[ExI] META: Overposting (psychology of morals)

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sun Feb 27 12:06:46 UTC 2011

Giulio Prisco wrote:
> I don't see why we should refrain from discussing important things.
> I am very interested in the libertarian trend, but the problem is that
> it always degenerates into a hormone-driven fight between
> fundamentalist libertarians and fundamentalist anti-libertarians. I
> wonder why it is like that.

I think it can be explained by Jonathan Haidt's moral foundations theory 
and Phil Tetlock's sacred values theory. Basically, libertarians and 
anti-libertarians step on each other's sacred values.

According to Haidt, morality across cultures tend to be based on five 
fundamental values that are given different weight between different 
cultures and individuals:

   1. Care for others, protecting them from harm. 
   2. Fairness, Justice, treating others equally.
   3. Loyalty to your group, family, nation. 
   4. Respect for tradition and legitimate authority. 
   5. Purity, avoiding disgusting things, foods, actions.

Liberals (american sense) value care and fairness higher than the 
others, while american conservatives value all five at the same time.

Tetlock observed that certain things are "sacred" values to people, and 
that trading them for a "secular" value triggers strong emotional 
reactions - these tradeoffs are taboo: you are not supposed to even 
*think* about how much money a human life is worth (if you seriously do, 
then you are seen as a bad person) and people forced into tradeoffs 
often do interesting self-purification actions afterwards like washing 
hands or giving more to charity.
In political discussions a lot of heat is generated when one side 
doesn't feel anything for something sacred to the other side and 
accidentally threatens it.

What is sacred to libertarians? I think freedom is an obvious sacred 
value, which might go into the fairness foundation. But beyond that I 
don't think libertarians (by being libertarians) have that many strong 
sacred values - *just like transhumanists*. We are all happy to question 
the human condition and all accepted morals in profound ways. This is 
borne out in experiments. Libertarians are less unwilling to *refuse* 
making sacred tradeoffs for money than other groups, and find the five 
foundations less sacred altogether.

This has consequences for discussing politics. Conservatives get enraged 
by liberals trading purity or respect for fairness. But both get riled 
up by libertarians trading almost anything for freedom. And libertarians 
get upset by how readily everybody else trades their sacred value for 
mere care, purity or other less important things.

So that is my general explanation why libertarians (and transhumanists!) 
generally tend to end up in hot discussions.


Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute 
James Martin 21st Century School 
Philosophy Faculty 
Oxford University 

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