Insulting Utes on Twitter

October 9, 2017    By: Geoff J @ 5:07 pm   Category: Evolutionary psychology,Life

Hey look! I just noticed I still own this blog… nice.

Ok, I knew I still owned NCT. I just haven’t posted here in more than three years. These days I mostly get my online fix by talking BYU sports on Twitter. (See @GeoffJbyu) The thing about rooting for BYU on Twitter is it means I get to argue with Utah Utes fans a lot. Of course arguments in the 140 character format of Twitter mostly consists of taunting and insulting. I get a lot of Ute challengers appearing in my Twitter mentions these days because I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for being highly optimistic about BYU (which infuriates and frustrate many of them to no end) and for being somewhat pugilistic in my responses to Ute antagonists who come after me. My go-to insult with most Ute fans is to call them imbeciles in one form or another. Some variations on that theme have included: moron, dimwit, stupid, dumber than a box of rocks, illiterate, fool, dullard, ignoramus, simpleton, pea brain, numbskull, and knucklehead. Such insults tend to get under their skins, which of course is my goal.

Not sure if I should feel bad about all the online arguing and insulting or not. I normally don’t. Although sometimes I get the feeling the rough-housing has gotten too heated and sort of feel bad when that happens.

Anyhow, in some ways the whole Twitter fighting process is kind of cathartic. I have long been a bit of a fan of evolutionary psychology theories that posit that we have all sorts of instincts that we’re born with as a result of the evolutionary history of humans. (And yes, I do think human evolution can square with a Mormon cosmology just fine with the right assumptions). So I kind of suspect this sort of raw tribal fighting is coded into all of our DNA. It sure seems to come naturally to us all.

If that’s the case, seems to me that the low stakes, almost ritualized sparring associated with this literal Team Blue vs Team Red serves as a useful and largely harmless outlet. It is undoubtedly a lower stakes fight than the ugly political fighting we see between Team Red (conservatives) and Team Blue (liberals) so many other places these days. Likewise, the religious fighting I used to do with anti-Mormons here and elsewhere online seemed to have higher stakes (even if that was just my impression).

I recently saw someone make a prediction for the future of humanity that went something like this: “Unrelenting Tribalism”. I tend to agree. I think tribalism is probably in our DNA. So I’m hoping that getting my tribal warfare fix via low stakes sports team rivalries is actually a useful pressure release valve rather than just an excuse for me to be rude to a bunch of anonymous Ute fans online.

If unrelenting tribalism is in our blood and inevitable, maybe finding a low stakes outlet like a sports team rivalry for it would be good for all of us. Especially if we could then let cooler heads prevail when it comes to higher stakes issues in society.

Moving to Seattle

April 11, 2017    By: Matt W. @ 6:12 am   Category: Life

This Summer, My Family will be moving to Seattle.

Questions I have:

What is church like there?

Why isn’t there a website that helps you find the right ward? (Reviews of YW programs and choirs would be nice)

Is it morally wrong to ward shop?

Rent or Buy? Is the AirB&B thing going to cause a housing price decline?

Utah election results

November 13, 2016    By: Matt W. @ 8:43 am   Category: Life

Alot of people are bothered that Trump won Utah. A couple things to keep an eye on.

In 2012, Romney won Utah with 740k votes. In 2016, Trump won with 375k. In 2012, a million people voted, in 2016, only 700k did.

So the reality is that trump did 50% worse than Romney,  and the top drop in support came from disenfranchised voters who didn’t vote for anyone.

If we estimate Utah voting population growth for the past 4 years at 2% a year (which per the census would be very conservative)  This would mean almost 400k people who would have voted, based on 2012 rates, didn’t. This is more votes than trump received.

So the Utah reality is that Trump won for a number of factors, but none of those factors was massive Mormon support for him.

The Mormon Ross Perot Moment

October 22, 2016    By: Matt W. @ 10:14 am   Category: Life

Ross Perot was the anti-establishment candidate in 1992, who rose to prominence for taking 19% of the Vote in the presidential election. The vacuum that created his success was a very unpopular incumbent president, who’s party was disenfranchised with him due to broken campaign promises about taxes, failing to eliminate Saddam Hussein, and a poor economy. The vacuum was also created due to lukewarm response to the democratic candidate, who was freshly coming off a scandal where he had an affair with Gennifer Flowers. This created a space for a 3rd party candidate to give people somewhere they could vote as a protest to the other two candidates. There is often talk that George Bush would have won without Ross Perot taking the votes, but polling data and exit surveys clearly paint that Bush was always lagging behind Clinton and Ross took votes equally from both candidates.

I think this parallels well the situation in Utah today with candidate Evan McMullin. McMullin is a relative unknown with virtually no history, but the one main power he has is that he is neither Trump no Clinton. He gives people who do not feel comfortable with either establishment candidate a space where they can register their dissent. This is why the latest polls show McMullin with a 14-25% chance of winning Utah (and thusly a .00001% chance of becoming president through a very unlikely scenario that the house negotiates with him after a very unlikely Clinton/Trump tie)   (more…)

From Civic to Liberal Republicanism: John Locke and the Dutch

September 29, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 1:19 pm   Category: Calvinism,Ethics,Happiness,Life,Money and getting gain,Politics

This is the 4th part in my series whereby I roughly follow Jerry Muller’s Thinking About Capitalism, in order to bring socio-economic and intellectual history to Jonathan Haidt’s political taxonomy.  Here is the political spectrum that I have been working with:


Last post I discussed how Machiavelli, Hobbes and various religious thinkers contributed to the transvaluation of Civic Republican virtue into the modern “virtue” of self-interest.  This post will discuss the ways in which the 17th Century Dutch experience in general and – even though Muller strangely ignores him – John Locke in particular transformed the aristocratic Civic Republicanism into the middle-class Liberal Republicanism that would later form the very heart of the American constitution. (more…)

A Genealogy of Self-Interest: Machiavelli and Hobbes

This is the third post in my series where I appropriate Jerry Muller’s lecture series “Thinking About Capitalism” to bring socioeconomics and intellectual history to Jonathan Haidt’s social-psychological account of political differences. Briefly, on the right is a very rough, graphical depiction of Haidt’s tripartite political taxonomy. On the left is my taxonomy which is (with huge caveats that I won’t elaborate upon here) the vertical mirror image of Haidt’s:


Paternalism = Theocratic Chiefdom (Traditional Segmentation)
Abs. = Absolute Monarchy
Const. = Constitutional Monarchy
Individualism = Libertarianism (Classical Liberalism)
Welf. = Welfare State Liberalism
Soc. = Socialism
Fraternalism = Anarchism (“Utopian” Communism)
Mult. = Multi-Cultural Humanism
Civ. = Civic Republicanism (Aristocratic Humanism)
Nat. = Nationalism

To be sure, no 2-dimensional political spectrum could ever include every nuance or exception to every rule.  As such, these circles and boundaries are suggestive, high-level generalizations intended to function as entry points and primers rather than the definitive, last word on any such position. (more…)

Greek/Christian Condemnations of Profit/Usury

September 12, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 4:29 pm   Category: Ethics,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Politics

(This is the second in a series of posts dedicated to the relationship between Mormonism and capitalism.)

Last post I proposed to frame the history of capitalism around the tensions between self-interested exchange and reciprocal charity – two very different and mutually incompatible ways of organizing social relations.  This tension is best illustrated by a father who will not provide for his family unless somebody can answer the question: “What’s in it for me?”  To be sure, some classical liberals have sought to actually answer this question, but I think most of us think the very act of asking the question (let alone trying to answer it) is, at best, morally problematic.

The question that capitalism forces upon us is the extent to which we want to model social relations on familial reciprocity or on contractual exchange?  Which is the rule and which is the exception, and when is it the exception?  Muller’s second lecture, “The Greek and Christian Traditions,” is aimed at describing how medieval society insisted that we organize economic relations around household relations as both the Civic Republican and Christian traditions dictated. It is against this moral background that the modern advocacy of capitalism and the radical trans-valuation of morals that it entailed should be understood.  The questions which we Mormons ought to ask ourselves are: 1) To what extent do our scriptures and revelations presuppose the traditional condemnations of profit and usury? and 2) To what extent do our scriptures and revelations support the radical trans-valuation by which these condemnations were overthrown?  (more…)

Capitalism and the United Order – Pt. 1

September 8, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 5:45 pm   Category: Ethics,Happiness,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Politics

This will be a new series of relatively short posts that will center around Jerry Z. Muller’s lecture series “Thinking About Capitalism” (follow the link for transcripts of the first 18 lectures).   In previous posts, I have strongly recommended his “The Mind and the Market“, and I wish to reiterate that recommendation.  While there is a lot of overlap between the lecture series and the book, I will stick to the former since 1) it breaks things down into manageable, 4,000 word chunks and 2) it doesn’t require anybody to go out and buy a book.  For these and other reasons, I strongly suggest that people read the lectures that I have linked above.

First, a little overview of what to expect.  Muller is an intellectual historian who has a clear but guarded preference for free-market capitalism.  He knows that capitalism is not perfect and is fraught with several dangers and moral costs, but thinks that its benefits justify those costs.  Like most liberals (I will insist upon the European sense of this term while reserving “socialist” for left-wing despisers of the free market), he has a tendency to draw strong connections and parallels between right and left-wing critics of free market liberalism.  While we should be on guard for this, his approach does provide a lot of historical context and continuity to various left-wing criticisms of capitalism.  Now, moving on…. (more…)

The Meaning and Morals of Marriage

August 29, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 12:48 pm   Category: Ethics,Evolutionary psychology,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Politics

Terrence Deacon’s classic work, The Symbolic Species, is a very interesting synthesis of 1) Peircean semiotics, 2) a socio-anthropological account of morals and 3) a very traditional understanding of marriage.  It is thus quite surprising to me that this confluence of symbols, morals and marriage within a text as widely cited as Deacon’s has gone almost entirely unnoticed within the LDS community.  Starkly put, if ever there was a naturalistic and historical argument to be made for the sanctity of marriage, this is it.

Since my goal is primarily to explicate rather than appropriate Deacon’s ideas, the quote-to-exposition ratio in this post will be quite high. Before getting to those quotes, however, let me first summarize Deacon’s account, if only to provide a roadmap for what is to come:

All and only humans have been able to combine 1) cooperative hunting, 2) male provision of offspring and 3) sexual exclusivity.  The means by which this unstable combination is maintained is marriage.  Marriage is a uniquely human practice that is totally different in kind from the pair-bonding found in other species.  By way of analogy, pair-bonding is to associative thought as marriage is to symbolic thought: While the former are concerned with the regularities that an individual can predict to hold between two objects (smoke and fire), the latter involve a collective assignment of meaning or prescription of status upon both A) an object with respect to many other objects and B) those many objects with respect to it.

Thus, while pair-bonding can be understood as a negotiation of child-rearing responsibilities between the male and female (and them alone), marriage involves the collective ascription by an entire community of not only these roles and responsibilities but also those toward an entire social network that crosses kinship lines.  Stated differently, in the same way that a change in the symbolic meaning of one sign also changes the symbolic meaning of and between 20 other signs, so too a change in the moral/marriage status of one person also changes the moral status of and relations between 20 other people. Deacon’s theory, to summarize, is not merely that symbolic thought closely parallels marriage relations; rather, it is the much stronger claim that the latter was the evolutionary origin and cause of the former. (more…)

The Word of Wisdom as a Boycott of the Free Market

August 23, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 8:34 am   Category: Ethics,Happiness,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices

A Word of Wisdom … showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days… In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days… And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make. (D&C 89)

Market demand is not the same as moral evaluation – and the production and consumption habits of the saints should conform to the latter rather than the former.

Up until the turn of the 19th century, the Chinese held a significant trade balance against the British.  Chinese tea had become extraordinarily popular within the British Isles, but the Chinese refused to trade anything other than silver for their tea.  The British, however, eventually solved their trade deficit with China by providing them with an even more addictive combination of American tobacco and Indian opium.  By 1804 the trade deficit had reverse direction in favor of the British as opium addiction spread widely (50% of men and 25% of women) throughout China.  This trade deficit along with the social effects of widespread addiction together led to a Chinese prohibition on the substance and, eventually, to the opium wars against the British (1839).

It is in this light, I suggest, that we ought to understand the importance of the Word of Wisdom (WoW). While we currently focus on the social effects of addictive stimulants, I would like to argue that the economic effects are at least as relevant.  The British addiction to tea had given the Chinese so much economic power over them that the only way in which the British could reverse this power relation was through an even more addictive stimulant.  Understood this way, the WoW can (and perhaps should) be understood as an economic boycott, and as such being much more pro-active in its moral intent than the passive “abstaining” from consuming various substances. (more…)

The Mediocrity of Modern Morality: A Faithful Nietzsche II

April 22, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 5:08 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Happiness,Life,orthodox,Politics,Truth

(Edit: Like Abraham of old, we are sometimes required by the Lord or His messengers to do utterly immoral things. In other words, sometimes we have an obligation to act immorally. This post is aimed at explaining why this sounds like a contradiction in terms to our modern ears.)

Democracy is horrible and Aristocracy is fantastic. While there is much to disagree with in this claim of Nietzsche’s (he has nothing but condemnation to say regarding all forms of inter-personal obligations and authority), there is also a great deal of truth that we Mormons would do well to address. After all, the secular world clearly exalts the values and morality of the former while the church is quite obviously an Aristocracy (of sorts) that repeatedly insists that it is not a democracy in which “the people” rule. What are the tensions between these two moralities and to what extent to these tension manifest themselves within the modern, Mormon mind?

Nietzsche sees stratification as a normal and health aspect of life which Democrats, Moderns, Utilitarians, Kantians, Socialists, Classical Liberals, Capitalists, Proletariats, Materialists, Christians and a whole slew of others conspire against. Whereas Kierkegaard objected to the ways in which these various movements where making faith cheap, easy and weak, Nietzsche rejects them since they make life itself cheap, easy and weak. Both of these men had nothing but contempt for “the world” and it just so happened that “the world” at their time was largely Christian. When framed in these terms, that Mormons might also harbor a similar contempt for the now less-Christian world that we see around us. (more…)

Feast and Famine and a sacrament meeting talk

March 12, 2016    By: Matt W. @ 9:55 pm   Category: Life

I am speaking in church tomorrow. Special thanks to Joe Spencer for many of the ideas here.

I have been asked to speak about “feasting upon the words of Christ”. This snippet of scripture comes from 2 Nephi 31 verse 20. Since we are discussing “feasting upon the words of Christ”, here are some of my favorite words of Christ.

“the”, “fox”, “business”

And I say these words in the name of…

Just like it doesn’t make much sense to cherry pick a single word from the scriptures out of context, We cannot appreciate the imperative to “Feast upon the words of Christ” without context.


When will the Millennials take over the Quorum of the 12 and First Presidency of the church?

November 16, 2015    By: Matt W. @ 11:49 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Life

The Youngest Apostle Currently Was Born in 1952, the Oldest in 1924. Today I was reading on Pew Forums about generational gaps in public opinion (here) on social issues, and this got me thinking about the generational makeup of the Q12+FP (hereafter Q15) and what the implications would be when there are generational shifts in these Quorums. Basically, I asked the question: When will millennials take over the Q15?

So I calculated it. My calculations are not nearly as robust as Ziff’s, but I was merely aiming for directional correctness. To keep it simple I took the 75th percentile for age of death of the last 11 Apostles who died (I chose 11 arbitrarily because that got me back to President Hinckley and because I love that guy, that’s why). The 75th percentile for age at death is 92 years. I chose to use the 75th percentile over the median (87 years) on the base assumption that medical advancements are happening, etc. I then took the median age an apostle is currently called (61 years*) and began calculating what generation the next apostles would be from. I used the generational matrix that pew uses, which is as follows:

pre-silent generation before 1928
silent generation 1928-1946
baby boomers 1946-1965
Gen X 1965-1981
Millennials 1981-1996
post-millennial 1997 on

Anyway, taking a base snapshot of the generational drift of the apostles by decade, I get the following. (more…)

A Post to Aid Conversation and Understanding

November 6, 2015    By: DavidF @ 3:13 pm   Category: Life

There’s been a lot of conversation over the Church’s policy decision regarding children of LGBT couples. What I have seen as I’ve looked through blogs is a lot of people grasping for ideas to explain their position on this issue, getting misinterpreted or saying something unintentionally hurtful, and causing more pain all around. This troubles me. There’s a difference between hurting feelings because of genuine disagreement and hurting feelings as a byproduct of failing to frame a difficult issue in constructive ways. I can’t do anything about the former, but this post might help with the latter.

In this post, I present three cognitive frameworks that might help people understand their own position and the position of others, one political, one moral, and one psychological. I hope that those reading this will come to a better appreciation for the views of people with whom they disagree, that they will see the good that motivates those with whom they disagree, and that they will reflect upon the flaws in the views that they currently subscribe to. As with all great moral debates, the three ones I describe below are probably irreconcilable. That’s why these Facebook, forum, and blog debates don’t seem to persuade anyone. So long as I operate in a different moral framework than you, our chances of agreeing with each other will be at best accidental (and for different reasons). And competing moral frameworks can’t disprove the validity of their competitors. I urge anyone reading this to consider that before they embark on a debate with people they care about (or should care about). As a final point, my hope is that I can summarize each of the positions below to show why they hold a lot of intuitive appeal. If I have failed to do that, I hope I’ll be able to rectify it in the comments section, but in the meantime, I ask readers on both sides to be sympathetic to positions they otherwise find disagreeable.

Liberalism and Communitarianism – Political Framework

Liberalism is often associated with political liberals, but that is a mistake because political liberals—who I’ll call progressives—aren’t always liberal. Liberalism is the belief that in any political society, the rights, freedom, and security of its individuals are the most important thing that a society can, and should, protect. Liberalism correlates with the Enlightenment values of individual autonomy, political freedom, and the right to moral self-determination (described more below). Progressives are often associated with these ideas, but it would be more accurate to associate libertarians with them. In fact, progressives and libertarians divided in the early 20th century over the question of how involved the government should be in ensuring that these values are protected. Nevertheless, you’ll see liberals and libertarians often join forces on issues such as same-sex marriage (and their rights as equal citizens in all respects). But just as progressives tend to believe that individual liberties are best protected by government involvement, they are also likely to believe that private organizations ought to protect and promote individual liberties as well (libertarians often disagree on this point—which might be why there are a lot of libertarians in the Church). In other words, for a promoter of liberalism, and particularly for progressive liberalists, the Church’s decision to limit the opportunities for children of same-sex couples clashes with one of the most critical values that we are raised to believe: that protecting individual autonomy is fundamental among other values.

As important as liberalism is, it has its problems. One of them is that most humans aren’t wired to be purely liberal thinkers. Even progressives, who tend to be associated with liberalism, do not vote that way in some political issues, such as gun-control or certain protections for racial minorities (there’s a liberal argument to be made for both of those issues, but progressives don’t always make it). Those that find liberalism unsatisfactory marshal out the positions used by its opposing framework, communitarianism.

Just as progressives are often associated with liberalism, conservatives are often associated with communitarianism, although that too is overly simplistic. Communitarianism is the belief that the community’s interests as a whole should take precedence over any of its individual’s. The classic position of a communitarian is this: If a small business owner wants to open a pornography store in a small town, should the town be allowed to prohibit that if most people don’t want it? The idea has a lot of appeal, especially among political conservatives. There’s no question that humans are born with a kind of “hive mentality,” where we recognize that a united community can do much greater things than a group of individuals (think Aristotle). There’s a great deal of research backing up the commonly held view, “it takes a village to raise a child,” and a lot of people can remember a day when it felt safe to leave the house of children and wander the streets because the community was there to protect them. If political liberalism is fundamental to our political system, it seems that communitarianism is the best framework in which it can thrive.

However, there are problems with communitarian thinking. One is the danger of moral authoritarianism. If the community is ultimately more important than the individual, than the community ought to set its own standards. If individuals don’t like it, they should go to a different community. Astute readers will recognize this argument among many a faithful Mormon in this debate: there is no right to be a member of the Church, and those who disagree with it do not have to stay.

That’s a frustrating argument for liberals to hear because it seems so intuitively wrong…from a liberal perspective. Moreover, when it comes to a religion debate such as this, communitarians can excuse the problem of moral authoritarianism by simply saying, “Hey, I don’t make up the rules, God does.” The veracity of the communitarian position then moves from a political one to a metaphysical one. Those who aren’t persuaded by the metaphysical arguments (i.e. those without at testimony) leave, and those that are stay, albeit often begrudgingly. Yet, and this is a bit tangental, those communitarians who tend towards a guardian-of-the-community role, often find the begrudging liberals to still be intolerable, since even if they agree to stay in the community, they nevertheless weaken it by staying. The message liberals get is typically this: conform or leave. The danger of such a message is, and liberals often point this out, that there’s a difference between the Church and the Gospel. While some people might try to separate those too much, communitarians run the risk of agreeing with that position in principle but in practice allowing their biases to make the distinction effectively irrelevant.

Harm Principle and Virtue Theory – Moral Framework

Moving on, another classic moral debate is the harm principle v. virtue theory. The harm principle was most clearly developed by John Stuart Mill. Mill characterized it this way: I should be allowed to do whatever I want up to the point that it violates the liberty of another to do what she wants. The harm principle may not tell me what *I* should do, but it does tell me how far I’m allowed to go before I need to stop and limit my actions for the sake of others. The harm principle helps those who follow liberalism to know where to draw the line on individual freedom, although it’s worth stressing that the harm *principle* is not the harm *rule*; there are times when even most liberals would agree that it ought to be set aside such as in at least some instances of statuary rape even when both parties fully consent. However, the harm principle might cause us to question whether other acts ought to be considered morally wrong, such as polygamy. Mill, in fact, wrote favorably about Mormons practicing polygamy.

The harm principle has its advocates in this debate. What harm is there in allowing children of LGBT parents to receive various Church ordinance? And if there is no harm, or at least no closely related harm (there’s almost always some harm out there for anything if one abstracts enough), then the policy is morally wrong. Or at least, if the harm principle is the foundational standard for moral thinking, then that is probably the necessary conclusion to be drawn. One answer Ivan Wolfe at Millennial Star gave to this is that the harm is to the Church. This policy, Wolfe explains, is about the “struggle for soul of the Church,” meaning whether the Church can keep out people who would try to enter it and try to change it to openly tolerate the same-sex lifestyle. Perhaps that is a potential harm, but couched in communitarian thinking as it is, it is not entirely persuasive, since it really just swaps the harm principle out for the core philosophy of communitarianism. In fact, the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage can be seen as a debate about the harm principle, where the side that lost tried to do exactly this.

Another response to the harm principle is to adopt an alternative moral framework, that of virtue theory. Virtue theory isn’t easy to explain, particularly because it is so easy to misrepresent. The notion that we should follow the virtues, some more than others, and eschew the vices, some more than others, is not central to virtue theory; that notion is merely its outgrowth. Virtue theory is about finding one’s role in society or in a particular situation and then following what is expected of that role to excel at it. Farmers should be patient, warriors should be courageous, scholars should be wise, and al of us should try to emulate the virtues of these various roles in the roles that we find ourselves in order to excel at what we are supposed to do. One virtue theorist, Alisdair MacIntyre, gives the example of a hockey player racing to the net of the opposing team in the final seconds of the game. The player sees that she must pass it to her teammate to have any chance of winning the game. What should the player do? If she’s a good player then she immediately knows what is the appropriate thing to do, because she knows that her role is to excel as a hockey player at her sport in conjunction with her team. By passing the puck, she acts virtuously. Compare the hockey player with another blogger discussing the LGBT issue.

Geoff B. at Millennial Star gives the analogy of a orchestra concert, which he uses to explain why the Church’s recent policy addition is just. Imagine being at a concert. If you were there, you’d intuitive recognize that certain things would be wrong to do. It would be wrong as an audience member to stand up and heckle the orchestra. It would be wrong for a violin player to sit in the percussion section. It would be wrong for a viola player to play an oboe’s part, etc. What would be appropriate to do if you neither wanted to listen to the orchestra or take part in it is to go somewhere else and do something else.

The analogy draws the communitarian conclusion that I discussed above, but its point on roles is particularly salient to what I’m describing here. A good church member has a role to support the decisions of church leadership. Harm principle folk might find that repugnant, but that is because they do not ascribe to virtue theory. If they did, then not only would the conclusion be entirely fine, it would be the clearly and morally right thing to do. Not only are harm principle folk wrong about to criticize the church’s policy (see communitarianism above), but church members who criticize it are acting according to the wrong moral framework when they criticize it too.

There are problems with virtue theory. As I see the length of this post increasing much more than I initially anticipated, I’ll set those aside for right now. What I think probably makes virtue theory seem so clearly wrong to certain people, and why the harm principle seems so clearly wrong to virtue theory people boils down to another paradigm, the last one I’ll discuss.

Care/Harm and Sanctity/Degredation – Psychological Framework

Jonathan Haidt was a progressive, atheist, Jew living on the east coast who found the moral views of conservatives absolutely repugnant. However, as Haidt began to study the underlying psychology of why people are drawn to progressive or conservative ideologies, he discovered that conservatives weren’t morally repugnant as he previously thought, they just set moral priorities differently than progressives do. Haidt later went on to discover six moral-value foundations that guide both conservatives and progressives, and depending on how you prioritize one foundation over the other you are more likely to vote one way or the other. I’ll highlight two of those foundations, which are probably the most salient ones here: care/harm, sanctity/degradation.

Progressives tend to be highly sensitive to acts that result in harming other, and are motivated strongly to care for others, including those they do not know. That helps explain why progressives are much more likely than conservatives to stress the needs of the poor, racial minorities, single mothers, and even criminals. Conservatives are sometimes baffled when progressives come to the defense of Islamic extremists who hold particularly non-progressive views (conservatives, as communitarians, are very hesitant defend someone who doesn’t share in their community values), but progressives are so strongly motivated by the promotion of care and avoidance of harm, that it matters to them on an intuitive level to protect even someone they vehemently disagree with on other issues. That is not to say that Conservatives don’t feel this way some of the time, but they are more likely to put a lower priority on this care/harm need than progressives.

Just the opposite, conservatives are much more likely to promote values, laws, and institutions that promote sanctity and condemn acts that degrade what they find holy. Conservatives tend to be highly critical of flag burning, of criticizing heroic people (military, police), and are closely watchful of any attempt to limit Christianity’s influence on America (at least those conservatives that are Christians). Given the hypothetical—is it morally permissible for a woman who doesn’t have any clean rags to cut up an American flag and use it to wash the toilet bowl—conservatives are much more likely than progressives to answer that question with a no. Progressives might find that baffling. After all, the woman has done nothing to mitigate individual liberty or violate the harm principle. Why is she doing anything wrong? For conservatives, it has nothing to do with care/harm, and in fact, there are a lot of things in this world that are morally right or wrong that don’t have anything to do with care/harm.

Haidt goes on to show that even most progressives probably agree with that statement to at least some extent. Haidt gives two scenarios to show this. Imagine the family dog gets run over accidentally by a neighbor. The family who owned the dog loved it so much, and they decide to eat it. They cook it correctly, nobody else sees any of this happen, and they enjoy the meal. Was that morally wrong? Most people say so. Some don’t. But consider an alternative: imagine a man who buys a chicken from the supermarket each week. He prepares it for dinner, has sexual intercourse with it, cooks it, eats it alone, and nobody sees this happen. Is that morally wrong? Almost everyone  agrees that the man in the second scenario crossed a line, even though the man did not violate the harm principle. Haidt uses these stories to illustrate that virtually everyone recognizes that some acts are morally degrading even though no harm resulted from it. Likewise, some things are just sacred, even if there is no better way to explain it than that.

Progressives often find the sacred/degradation moral foundation frustrating because they can’t argue with it. And in fact, there is a danger for conservatives to treat some things as sacred that really ought not to be, such as racially pure marriages (and progressives never let them forget it). So who is right about the new policy? Again, I won’t weigh into that. But I do hope that the faithful who engage in this debate will not be angry with those who question the moral rightness of the new policy. Hopefully they will see that behind those criticisms is a concern for the individual who will feel out-of-step as a result of it. And I hope that critics will realize that the faithful are not being morally obtuse or grossly indifferent to the emotional (and spiritual) needs of the individual, but that the faithful simply believe that there are times when sanctity outweighs care, and regrettable as it might be, this is one of those times.

I similarly hope that progressives will not fault Church members for believing that the harm principle is not necessarily an appropriate way to resolve moral quandaries such as this one. And hopefully, members will recognize that their virtue theory may be so exclusive that it alienates those who want to believe but can’t (yet?) fully commit to a radically different moral framework than what they intuitively believe to be correct—I add as a caveat that I’m not sure that one must be a virtue theorist to be a good Mormon. Finally, I hope that liberally minded individuals will see that the desire to protect community and enact seemingly harsh policies is driven out of a wholesome desire for good, even if it can be excluding. And I hope that communitarians will think carefully before they engage in boundary maintenance, recognizing the risk that their wholesome desire may be unnecessarily alienating to those that need not be so readily excluded. At least, those are my hopes.

Things I love and Things I struggle with: An attempt at openness 

August 30, 2015    By: Matt W. @ 12:44 pm   Category: Life

I love
The atonement

The call to be unselfish

Covenant making

The call to have loving families and make that a first priority

The community

The Book of Mormon

the pre-mortal life

eternal progression

the faith in miracles

Prophetic priesthood authority

The call to serve

baptism by immersion

giving blessings

Going on a two year mission

The mission to comfort the weary and strengthen the weak

The reminder that kindness begins with me

personal revelation

Living by faith

that repentance is turning toward god

The efficacy of temple

The religious outreach to the poor and needy

The Hope in Universalism

The efficacy of prayer

The New Testament

Modern Prophets and Apostles to help guide us and encourage us

The acceptance of fallibility 

wheelchairs, wells, perpetual education and other charitable acts

I struggle with

The gender exclusion of the priesthood

The anti-gay marriage issue and how we say we want religious freedom but are trying to deny it to others

The other “republican” platform stuff like:

  • Climate change denial
  • Evolution denial

Husband/wife male/female black/white equality being even slightly debatable

Treatment of Single people 

my personal Anxiety in social settings

the recent BSA stuff (I was introduced to the church at scout camp)

My own hypocrisy

Ok, that’s mine, what’s yours?

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