Interesting talk by Jonathan Haidt and

“Social Justice, as I see it practiced, […] at least in academic circles, is […] an effort to basically circle around specific identified victim groups, fight for justice for them, demonize the powerful.”
Jonathan Haidt

Jonathan Haidt delivered an interesting talk at Duke University titled: “Why So Many Americans Don’t Want Social Justice and Don’t Trust Scientists“. It’s interesting not only for Americans and no matter where you see yourself politically. He’s a bit big on metaphors, but keep an open mind. It’s really worth it.

The essence is that “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.

Sidenote: Questions I have would be: How is that “fight” evaluated? How does the sacred character of the ‘victim groups’ influence data gathering and evaluation? How do you solve the problem that winning means you’re out of a job/raison d’être? Do the groups really want you to fight for them (even if you’re part of said group, groups are usually heterogeneous)? And a couple of other issues. Oh, and for the Craig Froehle cartoon — anyone got a problem that “care” here essentially means you support three people watching a paid game for free?

And yup, esp. when it comes to fairness, a value I see at least as equally important, the issue with sacralized victim groups (preferred victim classes) becomes apparent. It’s roughly 31 mins in with the slide “Average differences in standardized reading test scores” and comparing differences between high vs. low-income family children and black vs. white-children regardless of income. Class is vastly under-discussed.

And the focus on groups, and not on issues — which can and usually do transcend groups — becomes a problem of its own. So much for care as sole foundation of morality.

“If aliens came here from Mars and said ‘Which group […] do we suppose is opposed to abortion?’ Well, it must be liberals. Because they’re so sensitive to care and harm, they must be the ones who care about a four five or six month old fetus. Must be liberals who want to protect fetuses, right? But there’s not a direct path from a foundation to a policy. You have to know that the left sacralized women’s rights — for many good reasons — but once you sacralize women as a victims group, that commits you to certain policies about abortion […]”
Jonathan Haidt

A really interesting talk to see things in a different light. Also the last part why conservatives distrust science, or rather scientists. And yup, science is — unfortunately — very liberal. I’m in Europe, but I got the impression that my field (psychology) was pretty liberal as well. Independent of my own position it constrains the discussions you can have and the solutions you can find.

“So suppose you had a whole group of people coming into social psychology, who were the equivalent of young-earth creationists. Who say ‘I’m gonna study stereotyping and prejudice. But I’m gonna just rule in advance that there are no differences between groups, and now I’m gonna study what’s left.’ That’s where we are.”
Jonathan Haidt

BTW, talking about politics and morals, the website he runs (with others, I think) is very useful if you want to find out more about yourself. There are a couple of interesting tests (including the “Big 5 Personality Scale”, or the “Need for Cognition Scale”).

Personally, I really liked the “Social Values Scale”. My result was “Freedom Seeker” and yup, although this attitude leads to some problems, esp. in the social sphere, it’s something that fits to me perfectly. I don’t think it’s a Barnum text, although I prefer the description on the text website itself. The one on the site is written for other people to convince “freedom seekers” (essentially to tailor advertisement/sell products to them), while the text on is written for the test-taker in mind.


Note: Did a couple of edits after posting, all within about 4 hours.


  1. re: “I got the impression that my field (psychology) was pretty liberal”

    Yes. See Haidt’s work on this, here:

    re: “it constrains the discussions you can have and the solutions you can find.”

    Yes. A moral matrix and/or a Tribal Moral Community is a closed epistemic system that answers all of its own questions. Haidt touches on this in this interview:

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