About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Jonathan Haidt does it again, unfortunately

by Massimo Pigliucci
I have criticized social psychologist Jonathan Haidt before, specifically for what I think is his badly researched and argued contention that the Academy discriminates against conservatives (I rather think it is many conservatives who are not attracted to the academy — with all that open inquiry and low salaries). On the other hand, I do like his more nuanced research on the different sets of moral criteria assumed by liberals and conservatives, though even there he has a tendency to step over from “is” to “ought” in the sort of seamless way that rightly annoyed David Hume.
And now he has done it again. In a flabbergasting editorial published in the New York Times after the news of bin Laden’s death came out, Haidt once more begins with interesting science — a mix of (as we shall see, a bit sloppy) evolutionary biology and sociology — and ends up into moral philosophical territory, where he predictably blunders.
Before I tell you what he wrote and where I think he went wrong, let me make clear my own position on the complicated issue of bin Laden’s killing. First, I rejoiced, as any decent human being, I think, ought to do on that occasion. Second, I did not “celebrate,” i.e. went to a party, shouted in the streets, drank beer or sang God Bless America. Third, I do think the US did the right thing, all things considered. Fourth, however, the US did indeed act in defiance of international law and used its usual double standard based on American exceptionalism (just imagine what would have happened if another country had conducted a commando raid on American soil to kill an international criminal that had somehow escaped the FBI’s attention...). As I hope you can see, I hold complex and perhaps even partially contradictory views on this, which I think are appropriate to the complexity of the situation itself.
Okay, now here is Haidt. He starts out by wondering why so many people were critical of, even disturbed by, the street celebrations that spontaneously erupted in the US after the news of bin Laden’s death. And he says (emphasis mine):
“Why are so many Americans reluctant to join the party? As a social psychologist I believe that one major reason is that some people are thinking about this national event using the same moral intuitions they’d use for a standard criminal case. For example, they ask us to imagine whether it would be appropriate for two parents to celebrate the execution, by lethal injection, of the man who murdered their daughter. Of course the parents would be entitled to feel relief and perhaps even private joy. But if they threw a party at the prison gates, popping Champagne corks as the syringe went in, that would be a celebration of death and vengeance, not justice. And is that not what we saw last Sunday night when young revelers, some drinking beer, converged on Times Square and the White House?”
To which very reasonable question he astoundingly answers: “No, it is not”! And why not? Because according to Haidt “you can’t just scale up your ideas about morality at the individual level and apply them to groups and nations.” One wonders whether that “can’t” is a principle of logic, a scientific law, or what, because I thought that actually the idea that what is decent for an individual to do is also decent for a group of individuals to do is one of the cornerstones of what we like to call civilization.
But Haidt has different ideas, informed by his (mis)understanding of evolutionary theory. He proceeds to tell his readers that humans evolved by a two-step process: individual selection for selfishness and group selection for cooperativeness, just like “bees, ants and termites.” First off, the hypothesis that group selection had anything to do with human evolution is just that, a (controversial) hypothesis, far from having been established (pace my good colleague David Sloan Wilson). Second, bees, ants and termites did not evolve their social behavior by group selection, but by a different mechanism known as kin selection, which is actually closer in nature to individual selection (because it acts on “extended fitness,” i.e. the fitness you enjoy by means of propagating your genes not just on your own, but also by way of your relatives’ survival and reproduction). This, incidentally, agrees with the obvious observation that human cooperation and societal structure is nothing like that of eusocial insects.
Haidt then moves on to territory that is more familiar to him, and where the actual insightful contribution of his op-ed piece is more clearly visible. He tells us that sociologists since Émile Durkheim have written about different levels of social sentiments. At a lower level we show affection and respect for individuals, but we also engage in group-level, “collective” emotions (an oxymoron, really, since emotions are by definition experienced by individuals, not groups, but let’s let that slide), which according to Durkheim and sociologists since, explain a variety of human phenomena from team sports to warfare.
Here is how Haidt elaborates on the dynamics of collective emotions: “One such emotion [Durkheim] called ‘collective effervescence’: the passion and ecstasy that is found in tribal religious rituals when communities come together to sing, dance around a fire and dissolve the boundaries that separate them from each other. The spontaneous celebrations of last week were straight out of Durkheim.”
I’m sure they were. But were they a good thing? Haidt too asks this question, and that’s were things go badly again, as he steps from sociology (what is) to moral philosophy (what ought to be), and makes a predictable blunder. He distinguishes between nationalism and patriotism, arguing that the former is bad (because it leads to hostility toward other countries), while the latter is good (because...?, he doesn’t really say). You can think of the difference as waging aggressive war against another nation vs celebrating your team’s winning the World Cup. Clearly, the first one is bad, the second one is morally neutral (which is not at all the same as saying that it is morally good, by the way).
Now, how do we know that last week’s street celebrations were a matter of patriotism and not nationalism? We don’t, actually, but Haidt performs a nice slight of hand and tells us that research has shown that the coming together of people after the attacks of 9/11 (for instance, in donating blood for the victims) was motivated more by the former than the latter. I completely believe that, but I don’t see how it licenses the extension of the same findings to the new situation. Is blood donation on the same moral level as shouting and drinking beer?
More damning of all, Haidt concludes his piece by writing: “This is why I believe that last week’s celebrations were good and healthy. America achieved its goal — bravely and decisively — after 10 painful years. People who love their country sought out one another to share collective effervescence.” Besides the already noted fact that the “brave and decisive” action was, while justified, a bit marred by hypocrisy and the flaunting of international law, it seems to me that the people who rejoiced without celebrating were showing patriotism and compassion for the victims of 9/11, while those who were chanting “USA, USA” in the streets while holding beer cans were engaging in the most obvious and deplorable type of nationalism — again, that behavior is appropriate after winning the World Cup, not after killing someone.
Perhaps the best criticism of Haidt’s piece came from one of his own readers, Grigori Guitchounts (interestingly, a neuroscientist), from Cambridge, MA, who wrote: “Just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it is morally acceptable. This is obvious when it comes to an issue like sexual predation: men may have strong sexual urges, but most of those cannot be acted on in a morally defensible way. Science can guide our morality, but it does not determine it. Morality must be determined by philosophy rather than facts alone. We can choose whether we want to celebrate the killing of a monster, but no science will ever justify that decision.” Amen to that.


  1. Massimo, I generally agree with you here, but I do have to point out two things. Firstly, Haidt is a social psychologist, not a sociology. He earned his PhD in psychology at Penn and is currently employed in the psychology department at UVA.

    Secondly, while I do not concede the domain of morality to philosophers, I find the suggestion that morality at the individual level works the same as morality at the level of group or states quite odd even for a philosopher. If that is the case, then what is the difference between moral philosophy and political philosophy? Why would any philosopher spend any time talking about governments if governments worked just like people? Wouldn't they just take the philosophy developed for people and apply it without modification to governments?

  2. Frank, point well taken. Though I wouldn't say that societies work just like individuals, but rather that there better be a close connection between what is moral for an individual and what is moral for a society, no?

  3. I thought that actually the idea that what is decent for an individual to do is also decent for a group of individuals to do is one of the cornerstones of what we like to call civilization.

    If you are unwilling to give a national exemption then anyone who kills in war is a murderer.

    1. Killing is not automatically, "murder" or more clearly, there are "legal" individual and governmental ways to kill.
      If a person is found to have accidentally taken a life, they can be exempted from certain punishments. A person who kills in self-defense, or in defense of another person's life generally is released of all official punishment. A government, by extension, may ask citizens to kill in defense of the innocent of their country, to protect property, etc. Also, by treaty, the nation may contribute to the defense of another country.

  4. Massimo, I agree with your take on Haidt and your analysis of the reaction to Osama's death. I do find your third to last sentence somewhat problematic, by most accounts:

    "Morality must be determined by philosophy rather than facts alone."

    I know we have gotten into a lot of moral realism/anti-realism and objective/relativistic discussions, so I will try not to go there, but what you mean by "philosophy" here seems either extremely broad (and should include the entire scope of human knowledge, including all the facts we learn from science) or it is incapable of "determining" what our morality is. Unless, by "determine," you just mean is one of the tools that we use as a society to argue for our moral system ("deterministic" but not in a way that lines up with what we want from "must be"), in other words, part of the discursive structures that enter into our moral calculations.

    Another option may be, as hinted at by your second to last sentence, that we take some existentialist-like view about our freedom to choose and the consequences that are determined by our freely choosing actions . . . but I will leave that there, I do not see how that would get us outside moral questions.

    Lastly, by "philosophy," hopefully you do not mean men and women sitting in arm chairs or in academia are necessary for determining what is moral, though they have certainly helped and are better than Popes, priests, . . .

    Anyways, I agree, with the point that is/ought is problematic and being hedged on by Haidt. He is claiming certain scientific facts, e.g. an evolutionary trait, and then trying to claim such facts as justification for specific moral beliefs being wrong- which, I guess, the reason why that is problematic was brought to our attention by a man sitting around in an armchair.

    One last note: In Wittgensteinian fashion, "Morality must be determined by philosophy rather than facts alone," seems like it will fall back onto its own violation of is/ought; or is tautological; or is a baseline but unsupportable axiom.

  5. Thameron,

    killing in war is no necessarily murder, it depends on why it is done. As you probably know I subscribe to just war theory. Even for individuals, killing is sometimes morally justified, we don't call self defense "murder."


    good points:

    > Unless, by "determine," you just mean is one of the tools that we use as a society to argue for our moral system ("deterministic" but not in a way that lines up with what we want from "must be"), in other words, part of the discursive structures that enter into our moral calculations. <

    That's pretty much what I mean. As is clear from my other writings about ethics, I think of moral philosophy as a helpful way of thinking about ethical issues, not as a strong determinant based on some kind of foundational principle.

    > hopefully you do not mean men and women sitting in arm chairs or in academia are necessary for determining what is moral, though they have certainly helped and are better than Popes, priests <

    Obviously. Though professional (not necessarily) philosophers are the ones who spend most of the time thinking about these things, so it would be nice if people listened to what they have to say a bit more carefully (as opposed to what popes and priests say...).

    > In Wittgensteinian fashion, "Morality must be determined by philosophy rather than facts alone," seems like it will fall back onto its own violation of is/ought; or is tautological; or is a baseline but unsupportable axiom. <

    I'm not sure what your point here is. Morality is a human concept, so we better think about it keeping in mind what sort of animal humans are, or we are talking nonsense, no?

  6. States are classically defined (since Max Weber) as organizations that successfully claim a monopoly of coercion on a given territory. Thus, exercising coercion (e.g. putting people in prison, or exacting taxes) is "legitimate" for States, but not for individuals (or any other organization). Even killing (e.g. at war, or by death penalty) could be legitimate for States and not for individuals.
    However, when States engage in immoral acts (i.e. acts seen as immoral by other people), such as genocide, the individuals acting in the name of such State (e.g. former leaders or minions) are held responsible en criminal terms, while the States concerned are held responsible in civil terms (even if the government has changed).
    These legal regulations, however, are NOT about ethics (although ethical reasons are usually given), but LEGAL, and they are also governed by politics. Thus, for instance (1) vanquished regimes and their leaders and minions are held responsible while those still in power are often not; (2) only legal rules apply --moral rules not written into law are often not applicable; and (3) it is still held that other States are not allowed to interfere in "internal affairs"; this "rule of no intervention" is increasingly been challenged in cases of gross violation of human rights, but is strongly opposed by some states (like China) in all cases, and by others (like the US) when it concerns its own actions or citizens.

    However, even in terms of law there is a principle of raison d'Etat implicitly authorizing immoral and even illegal acts when mandated by "superior national interests" (e.g. killing an unarmed Osama bin Laden in foreign territory, without the local government knowledge or authorization, instead of doing the utmost to capture the individual in question alive and subject him to a fair trial in a court of law).

  7. I am a bit alarmed by Massimo reasoning about how "any decent person" would approve of the Osama killing even in the unlawful manner it was conducted. It is psychologically understandable that Americans share that feeling, but I doubt that can be categorized as "moral" (imagine for a moment that the Lybian, North Korean or Cuban government sends a commando to Texas to kill an unarmed George W. Bush in his ranch, for alleged war crimes committed in Iraq, Lybia or elsewhere: the citizens of the concerned countries would probably celebrate and approve, but that would not make the killing "moral"). Capturing the guy and bringing him to trial, even if the local govt is not informed, is a slightly different thing: think of the 1960 Mossad operation to capture Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires).
    All these "moral" judgment, I surmise, are not dictated by any overarching "moral philosophy" principles, but by adhesion to the feelings of one party interested in the act. Americans would rejoice in the killing of Osama while many jihadist mourn him and swear revenge; USA has shown some interest in a Darfur military intervention by the UN, but China has steadfastly vetoed it at the Security Council. I side myself with the US in that affair (even more strongly than the US government, I guess) but is it a matter of personal or collective opinion, or a matter of philosophical reasoning?

  8. "I rather think it is many conservatives who are not attracted to the academy — with all that open inquiry and low salaries"

    Yeah, conservatives are pretty sick. They prefer to make obscene profits by offering consumers things they don't really need. But academia is all about knowledge. What's better than that?

  9. Neal, I appreciate the sarcasm, but yes, academia is still about knowledge and values other than pure financial wealth. And no, I can't imagine what's better than that.

    Hector, I actually agree with most of your comments, though they seem tangential with my beef with Haidt. You say:

    > These legal regulations, however, are NOT about ethics (although ethical reasons are usually given), but LEGAL, and they are also governed by politics <

    Of course, but the idea is that legal and ethical matters should be tightly related (though they are obviously not connected in a 1-to-1 mapping). The fact that in practice governments tend to be more rogue than we would like them is yet another reason to act to bring governments' actions in line with ethical standards.

    As for a raid aimed at killing Bush, well, I appreciate the analogy, but I guess the two cases aren't close enough for me. Bush did what he did within the structure of a democracy - which means we are all collectively responsible for it. bin Laden was a terrorist acting in a clearly immoral fashion and without any accountability to his people. And the Pakistani were simply in collusion with him (either that or so inept that they hardly get any sympathy for complaining after the fact).

    I said at the beginning of my post that this is a complex matter, and my own feelings about it are complex and probably contradictory. But the post is concerned with Haidt's overly simplistic (and scientifically flawed, not to mention philosophically naive) take on it.

  10. "The Neural Basis of Altruistic Punishement" in the Aug. 2004 Science is instructive if we think of Bin Laden as a "norm violator." As someone who sees D.S. Wilson et al's. hypothesis of group selection as more plausible than its rivals, I think what we're seeing is a manifestation of in-group celebration of an out-group defeat. Nationalism or patriotism--that's academic. It's tribalism.

    The mechanisms that lead to in-group cooperation are disturbingly hard to separate from those that lead to out-group animosity. Our moral path is to expand boundaries or conceptions of the in-group. That said, Bin Laden stood for tribal war, and planned to continue killing. His death was necessary. But our relief and gladness ought to be tempered with a recognition that the war he started continues--and it wasn't without provocation.

  11. Upon hearing the news of Osama's death, I determined that a celebration seemed in order. I called my son to ask his opinion, and ultimately it was decided that I would leave the lab early and have dinner catered to our house. We did not consume alcohol, because I do not allow any alcoholic beverages in our home, but I did permit ginger ale to be served. And with what I would normally consider to be a "degenerate" beverage, I toasted the United States Marine Corp and the Navy SEALs for a job well done. (Note: Degenerate, in this case, represents high fructose corn syrup, unnatural preservatives, and artificial caramel color.) We were not celebrating the killing of a terrorist or the flagrant violation of international law, but rather, a feeling that the essential milestone in a decade long war had finally been reached.

    Now, upon reading this highly opinionated article, centered around the work of Émile Durkheim, I find that it is not in keeping with Durkheim's "Les Régles de la Méthode Sociologique" (Rules of the Sociological Method). He should have least revealed his subjective bias up front, as we have done, instead of trying to conceal it within science, or leaving it up to us to infer and filter. But doesn't this serve to illustrate the problem educated people have when it comes to connecting with the public? When we hear a word, a phrase, or see a symbol; our definitions and associations can be traced back, in many cases, to their various origins. When I see the greek symbol "π", for example, if I let it, it can take me all the way back to the Platonic representation of Archimedes and bring a tear to my eye. If I were writing an article on geometry and my target audience were the "lay people" reading the New York Times, would I form an analogy predicated on the foundational understanding of Euclid? Of course not. Sadly the average person wouldn't know who Euclid was, let alone posses anything more than a rudimentary awareness of the various postulates and theorems contained within his masterpiece. Indeed, I would have to create an abstract sensational analogy that the "average" reader could relate to. I wonder, in this day and age, how many people are reading The New York Times during their reality show's commercial break or as they wait for their "friend" to respond to their latest witty comment on facebook. Perhaps I am being too critical of our modern culture, but I am disturbed at the increasing number of people I see walking (or driving) around, unable to tear their eyes away from their seeing stone.

    While I disagree with Haidt's moral conclusions, I submit to you that because of his background, he does possess a good understanding of who his is target audience is, and what they will understand. He has to use abstract analogies, such as bees and termites, to explain his assertions without a "eusocial" context, because he realizes that such a term would result in a fumbling with an iPhone to obtain a definition and the inevitable loss of his audience to the distractions contained therein.

  12. So, Haidt is, in his individual vs. group distinction on moral norm-setting, a moral relativist who, like a good conservative, would deny being a moral relativist when cornered.

    @Dennis ... good point.

    @Hector ... partially following you, maybe Massimo could have gotten m ore complex yet on his thoughts, and said the actual killing was neither fully good n or fully bad? That's probably my take, anyway.

  13. Massimo, I appreciate your candor regarding bin Laden's killing; I also have tremendous respect for people who admit to holding possibly contradictory views, as you do, but nevertheless I found your comment on rejoicing like any decent human being would, troubling. I'm a very decent human being and I did not rejoice in his killing (long story). I can't see how not rejoicing in his death makes somebody not decent, honestly.

    Regarding Haidt, although he makes it seem like a "done deal" that we evolved to prefer or have loyalty to the "in-group", this part of his article is the least troubling. I find his article a post-hoc justification of American triumphalist tribalism. Certainly, being in a state of group-mentality revelry does not release individuals from moral behavior or moral introspection. In this I fully agree with your assessment.

  14. Adriana, sorry, I did not mean to imply that people who did not rejoice at the occasion are not decent, though much may hang on what exact,y we mean by "rejoice." I doubt you mourned the guy, but I could be wrong. Glad we agree on Haidt, though!

  15. Massimo, how could I mourn a terrorist of such caliber? I would have to be a terrorist myself to mourn him. But rejoicing and mourning are not the only two choices, are they? I do lament the missed opportunity: if we had captured him and tried him, we would have shown the world that we can act in accordance with international law and not with the usual double standards that you rightly mention in this article.

  16. From: The evolution of eusociality
    Martin A. Nowak1, Corina E. Tarnita1 & Edward O. Wilson2

    "To summarize very briefly, we suggest that the full theory of eusocial evolution consists of a series of stages, of which the following may be
    recognized: (1) the formation of groups. (2) The occurrence of a minimum and necessary combination of pre-adaptive traits, causing the groups to be tightly formed. In animals at least, the combination includes a valuable and defensible nest. (3) The appearance of mutations that prescribe the persistence of the group, most likely by the silencing of dispersal behaviour. Evidently, a durable nest remains a key element in maintaining the prevalence. Primitive eusociality may emerge immediately due to spring-loaded pre-adaptations. (4) Emergent traits caused by the interaction of group members are
    shaped through natural selection by environmental forces. (5) Multilevel selection drives changes in the colony life cycle and social structures, often to elaborate extremes.
    We have not addressed the evolution of human social behaviour here, but parallels with the scenarios of animal eusocial evolution exist, and they are, we believe, well worth examining."

    Massimo, your colleague David Sloan Wilson has of late been very supportive in this reshaping of the theories as to how bees, ants and termites evolve their social behavior, which has more in common with animal eusocial evolution than you would have us think it does.

  17. But one thing is not mourning and other is rejoying.

    I did not feel good about the "Bin Laden" circus, and this has not got better the days after. It is just amazing what is happening.

  18. killing in war is no necessarily murder, it depends on why it is done. As you probably know I subscribe to just war theory. Even for individuals, killing is sometimes morally justified, we don't call self defense "murder."

    Indeed I did know that, but the issue gets a bit sticky. The United States and its people haven't been threatened by any open warfare since World War II. No one in this country would have noticed if South Korea had fallen or indeed Viet Nam. Likewise with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the United States unprovoked aggression against Iraq. Hard to justify any of those as 'self defense'. So would you then say the soldiers who killed in those conflicts were murderers?

    And would you also accept that there is justifiable homicide in a non-self defense context?

  19. Massimo:
    I see you've skipped another of my posts. And I did try so hard to be civil.
    But you're still demonstrably wrong about bees, ants and termites.

  20. Adriana

    I hope my comment does not take the discussion too far afield, but I fail to share in your lamentation over the, as you say, missed opportunity to try bin Laden in a court of law. In brief, bin Laden's culpability for 9/11 (and other other acts of aggression, the USS Cole, e.g.) is far beyond any reasonable doubt and, per his admission, he and his cohorts have initiated an armed, quasi-military conflict with the U.S. and her allies. Hence, proper resolution does not seem to call for a civilian trial and incarceration, but rather military action of the type authorized by Obama.

    Moreover, the tactical risks of bringing bin Laden into custody (and his maintenance therafter) outweigh, I think, the ideological benefits which might be gleaned from a more or less perfunctory trial.

  21. Adriana, yes, I lament the missed opportunity too. As I said, my feelings about this are complicated.

    Baron, one more time: I don't monitor the blog constantly during the day, especially while traveling. Your comment did come out. And my response is: I think David Wilson overplays the group selection scenario in humans. It is certainly a logical possibility, but there really isn't a shred of convincing empirical evidence.

    Thameron, yes, I do blame soldiers in Vietnam to some extent. Though let's remember that there was conscription in place at the time. The soldiers who went to Iraq are much more morally responsible. Still, moral responsibility comes in degrees, so to simply label people as murderers isn't very helpful.

  22. Massimo, it appears you haven't read the cited paper at all, because it was particularly about your bees, ants and termites that supposedly did not evolve their social behavior by group selection, but by kin selection. Where supposedly Haidt was seriously in error.

    But to cite more from the Wilson paper:
    "Haplodiploidy happens to be the method of sex determination in the Hymenoptera, the order of ants, bees and wasps. Therefore, colonies
    of altruistic individuals might, due to kin selection, evolve more frequently in hymenopterans than in clades that have diplodiploid sex determination.--
    By the 1990s, however, the haplodiploid hypothesis began to fail. The termites had never fitted this model of explanation. Then more
    eusocial species were discovered that use diplodiploid rather than haplodiploid sex determination. They included a species of platypodid ambrosia beetles, several independent lines of Synalpheus spongedwelling shrimp (Fig. 2) and bathyergid mole rats. The association
    between haplodiploidy and eusociality fell below statistical significance. As a result the haplodiploid hypothesis was in time abandoned
    by researchers on social insects."
    There's much more, but it seems Haidt, a non biologist, is a bit more up to date here than you want to give him credit for.

  23. "I rejoiced, as any decent human being, I think, ought to do on that occasion." - well, that lets me out as a DHB, I guess: I think anyone who wishes to call themselves a DHB shouldn't profit from their power to kill and exploit other species: just shows how different we all are, eh?

  24. Cavall, not sure what any of this has to do with other species.

    Baron, actually, I have read David's paper and I'm telling you that he overplayed it. There is no crisis of kin selective explanations applied to eusocial insect, though things are certainly more complicated than Hamilton thought in the '60s. But that's always the case in science.

  25. Rob, was there a point to those links? It would be nice if people used links to back up something they wrote rather than simply link. There are a lot of papers out there, and only 24 hours in a day...

  26. Just thought other laypersons (like myself) might appreciate a short and accessible account, in the first paper, of the pro-group-selection argument on which Haidt draws in the second paper, which provides some background to his op-ed.

  27. "Baron, actually, I have read David's paper and I'm telling you that he overplayed it."
    Massimo, it was Edward O. Wilson's paper, not David's. David (not related to Edward) has supported it on his website. Edward is the more authoritative when it comes to insects, I expect you'll agree.

  28. Here is Edward O. Wilson's paper:

    David S Wilson was not an author. However he has co-authored work with E.O. Wilson in the past.

  29. Baron, sorry, confused it with the Wilson and Wilson (both!) paper in Quarterly Review of Biology, which I actually edited for that journal. That's what happens when one comments at 5am from San Francisco on the way to the airport...

  30. This conservative/libertarian academic scholar with a Ph.D. in the humanities and loves open inquiry cannot get an academic position. For 6 years now. Is it because I use Darwin in my literary analysis? Or because my economics aren't Marxist (I do Austrian economic analysis of literature as well)? I believe Haidt.

  31. Troy, surely you understand that anecdotal evidence a case doesn't make. I have plenty of liberal former students and postdocs who can't find a job either...

  32. There are many other factors that go into hiring faculty than whether or not a person has a PhD and meets the minimum job requirements. What does your teaching portfolio look like? What were your interviews like? Does your personality mesh with other faculty? What kinds of grants do you have, or are you seeking? The list goes on and on. To assume that you have not gotten an academic job simply because you use Darwin and don't use Marx in literary analyses is a bit myopic and seems to lack an understanding of the hiring process in academia.

  33. I'm not the only Literary Darwinist who can't find work. Jonathan Gottshall, who published like a madman, can't get a full time position. Why? Because of his theoretical approach. I did a phone interview in which the interviewers didn't have the foggiest idea what literary Darwinism could possibly be -- and they didn't seem to like my answer. That was my one and only interview. Nobody gets past my C.V. -- and one can only presume it's because of the nature of the publications. The fact is that humanities departments don't want any diversity of opinions or ideas. They want people just like them. Tribalism at that level is just as unethical as it is in the general population (where we call it racism, sexism, prejudice, etc.).

  34. This is an old post but...

    because I thought that actually the idea that what is decent for an individual to do is also decent for a group of individuals to do is one of the cornerstones of what we like to call civilization.

    I'd agree with Haidt that is not a cornerstone of civilization at all nor even a moral law. Governments replace individual violence. By definition they are entitled to do actions that individuals are not. You do not have the right to imprison people who do wrong to you, those individuals order by the state do have such rights. You do not have the right forcible take property from others to to enact your objectives, the state does have the power to tax.

    Further relationships between individuals are governed by law. Because there is mostly no entity higher than the state, relationships between states are governed by power. The situation of individuals in an anarchy.

    The cornerstone of civilization is specialization of labor, that's when a group of people becomes a civilization.

  35. Things can only be subject to international law when there is international consensus on legality; in the case of Bin Laden, although few would argue that he was not a terrorist, there was little likelihood of him being trapped by an international consensus and determination to bring him to justice, because of overwhelming sympathy for him in Muslim countries, nor was Bin Laden willing to submit himself to legal process. For these reasons the actions of the USA were both justified and moral.

    The author misrepresents the celebrations as celebrations of death, they were celebrations of justice and victory over evil. Several people were killed in the operation, but the celebrations focused on one dead individual; a celebration of "death" would have included all of the dead, the more the better.