Psycho-Conservatism: What it Is, When to Doubt It

Epistemic status: I’m being emphatic for clarity here, not because I’m super confident.

I’m noticing that a large swath of the right-of-center infovore world has come around to a kind of consensus, and nobody has named it yet.

Basically, I’m pointing at the beliefs that Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind , The Happiness Hypothesis), Jordan Peterson (Maps of Meaning), and Geoffrey Miller (The Mating Mind) have in common.

All of a sudden, it seemed like everybody “centrist” or “conservative” I knew was quoting Haidt or linking videos by Peterson.

(In absolute terms Peterson isn’t that famous — his videos get hundreds of thousands of Youtube views, about half as popular as the most popular Hearthstone streamer. There’s a whole universe of people who aren’t in the culture-and-politics fandom at all.  But among those who are, Peterson seems highly influential.)

All three of these men are psychology professors, which is why I’m calling the intersection of their views psycho-conservatism. Haidt is a social psychologist, Peterson is a Jungian, and Miller is an evolutionary psychologist.

Psycho-conservatism is mostly about human nature.  It says that humans have a given, observable, evolved nature; that this nature isn’t always pretty (we are frequently irrational, deceptive, and self-centered); and that human nature’s requirements place limits on what we can do with culture or society.  Often, traditional wisdom is valuable because it is a good fit for human nature. Often, utopian modern changes in society fail because they don’t fit human nature well.

This is, of course, a small-c conservative view: it looks to the past for inspiration, and it’s skeptical of radical changes. It differs from other types of conservatism in that it gets most of its evidence from psychology — whether using empirical experiments (as Haidt does) or evolutionary arguments (as Miller does).  Psycho-conservatives have a great deal of respect for religion, but they don’t speak on religious grounds themselves; they’re more likely to argue that religion is adaptive or socially beneficial or that we’re “wired for it.”

Psycho-conservatism is also methodologically skeptical.  In the wake of the psychology replication crisis, it’s reasonable to become very, very doubtful of the social sciences in general.  What do we really know about what makes people tick? Not much.  In such an environment, it makes sense to drastically raise your standards for evidence.  Look for the most replicated and hard-to-fudge empirical findings.  (This may lead you to the literature on IQ and behavioral genetics, and heritable, stable phenomena like the Big Five personality dimensions.) Look for commonalities between cultures across really long time periods.  Look for evidence about the ancestral environment, which constituted most of humans’ time on Earth. Try to find ways to sidestep the bias of our present day and location.

This is the obvious thing to do, as a first pass, in an environment of untrustworthy information.

It’s what I do when I try to learn about biology — err on the side of being pickier, look for overwhelming and hard-to-fake evidence, look for ideas supported by multiple independent lines of evidence (especially evolutionary evidence and evidence across species.)

If you do this with psychology, you end up with an attempt to get a sort of core summary of what we can be most confident about in human nature.

Psycho-conservatives also wind up sharing a set of distinctive political and cultural concerns:

  • Concern that modern culture doesn’t meet most people’s psychological needs.
  • A fair amount of sympathy for values like authority, tradition, and loyalty.
  • Belief that science on IQ and human evolution is being suppressed in favor of less accurate egalitarian theories.
  • Belief that illiberal left-wing activism on college campuses is an important social problem.
  • Disagreement with most contemporary feminism, LGBT activism, and anti-racist activism
  • A general attitude that it’s better to be sunny, successful, and persuasive than aggrieved; disapproval of the “culture of victimhood”
  • Basically no public affiliation with the current Republican Party
  • Moderate or silent on “traditional” political controversies like abortion, gov’t spending, war, etc.
  • Interested in building more national or cultural unity (as opposed to polarization)

Where are the weaknesses in psycho-conservatism?

I just said above that a skeptical methodology regarding “human nature” makes a lot of sense, and is kind of the obvious epistemic stance. But I’m not really a psycho-conservative myself.  So where might this general outlook go wrong?

  1. When we actually do know what we’re talking about.

If you used evolved tacit knowledge, the verdict of history, and only the strongest empirical evidence, and were skeptical of everything else, you’d correctly conclude that in general, things shaped like airplanes don’t fly.  The reason airplanes do fly is that if you shape their wings just right, you hit a tiny part of the parameter space where lift can outbalance the force of gravity.  “Things roughly like airplanes” don’t fly, as a rule; it’s airplanes in particular that fly.

Highly skeptical, conservative methodology gives you rough, general rules that you can be pretty confident won’t be totally wrong. It doesn’t guarantee that there can’t be exceptions that your first-pass methods won’t reach.  For instance, in the case of human nature:

  • It could turn out that one can engineer better-than-historically-normal outcomes even though, as a general rule, most things in the reference class don’t work
    • Education and parenting don’t empirically matter much for life outcomes, but there may be exceptional teaching or parenting methods — just don’t expect them to be easy to implement en masse
    • Avoiding lead exposure massively increases IQ; there may be other biological interventions out there that allow us to do better than “default human nature”
  • Some minority of people are going to have “human natures” very different from your rough, overall heuristics; statistical phenomena don’t always apply to individuals
  • Modern conditions, which are really anomalous, can result in behaviors being adaptive that really weren’t in ancestral or historical conditions, so “deep history” or evolutionary arguments for what humans should do are less applicable today

Basically, the heuristics you get out of methodological conservatism make sense as a first pass, but while they’re robust, they’re very fuzzy.  In a particular situation where you know the details, it may make sense to say “no thanks, I’ve checked the ancestral wisdom and the statistical trends and they don’t actually make sense here.”

2. When psycho-conservatives don’t actually get the facts right.

Sometimes, your summary of “cultural universals” isn’t really universal.  Sometimes, your experimental studies are on shaky ground. (Haidt’s Moral Foundations don’t emerge organically from factor analysis the way Big Five personality traits do.)  Even though the overall strategy of being skeptical about human nature makes sense, the execution can fail in various places.

Conservatives tend to think that patriarchy is (apart from very recently) a human universal, but it really isn’t; hunter-gatherer and hoe cultures have done without it for most of humanity’s existence.

Lots of people assume that government is a human universal, but it isn’t; nation-states are historically quite modern, and even monarchy is far from universal. (Germanic tribes as well as hunter-gatherers and pastoralists around the world were governed by councils and war-leaders rather than kings; Medieval Iceland had a fairly successful anarchy; the Bible is a story of pastoralist tribes transitioning to monarchy, and the results are not represented sympathetically!)

It’s hard to actually compensate for parochial bias and look for a genuinely universal property of human nature, and psycho-conservatives deserve critique when they fail at that mission.

3. When A Principle Is At Stake

Knowledge of human nature can tell you the likely consequences of what you’re doing, and that should inform your strategy.

But sometimes, human nature is terrible.

All the evidence in the world that people usually do something, or that we evolved to do something, doesn’t mean we should do it.

The naturalistic fallacy isn’t exactly a fallacy; natural behaviors are far more likely to be feasible and sustainable than arbitrary hypothetical behaviors, and so if you’re trying to set ideal norms you don’t want them to be totally out of touch with human nature.  But I tend to think that human values emerge and expand from evolutionary pressures rather than being bound wholly to them; we are godshatter.

Sometimes, you gotta say, “I don’t care about the balance of nature and history, this is wrong, what we should do is something else.”  And the psycho-conservative will say “You know you’re probably gonna fail, right?”

At which point you smile, and say, “Probably.”

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29 thoughts on “Psycho-Conservatism: What it Is, When to Doubt It

  1. One distinction that seems very important to me, and which I don’t see made often enough by the psycho-conservatives, is “human nature” as a claim about negligible variance vs. human nature as a claim about lack of malleability. Sometimes when people say “X is human nature,” they mean that social engineering to try to discourage X will fail; sometimes they mean “it is a good approximation to say all humans are X and always have been.” These are distinct claims, and neither one implies the other. (Low variance across many societies and eras suggests lack of malleability, but only if some societies actually did things that someone might think would affect X. Lack of malleability is perfectly compatible with high variability: take any trait that is largely genetically determined, but which does vary by genotype.)

    For a concrete example, consider handedness. Handedness is not very malleable: attempts to get left-handers to switch to being right-handed have been are, from what I have read, rarely successful (here’s one paper). But both phenotypes exist, and neither one is “human nature” by itself. “All humans are right-handed” is a better approximation than the reverse (and a serviceable one under some pragmatic circumstances) but is clearly far too coarser an approximation than people expect from human nature claims. (“It is human nature to be right-handed” sounds absurd.)

    To speculate a bit, I think a lot of people have trouble with the idea of population variance, at least for traits they aren’t used to thinking of as variable, and so claims of non-negligible variance often get interpreted as malleability claims. This is how I interpret some disputes over LGBT acceptance and over beauty standards: higher visibility for a non-modal trait gets interpreted as social engineering to make the trait (closer to) modal, rather than mere insistence that the trait’s existence should not be ignored.

  2. This was a good analysis. I think leftists like myself are inherently extra skeptical of the “human nature” style arguments of psycho-conservatism because how often we’ve encountered them in the past – the world was told the divine right of kings and feudalism were “just human nature” – slavery and Jim Crow were “just human nature” – and so on and so on. These arguments seemed quite convincing at the times, and they were often made by people with the air of intellectual and moral authority. And now we are told by the next line of characters that neoliberal capitalism and poverty and every variable associated with gender and an obsession with jingoistic nationalism are things we must accept because they’re just simply “human nature” – and I think we’re right to be extremely suspicious.

    • I’m not sure why “most convincing arguments of form X are wrong” should count as a general objection to arguments of form X. Most convincing arguments are wrong. It may be that arguments of form X are disproportionately likely to be wrong, but if we allow “X are disproportionately likely to Y” as an acceptable concern about X…

  3. I’m pretty close to your description of psychoconservatism. My own take differs from your description in a few ways:

    – My default expectation about social interventions is similar to what Freddie Deboer described as mechanism agnostic low plasticity realism. We’ve been trying to use interventions to eliminate obesity, racism, poor school performance, criminal recidivism, and any number of other sins for decades now. The success of these efforts has been limited to negligible. A novel, scalable intervention might be found, but at this point the long history of failures leads me to put the burden of proof on the optimists.

    – My default expectation is that the long boom of the 17th – 20th centuries is leveling off. The global population has gone from ~3 billion to 7+ billion in my lifetime, and that sort of growth is unsustainable. My basic model of the industrial age is that the development of fossil fuels greatly expanded the carrying capacity of the planet for humans, but we’re hitting hard limits. I expect the average quality of life in the 22nd century to be considerably worse than in the 20th, even if we somehow avoid a major nuclear war and similar catastrophes.

    – Because of the second bullet, I tend to see identitarian concerns as at best a meaningless distraction and often a psychologically unhealthy displacement of our sense of powerlessness. We can’t stop global warming or fix the economy, so we take it out on country music fans.

    – I don’t have solutions, and as far as I can tell neither does anyone else. Good luck.

  4. At which point you smile, and say, “Probably.”

    At what point can we decide to act as if your proposed solution won’t work? We’ve tried to close the IQ gap for quite some time, and failed. I don’t think it’s impossible to raise IQ in the same way I don’t think it’s impossible to reverse aging or send a starship to Alpha Centauri – but at some point we have to say, for the next several decades there PROBABLY won’t be a solution so we must act and plan within the implied constraints!

    The problem we reactionaries have is often not with the idea that it is POSSIBLE to do x y z amazing thing, but the idea that we should act as if x y z amazing thing is just around the corner, and if we don’t then we are racist sexist bigots &c. Then there’s the issue that some of us don’t think x y z amazing thing is desirable. There the accusation of bigotry rings more true, and I have mixed allegiances along that line of contact… Both sides could benefit from making efforts to demonstrate rather than just assert that their ideals are worthwhile.

    Avoiding lead exposure massively increases IQ

    It seems like iodine deficiency is a much more clear-cut case where we’ve seen large improvements for large numbers of people. Lead poisoning was never that common. The idea that we’ve seen large benefits from removing the very low level of exposure caused by leaded gasoline is, I believe, dubious. The ban is still probably a good idea – even minute effects on large numbers of people are worth addressing.

    Yet while helpful overall, such measures have slim prospects of eliminating IQ gaps. If it helps smart folks about as much as it helps slower folks, the differences remain. To address the inequality its implications, you need something that makes the slower folks catch up en masse, which is a lot harder. Steroids, for example, despite providing a way for the genetically disadvantaged to become SWOLE BEASTS, probably increase the gap between the strong and the weak, because the people who are interested in taking roids are generally the people who were already lifting heavy. Similarly, if we actually do come up with a drug or treatment to boost IQ, very likely the people who will be on it like white on rice will be the smartypants.

    we are godshatter

    Humanity is coming down from a vision blinding vistas of opportunity. The light has left people dizzied and blind. Everything seems possible – yet people stumble, feel jolts of pain and confusion.

    A new movement stirs in answer. We look at the world through the lens of limitation, rather than possibility. We point out that engineering successes result from understanding and accepting the limits of the materials from which they are wrought, the strain – failure probability curve that dictates safety factors, the need to rely mostly on known principles while moving into the unknown with only a few design elements at once, the need for repeated testing and recognition of the significance of failure. It is the understanding and acceptance of limitations – of materials and of knowledge – that led to the vast fleet of jets constantly crisscrossing the globe, not wild-eyed imaginings alone. You must be grounded to reach far or lift heavy.

    The light must be tempered with shadow – contrast and sharp edges brought back to humanity’s vision. We shall rise to this occasion! Clarity shall be restored by this DARK ENLIGHTENMENT.

    • Your comment seems a bit bombastic, but I agree that the original post demonstrates an insufficient understanding that failure can have serious consequences. The example of Hillary Clinton is instructive. She spent most of her adult life fighting for a set of principles, but the most consequential thing she ever did was fail. America would be significantly better off if she’d spent the time watching Netflix (any other Democratic candidate probably would have won). When you fight and you lose, things get worse.

      • Most of the time I applaud fighting and losing. I have a problem with a malignant value system that despairs when exposed to the limitations of our world, probably caused by the takeover of maternal harm/care morality. People have been overprotected, hoodwinked into ignoring the pointed gun behind superficially benign impositions because that gun fires less and less frequently. Things that could go unsaid in the past have been forgotten. The nature of life is that most of us – most lineages – are gonna get shoved off the island, and cloaking that process in rules and ritual makes it no less deadly. The worst burns go so deep that they leave the area numb. Such mercies are usually short-lived. Vast, dull misery accompanies the abandonment of old, evolutionarily viable value-systems.

        A few more thoughts on the linked gotshatter essay:

        “Before the 20th century, not a single human being had an explicit concept of “inclusive genetic fitness”, the sole and absolute obsession of the blind idiot god. We have no instinctive revulsion of condoms or oral sex. Our brains, those supreme reproductive organs, don’t perform a check for reproductive efficacy before granting us sexual pleasure.”

        Do not count your chickens before they hatch. The ‘blind’ god will merrily torture many who think they have escaped his will unscathed. Some pleasure is given up front, but the lion’s share is wisely withheld and released parsimoniously. Many childless libertines live out their twilight years in lonely agony.

        “Somewhere along the line, we evolved tastes for novelty, complexity, elegance, and challenge – tastes that judge the blind idiot god’s monomaniacal focus, and find it aesthetically unsatisfying.”

        Weak men rest on the laurels of their ancestors. An ugly sight, but temporary. You spit into a tsunami, feeling smug – soon you won’t be smug, or won’t be feeling.

        “So humans love the taste of sugar and fat, and we love our sons and daughters. We seek social status, and sex. We sing and dance and play. We learn for the love of learning.”

        All these things and more will die, if they do not bring ruin upon the competition. Love exists to put something over those who aren’t loved. The mother bear nurses and protects her cub so it will grow up stronger, so it will push out other mother bears and their cubs into hungry darkness. Delete this and you have deleted love. That which is causeless does not last.

        A major flaw with this sort of reasoning – ‘Oh, look at x y z clearly evolutionarily harmful behavior manifesting! We aren’t evolution-bots, haha silly!’ – is forgetting the value of simplicity. Inefficiencies are often worth it if they spring from a system that is overall more robust and cheaper. You can say – hey, wouldn’t it be just strictly better if instead of just raising whatever hatches in your nest you had sophisticated relatedness-sensing functionality? Well, yes, if that functionality is costless. But it never is. Anything that makes the basic maternal instinct more complicated has potential to gum up the works. The same goes for this idea that certain raw instincts are evolutionary ‘mistakes’ – it hasn’t been made clear, at all, that the instincts that make us crave fast food are actually worth ditching for something harder for malicious entities to game. Sure, we can see some bad results from that vuln right now, but we need to weigh that against the likely long term cost of such adaptation – not worth it unless this will be exploited for a very long time, which seems unlikely from a number of angles. I have similar thoughts on instinctive revulsion to contraception.

        Humans are much more elegantly railroaded competing machines than they are given credit for. They are stumbling in incredibly bizarre circumstances. What that essay does is akin to saying – ‘pff, eyes! all they do is cause a great deal of pain and distraction!’ in the midst of a sandstorm (except he’s saying YAY, look how eyes have all these wonderful modalities that AREN’T seeing!). Overall we’re pretty solidly built to stay on track. And that’s good, because we’ll need to get back on and stay on if we are to survive.

      • Re Ilkarnal: Most of the time I applaud fighting and losing.
        That’s probably because you’ve never lost when it mattered. It sucks.
        Excessive timidity is a problem, but it’s usually not the problem that contemporary Americans have. Rather the opposite.

  5. So I wondered Geoffrey who?, and followed the link to The Mating Mind on Amazon.

    First customer review:
    Very interesting read. Would recommend this to anyone getting into the pick up community if that even still exists. If not just read this so your be that much more smarter before you had read the book.

    Yeah, we want to be that much more smarter don’t we?

      • “The book itself is a lot better than that comment would suggest.”
        I’m not surprised – that remark was just too stunning not to share IMO. The fault I see in much evolutionary psychology (which I think might be wondrously beneficial if used correctly) is the attraction of low hanging fruit. If anything has to do with sex, then it is often trivial to make a plausible evolutionary argument about it. Plausible doesn’t mean correct, and such efforts tend to just reinforce something many people thought was true already. They don’t reveal something new, like an electron, or mytochondria say.
        Michael Tomasello may have made the best use of evolutionary thinking about human nature of anyone I’ve encountered, and only used analytical arguments buttressed by the couple of hundred experiments involving infants, young children, and non-human primates generated by his laboratory. I tried to use some of his work in a Ribbonfarm article https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2017/07/18/from-monkey-neurons-to-the-meta-brain/ that tried to go beyond the standard of “interestingness”, and arrive at some serious falsifiable claims.

  6. “Sometimes, you gotta say, “I don’t care about the balance of nature and history, this is wrong, what we should do is something else.” And the psycho-conservative will say “You know you’re probably gonna fail, right?”

    Rather than “probably”, I might ask (myself anyway) what makes them think they know what’s probable in a history that has never settled into a steady state, and is less likely than ever to do so in the next decade or so? I’d accuse them of something N. Taleb said back when he was making more sense, the “luddic fallacy”, thinking they can run probabilities on the genuinely complex and unpredictable thing as if in a game of dice or poker.

    • I agree that it’s difficult to make accurate predictions, especially about the future. But as a practical matter, we have to make plans, and we have to make choices. History isn’t always a good guide, but it’s often the best available.

      P.S. It’s asking a bit much of science to expect falsifiable claims about human evolution. Very few graduate students are willing to spend 20,000 years on their dissertations.

      • By “Claims about human evolution” you seem to mean (from the reference to “20,000 years”) claims about where evolution will take us. I can’t see any way it could be useful to make that that sort of claim (“In the year 2525 if man is still alive, if woman can survive, they may find…”)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Year_2525], but was talking about claims “based on evolutionary reasoning”. A simple example might be that the genome of an eyeless cave fish will contain a degraded form of the genes for eye development found in typical fish. A favorite anti-Chomskian claim is that language can’t be based on the sorts of mechanisms he proposes because we haven’t had enough evolutionary time since the human line started to evolve something as complex as a Universal Grammar. This is extremely sketchy because we don’t even know what it is we’re saying didn’t have time to evolve, but it might be a correct insight anyway. If we ever get around to settling the UG controversy, then that claim based on evolutionary reasoning might be falsified.

        As for the idea that policies should be guided by history, I strongly agree in principal, but sets of claims about “right” policies (ideologies) tend to have different versions of history.

        I think I was too trigger-happy to respond to the word “probably”, suggesting somebody actually has some numbers or a graph which is the tip of the iceberg of some huge mass of analysis and assumptions, and that is more often than not a misleading presentation of the argument.

        I don’t really have any clue what the OP could have had in mind when saying in effect “regardless of (your) probabilities I think it is best to do X because X ‘seems right'”, but it’s a form of argument I’m sure I might agree with depending on the parameters.

      • Re halmorris, above: We have quite a lot of experimental evidence about evolution in bacteria, fruit flies, and other short-generation species. A classic experiment involves putting a few roaches in a box with water and a limited daily supply of corn flakes. In their new environment, the roaches are freed from one selection pressure (predators) and another is magnified (struggle for food with other roaches). Within a month, the roaches roughly triple in size as they adapt to their new environment.

        For longer-generation species, we have to take the evidence that nature gives us, and there are usually multiple ways to interpret it.

  7. I’d like to engage more with your article, which is very good, and full of the important question “What is there to do with knowledge of ourselves as a species?” assuming we actually have any that is valid. But it takes me a long time to understand anything well enough to comment on it. Meanwhile, I’ve been wanting to say my piece on Jonathan Haidt for a long time. I hope SC, or anyone including those who may be hostile will comment on it. It is far from the last word on anything.

    Jonathan Haidt is a sad case.
    He makes a good case that moral beliefs arise from 5 innate principals:
    1) Care/Harm,
    2) Fairness/Cheating,
    3) Loyalty/Betrayal,
    4) Authority/Subversion,
    5) and Sanctity/Degradation

    Haidt makes the interesting move of construing this list as our “moral palate”, and compares it to a picture of the tongue with its zones of taste buds for salty, sweet, bitter, sour and savory tastes. I will come back to this later.

    _The Righteous Mind_ is full of brilliant insights, I still think that, but Haidt has gone off in a weird and misguided direction IMO.

    In his student years, behaviorism was giving way to the idea that all animals, including humans have natures; something starts them moving in some theoretically definable, if maddeningly diverse (in the case of humans) ways. We are not blank slates, or general purpose problem solving machines that somehow organize themselves to solve the single problem of survival (or a “maximize pleasure” and/or “minimize distress” instinct that is the proxy for survival).

    So some “nice” people in psychology and sociology surveyed the diverse panoply of what people think of as norms, or morality, and, although they didn’t actually have the list, they set about trying to prove in effect that Care/Harm and Fairness/Cheating are the only legitimate sorts of norms. Loyalty/Betrayal was thought be for nationalists/tribalists, and from there it was a “slippery slope” to Naziism. Authority/Subversion was the basis of totalitarianism, whether nationalistic, theocratic, personality cult based, or globalistic. Sanctity/Degradation, while good in its place, for the avoidance of dangerously infected food, provides the basis for narrow bigoted sexual mores, the designation of some people as “untouchables”, or foulers of “racial purity”.

    So the “nice” people, working the “naturalistic fallacy” backwards from desired norms to desired nature, as I said, set out to prove that Care/Harm and Fairness/Cheating are the only really innate and natural forms, and the others were the result of history taking a wrong turn. Jonathan Haidt, to his credit, sensed this was wrong, and since science driven by norms is the source of all evil (eugenics, etc), went on a strictly truth-driven mission. Haidt was at heart a naive liberal who probably celebrated Banned Book Day, and seems not to have noticed that the libertarians had seceded from the union (much of what he treats in tRM as “liberal” tendencies are more properly libertarian, and being used as a hammer by the right these days, and Haidt seemed and still seems oblivious to this). Along the way he had dreams, evident in the early talk show tours for tRM of teaching liberals how to win more elections by appealing to a broader set of values.

    Despite cautioning against the “naturalistic fallacy” probably in both his major books, he falls right into it. tRM doesn’t proclaim loudly that our moral systems *should* include the full menu, but it leans that way. His metaphor of a restaurant serving only varieties of salt is aimed at the liberal tradition of dropping (3-5), and hence having an incomplete moral palate. It’s human nature to include obedience to authority, and view “perverse desires” as degrading abomination, so those who don’t, a minority if we’re counting cutures, are WEIRD (Western, educated, and from industrialized, rich, and democratic countries). It sounds jocular, but it’s easy to find quotes that make liberals seem morally deficient.

    The main reason he’s attracted a “conservative” following has less to do with _The Righteous Mind_ or his previous _Happiness Hypothesis_ and more with his writings in the Atlantic and elsewhere in which he joins the “piling on” over Micro-aggressions, trigger warnings, and other academic left-wing obsessions. In researching and writing tRM, it seems (from things in the book), he got to know some “conservative” people and on finding they’re not all terrible people, he bought into the right wing victim stance, and co-wrote a 58 page tome of a paper: “Political diversity will improve social psychological science” that was made freely available in 2015, becoming an underground sensation within right-wing blogs, and eventually an anchor point of “Heterodox Academy”, which aims to cure academia of its unfortunate lack of (political) diversity.

    This post-rRM work claims to show that academia is way more radically liberal than, say, in the 1960s. Some of the methodology is awful, failing to notice the way understandings of “liberalism” and “conservatism” have evolved, and treating them like physical facts. I seem to remember some hedges on this score, but they didn’t amount to much.

  8. What do you mean about factor analysis?

    My understanding is that Haidt did use PCA to build his theory. Big 5 fails confirmatory factor analysis. Some papers claim that Haidt’s factors pass confirmatory factor analysis.

    But so what? If Haidt didn’t use fancy tools, it seems a reasonable heuristic to think that you could do better. But until you do, who cares about your nonexistent improvement? What does it matter whether these constructs are “organic”? Just tell me how they perform.

    • Similarly, consider Big 5 vs MBTI. Some people prefer Big 5 because it is machine made and some people prefer MBTI because it is artisanal. I could believe either side is correct, but we should, instead, measure which is better. In any event, there is a large literature of correlates of Big 5, which tells us exactly how good it is, regardless of whether MBTI is better or worse.

    • Let me try another phrasing. Sure, if it a tool is not optimal, we should replace it with a better tool, after we have found it. But people always bring this up in the middle of an argument, where it is completely irrelevant. All that matters is whether the tool is good enough for that particular application, which is neither stronger nor weaker than being optimal.

  9. Douglas Knight so you expect people to take you seriously with all this abuse, and “my understanding” in place of any citation? “Emerged organically” and “are organic” share a common word but don’t mean the same thing. Anyway, it seems to me (and I may be more focused on this than the OP) that replicating all the key factors of traditional morality systems, including what might be called tribalism, deferring to power, and viewing much of what people do as disgusting is of very questionable value, though it’s useful to have some account of why these systems can be so different from some modern value systems.

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