Sunday, October 25, 2009

Your Moral Compass - helping to see the other perspective

I love UTNE Reader. Some will say its pompous and academic. Or that it has a decidedly Liberal view (true). Either way, every month there is a gem in the writings within that makes me think. The Sept/Oct 2009 issue's cover story proclaims the end of attack politics (will never happen), and the story behind it was awesome, only because it is the clearest example of foundational impulses we all have that make up our views on the world - our morals and values if you will.

Jonathan Haidt, a University of Virginia scholar makes the case that liberals and conservatives inhabit different moral universes, though there is some overlap in belief systems, there are huge differences in emphasis. To make his point, he developed a framework that codifies humankind's morality.

Which way you land on these five moral impulses gives a good indication of where you will fall on the liberal-conservative spectrum.

HARM/CARE: It is wrong to hurt people; it is good to relieve suffering.
FAIRNESS/RECIPROCITY: Justice and fairness are good; people have certain rights that need to be upheld in social interactions.
IN-GROUP LOYALTY: People should be true to their group and be wary of threats from the outside. Allegiance, loyalty and patriotism are virtues; betrayal is bad.
AUTHORITY/RESPECT: People should respect social hierarchy; social order is necessary for human life.
PURITY/SANCTITY: The body and certain aspects of life are sacred. Cleanliness and health, as well as their derivatives of chastity and piety are all good. Pollution, contamination and the associated character traits of lust and greed are all bad.

So when the Pope rails against materialism, he's speaking up for the traditional purity/sanctity view. Of all five moral impulses, this one causes the most friction it seems, between cosmopolitan liberals and traditional conservatives. It seems to me to be the root of the gay marriage battle, and before that the abortion rights fight. I can see if someone is hard wired to believe that living a higher more noble life, beyond the more individually focused life of the 21st century, then this compass could tell you the values shifts we see taking place today are wrong. They're not wrong. They're simply evolving with the changing times.

As a Canadian living in the US I can see some differences in how the Canadian social system is based on universally caring for all, versus the more "everyman for himself" values I see here. That is at the root of the differences in our health care systems. No judgment intended here, just observation. "Socialist" gets thrown around a lot in the media right now about the notion of a publicly-funded health care system in the US. To me that's just taking care of each other. Just a different view of true north on the moral compass. Taking the time to understand what's behind how we roll up into our views of the world makes the rhetoric of the polarizing arguments even more pathetic!

Take the test and see where you land, at:

1 comment:

  1. ** I took the "Moral Dilemmas" test (there were so many tests from which to choose) and the results were surprising.

    ** I scored a very low 3% (vs. 26% scored by others) on the issue of "personal" dilemmas, e.g., I won't push a man off a bridge to save a runaway trolley) -- and a super high 89% (vs. 52% scored by others) on the issue of "impersonal" dilemmas, e.g., I'd prefer throwing a switch to redirect the same runaway trolley -- EVEN THOUGH BOTH ACTIONS -- would render the same result (the death of the man on the bridge).

    ** All of the dilemmas in the test were difficult; my difficulty was related to numbers, e.g., letting one person die to save greater numbers -- vs. physically "killing" that person to garner the same result. It appears to me that the idea of committing murder (vs. letting things play out regardless of the consequences) is too personally horrifying for me to overcome.

    ** Contextually this seems to suggest that even though I am keen to help the "greater good" or the "collective" -- I won't help the "greater good" if it means that I myself must carry out a killing, especially if no matter what I do or not do -- will garner the same result.

    ** How this translates into how I score on the liberal-to-conservative spectrum is a mystery. I consider myself a moderate conservative on fiscal issues and a strong liberal on social (e.g., cultural divide) issues. But after taking this test, it seems I might be a moderate liberal. I don't know and I'm not sure it matters because I'm pretty intransigent about my views regarding gay marriage (support), national defense (support), universal health care (support with qualifiers), farm subsidies (against), affirmative action (against), educational subsidies based on merit (support), faculty tenure (against), subsidized abortion (against), global warming (not a def-con 5 emergency until poor countries like India and China participate equally as North America and Western Europe), etc. Regardless, this exercise was an eye-opener.