Chris is trying really hard to squeeze a political spin out of this, but the main story seems to be:
Jonathan Haidt… postulates that our views of what is right and wrong are rooted in gut emotions, which fire rapidly when we encounter certain moral situations or dilemmas — responding far more quickly than our rational thoughts. Thus, we evaluate facts, arguments and new information in a way that is subconsciously guided, or motivated, by our prior moral emotions. What this means – -in Haidt’s famed formulation — is that when it comes to evaluating facts that are relevant to our deep-seated morals or beliefs, we don’t act like scientists. Rather, we act like lawyers, contorting the evidence to support our moral argument.
But are we all equally lawyerly? The new paper, by psychologists Brittany Liu and Peter Ditto of the University of California-Irvine, suggests that may not actually be the case.
Liu and Ditto found a strong correlation, across all of the issues, between believing something is morally wrong in all case — such as the death penalty — and also believing that it has low benefits (e.g., doesn’t deter crime) or high costs (lots of innocent people getting executed).
However, not everyone was equally susceptible to this behavior. Rather, the researchers found three risk factors, so to speak, that seem to worsen the standard human penchant for contorting the facts to one’s moral views. Having a strong moral view about a topic makes one’s inclination toward “moral coherence” worse, as does knowing a lot about the subject (across studies, knowledge simply seems to make us better at maintaining and defending what we already believe), [and the] third risk factor is … political conservatism.
Call em a skeptic on these results. I suspect they are culturally conditioned. But the key point remains. No matter how well formulated your argument, most people will not care.
But I didn’t need psychologists telling me that. I’ve known it since not long after I got onto usenet in 1989.
We believe what we trust. What comforts us. What our friends want us to believe.
What I don’t know is how to overcome it. Expertise needs a role in governance. Somehow it used to have one. Somehow the iconoclasts of my generation (my g-g-g-generation) ruined that. History will not treat us kindly after all.