The Righteous Mind 3 - The Death of Logic

If emotions sway voters, conservatives need to start using them.

This series has used the insights of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt to shed light on our current intractable problem: why conservatism is failing to stem the rising tide of Leftism across America and the West, and why we're not making any headway against Islam either.  Simply put: human beings make near-instantaneous emotional moral judgments derived from their earliest experiences and teaching, which can only be changed by thorough indoctrination throughout childhood, and which are only with great difficulty able to be altered by reason.  For almost everyone, their "rational mind" is used merely to provide plausible-sounding reasons for doing and believing whatever their emotions have already decided on.

Prof. Haidt's revealing experiment, which we discussed in the first article in this series, was a series of thought questions he presented to experimental subjects, asking them to determine whether various things were right and wrong and why.  One was a brief story of a brother and sister who, when alone one night during college, decided to have sex together.  Both used birth control, nobody else ever knew about it, and they never did it again, simply saving it as a fond memory.

Almost every interview subject believed this was inherently wrong, even though the rational arguments generally leveled at incest didn't apply: there could be no defective children since birth control was used and nobody could be offended since nobody else knew about it.  Respondents either came up with increasingly implausible justifications for condemning the incestuous pair, or fell back flummoxed into sputtering "It's just wrong, that's all!"

That, in and of itself, is quite revealing of our current culture, because the fact is that there's a perfectly logical reason why incest is wrong which our Founders would have been perfectly familiar with:

None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD.  The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.  The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness.  The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover.

- Leviticus 18: 6-9

The chapter goes on in this vein for quite some ways, explicitly spelling out all the various familiar relationships which we now know as "incest" and which have been generally forbidden both in law and in practice for a long, long time.  There you have it: incest is wrong because God says so.

What, you don't find that persuasive?

The Enlightenment and Our Founders' World

It can be extremely difficult for modern atheistic, relativistic Americans to even comprehend where religious people are coming from.  Despite our leader's lack of belief in the power of belief, it's a simple fact that for all of human history including today, the overwhelming majority of human beings have believed in all-powerful creator god(s) to which, at some level, they were personally responsible.

If that's your belief - and remember, statistically speaking it is almost every human being's belief - then it's quite rational to try to figure out whatever rules your god(s) may have laid down, the better to stay on his good side or at least stay out of his way.  Again, virtually every culture has come up with an answer to this this all-important question, from the tribal taboos of primitives to the intricate rationales of Rabbinical laws to, yes, the Koran and the Bible.

Oral traditions, by their nature, can be malleable and prone to manipulation.  Once you have a standardized written Word of God, though, it becomes the ultimate Authority in much the same way as scientific evidence now is for many people.  Indeed, virtually all of the founders of modern science were devout Christians who approached the Bible with the same rationality that they approached the natural world of scientific discovery - that is, with the assumption that they both reflected absolute Truth with a capital T, and that intently studying them would inevitably reveal that Truth to the student.

Sir Isaac Newton, for example, wrote more on theology than he did on science.  In his legendary work Principia Mathematica he stated, "The most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being."

Of course, everyone in Newton's day believed in God, but it was because he believed in a God of order and method that Newton believed mankind could study and understand that order.  From this foundational belief in order and repeatability comes all of science itself.

Our Founders were familiar with this idea about the intersection of science, logic, and theology.  Benjamin Franklin was certainly not someone that modern fundamentalist Christians would have got along with, but he made plain his belief in an orderly God much like that of Newton.  The same goes for Jefferson and Washington; the rest of our Founders were even more religious, and were rational because of their belief in a logical, methodical God.

The analytical legal skills required to write an enduring Constitution are, when you think about it, very much the same as the skills required to ferret the intention of an Almighty God out of a rather long and somewhat complex Book Authored by Him - which is exactly what almost all of them believed the Bible to be.

Even Thomas Jefferson with his famous "Jefferson's Bible" out of which he'd cut passages he didn't agree with, believed that parts of the Bible were the accurate Word of God and that thorough study could discern them.  To him it was all the more important to carefully read and listen to what those words were saying, just as "strict constructionists" believe that our Constitution was written to clearly express a specific intent of our Founders to which the people of America subscribed.

If, on the other hand, you're like most modern Westerners and believe that "it's all relative" and "it all depends," not only wouldn't you be able to properly interpret the Constitution in anything like its intended sense, you wouldn't be able to write one.  You couldn't come up with the scientific method either, because like Humpty Dumpty, you believe that "words mean what I choose them to mean - neither more nor less."

But scientific research demands belief in the abstract existence of absolute truth which can be found out though repeatable scientific experiments.  If you don't believe that there is such a thing, how or why would you look for it?

The rule of law requires the same thing - the same law must be interpreted the same way by different judges in different cases over many years, in order for predictable and regular justice to be seen to be done.  For an unchanged law to suddenly take on an entirely new meaning because some judge miraculously discerns a new twist that's been hiding undetected for decades makes a mockery of the very concept of law.

Just look at current implementations of Obamacare: the ink is hardly dry on the law, and already Mr. Obama is suspending this and reinterpreting that.  The written words mean nothing at all.  It would have been more honest for Congress to simply pass a law saying "Obama, do whatever you think best to clean up this mess;" that's what's happening anyway.  Think of all the trees we'd have saved by not bothering to print the longer version of the law!  Why bother?  It's being ignored anyway.

Back to Basics - If You Believe In Them

Why does this matter?  Because in one absolutely fundamental way, conservatives are very different from Western leftists, but very much like most everybody else in the world: We believe that there is a bottom line, a fundamental Truth, and that it can be found - and that belief, inherently, is a requirement for the rule of law and for science.

Not all religious types would agree that incest is always wrong because the Bible says so.  Muslims might say it's wrong because the Koran says so:

Prohibited to you (for marriage) are: your mothers, daughters, sisters; father's sisters, mother's sisters; brother's daughters, sister's daughters; foster-mothers (who gave you suck), foster-sisters; your wives' mothers; your step-daughters under your guardianship, born of your wives to whom ye have gone, no prohibition if ye have not gone in; (those who have been) wives of your sons proceeding from your loins; and two sisters in wedlock at one and the same time, except for what is past; for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

 - Surah 4:23

Almost all conservatives of every stripe would agree that, as Rush Limbaugh says, "words mean things."  There is a bottom line somewhere, in principle, we just have to find it.  In the context of American government, that bottom line is our Constitution, and what it says has to matter.

For the Left, modern elites, and academe, belief in absolutes is the only true blasphemy.  The modern liberal culture's single holy doctrine is that anything goes, except the belief that anything does not go.

This has been indoctrinated into our children, by degrees, since around 1970.  We see the results today.  The natural "ick" of such things as homosexuality has been largely replaced by an "ick" for condemning homosexuality.

In one sense, Prof. Haidt's findings explain why conservatism is so continually losing ground: we've lost control over what our children are being steeped in.  In another sense, Prof. Haidt's explanation of the power of automatic emotional responses over apparent rationality explains otherwise inexplicable events like Mr. Obama's re-election.

Most of all, if Prof. Haidt is right, we can see the impending doom of leftism and all its works.  How long has conservatism observed that liberalism simply doesn't work - that leftist welfare programs create more poverty, that "giving peace a chance" creates more war and violence, that opening the door to any imaginable sexual practice creates more misery, broken lives, abandoned feral children, and disease than we had before?  Yet no amount of evidence will persuade the Left to change course one iota.

Because, as Prof. Haidt predicts, the emotional response is nearly immune to rational argument.  It needs to be attacked with a countervailing emotional response of some kind, something practically no conservatives know how to do.

Emotion Reigns Supreme!

Who was the most successful conservative American leader of modern times?  Ronald Reagan, of course.  It's no accident that he was also by far the most emotional, the most able to connect on a personal level.  Reagan didn't roll out reams of statistics or slam a six-inch-thick briefing book on the table.  He told stories that made people laugh - and in doing so, he made them decide to vote for him on an emotional, personal level.

And then, once the emotions had already made their decision - only then did voters' rational minds setting to work, seeking out logical reasons to justify the decision they had already made.  Ronald Reagan turned liberals' emotional magic back on them, to amazing effect.

Prof. Haidt's work has made us fundamentally re-examine what we do here at Scragged.  What is the hallmark of most of our writing?  Logical argument, expositional debate, reasoned examination of the facts.

Yet according to Prof. Haidt's findings, all that will serve only to confirm in their beliefs people who already agree with our positions.  That's all very well, but seeing as conservatives are now definitely in the minority, it's not going to do our nation a bit of good come voting day.

Instead, what's needed are stories, emotional appeals, illogical pleas that pull at people's heartstrings, or better yet, that trigger whatever might remain of the "ick" factor as applied to liberal wishes.  Reagan did that too: his stories of the Chicago "welfare queen" helped turn voters against our ever-growing welfare state, at least for a time:

She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran's benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.

In point of fact, Mr. Reagan's "welfare queen" was hardly typical if she existed at all, as such leftist shills as Paul Krugman hastened to point out.  But their (apparently) rational arguments get nowhere against Reagan's emotional appeal to the "ick" factor of fraud, theft, and the undeserving getting benefits paid for by the hard-working.

It grates on us to have to say this, but it's hard to argue with Mr. Reagan's success combined with Prof. Haidt's evidence and rational arguments.  We need to stop being so logical and start being more emotional if we're ever going to get anywhere.

So here's a picture of a cute kitten being threatened by a thug who ought to be in jail but was released by a bleeding-heart liberal.  Will you vote for us now?

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

Ha, like the kitten! But it looks like the Dems have already done you one better in promoting Obamacare:

September 26, 2013 9:26 PM
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