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Thursday, January 12, 2012

That's Me in the Mushy Moral Middle

In case there is someone out there who hasn't actually figured it out yet, I'm a Libertarian. As such, I was perusing (the big online libertarian magazine) the other day and I found an article which has helped me to understand some of the ambiguity I am still feeling towards the occupy movement (yes I know the movement seems to be practically dead thanks to all the reporters ignoring it to focus on the Republican primaries - and for crying out loud how wishy-washy can I possibly be to have not worked out my own position on it yet anyway). As a person of faith and sometimes teacher of ethics classes, I was struck by the ethical model this fellow, Jonathan Haidt, uses to analyze the moral appeals of various political cultures and find myself wondering how a holistic, pre-modern, philosophical Christian ought to think about these things.

For those of you who don't want to go read the article, Dr. Heidt's model sets up "six clusters of moral concerns": care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. In the article, he uses a representative sampling of protest signage from Zucatti Park to determine which clusters are more valued by the occupy crowd (and presumably by those who are sympathetic to said crowd). He finds that the occupy movement - and I think it is important to distinguish the apparent values of a collective movement from the real values individuals within that movement might hold - seems to value fairness/cheating above all other clusters with care/harm coming in a strong second. After that, liberty/oppression came in a very distant third and the remaining three clusters were hardly evident at all (a few signs could be stretched to say something about a few of them but it was quite a stretch.

I found this interesting enough that I followed a couple of links over to Dr. Heidt's research website where I took an online survey and discovered that, so far as his research is concerned, I value harm/care the most, followed by loyalty then fairness, sanctity and authority which, as it turns out, I don't care very much for (apparently liberty/oppression is a new category which has not yet been added to the online-questionnaire but I am reasonably sure that I would have ranked high in that category). So my question for this post is: Is this scheme a healthy one? I certainly think that it goes a way towards explaining my ambivalence towards the occupy folks since we heavily share one value but then go on to differ as regards others; but are either of us right? Am I mistaken in valuing authority the way I do? According to Dr. Heidt, Republicans would say that I value it to little and Democrats would say I like it too much. In fact I am between the two major political persuasions in everything except fairness which I value less than anyone and loyalty which I value more than anyone.

Or would you say that it is a mistake to even rank these values (I wouldn't say it but try to convince me, it could be fun!). Is it valid to say "I'm the kind of person who values authority more than anything else and am therefore more basically moral than anyone else"? I tend to think that my ranking is a pretty good one, but then I would wouldn't I?

Well there you have it. More questions than answers or opinions in this post but I would really like to get some thoughts from y'all (even if you are reading this eight months after it goes up).