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Jonathan Haidt Can Explain The Liberal Hobby Lobby Freakout

A reader who posts under the name Salamander left this comment on the thread about the Left, epistemic closure, and the culture war, in which I made the point that so many on the cultural left are so confident in their own judgments, even though they don’t know what they don’t know. Salamander writes:

Rod, this is so true. I have long joked that my liberal friends love diversity, as long as the diverse persons in question behave exactly like the right sort of upper middle class white people.

I’ve also noticed my nice liberal friends assume that everyone thinks exactly like them. For example, my nice liberal upper middle class female friends know that the only reason they would possibly have gotten pregnant as a teenager would be that they were completely ignorant of how babies are made, or that they were ignorant of contraception, or evil patriarchs blocked all access to contraception, or they were raped – because why else would you jeopardize your college education and career plans? Hence they truly believe that since working class and underclass girls get pregnant frequently, it must be a combination of all of those – complete ignorance about sex and birth control, no doubt because of rape culture and patriarchy – hence more sex ed classes and burning down hobby lobby will fix it. None of them even know an actual baby mama, and have no idea that life’s priorities and circumstances are a little different in Fishtown.

Btw we live in a very Belmont-ish town, a short distance from a very Fishtown-ish town…but there is surprisingly little mixing between the SWPLs in iur town and the working class folks down the road. The five miles between us might as well be fifty in some ways. Both towns are about 99.9% white so it’s not racism. Our church is in the Fishtown-like town so we probably have more firsthand knowledge of the problems Fishtown folks face than our nice liberal friends do (they all go to the UU church in our town where they can obsess about which bathroom hypothetical transsexuals should use while ignoring the unemployment, drug addiction, and broken families down the road.)

She adds:

Rereading that, I sound a little harsh on my nice UU liberal friends. Many of them do serve in soup kitchens and do care about the poor…but I get the vibe that they prefer faraway poor, preferably of another color, because they can blame that sort of poverty on racism which they of course are against. The nearby dysfunctional white people are more problematic, because they refuse to behave like the proper sort of white people. As it is often difficult for upper middle class white people to imagine NOT being upper middle class, they can’t quite figure out why the lack of clear cut rules and moral norms has caused so much chaos in the lower socioeconomic groups, when it hasn’t affected them nearly so much.

This brought to mind something I write about from time to time: the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s finding that conservatives understand liberals better than liberals understand conservatives.

In his invaluable book The Righteous Mind [1], Haidt — a secular liberal — talks about how our moral intuitions inform our worldview far more than does reason. You can get a basic idea of his thesis in his TED talk [2]. From that talk, here is a very basic outline of Haidt’s theory:

change_me

Let’s start at the beginning. What is morality and where does it come from? The worst idea in all of psychology is the idea that the mind is a blank slate at birth. Developmental psychology has shown that kids come into the world already knowing so much about the physical and social worlds, and programmed to make it really easy for them to learn certain things and hard to learn others. The best definition of innateness I’ve ever seen — this just clarifies so many things for me — is from the brain scientist Gary Marcus. He says, “The initial organization of the brain does not depend that much on experience. Nature provides a first draft, which experience then revises. Built-in doesn’t mean unmalleable; it means organized in advance of experience.” OK, so what’s on the first draft of the moral mind? To find out, my colleague, Craig Joseph, and I read through the literature on anthropology, on culture variation in morality and also on evolutionary psychology, looking for matches. What are the sorts of things that people talk about across disciplines? That you find across cultures and even across species? We found five — five best matches, which we call the five foundations of morality.

The first one is harm/care. We’re all mammals here, we all have a lot of neural and hormonal programming that makes us really bond with others, care for others, feel compassion for others, especially the weak and vulnerable. It gives us very strong feelings about those who cause harm. This moral foundation underlies about 70 percent of the moral statements I’ve heard here at TED.

The second foundation is fairness/reciprocity. There’s actually ambiguous evidence as to whether you find reciprocity in other animals, but the evidence for people could not be clearer. This Norman Rockwell painting is called “The Golden Rule,” and we heard about this from Karen Armstrong, of course, as the foundation of so many religions. That second foundation underlies the other 30 percentof the moral statements I’ve heard here at TED.

The third foundation is in-group/loyalty. You do find groups in the animal kingdom — you do find cooperative groups — but these groups are always either very small or they’re all siblings. It’s only among humans that you find very large groups of people who are able to cooperate, join together into groups, but in this case, groups that are united to fight other groups. This probably comes from our long history of tribal living, of tribal psychology. And this tribal psychology is so deeply pleasurable that even when we don’t have tribes, we go ahead and make them, because it’s fun. (Laughter) Sports is to war as pornography is to sex. We get to exercise some ancient, ancient drives.

The fourth foundation is authority/respect. Here you see submissive gestures from two members of very closely related species. But authority in humans is not so closely based on power and brutality, as it is in other primates. It’s based on more voluntary deference, and even elements of love, at times.

The fifth foundation is purity/sanctity. This painting is called “The Allegory Of Chastity,” but purity’s not just about suppressing female sexuality. It’s about any kind of ideology, any kind of idea that tells you that you can attain virtue by controlling what you do with your body, by controlling what you put into your body. And while the political right may moralize sex much more, the political left is really doing a lot of it with food. Food is becoming extremely moralized nowadays, and a lot of it is ideas about purity,about what you’re willing to touch, or put into your body.

Haidt found that in general, the moral mind of liberals rests on two of the five bases: Harm and Fairness. The moral mind of conservatives rests on these two bases, but also the other three: Loyalty, Authority, and Purity. Because of this, Haidt says, liberals have a much harder time understanding conservatives than vice versa. Todd Zywicki explores this point: [3]

One other point that I find really interesting and important about Haidt’s work is his findings on the ability of different groups to empathize across these ideological divides. So in his book (p. 287) Haidt reports on the following experiment: after determining whether someone is liberal or conservative, he then has each person answer the standard battery of questions as if he were the opposite ideology. So, he would ask a liberal to answer the questions as if he were a “typical conservative” and vice-versa. What he finds is quite striking: “The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who describe themselves as ‘very liberal.’ The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives.” In other words, moderates and conservatives can understand the liberal worldview and liberals are unable to relate to the conservative worldview, especially when it comes to questions of care and fairness.

In short, Haidt’s research suggests that many liberals really do believe that conservatives are heartless bastards–or as a friend of mine once remarked, “Conservatives think that liberals are good people with bad ideas, whereas liberals think conservatives are bad people”–and very liberal people think that especially strongly. Haidt suggests that there is some truth to this.

If it is the case that conservatives understand liberals better than liberals understand conservatives, why is that? Haidt’s hypothesis is that it is because conservative values are more overlapping than liberals–conservatives have a “thicker” moral worldview that includes all five values, whereas liberals have a “thinner” view that rests on only two variables. Thus, the liberal moral values are constituent part of the liberal views, but not vice-versa. So conservatives can process and affirm liberal moral views and liberals literally cannot understand how someone could be both moral and conservative–the moral values that might be animating a conservative (say, tradition or loyalty) are essentially seen by liberals as not being worth of moral weight. So conservatives who place weight on those values are literally seen as “immoral.”

More Zywicki:

As an aside, I think the “thinness” of the liberal moral worldview may explain a phenomenon that has puzzled me, which is the speed at which liberal views harden into orthodoxy and the willingness of liberals to use various forms of compulsion to enforce that orthodoxy. Consider same-sex marriage. For conservatives, this is actually quite a difficult topic and one sees a wide variety of opinion and discussion on the “conservative” side of the fence. “Conservative” opinion is not uniformly opposed to same-sex marriage and conservatives who support same-sex marriage are not ostracized or silenced for doing so. I think Haidt gives a sense why: same-sex marriage cuts across a lot of these moral dimensions in different ways–it simultaneously triggers sanctity (for religious conservatives) and authority (tradition), but it also triggers equality/fairness impulses and care/harm impulses for the individuals affected by it. So conservatives, I think, tend to see it as an issue on which reasonable minds can disagree and that those who hold contrasting views are not generally thought to be immoral or evil. I think this sense that there is room for legitimate disagreement is also consistent with the one near-consensus view of conservatives, which is that regardless of one’s position on the issue there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage, as opposed to allowing the issue to evolve through democratic processes that permit disparate moral and other views to be heard and compromised.

Liberals, by contrast, appear to broach little disagreement from the orthodoxy on this issue (and others for that matter), and I think Haidt gives us a sense why. If they are processing this only through the care and fairness moral value frameworks, then that implies that only immoral people could be opposed to same-sex marriage. And if these people are immoral, then their opposition is hateful and unjustified. So a notion quickly hardens into an orthodoxy–no moral person could oppose same sex marriage. It is then a logical step to a willingness to demonize and try to silence opponents of same-sex marriage as holding not just wrong-headed but illegitimate views, much like the Inquisition, which was premised on the idea that there is potential harm and no value in tolerating “error.” (‘That’s an oversimplification of the Inquisition, of course.) Ditto for more petty forms of censorship and suppression of speech, such as university speech codes.

I think this is right, and it goes far to explain why I am very pessimistic about the future of religious liberty in post-Christian America. You will remember that in the 1996 Romer v. Evans decision [4], Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court majority, said in striking down a Colorado’s Amendment 2, which banned special protection for gays and bisexuals:

Its sheer breadth is so discontinuous with the reasons offered for it that the amendment seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects; it lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests.

This is a classic example of the Haidtian disconnect between liberals and conservatives (N.B., Justices Kennedy and O’Connor, both nominated by Reagan, are more libertarian than conservative). The Court majority could not imagine any reason other than hatred as the basis for disapproving of homosexuality. This formed the basis for all subsequent gay rights jurisprudence, specifically Lawrence (2003) and Windsor (2013). And it will be on this basis that the Court eventually constitutionalizes same-sex marriage.

What does this have to do with the thermonuclear pants-crapping freakout from liberals over this week’s Hobby Lobby decision? Many liberals seem incapable of grasping that there were and are profound moral issues present in the controversy. Conservatives can, or should be able to, easily understand why liberals who do not believe that Purity, Authority, or Loyalty are morally significant qualities disagree with the decision. Conservatives can also understand why liberals who don’t believe that life begins at conception cannot grasp why it’s such a big deal to those who do, based on the Harm foundation. What is remarkable — and deeply worrying — is not only that so many liberals cannot imagine why conservatives conclude the things we conclude, but that they assume our beliefs only come from illegitimate assumptions. As Zywicki wrote, it’s a quick step from concluding that one’s opponents are only driven by hatred to concluding that they must be thoroughly stamped out, because their irrational animus must not be allowed any quarter. Error has no rights. Suffer not a witch to live. Etc.

The country has unmistakably become far more liberal on gay rights and sexuality in general over the past 50 years — and more individualistic too. When a majority of Americans accept the liberal view of sex and its meaning (or lack thereof), they will be much less sympathetic to religion-based dissent from the mainstream, precisely because they will not be able to comprehend how any decent person could believe the things that traditional religionists do. The Millennials are well on their way: according to the Pew study [5], they are more liberal than older Americans in their attitudes toward sexuality, they are less religious, they are less trusting of others, and they are more disconnected from institutions.

All this would not be as concerning to me if I had confidence that liberals empathized with conservatives, even as they disagreed with us. But on Haidt’s view, many (though not all) liberals see us only as crazy and/or bad when we disagree with them. And they don’t want to try to understand where we’re coming from, because what good can come from practicing empathy towards evil bastards?

What compounds the fear and frustration is that according to Pew, I am a “faith and family leftist” [6] — that is, a moral and social conservative whose moral and social conservatism (my Christianity, frankly) causes me to break ranks with the mainstream right, usually over issues of economic fairness, including protecting the poor. I left the GOP and registered as an Independent because I no longer believe that the Republican Party’s agenda is one I can identify with. I consider myself more open to voting for Democrats today than I have been since college, especially on matters of foreign policy.

Yet seeing the grotesque animosity towards people like me from liberals over the small-beer Hobby Lobby decision compels me to face up to the fact that the only political force standing between me, my church, and my community, and a State dominated by people who think we traditional church people are cretins who deserve to be pushed around, is Republicans.

125 Comments (Open | Close)

125 Comments To "Jonathan Haidt Can Explain The Liberal Hobby Lobby Freakout"

#1 Comment By Turmarion On July 2, 2014 @ 10:23 pm

Frank Stain at 4:01, you make a good point. I took the moral foundations test way back when Rod first blogged about it. My highest scores were on Fairness and Harm, on which I outscored even the average liberals. However, my third highest score was on Purity, in which I outscored the average conservative by 3.6 compared to 3.0.

I can see that in myself–I’m obsessive about personal cleanliness, I tend to be picky about food, etc. However, I don’t experience at all in terms of sexual issues. I don’t really find any practices between consenting adults that doesn’t involve injury to be “icky”, even if I consider them sinful or immoral. As TTT points out, it’s probably a difference of manifestation.

Another Matt, what you said ties into what I said about the Trad guy. Before I started having such online conversations, I’d have never in my life have believed that anyone in the 21st Century would, not try to say the Church wasn’t as bad as thought, but to outright defend the Inquisition, burning of heretics, crushing of religious dissent, defending the freaking Siege of Montségure (Google it), and such. Such views fit in exactly with what you describe.

#2 Comment By dt On July 2, 2014 @ 11:35 pm

Rod, how does Haidt deal with the distinction between fairness of opportunity/treatment versus fairness of outcome? The way the category is defined tends to lump two “morals” together.

#3 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 2, 2014 @ 11:48 pm

Btw we live in a very Belmont-ish town, a short distance from a very Fishtown-ish town…but there is surprisingly little mixing between the SWPLs in iur town and the working class folks down the road.

Well get your little butt down the road and meet your neighbors.

#4 Comment By Darth Thulhu On July 3, 2014 @ 12:20 am

Another Matt did a bang-up job writing up how the Five Pillars (insallah) of Morality clearly line up for hardcore fundamentalists, and why those fundamentalists and anyone standing close to them are (deservedly) immediately shunned.

I’ll try to map out the same Five Pillars (insallah), in rank order, for religious liberals, with relevant religious and philosophical quotes.

1) Harm/Care: “And the greatest of these is Love”; “First, Do No Harm”

2) Fairness/Reciprocity: “The rich have as much chance of seeing the Kingdom as does a camel of moving through the eye of a needle”; The Golden Rule

3) Purity/Sanctity: “You are stewards of this Creation”; all humans are fallen and imperfect; “Make your souls radiant for the Lord” (aka each Deadly Sin shunned as impurity to purge oneself of: bigoted Wrath loathed just as much as careerist Greed loathed just as much as jingoist Pride loathed just as much as orgiastic Lust loathed just as much as oil-burning Gluttony loathed just as much as overentitled Envy loathed just as much as lukewarm Sloth).

4) Loyalty: “For you are all one”; the genetic differences separating the so-called races are far smaller than the variances within each population; “In this Most Glorious Dispensation, the Unity of all is the foremost Truth”

5) Authority: Argumentum ad auctoritatem is a logical fallacy; Faith is to be leavened by doubt; “Thou shalt not carry the name of God vainly”

So, no, religious liberals (I make no case for unbelievers) do not “fail to understand” how the conservative mind works, nor how the fundamentalist mind works. They just disagree.

Convincingly.

P.S. For those enamored of Authority, religious liberals disagree with the “rank order” of these Five Moral Measures using a rock-solid Scriptural basis, as well. Argument from Authority is still a logical fallacy (and a commandment violation, when taken to religious extremes), but it does have huge emotional resonance for most humans, provided they accept the Authority in question.

Thus: For almost all Christians, and for plenty of non-Christians, the powerful resonance of the Ten Commandments and the ministry of Jesus are far more central an Authority than millennia of internecine political bickerings of any given human-riddled Church that pretends to eternal Authority while getting very basic moral questions repeatedly, horrifically incorrect.

That favors religious liberals. Hugely. Traditionalists may insist on Auctoritatem Über Alles, but religious liberals can convincingly argue that such is a direct violation of the Ten Commandments, and that the Gospels clearly weight Care and Fairness far, far higher (while loathing the abused Authority of the Sanhedrin and the Romans).

P.P.S. Yes, yes, plenty of lefty wackos go off the reservation and then act like the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount can be discarded, too … or that Purity doesn’t even exist … but those people cut themselves out of religion altogether, soon enough. The people who remain, highly liberal and yet clinging to the Commandments and the Gospels, adopt a moral hierarchy roughly as I wrote above.

P.P.P.S. What religious conservatives often mistake for “anything goes” theology is, instead, a hierarchy of concern. Extramarital sex is a sin, sure … but so is daily-reinforced careerism, so is daily conspicuous consumption, and so is daily vomiting hate all over someone else’s sports team. And all of those Purity/Sanctity violations, real and valid and problematic as they all are, are nonetheless less important than being Fair and Loving to the sinner who displays them.

#5 Comment By Darth Thulhu On July 3, 2014 @ 12:22 am

By the by, plenty of secular liberals have misplaced argument-from-Authority problems as well.

That’s exactly what Scienc-ism is, after all.

#6 Comment By WorldWideProfessor On July 3, 2014 @ 2:22 am

Another Matt, that’s a seriously important and helpful comment (at 5:32 pm). Saving that one for future reference. Thanks.

#7 Comment By VikingLS On July 3, 2014 @ 9:26 am

This is the website of The American Conservative. Why are so many of you so shocked and dismayed to see an article critical of liberals?

I wonder if the majority of the followers of this blog are liberal. Rod seems to be able to write things critical of the right with very little pushback, but anything critical of the left seems to inspire an immediate and furious response (often of the “I know you are but what am I?” nature)

#8 Comment By Tyro On July 3, 2014 @ 10:29 am

Lord help me, so much of conservative notions of “Purity” boils down to power, control, and methods for enforcing social exclusion. That’s been pretty clearly laid out over the years since Mary Douglas wrote “Purity and Danger.”

True. These methods of social control and exclusion are part and parcel of the conservative enterprise. The hostility to gay marriage by conservatives lies in the idea that marriage is defined by its exclusion of gays. Marriage is still “between a man and a woman” now, but it also includes same-sex partners. The conservative objection only makes sense when you understand that they define marriage as “the thing that gays can’t take part in.”

Businesses have always been seen as the “tip of the spear” enforcing conservative norms under the threat of homelessness or starvation that goes along with joblessness.

There is a two pronged strategy to use business as the enforcement sword of social conservatism– first is that the sort of people who start and run businesses are the kind of people who prioritize control over their domain and their people, and second is that conservatives make an active effort to “recruit” business owners and mangers to their ideology in order to enlist them as the enforcers of conservatism over their employees.

For conservatives this makes sense– the business owners are supposed to be the ones on top of the hierarchy, and it is the job of the employees to serve them rather than to run to the ballot box to seek redress by other means.

#9 Comment By Rob G On July 3, 2014 @ 1:32 pm

Tyro — what a farrago of nonsense. To wit:

“The hostility to gay marriage by conservatives lies in the idea that marriage is defined by its exclusion of gays.”

Marriage is not “defined” by its exclusion of gays. The term presumes the exclusion, just like it presumes the exclusion of animals, plants and inanimate objects.

~~The conservative objection only makes sense when you understand that they define marriage as “the thing that gays can’t take part in.”~~

See above.

~~Businesses have always been seen as the “tip of the spear” enforcing conservative norms under the threat of homelessness or starvation that goes along with joblessness.~~

Many conservatives, including some going way back to the 20s and 30s, see business, esp. big business, as an underminer of conservative norms.

“the sort of people who start and run businesses are the kind of people who prioritize control over their domain and their people”

So there are no liberal business owners?

~~conservatives make an active effort to “recruit” business owners and mangers to their ideology in order to enlist them as the enforcers of conservatism over their employees.~~

Bwahahahahahahaha! Do you not realize that Big Business is one of the driving forces, perhaps the biggest driving force, in the acceptance of multiculturalism, feminism, and pro-homosexual values? Where would the pro-homo movement be without the entertainment and news industries?

“the business owners are supposed to be the ones on top of the hierarchy, and it is the job of the employees to serve them rather than to run to the ballot box to seek redress by other means.”

Look, I’m no fan of Big Business, but you have a severely warped understanding of how businesses operate. Do you really think that Monsanto or Time/Warner or B.P. gives a flying you-know-what about whether their employees vote or not, or how they vote? The notion that corporations seek to prevent their employees from being politically active is simply ludicrous.

The point is that they’re going to get theirs either way, so they don’t care.

#10 Comment By Sean On July 3, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

I consider myself a conservative, and my score on Haidt’s moral foundations test confirmed as much. While it feels nice to pat ourselves on the back for having a more well-rounded understanding of morality than some liberals, I think we should also consider the possibility that the five (or six) moral foundations Haidt identifies are not equal in value or importance. For an example of how this plays out in the real world, consider the act of flag burning. Liberals and conservatives tend to view flag burning differently. Haidt would posit that conservatives are more offended by the act of flag burning because it triggers their loyalty/betrayal and authority/subversion foundations, which they feel more strongly than liberals. Conversely, liberals tend to feel more strongly about discrimination in its various forms than do conservatives because of their heightened sensitivity to the care/harm and fairness/cheating foundations. That’s not to say that conservatives don’t care at all about discrimination (Haidt says they do), or that liberals aren’t bothered at all by acts of sedition (Haidt says they are). But according to the research, the intensity of their reaction to these things would be different.

But while the moral foundations are given equal standing in Haidt’s typology, it’s pretty clear to me that they are not equal in value or importance. The care/harm and fairness/cheating foundations usually deal with the treatment of living, breathing human beings, while the other moral foundations Haidt identifies–and the ones conservatives feel more intensely than liberals–are usually dealing with more intangible or cosmic influences. Once again, let’s go back to flag burning. Objectively and materially speaking, no person is actually harmed when someone burns a flag; the flag is an inanimate object and the country it represents exists on paper in the form of our Constitution. On the other hand, if a person is bullied for being gay, or is paid less because they’re a woman, or can’t get a job because they’re black, they have been harmed directly and significantly. I think most of us would agree that any person who is more offended by the flag burning (or another equivalent act) than by the discrimination has screwed up priorities. Look no further than the New Testament for an example of a group–the Pharisees–who prized fealty to the rules (authority/subversion) and loyalty over the actual human consequences (care/harm) thereof.

Let’s put numbers on this. Let’s say a person can score between 1-10 on each of the five moral foundations, one being the lowest intensity and ten being the highest intensity. The highest possible moral foundations score would be a 50. A liberal might score 9 on the care/harm and fairness/cheating foundations, but a 2 on everything else. On the other hand, a conservative might score 5s across the board. But who is more “moral”? You could look at the raw numbers and say, “Well, the liberal only scores a 24 (9+9+2+2+2) out of 50, whereas the conservative scores a 25 (5 x 5) out of 50, so the conservative has a stronger moral foundation.” It certainly seems that the conservative is more well-rounded, but shouldn’t the care/harm and fairness/cheating foundations be weighted more heavily? Shouldn’t our treatment of individuals with kindness, grace, and fairness outweigh in-group loyalty, obedience, and personal purity? Or, to put it another way: isn’t it better to be a loving, secular humanist than an obedient, church-going misanthrope?

I think the liberal reaction to the Hobby Lobby case does reveal the shortcomings in their moral worldview, but it’s also important to point out that we conservatives have some deficiencies of our own.

#11 Comment By E On July 3, 2014 @ 5:57 pm

Darth:

Religious liberals dump the authority of the Bible, dump the authority of Christ, and even dump the authority of God.

Religious liberals dump loyalty to community, so much so that their churches about to obliterate themselves, despite the fact that there are tons of vaguely spiritual people out there who more or less agree with them. You don’t have community, and all the benefits that come along with it, without loyalty.

Religious liberals dump purity, so that there is really no such thing as holiness.

What’s left? Whatever is still there is just totally incoherent, and, when the rubber meets the road, really no different from secularism.

#12 Comment By Peg On July 3, 2014 @ 7:45 pm

Sean says:

The care/harm and fairness/cheating foundations usually deal with the treatment of living, breathing human beings, while the other moral foundations Haidt identifies–and the ones conservatives feel more intensely than liberals–are usually dealing with more intangible or cosmic influences.

Yep. This. The other reason liberals tend to weight loyalty, authority, and purity lower than harm and fairness is that loyalty, authority, and purity tend to be tribally understood, while harm and fairness have at least some strong elements of universal understanding.

It’s like this: An American may be a loyal American–a British citizen or a Japanese citizen probably won’t. That’s a “tribal” virtue, of merit only in a small, local, exclusive context. A conservative Christian fundementalist may accept a quoted verse of the Bible, interpretted a particular way, as authoritative. The odds are very good that the same interpretation will be argued by a moderate or liberal Christian, and not accepted as having any authoritative value whatsoever by an atheist or a Hindu. The authority is tribal, with no power outside its tribal setting. Similarly purity, once one gets beyond questions of medicine and hygiene (and with variables even within medicine and hygeine). When I was growing up, before the sushi fad, eating raw fish (with the exception of oysters and clams) was outside the purity taboo. I remember quite vividly the purity ruckus people would make about eating nasty raw fish. Only barbarians did that–it was putting impure things into the body. Now we can look back and realize that it was a matter of cultural tribal purity taboo.

The same studies that give Haidt the “five pillars” also suggest that liberals are more likely to be willing to explore new environments, experience new cultures, move out of their own tribes, etc. That doesnt’ mean we’re better–any more than it’s better to like riding roller coasters than to not like riding roller coasters. But it’s not exactly surprising that those most likely to go outside their tribe are also those most likely to weight their understanding of the five pillars in light of tribalism versus universality–or at least in regards to percieved tribalism versus universality.

Liberals DO get their notion of universals wrong all the time. Many are blindingly provicial. Which may mean it’s a bloody good thing that at least they do favor their “objective/universal” pillars as they do–it provides them with a coping mechanism when they smash face-first into the horrifying truth that their norms are not necessarily universals after all, just one more tribal paradigm.

#13 Comment By Andrea Jones On July 3, 2014 @ 8:02 pm

@Darth Thulhu – Speaking as a religious liberal I have to say that you too did a bang up job of explaining the Five Pillars from my point of view.

The entire post was on point. This paragraph sealed it for me:
“Thus: For almost all Christians, and for plenty of non-Christians, the powerful resonance of the Ten Commandments and the ministry of Jesus are far more central an Authority than millennia of internecine political bickerings of any given human-riddled Church that pretends to eternal Authority while getting very basic moral questions repeatedly, horrifically incorrect.”

Your reasoning here is why the argument of ‘we’ve done such for 2000 years’ doesn’t work for me when discussing issues of gay marriage, women’s rights and other controversial matters with religious conservatives.

And this here:

“Traditionalists may insist on Auctoritatem Über Alles, but religious liberals can convincingly argue that such is a direct violation of the Ten Commandments, and that the Gospels clearly weight Care and Fairness far, far higher (while loathing the abused Authority of the Sanhedrin and the Romans).”

I was raised in a liberal religious home and the idea of their being one human being (a man, and only a man) with the authority of God was feared.

Even though I know they mean well, religious conservatives have always reminded me of the Sanhedrin.

I am going to save yours and Another Matt’s posts to revisit in the future. They were both that good.

@Sean
I sincerely thank you for your well thought out reasoning here –
“But while the moral foundations are given equal standing in Haidt’s typology, it’s pretty clear to me that they are not equal in value or importance. The care/harm and fairness/cheating foundations usually deal with the treatment of living, breathing human beings, while the other moral foundations Haidt identifies–and the ones conservatives feel more intensely than liberals–are usually dealing with more intangible or cosmic influences.”

I hope your fellow conservatives gave your post a fair reading; it raised valid points for their consideration.

#14 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 3, 2014 @ 11:09 pm

“The hostility to gay marriage by conservatives lies in the idea that marriage is defined by its exclusion of gays.”

Deleting the irrelevant flash-words, “hostility” and “conservative,” marriage can be, and for most of human history has been, defined by the fact that it was an institution built to regulate one specific fundamental human relationship, that which divides and unites the two sexes into which our species is divided: male and female.

That nobody had wrapped marriage around any other thing that any two or more humans sought to engage in is not exclusion of anyone. Whatever gay men are doing, whatever lesbian women are doing, is simply irrelevant to what marriage is all about.

As I’ve said many times, there is no constitutional reason we can’t indulge in the legal fiction of issuing civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples, thereby extending to them a bundle of benefits and general community approbation that quite a few of them obviously crave.

But, given that the relationship of male and female is a biologically fundamental one that pre-dates human laws and constitutions and philosophies, there is no particular compelling reason that marriage should be about anything else.

#15 Comment By Gretchen On July 4, 2014 @ 1:31 am

[NFR: It is SIMPLY UNTRUE that the RFRA lets anybody claim a religious objection to anything in the Affordable Care Act.
Justice Ginsburg disagrees with you, and I’m inclined to accept her view of the law. Appeals of all sorts are lined up.
Peg: great comment. I come here to hear the other side, and you’re right. I am completely unconvinced by appeals to authority, and want to hear harm/fairness addressed, and seldom do. I would find such appeals far more compelling than “we’ve always done it this way”.

#16 Comment By Darth Thulhu On July 4, 2014 @ 2:02 am

E wrote:

Religious liberals dump the authority of the Bible, dump the authority of Christ, and even dump the authority of God.

Tell it to the Pastrix. Tell it to the Quakers. Tell it to the Bahá’ís.

Your entire post sets up a mythical straw-believer for you to righteously push over, then unconvincingly asserts that all religious liberals live down to your prejudiced caricature. This strongly implies that you don’t deeply know or regularly interact with many religious liberals.

Replace “Christ” with “Moses” in your quoted sentence above, and your entire post could have come direct from the mouth of a Pharisee rebuking Jesus.

What’s left? Whatever is still there is just totally incoherent, and, when the rubber meets the road, really no different from secularism.

Yep. You’re right: Pastrix and the Quakers. Totally indistinguishable from atheists. No disagreeing with that!

#17 Comment By Peg On July 4, 2014 @ 2:08 am

Siarlys Jenkins says:

That nobody had wrapped marriage around any other thing that any two or more humans sought to engage in is not exclusion of anyone. Whatever gay men are doing, whatever lesbian women are doing, is simply irrelevant to what marriage is all about.

Ermmm. Um. Ok, I do hear what you’re trying to say. “Marriage,” however, has always been a bit more complicated than you’re presenting it as being. Here’s a very simple case to try to lead the way in.

“Arranged marriage.” Most arranged marriages throughout history have had remarkably little do to with fertility or reproduction–they’ve had to do with the establishment of tribal or familial bonds and with the consolidation of wealth. That’s why things like infant marriages, “ghost marriages” of dead people, proxy marriages, and marriages between men and women who either do not know each other or do not want each other have nonetheless been commonplace. Ideally, yes, progeny resulted as well. Or not–there have been plenty of marriages made for money in which the early death of a spouse was seen as a boon–all that wealth and social capital, and no pesky offspring to interfere with the next marriage.

On the opposite end of the spectrum has been the ancient notion of marriage being about love–not sex or reproduction, but of romance and partnership and accord. “Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.” Idealized marriages of this type often have nothing to do with anything but companionship, especially when they occur among the old or the infertile. It’s not an accident that the Bible valorizes marriages that survive and are faithful even when the wife is barren and there is no obvious hope of fertility. Yes, they’re often then “rewarded” by a miracle birth: but the underlying ideal is one of mutual love and loyalty.

Man and woman joined is indeed a core element of traditional marriage, focused on offspring. But beyond that marriage has always been about the creation of family and of social units, economic units, and units of affection. These ideals are core elements of marriage as understood and desired by millions.

Modern life has changed the underlying assumptions: we do not live in the same world as our ancestors. Our lives are not as inescapably tied to our fertility or lack thereof. But that has only made the creation of family and the creation of loving bonds more and more important to most people–and in that area gay couples have always been competive with straight mixed-sex couples.

We’ve changed the nature of the boundaries of life. We’re no longer helpless in our fertility, or our lack of fertility. We are economically no longer as tribal or as familial.

When you change the underlying conditions, you change the ultimate outcomes. Having “softened” those elements that led to rigid single-sex marriages previously, is it really that surprising that the elements dealing with the bonds of love and the creation of social ties has trumped pure reproductive issues?

Look, I really am trying to listen–but when you change the nature of the game, you change the nature of how people play that game. The past 300 years have changed economic systems. educational systems, the nature of work, the nature of independence, the nature of family–and the nature of reproductive biological outcomes. Biology is no longer as reliably destiny as it once was. We’re playing on a radically new field with radically new rules…

It changes the outcomes and it changes what aspects of marriage become the focal point of social concern. You don’t have to LIKE it. But failing to see that unhitching reproduction as kismet from the cart, and unhitching the desperate economic dependence of pregnant women and young mothers from the cart changed the entire paradigm of what marriage itself was about in ways that made single-sex marriage as logical as mixed-sex, because they were competing on the same ground under the same rules.

#18 Comment By Another Matt On July 4, 2014 @ 3:21 am

It’s very kind of you all to compliment my post about fundamentalism earlier. I stand by my observations, but you should be careful of my various biases. In these extreme cases, confirmation bias is all too easy to succumb to. Please don’t use my observations to hurt, exclude, or write off anyone – there are tons of wonderful people among the fundamentalists, and some are more open than you might think.

[NFR: I appreciate your saying this, Another Matt. For readers who don’t know, AM was raised in a fundamentalist home that was rather cruel. I’ve said to him publicly (in this forum) and privately that if I had suffered what he did, I almost certainly wouldn’t be a Christian today, except by some extraordinary grace. I am grateful for your testimony about what that was like, and also your recognition that your experience isn’t normative for Christianity, and not for all fundamentalists either. — RD]

#19 Comment By Darth Thulhu On July 4, 2014 @ 6:38 am

@Andrea Jones: Thank you, you are very kind.

I wouldn’t have even thought to do a ranked list before seeing Another Matt’s powerful narrative list. As it was, I wanted to expand much more into each of the moral pillars and why it receives a given weighting or discounting, but it would have quickly become ponderous to throw that much scriptural quotation and philosophical analysis at it.

I’m glad it rang true to someone! Thanks again.

#20 Comment By Steve On July 4, 2014 @ 4:35 pm

The liberal freakout is not merely a function of the HL decision applied narrowly to HL circumstances. The freakout arises because of the “nose in the tent” phenomenon. After ignoring settled law in so many cases (and so much for Chief Justice Roberts’s lip service to stare decisis during his confirmation hearing), it seems clear that the Roberts court is perfectly comfortable citing its own piss-poor reasoning to justify decisions in related cases. One need only look at the Wheaton College decision later in the week to see where the court is going. That there is controversy over these matters – well, that is why we have a Supreme Court! That the same group of justices should march in lockstep to the same philosophical drum beat argues of “agenda,” not “justice.” This IS cause for concern to the polity.

#21 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 4, 2014 @ 6:37 pm

Peg, as I’ve argued many times (after all, this topic seems to be a favorite for all of us to sound off on at this blog), marriage has had all kinds of baggage hung on it. Sure, in some cultures, marriages are arranged. When young lovers are released from the necessity of parental permission, about half of them choose happy marriages, and about half end up in awful marriages, similar to the outcome of arranged marriages, only, they have nobody but themselves to blame. (I’ve read of people raised in arranged marriage cultures remarking, you westerners fall in love, and then marry, we marry, and learn to love our spouse. I can’t say that is intrinsically wrong, considering how much hollow ballyhoo has been wrapped around the rather basic and unromantic biology of sex).

In some classes, marriages are as much about property relations, or diplomatic alliances, as about anything else, and the procreative aspect is subordinate to those considerations. But all of that baggage is hung onto the same biological hook — the species comes in male, and female, and there is a definite objective reason for that. It is not a social construct.

Social constructs are built AROUND the basic biology. E.g., in some cultures, we wear clothes in public. (In certain south Pacific cultures, women covering their breasts was taboo — when missionaries tried to give them tops, they loved the outfits, but carefully cut holes for their breasts to show).

Now when you talk about love, romance, partnership, and accord, that plausibly makes things just fuzzy and indefinite enough that one can certainly plug in, these two women share love, romance, partnership, and accord, so why can’t they marry? And frankly, I don’t much care if they do. I voted “NO” on my state’s DOMA. Gay marriage is not an issue that influences my vote, for or against. Extending civil marriage licenses to gay couples might be a nice, innocuous thing to do for the small number of our fellow citizens who are gay, have only one life to live, and want to make the most of it.

But nobody is being DISCRIMINATED AGAINST. Traditional marriage laws did not “ban” gay marriage. They simply didn’t contemplate homosexuality as something relevant to writing marriage laws. To do that is a novel idea, not a too-long-delayed constitutional right.

“Softening” the social constructs does not per se mean that the relation between male and female is not the fundamental foundation of having marriage laws at all. It just means we have a softer variety of ways to manage this particular relationship.

#22 Comment By Peg On July 5, 2014 @ 1:23 pm

Hi, Siarlys Jenkins.

See, now, that’s where we land in different territory in our sense of what’s going on. The trouble is that I see all the “hooks” as being to some extent equal in their function, contributing to various cultures’ understanding of what “marriage” means or what it “is.” I truly think, for example, that in large part the economic consolidation aspect was the “primary defining” element of marriage, and that the “biological” aspect was in an odd way the piggy-back rider. Women and pregnancy were an economic “problem” for tribes and families, and finding a way to package them up with a form of treaty-making and property management was handy–but far from being the defining or critical element or the cultures would not have engaged in so many non-reprodutive variants of marriage.

Look, I know that marriages of the barren is too often the easy shot across the bow in these discussions, but it’s worth noting how little discussion there is of such marriages. While “barrenness” was always one of the legitimate ways of terminating a marriage, it was never, ever to my knowledge a basis for *prohibiting* a marriage. Inability to take part in the reproductive function was never considered a bar to entering into a marriage or a basis actually requiring the termination of a marriage. If that biological hook were “the” defining feature of marriage, then the barren, sterile, impotent, or injured would not be considered legally elligible. Similarly all the non-reproductive variants of marriage would not be considered “legal.” And, yet, they are and have been.

My own take on why homosexual “marriage” wasn’t on the hook in prior cultures would focus on the fact that prior cultures had a wider range of legally and culturally recognized same-sex relationships that could subsume the same-sex bond: foster relationship, sworn brotherhood, open homosexual relationships that were valorized even above marriage.

Right now between the changes in our economy and how we “manage” our biology, and the overall stripping and streamlining of our social structures, there’s not much left for formal gay relationships to piggy-back onto. “Marriage” is the one defining structure of family-creation in our culture, and in *OUR* culture marriage has not been defined by fertility as the primary attribute for what is now going on about a century to a century and a half, with procreation losing ground at an ever-increasing rate.

For procreational arguments against gay marriage to make sense to most Americans at this stage of the game, you’d have to find some way of making procreation actually once again a central element in how most of us imagine our own marriages to begin with. It’s close to impossible to argue that a biological hook is central to marriage when very few of us gave that hook more than passing consideration in our own lives in comparison with love, respect, economic issues, religious issues, career issues, friends and family–

If anything, as often as not if procreation was an issue at all, it was an issue of either not-now or not-ever.

In that context, in a culture with that set of suppositions, the argument of biological hooks makes no cultural sense.

#23 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 5, 2014 @ 10:34 pm

The trouble is that I see all the “hooks” as being to some extent equal in their function, contributing to various cultures’ understanding of what “marriage” means or what it “is.”

I suppose that is a chicken or the egg question, on which reasonable minds might differ to infinity. But remember, I’m not the one arguing that gay marriage is a threat to society. I’m the one arguing that there is no constitutional mandate or any reason there should be one, but if we choose to legislate it (c.f. New York) I don’t much care. Chicken or egg arguments are a poor basis for constitutional mandates.

My own take on why homosexual “marriage” wasn’t on the hook in prior cultures would focus on the fact that prior cultures had a wider range of legally and culturally recognized same-sex relationships that could subsume the same-sex bond: foster relationship, sworn brotherhood, open homosexual relationships that were valorized even above marriage.

Quite possibly. And perhaps what the gay movement should be doing is cultivating some of those relationships. There is Tradition behind them. There could be fraternal organizations like The Knights of Achilles and Patroclus. There could be a chain of clubs called Alexander and the Persian Boy. This might be more realistic than trying to cram a same-sex relationship into the confines of “marriage.” The gay movement has two components: we’re all the same, so don’t discriminate against us, which is largely valid, and we’re different, so honor our difference. A real difference should be honored, if at all, with distinct and different institutions.

But SOME of those fraternal same-sex relationships were not passionate, not sexual. The rise of open homosexuality has cramped the social space for deep, fraternal LOVE between two men, who are not gay, may well be married, and are not sexually attracted to each other at all.(Think Damon and Pythias — NOT a good model for “gay” institutions at all.)

All I can say about biology is that it predates all cultural artifacts. Sex is biologically fundamental to the species, and homoeroticism is biologically irrelevant, a side-show, and outlier. Its true that if we were androgynous, like earthworms or Karhiders, or if we reproduced by budding, like hydras, or the creatures in the spacecraft in Isaac Asimov’s “Playboy and the Slime Gods,” we would fine some other way to deal with property, inheritance and diplomacy. But sex is not a prerequisite to organize any of the above.

#24 Comment By paradoctor On July 17, 2014 @ 1:31 am

The Hobby Lobby decision established a new legal folly; the concept of corporate religion. But wouldn’t a legal fiction have a fictitious religion? For can a corporation pray? Be saved? Will there be corporations in Heaven?

If you think those questions are silly, try this; how closely held does it have to be before it loses its religion?

#25 Comment By EJ On February 16, 2016 @ 7:36 am

Nice article. I’ve always wondered why liberals seem to be unable to understand our beliefs while I (to some degree) understand theirs.
Oh and regarding Republicans and Democrats, yeah I agree with you on that. The only reason why I would vote for the Republican Party is because I see it as the lesser of two evils.
@paradoctor
Your comment’s rubbish. The Hobby Lobby decision was absolutely right because it reinforces the First Amendment. It’s Separation of Church and State not Separation of Church and Society.