, or is mainly based in, the individualizing foundations and the right focuses on, or is mainly based in, the binding foundations.

The more accurate representation is that it's an either/AND situation. It's true that the left scores higher in the individualizing foundations and lower in the binding foundations. But the right scores highly in ALL the foundations relatively equally.

A Venn diagram of left and right would represent the left with a smaller circle around the individualizing foundations and the right as a larger circle around all the foundations completely encircling the left. The smaller circle would be a dotted line. It's not an impermeable boundary. There's is some leakage across it, but by and large the Venn diagram is apt.

The Independent Whig said...

Lakoff also vastly oversimplifies the situation with his nurturing parent and strict father metaphors. Those, too, are inaccurate representations of what's actually going on.

A better analogy is found in the book "The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization," by Arthur Herman. In that book Plato and Aristotle serve as metaphors for two different cognitive styles; two different mental processes or algorithms, like PC and MAC, that connect the dots of information received from the senses and from other cognitive processes in different ways. These two cognitive styles are more or less the WEIRD and Holistic styles of thinking Haidt describes in "The Righteous Mind."

Roughly, in Plato's vision, everything in the world is but a pale imitation of its ideal self. This includes individuals, cultures, societies, governmental systems, etc. And it is the role the enlightened among us (e.g., philosophers) to help guide and "Nudge" humanity toward the ideal. Aristotle's view, on the other hand, is that it is right and good to always try to improve and better the lot of mankind in general and the individuals within it specifically, but it must be dome within the practical limits of reality, and it is the role of philosophers to help people better understand that reality so that they can better respond to it.

The "constrained" and "unconstrained" visions described by Thomas Sowell in his book "A Conflict of Visions" track quite well with the Platonic and Aristotelian world views.

The Independent Whig said...

Re-read the portions of "The Righteous Mind" that speak to these topics (social capital and WEIRD vs Holistic thinking). Below are a couple passages to get you started:

From The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt, pages 112- 115:

"In 2010, the cultural psychologists Joe Henrich, Steve Heine, and Ara Norenzayan published a profoundly important article titled “The Weirdest People in the World?”‘ The authors pointed out that nearly all research in psychology is conducted on a very small subset of the human population: people from cultures that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (forming the acronym WEIRD). They then reviewed dozens of studies showing that WEIRD people are statistical outliers; they are the least typical, least representative people you could study if you want to make generalizations about human nature. Even within the West, Americans are more extreme outliers than Europeans, and within the United States, the educated upper middle class (like my Penn sample) is the most unusual of all.

Several of the peculiarities of WEIRD culture can be captured in this simple generalization: The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships. It has long been reported that Westerners have a more independent and autonomous concept of the self than do East Asians} For example, when asked to write twenty statements beginning with the words “I am … ,” Americans are likely to list their own internal psychological characteristics (happy, outgoing, interested in jazz), whereas East Asians are more likely to list their roles and relationships (a son, a husband, an employee of Fujitsu).

The differences run deep; even visual perception is affected. In what’s known as the framed-line task, you are shown a square with a line drawn inside it. You then tum the page and see an empty square that is larger or smaller than the original square. Your task is to draw a line that is the same as the line you saw on the previous page, either in absolute terms (same number of centimeters; ignore the new frame) or in relative terms (same proportion relative to the frame). Westerners, and particularly Americans, excel at the absolute task, because they saw the line as an independent object in the first place and stored it separately in memory. East Asians, in contrast, outperform Americans at the relative task, because they automatically perceived and remembered the relationship among the parts.4

The Independent Whig said...

Continuting Righteous Mind excerpt regarding WEIRD vs Non-WEIRD thinking:

Related to this difference in perception is a difference in thinking style. Most people think holistically (seeing the whole context and the relationships among parts), but WEIRD people think more analytically (detaching the focal object from its context, assigning it to a category, and then assuming that what’s true about the category is true about the object).5 Putting this all together, it makes sense that WEIRD philosophers since Kant and Mill have mostly generated moral systems that are individualistic, rule-based, and universalist. That’s the morality you need to govern a society of autonomous individuals.

But when holistic thinkers in a non-WEIRD culture write about morality, we get something more like the Analects of Confucius, a collection of aphorisms and anecdotes that can’t be reduced to a single rule.6 Confucius talks about a variety of relationship-specific duties and virtues (such as filial piety and the proper treatment of one’s subordinates).

If WEIRD and non-WEIRD people think differently and see the world differently, then it stands to reason that they’d have different moral concerns. If you see a world full of individuals, then you’ll want the morality of Kohlberg and Turiel-a morality that protects those individuals and their individual rights. You’ll emphasize concerns about harm and fairness.

But if you live in a non-WEIRD society in which people are more likely to see relationships, contexts, groups, and institutions, then you won’t be so focused on protecting individuals. You’ll have a more sociocentric morality, which means (as Shweder described it back in chapter 1) that you place the needs of groups and institutions first, often ahead of the needs of individuals. If you do that, then a morality based on concerns about harm and fairness won’t be sufficient. You’ll have additional concerns, and you’ll need additional virtues to bind people together.

Part II of this book is about those additional concerns and virtues. It’s about the second principle of moral psychology: There’s more to morality than harm and fairness. I’m going to try to convince you that this principle is true descriptively that is, as a portrait of the moralities we see when we look around the world. I’ll set aside the question of whether any of these alternative moralities are really good, true, or justifiable. As an intuitionist, I believe it is a mistake to even raise that emotionally powerful question until we’ve calmed our elephants and cultivated some understanding of what such moralities are trying to accomplish. It’s just too easy for our riders to build a case against every morality, political party, and religion that we don’t like} So let’s try to understand moral diversity first, before we judge other moralities."

The Independent Whig said...

From The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt, pages 336 – 343.

"My own intellectual life narrative has had two turning points. In chapter 5 I recounted the first one, in India, in which my mind opened to the existence of the broader moralities described by Richard Shweder (i.e., the ethics of community and divinity). But from that turning point in 1993 through the election of Barack Obama in 2008, I was still a partisan liberal. I wanted my team (the Democrats) to beat the other team (the Republicans). In fact, I first began to study politics precisely because I was so frustrated by John Kerry’s ineffectual campaign for the presidency. I was convinced that American liberals simply did not “get” the morals and motives of their conservative countrymen, and I wanted to use my research on moral psychology to help liberals win.

To learn about political psychology, I decided to teach a graduate seminar on the topic in the spring of 2005. Knowing that I’d be teaching this new class, I was on the lookout for good readings. So when I was visiting friends in New York a month after the Kerry defeat, I went to a used-book store to browse its political science section. As I scanned the shelves, one book jumped out at me-a thick brown book with one word on its spine: Conservatism. It was a volume of readings edited by the historian Jerry Muller. I started reading Muller’s introduction while standing in the aisle, but by the third page I had to sit down on the floor. I didn’t realize it until years later, but Muller’s essay was my second turning point.

Muller began by distinguishing conservatism from orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is the view that there exists a “transcendent moral order, to which we ought to try to conform the ways of society.”34 Christians who look to the Bible as a guide for legislation, like Muslims who want to live under sharia, are examples of orthodoxy. They want their society to match an externally ordained moral order, so they advocate change, sometimes radical change. This can put them at odds with true conservatives, who see radical change as dangerous.

Muller next distinguished conservatism from the counterEnlightenment. It is true that most resistance to the Enlightenment can be said to have been conservative, by definition (i.e., clerics and aristocrats were trying to conserve the old order). But modern conservatism, Muller asserts, finds its origins within the main currents of Enlightenment thinking, when men such as David Hume and Edmund Burke tried to develop a reasoned, pragmatic, and essentially utilitarian critique of the Enlightenment project. Here’s the line that quite literally floored me:

What makes social and political arguments conservative as opposed to orthodox is that the critique of liberal or progressive arguments takes place on the enlightened grounds of the search for human happiness based on the use of reason.35

As a lifelong liberal, I had assumed that conservatism = orthodoxy = religion = faith = rejection of science. It followed, therefore, that as an atheist and a scientist, I was obligated to be a liberal. But Muller asserted that modern conservatism is really about creating the best possible society, the one that brings about the greatest happiness given local circumstances. Could it be? Was there a kind of conservatism that could compete against liberalism in the court of social science? Might conservatives have a better formula for how to create a healthy, happy society?

The Independent Whig said...

Continuing excerpt from The Righteous Mind about Moral Capital;

I kept reading. Muller went through a series of claims about human nature and institutions, which he said are the core beliefs of conservatism. Conservatives believe that people are inherently imperfect and are prone to act badly when all constraints and accountability are removed (yes, I thought; see Glaucon, Tetlock, and Ariely in chapter 4). Our reasoning is flawed and prone to overconfidence, so it’s dangerous to construct theories based on pure reason, unconstrained by intuition and historical experience (yes; see Hume in chapter 2 and Baron-Cohen on systemizing in chapter 6). Institutions emerge gradually as social facts, which we then respect and even sacralize, but if we strip these institutions of authority and treat them as arbitrary contrivances that exist only for our benefit, we render them less effective. We then expose ourselves to increased anomie and social disorder (yes; see Durkheim in chapters 8 and 11).

Based on my own research, I had no choice but to agree with these conservative claims. As I continued to read the writings of conservative intellectuals, from Edmund Burke in the eighteenth century through Friedrich Hayek and Thomas Sowell in the twentieth, I began to see that they had attained a crucial insight into the sociology of morality that I had never encountered before. They understood the importance of what I’ll call moral capital. (Please note that I am praising conservative intellectuals, not the Republican Party.)36
The term social capital swept through the social sciences in the 1990s, jumping into the broader public vocabulary after Robert Putnam’s 2000 book Bowling Alone)7 Capital, in economics, refers to the resources that allow a person or firm to produce goods or services. There’s financial capital (money in the bank), physical capital (such as a wrench or a factory), and human capital (such as a well-trained sales force). When everything else is equal, a firm with more of any kind of capital will outcompete a firm with less.

Social capital refers to a kind of capital that economists had largely overlooked: the social ties among individuals and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from those ties.38 When everything else is equal, a firm with more social capital will outcompete its less cohesive and less internally trusting competitors (which makes sense given that human beings were shaped by multilevel selection to be contingent cooperators). In fact, discussions of social capital sometimes use the example of ultra-Orthodox Jewish diamond merchants, which I mentioned in the previous chapter.39 This tightly knit ethnic group has been able to create the most efficient market because their transaction and monitoring costs are so low there’s less overhead on every deal. And their costs are so low because they trust each other. If a rival market were to open up across town composed of ethnically and religiously diverse merchants, they’d have to spend a lot more money on lawyers and security guards, given how easy it is to commit fraud or theft when sending diamonds out for inspection by other merchants. Like the nonreligious communes studied by Richard Sosis, they’d have a much harder time getting individuals to follow the moral norms of the community.40

The Independent Whig said...

Continuing Haidt excerpt about moral capital

Everyone loves social capital. Whether you’re left, right, or center, who could fail to see the value of being able to trust and rely upon others? But now let’s broaden our focus beyond firms trying to produce goods and let’s think about a school, a commune, a corporation, or even a whole nation that wants to improve moral behavior. Let’s set aside problems of moral diversity and just specify the goal as increasing the “output” of pro social behaviors and decreasing the “output” of antisocial behaviors, however the group defines those terms. To achieve almost any moral vision, you’d probably want high levels of social capital. (It’s hard to imagine how anomie and distrust could be beneficial.) But will linking people together into healthy, trusting relationships be enough to improve the ethical profile of the group?
If you believe that people are inherently good, and that they flourish when constraints and divisions are removed, then yes, that may be sufficient. But conservatives generally take a very different view of human nature. They believe that people need external structures or constraints in order to behave well, cooperate, and thrive. These external constraints include laws, institutions, customs, traditions, nations, and religions. People who hold this “constrained”41 view are therefore very concerned about the health and integrity of these “outside-the-mind” coordination devices. Without them, they believe, people will begin to cheat and behave selfishly. Without them, social capital will rapidly decay.

If you are a member of a WEIRD society, your eyes tend to fall on individual objects such as people, and you don’t automatically see the relationships among them. Having a concept such as social capital is helpful because it forces you to see the relationships within which those people are embedded, and which make those people more productive. I propose that we take this approach one step further. To understand the miracle of moral communities that grow beyond the bounds of kinship we must look not just at people, and not just at the relationships among people, but at the complete environment within which those relationships are embedded, and which makes those people more virtuous (however they themselves define that term). It takes a great deal of outside-the-mind stuff to support a moral community.

For example, on a small island or in a small town, you typically don’t need to lock your bicycle, but in a big city in the same country, if you only lock the bike frame, your wheels may get stolen. Being small, isolated, or morally homogeneous are examples of environmental conditions that increase the moral capital of a community. That doesn’t mean that small islands and small towns are better places to live overall-the diver-sity and crowding of big cities makes them more creative and interesting places for many people-but that’s the trade-off. (Whether you’d trade away some moral capital to gain some diversity and creativity will depend in part on your brain’s settings on traits such as openness to experience and threat sensitivity, and this is part of the reason why cities are usually so much more liberal than the countryside.)

Looking at a bunch of outside-the-mind factors and at how well they mesh with inside-the-mind moral psychology brings us right back to the definition of moral systems that I gave in the last chapter. In fact, we can define moral capital as the resources that sustain a moral community. More specifically, moral capital refers to the degree to which a community possesses interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and technologies that mesh well with evolved psychological mechanisms and thereby enable the community to suppress or regulate selfishness and make cooperation possible.

The Independent Whig said...

Final excerpt about moral capital:

To see moral capital in action, let’s do a thought experiment using the nineteenth-century communes studied by Richard Sosis. Let’s assume that every commune was started by a group of twenty-five adults who knew; liked, and trusted one another. In other words, let’s assume that every commune started with a high and equal quantity of social capital on day one. What factors enabled some communes to maintain their social capital and generate high levels of prosocial behavior for decades while others degenerated into discord and distrust within the first year?

In the last chapter, I said that belief in gods and costly religious rituals turned out to be crucial ingredients of success. But let’s put religion aside and look at other kinds of outside-the-mind stuff. Let’s assume that each commune started off with a clear list of values and virtues that it printed on posters and displayed throughout the commune. A commune that valued self-expression over conformity and that prized the virtue of tolerance over the virtue of loyalty might be more attractive to outsiders, and this could indeed be an advantage in recruiting new members, but it would have lower moral capital than a commune that valued conformity and loyalty. The stricter commune would be better able to suppress or regulate selfishness, and would therefore be more likely to endure.

Moral communities are fragile things, hard to build and easy to destroy. When we think about very large communities such as nations, the challenge is extraordinary and the threat of moral entropy is intense. There is not a big margin for error; many nations are failures as moral communities, particularly corrupt nations where dictators and elites run the country for their own benefit. If you don’t value moral capital, then you won’t foster values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and technologies that increase it.

Let me state clearly that moral capital is not always an unalloyed good. Moral capital leads automatically to the suppression of free riders, but it does not lead automatically to other forms of fairness such as equality of opportunity. And while high moral capital helps a community to function efficiently, the community can use that efficiency to inflict harm on other communities. High moral capital can be obtained within a cult or a fascist nation, as long as most people truly accept the prevailing moral matrix.

Nonetheless, if you are trying to change an organization or a society and you do not consider the effects of your changes on moral capital, you’re asking for trouble. This, I believe, is the fundamental blind spot of the lift. It explains why liberal reforms so often backfire,43 and why communist revolutions usually end up in despotism. It is the reason I believe that liberalism-which has done so much to bring about freedom and equal opportunity-is not sufficient as a governing philosophy. It tends to overreach, change too many things too quickly, and reduce the stock of moral capital inadvertently. Conversely, while conservatives do a better job of preserving moral capital; they often fail to notice certain classes of victims, fail to limit the predations of certain powerful interests, and fail to see the need to change or update institutions as times change."

Eric Hadley-Ives said...

Thank you, anonymous person using the screen name of "Independent Whig". You have given the class and the student who wrote this paper a very serious and helpful series of suggestions, references, and feedback.

I have generally perceived all my life that people with ideologies or religions or philosophies are striving to find a way toward perfection, either in an ideal utopian community or through creating an idealized self. And, at the same time, people are all trying to create identity and establish a sense of belonging to larger transcendent groups... often these are persons who share their ideologies, religions, or philosophies. These two motives, once similar to the "self-actualization" tendency humanistic psychologists stressed and the other related to the standard conformity and in-group-versus-out-group ethnocentrism identified by social critics in the aftermath of the Second World War (Eric Hoffer's "True Believer" and Gordon Allport's "The Nature of Prejudice" were especially influential on me).

When I teach ideological perspectives in my policy courses, I am satisfied if my undergraduate students have achieved the goals of: 1) recognizing that persons disagree about policy because of different value priorities and different perceptual frameworks, and 2) in working for good policies, you need to make arguments that will explain objective reality in ways that will fit the perceptual biases and value preferences of your audience, and 3) recognizing their own personal value preferences and perceptual biases, so they will be less likely to engage in argument and more likely to engage in dialogue, perhaps looking for the differences in initial assumptions between their own position and some rival position, and distinguishing between questions of facts and questions of values or assumptions.