A Clash of Sacralities in Paris

The horrific terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebo and a Jewish shop in January provoked a remarkable and notable response from the people of Paris and the wider French population,  in towns and cities all across France, as they took to the streets in their millions to express their condemnation and revulsion (ordinary common or garden morality rather than Haidtian morality) at the attacks.  Also evident in their response was a determination to re-state some values which at some important level are considered sacred in France – liberty and freedom of speech and expression.

That second dynamic is interesting as it mimics the professed motivation of the killers of the journalists – that Charlie Hebo’s satire had insulted the Prophet Mohammed in a literally sacrilegious way.

Of the several moral foundations which Haidt identifies Sanctity is the one which appears to play the least in the politics of developed countries.  A notable exception to this notion of sanctification might be the national flags of countries which is illustrated by the practice of flag burning, actually the almost total absence of flag burning.  Burn your nation’s flag in public and you almost certainly risk assault and arrest.   The sanctification of the national flag and its roots in our moralised psychologies where it appears to enjoy its own separate foundation (Sanctity) and as such appears to justify some exceptions to the scope of our freedom of expression.  (If you are burning your countries Flag some may congratulate you but they are likely to be like you, at the far end of moralised anti-authoritarianism). In developing countries and states based on explicit religious objectives – Israel, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan for example the moral foundation of sanctity is overtly expressed in law and constitution.

The glorious response to the attacks in France saw the reassertion of the Republic’s values of liberty, equality and fraternity or in Haidtian moral foundations theory terms, Freedom, Fairness and In-Group loyalty.  Haidt believes that these values can be held so dearly that they can be sacralised in themselves and that was evident in the commentary and the mass demonstrations.  The re-assertion of Liberty (freedom) was particularly marked in the public reaction.

Some commentators expressed disquiet though about whether the terms of Charlie Hebo’s satire had crossed the line into racism and Islamophobia.  If that was the case the transgression can only take place under the cover of the sacred.  The Moral Foundations of our reasoning can have perverse outcomes and not just in militant Islam.

The Greek Tragedy and the Misfiring of Politicised Moral Psychology

When a politician says something crazy you know that that have been radically misinformed by their moral psychology.  Sometimes comments come in such perfect contrast they illuminate perfectly, opposite but matching errors with the same moralised roots.

In the Guardian online a  video talk emerged of Yanis Varoufakis the new Greek Finance minister speaking in his earlier professorial mode in 2014, were he confessed to his “erraratic Marxism”.  He offered us the view that that “wealth is created publicly but appropriated privately” – classical Marxism of course, which is one tenet he appears to subscribe too in a talk, which to be scrupulously fair, also expresses some skepticism of other Marxist shibboleths.

The Yin to Varoufakis’ skeptical Marxist Yan is the German Finance Minister telling us today that “”The problem is that Greece has lived beyond its means for a long time and that nobody wants to give Greece money any more without guarantees,”  Mr Schaeuble said.

Living beyond your means and appropriating wealth that is collectively owned are stern charges indeed; moralised charges born of an intuition that some things are fundamentally right and others are wrong.  This creates an intuition which drives an emotion which drives reasoning and rhetoric so if you are a Greek fishmonger you are in a tough place, apparently you are simultaneously appropriating other people’s wealth and living beyond your means whilst selling shrimps.

The woes of Greek fishmongers do not end there, in addition to the above gross moral turpitude that apparently inheres in being Greek and being a fishmonger they are governed by two ridiculously misfiring moralised political psychologies.

The easy one first: Professor Varoufakis references fundamental Fiskian Communal Sharing and valourises, venerates and reveres this ancient social model in such a way as to bend the reality of the fishmongers effort to one of theft and appropriation.  No selling of fish in a market stall 100,000 years ago when our (moralised) psychologies evolved, only collective fishing and collective sharing of the fish, so that must be the only moral path in Greece in 2015, obviously.  To be fair once again the Varoufakis he does not evince the standard leftist moralised hostility to Market Pricing relations expected of a full blown Marxist.  You hear it here first the Syrizia government if it survives at all in Greece will split on this very point, with Varoufakis going back to the University to write a book ignoring his moral psychology, thrown out because he is insufficiently  hostile to MP.

Mr Schauble?  First a thought experiment, of the 80 million Germans how many think that the problems of Germany in the 1920s were that they were living beyond their means?





We don’t need to exclude Germans under 10 from the question because of its relative simplicity.  See the graph, when German wealth sank by a quarter was the issue that too many Germans were living high on the hog?  Or did the German state collapse into barbarism because of unemployment and poverty and the economic ruin of the middle class?  Include 5-10 year old Germans if you like…

Mr Schauble looks at this graph, actually he almost does not, but his briefing papers at the German Finance ministry tell him of the 50% youth unemployment in Greece, one in four work less Greeks, the one in three Greeks in poverty, the 25% GDP collapse (not compared with Weimar in the Ministry you can be certain), oh yes and the debt….down since they tried to live within their means after the 2012 bailout authored by Mr Schauable?  No the debt has exploded to Euros 340 billions.  Every day the Greeks live further and further beyond their means.   If the unemployment rate was 35% instead of 25% would the Greeks learn to stop living beyond their means?

Mr Schauble and Mr Varoufaki’s bothe reference Communal Sharing but with the typical left right split which does nor make one right and one wrong but makes them both wrong.  They share category error, in Communal Sharing it was moral to collectively fish and share the proceeds,  but those who never fished and only borrowed fish on the promise of paying back in mussels but failed to do so were morally dissolute.  The morally dissolute must be punished. So we have twin absurdities:  Greece is borrowing fish and not supplying the promised mussels and so must expect moral opprobrium, and for the Greek Finance minister the person who traded the collectively fished fish for mussels is appropriating publicly fished fish.

Two atavisms bearing no relation to the complexity and reality of 21st century economics. There is a liquidity trap in a way that there wasn’t in Greece in 4000 bc , there is public debt now but not when our psychologies evolved, fishmongers are not stealing from anyone, indeed the provision of fresh fish in our communities is a good thing.  No one thinks they are collectively producing in Greece, austerity cause a downward cycle of panic now but did not exist in the early Neolithic when Schauble and Varoufakis ancestors’ screwed up moral psychology were just getting going.

Pity Greece.