WEDNESDAY, 4/3/2019 AT THE USCB HILTON HEAD CAMPUS.:
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
Location: USCB Hilton Head Campus
Presenter: Bill Byrne
Moderator: Dr. Gordon Haist
Sergeant at Arms: Isam Sakati
Bill is an attorney, served as a judge, and was mayor of Morgantown, West Virginia. He is a graduate of Holy Cross College. After graduation he worked in the Peace Corp in Brazil and Columbia. Presently he serves as an interpreter at Volunteers in Medicine. Bill believes that ethical leadership is of paramount importance in our country.
Bill started his presentation as follows:
1. Intuition comes first and strategic reasoning comes second.
He used the example of the elephant and the rider to illustrate this point, with the elephant representing the intuition and the rider representing the rational mind. When we are confronted by a question of morality or ethics, our first response is intuitive, and then the mind goes into action to advocate for the intuitive response and or to modulate the intuitive response in many cases.
2. He listed and discussed the 6 moral foundations that have been posited by Jonathan Haidt and others and discussed how liberals and conservatives differ in their intuitive responses. The 6 moral foundations are:
*caring for others and avoiding harm to others
*liberty and avoiding oppression of others
*fairness and the avoidance of cheating
*loyalty and avoidance of betrayal
*authority and avoidance of subversion
*sanctity and avoidance of degradation
3. He discussed how our morality and righteousness binds us together into groups larger than kinships, but also blinds us to the morality of others.
Bill also used some scenarios involving sanctity/purity and loyalty, that triggered moral, intuitive responses and then asked participants to observe internally how they immediately and intuitively felt about the scenario and then observe how their minds went into action to argue in support of their intuitive response, or in some cases modulate the initial intuitive response. Much discussion ensued and reenforced the process (first intuitive, then reasoning) in responding to the scenarios. A good number of people understood this point and were fully engaged in the process.
Next Bill introduced the notion of Manichaesim, based on the 3rd century Persian prophet Mani, which divided the world into warring camps of Good and Evil, and the “sin” of compromising with that which one perceives as “the evil”.
*This led to a discussion of the current state of politics where confirmation bias is exacerbated by social media and 24/7 cable news commentary.
*In response to a question abut how to go about having more civil conversations about moral and political issues, a participant suggested adherence to the Stephen Covey precept of “seek first to understand and then to be understood.”
*Bill sensed a real hunger for an “answer” to our divided society and politics and suggested that if we can do a better lob of understanding the moral intuitions of our neighbors, that’ would be a start. Political solutions could include supporting an end to highly partisan gerrymandering, so elected officials could feel less vulnerable to attack for compromising with the “other side.”
*Other Audience Comments:
*On sibling sex: Intuitively I felt that sex was not wrong but reason led me to oppose it. Where does that leave us? Does it mean I am conservative or liberal? Response: Return to the example of the elephant and the rider. Your intuition is immediate and powerful; Your reason opposed it. This experience sheds light on the complexity of the way we make decisions.
*Our responses (to offenses such as eating a dying pet) are influenced by our culture. Response: True, but bear in mind that sanctity can be degraded in any culture because all cultures affirm some values as central.
* Does research show that these six moral foundations are accurate?
Answer: There may be other foundations, but these six have been effective in capturing moral attitudes that both liberals and conservatives hold.
*Are you saying that intuition has more inertia than reason? Answer: Yes. It is what has shaped our attitudes life-long.
*Should we think of conservatism and liberalism as forming a dichotomy or a continuum? Answer: What we try to do is develop a balance between them.
*Comment on someone using an old American flag as a rag:
Anyone who says there is nothing wrong with using an old flag as a rag is ignoring its meaning, for example, to those who have fought and died for it.
Other comment: The flag is sacred.
Third audience comment: There is nothing sacred about the flag. Religion and national identity are different things.
Response: Note how this discussion has moved from intuition to reason.
*Comment concerning news media: Fox vs. MSNBC reflects our polarized politics, but we can learn the logic of other views by alternating our listening between these two sources.
*Comment on liberal bias: Georgetown University has found that their training of lawyers is so liberal that their students discover they can't relate to people's concerns once they graduate. Response: That is the thesis of Haidt's other book, The Coddling of the American Mind, which I recommend to you.
*Comment: We really should learn to think of beliefs and actions as wise and unwise instead of good and bad. Sibling sex and eating a pet may not be bad but they can be unwise when considering the views of others or longer-term consequences. Response: That is a good point, but we live in a time of Manicheanism, where good vs. evil dominates our value choices.
*Comment: As a lawyer, you are accustomed to arguing from the opposite perspective. Would that ability to reverse perspectives not be important while talking across our differences?
*There was also extended commentary on correct thinking and how it would resolve this issue and the comment on understanding the other before making one's own view understood.
Our sincere thanks to Bill Byrne for providing us with this very controversial topic and creating an active and constructive dialogue with our audience—especially with the added inconvenience audio technical difficulties. Thanks also to Dr. Gordon Haist for moderating and to Isam Sakati i for being our Sergeant at Arms.