Theory Thursday: Moral Foundations

I’ve been reading and thinking about moral foundation theory, and it’s really been eye-opening. It helps to explain and understand the reasons people hold different political and social positions and beliefs.

I’ll be writing more about this in the weeks to come, but I thought I’d start with an overview.

The five primary moral foundations are

  1. Care (vs. Harm)
  2. Fairness/Reciprocity
  3. Authority
  4. In-Group Loyalty
  5. Purity

Typically, Liberals and Progressives focus on the first two. Conservatives favor all five, typically putting that last three (Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity) above the first two (Care/Harm and Fairness/Reciprocity).

There’s a sixth one, Liberty, that is gaining traction. Libertarians value that above all others, though everyone values it to some degree.

Caring about Care/Harm and Fairness is obvious – we don’t want people to be hurt. We don’t want people to be cheated. And every side of the political fence cares about these two.

But why care about the other three? Order tends to decay unless effort is put into maintaining it. Just like houses and engines and our bodies. In times of chaos, everybody gets hurt. Thus, it makes sense to put some effort into maintaining order. Thus, Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity.

Why do progressives reject these, then?

Because Authority is power. Not only does it corrupt, but it is sought by the most corrupt. Accepting authority with little or no questioning means signing your name to all its abuses. Voting to re-elect George W. Bush in 2004 meant giving your sanction to Guantanamo Bay, the Iraq War, and the Patriot Act. Voting to re-elect Barack Obama in 2012 meant giving your tacit approval to his ongoing an unaccountable uses of drone strikes on civilians in countries we weren’t even at war with, like Pakistan.

Because In-Group Loyalty inherently leads to the marginalization (or worse) of those who do not fit into the group, and the destruction of those who threaten the group. I suffered through enough bullying in K12 to never trust a clique, team, or identity fully, and what I went through was nothing compared to what some of my LGBT+ friends experienced. Nothing at all. This sort of mindset leads to people cheering and dancing in the street when a terrorist leader is killed. This sort of mindset leads to people covering for their fellow cops when an unarmed 12 year old is killed. This mindset is at the heart of racism and homophobia.

Because Purity usually means men controlling women’s lives and sexuality, blaming them for our lusts and our bad actions. Jesus said “if your eye offends you, pluck it out,” not “if your eye offends you, tell whoever you’re leering at to wear thicker clothes.” Purity drives male domination of women across the world.

There are benefits to the moral foundations of Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity, but progressives look at the harm that has been done in their name to ethnic minorities, to women, to gender and sexual minorities, and the harm that is still being done, and figure we’d all be better off sticking to Care and Fairness.

But the question comes about: how do we then create a stable society, especially during a crisis?

It’s no wonder that progressive movements tend to have their greatest gains not during times of crisis, but during times of stability. This is especially true during times when the prosperity is not shared anywhere close to equally between groups: the Gilded Age, the Post WW2-Boom, the last thirty years. During times of crisis (WW2, immediately post-9/11/01) people take a more conservative (or even hardline) turn. This ebb and flow may be a natural part of society’s life cycle, but it’s important to keep an eye on it, to prevent it from giving rise to a violent mass movement (like the Nazis, Al Queda, or the Islamic State).

To learn more about Moral Foundation Theory:

Moral Foundations website

Moral Foundations on Wikipedia

Moral Foundations and Political Backgrounds Quizzes

Here is Johnathan Haidt’s TED talk about Moral Foundations in Politics.

 

 

 

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Wasted Vote? No, Clean Conscience.

Eagle and American Flag  by Pam Roth, Creative Commons

Photo by Pam Roth, Creative Commons

I voted with a clean conscience today, and it felt GOOD.  I didn’t give my approval to Obama’s drone strikes against civilians in countries we aren’t even at war with.  I didn’t give my approval to Romney’s promise to continue, and possibly expand, those attacks.

Four years ago, I let myself be suckered. I voted for “the lesser of two evils,” and I almost threw up on the way out of the polling place.  I knew it was wrong as soon as I pressed the button.

Today I was grinning.

It doesn’t matter that the third-party candidate I voted for won’t win.  It’s not like Mississippi is a swing state anyway. My vote went to “No, it is NOT right to kill Pakistani (or Yemeni, or any) children in my name.” My vote went to “No, America’s problems will NOT be solved by killing everyone who hates us.”  My vote went to “No, permanent war is NOT okay, even if it’s fought by remote control.”

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re “throwing your vote away” if you don’t vote for one of the corporate-approved, militaristic professional politicians the GOP and Democrats serve up to you.

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re a fool for opting out of the orchestrated drama wherein candidates who are 90% alike go to “war” over the remaining 10% … and then largely forget that 10% once they’re elected.

Don’t let anyone make you compromise because “this election is the most important in history!”  They have said that about every election I am old enough to remember. And the two parties keep sharing power, sharing patronage, sharing money, and shedding blood.  Very little changes.

Vote for the person you believe in, regardless of their “chance” of winning.  Don’t give your approval to things you think of as evil.  If you believe in the Democrat or Republican candidate, then by all means, give him your vote.  But don’t vote for the lesser of two evils.  Don’t do it.  Don’t give your sanction to evil.

I know this is coming too late to affect anyone’s vote in this election.  But I couldn’t have written it before I voted, and between work and election day communion service at our church, this was the quickest I could get it posted.  But I stand by it.  Vote your conscience.  Be heard.

The Audacity of Losing Hope in Politics

I know it’s easy, in this political season, to look at both candidates and lose hope.

One promises hope and change, but wages a drone warfare against Pakistani villages, killing hundreds of civilians. The other speaks the language of conservativism and the Christian Right, but spent his career dismantling businesses and shipping jobs overseas.

Both seem utterly in the grip of corporate interests.  Neither seems apt to bring an end to warrantless surveillance, extrajudicial execution, and indefinite detention.

Yes, they’re different, but they’re different like Nero and Julius Caesar were different.  One may be worse, one may be better, but neither one will be truly good.  God warned Israel against wanting a king, but Israel persisted.  It looks like we’re still reaping that harvest now [1 Samuel 8:10-18]

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’m not going to be able to vote for either President Obama or Governor Romney, because of their use of (and acceptance of continued use of, respectively) Predator drones to strike Pakistani villages.

Killing men, women, and children, burning houses, and terrorizing  entire towns semi-permanently?  Cruel and pointless.  Defining as “militants” any male of fighting age who happens to be found in these areas?  Deceptive and arrogant.  Hiding these actions from public scrutiny?  Disreputable and disgusting.

Nobody seems to be taking this seriously.  Most of my ‘progressive’ friends and most of the Emergent Evangelical voices on the blogosphere are still singing the President’s praises, as if they’d never even heard of this.  My more conservative friends wholeheartedly get behind Mitt Romney, taking an “anybody but Obama” stance.

Even the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson hasn’t ruled out continuing the drone-slaughter, even as he promises to bring the troops home.  Apparently, Pakistani lives are cheap these days.

And both candidates who actually have a chance of winning are so beholden to corporate interests that we commoners hardly even matter.  Would I have voted for one or the other, if not for this slaughter?  Maybe, but it doesn’t matter now.  I won’t support this with my vote.

I’ve heard people say that President Obama isn’t a real Christian, but never because his hunter-killer drones kill Pakistani children.  No, it’s because he’s pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.  I’ve heard people make similar arguments about Governor Romney, because his economic policies will hurt the poor.

And everybody’s so gung-ho for their candidates that they seem to think the world will end if their man loses.

The world won’t end.  Too many rich people have too much invested in this crony-capitalist, “too big to fail” model.  The world will only end when God ends it.

And that’s the thing to remember.  God is not up for re-election.  God is the king of the universe, regardless of the popular vote or the electoral college.  As Christians, we have to remember that, and remember where our true loyalty lies.

I’ve heard people question whether any true Christian can vote for President Obama.  And I’ve heard the same thing about whether any true Christian can vote for Governor Romney (not because he’s Mormon, but because of his regressive economic policies and his pseudo-Randian VP).  Frankly, both positions are ridiculous.

Christians have a lot of reasons for voting for candidates, and questioning somebody’s commitment to Christ because they don’t share your political preferences is borderline blasphemous.  Election 2012 isn’t the Messiah versus the Antichrist.  It’s two rich, connected power-players competing for the most powerful prize on the planet.  If your conscience leads you to vote for one or the other, fine.  But shut up about God’s candidate.

As Christians, we need to maintain unity, with each other and with our neighbors of other faiths.  Whoever wins will be our President, but not our true ruler.  You don’t like Romney?  You don’t like Obama?  Try living under Nero or Caligula.  Try being a Russian or Ukrainian or Lithuanian Christian during the Stalin years.  Though many were martyred, God preserved his church, and it flourished, even underground.

To quote Longfellow, God is not dead, nor does he sleep.  No matter who wins or loses, we have to stick together, to pray together, to pray for whichever man makes it to the White House, to pray for our nation.  God is our Hope, not any man.