Thursday, August 2, 2012

When Poultry Divides: Moral Diversity & Chik-Fil-A

"When the politics of poultry becomes a moral wedge that we can't as a
nation overcome - we are indeed roosting in a vast pile of shit"
Gay marriage would normally be beyond the purview of my humble blog here - but it's the power of meat to connect into nearly all domains of humanity that, well, here we are. It's no new news that Chik-Fil-A restaraunt founder, Dan Cathy, recently admitted he is "guilty as charged" for believing in the sanctity of "traditional, biblical marriage" - as well a funnelling millions to support organisations that advocate against the freedom of certain single consenting adults to marry each other, aka - "gay marriage".

Now - my politics generally fit into the box of 'bleeding heart liberal' - but it would be a waste of my time and yours to write one more blog on the level of disgust felt by me and my 'leftist' comrades regarding the actions of Cathy and his chain of oh-so-delicious chicken sandwiches (truth be told - I've actually never been ;). Despite the liberal, carnivorous evolutionism that shapes my world views - I follow all manner of folks in the social media sphere. From conservative Christian cowboys, to radical vegan activists. I follow folks I frequently disagree with, not for "opposition research" aiming to craft better attacks on the enemy, rather - to understand how it is that good people can become so divided by politics and religion. Let me attempt to shed some evolutionary light on this most recent chicken-based wedge threatening to pull the US populous deeper into tribal anomie.

Earlier this year, champion of evolutionary moral pyschology, Jonathan Haidt published The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Inside, Haidt offers a cavalcade of concepts that might help us use this poultry-based debacle to yield greater mutual understanding, rather than simply fodder for hatred between the Christian right and those advocating for gay rights.

Haidt argues that our ancestral environments shaped our minds to universally behold (at least) 6 mental mechanisms - or highly emotional moral responses - to a variety of stimuli. The graphic summary on the left lists these moral foundations and it is not difficult to imagine how ancestors which had moral responses to anything listed became more cohesive communities - and out competed the less cohesive.

Today, Haidt argues; "morality binds and blinds". It binds us into groups based on shared moral responses to these stimuli and it blinds us to the potential truths or rationale of others. This can be either helpful or harmful - the end result will be based on how You and I take the time  understand each other's moral matrices.

For our conservative cowboys - Chik-Fil-A's Dan Cathy was standing up for the sanctity of marriage- protecting a sacred institution from degradation of the authoritative word of God. When liberals respond by calling for a boycott on these poultry palaces- conservatives cry fowl. Numerous conservative ag-commentators have spun the issue as one of free speech. The liberals, some say, seek to limit Cathy's liberties - his freedom to voice his support against gay marriage.

Predictably, according to Haidt's intensive empirical findings - this stance outrages liberals and fills us with disgust. You see - for the liberal moral matrix - the Care/Harm and Fairness foundations are incredibly strong (indeed stronger than for conservatives). When we see the pain caused to entire groups of people due to discriminatory policies and dangerous pseudo-psychological treatments (as in bans on gay marriage and 'pray the gay away' clinics) - we cringe and wonder how any supposedly moral community could allow this to continue. 'They must be stupid and ignorant out there in the mid-west' - we stay to ourselves on either coast.

Conservatives would do well to understand that liberals have a notoriously difficult time seeing the loyalty, authority, and sanctity foundations as having anything to do with morality - in fact we frequently see them as negatives. Conservatives do indeed have a "more balanced" moral matrix than liberals - but this is not to say it's better. Morality binds and blinds - and in the case of gay marriage, perhaps conservatives in their rush to bolster full array of moral foundations - become blinded to the real and perceived harm of their actions. The astonishing levels of support for Chik-Fil-A (in recent days the restaurants have been flooded with conservative consumers) is easily perceived by liberals as actions of hate, not a defense of free speech.

Likewise, Liberals could reduce the anomie and build bridges toward productive conversation if we took time to at least understand where our conservative bretheren are coming from. True - the harm caused to homosexual communities by such political rhetoric can be seen as so great "why would we even want to take time to understand these assholes" - I can hear many of my gay-supportive friends asking.... I'm not asking for agreement, merely pause to understand the foundations of moral diversity. If we were to do this perhaps our communications would sound different - perhaps the 'other side' would listen to us instead of turning inward to their existing tribal groups.

A boycott of Chik-Fil-A is a logical and reasonable step for anyone who supports gay rights....I for one will never eat there (never have - but still, now I never will). People should, if they feel so inclined, align purchasing power with personal values (whatever those may be). But if liberals can understand as well that conservatives have an ultra-attenuated response to the Liberty/Oppression foundation - perhaps we could be more careful about how we communicate. Yes - Dan Cathy has a right to say and fund what he likes, and yes, Chik-Fil-A has as much right to exist in the US as much as any group we may vehemently disagree with. I think every liberal agrees with that statement, but too often we don't start conversations this way - and just as often these conversations stop before they even begin.

Morality binds and blinds; when the politics of poultry becomes a moral wedge that we can't as a nation overcome - we are indeed roosting in a vast pile of shit. Let's open the doors of our respective hen houses, pick on the fresh grasses of tribal diplomacy - and use this odd example as a way to understand each other in new and productive ways!

For more information on Moral Foundations Theory check out:

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