Religion, politics, sexual orientation, reproductive rights, and numerous other emotionally-laden topics are hotly debated online. Often, talking about these important subjects is done in close-minded, aggressive ways, cutting off the possibility of a rational exchange of ideas and instead resulting in an online blood bath. Why do people get so heated about these topics? One reason may be because they represent areas of “moral” concern. But what exactly is morality, what is it comprised of?
In her post Cutting up flags and kissing your sister – what is morality? Ph.D. candidate Olga Antonenko Young, who studies how religious and political orientations predict moral judgments about equality and justice, discusses the work of Jonathan Haidt:
Haidt and his team began their investigation of morality by examining various cultures across different eras. They wondered what people in different countries and at different historical points considered immoral…. The researchers found that people and societies tend to use the following five sets of considerations – or foundations – when making moral claims:
1. Harm/ care: Acts that harm innocent others, including murder and assault, are immoral.
2. Fairness/ reciprocity: Acts that violate norms of justice and equality, including stealing and nepotism, are immoral.
3. Ingroup loyalty: Acts that breach allegiance to, or solidarity of, the group, including critiquing your family and failing to show patriotism, are immoral.
4. Respect for authority: Acts that fail to respect and obey recognized leaders, such as protests against your party’s political leaders and attempts to defy your supervisor, are immoral.
5. Purity/sanctity: Acts that are guided by “carnal passions,” elicit disgust, and/or breach religious norms are immoral. These include acts such as premarital sex, public urination, and failure to follow religious rituals.
But where the emphasis is placed can vary widely. For example, American conservatives and liberals, perhaps not surprisingly, differ in their responses. Read Young’s full post for details.
A good approach is therefore to keep cultural differences in mind, especially online where discourse is easily amplified and intensified.