Foundational Morals

“there are five psychological foundations of morality, which we label as harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity.”

When Morality Opposes Justice: Conservatives Have
Moral Intuitions that Liberals may not Recognize
Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham

When using liberal and conservative, I am not referring to any political spectrum in Western Secular nations, but rather as an apolitical description of whether a given individual’s morality is based on the individual (liberal) or group (conservative) to determine “morally good.”

From this paper, liberal based morality on the first two psychological combinations while conservatives base their morality on all five combinations, however, liberals would emphasize these combination from left to right, while conservatives emphasize from right to left, or in reading order: purity/sanctity, authority/respect, ingroup/loyalty, fairness/reciprocity and harm/care.

Many non-western societies include the idea of family honour, are focused on these basis of morality in the conservative order – bodily purity notions manifest as food restrictions, isolation of women during the discharge portion of the menstrual cycle, refraining from sex or particular sexual activities – or sex with outsiders to the approved group or class and general disgust at body waste elimination and function.

To be conservative is to be focused on the group rather than individuals, and with the group focus, a strong emphasis of determining who belongs in the group and who doesn’t – the defining characteristic of which is conformity to purity, loyalty and self-sacrifice if it serves the group interest.

So it is understandable then, when ethnic minorities when they immigrate to western democratic countries, often become conservative political supporters, despite the racism inherent in these same parties. The immigrants are the conservative mainstream in their countries of origin and remain conservatively focused, despite being deemed an ethnic minority and, in effect, a special interest group, and not wholly part of mainstream conservatism in European ethnically dominated Canada, Australia or America.

Aside: As a Canadian, there’s a strong sense of both Canada and the US being child countries of Europe, primarily Britain. And our respective countries, being close in proximity and immigration, long standing trading partners, longest undefended border, yada yada, we have a sense of being sibling countries. The more I play on the internet, the more Australians I encounter and am drawn to and I have had to revise my country sibling sense to include Australia as a sibling country to Canada, with similar origins, but it’s more distant location from both the United Kingdom island nation and the sibling Canada/US – I see in Australia what Canada could have been had we not allowed ourselves to be so in the shadow of the US. Australia is like the oldest sibling who left the nest early to live on it’s own terms while the younger Canada and US duked it out for favoured child status – only the US had a violent separation temper tantrum, while Canada acts as peacekeeper, can’t we all just get along, and tried to smooth diplomatic relations between all parties, often at Canada’s expense.

To be liberal, is to be focused on individuals, especially outsiders to any mainstream group and the only grounds to determine moral good are individual centered, thus, liberals do not recognize the conservative morals based on purity/sanctity, authority/respect, ingroup/loyalty as being  grounds of morality at all and are in fact, deemed to be the basis of what motivates and justifies harm done to the individual. Basically, three grounds of morality for conservatives are the three grounds of immorality for liberals. So, in that sense, liberals should see these as grounds of morality, just not positive morals. Moral and immoral being determined by compliance with any particular ground of morality.

These five combinations are all humanist and human-centric ideas of morality – deity-centric morals tends to be in line with the conservative priorities, as gods tend to provide the authority to groups – well, to individuals who then form a group according their and their god’s particular ideas of morality and act as their god’s authority and figurehead on earth – and god is the ultimate arbitrator of who’s in and out’s out and the reason why conformity to the group is so important – it has the afterlife consequence.

But externally centred conservatives do not see this obvious flaw that humans invent gods, because they do not see humans as a moral authority or purpose/meaning maker – this is what they most abhor in liberals and they have to maintain a massive effort to maintain the cognitive dissonance of asserting that there’s a god who has all the same priorities and morals as the individual has, who also had to be lucky enough to be born in an age and region where this god happened to be worshiped – which, if going by statistical chance, must be a less likely number than life evolving without this god.

Because of this, it’s not possible for a theist to be a humanist – humanist are human centric, humans are their own moral authority and purpose/meaning makers – while theists posit a deity in that role and humans are lesser than. Any theist who describes themselves as a humanist should be immediately suspect as trying to justify hard selling – and usually through violence – their religion and their concern is limited to making sure that all humans are either rewarded for embracing their religion or punished for rejecting it. Believers are basically the deliverers of the “Afterlife Memo”, which is believe in my god (the word) or be punished forever in the afterlife and by the sword in this life.

It also explains the otherworldly “love the sinner and hate the sin” idea – because what conservatives are expressing with the sentiment is for people to not be their own moral authority and to be submissive and obedient, basically, to reject free will in favour of conformity to their group and non-conformity aka individualism is nothing short of free will and self determinism. Which is why liberal and individualistic thinkers cannot make sense of how you separate a person from characteristics that are identity such as sexuality (kinky, gay, etc) or behaviours that reflect identity.

America’s duality of the individual being supreme but only insofar as they conform to the traditional or dominant group, begins to make cognitive dissonant sense. It is this prioritizing the group that many conservatives believe that America was founded as a Christian nation – when it was categorically not; it merely became dominated by Christians over time, and slowly, Christian thinking pervaded the government – adding “under God” to the pledge and “in God we trust” on the currency and so forth.

What seems to make the distinction between a conservative and liberal is actually exposure to the diversity of humanity.

“When viewed at the county level, the great majority of counties that voted for John Kerry are near major waterways, where ports and cities are usually located and where mobility and diversity are greatest. Areas with less mobility and less diversity generally have the more traditional five-foundation morality, and therefore were more likely to vote for George W. Bush—and to tell pollsters that their reason was ‘moral values’.”

When the women and black social movements in the US occurred, it was obvious who was a woman and who was black. When the gay social movement began, gays had a very unique problem – we look like everyone else – so coming out was critical – people are more tolerant of groups when they know and have positive encounters with individual members of the groups. In order to be tolerant of gay people, heterosexuals needed to know that they already knew and were possibly related to gay people.

A lesson that the new atheists have taken to heart and explains why the historical being sensitive to religious sensibilities has worn thin and the gloves have come off. Like gays, atheists also look like anyone else.

Which is why conservatives pretend that they are not gay and live publically heterosexual lives without regard to the harm it causes the individuals of their family or even their group – to them conforming to the group and self-sacrificing their homosexuality for heterosexual conformity is serving the moral good. They are applying all five basis of moral grounds to their actions, and not emphasizing one over the other.

And despite what economists think, people who are engaged in covert actions that are criminal or immoral, do not consider the risk of being caught – they are too smart or powerful to be exposed by lesser people who respect their authority in the group hierarchy and do not consider that all the fallen others before them point to their being caught and exposed – so the possibility of being caught, the punishment for being caught and the punishment for wrongdoing, is not a risk factor to determine whether or not to engage in the criminal or immoral conduct.

Given that purity/sanctity is also a disgust driven value, it makes sense then that conservatives demonize gays and atheists on sexual purity issues and the conservatives have a far greater obsession with gay sex than gay people have – to us gays, it’s just sex, no more remarkable than straight sex is to straight people – whereas conservatives are trying to stamp out what they believe is immoral and are unwilling to reward immorality with inclusion in the group. So, no marriage for gay people, because it means that they will be rewarding – and worse normalizing – gay sex. It doesn’t matter that it will be monogamous within the confines of marriage non-disease spreading and wholesome because it is still gay sex.

That gay marriage will bring far more change to the gay community than it will to marriage, is just not a factor for conservatives, monogamous gay sex is as immoral as promiscuous gay sex, and they genially believe that gays deserve AIDs and social discrimination just for being gay and choosing to be immoral, not like the moral gay republican politician or religious leader who got married and conformed but slipped and repented.

Conservatives are unable to compromise because there is no accepting degrees of harm as a basis for morality when the higher priority purity is at stake and at the focus of the compromise.

It’s no different than people in regions where karma is a religious norm allowing disfigured and disabled people to suffer extreme social marginalization, because hey, they must have done something in a past life to deserve this now.

Also, when you start with the premise that humans are flawed and lesser than – even the humans who are better than other humans – then it’s not avoiding immoral action that we are doomed to engage in owing to our flawed nature – but the quality of our repentance and remorse, our willingness to be submissive and obedient as the price for re-admission to the group – a re-admission that will not be denied because the god that will eternally punish the un-repentant, will always forgive the repentant and submissive and will reward them for their renewed submissive repentance.

But this is not comprehensible to liberal thinkers, who view the gay man who is caught cheating on his wife, who has caused harm to the immediate family, demonstrated the hypocrisy of the group think of discriminating towards homosexuals, and by their public denunciations and voting record has harmed all homosexuals – that these adulterers (both gay and straight) are able to not only return to the fold, but are upheld as examples of good members of the fold, is inconceivable given the harm that they have done and social injustice that they have supported and symbolized.

Conservatives, factoring in all 5 moral grounds, view harm as 20% of the moral equation at best, while liberals, factoring only two moral grounds, view that same harm as 50% of the moral equation. The moral math just doesn’t balance out between the two viewpoints, and few people from either side are able to do said math.

Well, in truth, conservatives tend to not value the 5 grounds as equal, but rather, they weight purity/sanctity, authority/respect, ingroup/loyalty as more important than fairness/reciprocity and harm/care. So, harm ends up somewhere between 10 to 15% of the total moral value – since the only way that one group can be valued is that other groups are devalued.

Living in regions where there is not a lot of diversity of groups, tends to reinforce the ingroup loyalty – while exposure to other groups and a range of cultures and people, tends to liberalize people to being cultural relativists and not believing that any one or few groups is better or worse than any other.

Conservatives are comfortable with inequality because being in the special entitled groups necessarily means that others are excluded.


Thanks to Darwin Harmless for this blog inspiration!

1 thought on “Foundational Morals

  1. Pingback: The Individual as meaningful | Random Ntrygg

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