Gene Expression

Have liberals no shame?

Will Wilkinson and Jon Haidt just did a I’ve blogged Haidt’s ideas before (Chris is skeptical). During this interview Haidt lays out the difference between college age liberals and other societies with a scenario where a beloved dog dies and the family decides to consume the creature. Most non-college age non-liberals think that that’s immoral, while many of the liberals express a more guarded utilitarian evaluation where its morality is ambiguous. That’s fine, but later on Haidt mentions that a lot of New Age liberals are always going on about “toxins”; I see this in my day to day life all the time. So what gives? I wonder if Haidt is over-reading the responses to his first question.

First, liberals can be disgusted. How would the college students react if if you asked if it was moral if a family decided to eat a newborn that had died, or perhaps their mother who was living in the attic until her expiration? So I think there might be a quantitative difference, but on the margins the underlying principle operates. Secondly, what about a culture where women get circumcized where their labia and clitoris are removed at the age of 18 because they are told that that is what “good girls” should do? What if the women are doing this of their own free choice with their own sterile knives and anaesthesia?

I don’t have strong opinions on either the quantitative and qualitative questions here. Haidt has a Ph.D. and I’m sure he can design good experiments, and perhaps I’m ignorant because I haven’t read all his papers. But I can’t shake off the perception that perhaps the outcomes of these results are an artifact (there is also the point that people may say one thing but act out in a different way, and avowed morality/reason often is overruled by a gut reaction proximately).


  1. #1 JM
    June 9, 2008

    Haidt’s question is a setup.

    The implication “why are you not disgusted” is saying that you should be a priori opposed, ie. it’s an authoritarian stance.

    So the question itself negates the stance of “wait a minute, tell me more about the circumstances, I want more detail before I can pass judgement”

  2. #2 John Emerson
    June 9, 2008

    One sort of liberalism tries for a completely value-neutral approach calling all conventional values into question. Several academic disciplines make a version of this into part of the training; economists, for example, compete to see who can be the most counter-intuitive, and psychologists have all kinds of jokes about “folk psychology”. Something like this happens in almost every social science and humanities discipline. (Post-modernism is another example).

    Libertarians and trans-humanists play the same game, turning their skepticism against liberal pieties. It’s all a way of establishing a dominant and superior ideological or professional vantage point whereby the commoners are revealed as morons. If you have to eat Rover in order to attain that superiority, it’s worth it.

  3. #3 Half Sigma
    June 10, 2008

    Liberals are disgusted by: a Big Mac from McDonalds, killing an endangered species. etc. Some have even learned to be disgusted by any food that’s inorganic.

  4. #4 Douglas Knight
    June 10, 2008

    I think Haidt’s categories are useful, although I’m not sure about the liberal vs conservative claims. Even if disgust is merely something that liberals know shouldn’t have to do with morality, that’s an important difference.

    (I’ve read an article & not watched the podcast.)

    Haidt has a Ph.D. and I’m sure he can design good experiments

    You have way too much faith in scientists.

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