I just finished reading Haidt's The Righteous Mind. It was an excellent book and I intend to do a series of posts drawing on the book to explore moral issues. I found myself agreeing with on a great many points. In particular I liked his emphasis on mankind's groupishness, something that I have always thought was fundamentally obvious but that too often seems ignored in our culture.
However, while I don't disagree that the moral foundations can lead to the formation and strengthening of groups I had a nagging feeling throughout the book that he was paying insufficient attention to how sacralizing the wrong things can tear groups apart and limit the groupishness that he claims loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation all serve to promote.
While I had planned to take up this subject much later, Erick Erickson happened to say something stupid on TV and then dig himself into an incredibly deep pit by trying to extricate himself with a lengthy paean to sexism.
Erickson's "contribution" perfectly illustrates why I'm sceptical that the current political ideology of the right does in fact contribute to the groupishness that Haidt claims the moral foundations of Conservatives generally contributes to. This is not to argue that the strand of Conservative thought advocated for by Burke does not achieve this, only that the current incarnation in the United States fails to do so.
Erickson's argument basically boils down to men should be off contributing to society while women should be in the home raising children that can later contribute to society. He seems to believe that he needs little proof that this is the natural order aside from common prejudice and his own anecdotal life experiences. By acknowledging that women can in fact work outside the home, when they have to, he also engages in the annoying habit of trying to signal he's not sexist and unreasonable because he uses soft, reasonable language while condemning their choices as less than ideal. Lets dig into the details.
First, the title. The Truth May Hurt but is Not Mean. This is a loathsome attitude I see all the time on the right. It appears to tap into Haidt's authority foundation, because I'm telling you something tough to hear I'm like a parent telling their kids to eat their vegetables. My beliefs are good for you because they're tough to follow, don't question further or subvert my authority by calling me mean.
Next we move on to a sanctity argument:
So, this is basically saying that women should always choose to marry someone that is more financially successful than themselves. While a woman's individual position may make it advantageous for them to be the breadwinner for their household this can never conform to the ideal and optimal family arrangement which is with the male as primary breadwinner. This is either incoherent or it reveals the very sexist belief that some man, some where, is always more successful at being a breadwinner than any individual woman. I don't think Erickson would admit to this belief if pressed but this statement is obviously incoherent without this belief since otherwise some woman, some where would have an ideal and optimal family arrangement different from Erickson's favored arrangement. Of course, as a sacred belief there is no need for it to be coherent but we are forced to acknowledge that for Erickson sexism is a sacred issue and one that trumps actually forming stable, secure families.
Ladies, if you want to work that’s fine. If your position in life makes it advantageous for you to be the primary bread winner, that’s fine. But your individual circumstances and mine should not hide the fact that there is an ideal and optimal family arrangement whether we in our own lives can meet it.