April 14, 2012

Haidt: Political Sacredness = Motivated Ignorance

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt says (via Falkenblog):
The fundamental rule of political analysis from the point of psychology is, follow the sacredness, and around it is a ring of motivated ignorance.

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

Race and 'gender' are social constructs, but political beliefs are genetically rooted. Liberals are, by nature, born with positive qualities while conservative are, by nature, born with negative qualities.

Anonymous said...

"Haidt: Political Sacredness = Motivated Ignorance"

This seems to be true. When it comes to politics, one has to be skeptical and rational. Once sacredness seeps in, we end up with MLK cult and Obama worship, and the like.

Anonymous said...

That's a very interesting quote and I agree strongly. Perhaps now, with the mainstream left and right ditching ideology for identity politics, motivated ignorance becomes even more relevant.

-- Risto

Harry Baldwin said...

I'm going to laminate that for my wallet.

Rachelle said...

I don't think I am going try to understand that.

If ever I do, I will need therapy.

Anonymous said...

"Motivated ignorance" is an even better term than the law's "willful blindness." Steve I hope you continue to elaborate on your leapfrogging theory.

Zeb Quinn said...

Kinda like JFK, and who he really was.

horseshoe throne philosopher said...

That's so great; once you can put a phenomenon into words, you can separate it from its ground of 'impossible to think otherwise' matrix, 'wield' it, make it a proposition, debate it, and contemplate, and force people to tolerate the thought of, its negation (like gay marriage).

Could it be that we can shift our way out of this? I still don't think it'll happen until there's somewhere relatively safe (non-holocaust, non-official-segregation) to land. Maybe by sheer dint of people getting used to concrete facts, like genetic differences, over the coming years. I think evidencing a higher understanding, but wrapping it in compassion might be a way to make it be not low-status thinking. Lead with compassion, like Special Education. Hmm, that sounds like Separate but Equal, which would be hard. Tch.

Anonymous said...

I watched Haidt on BookTV earlier today and he used Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King as examples of political sacred objects. Martin Luther King is an excellent example.

Bantam said...

Steve, forget that somber mood of yours for a while; the future is not that gloomy after all, is it?

Udolpho.com said...

I have been pimping Haidt for awhile now. He's a very sharp and interesting thinker and his spin on moral psychology is interesting much more convincing than the "just so" stories that sociobiology comes up with.

Auntie Analogue said...

Wow. What a relief. That wasn't even Two Minutes of Haidt!

Mr Lomez said...

"Motivated ignorance" seems self-evident enough, but does anyone know exactly how he defines "sacredness?" What separates a sacred issue from a merely contested one?

Take something like the Keystone Pipeline, a pretty trivial issue in the grand scheme of things (or at least not sacred), but nonetheless an issue around which there is no shortage of motivated ignorance.

Or Health Care reform, for that matter, which until the last few years has been off the political radar. Yet, the motivated ignorance surrounding the Health Care debate is virtually entire.

It seems to me that motivated ignorance doesn't follow the sacred, so much as it follows whatever issue, no matter how ephemeral or lame, might raise people's political hackles.

Maybe I'm missing the point.

Anonymous said...

Political materialism = motivated greed.

So, I don't know which is better.

Chuck said...

Steve,
You might be interested in Phil Tetlock's articles on this too. See, for example, Tetlock (2000) "The Psychology of the Unthinkable: Taboo Trade-Offs, Forbidden Base Rates, and Heretical Counterfactuals." Specifically the section on forbidden base rates (i.e., Bayesian inferences) and Liberal egalitarianism.

http://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/tetlock/vita/philip%20tetlock/phil%20tetlock/1999-2000/2000%20the%20psychology%20of%20the%20unthinkable....pdf

http://www.scribd.com/doc/311935/Tetlock-2003-Thinking-the-unthinkable-sacred-values-and-taboo-cognitions

Tetlock is one of the few non-liberal moral psychologists in the US.

Dr Cattle said...

And the question is:

Who/What is Politcally sacred today?

Daybreaker said...

Consider the circle of ignorance, how it grows. They build a fence around what must not be thought about. Then they build a fence around the fence.

Odyssey said...

OT: 'mediabistro' pointing out that Peter Brimelow and Edwin Rubenstein are white nationalists and should get fired from the WSJ:

http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlla/why-do-white-nationalist-writers-have-a-home-at-marketwatch_b59347

Conatus said...

Am I committing the modern sin of being 'too simplistic'?
Isn't this quote analogous to Orwell's 'protective stupidity' and Crimestop that Steve talks about a lot?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crimestop

Anonymous said...

A very timely quote. Just look at the way the life of the sainted Trayvon Martin has been turned into something sacred (more sacred than the lives of people of other races killed by people of other races) and the willful ignorance that surrounds that. Larry Auster came up with the term "Trayvianity" for the religion derived from the death of this martyr.

NOTA said...

Alongside racial issues, another sacredness/taboo area involves patriotism. A hell of a lot of people were successfully shut up about our stupid wars by having their patriotism questioned. The pattern of discussion looks just the same in either case: someone says something true or at least consistent with the evidence (blacks commit more crime per capita than whites, US soldiers kill a lot of civilians in our wars), and is then forced to shut up as he's accused of being racist or unpatriotic.

If you're trying to think about questions of fact, and questions of morality or identity suddenly seem to overwhelm the imoortance of the factual questions, you're probably sabotaging your thought processes.

I wonder how much of partisan differrences, or differences of factions within the parties, is driven by having different things they hold sacred, and different devils they don't want to be associated with.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Lomez: I think Daybreaker partly answers your question about the difference between what is sacred and what merely contested. The (collective mental) act of making something sacred is nothing more (from my secular POV) of walling it off from contestation. That can work, but what is not ventilated can often rot. Then it smells terrible. But eventually it dessicates and no more stink, just ashes.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how Haidt would explain someone who makes a radical shift in political beliefs. David Horowitz, for example.

Anonymous said...

"I have been pimping Haidt for awhile now. He's a very sharp and interesting thinker and his spin on moral psychology is interesting much more convincing than the "just so" stories that sociobiology comes up with."

But he could be pulling a Mamet. Pretending to be sympathetic to conservatives to make conservatives like Jews(most of whom hate conservatives).
If we think, "hey, a Jewish guy understands us", we're liable to be more well-thinking of Jews.

Anonymous said...

Notice that when Haidt praises conservatives, he doesn't mean Paleocons and certainly not WNs. He means neocons and Christian Right morons who are nuts about Israel. Haidt and Mamet have one thing in common: they appreciate Palin as whore for Israel.

Anonymous said...

From Founding Fathers to Funding Fathers. Now, it's all about money.

Anonymous said...

Sacredness is a psychological truth. Your enemies will attack your sacred cow and then erect his own. You will attack the sacred cow of your enemies and then erect your own.

Americans resisted and defeated George III but then turned the men who founded the Republic into near-god-like FOUNDING FATHERS. It's a habit we all have.

Luke Lea said...

Thanks, Chuck, for those links to Tetlock et al. Hadn't even been aware of this research.

Anonymous said...

The psychology of sacredness may be related to age. I think three age groups are most prone to sacrednessism.

1. Children. Kids don't know nothing, and we cannot be entirely rational and factual with them. There are a gazillion facts on any given issue or matter, and kids can't understand it. So, we introduce them to simplified/meaningful narratives. Kids understand simple stuff like good guy vs bad guy or cops and robbers. In the past, kids were told of Columbus and Wright Brothers as heroes. Today, it's MLK and Harvey Milk. Kids don't know enough or think deeply enough to know more than reality-reduced-to-myths. Also, there's the temptation to mold kids with myths since so much power is at stake. So, Christian parents wanna Christianize their kids as early as possible. And liberal parents wanna make their kids worship MLK at youngest age. Emotional conditioning at young age may shape the kid for the rest of his life. Kids will believe anything, and adults wanna take advantage of this window of opportunity.
So, Jewish kids are made to embrace Zionism and Palestinian kids are made to embrace Pallism. And kids prefer sacred myths to skeptical reality which is too complex and confounding for them.

2. The young adult. Young people are filled with hormones, ambition, idealism, dreams, and etc. Though most will turn into Joe Schmoes, many dream of becoming the best at something: the next great scientist, artist, actor, designer, model, etc. Though mentally capable of being rational and realistic, they emotionally wanna believe in the dream. And so they go for sacred myths, whether it be Ayn Randism, Che Guevaraism, this-ism or that-ism. They wanna lick the world, and for the world to be licked, it has to be easily understood. A truly complex world would make a person more hesitant, more skeptical, more cautious. A young adult wants to take chances, be audacious, be loud and proud, but for this to be the case, he must believe in sacred simpleness of the world(and how it can be conquered or fixed).

3. Old age. An old person becomes irrelevant and has nothing to look forward but more aging and death. So, he's prone to look back to the golden past--wonderful 50s or exciting 60s, etc--as a lost sacred time. Since he's no longer a player, the current scene seems pointless and confusing. And so fixates on the sacred simpleness of how things used to be or how people used to think(with a lot of hope).

Perhaps, the age when people are most rational and skeptical are from age of 30 to 55.

Anonymous said...

Feline sacredness = youtube dynamite.

http://youtu.be/sP4NMoJcFd4

Drawbacks said...

Auntie Analogue wins the thread.

Anonymous said...

http://news.yahoo.com/tiny-gene-change-affects-brain-size-iq-scientists-173151556.html

Anonymous said...

You may be interested in this review/critique of Jonathan Haidt's new book.

It is titled: 'Beyond The Righteous Mind: helping Jonathan Haidt understand his own turning-points'.

You can read it here: http://bit.ly/haidtreview

Anonymous said...

I worked in IT all my professional life.

I once had the task of explaining how a system worked to a small group of folks who dealt w/legislative issues from formulating positions to lobbying.

I asked the head of the department how much she knew about how PC's work (this was a while back) and she replied: "I'm aggressively ignorant."

What this told me was that I was wasting my time trying to explain how the system worked to her in any but the most general concepts so I immediately turned my attention to her underlings who HAD to understand how it worked because they were the ones who would be living with it. Their boss could retreat to whatever distance was her comfort level and have them do the heavy lifting. They took good notes and understood what I was saying.

This is exactly what you get when you try to explain the reality of massive third-world immigration, affirmative action, black crime, etc. Those who have enough power, money, connections etc to remove themselves to a respectable distance from the reality of these issues so that they don't have to deal with them on a day-to-day basis WANT to remain 'aggressively ignorant' of them. When you refuse to let this happen, they respond by calling you names because they really are aggressively ignorant and like it that way.

The underlings, who can't avoid the reality, get it - in spades.

Svigor said...

I like "motivated ignorance, too.

"Motivated ignorance" seems self-evident enough, but does anyone know exactly how he defines "sacredness?" What separates a sacred issue from a merely contested one?

Sacred means not subject to contest, no?

K(yle) said...

The difference between Orwell and Haidt is that the latter's idea is one of tangentially related, and self-perpetuating set of ideas that is an artifact of the personalities of certain segments of the population without the need for any conspiratorial "Inner Party" to invent them and enforce them. That certain kinds of people will brainwash themselves; no boots to heads necessary.

Reality is probably closer to Haidt, but I think it would be naive to assume that there aren't plenty of cynical and opportunistic members of the Liberal Moral Tribe with ulterior motives.

Mr Lomez said...

"Sacred means not subject to contest, no?"

Yeah. That's helpful. But still, motivated ignorance is not exclusive to sacredness, and what specifically is sacred?

Race, obviously. Someone said patriotism.

Are there sacred issues around which there isn't "motivated ignorance?" The constitution, for instance, around which there is a lot of argument, but the facts seem relatively transparent.

I'd like to see Haidt's list of what's sacred.

"I wonder how much of partisan differrences, or differences of factions within the parties, is driven by having different things they hold sacred, and different devils they don't want to be associated with."

I like this.

NOTA said...

Also, a two minutes' hate over public racism or sexism, or a reading of the antiwar or racialist conservatives out of the movement, or a public demand that antiwar leftists shut up and back the president, or a demand that anti-Israeli or pro-Palestinian talk be shut down, all are about trying to assert a specific set of things that are compusory or forbidden to believe or say. They're partly attempts to enforce a taboo, and partly the visible bit of attempts to convince a majority of people that this idea or subject or point of view is taboo.

When you see a whole bunch of people responding in outrage to some expressed idea, it is almost never because the idea is wrong or stupid--people are wrong and stupid all the time, and mostly that doesn't trigger all that much anger. Outrage is part of how taboos and community standards are enforced.

Anonymous said...

Just finished watching the Bloogingheads interview with Haidt. Interesting that even the rare leftist with a strong understanding of evolutionary biology like Robert Wright was still quite obviously bothered by the philosophical implications of Haidt's work. Near the end it was clear that Wright was determined not to see the forest for the trees, because it was clear what it would mean for his political worldview. Ultimately it seems like science is after nearly two and three-quarters centuries finally catching up to David Hume.

Anonymous said...

reason why people gravitate to myth is because there is no end to truth.