Partisan references Haidt’s Righteous Mind

One of the features of the acclaim which greeted Haidt’s the Righteous Mind  was that it was not confined to right or left, and partisans reading the book were not able to claim victory in the long endless war between the blue and the red.  Haidt told us that both their ideologies were based upon beliefs, the beliefs based on moral intuitions which in turn are based on personality traits (as yet imprecisely and tentatively defined).  So when a partisan picks up the book and tries to beat his opponent over the head with it you are in for some confusion.

In the right leaning Daily Telegraph the right leaning journalist Toby Young  uses Haidt to accuse leftists of being disloyal because Haidt has identified loyalty to the in-group as an important moral foundation in right wing politics.  When Haidt talks about loyalty he doesn’t mean loyalty to your broadband provider or your to your spouse or your or to your colleagues he means loyalty to your tribe as your psychology evolved over millennia throughout truly ancient times and which, currently, maps over psychologically to the country, the state or the representation of in-group authority.

The three examples) of leftist perfidy perfectly which he cites (McBride, Ferguson and Miliband) all illustrate his error and the operation of his partisan confirmation bias, something which Haidt speaks about at some length in his book.  The confirmation bias is seeing only what you want to see, that which confirms your existing prejudice so Young, whilst pointing out that Damian McBride the spokesman for a former Labour PM behaved, by his own admission, in a disgraceful way, Young might recall the inverse: that a spokesperson for the current Conservative PM is facing serious criminal charges.  McBride wasn’t motivated by disloyalty; quite the opposite, he thought Gordon Brown “a truly great man” achieving important things in respect of (in Haidt moral foundation terms) fairness and harm reduction and acted for him showing ferocious personal loyalty which trumped all other considerations.  That is Haidt central point – our moralised psychology is different from our normal every day common or garden morality, and the former can trump the later, as it did in McBride’s case.  On the right the same thing: the Republican shutdown of Congress caused great stress and alarm but “they were fighting the good fight in trying to destroy Obamacare”, which they feel violates the moral intuitions they have around autonomy and responsibility and a particular conception of fairness.

Young condemns Alex Ferguson for a lack of loyalty yet it was precisely this characteristic that made Ferguson great – he demanded personal loyalty from his players, not talking to the press, no cliques, no factions, and in turn he promised to make them the best footballer that they could possibly be.  He played them when they were out of form out of loyalty to them because he was in a position of long term mutual co-operation and respect.  When he sensed the loyalty breaking down as it did in a handful of the dozens of players he managed, then the relationship ended.   The whole sequence of great socialist football managers Busby, Shankly, Clough and Ferguson demanded and got loyalty to their teams.  Young is applying the wrong conception of loyalty at the wrong level.

Here is were the left differs from the right on loyalty in Haidt’s terms, and we can use the third leftist that Young cites, Ed Miliband to illustrate.  The right is more likely to think My Country Right or Wrong than the left.  Take the decision to authorise military action on Syria, some of the arguments on behalf of the Government explicitly referenced loyalty: they in turn, demanded unity with the United States, demanded trust in respect of secret intelligence in the possession of the state, asked that the Prime Minister’s authority not be undermined, that the prestige of the Government not be harmed, that support be given on trust.  Miliband rejected those loyalty based arguments and proposed rational arguments about the terms of the proposed action being unclear and too uncertain at that moment.

This is the Haitdain difference, the right has this intuition about in-group loyalty: that its purposes are mostly in themselves are morally worthy, this is an intuition that the left doesn’t share to put it at its most gentle.