Caring to much — A few thoughts on Haidt’s moral foundations framework

I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. All I care to know is that a man is a human being, and that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse.
Mark Twain

I found Haidt’s presentation about moral foundations quite stimulating. I think his work might be relevant not only to understand people’s moral reasoning (or rather: rationalizations), but also to online outrage mobs. Given that I am interested in ideas — and ideas can be difficult to convey and some ideas “trigger” a lot of reactance — it might really be useful. So I’ve ordered his book (“The Righteous Mind — Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion”).

But before I read it, I’d like to think a bit about what he has said. It’s nice to write down expectations/assumptions and check them with what you’ve read later. It avoids hindsight bias in checking for pre-post-understanding (“I knew he would say this, because I don’t remember what I expected him to say and what happened seems so obvious now.”). It can also preserve a few ideas that would otherwise be crushed under the (usually) better and well-thought out writing of an author.

So this is a playful posting just following a few thoughts, with a mixture of what Haidt said in the presentation and what I think he might say in his book. At least if the “care” mentality is applied to online hashtag and Twitterstorms.

Given his presentation, he essentially said (as I’ve understood it):

“liberal morality is built mostly on one foundation: Care/harm; [which] leads to [the] sacralization of victims”. And given that it’s sacred, you cannot compromise (“no trade-offs”). So when this care foundation is in conflict with others (fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, sanctity), liberals go with care and violate the other five.

What I think is important here for playing with his framework is

  1. the strong/sole focus on care (over fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity)
  2. care is tied to a specific group (or specific groups; for brevity’s sake, here a single group)
  3. this specific group is seen as “sacred” (great metaphor, e.g., no compromises can be made, perceived attacks lead to strong reactions, humor is ‘problematic’ at best, it’s no laughing matter)

To get an impression (using the image from Haidt’s presentation): Just think of a parent and his/her infant. You know these photos, a parent holding the newborn in the palm of his or her hand, or close to the breast. There is a strong need (1.) to care for that (2.) baby. So, now try telling the mother or father that the baby is ugly as sin. You get the idea about “sacred” (3.) in this context.

One assumption and a disclaimer: Most people want to be morally good, or at least to feel as morally good. If the view of being a morally good person is challenged, it leads to a very negative feeling. I don’t think it’s because people are morally good by default (although we have a tendency for cooperation), but probably mainly because “being morally bad” has societal repercussions. Most people are socialized to “be good” from childhood (and even if you’re bad you get a lot more stuff by appearing ‘good’). We want to preserve that view of ourselves as morally good. And that might actually be harder today. Given that we are probably the least sexist, racist, or -phobic generation, there is not much to differentiate ourselves. Not much to say “I disagree with that, so I’m different, have higher moral values.” It might explain why some people can be manipulated with far-fetched accusations of being x-ist or x-phobic. It’s a weakness that’s easily exploited. We search for reasons why we are not, instead of dismissing the accusation as baseless.
Important Disclaimer: This posting isn’t about dissing care. On the contrary. It’s a great motivation, esp. care for children, for one’s partner, for the sick and infirm, for the elderly. It makes humans “human”. But I think the focus on care on a specific group … that is rife with problems. It’s bad if people “care too much”, or solely care.

So, why can caring as sole/primary basis about a specific, “sacred” group be a problem?

According to Haidt’s presentation, some people sacrifice other moral foundations (fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, sanctity) to “care”. And thinking about it, esp. in the context of our outrage (porn) culture, that has some interesting consequences.

So here are a couple of thoughts/hypotheses (which might be completely wrong, going by his presentation and playing with it):

  1. conflict of interest
  2. group focus obscures issue
    1. care doesn’t require analysis
    2. issue is seen as group specific
  3. solutions only for group increase problem
    1. kin liability
    2. clashes with fairness
    3. damages other groups
    4. damages the group
  4. improvement not wanted
    1. group dependent position
    2. stifles development
    3. no feedback to learn
    4. protects criminals
    5. manufactured problems
  5. caring as shield

In Detail:

  1. Caring about a group has no entry requirements, no checks and balances, no evaluation — which is a major problem as the group’s interest is confounded with the personal interest of the caring person to feel morally good
    Everyone can care, no matter what the members of the group think about that person. The person doesn’t even have to be a member of that group. There is no “voted in as representative”, there are no checks and balances when it comes to actions (think #hashtag movements), and there is no evaluation whether the advocated views are accurate or the methods actually work. It’s hard to fire someone who cares from a group that has no clear structure.
    On the one hand, this is beneficial, given cases where the group has no voice or “is invisible”. But on the other hand, it comes with severe problems. Who decides what is good or bad for a group? Who decides what something means? Who determines social reality? Who is the arbiter of truth? There is a lot of power in these questions, and a caring person might see his/her answers as fact. They care, they know, they advocate or even speak for the group. And don’t you dare to say otherwise.
    If the caring person is part of the group, then it’s easy to assume that what is true for oneself must be true for the group (“it happens to me, so it must happen to the group at large”). After all, the person experienced it. He or she knows it is true. It’s anecdotal experience … biased by perception … going into overdrive. It’s seeing oneself as the defining member of that group. Likewise if the caring person hears about something outrageous, the problem must be deeper than he or she though (“I was lucky, but it affects others more than me.”). These things can happen completely devoid of empirical data, which is hard to get in any case.
    If the caring person is not part of that group, or if members of the affected group speak up against a caring person, it’s easy to discard their disagreements. They don’t know what is going on. They don’t see their lives and actions as part of the overall system. They are undereducated (and must be indoctrinated, sorry, overeducated, sorry, trained).
    Of course, you could ask the same questions about people who focus on issues, but I think here people are more likely to ask: What does this person actually know about the issue? How is this person an expert for it? Also, a focus on issues like fairness would require definitions of fairness, which could be discussed without reference to specific groups people feel protective for.
    Note that this isn’t about denying agency or the right to speak, but about what is heard. The voices of the group: Who they are and what they need, or what the advocates think they need. Does the caring person really know what is best for a group, independently from what the person gets out of that care for this group? Or does the caring person go after his or her vision for the group? If the caring person sees a profession as exploitative by default, the only solution would be to get people to quit that profession. But what if the people working in that profession have a different view of their work? An example here is the frequent confusion of sex work with sex trafficking, and the different “solutions” this leads to. But you find it in other areas as well, and I think the following quotation is telling here:

    “Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent … The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.”
    Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

  2. Caring about a group obscures the issue
    The following issues are related — essentially, the group focus provides a lens to see the issue, and obscures other aspects. Not to mention it’s a cheap way to become involved.
    2.1 It does not lend itself to an in-depth analysis of the actual issue

    I recently read the nice assertion “I tweet because I care”, but you could turn it around easily: “I care because I tweet.” It’s showing publicly that you care about a group. It’s coming with good intentions (and we all know where this road can lead) and requires no need to think. “The group is good, the group is sacred, I voiced my support, I feel good.”. There is no inconvenience involved. No investment. Nothing that would require some serious fact checking. The person cares and thus the person feels good.
    Sure, other moral foundations probably have a similar problem (like “authority”), but I guess that “fairness” demands a more in-depth analysis. Actual “fairness” needs to take context into account, the whole situation. I’m for fairness, great, but what does it mean in this situation? If a person is for one group (because that group is — or is seen as — disadvantaged), then it’s not about fairness. It’s about caring for that group. Fairness would require to actually get comparison standards, and make damn sure that these are measured … well, in a fair manner. Not to benefit the “sacred group”, but fair to all groups. It would be requiring a parent to judge his or her own child independently of being its parent.
    2.2 It makes issues appear as group specific, while most problems transcend groups
    The group focus of the caring person makes the problem appear to affect only (or primarily) that group. Issues that are (largely) independent of groups are seen only through the lens of the “sacred” group. Sure, not everything is subjective, but preconceptions — like the protectiveness for the “sacred” group — strongly bias perception. And seeing is perception. It’s easy to find fitting examples for one’s assumptions, and equally easy to miss or discard disconfirming examples (myside/confirmation bias/no true scotsman fallacy). It’s hard to notice when the same issue happens to other groups, esp. when the surface-form differs somewhat (for example, men aren’t called “cunt” or “bitch”, but they are called “prick”, “asshole”, or “dick”.).
    Sure, it’s possible to make the group part of the problem description, e.g., “stop sexual harassment of women in the workplace”. Who would disagree with that goal? I wouldn’t. But it wouldn’t go far enough for me. Because the issue is sexual harassment, or even harassment in general, and problem definitions strongly influence the possible solutions (see below). And here a focus on groups, not issues, comes with a host of ensuing problems.
    The attempt to link issues and groups is understandable when you consider that the caring person really cares about his/her group. They want to gain attention and provide them with support. You go group! And this probably explains why they play with definitions and exclude other groups from issues. For example, for some people racism cannot be directed against white people, or sexism cannot be directed against men. For them, the definition is tied into their sacred group(s), going so far to use other concepts that don’t fit (e.g., power differences). It doesn’t make sense. It ignores that all people have preconceptions or even prejudices based on race or sex or other attributes. Pratchett probably said it best in one of his books:

    “Just because someone’s a member of an ethnic minority doesn’t mean they’re not a nasty small-minded little jerk […]”
    “Feet of Clay” by Terry Pratchett

    The confound between group and issue effectively obscures when members of the “sacred” group show the behavior themselves. They are not seen as actual human beings with flaws, but as some concept that cannot do wrong (deliberately). Akin to how some parents think their child could never have bullied or hit another child. So, it’s not about the issue or problem, but solely about the “sacred” group being the victim of it, and never the perpetrator. You can’t solve issues this way.
    It’s also interesting to see how much effort is made to make people see groups, not individuals. To use group as first or primary sorting criteria. And the strangest thing of all, it’s done by caring people who argue that their “sacred” group shouldn’t be discriminated against due to their group definition. Yet they make the group definition extremely salient and want it to be treated differently (“better”, but see 4. below).

  3. Care about a group leads to solutions focused on the group, not the issue, which contributes to the problem
    That’s one of my pet peeves and directly related to the previous point. What you see determines which solutions you seek. The perception filter has major consequences.
    As a psychologist I did studies with groups and there is a lot of variance in groups. “Men”, “Women”, “White”, “Black”, etc. — these sound like clear disparate groups, but the variance in each group on variables is incredible. Yes, women and men differ, but so do women and men themselves. “Man” or “woman” obscures the variance behind it. That’s what makes humans interesting to me — the variance, the … well, “infinite diversity in infinite combinations”.
    But what happens, when the caring person wants solutions, “actions”:
    3.1 It goes for kin liability
    Individuals are treated on the basis of the group they are in. Here usually by attributes they had no control over, like skin color, sex, sexual orientation, etc. That’s the main reason why people care about the “disadvantaged” “values” of these variables. The “value” they have on that variable (e.g., “male”, “female”) is not in the person’s choosing (well, ignoring trans here) and it’s irrelevant for the issue at hand. But in focusing on the group they see as “disadvantaged”, they make the same variable an issue — and create actual discrimination for those on the “advantaged” “values” of the variable. Because the group is seen as worse off, everyone in the group is seen as worse off. Because the other group is seen as better off, everyone in that group is seen as better off. And these group judgments are unfair to all individuals, no matter the group they are in. Individuality and variance in groups (i.e., individual differences and the often huge overlap in members of different groups on issues) are neglected.
    To give an example, if a caring person sees women in science as disadvantaged, this person (usually) wants support for women in science (“the next president of the society must be female”), but no support for men in science (“why, they are advantaged”). Not only turns it a perceived disadvantage into an actual disadvantage (for the other groups), it reduces individuals primarily on the variable all agree shouldn’t matter. It’s a group focus biased by the primed variable (here: sex), which judges people based on the groups they are in (without choosing). How was it with “judged … by the content of their character”?
    3.2 It goes for equality of outcome, not for equality of opportunity
    The difference here is do you want, e.g., a equal distribution of the variable (e.g., sex) in positions, or do you want that everyone — no matter the value of the variable (e.g., man, woman) — has the same opportunity to reach a position? That’s a huge difference. Equality of outcome usually assumes there are no difference in the different values of a variable (here: between men and women), so any difference in positions (e.g., leadership positions) must be due to discrimination/barriers in the system against the group they care for. Why else would there be differences?
    Well, in the example here, men and women do differ. Among others in interests. Not that one group isn’t interested in something, but that the interest differs between groups. This leads to a different distribution overall. Additionally, even a completely “fair” coin would not necessarily give 50 times head and 50 times eagle after a hundred throws. Variance does happen. Then there’s the question whether you can change socialization/education/biology post-hoc by changing positions late in life (discounting life experiences, persistence, interest, knowledge, skills, etc.).
    I’m not going into that topic further here, just to make my point that “fairness” with a caring focus on one “sacred” group cannot work. The bias in perception is too strong as the caring person sees all the problems and “unfairness” in the “sacred” disadvantaged group, but not in the other group(s). That the problems of the other groups are not the issue for a caring person is exactly the issue here. It’s not out of malice, it’s a perception and priority thing. Well, unless the other group is demonized.
    Again, the group focus overshadows individuals and renders their interests, choices, etc. irrelevant. Freedom of choice doesn’t play a role here. You can get equality of outcome only if individuals are like clay, formed into what the caring person thinks a “just” society is. Even if the argument is to “just remove the societal pressures” it doesn’t work (here à la “sex/gender is a social construct”, and yup, some people think sex is a “social construct”). First, there are differences between the sexes which would lead to differences in outcome. Not that all men are one way and all women are another, but the groups in their variance do not align (akin to the height example). Second, because random variations would occur, which would likely be seen (by the caring person) either as something to celebrate (more people of his/her “sacred” group in high positions) or something to fight against (more people of other groups in high positions).
    It’s because we (mostly) have equality of opportunity that we have differences in equality of outcome. People can follow their interests, no matter the groups they are in. But no-one can guarantee success, esp. not when it comes to a top-career.
    3.3 It leads to damage to other groups
    Given the strong care focus on the “sacred” group, a caring person might actively criticize other movements, or try to co-opt them. “Science” (one of the highest ranking journals in, well, science) recently did publish a cover photo of transgender sex workers in Jakarta. They are a key affected population which has a high HIV/AIDS prevalence, but the government efforts largely ignore them. It lead to a petition which criticized, among other things, the cover as harming “women, people of color and the transgender community”. It find that view curious. Not only that one group (transgender sex workers “of color”) is vivisected into three different but not distinct groups (women, people of color, transgender).
    I might be wrong, but I’d assume that “Science” was raising awareness for the “key affected population” by pointing out that treatment works (Australia is used as an example). Nice way to shame the government in Indonesia to get their act together. How is that about harming three different groups in other parts of the world? Would it have been better if the cover had shown only an image of the virus?
    To be clear, I’m very skeptical of going for groups, I prefer an issue focus first (here: HIV/AIDS). But it seems to me that some people think that raising awareness for transgender sex workers in Jakarta, who are neglected when it comes to treatment options for HIV/AIDS, makes female scientists, female scientists of color and transgender scientists look bad. The cynic in me wants to say that they seem to be willing to stand on the graves of transgender sex workers because of their ethnocentrism, but looking at the group-focus and care-mentality … yep, it’s what you’d expect. No matter whether it’s a worthy cause, if it’s seen as potentially damaging for their “sacred” group(s) — and that’s a perception thing — it’s getting attacked.
    3.4 It actually damages the “sacred” group
    I go into this issue more closely in the next point, but here it’s related to the cared for group and the other groups. A group focus produces an “us” vs. “them” divide. It actually segregates the group based on a variable that should play no role. In consequence, it makes the group look weak and deficient. And given the group focus (issue applies to all members of the group), even otherwise capable and non-affected individuals are seen as deficient/incapable.
  4. Caring about a group does not want the group to actually improve
    That’s a strange assertion. They care, why wouldn’t they want the best for the group they care for? Because what’s best for the group is not necessarily what’s best for the person who cares. The caring person wants to care, the group members will likely want to stand on their own feet. And given that a caring person might draw a lot of his or her feeling of being moral from caring about a group, this group must have something to care about. It must have issues, it must have problems. But that view does not contribute to creating competent individuals.
    And I think there might be a couple of processes that keep the group that way:
    4.1 It puts the group into a “child” or “dependent” position where “mommy”/”daddy” knows best

    Think of the image with the child. What works well with an infant — which cannot care for itself — doesn’t work so well if the cared for group consists of adults. Even if the group consists of children, there are problems, as it’s not the parental “want my child to grow up”, but “have something to care for, i.e., to feel morally good” at work here. The confound between group interest and self interest mentioned earlier.
    This can have interesting consequences, for example, that actions are interpreted for the group (“that comment was degrading to minorities”) and different opinions aren’t accepted. For a caring person, a “no” might not mean “no”, but is just a sign of an “unruly child” who does not know what is best for him or her. That’s a powerful feeling and it protects the caring person from the experience that his/her care isn’t wanted or needed. Which in turn would result in the caring person losing his/her basis for feeling moral. It’s the wrong mindset for dealing with adults.
    4.2 It stifles development by removing challenge/harm from the group
    If a person cares about a group, he or she might be reluctant to challenge members of the group, or let harm happen to them. Sure, not all pain is gain, and physically and emotionally scarring events should be prevented in any case (spending time in jail is no “learning experience”). But some experiences that are challenging and harmful can have positive consequences long term. But could you let harm happen to your infant child? If that’s the image? My guess is that the focus is likely on making things “safer” for the group, to demand changes and avoid challenges, or avoid that the group makes mistakes it can learn from.
    And it might constrain the view of what is “fair” and equal. I’m thinking about equality when it comes to high-risk jobs here, e.g., combat positions or non-military jobs with high mortality. The caring person might not want to send members of the “sacred” group to risk his/her life — even if the adult members of the group actually want to take that risk (and some do!). Think of helicopter parenting in overdrive.
    4.3 It protects groups from feedback
    This protective mindset might also prevent groups from learning from feedback, and we all make mistakes or act badly. Criticism is an attack on a “sacred” object — the group the caring person cares for. So it cannot be criticized. It’s unfair, like telling a mother or father that their baby is ugly. It reinforces/increases the problem for the “sacred” group. It leads to outrage. It’s a protective reaction ostensibly for a group which cannot protect itself. But feedback, at least constructive one, is something people can and should learn from. If something is protected from feedback, it doesn’t grow stronger, it gets weaker.
    4.4 It protects people who should not be protected but belong to the group, thereby damaging the group
    I think there is a strong need to keep up a certain narrative of the “sacred” group as being “marginalized”, “unwelcome”, or “underrepresented”, no matter what the actual statistics say. It must be seen as a victim of circumstances outside of the control of its members. But what if members of the group do something wrong, I mean seriously wrong? When, for example, a small handful of outliers in that group invent stories or make false accusations, e.g., of sexual harassment or even rape?
    Normally, there shouldn’t be any question: They should be prosecuted independently of their group membership. For the law it shouldn’t matter whether you are male or female, black or white, hetero- or homosexual (or almost anything else). Of course, there are biases in the justice system.
    But how does the caring person react? The caring person might want to protect the group and thereby protect all people who belong to that group — even the criminals and morally bankrupt. Otherwise, the “sacred” reputation of the “sacred” group might tank. After all, it’s hard to remove people if their membership depends on an (normally) unchanging attribute (e.g., sex, sexual orientation, skin color, etc.). You can go the “traitor” route, but I think that’s hard to do, esp. with highly visible “traitors”.
    The caring for the group, and the merging of issue and group, could actually make a caring person try his/her hardest not to see a false accuser, and especially not as a criminal. There are many ways to do it, easiest probably by weakening the standards of evidence. It makes it harder for false accusations to be discovered, so that removes a lot of cognitive dissonance for the caring person. But there are other ways, esp. when the evidence of foul play is pretty clear:
    The caring person might believe the false accuser despite all evidence. Or say that the false accuser was just misunderstood. Or acting out. Or it’s not really a crime if a member of their “sacred” group does it. Or perhaps that the falsely accused person (the actual victim in this case) did have a “learning experience”.
    (Sidenote: The later is an “interesting” idea, considering rape is a crime that ranks in the minds of many people — men and women — as worse than murder when it comes to the perpetrator (not as a victim, here murder = death is worse). After all, people can sometimes “understand” a murderer — who wouldn’t want to go “an eye for an eye” if a loved one is brutally murdered. But “understand” a rape/rapist — no chance.)
    All this not in the name of protecting those who make true accusations, but are unsure whether they can prove them, but to protect the “sacred” group, even if it means protecting criminals in their ranks (false accusers).
    I think it’s only with a “sacred” group focus that you can put those who were actually victims of a crime, but could not prove it, together with those who did provably falsely claim to have been victims of crime. Otherwise, the need for justice and fairness would win. False accusers hide behind actual victims here. Facilitated by the caring person’s need to avoid seeing the false accuser as criminal and to discount this criminals actions in order to protect the “sacred” group.
    In the end, this lack of differentiation will make matters worse for all. Innocent people will lose all respect for the law, if innocence is no longer a protection. Nobody (outside the caring individuals) will believe any accusation, because lying has no penalty and being accused is being guilty. It becomes a tool for the morally bankrupt. The caring person is destroying the group he or she cares for in an attempt to protect it — and large parts of society as well.
    4.5 It requires new problems if existing ones are solved
    Sometimes problems get solved and then the caring person has a problem: The group no longer has that issue, so what now? I think a group focus makes it hard to move on. They identify and care for the group first, the issue second. That makes them feel moral. Given that other groups are usually demonized and made responsible for the problem, they can’t just easily shift to another group (at least not in a binary). So what now? One solution is to find new problems the group is affected with. At least, it might explain the need to go for newer problems, including those that are … let’s charitably say “first world problems”.
  5. Caring about a group can be used as shield when faced with criticism of intent, methods, or outcomes
    The caring person can easily hide behind the group when faced with criticism that is directed at the caring person, e.g., his/her intent, methods, or achieved outcomes. Especially if the caring person is him or herself a member of the “sacred” group. A criticism regarding the methods (e.g., ostracizing and bullying a perceived “aggressor”) is seen as an attack not only on the caring person, but on the group itself. It shields the caring person from feedback and deflects from the actual issues. It’s essentially a cheap way of using the group members as human shields.
    You currently find this tactic — I think — with the “Planned Parenthood” debacle (“selling baby parts”), which is made by PP into a “stand with women” issue. It’s “protect the group, ignore the actual issue”. Sure, there is a strong agenda on the side of the critics of “Planned Parenthood” (and I’m all for the right to chose — within reasonable time). But it’s a cheap “defense” to deflect it as a women’s issue. It serves to demonize the critics, rally supporters with an easy message, and completely bypasses the actual issue (e.g., should anything be changed regarding the regulations for body part “donation” or what can be done with them). Transparency would be needed here.

Interestingly, this caring-for-the-“sacred”-group-first-view might explain why so many people go for outrage (or outrage porn). It’s not bitching or malice, but actually caring. Albeit without bounds. They see themselves as moral this way. And they are — in a way. And caring is easy. It gets people moral righteousness in a complex world. It’s also easy to make a public commitment, which is then very hard to change later. A person who tweets something in favor of something (or condemns something else), has committed him or herself. And with that position taken, the following information gets biased to confirm that initial view. Carol Tavris did an interesting presentation in this regard. Once the view has been supported by own bias, people have to double down when something threatens this narrative. It threatens their “sacred” group, their reason to feel morally good.

This caring-for-the-“sacred”-group-first-view might also lead itself to a few practical implications. For example:

  • Appeasement will not work, fairness will not work
    Given that the caring person loses the basis to feel moral if the group is no longer threatened, appeasement and apologies will not work. Likewise, given the perception bias fairness will not work as argument as the issue is confounded with the group. It’s literally not about the issue, it’s about the group, or rather, what the group’s situation provides to the caring person.
  • Challenge the notion that caring for adults is good
    In my opinion, caring isn’t good when it’s treating adults like children. Or when it’s about the caring person’s need to feel good, instead of doing what is good for the group. Plus there’s the lack of oversight/evaluation aspect. Caring isn’t enough. Intentions differ from consequences.
  • Separate the issue from the “sacred” group
    Would the person lose something if the “sacred” group focus would be removed? If it were a general problem? Even if the person thinks that one group is affected more, what are the reasons for narrowing an issue down to a group? It shows the group is more important than the issue. It shows bias and points to further bias in perception of the issue and its solutions. (The likely reply is that “it’s different” for the “sacred” group — that’s a claim that would need unbiased evidence). In any case, as long as the focus is limited to a group, people should admit they are working on an issue for one group only, not on an issue in general.)
  • Focus on other pillars as well
    One pillar is likely unstable. Other pillars like fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, or sanctity might temper “over-caring”. Personally, I like fairness and liberty, but also loyalty (e.g., to scientific principles, or the organization you work for — if you can’t be loyal to it, you’re in the wrong place). I think authority is needed (esp. in organizations that need a strong hierarchical order, e.g., democracy doesn’t work in the trenches), but should be open to questions (my country has a history where … too much focus on authority did a lot of damage). As for sanctity … perhaps, a few things. 😉
  • Remove the care shield, esp. from harmful organizations
    With care it’s easy to hide behind human shields and ignore the actual issues. It’s also easy for damaging groups to use the need of other people to care for something. For example, I think it makes a huge difference whether the terrorists who killed cartoonists in France are seen as people caring for their religion/God, or as people driven by authoritarian submission to a book interpretation done by a few hate-mongering imams. The first might get them the status as persecuted group to care for, the second … likely not.

I also agree with Haidt’s presentation that care isn’t bad, but it’s not enough. And it’s too unstable as sole pillar of one’s morality. And it must be the right kind of care — one that aims to improve the group, and does not use it to keep up a view of oneself as morally good. If a group focus is needed at all — after all, most problems transcend groups. Why make it about the situation of one group, e.g., in science, when you can focus on better working conditions, selection by talent/training/potential/merit, improve training, career planning, etc.

I think this view might explain a lot, but like written, it’s completely hypothetical. I wrote this posting mostly for myself (now you tell me 😉 ) to force me to think-play with the concepts before delving deeper into them (writing a posting forces me to completely express my thoughts). I don’t really think anyone will read it fully, or that many people like the hypotheses here (well, liking is irrelevant, true or false matters).

But yup, these are the interpretations/hypotheses I have at the moment. And I’m curious whether Haidt’s book goes in the same direction. I’ll likely write an update once I’ve read it.


Update 2015-07-25: Did a couple of edits (mostly grammar/spelling, minor structure changes) after publishing it. As usual, you see the errors when it’s public. Also added a point to the practical implications.

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