More "Positive" Psychology Machinations

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.

Haidt Crimes

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 1: I predict this result would vary if it were replicated across different societies.

Methodological note 2: Inducing subject weariness in experiments does not equal real-world Weltschmertz.

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.

Wut? That is such shockingly flimsy evidence for that classic conservative premise, refuted a million times, a million different ways. What kind of Nazi would accept that prima facie?

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, crowd-pleasing fashion, that his conclusion (people cooperate only when punishment threatens them) from the German economist’s game theory experiment confirms the validity of his belief that conservatives have a full and valid moral system, and necessitates the three forms of morality that conservatives uphold (authority, purity, loyalty), but that liberals fail to embrace, while also implicitly validating the notion that liberals don’t have moral forms other than fairness and “care.”


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, not just because conservative morality is quantitatively bigger in Haidt’s view, but also because conservative moral pillars are required to govern human societies. This latter belief is founded upon Haidt’s interpretation of the game theory results in 1).

6) Haidt implies that he has now shown Americans the way to overcome their political clashes: By everyone affirming conservative moral leadership.

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 as the universal framework).

The actual, 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, German economist’s 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.

That is so positive.

This is a great example of the political utility of professional psychology in the US.

As well, it really shows the mind-blowingly unlimited credit American liberals are willing to give anyone of confident, comfortable disposition and above-average stature with a penis and a polished presentation style. Were I to write a self-help book for Success, that is the strategy formula I would definitely have to advise.

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 “positive” conservative overt and latent conclusions. As if someone less conservative would classify morality to produce the appearance that conservatives’ morality is more complex and developed than anyone else’s. (Do you hear the Frankfurt School researchers rolling in their graves? Look, despite Haidt’s posturing as a liberal, the only people who would even want to redo the Authoritarian Personality studies are White Power fascists.)

No, there’s no way to measure morality so that anyone, regardless of their politics, would agree with your assumptions about True Human Nature (Verified by one German economist’s experimental set up. So cheap and tawdry.) and the classification system you invent. Recognizing that his classification scheme is completely discretionary, emerges wholly out of Haidt’s conservative politics, the reliability, the replicability is trash. As if the German example of the “necessity” of authoritarianism can’t be countered with hundreds of other studies that show the opposite human nature (Here’s one I know of right off hand). Haidt produces scientistic bullshit, psych-marketed with high production values and a smiley-face brand.


I applaud Ehrenreich’s and Hedges’ political radar and efforts to take these Pos Psych politics down. Psychology is a consistently, politically-evil enterprise. And fragile Horowitz worries that academics aren’t conservative enough. It’s just political warfare all the time, all the way down.

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, the Left has 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.

2018 Update: Trump. O how we bask in the full spectrum of conservative morality now. End of conflict! End of politics! End of History! Let the reign of the Psychologist Kings commence!


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