More on Jonathan Haidt’s Tribal Moral Communities

The video of Jonathan Haidt’s talk on tribal moral communities (see here), has some interesting additions to the NYTimes report. He says that when scholarly articles that contravene the sacred values of the tribe are submitted to academic journals, reviewers and editors suddenly become super rigorous. More controls are needed, and more subjects. It’s not a representative sample, and the statistical techniques are inadequate.

This use of scientific rigor against theories that are disliked for deeper reasons is a theme of Chapter 2 of The Culture of Critique where it was also noted that standards were quite lax when it came to data that fit the leftist zeitgeist.

Franz Boas is Exhibit A:

Boas was the quintessential skeptic and an ardent defender of methodological rigor when it came to theories of cultural evolution and genetic influences on individual differences, yet “the burden of proof rested lightly upon Boas’s own shoulders” (White 1966, 12). Although Boas (like Freud; see Ch. 4) made his conjectures in a very dogmatic manner, his “historical reconstructions are inferences, guesses, and unsupported assertions [ranging] from the possible to the preposterous. Almost none is verifiable” (White 1966, 13). An unrelenting foe of generalization and theory construction, Boas nevertheless completely accepted the “absolute generalization at which [Margaret] Mead had arrived after probing for a few months into adolescent behavior on Samoa,” even though Mead’s results were contrary to previous research in the area (Freeman 1983, 291). Moreover, Boas uncritically allowed Ruth Benedict to distort his own data on the Kwakiutl (see Torrey 1992, 83). (pp. 27-28)

Boas may well have gone beyond scientific ethics completely by falsifying his famous data purporting to show environmental influences on skull size—data intended to undermine nativist fears about immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe.

Another example of an advocate of methodological rigor in service of the left is Richard Lewontin, the Jewish population biologist who used his position at Harvard to carry on a campaign against sociobiology and human behavior genetics. Also from Chapter 2 of CofC (pp. 45-46):

Lewontin rejects reductionistic scientific methods, such as quantitative behavioral genetics or the use of analysis of variance procedures, because they inevitably oversimplify real processes in their use of averages (Segersträle 1986, 2000). The result is a hyper-purism that settles for nothing less than absolute certainty and absolutely correct methodology, epistemology, and ontology. …

By adopting this philosophy of science, Lewontin is able to discredit attempts by scientists to develop theories and generalizations and thus, in the name of scientific rigor, avoid the possibility of any politically unacceptable scientific findings. Segersträle notes that, while using this theory as a weapon against biological views in the social sciences, Lewontin’s own empirical research in population biology has remained firmly within the reductionistic tradition.

Gould and Lewontin’s (1979) critique of adaptationism may also be viewed as an exemplar of the skeptical thrust of Jewish intellectual activity. Acknowledging the existence of adaptations, the argument effectively problematizes the status of any putative adaptation. Gould (e.g., 1994a) then goes from the possibility that any putative adaptation may simply be a “spandrel” that, like the architectural form from which its name derives, results from structural constraints imposed by true adaptations, to the remarkable suggestion that the human mind be viewed as a collection of such nonfunctional spandrels. … Gould’s larger agenda is to convince his audience that the human brain has not evolved to solve adaptive problems—a view anthropologist Vincent Sarich (1995) has termed “behavioral creationism.”

Ah yes, Stephen Jay Gould. To his credit, Haidt singles out Gould, another villain discussed extensively in Chapter 2 of CofC. At 41’00”, Haidt notes Gould’s statement that “there’s been no biological change in humans in 40,000 or 50,000 years. Everything we call culture and civilization have been built with the same body and brain.” As Haidt says, “Liberal politics demands that there be nothing more than trivial genetic differences between groups.”

Haidt then cites a paper co-authored by Henry Harpending (also a contributor to Frank Salter’s important On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethny, and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration) showing that in fact human evolution has speeded up in the last 20,000 years, from 10 to 100 times faster than previously. Critically, these changes are the result of natural selection, not random processes: The genetic changes  function to make humans better adapted to their environments, doubtless including traits like intelligence.  “Gould got it exactly wrong.”

In 1994 I went to a lecture by Gould to a large audience of developmental psychologists where he said pretty much the same thing. He made this statement with absolute confidence — as something so obviously true that no sane person could possibly doubt it. His lecture was full of razzle dazzle—three screens of slides with constantly changing visually interesting material and delivered with all the showmanship of a circus ringmaster. The audience ate it up—except for me. I was looking around gauging the expressions of credulity among the audience. Like a group of teenagers, this audience of Ph.D’s was enormously impressed by Gould’s pyrotechnics and presumably by his position as a famous Harvard professor of biology. The medium is the message.

Haidt explicitly advocates research on race differences and says that allowing conservatives into the field would result in a whole lot of research that is not  being done now. Exactly right. The problem with social psychology is not so much sins of commission as sins of omission. When Gould was asked whether his “passion against human sociobiology was linked to the fear that it was yet another tool which could be used for anti-semitic purposes, [he was] inclined to think that the opposition stemmed more from Marxism, and as it so contingently happens, most American Marxists are from Eastern European Jewish families” (see Ch. 2 of CofC,  p. 31). What exactly was going on in Gould’s brain when he said that? Social psychologists could begin to examine Jewish deception and self-deception on all kinds of issues. How does Jewish ethnicity influence statements of leftist universalism by people like Gould? We already have ample evidence that in fact most Jewish leftists had very strong ethnic commitments under a veneer of universalism (Ch. 3 of CofC), but the topic should be explored using the methods of social psychology.

And its not only Jewish leftists. I’d love to see the neocons hooked up to an MRI when they are expressing their heartfelt beliefs that the policies they advocate are in the interests of the United States and not at all influenced by their passionate attachment to Israel.

And it would nice to see the dozens of articles on how Whites are biased against Blacks balanced with articles on ethnocentrism among ethnic minorities, including Jews. How would Jews respond on tests of implicit associations—the tests where dozens of studies have shown that most Whites take longer to associate positive traits with Black people than with White people? How hard would it be for Jews to associate positive traits with Christian symbolism as opposed to Jewish symbolism? How hard would it be for Jews to associate positive traits with people who have blond hair? With people identified as German? Is it harder for Jews to associate positive traits with Christianity than it is for non-Jews to associate positive traits with Judaism? I’d be willing to bet the house on that one.

This doubtless relates to ethnic networking among Jews. How does Jewish ethnic networking operate at the psychological level, say when interviewing job applicants for positions in a company or in university admissions? What are the subtle differences in facial, postural, and vocal cues and in MRI brain patterns when Jews interview Jews versus people from European backgrounds?

Haidt’s lecture is a step in the right direction. But it’s clearly going to be a long while before social psychology begins to examine the many taboo subjects that don’t fit with their liberal world view. And if someone did such research, it would surely be rejected because it failed to meet the lofty scientific standards of the social psychology tribal moral community.

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