Saturday, October 11, 2014
Social psychologists like Jonathan Haidt who study the moral psychology of the "culture war" between liberals and conservatives in the United States will say that the legalization of gay marriage is a victory of liberals over conservatives, because conservatives believe in moral standards of divinity and sanctity that condemn homosexuality (as well as interracial sex and marriage) as disgusting violations of God's law. But that Haidt is mistaken about this becomes clear when one notices how almost all conservatives today condemn the legal prohibition of interracial marriage as a violation of individual liberty, and increasingly most conservatives now see that the principle of liberty applies in the same way to gay marriage.
As I have indicated in my previous posts on Haidt, his mistake comes from his not recognizing that most American conservatives are actually liberal or libertarian conservatives, in contrast to the illiberal conservatives that one could find elsewhere in the world today and in past history. As Louis Hartz argued in The Liberal Tradition in America, American political thought has been dominated almost totally by Lockean liberalism, so that even those who identify themselves as conservatives are liberal or libertarian in their conservatism. One possible exception to this might be the pro-slavery Southern thinkers, whose position was defeated in the Civil War and in the civil rights movement.
American libertarian conservatism is a fusion of political liberty and social virtue that depends on the distinction between government and civil society. The purpose of government is to secure individual liberty by using legal coercion to punish force and fraud and to enforce the rule of law and property rights, while leaving individuals free to live as they choose so long as they do not exercise coercive force against other individuals. The purpose of a free society is to allow individuals to shape their moral and intellectual virtues in the natural and voluntary associations of life.
Much of Haidt's data to support his theory comes from his "Moral Foundations Questionnaire". But since his questions do not ask people about using governmental coercion to enforce their moral principles, conservatives are not allowed to identify themselves as libertarian conservatives who can be committed to binding moral standards of loyalty, authority, and sanctity as enforced through the voluntary exchanges of social life, while also being committed to the individualizing moral standards of liberty that forbid government from using coercion to enforce the binding moral standards.
This conservative fusion of liberty and virtue explains the recent statement of the Mormon Church in response to legalization of gay marriage in Utah. The Church has reaffirmed its belief that "only a marriage between a man and a woman is acceptable to God." "Nevertheless," its statement continued, "respectful coexistence is possible with those with differing values." And "as far as the civil law is concerned, the courts have spoken." Thus, they distinguish between the divine law that must be accepted by those who voluntarily join the Church and the civil law that is enforced by government. Their belief that they should strive for "respectful coexistence" with those whose moral values differs from theirs coincides with Haidt's main idea--that a peaceful coexistence of people who have deeply conflicting moral commitments can overcome the tendency to brutal violence in moral tribal conflicts.
In this way, libertarian conservatism promotes peaceful cooperation in a morally pluralistic society that can combine the moral norms of individual liberty and social virtue. Introducing political diversity into social psychology, as Haidt and some of his colleagues have recommended, should make social psychologists more knowledgeable about how conservative political thought embraces the broadest set of moral concerns, so that all six of the moral foundations are valued equally.
Friday, October 03, 2014
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was the most important philosopher and theologian of the High Middle Ages. Thomistic political thought shows his enduring influence on the history of political thought, particularly in the philosophical interpretation and practical application of his teaching on natural law.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
I was asked to contribute two entries--"Darwinism" and "Thomistic Political Thought." Since I suspect few of you have a thousand dollars to spend on such a collection, I will post my two articles. I will post my Thomism article tomorrow. Here is my Darwinian political thought article.
Darwinism is an intellectual tradition
associated with the ideas of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), an English biologist. Darwin’s Origin
of Species (1859) elaborated his theory of the evolution of all living
species. For two thousand years, it had
been assumed in the Western world that all the species of life had been
eternally fixed ever since their original special creation by God. Against this, Darwin argued that all forms of
life have changed over long periods of time, so that the species of plants and
animals that we see today are descendants of simpler species in the ancient
past. The primary cause of this evolutionary
change is natural selection. There are
heritable variations in the traits of individual organisms influencing their
survival and reproduction. Organisms are
in a struggle for life, because the scarcity in food and other resources limits
the growth of populations. Consequently,
those heritable variations that enhance survival and reproduction will be
preserved, and those that impede survival and reproduction will be eliminated. Gradually, the favorable traits will be
naturally selected to be more frequent in later generations, so that eventually
new species can arise. In The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin
explained the evolution of human beings, including human morality and politics,
which became the classic text of Darwinian social theory.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
To test his warning, Haidt asked the roughly 1,000 people in the audience to identify their political identities by a show of hands. He counted 3 hands as "conservative or on the right," 20 hands as "moderate or centrist," and 12 hands as "libertarian." The hands for "liberal or on the left" were at least 80% of the entire audience.
Haidt told his audience that he had received messages from some graduate students and professors in social psychology who identified themselves as conservatives who were so afraid of being ostracized by others in the profession that they had to hide their political identity.
A week after Haidt's lecture, there was a New York Times story about the lecture and the controversy that it had begun to stir.
That controversy will continue in an upcoming issue of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Along with Jose Duarte, Jarret Crawford, Charletta Stern, Lee Jussim, and Philip Tetlock, Haidt has co-authored an article--"Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science"--that will be accompanied with many critical commentaries.
Here's the abstract:
"Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity--particularly diversity of viewpoints--for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity. This article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims: 1) Academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years; 2) This lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike; 3) Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority's thinking; and 4) The underrepresentation of non-liberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination. We close with recommendations for increasing political diversity in social psychology."I agree with all of this. But they don't go deeply enough into the second point here--how political bias produces "conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike." First, the simple one-dimensional categorization of people as either liberal or conservative is a mischaracterization because it ignores the complexity of different kinds of liberalism and conservatism. The authors recognize this when they concede that "conservatism is not monolithic--indeed, self-identified conservatives may be more diverse in their political beliefs than are liberals." They acknowledge that some researchers have identified social conservatism as somewhat different from economic conservatism. They also recognize that libertarianism apparently differs in some ways from both liberalism and conservatism. Haidt has even conceded that the libertarians appeal to a 6th moral foundation--liberty/oppression--that might need to be added to Haidt's five other moral foundations--care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation.
Haidt and his colleagues fail to see, however, that it's even more complicated than this. Because despite the differences between conservatives and libertarians, most American conservatives are liberal or libertarian conservatives who are committed both to political liberty and social virtue, thinking that the purpose of politics is to secure negative liberty, while the purpose of society is to cultivate virtue in the natural and voluntary associations of life.
As Frank Meyer argued years ago, most American conservatives are "fusionists" in finding common ground between traditionalist conservatism and classical liberalism or libertarianism. They agree with libertarians that the state should secure liberty by coercively enforcing the prohibition of force and fraud, while leaving people in society free from coercion in civil society. They agree with traditionalists that it is in the natural and voluntary associations of society--families, churches, clubs, schools, business enterprises, and so on--that people organize themselves into character-forming groups that manifest their diverse conceptions of the good life. Haidt points to the fusionist position in a couple of sentences in his article on libertarianism, but he doesn't elaborate this idea, and he doesn't clearly see that this position is implicit in what he identifies in The Righteous Mind as the Madisonian pluralism, in which the American nation would be "full of small-scale hives," and so "many moral matrices coexist within each nation."
Even the most traditionalist of the conservatives--like Russell Kirk--have been emphatic in identifying themselves as liberal conservatives, in that they are not theocratic conservative reactionaries like Joseph de Maistre and Louis de Bonald. These American liberal conservatives accept the liberal principles of limited government, separation of Church and State, religious toleration, and moral pluralism. Their aim is to keep the realm of the state very limited, so that the moral contents of life can naturally arise in the social realm. In that social realm, people are free, in voluntary association with others, to live by their moral norms, including norms of loyalty, authority, and sanctity, but they are prohibited from using the state to enforce their norms through coercion or violence.
Haidt reports that libertarians are suspicious of appeals to loyalty, authority, and sanctity, which separates them from conservatives. I suspect, however, that libertarians express such suspicious only because they fear the coercive enforcement of these group norms on them, and occasionally Haidt suggests this. As long as loyalty, authority, and sanctity are enforced through voluntary cooperation in civil society, libertarians will agree that this is necessary for cultivating the moral character necessary for any good society (see David Boaz's chapter on "Civil Society" in Libertarianism: A Primer).
Haidt and his colleagues often speak of conservatives and liberals as if they were the same throughout the world and throughout history. This ignores the fundamental differences between the largely liberal conservatives in America and the illiberal conservatives elsewhere in the world today and throughout history.
For example, Haidt reports that American conservatives show the importance of sanctity for them in their rejection of gay marriage as a disgusting violation of God's law. In one of his articles ("Tracing the Threads," Journal of Research in Personality, 2012), he reports asking this question:
"Which statement about same-sex marriage comes closest to your views?: a. Same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry. b. Same-sex couples should be allowed to have a civil union, but not to marry. c. Same-sex couples should NOT be allowed to marry nor have civil unions."Consider the likely response if American conservatives had been offered another alternative: "d. Same-sex couples should be punished as criminals, as they were before the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), and they should even be executed for a capital crime, as they were in early America."
How many American conservatives would choose d? Not many, I suspect. Why not? Conservatives in many parts of the world today--like Africa--treat homosexuality as a crime, and sometimes even a capital crime. Throughout much of Western legal history, this was assumed to be part of the moral law of the Bible, including some of the American Puritan colonies. But now it's almost completely gone in places like the United States, where conservatives are too liberal or libertarian to inflict criminal punishment on homosexuals.
But aren't some American conservatives fighting against gay marriage? Well, some of them are, but it's amazing how many conservatives are turning in favor of gay marriage, or in favor of privatizing marriage, so that marriage would belong to civil society and not to the licensing of the state. One can easily predict that soon all American conservatives will agree that gay marriage is a voluntary matter, although those who find it abhorrent should be free to prohibit gay marriage within their voluntary associations. That's the response of libertarian conservatism.
Haidt and his colleagues don't see the importance of libertarian conservatism, because they don't seem to have studied conservative political thought. Remarkably, except for one sentence from J. S. Mill, the article for BBS has not a single reference to any work of conservative political thought or political rhetoric, although they have 125 references! I will say, however, that Haidt shows more knowledge of political theory than most social psychologists, as indicated in The Righteous Mind.
Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were libertarian conservatives. In recent years, many conservative thinkers have argued for reviving that Goldwater/Reagan tradition of libertarian conservatism. There's also a renewed interest in Frank Meyer's argument and the debate it stirred. Newly emerging libertarian conservatives like Rand Paul and Justin Amash could be the future of American conservatism.
Political diversity in social psychology should improve the psychological study of such libertarian conservatism and show how different it is from illiberal conservatism.
Some of these points are elaborated in my previous posts on Haidt here, here, here, here, here., and here.
I am sure that my thinking about Haidt's work will be deepened in a few weeks when I participate in a Liberty Fund conference on Haidt's writing.
My libertarian conservative argument for gay marriage can be found here, here, here, and here.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
For a few days now, I have been trying to understand what that means. It's a sentence from Nathaniel Comfort's collective review in the current issue of Nature of three books on the science of race: Nicholas Wade's A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History (Penguin, 2014), Michael Yudell's Race Unmasked: Biology and Race in the 20th Century (Columbia University Press, 2014), and Robert Sussman's The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea (Harvard University Press, 2014). Comfort is a professor at the Institute of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University.
These books show the debate over whether race is a biological reality or not. Wade says yes. Yudell and Sussman say no. And Comfort says . . . . Well, he's confusing. On the one hand, "race is real, and race is genetic," which suggests that he agrees with Wade. On the other hand, race is not "really" genetic, which suggests that he agrees with Yudell and Sussman. So, which is it?
Comfort says that "race is certainly real" in being genetically based, because racial differences correlate with clusters of genetic variation. But then he says that these clusters of genetic variation are not "really" real, because they depend on "judgment calls" about how to draw the boundaries between races. As he indicates, Wade identifies first three principal races, then five, and then seven. Comfort points out that a recent study in Scientific Reports identifies 19 "ancestral components" of the human species. What this shows, Comfort argues, is that human genetic variation is a series of gradients with no absolute, discrete breaks between one genetic cluster and another, and therefore how one draws the boundaries depends on "one's training, inclination, and acculturation." This proves, Comfort insists, that races are not "really" real.
Comfort does not tell his readers, however, that Wade recognizes and responds to this point. Wade writes: "As with any species that evolves into geographically based races, there is usually continuity between neighboring races because of gene exchange between them. Because there is no clear dividing line, there are no distinct races--that is the nature of variation within a species" (92). If the races were absolutely distinct, they wouldn't be races, because they would actually be separate species (68, 71, 92, 121). Consequently, the division of human genetic variation into three races, five races, seven races, or more is "to some extent arbitrary" (94). But it does not follow from this that races are not "really" real. Racial genetic clustering is genetically real, even though there are no absolutely discontinuous gaps between the races that would define them as species. Comfort is totally silent about this point.
Comfort is also silent about why Wade protested against a letter in The New York Times denouncing his book and signed by many geneticists. Wade complained that while the signers of this letter claimed that his book was full of errors in reporting their genetic research, they refused to answer his plea for a list of these errors.
In looking into this, I noticed that one of the signers of the letter was Neil Risch, a geneticist at the Institute for Human Genetics at the University of California-San Francisco, who studies the genetic factors contributing to disease susceptibility and drug response. I also noticed that Wade had quoted from one of Risch's articles in Genome Biology (on page 97 of the book). So, I assumed that Risch must believe that Wade made some error in reporting the research in this article. But when I read the article, I could not see that Wade had committed any mistake.
Wade quotes this from Risch's article: "Effectively, these population genetic studies have recapitulated the classical definition of races based on continental ancestry--namely, African, Caucasion (Europe and Middle East), Asian, Pacific Islander (for example, Australian, New Guinean, and Melanesian), and Native American" (3).
Reading the article, I saw that Risch emphatically rejects the claim that "race is biologically meaningless." Like Wade, Risch points out that the lack of absolute discontinuity between the races does not deny the reality of race, unless one defines race as a separate species. He writes: "The existence of such intermediate groups should not, however, overshadow the fact that the greatest genetic structure that exists in the human population occurs at the racial level." He goes on to write:
"If biological is defined as genetic, then, as detailed above, a decade or more of population genetic research has documented genetic, and therefore biological, differentiation among the races. . . . If biological is defined by susceptibility to, and natural history of, a chronic disease, then again numerous studies over past decades have documented biological differences among the races. In this context, it is difficult to imagine that such differences are not meaningful. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a definition of 'biological' that does not lead to racial differentiation, except perhaps one as extreme as speciation" (4).Comfort is silent about this point. He is also silent about what Wade and other defenders of the biological reality of race say about human equality. Comfort opens his essay by saying that "what is really at stake in this debate" is "human social equality." He concludes the essay by hoping that the idea of "racial superiority" as biologically scientific will be refuted. He thus conveys the impression that people like Wade and Charles Murray believe that the biological reality of race shows the biological reality of racial inequality. Comfort doesn't tell his readers that, in fact, Wade and Murray have rejected racial superiority and affirmed human equality as a scientific fact. "People being so similar," Wade observes, "no one has the right or reason to assert superiority over a person of a different race" (9). "Human nature is essentially the same world wide," he asserts (244). And there is "no factual basis" for the idea of an "Aryan master race" (19). Similarly, Murray has insisted that genetically based racial differences in average intelligence and social behavior should be "no big deal" in a free society with equality of opportunity in which there's a chance for all to find valued places for themselves in society. Comfort is silent about all of this.
Comfort is also silent about how emphatic Wade is in rejecting racism. Comfort reports that racist and "human biodiversity" (HBD) groups are delighted by Wade's book. But Comfort does not report that Wade argues against the racial tribalism that is fundamental for these groups. As Wade indicates, the move to inclusive liberal institutions must overcome tribalism, which is the instinctive xenophobic propensity to favor one's own group over others. Racism is an expression of such tribalism, in favoring one's race over others. Here one can see clearly why Wade's argument is not racist: at the core of his argument is his claim that the tribalism of racial ethnocentrism belongs to an ancient stage of human evolution that has to be overcome to move into modern states and inclusive institutions (see Wade, 136, 173-82, 196-97).
I have written a lot about these points in posts here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Nathaniel Comfort, "Under the Skin," Nature, 513 (18 September 2014): 306-307.
Graham Coop, et al., Letter to the New York Times, August 8, 2014.
Neil Risch, et al., "Categorization of Humans in Biomedical Research: Genes, Race, and Disease," Genome Biology, 3 (2002): 2007.1-2007.12.
Daniel Shriner, et al., "Genome-Wide Genotype and Sequence-Based Reconstruction of the 140,000 Year History of Modern Human Ancestry," Scientific Reports, 4 (13 August 2014): 6055.
Nicholas Wade, Letter to the New York Times, August 22, 2014.