There is a long piece I’ve excerpted from blog neighbor Jewish Atheist. I think he misunderstands that the words he rejects mean different things to the conservatives than they apparently do to the liberal. Because of the length of the excerpt, I’m going to put it all below the dreaded fold … and probably even break things up with the even dread bullet list.
The structure of this is italicized blockquote, then my response (if there is one).
Maybe I’m just a hopeless liberal atheist, but Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity appear to be legitimate moral values while Authority/Respect and Purity/Sanctity are just a bunch of nonsense. Ingroup/Loyalty is good in some circumstances, but is probably also at the root of most evil that goes on in the world.
Obviously I’m going to write more on this below, as JA goes in further depth on them, but the first two need more attention. In part this division and stating that the “logic” and meta-ethical debate regarding the Deontology/Consequential philosophical divide as an argument long past being signed sealed and delivered to the Consequentialist is a little overstating the case. In discussions in the past (with Mr Schraub) I’ve touched on why hierarchy is not necessarily connected with value.
What good is Authority/Respect? Is “I was only following orders” really a moral justification? Following authority is moral when the authority figure commands moral action and immoral otherwise.
As an American, do you respect and give authority to the Constitution (and Declaration), i.e., you submit (willingly) to the authority of the founders via their writings. The notion of a civilized anarchy is nonsense and I suspect JA is not thinking that it isn’t.
The US Marines and Armed services in general teach that both that orders are to be obeyed without removing moral implications from the soldier. You must obey every legal order. You therefore must (quickly and instinctively) parse and process every order to decide if it is legal. “I was only following orders.” is not a defense or alibi in the US military legal code.
JA is exactly right when he writes: “Following authority is moral when the authority figure commands moral action and immoral otherwise.” But that doesn’t mean authority is not an important thing. The difference is the 70s disaffected left thinks that there is no such thing as a moral authority. The conservative disagrees.
Do I even need to point out how dangerous Ingroup/Loyalty is? It’s nice to watch out for your siblings and countrymen, but there’s nothing moral about, e.g., going to war for your side when your side is in the wrong.
This one is a little easier (and kind of like shooting ducks in a barrel). Fire is dangerous. However, that isn’t to say it is bad. It is actually good.
Without loyalty to group there is no polis. There can be no society of men. No social order or organized existence. It’s not just “nice” to watch out for your family and countrymen. Alastair MacIntyre wrote Dependent Rational Animals (the title there describes the status of all men). Loyalty to your “group” to your family, parish, company, and country is just an acknowledgment of your linkage to them via shared web of dependence and responsibility. I fail to understand how one might even deny that.
As for Purity/Sanctity, how is that a moral issue? Oh, she had premarital sex, therefore she’s immoral? She’s on her period, so it’s immoral for her husband to touch her?
I’m not going to comment on this too much, because it betrays a gulf in understanding. There is the joke that the god the Atheist doesn’t believe in isn’t any god the theist (or I) believe in either. Suffice it to say that it seems the holiness that JA doesn’t believe in isn’t the Holiness I seek or believe in.
Obviously, this is an over-generalization, but this confirms my intuition about the American culture wars. One side cares more about people; the other about abstractions like Authority, Loyalty, and Purity. In my book, any time you support a policy that leads to more deaths, more harm, or more unfairness for some intangible reason, you’re probably doing the wrong thing.
Marx/Lenin/Stalin/Mao built a little Utopian experiment which played out in the 20th century. It based its rational on Harm/Care and Fairness/Equality. It strove for scientific and tangible (for example economic) metrics for these. It rejected Purity/Sanctity and lead to just a few more deaths, harm, and ultimately unfairness than anything that came before.
This divide is quite clear even within religion. Conservative religious groups worry about following rules (authority) and being holy (purity) while the liberal ones focus on charity (care) and social justice (fairness.)
Of course this doesn’t match up with actual data, recall that study on liberal/conservative religious belief correlated to charitable giving. It’s my experience (a small sample set admittedly) that the liberal religious are more willing to rely on the government to supply charity and conservative on personal giving.
Perhaps the liberal ties social justice (fairness) as more important because he’s more apt to connect hierarchy to a presumption of value, so it bothers him more.