For those of you too busy to keep abreast of the latest internet kurfluffle, the LiveJournal community has been in a bit of an uproar over the mass deletion of journal accounts and communities. It seems in the rush to “protect children” Barak Berkowitz, chairman and chief executive of Six Apart, got a bit carried away.
“Our decision here was not based on pure legal issues. It was based on what community we want to build and what we think is appropriate within that community and what’s not.”
–Barak Berkowitz, chairman and CEO, Six Apart
As with any broad swipe based on keywords, several child abuse survivor help groups and the like also got deleted in the process. The chairman has apologized for this and I’m sure this regrettable bit of collateral damage will be rectified.
However, more unknown is the status of the gray area content such as the slash fiction communities that got the cut. Slash fiction is SciFi/Fantasy/Comic fan fiction where one or more fictional characters has a sexual romp with another in all it’s lavishly detailed glory. It’s not really my cup of spanish fly, but whatever floats your panties.
That danged first amendment… or Liberals have morals?
Here in lies the problem of course, not everyone shares my liberal ambivalence with slash fiction and other harmless fetishes. Obviously most BoingBoing readers do as evidence by this hard-line first amendment quote:
“So the only policy that’s safe from turning into tyranny is to allow all speech, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. Yes, people could be harmed; yes, even children. Freedom is more important.”
This stance nicely exemplifies the definition of liberal morality put forth by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt: The moral foundations theory, put forth by Haidt, states that there are five innate psychological morality systems. Liberals base most of their morals on the measure of Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity; whereas, conservatives balance these with the foundations of Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. This also can be described as a tendency to base morality on a individual rights basis versus a structural community basis. For more on this, I highly highly suggest you watch the fascinating video talk of Haidt on morality at the 2007 New Yorker Conference.
Rationality comes late to the game
Haidt also is known for his hypothesis that morality is largely instinctual and any rational statements are all developed post-hoc. This doesn’t mean that it is in-born only that one learns morality through mostly subconscious socio-emotional means rather than rational means. For more on this read “The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment [PDF] and/or The Believer magazine’s interview with Haidt.
Haidt’s ideas are very interesting and they explain a lot more than George Lakoff’s strict father/nurturant parent model of conservative vs. liberal morality. Lakoff also has a lot of interesting things to say, but I’ve always been a bit skeptical of it’s veridicality because the metaphor is too convenient.
In any case, no matter which morality theory you side with, it’s obvious that conservatives and liberals have very different flavors of morality. If we want to develop a communication between the two sides, rather than pure chest pounding, we need both sides to better understand one another—and themselves. This stands true whether we are ones to fantasize about the Jesus references in Narnia or the homosexual subtext of Sam and Frodo.