We Are All Liberals, and Always Have Been

Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations theory gained traction some years back. His ideas aren’t brilliant or entirely original, but he is a catchy popularizer of social science. Still, there is some merit to his theory, if there is plenty to criticize, as we have done previously. It is lacking and misleading in certain ways. For example, in talking about the individualizing moral foundations, Haidt has zero discussion of the personality trait openness.

That is the defining feature of liberal-mindedness. Openness is core to the liberal values of intellectuality, critical thinking, curiosity, truth-seeking, systems thinking, cognitive complexity, cognitive empathy, tolerance of ambiguity, tolerance of differences, etc. As an attitude, in combination with the individualizing moral foundations of fairness/reciprocity and harm/care, openness also powerfully informs major aspects of the liberal sense of egalitarianism and justice underlying social and political liberalism.

Openness represents everything that is unique in opposition to the binding moral foundations: ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. Those other moral foundations, in being everything that openness is not, are what define conservatism, specifically social conservatism, and arguably are what makes conservatives prone to authoritarianism. One can think of authoritarianism as simply the binding moral foundations pushed to an extreme, such that the openness personality trait and the individualizing moral foundations are suppressed.

This is important for how the framing of the topic has been politicized. Haidt is a supposed ‘liberal’ who, in being conservative-minded, has made a name for himself by ‘courageously’ attacking liberalism and punching left, an old American tradition among pseudo-liberal elites. There has been an argument, originated by Haidt, that liberals are somehow deficient because of lacking conservative-minded values. But that is inaccurate for a number of reasons. The unwillingness to conform, submit, and fear-monger is in itself a liberal value, not merely a lack of conservative values.

Anyway, maybe not all values are equal in the first place. One study indicates, instead, that the binding moral foundations are not necessarily inherent to human nature and so not on the same level. The so-called but misnamed individualizing moral foundations are what everyone is born with. That is to say no one is born a conservative or an authoritarian. Instead, we are all come into this world with a liberal-minded sense of openness, fairness, and care. That very well might be the psychological baseline of the human species.

Yes, other research shows that stressful conditions (parasite load, real or imagined pathogen exposure, etc) increase both social conservatism and authoritarianism. But the evidence doesn’t indicate that chronic stress, as exists in the modern world, is the normal state of the human species. Would a well-functioning community with great public health, low inequality, a strong culture of trust, etc show much expression of conservative-mindedness at all? One suspects not. Certainly, traditional tribes like the Piraha don’t. Maybe physical health, psychological health, and moral health are inseparable.

In one sense, liberalism is a hothouse flower. It does require optimal conditions to thrive and bloom. But those optimal conditions are simply the conditions under which human nature evolved under most of the time. We have a threat system that takes over under less-than-optimal conditions. If temporary, it won’t elicit authoritarianism. That only happens when stressors never can be resolved, lessened, or escaped; and so trauma sets in. One might speculate that is not the normal state of humanity. It may be true that we, in the modern West, are all liberals now. But maybe, under it all, we always were.

* * *

We Are All White Liberals Now
We Are All Egalitarians, and Always Have Been
We Are All Bleeding Heart Liberals Now

The role of cognitive resources in determining our moral intuitions:
Are we all liberals at heart?

by Jennifer Cole Wright and Galen Baril

The role of cognitive resources in determining our moral intuitions:
Are we all liberals at heart?

by Caroline Minott

Some researchers suspect that the differences in liberal and conservative moral foundations are a byproduct of Enlightenment philosophers “narrowing” the focus of morality down to harm and fairness. In this view, liberals still have binding foundation intuitions but actively override them. The current study asks the question: are the differences between liberals’ and conservatives’ moral foundations due to an unconscious cognitive overriding of binding foundation intuitions, or are they due to an enhancement of them? Since both of these conditions takes effort, the researchers used self-regulation depletion/cognitive load tasks to get at participants’ automatic moral responses. […]

When cognitive resources were compromised, participants only responded strongly to the individualizing foundations (harm/fairness), with both liberals and conservatives deprioritizing the binding foundations (authority/in-group/purity). In other words, automatic moral reactions of conservatives turned out to be more like those of liberals. These findings suggest that harm and fairness could be core components of morality – for both liberals and conservatives. While many believed in an innate five-foundation moral code, in which liberals would narrow their foundations down to two, we may actually begin life with a two-foundation moral foundation. From here, conservatives emerge by way of expanding upon these two-foundations (adding authority/ingroup/purity).

7 thoughts on “We Are All Liberals, and Always Have Been

  1. This is an interesting result, though clearly with some caveats. As the second article you linked by Caroline Minott points out, the study by Jennifer Cole Wright and Galen Baril used 206 undergraduates as test subjects, putting them in the WEIRD category (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic), making any sort of broad generalization hasty – we don’t know if this holds cross-culturally or across all age groups. I would also point out that the study only looks at people ±1 standard deviation from their “control” political alignment (which I don’t know how to place given that I don’t know where the “control” actually lies on the western political spectrum, especially since I can’t access the entire original article).

    Also interesting is that in the cognitive load condition, there was a net drop in fairness/reciprocity for the conservatives, and in self-regulation depletion there was a net drop in fairness/reciprocity and harm/care for the conservatives, where in the control these were actually shown to be slightly higher for the conservative than for the liberal. Indeed, fairness/reciprocity and harm/care score highest for both the conservative and the liberal under all conditions, which one could argue lends support to the notion that “…moral foundations are a byproduct of Enlightenment philosophers ‘narrowing’ the focus of morality down to harm and fairness.”

    I find it interesting how quick conservatives abandoned purity/sanctity under the experimental conditions. I think history shows that this is the case more broadly, where people will jettison such commitments in favor of practical survival needs when they have to.

    You assert at one point: “But the evidence doesn’t indicate that chronic stress, as exists in the modern world, is the normal state of the human species. Would a well-functioning community with great public health, low inequality, a strong culture of trust, etc show much expression of conservative-mindedness at all? One suspects not.” If this were true, that the modern world is a stressful world, then by the conclusion of the study, wouldn’t people be more liberal in general? The results of the study suggests that greater mental stress leads people to drop their conservative commitments and become more liberal, but if this is the case, then why do angry, stressed-out people seem to clamor for more authoritarian measures against their perceived enemies? Could it not be that our modern world is in many ways less stressful (most of us, especially college undergraduates like the subjects of the study, don’t have to worry about where our next meal will come from or if some people in the next valley over might come and attack us), thereby leading to people being able to take on more conservative commitments (if the results of the study can be generalized)?

    Anyway, great post. Do you happen to know if there are any more studies like this that have been conducted more recently than 2011?

    • This is partly a hypothetical argument and, no, we don’t know of any other similar studies (as always, we’ll keep our eyes open). We’re making a strong case as a thought experiment, but we’re always looking at new evidence. Even here, we note that the threat and stress response is inherently part of human nature. So, we aren’t denying or dismissing the underlying motivation to reactionary conservatism and authoritarianism. We simply argue that continuous threat and chronic stress is highly abnormal for evolutionary conditions.

      There is a lot of complexity and confounders, though. In some ways, humans have less threats and stressors than in the past. Yet in other ways, more. For example, infants and children are now less likely to die of infectious diseases. But overall, in excluding early mortality, modern Westerners don’t have a longer lifespan than hunter-gatherers following a traditional diet, although longer than previous agricultural societies. Still, modern life in the West is more safe and comfortable in many ways for many people, not that one can’t be comfortable and stressed at the same time, especially for the large and growing precariat. And besides, length of life doesn’t inevitably promote happiness and wellbeing, if one is simply experiencing a longer period of chronic and debilitating stress.

      What is especially worse is the skyrocketing diseases of civilization, a trend that began a centuries ago (melancholy, nerves, nostalgia, neurasthenia, etc). The majority of Americans are now metabolically unfit (obesity, diabetes, hypertension, fatty liver disease, etc). Many others have immunocompromise, autoimmune disorders, dementia, and mental illness (particularly mood disorders but also psychosis and personality disorders); rates of which are rapidly increasing. Autism, ADD, etc are on the rise as well. And of course, Americans live in the most unequal society in a period of the highest inequality in world history. High inequality is strongly correlated to social stress, mental illness, addiction, alcoholism, social dysfunction, aggressiveness, homicides, suicides, paranoia, etc; even among the wealthier (see writings of Walter Scheidel, Keith Payne, Richard G. Wilkinson, and Kate Pickett).

      Considering the study, these worsening conditions might be directly linked to the growing left-liberal supermajority, even as it also contributes to reactionary conservatism and authoritarianism in certain demographics (along with social dominance orientation and dark personality traits), specifically as the elite responds and seeks to manipulate populist demands of reform. It’s a mixed bag. Keep in mind that even most of the political right now holds positions to the left of the average liberal from a century ago. But this left-liberal supermajority has become normalized and yet distorted to such a degree that few can recognize it (while the control of elite media and political rhetoric causes further confusion). By the way, going by Corey Robin’s theory, ever since the early modern revolutions, conservatism has simply been a reaction to and hence defined by liberalism.

      It’s hard to make sense of it, but speculation is always fun. In the past, we assumed that less threat and stress would always favor liberal-mindedness, in how easy it is to undermine it. Consider that conservative-minded stereotypical thinking worsens with inebriation. Alcohol, like any other stressor, compromises neurocognition; if only temporarily, assuming one isn’t an alcoholic. Similarly, parasite load and pathogen exposure increase both social conservatism and authoritarianism. So, we’re not sure what to make of it all. What is clear is that the normal evolutionary conditions of the human species are completely altered. Though without the infectious diseases and lack of healthcare of hunter-gatherers, almost every other category of stressor is higher in the modern world, including the modern West.

      So, all things considered, has modernity been a net gain or a net loss in terms of a theoretical calculation of stressors? We probably can’t objectively answer that question because there is no way to do such a calculation. Our intuitive sense, though, is that on average it’s a general decline. There is more to stressors than material conditions such as material goods. Conservatives will argue that the poor aren’t really poor because they have tvs, cellphones, air conditioners, etc. But the threat of going into debt or becoming unemployed and homeless makes such minor comforts and conveniences moot. Plus, there is the increasing stressors of not only inequality but neoliberal globalization, social media, civil unrest, climate change, threats of world war, etc; not to mention the breakdown of traditional communities, kinship networks, and culture of trust.

      The number, kinds, and degree of stressors is so much more vast. Our sense is that most people feel less secure on a visceral level, if it’s hard for them to pinpoint why. Stress is subjective and often amorphous. And chronic stress isn’t always easily recognized as it sometimes is in the background (e.g., conditions of high inequality). An inability to perceive and comprehend the source of stress exacerbates it, in inducing pervasive free-floating anxiety. As studies show, chronic stress can be more traumatizing than single events of major acute stress, such as an act of violence (Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers). It’s precisely chronic stress that has worsened over time, to the point that it’s a defining feature of modernity.

      There are other components to keep in mind. Think about dietary and nutritional changes. With fortified foods and supplements, we have eliminated some of the major nutritional deficiencies that have helped to boost certain areas of health and development. Yet with the declining intake of nutrient-dense animal foods and animal fats, and increasing intake of refined carbs and seed oils from hyper-processed foods, there are other forms of worsening malnourishment and altered development. This is a likely cause behind much of the expanding rates of mental illness and neurocognitive conditions, including the present commonality of the neurotypical / neurodivergent / neurodiverse, all of which surely contributes to changing ideological mentalities and worldviews.

      Then combine changing nutritional status with improved education and literacy, as magnified by growing complexity and need for complex thought in modern society. This is one explanation for the Flynn effect of ascending average IQ, from generation to generation, such that if those born earlier last century were tested today they’d measure as the equivalent to ‘retarded’. This is specifically an increase in fluid intelligence, which has to do with pattern recognition, unique problem-solving, creativity, abstract reasoning, speeded performance, etc; as distinct from crystallized intelligence involving fact recall, formulaic problem-solving, verbal ability, and social knowledge. Fluid intelligence correlates to the dual personality trait of openness/intellect. Liberals on average measure higher on both openness/intellect and IQ, as well as executive functioning; all indicators of greater neurocognitive development and functioning, at least in certain measurable areas.

      There is yet another factor that is in play. Many people incorrectly conflate authoritarianism with social dominance orientation (SDO), but they are distinct. Yes, there are Double Highs, commonly found among far right leaders, who measure high on both. But individuals can measure high one one while low on the other. Authoritarians proper, for example, aren’t necessarily proponents of domination; as they simply want people to conform, but they will force people to do so or else exclude them if they don’t. So, in studies, when shown info about immigrants assimilating, authoritarians show more support for immigration; also when surrounded by others with pro-immigrant views. Authoritarians just want to fit in. They’ll submit to whatever social order that is under perceived authority. This applies even to egalitarianism, despite authoritarians having no inherent attraction to it.

      On the other hand, SDOs, in particular those high on SDO-D (pro-domination) from the SDO7 scale, are more consistently opposed to immigration, as they don’t want assimilation of outsiders that might disturb the social order. Unlike authoritarians and social conservatives, SDOs aren’t linked to lower average IQ. About those high in SDO-E (anti-egalitarianism), they can even be found among social liberals, such as neoliberal Democratic elites who are simultaneously fine with a few minorities escaping poverty to join the elite, as long as class-based social order of inequality is maintained. The entire system, from the economy to both parties, involves high-SDO elites; be they socially conservative or socially liberal, authoritarian or non-authoritarian.

      Much of what we often think of as ‘authoritarianism’ is actually social dominance. And so this factor does not necessarily track in all ways with the rest of the factors involving ideology. With worsening inequities as seen in the US, it’s not surprising to observe both left-liberalism and SDO taking hold in higher numbers. But that doesn’t mean there are necessarily greater rates of authoritarians proper. The vast majority of Americans (76%) are non-authoritarian. What has changed is the minority of authoritarians are increasingly sorting into one party, the GOP, and so driving polarization; but also dividing the GOP itself and pushing reactionary radicalization among activists. This seems to go along with the general trend of liberal-leftist-progressive supermajority and conservative-rightist-reactionary minority. This is also a divide ever growing between socioeconomic classes.

      So, dominance-oriented SDO-Ds would also be further sorting onto the political right, Double Highs gaining more power and influence among movement conservatives and Republican partisans. Whereas anti-egalitarian SDO-Es are probably more evenly spread across the parties. Because of the skew of monied interests and the electoral college, the minority of authoritarian right-wingers and SDO elites has outsized voice and control in all spheres of wealth and power. This means that authoritarians are more fully under the sway of SDOs, which changes the mood of authoritarianism. They become harder to ignore. And there really is no other force within elite institutions and systems to counter SDOs and their control of authoritarians. Even non-authoritarian SDO-E Democratic politicians, probably higher in dark personality traits (psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism), aren’t really interested in representing their mostly non-authoritarian constituents nor incentivized to promote non-authoritarian interests.

      https://www.vox.com/2016/3/1/11127424/trump-authoritarianism

      American Leftist Supermajority

      Fox News: Americans are the ‘Left-Wing’ Enemy Threatening America

      Polarization Between the Majority and Minority

      Wirthlin Effect & Symbolic Conservatism

      Political Elites Disconnected From General Public

      The Crisis of Identity

      Moral Panic and Physical Degeneration

  2. My hypothesis is that many of the stressors of modern life are due to the hedonic treadmill. There is more complexity in modern life, raising our personal interactions far above Dunbar’s number, as well as all the political and bureaucratic structures we have to navigate. But these problems often fall under what are colloquially called ‘first world problems’ because they have more to do with reputation and prestige (or even merely inconvenience) as opposed to the more basic physiological and safety concerns in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

    Yet humans are equipped with a nervous system that treats threat severity situationally. Being threatened with bodily harm (and potentially death) from a predator or a hostile human being exposes one to acute stress at a high level, but for someone who doesn’t have to worry about such things on a day-to-day basis, much less severe threats can be amplified greatly. Just as a person who wins the lottery doesn’t stay happy, a person who wins the “life lottery” of living in a wealthy country isn’t going to experience a level of happiness commensurate with how good their life actually is relative to, say, a peasant living in the Qin dynasty or 1630’s Germany.

    The social dominance orientation (SDO) theory isn’t something I know too much about. But it makes me wonder if those with high SDO are the kinds of people who will always be drawn to positions of power? If that’s so, then how might such an outcome (high SDO people taking power and mobilizing the authoritarians) be avoided? Could it ever be avoided in practice?

    • Yes, life really sucks in many impoverished countries, in a way that most Westerners can’t imagine. But most of those countries probably don’t have some of the problems common in the West, such as the extreme breakdown of traditional communities, kin networks, and cultures of trust. Plus, the experience in the modern West varies greatly, sometimes drastically, as a result of disparate conditions. The US may be considered ‘first world’, but many Americans are living in poverty and precarity. We once lived below the poverty line. Our generation, GenX, was the first generation to make less money than our parents, not to mention the first generation to have worsening lifespan. That trend continues it’s decline with Millennials and younger.

      Then in parts of the Deep South there are conditions (e.g., parasite load) similar to poor developing countries. Also, the concentration of poverty and homelessness in many big cities and along the West Coast is staggering — we saw this first hand when we visited Portland, Oregon and surrounding areas with more homelessness than we’ve seen in our life. The majority of Americans are now some combination of living below the poverty line, underpaid, underemployed, unemployed, and homeless. Consider that most welfare recipients are working but don’t make enough money to pay for food, transportation, housing, and bills. Even many homeless people are working but simply can’t afford housing because costs have gotten so high.

      That is on top of high inequality that is not only inequity of wealth but also inequity of services, resources, and opportunities; healthcare, healthy food, and supplements; platforms of speech, legal representation, and police protection; political power, influence, and representation; et cetera. Even something as simple as availability of green spaces and recreational spaces is determined by socioeconomic class. And of course, something as basic as clean air and water (e.g., lead toxicity) is determined by class privilege in our society; of which in most cases people are born into since most wealth in the US is inherited, not earned.

      That isn’t even to get into issues of systemic racism (police brutality, school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, etc), class war (union-busting, toxic dumps located in poor communities, underfunded schools, etc), and economic segregation (lingering effects of redlining and sundown towns, rural poverty, food deserts, etc). For those on the lower end of the class hierarchy, life can be quite shitty; if relatively less worse than some other hellholes on earth. This is what doctors sometimes refer to as Shit Life Syndrome as it results in numerous diseases, worse mental health, and shorter lifespan. Even in some of the nicer Scandinavian countries where there is greater gender equality, 2 in 5 women have been raped and one half have experienced violence. We have a long way to go in the modern West.

      To our mind, this all fits into the issue of social dominance orientation. Think about inequality. First off, keep in mind that poor communities without high inequality fare better than those with high, on various measures of: violent crime, addiction, alcoholism, public trust, etc; even paranoia and conspiracy theory. That can be exacerbated in bit cities where high inequality tends to be the worse and it’s in those heavily urbanized areas of mass concentration where the rate of psychosis and many other mental illnesses is rapidly rising among the youth. It might be noted that, according to some research, SDOs not only favor inequality but take active measures to create it where it was lacking. And such inequality is one of the main factors underlying all of the other problems. That inequality probably also increases the rate of SDOs as well. So, it might be a feedback loop of dysfunction, a death spiral.

      Over in your article about Hanzi Freinacht’s metamodernism, we were talking about Machiavellianism. As one of the dark personality traits, Machiavellianism is linked to SDO. We’ve speculated that the authors behind Hanzi, similar to Democratic party elites in the US, are likely high SDO-E (anti-egalitarianism) but low SDO-D (pro-dominance) and low authoritarianism. That is problematic to our perspective, with so many elites in the US and elsewhere promoting and defending high inequality, often while using or rather co-opting egalitarian rhetoric. That creates a serious challenge for those of us who are principled egalitarians, in acknowledging inegalitarian means can’t lead to egalitarian ends.

      There is also a class bias in terms of how those authors and similar people tend to be upper middle class professionals and hence out of sync with most of the rest of the population. As history shows, during times of crisis and moral panic, it’s the middle class that often is the deciding factor of authoritarian takeover, depending on whether the middle class allies with or turns against the increasingly radicalized working class. That is our present dilemma in the US as the middle class shrinks, becomes precarious, and is threatened by falling down the socioeconomic ladder. That can lead to the middle class becoming reactionary, such as adopting Machiavellian paternalism of technocratic managerialism and choice architecture. Liberal democracy, social democratic or otherwise, becomes an impossibility when that happens.

      • I don’t mean to imply that the western world doesn’t still have a whole host of problems, nor do I mean to suggest that a lonely homeless addict has nothing to complain about since others in the world have things much worse. Indeed, what I’m saying is that a person’s (incorrigible) experience of their own problems will have its severity measured against A) their own previous experiences, and B) their socioeconomic status relative to those around themselves. What I mean by this is that, were we to successfully address all the problems you mentioned (poverty, disease, inequity, etc.) humans would simply readjust what they conceive of as severe problems. For instance, think of the kinds of problems that the Kardashians face on their reality show, and the way in which such inconsequential, minuscule, first-world problems can be inflated and blown out of proportion to the point of being treated like catastrophes.

        As far as Hanzi goes: one of my fears is that the metamodernist movement is actually high on SDO-D. In general, I wager that people high on SDO-D are naturally drawn to positions of power, and as such they will often end up in positions of power. It is unfortunate that Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism are useful traits to have when getting into positions of power. This is one of the reasons why libertarianism is such a powerful draw to me, because I can’t help but see how those in the dark triad will always infiltrate, conquer, and/or corrupt any system put in place to solve problems, regardless of how well-meaning the policies and how well it is initially implemented. All such projects will inevitably succumb to dark triads and their accompanying cynical opportunists. Thus, even if the Hanzi authors are not themselves SDO-D, the metamodern project, once it is seen by a critical mass as a viable possibility, will swiftly draw in dark triads like flies to a carcass.

        • “What I mean by this is that, were we to successfully address all the problems you mentioned (poverty, disease, inequity, etc.) humans would simply readjust what they conceive of as severe problems.”

          That might be true to a degree, at least in comparing modern societies. But maybe there is a difference that makes a difference. There are both subjectively and objectively fewer severe problems in low inequality societies. It’s not only that there are fewer severe problems but less obsession over problems in general. High inequality causes people to be hyper-aware of and hyper-sensitive to stressors, threats, conflicts, etc; that is a tendency to see everything as a problem and to see problems, sometimes even minor problems, as potential existential threats.

          In contrast, look at egalitarian tribes like the Piraha. They don’t have many problems nor do they seem particularly concerned about problems. For example, they are surrounded by real threats that could injure or kill them, from predators to poisonous creatures, but they act carefree with no expressed anxiety about death. They don’t exhibit any depression, trauma, suicidal tendencies, etc that have become so common in the modern world, the modern West most of all. Under such healthy and natural conditions, even serious problems that threaten life seem less problematic, less of a worry. The Piraha are a confident and capable people.

          “For instance, think of the kinds of problems that the Kardashians face on their reality show, and the way in which such inconsequential, minuscule, first-world problems can be inflated and blown out of proportion to the point of being treated like catastrophes.”

          The Kardashians are part of the same high inequality society. It doesn’t matter if one is poor or rich. As research shows, everyone is worse off with pervasive inequities that divide, polarize, and stress out everyone in society. It creates the chronic stress, along with its accompanying free-floating anxiety, that is much more traumatizing than even major events of acute stress. One doesn’t have to go to the extreme of egalitarian tribes. Even among Western countries, high inequality such as in the US means higher mental illness, addiction, alcoholism, etc even among the wealthier (e.g., Kardashians).

          “As far as Hanzi goes: one of my fears is that the metamodernist movement is actually high on SDO-D.”

          That might be true. The thing is that, even if some or most of the metamodernist leaders were merely high SDO-Es, it might still make them vulnerable to the influence, manipulation, and co-optation of high SDO-Ds. The metamodern movement then would be increasingly infiltrated and taken over by SDO-Ds or else, in promoting hierarchical elitism, creating the conditions to elicit more SDO-D from others. SDO systems emphasizing hierarchy open the door to and invites in yet more SDOs.

          But even if we are merely talking about SDO-Es, sans any SDO-Ds at all, it still could be problematic. The issue might be SDO in general that is strongly linked to Machiavellianism, something shared by both varieties. What SDO-Es and SDO-Ds have in common, magnified by the power of dangerous Double Highs (high also in authoritarinism), might be the fatal weakness of Hanzian metamodernism. Only someone high enough in SDO, of one variety or another, would even think to suggest Machiavellianism at all. It just wouldn’t occur to non-SDOs to think that way.

          Hanzi is focused on consciousness raising, but it’s not clear consciousness has actually been raised, not even among the supposed Hanzian vanguard. That is why we emphasize consciousness raising as not only neurocognitive development but also and more importantly psycho-social transformation. It requires the breakdown of what came before, if that would be preferably followed by a synthesis. Something genuinely and entirely new is essential and necessary. More of the same is not going to get us anywhere. To react to reactionaries, such as adopting Machiavellianism, simply increases the reactionary.

          This relates to how Jaynesian consciousness (i.e., egoic mind) not merely having replaced bicameral mentality (i.e., bundled mind) for the one was built out of the remnants of the other, but only after it had broken down in that particular form. The bundled mind, more generally, can’t really be destroyed and eliminated, if it can be reshaped and repurposed. The same would happen with the egoic mind in turn as we approach another breaking point. In the late bicameral societies, there were already proto-individuals, such as traders interacting with diverse cultures and languages, who were already beginning to develop a proto-egoic views. That was the sign of an ending point, although few would’ve realized it at the time.

          That might be what is happening right now with some people developing metamodernist understanding or else mimicking it’s rhetoric, if not yet having fully attained a metamodern mentality. It’s a sign of the present mentality and system weakening. Hanzi and the self-proclaimed Hanzian elite could be deceiving themselves and/or others about being more advanced than they actually are. If we really were to have a metamodern elite as vanguard where metamodern represented a higher neurocognitive development, they would require an entirely new kind of mentality and identity to match it.

          The change from postmodernity to metamodernity might not be as simple as was the shift from modernity to postmodernity, a shift that many of us have lived through without even realizing it happened. The earlier overhaul of society and psychology from premodernity to modernity might be a better comparison. To create a metamodern society could require large-scale revolutions of mind and culture that will erupt as socio-political revolutions. We shouldn’t let the cart get in front of the horse.

          We’re not convinced that metamodern leaders, like the Hanzi duo, have yet developed an actual metamodern mentality. It’s one thing to intellectually speak of intra-active transdividuality and another thing to experience it and be utterly transformed. We just don’t see Hanzi being fully metamodern in this sense, in their advocating Machiavellian paternalism, technocratic managerialism, and choice architecture. They seem stuck in an old mentality, not realizing that metamodernism can’t win by playing old games.

          “In general, I wager that people high on SDO-D are naturally drawn to positions of power, and as such they will often end up in positions of power. It is unfortunate that Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism are useful traits to have when getting into positions of power.”

          Yeah, our thinking is along similar lines. But we’ve been talking to Brent Cooper, the only strongly leftist voice that is a major player in the metamodern community, and others at his Discord group. Some of them seem to get this concern, while others not as much. It’s sometimes hard to explain to others why Machiavellianism is a risky gamble when it can feel like it’s the only game in town. It’s called one of the dark personality traits for a reason, as it’s associated with dark behaviors and outcomes.

          “This is one of the reasons why libertarianism is such a powerful draw to me, because I can’t help but see how those in the dark triad will always infiltrate, conquer, and/or corrupt any system put in place to solve problems, regardless of how well-meaning the policies and how well it is initially implemented. All such projects will inevitably succumb to dark triads and their accompanying cynical opportunists. Thus, even if the Hanzi authors are not themselves SDO-D, the metamodern project, once it is seen by a critical mass as a viable possibility, will swiftly draw in dark triads like flies to a carcass.”

          We on the left have either been beat or co-opted by Machiavellian SDOs. Libertarianism neither can save us as it too has taken over by as bad or worse reactionary forces, such that many of the most well known libertarian voices now are those that have been at times explicitly anti-democracy and anti-freedom (indeed liberty and freedom are not the same); not that there aren’t still many genuine libertarians out there. The gamble Hanzi is taking is, to my mind, unnecessary and self-destructive. There is no way those with good intentions can win once it’s been accepted that we can rationalize Machiavellian elitism. It’s not a matter if it will go wrong but when and how.

          • Income inequality is not a linear causal agent. There is also what is called life satisfaction inequality:

            “Life satisfaction inequality might be a better predictor of social trust than income inequality, because there are theoretical reasons that the relationship between income inequality and social trust is contingent. Basing her argument on social cognition literature, Schneider (2012) has suggested that whether income inequality makes people more or less happy depends on how they perceive it within their personal social context. If income inequality is considered as representing a high potential for social mobility, people with low income might see significant inequality offering an opportunity for improving their situation later in life. The inequality has a positive value in this case. Then, the negative relationship between income inequality and social trust will disappear. Only insofar as income inequality is valued negatively will it increase inequality in life satisfaction and crowd out social trust. That means that income inequality may ultimately have a negative influence on social trust, but only indirectly through its influence on life satisfaction inequality.”
            Source: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s10902-018-0021-0.pdf

            Indeed, at very low levels of income inequality (i.e., low Gini coefficient) there is a drop in overall happiness due to loss of the signal effect:

            “A quadratic relationship between income inequality and happiness was found for yearly variations of happiness within the same country (the United States) and across European countries for the same year. In the United States data, the quadratic relationship was primarily due to the predominance of the jealousy effect for the comparatively high range of income inequality, while in the European data, both the signal and jealousy effect were presented, resulting in an overall inverted U-shaped relationship. Income redistribution can be viewed as a way to optimize efficiency and fairness toward economic growth. As excessive income inequality may impair fairness, excessive economic egalitarianism may reduce efficiency. Therefore, the results of this study suggest that, before a critical level of income inequality is reached, rising income inequality may be accompanied by a higher level of happiness, probably because the social comparison of aspiring individuals with their richer co-nationals promotes expectations that the income gap can be closed and offers a sense of financial optimism. However, once the income gap seems too wide to cross due to rising income inequality, more aspiring individuals may replace their upward mobility dream with despair and feel jealous of the rich.”
            Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5705943/pdf/fpsyg-08-02052.pdf

            Additionally, one’s within-group comparisons tend to have a larger affect on one’s happiness than out-group or national income inequality: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/epub/10.1177/2378023120985648

            And new studies cast doubt on the 2010 Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman study that happiness does not increase past a yearly income of $75,000. A 2021 study by Matthew Killingsworth indicates that life satisfaction and experienced well-being continue rising well beyond $75,000: https://www.pnas.org/doi/epdf/10.1073/pnas.2016976118

            Of course, I am aware that studies abound showing that income inequality and overall happiness are negatively correlated. I don’t doubt that having the obscenely wealthy right down the street from the destitute doesn’t cause stress, dissatisfaction, and even rage. But the above indicates that fixing it may not be as simple as just redistributing wealth.

            But neither am I saying that the status quo is tenable. I too think that our current situation leads to much unhappiness, anxiety, depression, ennui, anomie, addiction, and even violence (against others and oneself). My issue is that I’m not sure if policies geared towards the correction of income inequality will A) have the desired effect of increasing overall well-being or B) are something that can be planned and engineered by committee. I wager that a great deal of increased life satisfaction in low income inequality societies might result from cultural causes as well.

            Indeed, if one looks at the countries with the greatest life satisfaction, as seen in the following article: https://hbr.org/2016/01/income-inequality-makes-whole-countries-less-happy
            One could make an argument that it is the countries that have greater cultural homogeneity (e.g., the Scandinavian countries) are those with the highest levels of well-being. We should perhaps heed the Bradford Hill criteria or MAGIC criteria for statistical inference before making any such conclusion, possibly looking to factor analysis or principal component analysis to determine the variance dependence on such multivariate data, but my worry is that people are seeing the correlation that confirms the result they want to see and therefore don’t look any further.

            “That might be what is happening right now with some people developing metamodernist understanding or else mimicking it’s rhetoric, if not yet having fully attained a metamodern mentality. It’s a sign of the present mentality and system weakening. Hanzi and the self-proclaimed Hanzian elite could be deceiving themselves and/or others about being more advanced than they actually are. If we really were to have a metamodern elite as vanguard where metamodern represented a higher neurocognitive development, they would require an entirely new kind of mentality and identity to match it.”

            I agree. One thing that all people have in common, regardless of their cognitive development or Hanzian ‘metameme’ is that they think their own preferred ideology is the right one. Conservatives like to think they’re right because they have God on their side, but Hanzi has replaced God’s endorsement with a professed accreditation of self-proclaimed sophistication (e.g., metamodern ideas being born of a more cognitively enhanced Übermensch).

            “The change from postmodernity to metamodernity might not be as simple as was the shift from modernity to postmodernity, a shift that many of us have lived through without even realizing it happened. The earlier overhaul of society and psychology from premodernity to modernity might be a better comparison. To create a metamodern society could require large-scale revolutions of mind and culture that will erupt as socio-political revolutions. We shouldn’t let the cart get in front of the horse.

            We’re not convinced that metamodern leaders, like the Hanzi duo, have yet developed an actual metamodern mentality. It’s one thing to intellectually speak of intra-active transdividuality and another thing to experience it and be utterly transformed. We just don’t see Hanzi being fully metamodern in this sense, in their advocating Machiavellian paternalism, technocratic managerialism, and choice architecture. They seem stuck in an old mentality, not realizing that metamodernism can’t win by playing old games.”

            Indeed, which is something I touched on in my reviews of Hanzi’s books: what if it isn’t possible for a critical mass of people to ascend to the metamodern ‘effective value meme’? Hanzi himself says that most people in the west are still stuck in the modern ‘effective value meme’ and that people in developing nations are still in the pre-modern and Faustian ‘effective value memes’. It may be that humankind has a reached a socio-cognitive great filter where further progress will become prohibitively difficult.

            “Yeah, our thinking is along similar lines. But we’ve been talking to Brent Cooper, the only strongly leftist voice that is a major player in the metamodern community, and others at his Discord group. Some of them seem to get this concern, while others not as much. It’s sometimes hard to explain to others why Machiavellianism is a risky gamble when it can feel like it’s the only game in town. It’s called one of the dark personality traits for a reason, as it’s associated with dark behaviors and outcomes.”

            I’ve not heard of Brent Cooper. I’ll have to look into him.

            One worrying prospect is that Machiavellianism is the only way to succeed. I would hope not, as I find Machiavellianism repugnant, but it has a great track record of success (if we’re measuring success purely by whether the undesirable outcomes sought by such people are often achieved; or, at least, that more desirable outcomes by the less-Machiavellian among us are successfully stymied by the dark triad ilk).

            “We on the left have either been beat or co-opted by Machiavellian SDOs. Libertarianism neither can save us as it too has taken over by as bad or worse reactionary forces, such that many of the most well known libertarian voices now are those that have been at times explicitly anti-democracy and anti-freedom (indeed liberty and freedom are not the same); not that there aren’t still many genuine libertarians out there. The gamble Hanzi is taking is, to my mind, unnecessary and self-destructive. There is no way those with good intentions can win once it’s been accepted that we can rationalize Machiavellian elitism. It’s not a matter if it will go wrong but when and how.”

            I don’t think libertarianism, even if implemented by the well-meaning of them (those who are not high SDO and/or dark triad) would still be untenable. One of the things that drew me libertarianism in the first place, though, was the notion that if the government and its monopoly on force were minimized, it would take away the best weapon of the SDO/dark triad ilk, rendering them harmless (or at least much easier to keep at bay). Obviously, such people are predisposed to acquire power by some alternate avenue (perhaps even by erecting a de facto government parallel to, within, or on top of the ‘night-watchmen’ government favored by minarchists). But, I must admit, the notion of disarming them is still an attractive one.

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