The WEIRD Morality

Hello everyone! My name is Arielle Ais and I am a psychology student here at UMASS. Today I want to talk about some elements of chapter 5 “The WEIRD Morality”. In this chapter, Haidt talks about how we put morality on a scale and the WEIRD morality. One thing I thought was really cool was when he explained what WEIRD stood for: Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (112).  We as Americans tend to think of the world as full of separate objects instead of relationships whereas Eastern Asians think of it as the opposite (113). When Haidt talks about how Americans were most likely to list their internal characteristics compared to East Asians who would list their roles and relationships, it reminded me of a podcast I listened to a few days ago. In the podcast, the question was: What do you want to be when you grow up? The woman on the podcast explained how she went to her son’s preschool class and every kid said that they wanted to be an astronaut, doctor, nurse or even a rockstar. She talked about how they didn’t really answer the question. It wasn’t who do you want to be when you grow up, it was what.
It made me think about WEIRD culture. We live in such an autonomous society that we don’t see the bigger picture. We aren’t asked “When you grow up, what will you do to help your neighbor, country, society, the world?” We are already told to think autonomously when we’re asked the original question: What do you want to be when you grow up? We don’t get asked the other question until we hit college and then we’re confused because our entire lives we’ve been asked the first question. We are in such an “I” mentality that we don’t think about the “we”. Haidt says “The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships” (113). So my questions for this part is: Do you think this is true for you personally? Why do you think we think this way? Is it because we’ve grown up in the WEIRD culture? Do you think it’s the same in other cultures like if children are asked the same question? How would an East Asian respond to this question?

Another thing that stood out to me in this chapter was the scale on moral disgust. Haidt says “[M]oral disgust is felt whenever we see or hear about people whose behavior shows them to be low on this vertical dimension. People feel degraded when they think about such things, just as they feel elevated by hearing about virtuous actions” (121). He then gives us the example of the man who robs a bank versus the man who betrays his parents or who enslaves children for the sex trade. In the first situation he says that we would want to see the bank robber punished but the second guy who sells children into the sex trade triggers us a disgust in us and we see that guy as a monster. It reminds me of what he says about who we think of morality on a vertical scale. At the top is God or moral perfections through angels, humans, other animals, monsters, demons and then the devil, or perfect evil,at the bottom (121). Why is the guy who robs the bank not as “bad” as the second guy? They are both humans who are doing something wrong and both of their crimes involve taking something that is not theirs. The money that the bank robber takes belongs to people in that bank, the children being sold belong to parents. So why are we disgusted by one crime but not the other? Another question is we all start off as humans on the scale, what determines how we become monsters or perfect evil?

213 thoughts on “The WEIRD Morality

  1. Joe Echelmeier says:

    We live in a democratic society which gives us the opportunity to aspire to be something that we choose. In this system that we created, people find role models in their desired profession and role models for their morals. We also place our role models on a pedestal and chastise them if they do something that is not accepted among society. A good example is Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, who stole crab legs from a grocery store. Not only is it against the law in this country, but it is frowned upon by society and it is still talked about the start of this football season even though it happened last year.

    In east Asia, to start off, they do not have child labor laws. From a young age, many are put to work in factories and cannot aspire to be anything more than what they started as. So when they are asked about themselves they are most likely to describe their relationships among people rather than what they do for a living. It is what is unique and separates them from another person.

  2. Cody LaVigne says:

    I do see where people are coming from in saying that the WEIRDER the culture is the more individualistic the individual will become but I do not necessarily believe that. I do agree with the fact that Westerners are indeed more individualistic while people from the East have more social and community oriented goals. When you ask a small child what he wants to be when he grows up he gives you the job he wants. When he grows up his job will be very important to his life and some people say that instead of giving a job they should say what kind of person they want to be. What we need to think of is as kids grow up and are choosing their job what are some of the things they think about. They think about money but not just money for themselves but money to support their future family. That was definitely one of the main things going on in my head. So when you think about it things such as a persons job can tell you a lot about the person so just because the East and Western culture is different I do now believe you can go and make the assumption the the WEIRDER the culture is the more individualistic the person will be because that is not always the case.

    • Jessica Silva says:

      I would like to go off of your statement, “When you ask a small child what he wants to be when he grows up he gives you the job he wants. When he grows up his job will be very important to his life and some people say that instead of giving a job they should say what kind of person they want to be.” I believe that when a child is growing up he is always shown that being a nice and good person is the best and sheltered from what a bad person does. We try to keep the negative media from our children because we believe that they cannot handle it just yet. So obviously, the child will pick being a nice person when they grow up, because they know that those types of people are who society likes and in reality, who grows up planning that they will be a terrible person, like the bank robber or the man enslaving the children for sex?

  3. Chance Gendron says:

    In my mind the bank robber’s crime is way less severe. What he is doing is not hurting anybody physically; it is not affecting anybody besides the bank. The Sex trafficker is hurting thousands of people, mostly children, and their families. They are taking away the innocence of the people he forced to be used as sex slaves. Clearly, he is the worse criminal. It doesn’t take a different background or upraising to know that know or think that the sex trafficker is the worse criminal.

    • Matthew Pereira says:

      Chance, it’s really interesting to hear it put that way because that goes to show that society tends to value the “care/harm” foundation (as Haidt calls it) above the “fairness/cheating” foundation. This is why we generally view sex traffickers as worse criminals than bank robbers. It’s also why the federally mandated minimum prison sentence for organized crime/racketeering/bank robbery is 10 years, while minimums for various sex trafficking offences can start as high as 35. I believe Haidt to be absolutely right about WEIRD people and their worldviews. Haidt claims that WEIRD people think more autonomously and more in terms of separate objects than sets of relationships and holistic perspectives. I find that this applies greatly to me and I think that it’s the reason I often base my own self-image on personal achievements rather than relationships (a tendency I would like to change). Like a few of the ideas that Haidt discusses, I find this one to be relevant to me and useful in understanding some of my own attributes.

  4. Brittany Campbell says:

    I personally feel that we are disgusted more by one thing than the other because of not just our moral beliefs but the way our society portrays the problem. For instance you will hear about a bank robbery on a news website but a sex trade will travel through all types of media, i.e newspapers, magazines, social media networks, etc. We all are born equal but the actions we make down the line are what move us on the “scale” of being bad and/or good. I am apart of the ‘I’ culture and not the ‘we’ culture as Haidt says. I’m no really a WEIRD person and it doesn’t really apply to me. I honestly would answer the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” no different then those children. Once you take a step back and realize they’re asking what and not who you have to think more in depth, more then you did before because the answer you gave was sustainable before it was pointed out. Now that I understand what he means by WEIRD, I think it will apply to me more in the long run but not right away.

  5. Adam Callahan says:

    One of the first things any good science teacher will do is tell their students to make sure to have a control group when conducting their experiments. This is to insure the results can be compared to the “norm”. One of The Righteous Minds most astounding claims was that we Americans have a WEIRD set of ethics, meaning that our morals are centered around people’s rights and freedoms while non-WIERD peoples system of ethics are centered around larger concerns sometimes relating to spiritual health. This theory has major ramifications mainly that any moral survey done solely in the United Stated would be inherently flawed. However this theory has even greater depth to it, because it could finally explain why different countries can never seem to get along. This is because people with different morals tend to clash due to differences that go to the root of what it is that makes us human “If WEIRD and non-WEIRD people think differently and see the world differently than it stands to reason that they’d have different moral concerns” pg 114. So now that we know what it is that separates us it should be a simple matter to ensure world peace. Well, easier said than done. Even if we know why people don’t get along it still doesn’t solve the problem of how to make people get along because of their different moral perspectives. I’m stumped if anyone has any bright ideas towards world peace than please share.

  6. Danielle Noack says:

    I think that as a WEIRD culture we have very different ideas of an ideal. I agree with Riordan that as we are growing up we have a very autonomous answer to this question. many children idealize unrealistic heroes. We as a WEIRD culture typically start giving answers that may be unrealistic. As stated above it isn’t until we are educated and more mature that we finally give realistic answers to serious questions. I believe that to be different in different cultures worldwide. Children in other cultures are more realistic with their life goals. Sometimes I wonder if its because they have to work harder in some aspects for a high degree. Or maybe because their heroes are family members who have worked hard. I feel that as a WEIRD culture, if we were treated more maturely at a younger age we would stay from the norm and begin to grow as a culture.

  7. Louisa Stansbury says:

    This is certainly one of my favorite chapters! To point out, I just found it amusing when the rankings of someone’s bad deed was discussed just because it reminded me of “Dante’s Inferno”. Though in the inferno the religious ideals and ways of punishment are not the first thing that would come to mind in this day and age. Anyways the WEIRD culture is a static now a days and extremely Americanized notion, like the “American Dream”. However, personally I believe it did not start due to people wanting things for themselves. People migrated to this new land to benefit their future generations and hope they have a more successful future than the previous generations. As time went on the pressure of becoming successful somewhat morphed into this idea to children that they must become successful, this is when the “I” in the WEIRD community comes into play. The children who receive this pressure and hope of success then drive to do what it takes to reach that goal for themselves and fulfill the wishes of previous generations. This is where human flaw plays a part; people in general would rather have too much or too little, generally. Now, the question comes into play what is too much? Or even is there too much? Especially with money or fame. The goal that was created from these previous generations is to “do better then the ones before me” so, with that in mind there is no such thing as too much. Back to human flaw, this is where greed also enters and morphs with the WEIRD idea. Also this is where one of Dante’s Infernos levels, Gluttony, somewhat came to mind.

  8. Jake Mooney says:

    The man who is the child trafficker is in the wrong. The bank robber is also in the wrong, but not as bad. This is because money can be replaced. However, the innocence of children is something that can never be restored if it is taken. in my opinion, that’s why i believe that human traffickers are perceived as much more corrupt.

  9. Nicholas Gentile says:

    This is one of those questions that is suppose to give the reader a gut wrenching feeling. People will universally agree that selling your daughter is wrong, where as robbing a bank allows for some more justification behind it. If the person robbing the bank is doing so to help pay for an operation on is mother which will save her life then most people will say that it is not terribly wrong to rob a bank. But there is not many, or none at all, reasons why you should sell your daughter.

  10. Robert Carlozzi says:

    Children are a much more valueable and life changing thing than money. The bank robber doesnt necessarily affect us directly, but a sex trafficer could potentially affect a mothers child. Obviously the vibe the child trafficer gives off is much harsher due to the extent of the damage it does and how wrong it is. Determining when we reach that point of monsters or evil dipends on the person. In reality we are all different, but you could imagine the area where this so called monster stage would start. I feel as though once a person reaches the point to where they dont care about society and themselves as well, are the kinds of people who will do bad things with their life.

  11. I personally believe that the bank robber’s crime is less severe because money could be at one point be returned to their rightfully owner however the things being done to the kids are things that will harm them for life or could possibly kill them at some point early in their life

  12. Raybryana Dasher says:

    People tend to be more disgusted with “selling children into a sex trade ” rather than the “robbing of a bank” because a child’s innocence is involved. Whenever a person thinks of a child we think of youth, purity ,innocence and them just “not knowing any better”. So the thought of taking a young child who is new to to this world and hasn’t yet been expose to the darkness of it, is a gruesome thought. Everyone has encountered children in someway whether it is a younger sibling or they are a parent, we subconsciously personalize it and we have greater sympathy for the child crime. Children are something that we feel should be protected, nurtured and given happiness not enslaved in a sex trade.
    Although both crimes are bad and against the law children are young and still developing ,we humans automatically feel extra sympathy and compassion because of their innocence.
    So people calling the man who kidnaps children and puts them in a sex trade is considered a monster because he feels no empathy. He is given this monster title because it seems as though his heart is hardened towards these natural human emotions; such as compassion and sympathy. Humans feel he must be a monster if he can look past a child’s youth and innocence, that emits from their eyes and feel nothing ;and enslave them no human could do these actions. So they discard this person’s “human” title and replace it with “monster”.

  13. Arjun Banerjee says:

    We tend to only perceive the immediate effects of the criminals actions. That is why the bank robber is not seen as bad as the child trafficker. Don’t get me wrong, the child trafficker should still be severely punished, as it is a terrible crime by itself. However, the bank robber could have triggered a series of events that could lead to a more devastating outcome, such as the teller committing suicide because of the trauma that he/she faced.

  14. Lisbeth Valdez says:

    First of all, we do not belong to anybody but ourselves. The first guy isn’t considered as bad as the second one because money comes and goes. Those who idolize money will suffer but those who are humble would realize that money isn’t everything. It belongs to everyone, not just you. You can always get that money back. Now, we’re disgusted by the second guy’s action because that person is not just selling kids to the sex trade; they snatched someone’s life away, destroyed a human’s soul, dignity and personality. That person is considered a monster because they’re destroying someone’s childhood, their hopes and dreams for money. You can always get money back, but you could never get back a child’s innocence after you’ve stole and destroyed their life.

  15. Megan Pray says:

    The degree in which a person judges a criminal and their act depends on an individual’s morals and how their society portrays the criminal’s act. Both the bank robber and the man that sold the child into human trafficking are criminals, but in my opinion the human trafficker is worse. This is because a child’s innocence and life is being lost, and growing up in America a child’s innocence and youth is highly important to keep safe and protected. But if I were to grow up in a third world country my opinion might not be the same in this situation, or it could be, it would depend on my morals. I believe the reason the bank robber is seem as less of a criminal, or monster, is because the immediate effects are not necessarily thought of or seen, where as with child sex slaves we immediately recognize the danger and hurt the child will suffer.

  16. cotey monte says:

    We take the child traffickers crime more seriously because it’s a human’s life on the line compared to just money. We as observers to the situation don’t need to hear all the facts or all the details, we hear what we want to hear about both situations and base our objections on whose more guilty, when both crimes, a bank or human trafficking, both are wrong. The full story could be that the bank robber continues on after getting away and kills an innocent child but since we didn’t have all the facts, we are still judging based only on the morals we were taught growing up.

  17. Anwar Sabir says:

    I thought that the bank robber scenario was not as wrong as the child trafficking scenario this is because the children are being directly hurt, while robbing a bank is not affecting anyone directly or as severely except for the people in the bank. In the end both crimes were bad one was just more severe than the other.

  18. Stanely E. Martinez says:

    In chapter 5 when Haidt talks about the bank robber and the guy that does sex trade caught my interest the most, reason being that it made me really think about religion. Us human have initial flash of disgust and dislike the sex trade guy more than the bank robber because most of us consider sex as something sacred. The guy sells children into the sex trade and that triggers our anger and hits close to home because we have siblings or cousins etc. and we just think about them and their innocence as well.

  19. Kendra Sisco says:

    When we ask kids in America what they want to be when they grow up, they automatically think of someone they look up to or someone that is seen in our country as heroic. The types of people that are seen like that in our country might not be the same as people in other countries. Therefore the kids in East Asia might not respond to that question the same way.
    I completely agree that both the bank robber and child trafficker are both in the wrong, but when anything comes between children and their innocence people cringe and deem the act disgusting.

  20. Steven Celestino says:

    The child trafficker deserves to be punished more severely because even if he is caught and the children are saved, the children will never be the same after experiencing what they went through. Their innocence and lives are more valuable than the money that a bank robber steals. The bank robber should still be punished but not as severe.

  21. shaquelle davis says:

    I thought it was crazy how the author connects our mind to a tongue with six receptors. The book caught my eye when they introduced everything about how people think and how to each person try to solve problems.

  22. Christopher Melville says:

    The process in which Haidt explores the three different Moral understandings of Plato, Jefferson, and Hume, not only provides insight into moral questioning and reasoning, but demonstrates how long these topics have been and continue to be discussed. Haidt’s use of diagrams can be confusing, but his intent is to show how people interact within themselves and with those around them. The metaphor of the rider and the elephant, along with the dog and it’s tail, capture how certain instinctual topics such as intuition and reasoning are two of the same. The process in which people think for themselves need to be rearranged so that it can be viewed from a different person’s perspective. All in all, I am starting to get the gist of Haidt’s argument towards “the righteous mind” and it’s similarities and differences amongst diverse community, the human community.

  23. Bradley Hinckley says:

    After many analogies in the book, Haidt attempts to eliminate the mortal disgust that humans have, is killing your pet and eating it mortally wrong, no because it is being efficient and not wasting food that can be used as energy, but as humans we only see the wrong. but really there is no wrong doing. I think more cultures need to diversify their views and may or may not accept other cultures but to understand them, and attempt to eliminate our judgement towards each other.

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