Wednesday, 12 February 2014

If You Remove Your Clothes, I Will Kill You

Clearly you lot are as interested in this whole topic of morality as I am, so I'll share a bit more of what I have been learning, because, gosh, this is cool stuff.

One of the most interesting aspects for me is how morality is carved up by experts. There are different ways to do this, with different numbers of categories (known as foundations), but for the sake of this humble blog, it's good enough to look at it as five, the distinctions here made sense to me and until I come up with a system of my own (and you know I shall) this works.

So, basically you have:

1. Harm.
2. Reciprocity
3. Hierarchy
4. Purity
5. Community

The most interesting thing for me was not just realising that I only ever really thought of the first two as being important, or indeed of having anything to do with morality, but I found out why.

I hope you can read this graph, what it shows is that conservatives (small c, this is mindsets/worldviews, not party politics) place the highest emphasis on fairness, and the lowest on community ("ingroup"), while they place harm slightly below purity. 

Liberals also place fairness highest, along with harm, but considerably higher, and they place purity as lowest, in fact very low indeed. 

But there's also a quick glance broader conclusion. Conservatives consider all five roughly equal, while liberals are interested overwhelmingly with harm and fairness, and aren't terribly interested in the other three.

By this definition, I'm a liberal, which is the accusation I get all the time anyway, and have no objection to.

As I stressed, this is not a party politics issue. This is about what makes you tick, and why you make the decisions you do. It will work no matter where you are from or what is offered as party politics in your location. 

So, what is meant by these categories?

Well, Harm is the area of morality concerned with assault on another person (or animal), and any damage inflicted that isn't purely financial. So it could be physical or mental suffering. This would include murder, rape, violence, assault, bullying, intimidation, care negligence, and so on. 

It is generally agreed by all cultures and all humans that harm is wrong, but they do vary in how wrong it is, what the punishment or compensation should be, and what the exceptions are. 

Reciprocity is about fairness in agreements and transactions, and is not confined to money. Betrayal of any kind, broken promises, not sharing resources, fraud, mooching, tax evasion, and telling lies for gain are all covered under this.

Again, pretty much everyone agrees it's wrong, but just how wrong and what to do about it vary. At the extreme end of both liberal and conservative, fairness is valued above harm, which is obviously a dangerous situation if you are the one who broke the rules.

Hierarchy is all about respect for authority, at any level, from the family to the king or president, and everything in between, but moreover it's respect for the rank and position, not the individual. 

The notable correlation here, while not dramatic, is how this is placed above community at the conservative end, and below it at the liberal end. This is where most people's notion of politics are based. Who is most respected and deemed important - your own friends, family, and neighbours, or the people in charge? 

Purity, as I explained the other day is to do mostly with sex, and is one of the most fascinating areas of all to examine, because it is usually based in religion, and rarely follows any logic. 

If you remember nothing else from this graph (I do hope it's firmly stuck in your head) it's that extreme conservatives place purity above harm when making moral decisions. Because purity "laws" are aimed chiefly at women, you don't need me to tell you that this is where oppression of women in conservative societies comes from. That's a topic I often cover and will do so again soon. 

Community is a double-edged sword. On the one hand a heightened sense of community leads to loyalty to one's own, which we could all agree is a noble thing, and indeed a natural thing. But it also leads to racism and a general ostracism of "other". 

What's most interesting here is where the highest scores of community are on the graph, and that's right in the middle. I would suggest it needs to be further broken down into its effects as just noted, before that can really be evaluated.

It's quite interesting to consider your own attitudes towards each aspect here, and you can rank them in order of importance, in the absence of a full survey. 

Incidentally, while searching for the graphic, I came across a more extreme version, obviously it's a different sampling, but the overall pattern is identical, and that's the important part. 

What happens is clear. When making a moral decision, a person relies on established priorities. When a woman is stoned to death for adultery, there can be no doubt, purity is being placed above harm. 

Your own morality map will then judge the action. 


  1. Interesting stuff, Melanie. The five should be, in a thinking and moral society, conjoined. For my perspective because the "Post a Comment" infers that you want my perspective: Morality/purity (I hate the latter word with a passion) - my own rule of thumb is pretty simple; do what makes you feel fulfilled as long as no one is harmed in the process. Your will, your want should never supercede the comfort, happiness and well-being of anyone else. Harm? Walks hand in hand with morality - if what you are doing will harm another - be it human or animal? Don't do it. Fairness - not a difficult concept for people I know - equity in all things. We're taught this as toddlers; what happens to us as we mature?
    Community and hierarchy; these are double-edged swords. I'm not fond of what has become of either of them. Community is, too often, used to exclude and hierarchy become "US" and them, the dirty little people. (There would be more but apparently, I don't get paid to voice my opinion.)

    1. But here's the thing, morality does not equal purity. That's just the conservative viewpoint. Morality is all of the above.

  2. "you don't need me to tell you that this is where oppression of women in conservative societies comes from." I am interested where you say this comes from.

    1. Conservative societies do not treat women and men equally. They claim to honour and protect women, but their methods of doing so can cause more problems than they solve. In the case of sexual modesty women are blamed for the evils of men, the whole Jezebel thing. Even the story of Adam and Eve. Blame the woman. It's impossible to separate purity from religious tradition. This is probably my main area of interest, and I have whole blog post on the topic of the oppression of women (tomorrow). But where it comes from is in these purity ideas.

    2. "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." (I Corinthians 14:34-35)

      "Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." (I Timothy 2:11-14)

      "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything." (Ephesians 5:22-24)

  3. Religion. The oppression of women, historically, has been at the hands of religion. Primarily the Judeo-Christian groupings.