In the previous blog we opposed classical left and right wing myths like ‘society is structural unjust’ and ‘sole identity, authority and sanctity’. Both views can mask a counter enlightenment effect because they don’t enhance human flourishing and even enhance human suffering. Both are examples of classical progressophobia because they deny the intrinsic moral progress of mankind. The core problem is an ideology-based and the lack of an evidence-based kind of politics.
Is it possible to transcend these myths and the inherent opposition? The enterprise is feasible, but classical representative democracy is a stumbling block because it fuels an emotion- and intuition-based kind of decision-making. Trust in the chosen leader is the cornerstone of the election process: the blind assumption that your chosen leader will defend your aims and stakes in the political arena. There’s a vicious circle in two directions:
(I) It supposes that the we all, those who chose our leaders, know what’s best for ourselves.
(II) It supposes that the chosen leader knows what’s best for us.
Both directions of the election circle are moral unsure. In his milestone book ‘The Righteous Mind. Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion’ (2012), moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains why. Despite people have the same universal moral tastes, there’s a variation towards the left or the right of the political spectrum. Everyone has an innate flavour for care, freedom, fairness, loyalty, authority and sanctity. But we emphasize these six moral flavours in different extent. The foundation is neurological and not based on rational decision-making. My moral decision is the result of innateness and my steering ideological preference is the result of the same innateness. So, there’s a disconnection between my subjective moral innateness and what should be done from an objective and neutral moral perspective. The first can damage me without noticing this. Haidt’s work is a descriptive masterpiece, but it remains silent on the prescriptive level. What can we do with these precious insights? Several things can and should be done.
(I) We must/ should accept that there’s no gap between ‘what ought to be’ and science. As science marches on, more and more moral problems will be solved with scientific insights. It’s not hard to understand why this is the case. A valid moral decision enhances human flourishing and human flourishing can be reported, observed and even measured.
(II) Our moral tendencies can steer us away from flourishing. Because they are intuition-, emotion-based and not evidence-based. The assessment and the re- and re- and re- … assessment of our moral intuitions becomes key as I explained in my previous blog.
(III) A political leader becomes a man or a woman who constantly collaborates with laymen, professionals, scientists and the opposite political wing (!) to look for that concrete solution that enhances human flourishing. And that solution may be found, with absolute certainty, beyond the borders of owns moral innate tendencies. Charisma, bold speaking and alpha-postures are delusive traits which enhance classical tribalism. And tribalism is the result of intuitive moral decision-making because values hinge groups. The lesson to learn is that coalitions in the classical sense are dysfunctional because they enhance a moral blindness towards the political opposite. Coalitions should stretch to the extremes of the political spectrum and Haidt’s six moral receptors. The voter should be aware of his innate penchant towards the left or the right wing of the six moral receptors and how they prime his choice for this or another leader.
(IV) The superficial paradox seems that the conservative profile is the only profile that emphasises the six moral receptors. European liberalism and socialism emphasise care, fairness and freedom and less loyalty, authority and sanctity. Conservatism emphasises both sides of the spectrum (with a balanced emphasise on loyalty, authority and sanctity). Is conservatism the sole rescue towards moral paradise?
Well, it depends on how you define conservatism and what you do with it. Values are lurking around the corner again when we answer three questions:
(I) We are loyal to what? My group or the outgroup?
(II) We respect who’s authority? My local community or in extend the international community?
(III) What’s the content of sanctity? My values or the values of other groups.
The challenge becomes clear. There’s a tension between what is the case in my group and other groups. It’s clear that there is nothing wrong with loyalty, authority and sanctity as such, they hinge groups, but the content of them defines the borders between us and them. In a rapid evolving world static loyalty, authority and sanctity become a problem because we have to cooperate across the borders of different groups to handle today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. Okay, conservatism is the most balanced moral profile but it’s content has to shift together with the needs of society. Why? Because the borders of the groups have to shift. A contemporary conservatism is a progressive conservatism. Or, maybe we are looking for a conservative progressivism. Or, maybe are the differences between left and right, progressive and conservative, outlandish anachronisms because they are conservative and progressive in an old-fashioned way. What the hack!