08 September 2012

Friday Night: Chris Hedges and Jonathan Haidt on Corporations, Liberals, and Conservatives

"Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones.

The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature.

The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education).

It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

Albert Einstein, Why Socialism? 1949

While I agree with Einstein's diagnosis of the systemic flaw in market capitalism, which can be addressed by regulatory actions prohibiting monopolies and the abuse of power, I have to note that his follow on endorsement of central planning and socialism makes the same Utopian leap of faith about the natural goodness and rationality of human nature that the proponents of free market capitalism make.

The first video is part of an interesting discussion between Chris Hedges and Jonathan Haidt on the financial crisis at the 92nd Street Y.

Haidt is a psychologist who is doing some fascinating work in examining human values, and has done some interesting testing in the differences between liberals and conservatives, which is included in the second video.

I have to note that Haidt assumes what seems to be a normal distribution, or perhaps rather a distribution of normality, that does not seem to take sociopaths and psychopaths into their proper account. And more generally there is an element of the irrational that seems to introduce the occasional random act into human behaviour that runs contrary to the values of otherwise rational people.

 Like economists, the psychologists sometimes crush the individuality of the person to fit their models a bit.

The concept he presents is not entirely new. Such approaches to human values, including testing not for political preference but for a wider range of measures, go back to the 1970s at least, using six dimensions of perceived value called Order, Physical, Emotional, Scientific, Social, Enterprising. It had some remarkable applications in vocational and therapeutic testing. And there have been other such tests and measures, often with four or five dimensions.

I would also make a distinction between ends and means, between moral values and politics.  For my way of thinking moral values are ends we may hold, and politics, which is what Haidt is describing, are the means to achieve those ideals.

 What Hedges is saying is that we have lost a sense of values, 'the sacred,'  which has been sacrificed on the altar of commerce, led by the high priests of a destructively anti-human economic, almost to the point of psychopathy. And that is the source of his concerns.  And I think that is why he and Haidt talk past one another a bit.  Haidt talks about what he can measure, whereas Hedges is thinking at a level above that.

Hedges also references the way in which people's values can be twisted and manipulated by lies and even propaganda, so that they do things that are unintended and even irrational, outside of their normal value system, as in the objectification of the individual by the stereotype.  Haidt seems to miss that, as it is crushed out of his model.

Haidt's talk is nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable, and his development of his ideas highly entertaining. And you may even go and take his online test, and see how you stack up as a conservative and a liberal and what that really implies. I drew some insights from it, and you may do so as well.