Penguin feelings hurt; ignored by conservatives

One personality trait associated with conservatism is their strong attachment to their in-group identity, which leads to a number of attitudinal characteristics. These characteristics are, in turn, inimical to Singapore’s best interests as a multi-racial, multi-religious society and an open economy. How so? Full essay.

17 Responses to “Penguin feelings hurt; ignored by conservatives”

  1. 1 Yan 10 June 2009 at 00:38

    I’m curious; is your observations based on hard evidence or are they just anecdotal?

    P/S Some researchers have argued that this in-group loyalty you speak of is a dimension of morality:

    OK, so there are two psychological systems, one about fairness/justice, and one about care and protection of the vulnerable. And if you look at the many books on the evolution of morality, most of them focus exclusively on those two systems, with long discussions of Robert Trivers’ reciprocal altruism (to explain fairness) and of kin altruism and/or attachment theory to explain why we don’t like to see suffering and often care for people who are not our children.

    But if you try to apply this two-foundation morality to the rest of the world, you either fail or you become Procrustes. Most traditional societies care about a lot more than harm/care and fairness/justice. Why do so many societies care deeply and morally about menstruation, food taboos, sexuality, and respect for elders and the Gods? You can’t just dismiss this stuff as social convention. If you want to describe human morality, rather than the morality of educated Western academics, you’ve got to include the Durkheimian view that morality is in large part about binding people together.

    From a review of the anthropological and evolutionary literatures, Craig Joseph (at Northwestern University) and I concluded that there were three best candidates for being additional psychological foundations of morality, beyond harm/care and fairness/justice. These three we label as ingroup/loyalty (which may have evolved from the long history of cross-group or sub-group competition, related to what Joe Henrich calls “coalitional psychology”); authority/respect (which may have evolved from the long history of primate hierarchy, modified by cultural limitations on power and bullying, as documented by Christopher Boehm), and purity/sanctity, which may be a much more recent system, growing out of the uniquely human emotion of disgust, which seems to give people feelings that some ways of living and acting are higher, more noble, and less carnal than others.

    Joseph and I think of these foundational systems as expressions of what Dan Sperber calls “learning modules”—they are evolved modular systems that generate, during enculturation, large numbers of more specific modules which help children recognize, quickly and automatically, examples of culturally emphasized virtues and vices. For example, we academics have extremely fine-tuned receptors for sexism (related to fairness) but not sacrilege (related to purity).

    • 2 Robox 12 June 2009 at 00:26

      To Yan:

      There are other synonyms for ingroup/loyalty; “insularism” and “parochialism” come to mind. It would be interesting to note that the latter of the two synonyms I provided has roots in Christianity.

      The quote you provided postulates – no HARD evidence provided even while it does resonate – that ingroup/loyalty ‘may have evolved from the long history of cross-group or sub-group competition’. To “competition” I would add “conflict”.

      Thus, what ingroup/loyalty describes is a relationship that members of any one group have with each other only; it does not describe relationships between members of different groups, and of particular concern to me, especially in the event of conflict and how conflict is resolved.

  2. 3 Aaron 10 June 2009 at 03:28

    I like the part about the Singapore exceptionalism story. I always thought that Singapore mostly prospered because it inherited a good deep water port in a convenient location, not because of any special sort of governance/leadership/values/culture.

  3. 4 KiWeTO 10 June 2009 at 18:54

    Hmm, perhaps the question is how does Singapore encourage the neighbours to view us?

    A bright red dot?

    A bustling port open to new ideas and businesses, or a closed mind and resultant closed economy?


  4. 5 Anon8613 10 June 2009 at 20:04

    I just posted this as a response elsewhere, but thought it also vaguely relevant here too.

    Debating with a fundamentalis:

    A: Homosexuality is unnatural! It occurs nowhere else in nature! It is caused by nurture not nature!
    B: Er, it occurs throughout nature (refers to studies of showing 1500 species which show a percentage that are homosexual). Clearly it occurs naturally and is natural for a percentage of beings.
    A: (shifting tack) How can you compare man to animals, man is not an animal! He has free will and morality!
    B: Er, it was you that said it didn’t occur naturally or in nature…
    A(not listening): Man has a choice whether or not to commit murder! Animals do not have morality!
    B (puzzled by this tack): Animals (apart from some primates) generally only kill to eat, and stop if they’re not hungry. Only man kills in the name of religion. Which behaviour is more moral?
    A: Stop comparing man to animals! Homosexuality is immoral! All religions agree on this!
    B: (points out the religions that don’t agree and those within various religions that don’t agree)…and even the world leader of the Anglican Church says that gay relationships are fine for people of homosexual orientation if they are monogamous.
    A: Those religions are the work of the devil! He’s a liberal! ! Liberals are noisy and uncouth and wont shut up and sit down when we covet their organisations and carry out a hostile takeover!! It is the mouth of the beast!
    B: It’s not a liberal/conservative issue. Across the political spectrum there are those who believe gay people should have equality. Dick Cheney (Bush’s VP) is in favour of gay marriage…
    A: He’s a Nazi! Gay rights supporters are Nazis! Liberals are Nazis! Why don’t they talk about something else! Why must they keep on about homosexuality! There are more important things! I have to spend all my time online telling people it’s unnatural and immoral! They are oppressing me!
    B: But the Nazis murdered homosexuals, just like some fundamentalists do now…
    A: The bible says they should be killed! It’s God’s will! AIDS is God’s punishment for gays!
    B: But diseases are not punishment. Everyone gets ill sometime, even the saintly. And most people who die from AIDS are heterosexual…
    A: Diseases are punishment! Cancer is the result of a sinful life!

    And so on, ad nauseam.

    • 6 Robox 11 June 2009 at 03:20

      Here’s an antidote to the ultraconservatives’ “shifting goalpost” tactic in the nature/nurture argument beginning at the protest, “But we’re NOT animals!” (“Err…we were when this argument started…”)

      (I’ve encountered other variations like “But human beings have civilization/culture” as well as “It’s so demeaning to compare yourselves with animals”.)

      Christian Dominionist: But we’re not animals.

      Gay Agendist: Well, if we’re not animals, then even heterosexuality should be criminalized because heterosexuality is found in the animal kingdom.

      Christian Dominionist: *stumped* (Okay, I can fantasize, can’t I?)

      Christian Dominionist: But… but do you see gay animal couples together?

      (There they go again unable to decide whether to benchmark the naturalness of human sexuality against that of animals.)

      Gay Agendist: I have seen TV documentaries of them mating. I have also seen TV documentaries of different sex couples mating.

      Christian Dominionist: But do you see them taking care of children?

      (Note: In many bird species, males do.)

      Gay Agendist (who ignores the fact in brackets above because he is getting frustrated): Okay, I see that we’re back to comparing humans with animals. In the majority, if all mammalian species, the nurturing of children is done exclusively by the mother and her female relatives – it’s a matriarchal family structure. Males have only one specific role to play and that is to fight other males for the right to mate with the females – yes only alpha, and no other males get to mate – and father children with her/them. Once that happens he has absolutely no role to play – he actually disappears, except in some cases where he sticks around to continue to ensure his mating rights with the females of the clan until another alpha male deposes him.

      So do you see heterosexual couples taking care of children in animals. Because I don’t.

  5. 7 YCK 10 June 2009 at 21:53

    When it comes to morality, it is not always easy to fall back on what is observed. For it is not self-evident what “is” is not what it “ought” to be. I therefore do not see much value in compiling descriptions of animal behaviours to justify certain human behaviours on moral grounds. It is an interesting exercise for evolutionary psychologists and generally ethologists.

    Yan did bring attention to an interesting article by Jonathan Haidt. I wonder if anyone has the patience to finish it? In short, he is arguing for the evolutionary origins of our morality. He and a colleague hypothesize that there are five foundations of morality:

    1. harm/care,
    2. fairness/justice,
    3. ingroup/loyalty,
    4. authority/respect,
    5. purity/sanctity.

    No prize for guessing which combi liberals stress: The first two. Conservatives on the other hand emphasizes all five.

    In the spirit of not being judgmental, Haidt has it that the two groups are just differently moral. But I personally think that in a globalized world, the liberal outlook makes more sense.

    For a more digestible and humorous presentation of these ideas in a Haidt talk on youtube:

  6. 8 Anon8613 11 June 2009 at 00:58

    YCK says “I therefore do not see much value in compiling descriptions of animal behaviours to justify certain human behaviours on moral grounds.”

    The compilation of animal behaviours is generally referred to in response to fundamentalists’/conservatives’ assertions that homosexuality is unnatural as man is the only animal that engages in homosexuality or establishes gay relationships. They argued this for a long time and many still do, as you will see in the forums.

    This brings me to another point; whether it is appropriate to lump fundamentalists together with conservatives, or to let them get away with saying they are merely presenting a conservative viewpoint.

    When proven wrong, whereas the secular conservative may be willing to reconsider his view in the face of evidence to the contrary, the fundamentalist simply changes the argument to one of morality, or some other non sequitur.

    As fundamentalists are doomed to lose any argument based on reason rather than belief, what they do is shift the argument when faced with scientific fact, or mimic with pseudo-arguments, mock, insult or in extreme cases murder their opponents (as we saw a few days ago in the USA), or call them “the mouth of the beast” (see the extreme conservative “Christian” Post Singapore website). They just find ways not to listen because they “know” you are wrong and they are right. Anything rather than even consider they might actually be mistaken in their beliefs or interpretations of scripture.

    Secular conservatives on the other hand are much more likely to be open to reason on an issue in the light of personal experience (having a gay daughter in very right-wing Dick Cheney’s case, I presume), or scientific or sociological research. It’s worth noting that the Iowa Supreme Court is benched by conservatives, it’s a conservative State, but they ruled in favour of the Constitution and equality under it for gay citizens. The Conservative Party in the UK has openly gay politicians who are in civil partnerships on its front bench.

    So perhaps the more interesting question is not “what makes a person conservative” but “what makes a person a fundamentalist (in any religion or philosophy)”.

  7. 9 Mythbuster 11 June 2009 at 03:38

    Anon8613, just one thing to add to the charge that AIDS is sent by God to punish homosexuals. If this is true, lesbians must be God’s chosen people…. No penetration can come of lesbian sex, so no chance or HIV transmission.

    • 10 Redactor 11 June 2009 at 16:38

      You know what? You are right. No part of the bible condemns lesbianism. More likely the consequence of sex being men’s prerogative at the time of the writing of the bible than with the actual intentions of the authors.

  8. 11 YCK 11 June 2009 at 12:29

    Hi Anon8613,

    I agree that the compilation of these examples is a response to show how the mistaken the premises. However, is does not change whether the examples are found that the argument is questionable.

    On your second point, I agree that you cannot assume that all conservatives are fundamentalists. You highlighted that one of the defining characteristics of the latter may be the dogmatic insistance in the truth of their beliefs without evidence or even in the face of disconfirming ones.

    But does this necessariliy have to do with religiousity? Not strictly it turns out. You can read about it in Hunsberger and Altemeyer’s book:

    Some traits apparently hangs out together with it. Altemeyer has his views on the matter that he summed up in a book:

  9. 12 Robox 12 June 2009 at 01:28

    Alex, from the in-group/out-group table you drew up, it can be said that it is not a strictly societal analysis because of the inclusion of animals in the table.

    Perhaps then we could add one more layer to the table, namely, PAP (and those connected to it) as an in-group and all other political parties (and those connected with them) as out-groups.

    If you ask me, “in-group” could also stand for “dominant group” while “out-group” for “marginalized”. As such, the inclusion of this additional layer would acknowledge another form of oppression that exists in Singapore and that is political oppression.

  10. 13 Mouth of the Beast 15 June 2009 at 20:30

    11 June 2009 at 03:38
    Anon8613, just one thing to add to the charge that AIDS is sent by God to punish homosexuals. If this is true, lesbians must be God’s chosen people..”

    Very true, though I remember reading that if they are wise they will use dental dams during oral, as transmission of HIV can be through bodily fluids.

    11 June 2009 at 12:29
    I agree that the compilation of these examples is a response to show how the mistaken the premises. However, is does not change whether the examples are found that the argument is questionable.”

    I do not understand this comment, it doesn’t seem to make sense; please explain.

    “But does this necessariliy have to do with religiousity? Not strictly it turns out. You can read about it in Hunsberger and Altemeyer’s book:…”

    I think you can get a better idea of what atheists think by reading their own books such as The God Delusion, and Letter to a Christian Nation.
    Though I don’t agree with them in many respects, I don’t find them dogmatic or willing to ignore evidence in favour of beliefs as do religious fundamentalsts; completely the contrary in fact.

  11. 14 YCK 16 June 2009 at 11:22

    Mouth of the Beast:

    Sorry for the very bad English. From now I shall avoid writing without spell check and on an empty stomach.

    The structure of the argument from Nature has the obvious form:

    X is unobserved in Nature.
    A man does X.
    He is immoral.

    But the structure of moral aguments is not built on logical implications. In this case it is of the underlying form:

    Fact of A.
    Man does A.
    He SHOULD not do A.

    Thus, the argument’s structure may be analogous to a logical one, and seems decievingly identical to one. But it has no force of a logical argument. Therefore, there is no point proving that the premise in line 1 is wrong if it does not prove anything in the first place. In fact the premise is irrelvant to the conclusion. There are two other reasons why it should not be done:

    1. It lends credibility to the badly constructed argument.
    2. The originators/pruveyors would not listen to the counter-examples anyway. (On logical grounds they are right to ignore it.)

    On my comment that dogmatism does not have to be tied to religiosity, I based it on Hunsberger and Altemeyer who studied card-carrying atheists who joined humanist/atheist organizations. Atheists do appear to be more dogmatic (”certain” about some things in life) than say agnostics, but they all lost to fundamentalists. The point is one can be religious without being dogmatic.

    Thanks for the reccommended reading. I do hope to be able to read them when I have more time.


    Just thought about the part where you stressed in-group vs. out-group mentality. I thought it should not be overlooked that such thinking is often fed by fear, and aggression directed by self-rightgeousness. Thus, part of dealing with this is to lower the (irrational) fear that some people are feeling. As Bertrand Russell was prescient enough to realize:

    “Fear is the parent of cruelty…”

  12. 15 Seelan Palay 17 June 2009 at 00:19

    Hi Alex, great article but great graphics too! I love your penguin graphic 🙂

  13. 16 Mouth of the Beast 17 June 2009 at 17:54

    Thanks YCK, I see your point now, and you\’re correct about the lack of logic in their position.

    The fundamentalists are wrong both in the example they start with and in how it proves their argument. Both can be pointed out, though I doubt it will impress the fundamentalists, who seem neither interested in facts or logic on this issue.

    I do think it is helpful though to correct misinformation that they put out that they think supports their beliefs, even if they are mistaken in the logical connection. Otherwise it goes towards a general smokescreen of misinformation that they use to support prejudice against gay people.

  14. 17 Anonymous 2 July 2009 at 03:55

    In-group loyalty may be a way that humans socialise. Humans seem to like things that they see in other people that are similar to themselves. It is a psychological boast to the esteem. Is this a dimension of morality? I beg to differ. I think we are no longer living in the pre-enlightenment age where the Chinese think that they were the only “moral” people or the Christians think that people of other faiths were “immoral”. Most people of this age, whether they behaved as such in reality or not were aware that at least their beliefs were subjected to questioning. Thus, one may live a life that has implicit approval from most people in society and yet be living a very immoral life if there are really universal absolutes of morality.

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