I have two very different questions to ask in this post. One asks you to consider the responsibilities of a good writer. And the other develops Haidt’s ideas for a cultural critique. Please feel free to respond to one or both.
In my previous post, I asked you to think about Haidt’s intended readers and to reflect on yourselves as readers of this particular text. Your responses ranged from relatability to appreciating his ideas to critiquing his approach. Certainly, some of the concerns about the book being scattered also has to do with being able to process and synthesize a large amount of information about a topic that you are not very familiar with. Believe me, I had to re-read certain sections because I am not familiar with social sciences either. But as students about to go to college, being able to read and understand texts from different disciplines is necessary for your development as a scholar. Moreover, I would recommend looking at an earlier blog post about organization of the book where your peers are discussing how Haidt structures his argument.
I will pick on some points from what you said earlier though to start a discussion about writing. You will be expected to write in college and you will have to think about how to convince and persuade your readers about what you are saying. You will have to figure out your audience, figure out a way to make your ideas relatable and persuasive to them, and you will have to be very aware of your own biases as well.
Would you, in your writing, be like the elephant and find reasons to support what you believe? And if you do so, do you think you will be able to convince your reader?
Or will you take a step back and think about what you are doing and then analyze your own biases?
Some of you commented on Haidt making clear what his biases are. That is indeed one of the ways to get your readers to trust you. If, however, the author is not aware of his/her own biases and the reader is able to see through them, then that writer loses credibility. For example, as a reader, I quickly lose faith in a writer that is not self-aware about his or her own partialities.
On page 81, Haidt makes a distinction between two kinds of responses based on an experiment done by Paxton and Greene: one that is immediate and the other where the subjects were made to wait a few minutes before they could respond. He uses the metaphor of the elephant and the rider here to say that in those few minutes the rider (that is, reasoning), gained the upper hand. The rider got the time to think about the supporting arguments and then develops the judgment in this case. The judgment gets altered as a result of that thinking. So what kind of a writer are you?
Would you just let your point remain at the level of opinion (I like this; I didn’t like this)
Would you provide evidence but after having made up your mind already?
Or would you use the evidence to rationally figure out situations and then develop your point?
For example, how are you responding to this post? What approach are you taking?
Secondly, will your answer change depending on the kind of writing you have to do – is it a diary entry or a Facebook post or a paper for a class?
Secondly (and this is connected to thinking about your readers/audiences), Haidt mentions the taste receptors. Instead of politics and voters though, I would like to insert writing and readers. A good piece of writing should be able to appeal to all the taste receptors of the readers in order to be successful. What qualities do you think such writing might have to appeal and to persuade your readers to give you your vote (as in to believe you and your ideas)?
ON NATIONS AND TASTE RECEPTORS…
On another note, I would like to raise another question that seems to be relevant even though it goes beyond what Haidt is discussing in his book
Haidt argues that conservatives appeal to a larger base of people than liberals
And he presents two kinds of bumper stickers to prove how the conservatives are able to appeal to all the taste receptors as opposed to the liberals who are perhaps only able to appeal to two. He gives multiple examples and one of those is bumper stickers by liberals and conservatives.
The liberal sticker says things like: “Save Darfur” and “Stop Genocide”
The conservative one says: “Support Our Wounded”
Both are examples of “Care.” Haidt uses this to argue that conservative caring is more local, and blended with loyalty (158-159). My question is loyalty to whom…??? Both seem to be loyal to me.
Secondly, it seems to me that the local-ness of the conservative caring is actually at the national level (which I believe is too huge to be considered local).
The two bumper stickers are saying something completely different. The Darfur one clearly encourages the reader to connect with the people who are being victimized. It seeks to make people think beyond the self and an idea of the nation to empathize at a human level.
The conservative one also asks to empathize but with “our wounded.” The “our” here clearly indicates Americans.
Then later on, in the chapter, “Why Are We So Groupish,” he uses the example of the American flag to talk about a sense of loyalty and indeed a sense of self which is connected with the nation.
So here I want to use Haidt’s ideas to go beyond and to discuss the ramifications of both kinds of appeals made by the two parties. He uses the example of 9/11 to talk about it and that is what made me think about how complicated the mobilization of nation was in its aftermath. So my question is if it is worth it to try and appeal to these senses if they include constructions that might be problematic.
For example, the idea of the nation can be so problematic because, while it does many good things, it can also disallow a human empathetic connection with those who are considered as competition.
Connected with this sense of national loyalty can also be hatred of others who don’t look American (read: brown and most people of color in the immediate post 9/11 US). The media played a huge role in this paranoia building as well.
Suheir Hammad’s Def jam poetry was a response to the atrocities inflicted on many Americans that were brown (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7bxgaqNzKE). Please hear the entire thing if you are listening to it.
This is just one example – the conversation that I want to have is NOT about 9/11 but about constructions of self in terms of nationality, class, or race, etc.
We can apply a similar sense of loyalty to a lot of other things. Again, Haidt uses the example of distribution of wealth. In sticking with the self (to the exploitation of others not as privileged in terms of class), the conservatives appeal to morals about everyone earning what they are due. It creates a world view where the poor deserve to be poor and where the poor are considered as not hard-working and allows for the rich to not feel any guilt (never mind that a factory laborer labors way more than a capitalist who probably got access to education and wealth that allowed for his or her advancement and riches).
This is not to say that there aren’t people who don’t resist this kind of thinking or raise questions about unfair treatments. They clearly do as is evident by the Occupy movement, by Suheir Hammad’s poetry, as well as by all the protests in the Ferguson case. And these are just a few examples. It will also be very wrong to think that these problems are particular to the US. They exist in a very similar way in most countries.
The question, however, is about how the taste receptors might themselves need to be questioned. In fact, these receptors differ across the various lines of region (state to state), class, race, etc.
So how does one go ahead – if the party needs to appeal to all the receptors of their voters, then how does it go against its own principles if they refuse some of the problematic local alliances that are needed? This is indeed a paradox.
For this second post, please go ahead if you have similar responses where you use Haidt to interrogate some social issues if not this one.