One of my favorite Mother Theresa quotes is: "I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there."
The current conflict in Gaza between Hamas and Israel requires the thoughtful liberal to navigate a few seemingly conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, liberals generally believe that peaceful means are more effective than military means at achieving long term success. This often manifests itself in opposition to military action, such as the Iraq war, Vietnam war, etc.. On the other hand, there is no country or government that would tolerate missiles being launched at their large civilian populations and the Israeli response to missiles being launched from Gaza is a response that every nation would take if in the shoes of the Israelis. Defending civilians against attack is just.
The point of this blog post is to point out that you don't have to choose between being pro-peace and remaining anti-war, as these attitudes, while related, are not perfectly correlated. In a paper that is forthcoming in the journal Political Psychology, we found that you can find meaningful differences in what being pro-peace and being anti-war predict. Being pro-peace relates to caring about others, while being anti-war is related to attitudes toward authority, for example. The multi-dimensional nature of peace-war attitudes is reflected in the real world in the above quote by Mother Theresa, and by the assertions of soldiers and politicians everywhere that their ultimate goal is peace. In the current conflict, it is perfectly reasonable to believe that the Israelis have every right to defend themselves against attack (therefore not being anti-war), while also faulting both Hamas and the current conservative Israeli leadership for not pursuing peace more vigorously (therefore being pro-peace).
Indeed, I'm writing this in part as a response to a beautifully written essay by Jessica Apple, a writer who lives in Tel-Aviv, which ends:
And as Israel pummels the Gaza Strip, there is no Israeli political leader saying, as Rabin did, “Enough of blood and tears.” [the leader of the opposition party] has, in fact, supported the government’s actions as just, without questioning whether they are wise.....I do agree that Israel has the right to protect its citizens. But I condemn Israel’s current leaders for failing to recognize that the best defense is peace.
The full essay is well worth reading. I pray for the welfare of all the innocent people caught between forces beyond their control in the region and hope to see peace prevail before it is too late for both sides' welfare.
- Ravi Iyer
The recent killing of Americans in Libya by a mob of protestors who were responding to an intentionally offensive youtube video, created by Sam Bacile and friends, illustrates a fundamental truth. Extremism begets extremism. Killing begets killing. Violence begets violence.
It is a truth that directly relates to the cycles of incivility that we see in American politics and a truth that social psychologists often study, because group level reactions to conflict, extremism, violence, and incivility/demonization are fairly predictable; they incite more of the same. Indeed, there is clear evidence that Sam Bacile, Terry Jones, Osama Bin Laden, Charles Manson, and other extremists understand this implicitly and commit their extremist acts with the idea of inciting a wider war. In this case, a desire for a wider conflict is what the Libyan Mob and Sam Bacile have in common. Psychology research backs their methods.
- Interviews in Rwanda illustrate how the humiliation of some led to a desire to counterhumiliate others and ultimately to genocide. (Full article here)
- A large body of research shows that being threatened by reminders of one's mortality leads one to want to punish and derogate those who have a different worldview.
- Threat and mortality salience also increases the tendency to stereotype outgroups.
- When violence occurs between groups, members of a harmed group can be motivated to retaliate against innocent members of the perpetrator's group, leading to cycles of violence and vicarious retribution. (also see here)
Given the reliability with which extremists can create cycles of violence, it remains imperative that those of us who want reduced extremism, incivility, and violence realize the situational causes and consider how to frame things as a cooperative goal of moderates vs. extremists, instead of a Muslims vs. the West frame that extremists on both sides would prefer. It's an imperative that Martin Luther King put as follows:
Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love... Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. … Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
- Ravi Iyer
ps. crossposted from civilpolitics.org
Many people believe that war and violence are inherently immoral, and some psychologists have begun to explore the idea that celebrating heroism is an antidote to the problem of evil. In contrast, other psychologists have highlighted the dark side of moral conviction (Skitka & Mullen, 2002) and the notion of idealistic evil (Baumeister, 1997) to explain how moral motivations might actually lead to increased violence. I sometimes call this being hypermoral, not because I have any great further insight, but simply because I think it has a better chance of catching on as a pop culture meme.
President Obama started military action against Libya, following his belief in the concept of a “just war”, suggesting that Libya might be a useful example of morally motivated violence. This was somewhat informed by the fact that I personally support intervention in Libya on moral grounds, meaning that I see no gain for the US or myself, but rather would like to help those who are attempting to gain their freedom. Unfortunately, that requires violence. While I may see this as 'good', others likely see this as evil, and I do see the unfortunate parallel with violent actions anywhere, in that I could see a suicide bomber having a very similar thought process, even as they kill many innocent people in an act that I would term evil. The point of this research is to divorce normative judgments about which kinds of violence are good or evil from the more general psychological process, and simply to show that at least in this case, violence is often morally motivated, rather than being indicative of a person who is amoral.
As such, I conducted an experiment where participants were randomly assigned to answer questions about Libyan military intervention in terms of what is morally right or what is in the national interest. For example, one question read "Considering what is (morally right/in the US national interest), I support the recent American intervention in Libya."
Results are shown in the graph below, broken down by ideological group, and indicated that many individuals are indeed more supportive of intervention when framed in terms of what is morally right. Liberals (p<.05) exhibited significantly greater support for Libyan intervention, framed in moral terms. Conservatives exhibited a marginally significant effect (p=.06), though the magnitude of the difference is greater, so I likely just need to survey more conservative participants, who are a minority in this sample. Consistent with our research on libertarian morality, whereby libertarians are not moved by the typical moral concerns of liberals and conservatives, libertarians were unaffected by moral framing. Interestingly, moderates were also unmoved by moral framing.
This is one specific case and one specific study on a very specific sample, so there are certainly limitations in the conclusions one can make, as with most any social science research. However, this does suggest that for many people, the case of Libya is a concrete example of morally motivated violence. I'm hopeful that thinking about violence and war as morally motivated, divorced from whether you think the ends are good or evil, will be a useful paradigm for reducing violence and conflict more generally. Perhaps violence will actually be reduced if people become less moral and instead more tolerant of other people's views and actions.
- Ravi Iyer
Why should the US lead in Libya? This is a question I've been asking myself a number of times as I've heard one common criticism of Obama and our actions in Libya, specifically that we aren't demonstrating leadership. Personally, I would like Gaddafi stopped and perhaps most importantly, I'd like us to save lives when possible with minimal risk and cost, but I don't necessarily understand why it is important if we lead the effort. In fact, as a taxpayer, I would love it if France decided to bear the cost of the endeavor or better yet, an Arab country that is less likely to cause reactance in the population. And if they would like our help, I would be happy for us to follow.
In contrast, Sarah Palin was perturbed that "We get in the back of the bus and wait for NATO, we wait for the French." Newt Gingrich said that when Obama stated that Gaddafi has to go, "he pitted the prestige and power of the United States against a dictator who's been anti-American for over 40 years." Conservative Charles Krauthammer believes that Obama is "overly modest about his country" at a time when "the world is hungry for America to lead".
Does it really matter if we are perceived to be leading or following and does every desire the President expresses have to come true, lest we are diminished? A belief certainly isn't wrong just because I don't share it. There are many things that people value more than me (e.g. etiquette or aesthetics) that are nevertheless important in the world. However, what puzzles me about calls for the US to lead in Libya is that I don't necessarily understand the underlying value differences that drive this. What do we get for being the "leader" in Libya? Would it be so bad to let the French bear the cost and risk involved?
I don't have a good empirical answer for this, but I did examine some value differences in our yourmorals dataset that I wanted to share, in part because certain hypotheses I had are demonstrably wrong. Below is a graph of how much conservatives, liberals, and libertarians value humility, influence, social power, and authority from the Schwartz Values scale in our dataset. The overall average bars are the average across all values on the scale, indicating that none of these values overly important in any group. Still, these differences may play a role in the underlying psychology of geo-political leadership.
Perhaps blinded by my liberal bias, I thought one possibility was that liberals believe in humility more than conservatives and/or perhaps conservatives have a greater desire to be influential. Surprisingly, though probably not to conservative readers, some of whom likely share Krauthammer's belief that liberals are immodest, conservatives in our dataset value humility more than liberals and both groups value being influential fairly evenly. The belief that the US should lead does not appear to be a function of conservatives lacking modesty about our country or wanting to wield influence in the world.
Conservatives do report valuing being in positions of authority and having social power more than liberals. One hypothesis that is possible, is that conservatives might believe that it would be a bad thing if the US had less power and authority in the world, as these are things which they value more than liberals. Some people may get a sense of power and authority from being associated with a powerful and authoritative country. From that perspective, it might make sense to want the US to take a leadership position, even if it does result in a higher tax bill and more risk.
Of course, bear in mind that I haven't actually connected these values to any attitudes toward Libya, and these results may only hold for the types of educated internet users that tend to visit our website. Still, this was informative to me for the hypothesis that this rules out, as it seems unlikely that pride is driving calls for the US to lead intervention in Libya amongst conservatives, given that liberals may actually be more prone to pride. The desire for our country to remain in a prestigious position of power and authority is a more likely candidate and perhaps underlies the desire to see us play a leading role in Libya.
I would welcome any other hypotheses or ideas, especially from conservatives who do feel that it is important that the US take a leadership role in whatever we do. Why do you feel this is this important to you? What am I possibly missing? Perhaps those thoughts would help me design a more conclusive study. In addition, I'm going to start monitoring my own levels of modesty.
- Ravi Iyer
Today is Veteran's Day and I would like to express my profound thanks for the sacrifices that soldier's make in service to our nation. I may not agree with the decision to go to war in some cases or with the utility of war in general, but soldiers do not make those decisions. Politicians do. Once they are made, soldiers are the ones who make the sacrifices necessary as a result of those decisions, including the potential ultimate sacrifice, and there is something truly noble and selfless about being willing to risk one's life for others. While the decision to go to war can be partisan, supporting the individual people who carry out military policy is usually bipartisan, and today, Obama honored troops in Korea while incoming House Speaker Boehner joined Vice President Biden in a bipartisan show of support at Arlington National Cemetary.
However, some people have trouble separating their attitudes toward war from their attitudes toward soldiers, especially the more liberal among us. As a liberal myself, I can understand the cognitive dissonance that may arise from the idea of supporting those who carry out policies that we find destructive. On the conservative end of the spectrum, it may seem dissonant to think that people can oppose a war and still support the people involved in the war.
In our YourMorals.org dataset, attitudes toward our troops do indeed appear highly related to attitudes toward war.
And this no doubt contributes to lower feeling thermometer ratings among liberals in terms of attitudes toward troops, though I should point out in the below graph that the midpoint of the scale is 4, so the range of mean attitudes toward soldiers ranges from neutral (very liberal) to extremely warm (very conservative), with no group being against our troops. Of course, mean values are to be taken with a grain of salt for our dataset, given its non-representativeness, but here is a similar Gallup finding.
It may be hard to do, but especially on Veteran's day, I think the civil thing to do for liberals is to attempt to separate their negative attitudes toward specific war decisions from their attitudes toward our nation's troops, perhaps populating the upper left quadrant of the first graph above where negative attitudes toward war coexist with positive attitudes toward soldiers. At the same time, perhaps those who support specific war decisions can take liberals at their word, that most of us do support our troops, even if we might have made different decisions about the policies that led to their deployment.
- Ravi Iyer
ps. If you want to more fully explain liberal-conservative differences in feelings toward soldiers using our dataset (reducing ideology beta to .122, p=.055), you can add differences in identification with country ("How close do you feel to people in your country?", beta=.215) and authoritarianism ("Our country needs a powerful leader, in order to destroy the radical and immoral currents prevailing in society today.", beta = .221) to attitudes toward war ("War is sometimes the best way to solve a conflict.", beta = .387) in a regression model.
A fellow graduate student recently shared the below Sam Harris TED video with me and I was quite surprised at the premise of the talk. In it, Sam Harris gives a spirited defense of moral absolutism, the idea that there are objective truths about what we should and should not value. Below is the video.
Harris correctly observes that "the only people who seem to generally agree with me (Harris) and who think that there are right or wrong answers to moral questions are religious demagogues, of one form or another, and of course they think there are right and wrong answers to moral questions because they got these answers from a voice in a whirlwind, not because they made an intelligent analysis of the conditions of human and animal well-being...the demagogues are right about one thing, we need a universal conception of moral values."
His conception of morality is remarkably close to the construct of moral absolutism vs. moral relativism, measured on the YourMorals.org site using agreement to statements like "Different types of moralities cannot be compared as to 'rightness'" with agreement indicating more absolutism and disagreement indicating relativism. Harris also states that "It is possible for whole cultures to care about the wrong things....that reliably lead to human suffering." The graphs I show below show that he is correct that moral absolutism among these groups does lead to human suffering...but it also leads to suffering when moral absolutism is supported by liberals and atheists.
Harris then spends much of the rest of the talk detailing how terrible things occur as a result of cultures that do not share his values. I am generally liberal and likely agree with Harris' values, specifically the idea that morality is mostly about promoting the well-being of people. However, I do not believe that my values should be the values of other people as well. I have two main counters to this idea:
- Even the most liberal person can be made to consider ideas of morality outside of the idea of the greatest well-being possible. For example, liberals believe in equity too, such that some people deserve more well-being than others. Jon Haidt's brother-sister incest dilemma confounds both liberals and conservatives meaning that there is a universal ability to moralize disgust, even if it is less developed in some than others. Harm and well-being are not the only considerations.
- Moral absolutism generally leads to more human suffering, not less, as people fight great wars to enforce their vision of morality on others. Consider the below 2 graphs of yourmorals data relating moral relativism, the opposite of absolutism, and attitudes toward war.
Moral absolutism is not just dangerous for the groups that Harris dislikes, but also for the liberal and atheist groups that he likely subscribes to as the slope of the regression line is negative in all cases, indicating that moral absolutism is positively related to support for war for liberals and conservatives, atheists and christians.
It may be easier to think of groups that cause wars out of excessive group orientation (e.g. Hutus vs. Tutsis) or excessive authoritarianism (e.g. Nazis)...but there are also groups that caused harm out of excessive concern for others' well-being (e.g. The Weather Underground) or out of an excessive desire for social equality (e.g. the communist Khmer Rouge). Moral absolutism, believing that you are more right about morality than others, can be thought of as the first step toward hypermoralism, harming others in support of your moral principles. Human beings are already good at believing that our moral system is superior, with war sometimes as the consequence....instead or narrowing our conceptions of morality, we should be working to expand our moral imaginations.
- Ravi Iyer
I'm off to SPSP 2010 and will be presenting the below poster at the morality and justice pre-conference. It's based on a scale I found measuring separate war and peace attitudes (Vander Linden et. al, 2008) at the main political psychology conference 2 years ago. The concept is pretty simple...I found scales that predicted pro-war and pro-peace attitudes, controlling for political ideology and the opposite construct. For example, there are many reasons to be pro-peace....one could think war is a bad thing or one could be echoing one's political party's point of view. Theoretically, by controlling for war attitudes and ideology, we get a picture of the kind of person who uniquely likes peace.
Like this Mother Theresa quote:
I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there.
There is something powerful about being "for" things rather than "against" things that other people believe in. The opposition that the later strategy creates might just lead to the very same kinds of conflict that anti-war protestors seek to avoid.