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JoshuaZ comments on To like each other, sing and dance in synchrony - Less Wrong

20 Post author: Kaj_Sotala 23 April 2012 01:30PM

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Comment author: JoshuaZ 24 April 2012 07:06:38PM *  7 points [-]

Haidt's own evident (though likely not intentional) rigging of the criteria by which he detects expressions of loyalty, authority, and purity/sacredness so as to maximize them on the right side of the political spectrum and minimize them on the left one.

Can you expand on this? I've thought for a while that he underemphasizes purity/sacredness on the left (in particular that he essentially ignores things like caring about organic food or vegetarianism which fit classic food taboo forms) but I'm not sure I've seen anything that looked like rigging in his studies.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 27 April 2012 06:28:57AM *  19 points [-]

"Rigged" was a bad choice of word on my part, since it suggests intentional manipulation, and as I've already written, I'm not suggesting anything like that in Haidt's case. Rather, it's a matter of deeply internalized biases. More specifically, the problem is that with enough motivation, almost anything can be rationalized in terms of harm and fairness, and people whose favored ideology emphasizes these elements are likely to invent such rationalizations for their own specific norms of purity, sacredness, group loyalty, and authority. Haidt's approach ends up heavily biased because it correctly recognizes these latter elements in those cases where they are more or less explicit (which happen to be mostly on the political right), while at the same time failing to uncover them when they exist under a veneer of rationalizations in terms of harm and fairness.

Now, the concrete examples of leftist purity manifested in nutritionist and environmentalist ways are recognized by Haidt, as another commenter has already noted. (Though, in my opinion, he is certainly biased in underplaying their overall importance.) However, I believe there are other examples that illustrate the problem even better.

Take for example the norms about sexual matters. One puzzle I've always found fascinating is why, for modern liberals, support for laissez-faire in matters of sex is so strikingly correlated with opposition to laissez-faire in economic matters and support for paternalistic government regulation in pretty much everything else. After all, most of the standard arguments of liberals against economic laissez-faire and in favor of government paternalism hold just as well for sexual matters. (Arguably, they are even stronger in the latter case -- just consider how much it involves in terms of zero- and negative-sum games, tremendous inequalities, common patterns of irrational behavior, health concerns, discrimination across protected categories, etc., etc.) Yet an attempt to apply these arguments to sex immediately triggers a strong negative reaction that can't be justified by any reasonable argument based on harm or fairness.

From this, it seems pretty clear that modern liberalism incorporates a strong element of sacredness associated with individual autonomy in matters of sex. This, of course, is nothing very surprising, considering that strong norms of sacredness regulating sex are a human universal. Yet even if he had a perfectly unbiased view of the matter, how could Haidt possibly reveal this element in his questionnaires without violating the associated norms of sacredness as they apply to the public discourse about sex-related topics?

Another fascinating topic is the peculiar way in which in-group morality is commonly manifested on the left. What I have in mind is the phenomenon that was discussed recently on LW in a thread about Orwell's essay "Notes on Nationalism," which Orwell termed "transferred nationalism." See this subthread, in which I made some points whose relevance in this context should be clear. Again, this is something highly relevant in the real world, whose discussion however requires much more subtlety and de-biasing than anything within the reach of Haidt's questionnaires.

I'd like to elaborate on some examples of authority norms that are common on the left too, but right now I'm short on time. I'll get back to it if this thread remains active in the next few days.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 29 April 2012 05:13:52AM 4 points [-]

I'm definitely interested in what you want to say on the subject.

It looks to me as though a lot of people internalize age of consent laws as sacred.

More generally, does Haidt address sacredness in re patriotism and/or law-abidingness?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 25 April 2012 07:19:28AM 7 points [-]

(in particular that he essentially ignores things like caring about organic food or vegetarianism which fit classic food taboo forms)

He does mention those. E.g. The Righteous Mind, page 254:

The Sanctity foundation is used most heavily by the religious right, but it is also used on the spiritual left. You can see the foundation’s original impurity-avoidance function in New Age grocery stores, where you’ll find a variety of products that promise to cleanse you of “toxins.” And you’ll find the Sanctity foundation underlying some of the moral passions of the environmental movement. Many environmentalists revile industrialism, capitalism, and automobiles not just for the physical pollution they create but also for a more symbolic kind of pollution—a degradation of nature, and of humanity’s original nature, before it was corrupted by industrial capitalism.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 April 2012 04:50:17AM 4 points [-]

Here is a decent description of the liberal version of tribalism/loyality. You can also get more details in the article Konkvistador excerpts.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 25 April 2012 05:11:07AM *  1 point [-]

I've seen both of those before. They don't answer the issue in question which concerns Haidt's studies being rigged. Whether there's other evidence in the same direction is a distinct question.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 April 2012 05:35:26AM 5 points [-]

It's rigged in the sense that his "sacredness/purity" questions are about things conservatives tend to consider pure/sacred and not about the things liberals consider pure/sacred. Similarly, for his loyalty and authority questions. Furthermore, a large part of the identity of modern liberals (especially non-hippie liberals in the case of sacredness) is that they're above such old fashioned things as tribalism, superstition, and blind obedience thus they tend to have a blind spot for the places where they engage in these things.

True this rigging wasn't intetional on Haidt's part, but then Vladimir said as much.

Comment author: Multiheaded 26 April 2012 01:54:19PM *  3 points [-]

Similarly, for his loyalty and authority questions. Furthermore, a large part of the identity of modern liberals (especially non-hippie liberals in the case of sacredness) is that they're above such old fashioned things as tribalism, superstition, and blind obedience thus they tend to have a blind spot for the places where they engage in these things.

I agree that this is a really acute and progress-blocking problem for liberals (some more radical leftists, e.g. Zizek, are at least more reflexive about these things). However, as I was saying before, what really unnerves me is the alt-right variant of this very meme, which is, if possible, even more proud and blinded. Just see any typical blogging fan of Moldbug, especially one talking about pragmatism, "ideology-free" approaches to social studies, Austrian economics and such. That's the vibe I get from this crowd.

Also, it's the key reason for my tolerance of mainstream conservatism despite my numerous disagreements with it, as IMO it scores better than the alternatives on this problem.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 25 April 2012 07:32:41AM 5 points [-]

This isn't evidence of rigging as such, but I should note that some of my psychologist friends are rather skeptical about the methodology of Moral Foundations Theory. E.g. in his 2009 paper, Haidt reports the Cronbach's alphas for the three MFT studies:

Study 1 [...] Cronbach’s alphas for the three-item measures of each foundation were .62 (Harm), .67 (Fairness), .59 (Ingroup), .39 (Authority), and .70 (Purity).

Study 2 [...] Cronbach’s alphas for each foundation were .71 (Harm), .70 (Fairness), .71 (Ingroup), .64 (Authority), and .76 (Purity)."

Study 3 [...] Cronbach’s alphas for each foundation were .69 (Harm), .69 (Fairness), .69 (Ingroup), .67 (Authority), and .58 (Purity).

I'm no expert in statistics myself, but I'm told that an alpha of .70 indicates a measure for which half of the result is just noise/error and half something real, while alphas of less than .7 are composed more of noise than anything else. As can be seen in the above numbers, Haidt's measures occasionally reach that minimum level, but more frequently (at least in that paper) they don't. Which implies that the MFT questions may not really be measuring what Haidt thinks they're measuring.

(Still, many of Haidt's claims seem intuitively right, so I'm inclined to believe that he's roughly on the right track.)

Comment author: Vladimir_M 28 April 2012 06:45:36PM *  13 points [-]

Looking again at the questions listed in this paper, I remembered a blog post by Bryan Caplan in which he proposed some skillfully thought up alternative questions that make Haidt's biases especially apparent:

(Here is Haidt's response, which I find rather unconvincing.)

In fact, the more I think about Haidt's questions, the more heavily biased they seem. For example, one of his "authority" questions asks for how much money you'd curse your parents in their face, and have to wait for a year to explain and apologize. Imagine if he instead asked for how much money you'd yell racial insults at a black person. Now, Haidt would presumably say that the latter falls properly under "harm," since it would be greatly emotionally hurtful to this person. But how does this same argument not apply to someone being cursed by their own child?!