More on disgust

More on that Jonathan Haidt interview. Tamler Sommers asked him:

Let’s take a more concrete question. Gay marriage. You brought this up in your talk at Dartmouth…You say that conservatives in America employ all four of the modules, whereas liberals only employ two. You said that liberals have an impoverished moral worldview, and that conservatives somehow have a richer moral life…You said that we as liberals have pared down our moral foundations to two modules, fairness and do-no-harm—whereas perfectly intelligent conservatives have all four modules…So if you take gay marriage…and you have people who have the intuition that gay marriage is really wrong, it’s impure Because they have that purity module that liberals lack. Do you want to say that in that culture that gay marriage is really wrong?

Haidt gives a highly unsatisfactory answer.

[C]onservative morality looks not just at effects on individuals, but at the state of the social order. The fact that acts that violate certain parts of the Bible are tolerated is disturbing to conservatives even though they can’t point to any direct harm. So I do understand the source of their opposition to it.

That’s incoherent. The state of the social order is one thing and violation of certain parts of the Bible is another, so why does he understand the source of conservatives’ opposition? And why does he understand it and why does he make a virtue of understanding it (so that understanding seems to shade into sympathy) ‘even though they can’t point to any direct harm’? The inability to point to direct (or, I might add, real, or genuine, or concrete, or specifiable) harm is not some trivial side matter, it’s the whole problem. If you can’t point to any real harm in X, then why do you want to forbid X? If you can’t point to any real harm in X, then you have to come up with a really good alternative reason for forbidding X, or else reasonable people will think you’re just trying to enact your ingrained dislikes into law, and that you shouldn’t do that.

Yet Haidt seems to be putting in a good word for exactly that.

And this is a difficult case, where it can’t work out well for everyone. Somebody has to give. If we were in a Muslim country, or a Catholic country where much of social and moral life was regulated in accordance with the purity and hierarchy codes, then it would be very reasonable to ban gay marriage. But we are not in such a country. We are in a country where the consensus is that we grant rights to self-determination unless a limiting reason can be found.

But why does that mean ‘it can’t work out well for everyone’? Why does Haidt think not banning gay marriage constitutes ‘not working out well’ for the people who want to ban it? They have a bogus, meritless, unreasonable, intrusive, meddling desire; they don’t lose anything by not getting their desire, because they wouldn’t gain anything by getting their desire, because the marriage of Dan and Stan is nothing to do with them. It’s absolutely ridiculous to say that allowing Jen and Pen to marry amounts to things not working out well for a bunch of strangers who want to tell everyone how to live. You might as well say my reading a book that someone in Nebraska doesn’t like the sound of means things have not worked out well for that person in Nebraska. That person in Nebraska should think about other things.

If I have a mission in life, it is to convince people that everyone is morally motivated—everyone except for psychopaths. Everyone else is morally motivated…One of the most psychologically stupid things anyone ever said is that the 9/11 terrorists did this because they hate our freedom. That’s just idiotic. Nobody says: “They’re free over there. I hate that. I want to kill them.”

They do though. He’s just wrong about that, I’m afraid. I know what he means – I thought that was a stupid thing to say too, and I still do, because it’s simplistic and misleading; but as a matter of empirical fact it’s just not true that nobody says ‘They’re free over there. I hate that.’ Many people – men – do hate and do say they hate the way women are free over here. Women’s freedom is the first thing they do away with when they win the gun battles, and it is explicitly the freedom that they hate. There are people – men – to whom the freedom of women is absolute anathema. If Haidt doesn’t know that, he should find it out; it’s important.

BLVR: So what would the consequences be of everyone understanding that the other side is morally motivated? I guess we could just get down to the nuts and bolts of the issue at hand.

JH: We would become much more tolerant, and some compromise might be possible, for example, on gay marriage. Even though personally I would like to see it legalized everywhere, I think it would be a nice compromise if each state could decide whether to legalize it, and nobody was forced one way or the other by the Supreme Court.

That’s the same misunderstanding as the one about things not going well for everyone, but it’s worse. Allowing gay marriage is not forcing people who don’t like it – it’s not allowing them to force other people, which is a different thing. People who want to impose their ideas of purity and sanctity on everyone are trying to force; people who refuse to bow to their wishes are not. It’s strange and rather sinister that Haidt sees both sides as trying to force the other.

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