Jonathan Haidt: The moral roots of liberals and conservatives (2)
So, you might say, OK, there are these differences between liberals and conservatives, but what makes those three other foundations moral?
Aren't those just the foundations of xenophobia and authoritarianism and Puritanism? What makes them moral? The answer, I think, is contained in this incredible triptych from Hieronymus Bosch, "The Garden of Earthly Delights." In the first panel, we see the moment of creation. All is ordered, all is beautiful, all the people and animals are doing what they're supposed to be doing, where they're supposed to be. But then, given the way of the world, things change. We get every person doing whatever he wants, with every aperture of every other person and every other animal. Some of you might recognize this as the '60s. (Laughter) But the '60s inevitably gives way to the '70s, where the cuttings of the apertures hurt a little bit more. Of course, Bosch called this hell. So this triptych, these three panels portray the timeless truth that order tends to decay.
The truth of social entropy. But lest you think this is just some part of the Christian imagination where Christians have this weird problem with pleasure, here's the same story, the same progression, told in a paper that was published in Nature a few years ago, in which Ernst Fehr and Simon Gachter had people play a commons dilemma. A game in which you give people money, and then, on each round of the game, they can put money into a common pot, and then the experimenter doubles what's in there, and then it's all divided among the players. So it's a really nice analog for all sorts of environmental issues, where we're asking people to make a sacrifice and they themselves don't really benefit from their own sacrifice. But you really want everybody else to sacrifice, but everybody has a temptation to a free ride. And what happens is that, at first, people start off reasonably cooperative -- and this is all played anonymously. On the first round, people give about half of the money that they can. But they quickly see, "You know what, other people aren't doing so much though. I don't want to be a sucker. I'm not going to cooperate." And so cooperation quickly decays from reasonably good, down to close to zero. But then -- and here's the trick -- Fehr and Gachter said, on the seventh round, they told people, "You know what?
New rule. If you want to give some of your own money to punish people who aren't contributing, you can do that." And as soon as people heard about the punishment issue going on, cooperation shoots up. It shoots up and it keeps going up. There's a lot of research showing that to solve cooperative problems, it really helps. It's not enough to just appeal to people's good motives. It really helps to have some sort of punishment. Even if it's just shame or embarrassment or gossip, you need some sort of punishment to bring people, when they're in large groups, to cooperate. There's even some recent research suggesting that religion -- priming God, making people think about God -- often, in some situations, leads to more cooperative, more pro-social behavior. Some people think that religion is an adaptation evolved both by cultural and biological evolution to make groups to cohere, in part for the purpose of trusting each other, and then being more effective at competing with other groups.
I think that's probably right, although this is a controversial issue. But I'm particularly interested in religion, and the origin of religion, and in what it does to us and for us. Because I think that the greatest wonder in the world is not the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is really simple. It's just a lot of rock, and then a lot of water and wind, and a lot of time, and you get the Grand Canyon. It's not that complicated. This is what's really complicated, that there were people living in places like the Grand Canyon, cooperating with each other, or on the savannahs of Africa, or on the frozen shores of Alaska, and then some of these villages grew into the mighty cities of Babylon, and Rome, and Tenochtitlan. How did this happen? This is an absolute miracle, much harder to explain than the Grand Canyon. The answer, I think, is that they used every tool in the toolbox.
It took all of our moral psychology to create these cooperative groups. Yes, you do need to be concerned about harm, you do need a psychology of justice. But it really helps to organize a group if you can have sub-groups, and if those sub-groups have some internal structure, and if you have some ideology that tells people to suppress their carnality, to pursue higher, nobler ends. And now we get to the crux of the disagreement between liberals and conservatives. Because liberals reject three of these foundations. They say "No, let's celebrate diversity, not common in-group membership." They say, "Let's question authority." And they say, "Keep your laws off my body. Liberals have very noble motives for doing this.
Traditional authority, traditional morality can be quite repressive, and restrictive to those at the bottom, to women, to people that don't fit in. So liberals speak for the weak and oppressed. They want change and justice, even at the risk of chaos. This guy's shirt says, "Stop bitching, start a revolution." If you're high in openness to experience, revolution is good, it's change, it's fun. Conservatives, on the other hand, speak for institutions and traditions. They want order, even at some cost to those at the bottom. The great conservative insight is that order is really hard to achieve. It's really precious, and it's really easy to lose. So as Edmund Burke said, "The restraints on men, as well as their liberties, are to be reckoned among their rights." This was after the chaos of the French Revolution. So once you see this -- once you see that liberals and conservatives both have something to contribute, that they form a balance on change versus stability -- then I think the way is open to step outside the moral matrix. This is the great insight that all the Asian religions have attained.
Think about yin and yang. Yin and yang aren't enemies. Yin and yang don't hate each other. Yin and yang are both necessary, like night and day, for the functioning of the world. You find the same thing in Hinduism. There are many high gods in Hinduism. Two of them are Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. This image actually is both of those gods sharing the same body. You have the markings of Vishnu on the left, so we could think of Vishnu as the conservative god. You have the markings of Shiva on the right, Shiva's the liberal god. And they work together. You find the same thing in Buddhism. These two stanzas contain, I think, the deepest insights that have ever been attained into moral psychology. From the Zen master Seng-ts'an: "If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The struggle between for and against is the mind's worst disease." Now unfortunately, it's a disease that has been caught by many of the world's leaders. But before you feel superior to George Bush, before you throw a stone, ask yourself, do you accept this? Do you accept stepping out of the battle of good and evil? Can you be not for or against anything? So, what's the point?
What should you do? Well, if you take the greatest insights from ancient Asian philosophies and religions, and you combine them with the latest research on moral psychology, I think you come to these conclusions: that our righteous minds were designed by evolution to unite us into teams, to divide us against other teams and then to blind us to the truth. So what should you do? Am I telling you to not strive? Am I telling you to embrace Seng-ts'an and stop, stop with this struggle of for and against? No, absolutely not. I'm not saying that. This is an amazing group of people who are doing so much, using so much of their talent, their brilliance, their energy, their money, to make the world a better place, to fight -- to fight wrongs, to solve problems. But as we learned from Samantha Power, in her story about Sergio Vieira de Mello, you can't just go charging in, saying, "You're wrong, and I'm right.
Because, as we just heard, everybody thinks they are right. A lot of the problems we have to solve are problems that require us to change other people. And if you want to change other people, a much better way to do it is to first understand who we are -- understand our moral psychology, understand that we all think we're right -- and then step out, even if it's just for a moment, step out -- check in with Seng-ts'an. Step out of the moral matrix, just try to see it as a struggle playing out, in which everybody does think they're right, and everybody, at least, has some reasons -- even if you disagree with them -- everybody has some reasons for what they're doing. Step out. And if you do that, that's the essential move to cultivate moral humility, to get yourself out of this self-righteousness, which is the normal human condition. Think about the Dalai Lama. Think about the enormous moral authority of the Dalai Lama -- and it comes from his moral humility. So I think the point -- the point of my talk, and I think the point of TED -- is that this is a group that is passionately engaged in the pursuit of changing the world for the better.
People here are passionately engaged in trying to make the world a better place. But there is also a passionate commitment to the truth. And so I think that the answer is to use that passionate commitment to the truth to try to turn it into a better future for us all. Thank you.