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The Righteous Mind - Chapter 5: "...like A Tongue With Six Taste R


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In this chapter, the first in Part 2 - There's More to Morality than Harm & Fairness, Haidt addresses how morality is indeed influenced by culture. Haidt points to a study citing WEIRD people (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, & Democratic) which demonstrates that these people are actually the 'outliers' in the world of human nature and are the least typical, least representative people you could study to make generalisations about human nature. Very eye-opening when you consider that's the situation most of us here, come from.

 

Haidt compares WEIRDs against cultures such as East Asians and identifies a distinct difference in the way the two cultures think and subsequently how their morals are developed. WEIRDs see the world full of seperate objects, rather than relationships, which is the opposite to how East Asian cultures tend to see the world. An excellent demonstration of this was when asked to write twenty statements conmmencing with the words "I am..." Americans wrote about their own internal psychological characteristics (I am...happy/outgoing/interested in jazz/etc) whereas East Asians were more liekly to list their roles and relationships (I am...a son/a father/ and employee of Fujitsu/etc).

 

Haidt states that this difference in way of thinking (WEIRD way of looking at things in isolation vs the East Asian way of looking at things in relationship) accounts for why philosophers such as Kant & Mill have mostly generated moral systems that are individualistic, rule-based, and universalist - Haidt suggests that's what you need to govern a society of autonomous individuals. But holistic thinkers in the non-WEIRD cultures are prone to writing about morality as a variety of relationship-specific duties and virtues. Basically Haidt says that westerners hold to a morality that protects individuals and individual rights, which doesn't work in non-WEIRD cultures where morality is more sociocentric, placing the needs of the group often ahead of the needs of individuals.

 

Helping to make these differences apparent, are such studies referenced by Haidt as that conducted by Richard Shweder which identified three major clusters of moral themes - the ethics of autonomy, community, and divinity. Each of these is based on a different idea about what a person really is. Pointedly (to me anyhow) the ethic of autonomy (placing individuals first and foremost with wants, needs and preferences) is dominant in Western seclar society but outside of this culture the other two moralities come into play - community (people are first and foremost members of larger entities such as families, tribes, nations etc) & divinity (people ar etemporary vessles within which a divine soul has been planted).

 

Haidt experiences exposure to these additional moralities when living in India for three months. There he adjusted to and learnt about the culture but more specifically, gained empathy and began to 'feel' such morality. Haidt begun to understand why in a community where dirt and filth is prevalent, why that culture puts such an emphasis on cleanliness before eating and in other customs. I began to see why these rules were required, such as always greeting someone with your right hand (as they used their left hands to deal with toilet practices) and why breaching these rules was more than just offensive, but was a threat to the health and wellbeing of the communtiy.

 

Haidt explains in depth how different circumstances and culture affect how people view morally important matters. Essentially, he's making the point that there can be more than one truth, more than one morality, quite simply because there is more than one particulalr type of community or country. He quotes Shweder to make the point - "...there is no homogeneous 'backcloth' to our world. We are multiple from the start".

 

One last thing in this chapter that Haidt address is the moral matrices that we encounter. Haidt explains how he sees many moral matrices coexisting within each nation. Each matrix providing a complete, unified, and emotionally compelling worldview, easily justifiable by observable evidence and nearly impregnable to attack by arguments from outsiders. Subsequently people find it difficult to consider the possibility that there might really be more than one form of moral truth, or more than one valid framework for judging people or running a society. I can't help agreeing with him and now finding myself identifying that everywhere.

 

Apologies to my friends here for the lateness of kicking off this chapter. It may seem silly that I haven't had the time to address one simple chpater of a book, but as the cliche goes I have hardly had time to scratch myelf recently. I promise to try harder!

 

Cheers

Paul

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Thanks Paul - good job.

 

As far as social controls go, I personally came to this realization while living in the Middle East. I had always thought the low rate of crime was the result of very severe forms of punishment (beheading as an example). But, as the result of several incidents, I came to realize that this was not the case - the controlling factor was social. Fear of embarrassing one's family or community was a powerful deterrence.

 

George

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As Paul points out, most of us here can be classified as WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, & Democratic)('rich' being relative:) ). I think the same can be said for the originators of and influential thinkers in PC. The respect for individual differences in beliefs we see here looks to be part of our WEIRDness. WEIRD missionaries ,did their part in spreading Christianity to other cultures; I wonder how much this will be true for PC WIERDos.

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