political opinions, moral psychology, and persuasion(Haidt, TED)

In this TED interview, Jonathan Haidt sheds some light on why people hold the political views they do. It has implications for preachers and apologists of all kinds.

I think there are three basic principles of moral psychology, and I find it helpful to approach any new puzzle by applying them.

The first principle is intuitive primacy: Peoples’ judgments are based primarily on their intuitive reactions — on quick gut feelings, not on reasoning. This is how we make most decisions, and Malcolm Gladwell reviewed this research in Blink

The second principle of moral psychology is that moral thinking is for social doing: We engage in moral thinking not to find the truth, but to find arguments that support our intuitive judgments, so that we can defend ourselves if challenged. The crucial insight here comes from psychologist Tom Gilovich at Cornell, who says that when we want to believe a proposition, we ask, "Can I believe it?" — and we look only for evidence that the proposition might be true. If we find a single piece of evidence then we’re done. We stop. We have a reason we can trot out to support our belief. But if we don’t want to believe a proposition, we ask, "Must I believe it?" — and we look for an escape hatch, a single reason why maybe, just maybe, the proposition is false…

That brings us to the third principle, which is that morality binds and builds. I said in my TEDTalk that morality and politics are team sports. People aren’t just engaging in post-hoc rationalization to justify their individual feelings. Rather, moral reasoning and rationalizing are done in large part to help your team, and to show that you are a good member of your team. Moral teams tend to form around principles held to be sacred…

…logic plays little role in our moral lives. Moral claims and arguments function like gang signs — they show others what team you are on, and they let you share emotions with other people, which bonds you more closely together.

…Both sides [liberals and conservatives] care about life, but in different ways. Both sides live inside their own moral matrices. And just like in the movie The Matrix, morality is a "consensual hallucination" that is very hard to step out of. But moral psychology can help people to understand that there are moral motivations on all sides. People may not be logical, but few of them are crazy…

While it is useful to rebut charges and get your arguments out in circulation, you have to understand that arguments and evidence have little impact on people as long as their feelings tilt them against you. You’ve got to create trust and liking first, and then people will be willing to listen. People can believe pretty much whatever they want to believe about moral and political issues, as long as some other people near them believe it, so you have to focus on indirect methods to change what people want to believe. You have to get them to the point where they ask themselves "can I believe it?" about your claims, rather than about your opponents’ claims…

My main suggestion is to boil the plan down to a few easy-to-understand ideas, each of which has some intuitive moral content…When it comes to moral persuasion, the way to the head is through the heart.

Jonathan Haidt TED blog, 27 Sept 2009.(With video link to his 2009 talk)

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One thought on “political opinions, moral psychology, and persuasion(Haidt, TED)

  1. Jason says:

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