The marketing-savvy Pos Psych crowd constitute the latest service of professional psychologists to the American Right.
There is a branch of Positive Psychology called Moral Psychology, and apparently it has a guru, a top sales associate if you will–Jonathan Haidt, out of Virginia.
Here is a play-by-play analysis of the Moral Psych argument, as developed by Haidt and presented in an expensive public lecture format (a TED talk):
1) Based on (one?) game theory experiment done by an economist in Germany, we “know” that over 6 game iterations, experimental subjects became less cooperative about allocating money for environmental goods. Then when punishment was introduced on the 7-10th iterations of the game, these German experimental subjects became more cooperative. (Methodological note: I predict this result would vary if it were replicated across different societies.)
2) Based on the evidence presented in (1), Haidt concludes that conservatives are correct about human nature: Over time, people cooperate only when punishment is invoked.
3) Haidt claims to have classified arguments by conservatives and liberals over numerous texts he selected. (Methodological validity?) He claims that he derived a 5-factor morality classification system from his review of these texts. (Methodological validity?) His morality classification system has the following 5 dimensions: authority, purity, loyalty, fairness and care. Liberals/Enlightenment-types are moral-poor in his system, as they only concern themselves with 2 (latter) dimensions of Haidt’s morality. Fortunately, conservatives uphold all 5 of Haidt’s pillars of morality.
4) Haidt argues, in an endearing fashion, that the German game theory experiment (people cooperate only when punishment threatens them) confirms the validity and necessity of the three forms of morality that conservatives uphold (authority, purity, loyalty), but that liberals fail to embrace.
5) Haidt then argues (to a self-identified liberal-majority audience), that thanks to his work, liberals should now recognize that they need conservatives to uphold Haidt’s universe of morality, especially those conservative moral pillars required to govern human societies (as based on the game theory evidence in 1). Haidt implies that he has now shown Americans the way to overcome their political clashes.
If we are to believe Haidt’s argument–and indeed he is an affable, authoritative elite white male, what seems more obvious is that there is no reason to see conservatives and liberals as yin and yang (as he claims they are at the end of his talk coaching the liberal audience to accept conservatism).
The logical conclusion to Haidt’s overdetermined set-up is that liberals are morally deficient and wholly superfluous, and that in order to achieve good governance, based on an accurate understanding of human nature as responsive only to punitive threat, we only need to defer to conservatives’ properly holistic judgment. To be moral, to make good decisions, we need to jettison liberalism, we need to get rid of the Enlightenment, is what this University of Virginia positive psychologist’s work actually logically implies.
This is a great example of the political utility of professional psychology in the US.
Far, far from being liberatory (OK, it’s liberatory for conservatives. But talk about superfluous, in this day and age of conservative hegemony.) or socially reconciling, Haidt’s project is politically conservative, and corrupt as he presents it as a path to social reconciliation, rather than political domination. The methods are weak and questionable on the grounds of selection bias and construct validity–outrageous, especially in light of both Haidt’s “psychologically happy,” conservative overt and latent conclusions. As if someone less influenced by conservatism would classify morality to produce the appearance that conservatives’ morality is more developed than anyone else’s. No, there’s no way to measure that so that anyone, regardless of their politics, would agree with your assumptions. As if the German example of the unqualified “necessity” of authoritarianism can’t be countered with hundreds of other studies that show the opposite. It’s just so much bullshit, with such high production values.
I applaud Ehrenreich and Hedges’ efforts to take these pos psych politics down. And Horowitz worries that academics aren’t conservative enough. It’s just political warfare all the time.
Alternative Happy (See how I did that?) Ending:
Haidt and followers are building conservative theory. Robin claims that conservatives only theorize when they feel the heat. Ergo, perhaps the proliferation of Haidt means the Left is credibly threatening to make headway.
Apparently, it’s gotten under the skin of the foundation professionals who support and promote Haidt’s effort to reconcile American liberals to conservative dominion, to subsume liberals under the conservative project. Hey, it’s the path of least resistance to preserving the union (and empire), which is apparently more important to professional liberals than anything else. How. Liberalism. Digs. Its. Own. Grave.
…Oh no wait. Now the ending isn’t happy anymore. Potential fix: Even if professional foundation liberals are hopeless suckers for an imperial cause, this long discussion may provide some clues as to how some members of the non-elite Right can be won over by the Left. There. Happy face.