This article is part of a series looking at the Moral Foundations Theory of Haidt & Graham and how our core moral beliefs relate to our political choices.
Today I’m considering the first moral foundation – that of Care. It’s probably what most people think morality means, but in Haidt’s system it’s just one of several factors.
Haidt defines it as:
Care/Harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
If you believe that humans are evolved animals, then you might take the view that caring for others is an evolutionary adaptation that benefits us as social beings. Caring is a survival tool. Caring for and helping others tends to promote the species. In general, social animals help each other and care for their young. Creatures that don’t help each other usually live solitary existences.
If you believe that God created humans in His own likeness, you might think that caring for others is a reflection of God’s love. You might think that not caring is evil or a sin. You’ll probably take the view that every one of us is a caring individual, but that sometimes we make mistakes and fail to care as much as we should.
Either way, the effect is the same. We care for others because we empathise with them. We feel pain when they feel pain. We share their joy. When we fail to care, things start to fall apart.
What Haidt’s studies show is that everyone rates the Care/Harm foundation very highly. It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal or a conservative, we all care. There are slight differences between left-wing and right-wing voters, but it’s not a big difference. It’s not the deciding factor. Everyone cares.
Everyone who goes into politics wants to make a difference, to make the world a better place for everyone. It doesn’t matter whether they are Occupy Wall Street or the Tea Party. They didn’t become activists or politicians to help their rich friends or to help themselves. Of course, power can corrupt, but no politician started out that way.
Whatever policies political parties advocate – raising taxes, lowering taxes, upholding civil liberties, imposing regulations – they do it because they care. They believe their policies are the ones that will make society a better place. Not just for them or their friends or for people like them, but for everyone.
Caring is the first and most fundamental moral foundation, shared by everyone on every side of every argument. If we could remember that fact I truly believe we would be halfway to resolving every single argument and dispute that plagues our world.
We all care. It’s easily forgotten in the heat of political debate. Let’s never forget it.