Arnold Kling  

Feeling the Haidt

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Off Topic, But... The New Geography of Jobs

In this long essay, I write


I examine the problem of moral reasoning and offer three proposals for mitigating its damaging effects. The first is to take opposing points of view at face value, rather than attempt to analyze them away reductively. A second proposal is to police your own side, meaning that one should attempt, contrary to instinct, to examine more critically the views of one's allies than the views of one's opponents. The third proposal is to "scramble the teams" by creating situations in which people of differing political views must work together to achieve a goal requiring cooperative effort.

The essay presents my reaction to Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind and also incorporates some other recent books by Schneier and Manzi.

My attitude about blogging has been changed by reading Haidt. Perhaps this makes for posts that have less appeal. But read the essay to find out where I am coming from.



COMMENTS (15 to date)
Greg G writes:

Excellent essay on Haidt - especially the observation about the softball team experience.

Still it seems a bit ironic and jarring to find this on the same morning and same blog as a post that legitimates debating about whether or not Bleeding Heart Libertarians are evil.

RobertB writes:

Love this essay! It seems like there are a lot of really insightful books explaining our psychology and society as evolved systems. Until I get around to reading them, this was an enlightening summary.

jc writes:

Wow, really nice essay, Arnold. Good job.

Becky Hargrove writes:

Thanks for both the essay and the softball team example.

Lord writes:

Nice idea but what makes you think it will change your opponents? OTOH it just might be effective at changing you. Partisans get press for their partisanship. It is simple, exciting, and fun, more so than the gray murky depths of nature and reality only a scientist could enjoy.

yet another david writes:

Interesting.

Imagine instead an environment in which we primarily tried to expose intellectual error on our own side.

Sounds like what libertarians do as a matter of course. :)

Jonathan Haidt writes:

Dear Arnold:
Thanks so much for reading my book so closely, and extending the ideas so well. One of the criticisms of my book has been that I don't say enough about what we can actually do. You have taken a step forward on that.

I wanted to thank you personally, but could not find your email. Please email me if you get a chance, haidt at virginia dot edu.

Michael Bishop writes:

Adversarial collaboration is fantastic. Kahneman and Tetlock have both developed the idea. I wrote some things about it (and borrowed a pretty diagram) here: http://permut.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/the-potential-of-adversarial-collaboration/

Gian writes:

"our capacity to think about moral and social problem evolved from an ability to rationalize our actions"

Rationalization is parasitic upon Reasoning thus can not precede it. What else is rationalization but false reasoning?

"the metaphor that humans are 90 percent chimpanzee, 10 percent bee."
None of them is rational. Is it a useful metaphor?

Humans live in Cities. That is, Man is a Political Animal. He does not live in herds or hives.
The City exists by Nature and is logically Prior to the Individual and Family.
City is not the same as Tribe though many Cities
are Tribal.

The Man is also a Rational Animal. He lives in a moral universe that he perceives by intellect.

To recognize a duty is to perceive a truth.
Since human intellect is clouded, we have mis-perceptions and confusion.

The City is sovereign and gets its authority from itself. The Individuals possess Right to Self-defense but not to punishment. Only a City can punish wrong-doers. The Justice is a virtue that sews up Individuals in a Body, that is City.

Greg G writes:

@ Lord It will be more effective at changing undecideds than opponents. It will probably change only a few opponents, but more than any other approach. And if it changes you that might not be as bad a thing as you think.

@ Gian You are describing the world as you think it should be. Haidt is describing it as it is. Sounds like you haven't read the book. You should. Kahneman sheds a lot of light on this as well. There is a huge amount of scientific research that conflicts with your idealized view of human reasoning.

A writes:

My attitude about blogging has been changed by reading Haidt. Perhaps this makes for posts that have less appeal. But read the essay to find out where I am coming from.

No, your posts have definitely become more interesting. Keep it up. There are a million and one tribal writers out there -- a few more who are aware of how their brains are fooling themselves doesn't hurt.

Gian writes:

Greg G,
Haidt may suffer from Ibsen-ism-an ability to recognize and describe evil but inability to see good clearly.

However, as evil is parasitic on good, to recognize evil is to acknowledge good.

Evan writes:

@Gian

Rationalization is parasitic upon Reasoning thus can not precede it. What else is rationalization but false reasoning?
I agree with you that our ability to reason evolved before our ability to rationalize. What's the use of concocting rationalizations if there are no reasoning creatures to fool with them? No matter how clever your rationalizations are, they will not convince a slime mold to do what you say.

My understanding of paleontology is that humans evolved crude forms of reasoning for the purposes of dealing with our natural environment, but then discovered that the same cognitive abilities that allowed us to reason also allowed us to rationalize.

Rationalization allowed people to cheat their neighbors, giving them a (highly unethical) reproductive advantage. This caused an "evolutionary arms race" where humans evolved improved reasoning abilities to fight other peoples' rationalizations, and then evolved improved rationalization abilities to fight other peoples' improved reasoning.

So ironically, if humans had never developed the ability to rationalize, we might never have evolved into such great reasoners. It was combating the rationalizations of our enemies that really caused our reasoning abilities to evolve to their current levels. We certainly didn't need to be this smart to deal with our environment. Homo habilus was smart enough to kill pretty much any other animal.

Gian writes:

Evan,
I believe in devolution rather than evolution as Perfect must precede imperfect.

To my mind, rationalization is just improperly applied reasoning, a sophistry.

Now, your evolutionary scenario implies that human reasoning power ever improves and thus perhaps will improve even more in future.

But is there any ground for believing that reasoning capacity has ever increased, or even decreased?
How one would settle such a matter?

I for one. can not conceive of varying capacities of reasonings. For your evolutionary model also implies that among various people, there must exist differences in reasoning capacities.

Is the reasoning capacity captured in IQ measurement?

Evan writes:

@Gian

I believe in devolution rather than evolution as Perfect must precede imperfect.
Why? When I practice a skill I generally get better at it, not worse.

To my mind, rationalization is just improperly applied reasoning, a sophistry.
I think of reasoning as sort of like "simulating" a part of the world inside your head. You feed in what you know about the world and your brain generates answers that allow you to make predictions about how the world works. Good reasoning consists of a mental model of the world that corresponds well with how the world really is. Bad reasoning consists of sloppy models that diverge from reality.

Rationalization is deliberately warping the simulation to get a result you want, instead of one consistent with the nature of the universe. It's used to convince other people, or yourself, of a falsehood. If you convince other people of a falsehood you can get them to do what you want. If you convince yourself of a falsehood you can act against your better nature without feeling guilt.

But is there any ground for believing that reasoning capacity has ever increased, or even decreased? How one would settle such a matter?
You can look at things like tool use. Humans use much more sophisticated tools than our relatives, the chimps. It seems like we have evolved greater capacity to reason out what kind of tools work better than our evolutionary cousins.
I for one. can not conceive of varying capacities of reasonings. For your evolutionary model also implies that among various people, there must exist differences in reasoning capacities.
Among individuals that may be the case. At the very least you have to admit people with various brain diseases often seem to be poor at reasoning. Anosognosiacs, for instance refuse to believe they are disabled and make up elaborate rationalizations for why they cannot function normally.

Some animals display linguistic and problem-solving skills that indicate they may be able to reason, but they are certainly less talented at it than humans are, otherwise we'd be trading with them instead of hunting and taming them.

Is the reasoning capacity captured in IQ measurement?
I'm not sure. I think there is a correlation between the two, but I doubt it's 100%, or even 90%. IQ probably measures some, but not all, aspects of reasoning.
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