Posts Tagged 'Haidt'

Haidt and Shabbat: Exploring Tzniut as a Moral Foundation

This week I had the good fortune of getting to hear Jonathan Haidt speak at conference run by the Maimonides Foundation. He is a social psychologist, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University Stern School of Business, and author. His main areas of study are the psychology of morality and moral emotions. I have been a big fan of his work for some time. In his talk he decried the coddling of the American Mind and the shaking of the foundation of our cultural values. These trends map on squarely with the rise of the smart phone and social media. It seems that so much in our world is broken and not getting better. It makes you wonder, is the smart phone actually a smart?

At this conference we also had the occasion to explore Moral Foundations Theory. Outlined in Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, this theory was created by a group of social and cultural psychologists to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes. In brief, the theory proposes that several innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.” Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too. The foundations for which we think the evidence is best are:

1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]

3) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”

4) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

5) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

6) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.

You can find out your own moral foundations profile at www.YourMorals.org.

In thinking about these Moral Foundations in the context the current challenge of the rise of the smart phone, I got to thinking that we might need to explore a seventh Moral Foundation to repair our society. But what would that be?

This question got me thinking about a Gemara in Beitzah regarding the gift of Shabbat to the Jewish People. There we learn:

Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: All the mitzvot that the Holy One, Blessed be God, gave to the Jewish people, God gave to them in public [parhesya] except for Shabbat, which God gave to them in private [b’tzinah]. As it is stated: “It is a sign between Me and between the children of Israel forever” (Exodus 31:17), meaning that in a sense, it is a secret between God and the Jewish people.

Beitzah 16a

Surely one of the gifts of Shabbat is the opportunity to put away our smart phones. But, on another level, the essence of the gift is Tzniut itself. We translate this word as privacy or modesty. But modesty has a certain element of shame connected to it. That is not the point. Can we cultivate a value around creating moments of connection and intimacy between people? Not everything needs or should be done in public. Instead of running in fear from social media, we need to curate experiences of privacy and deep human connection to fortify ourselves today. This Shabbat I will be giving more thought to what Tzniut might look like a 7th Moral Foundation. I invite you to do the same. Shabbat Shalom.

Killer Shot: On Kawhi and Pinchas

Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist and a Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University. In 2008 he delivered a great TED Talk on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives. Haidt studies the five moral values that form the basis of our political choices, whether we’re left, right or center. In this talk he said:

The third foundation is in-group/loyalty. You do find cooperative groups in the animal kingdom, but these groups are always either very small or they’re all siblings. It’s only among humans that you find very large groups of people who are able to cooperate and join together into groups, but in this case, groups that are united to fight other groups. This probably comes from our long history of tribal living, of tribal psychology. And this tribal psychology is so deeply pleasurable that even when we don’t have tribes, we go ahead and make them, because it’s fun. Sports is to war as pornography is to sex. We get to exercise some ancient drives. (TED.com)

On one level these things are all about practicing and on another level sports, war, pornography, and sex are about power and teams. 

I was thinking about Haidt’s thoughts while reading the end of Balak, last week’s Torah portion. There we see Zimri and Kosbi, an Israelite man and a Midianite woman, fornicating in public. With a horribly miraculous shot, Pinchas kills them both with a toss of a spear. Falling short of war, this shot woke the people up by pulling them away from sex. And in a profound way this shot reestablished the teams. This shot seemed to so extraordinary that it must have been divinely ordained. So much so that in this week’s eponymous Torah portion Pinchas is given a “blessing of peace” because put an end to their lascivious behavior.

Lihavdil– making a totally separation, I was reminded of Pinchas’s shot in 2019 when Kawhi Leonard hit a miraculous shot to end the playoff series and beat the 76ers. Everyone knew that he was going to get the ball and at the last moment he hit a shot that bounced close to 5 times before going in, winning the game, and sending the Raptor to the NBA championship. It seemed to be ordained to go in. After that it was not surprising to see the Raptors go on to win their first NBA championship. 

 

 

While Pinchas brought that “ancient drive” to a pointed end, Kawhi’s  killer shot defined the team and unlocked their tribal drive. If there is no depth of this juxtaposition, we can just chock it up to the fact that I am a long suffering and disgruntled 76ers fan. I guess that 76ers are my tribe.


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