Tag Archives: evaluativism

A Recall on Moral Education

Sometimes the products we buy turn-out to be better than we expected,

… and sometimes they turn-out to be worse.

By Ragesoss (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsOn rare occasions when products turn-out to be so much worse than expected that they actually damage their owners, we issue a product recall. For example, in 2004 Merck announced a recall of the anti-inflammatory drug, Vioxx, because a new study found that Vioxx promotes strokes and heart attacks. As another example, we are now told that orange juice is one of the foods health conscious people ought to moderate. Rather than a recall issued by orange-juice-makers, this recall came as a reversal in the recommendations of dietitians.

Moral education is another market where errors can be made. Beliefs distributed through moral education are products, and it is possible to teach dangerous beliefs. For example, it was once taught that left-handedness should be avoided and that conflicts should be resolved via duels. Those teachings needed to be recalled. This essay considers the possibility of another recall to respond to evidence that moral education causes evaluativism.

The Complaint Against Moral Education

We should start by considering a special problem with implementing a recall on moral education. Recalls are typically justified by new scientific discoveries, but aren’t morals matters of opinion, or, at worst, theological matters beyond the scope of science? Even if moral education does cause evaluativism, who’s to say it shouldn’t?

The complaint against moral education is not based on scientific evidence that one option is more moral than another—rather, it cites evidence that moral education messes with the brain in such a way that it limits humans from recognizing what is moral. Mind-control and manipulation are within the scope of science, so science can justify a recall on moral education if it finds that moral education is a kind of mind-control.

In this case, the relevant scientific evidence is that:

  1. Humans have moral disagreements,
  2. Rather than reflect mere differences of opinion, these disagreements sometimes reflect physiological differences such as genes and brain structure (a.k.a. “evaluative type“),
  3. Some of the evaluative types are interdependent
  4. Some man-made environments are optimized for people of specific evaluative types, thus discriminating against people of other types (this is a form of “evaluativism”)
  5. Like many other forms of discrimination, evaluativism is currently out of control
  6. Evaluativistic environments impact the chemistry of the brain, causing people of various types to experience depression, apathy, lack of self-control, and other limitations to moral faculties
  7. Modern centers of moral education produce evaluativism that divides interdependent types

The complaint against moral education is premised on these findings—if you conduct research which disconfirms the findings, the complaint is withdrawn. The paper linked above suggests that moral education can be reformed, such that it no longer produces evaluativism, divides interdependent types, and handicaps our collective moral faculty. New scientific work would be required to prove reform has succeeded; a recall is what to do while waiting for that proof.

The Scope of the Recall

If moral education is counterproductive—if it is actually hurting us—then we should stop engaging in it until it is reformed. That’s a recall. Recalls are stopgap measures. For example, once we find a way to mitigate the dangers of orange juice, then the recall will be lifted and we will be free to drink as much orange juice as we like. Reasonable efforts to test potential reforms are exceptions to a recall. For example, if someone develops tiny robots that regulate sugar in our bloodstreams, someone will need to drink orange juice while using these robots to determine whether they succeed in mitigating the dangers of orange juice drinking. Testing efforts which do not include measurement, however,  do not qualify as exceptions to a recall.

In addition to being temporary—limited in duration—recalls are limited in scope. For example, the recall on orange juice is not a recall on all liquids. There are fairly clear boundaries on what qualifies as “orange juice” for the sake of the recall. The discovery which justifies the recall on orange juice is about liquid calories, so the recall extends to all sugary drinks (including soda and other juices), but does not extend to oranges, vitamin C tablets, or the use of orange juice in a marinade.

The scope of “moral education” for the recall justified by the evidence discussed above includes only attempts to teach people to form independent moral judgments. When we teach people to specialize in a mere aspect of moral decision-making, we may actually support interdependence between people of different specialties. For example, one might teach someone to predict consequences, but to rely on others to determine which of the predicted consequences is best. Likewise, one might teach someone how to follow best practices, or to empathize, or to innovate, but to rely on others to complete other aspects of moral decision-making. When we imply that everyone should develop all the skills, or that not all skills are needed (e.g. that one can get by with mere best practices, or empathy, or innovation), we are implying that everyone ought to be able to engage in moral decision-making independently.

Teaching people to form independent moral judgments is like teaching neurons to live without the help of bone cells, muscle cells, and all the other interdependent cells of the body. That would be counterproductive education because abandoning the rest of the body and setting-out on its own would be hazardous for the neuron. It would also be hazardous for neurons to set out in groups. That’s analogous to what people do when they become convinced that they can form good moral judgments without the help of people of other evaluative specialization—they set out with people of their own type. Conservatives group with other conservatives, and liberals group with other liberals. That’s evaluativism. The recall on moral education ends when measurements demonstrate that moral education no longer produces evaluativism.

An Example: Churches

This article concludes with a description of how such a recall would look in churches. First, it needs to be said that the recall does not target churches—moral education also takes place in secular schools, workplaces and families. Second, church includes many other activities including fellowship, worship, charity, and ritual. Third, to boycott churches would be an evaluativistic form of moral education, teaching by example to segregate attenders from non-attenders.

All that said, churches are one of the leading centers of moral education and segregation in the United States, even though the bible explicitly informs Christians that we are evaluatively interdependent like the parts of a body, that we develop moral competence together, rather than as individuals. Christians generally believe that Christ opposes discrimination (especially against genetic traits), and churches have a rich history of fueling reform efforts. Moreover, Christians generally do not doubt that reform is needed in churches.

Although a recall of moral education would not include a boycott of churches, it might require churches to fail to meet the expectations of certain “customers.” One reason to become a “customer” of a church is to protect one’s legacy by instilling one’s own values in the people who will inherit that legacy. Customers with that motive would be inclined to “shop” for a church where they could bring their family to witness a preacher condemn evaluative types contrary to their own and see a room of people nod in agreement. Such a person might even settle for a church that seems to affirm their evaluative type simply by not criticizing it (i.e. to protect oneself from having one’s family exposed to opposing churches). In either case, the customer expects the church to help them influence the values of the guests they bring. Under a recall, churches would refuse to meet that expectation. Any church which delivers the expected mind-control services would be violating the recall.

“Don’t accuse me of ‘mind-control’ or even of having a ‘legacy’,” Christians might object. “I am merely expressing appreciation for the truth I inherited.”

For many Christians, this is an honest objection that should be acknowledged, but the fact that some people shop for church undermines the theory that churches merely preserve truth. If we were not trying to propagate our own values regardless of whether they happen to be true or not, then we would join whichever church is closest and debate there until the truth won out. Once churches have measurably demonstrated that they can teach morals without producing evaluativism, they will be free to resume their preservation of moral truth, for they will have untangled truth-preservation from the mind-control services sought by legacy builders.

I do not believe that mind-control is the dominant motivation for most Christians, nor for churches. I think that most of us see no biblical justification for “church shopping,” and that any mind-control which takes place in our churches is an accidental side-effect we would gladly see expelled. We agree with the Qur’an where it says “Let there be no compulsion in religion” and with the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution which protects religious freedom (even of our own children). However, to suspend moral education would frustrate any church members who want to establish their own values in others. We need to acknowledge that pre-existing mess, so the clean-up crew doesn’t get blamed for any unavoidable division that results from clean-up.

The other major difficulty with implementing a recall of moral education in churches can be the subtle ways in which moral education takes place there. When a pastor preaching a sermon tells the congregation precisely how moral judgments should be made, when the pastor declares that no one should be ambitious, or legalistic, or subjective, or questioning, when the pastor points to politicians with some such attribute and instructs the congregation to vote against them, it is obvious that the preacher is engaging in moral education. However, moral education in churches is often more subtle.

My own pastor pointed to the book of Hebrews as an example of that subtlety. He said that the book of Hebrews has a conciliatory tone, that it simply lays out a set of facts and leaves the listener to draw their own conclusion about how those facts should impact their moral behavior. No one would doubt that the book of Hebrews aims to convince people to change their moral behaviors, but any book, sermon or hymn with such subtlety makes its claims about morality indirectly. Thus, any misinformation about morality it produces would be lies of omission.

Rather than say that no one should be ambitious, a subtle pastor might teach about a scripture that exposes a weaknesses of the ambitious evaluative type (every type has weaknesses—that’s what makes them interdependent). The pastor might explain indisputable facts about the context in which that scripture was first heard and how it would have been understood in its original language. The pastor might never say, “All of you should avoid ambitious decision-making—do not elect ambitious people,” and might not even directly claim that the scripture should be followed. The pastor will not deny that there are many other scriptures to consider. Yet many people of the congregation will hear a moral lesson loud and clear. It is moral education by omission.

Education by omission can happen in hymns and rituals as well. I know of a thriving church that is so concerned that the ritual of communion will convey the wrong message that they always preface it by explaining that no one should feel pressured to participate. It would be nice to be able to mark out the boundaries of the range of topics in which preachers can speak their mind without worrying about engaging in counterproductive moral education, but moral education in churches so often happens by omission that the only way to be safe is to preface each church service the way this church prefaces communion.

The preface might go something like this (pastors can work out their own versions—given that the preface is recited every week, they might also want have a written explanation prepared):

The Bible tells us, ‘Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.‘ You may have come here today to make teachers of me, of our liturgists, our choir, the hymn writers, and those who wrote and translated the Bible, so I need to warn you not to get the wrong idea. God made each of us different, so perfect teaching would require delivering different lessons to different people. We want to figure-out how to provide teaching like that and to confirm it works, but are not there yet. You will not get reliable teaching from us today. We will simply have to forgive each other for failing to be perfect as we worship and study together.

Without such a preface, members of the congregation will likely assume that the leaders of the service intend to engage in moral education. They will likely hear moral lessons where none were intended. At times, a leader may slip—he/she may forget about the need for reform or may grow impatient waiting for proof that reform has been accomplished—then this preface becomes their request for forgiveness. The need for forgiveness is inevitable because failure to discuss morality could delay reform, yet appropriate boundaries of such discussion will not be known until reform proves successful.

Finally, we must ask who should issue the recall. Should pastors create their own prefaces, should entire denominations compose standard disclaimers to be recited at each service, or should some external body, such as the government, warn citizens that churches promote evaluativism? A congregation might want all three. If the pastor volunteers their own preface, the church will experience no embarrassment when the denomination and government issue recalls as well, yet the higher-level recalls may be necessary because not every pastor will issue the recall locally.

Conclusion

Most people who developed and prescribed Vioxx had every good intention. When scientists discovered that it promotes strokes and heart attacks, no one thought any less of those who discovered it. Likewise, the well-intended efforts of moral educators in the past remain heroic, despite new evidence that their efforts turned-out to be counterproductive.

Once Vioxx was found to be dangerous, to continue selling it would have been wrong. It would have been wrong to say, “I’m going to keep prescribing Vioxx, because I don’t have the resources to test these claims about strokes and heart attacks for myself.” Those who distribute a product—even if they are giving it away for free—have a responsibility to follow-up on evidence that the product my harm its owners. In the case of tobacco products, this responsibility may have driven some people to quit their jobs.

When facing the discoveries cited above, it is natural to ask what they mean for moral educators. Hopefully, you will see that moral education can and will be reformed. Like orange juice, moral education is wonderful in many ways, so we are willing to invest in finding ways to mitigate its dangers. Yet, until reform has proven to mitigate the dangers of moral education, to continue with moral education as usual would be immoral. This article aims to avoid overreaction. It discusses the limits of a recall on moral education, and proposes ways to minimize inconvenience while waiting for proven reform.

Who Would Call Themselves “Evaluativists”?

There is a big difference between racists and self-declared racists. Most racists (which includes most people) do not realize they are racists, nor would they voluntarily accept the label. Likewise, as realistic examples of typical evaluativists, we have cited Cecil of Lee Daniels’ The Butler, the 80% of scholarship judges in Shanto Iyengar’s experiment found to discriminate on the basis of values instead of merit, and the subjects for whom Jennifer Mueller was able to manipulate business decision-making by manipulating their values. The experimenters confirmed that the evaluativism in these cases was not intentional; they didn’t realize they were behaving as evaluativists. Since the consequences included broken families, missallocated scholarship funds, and low-quality business decision-making, we might expect the experimental subjects would want to understand and correct their evaluativism.

Image attributed to Tobias But do people really want to correct their own biases? One cannot be blamed for what is beyond his/her control, and no one intends to be biased. At worst, failure to correct one’s biases reflects negligence, but one can hardly be convicted of negligence when it is not clear what it would take to eliminate those biases. Some people who claim to oppose evaluativism and racism may make that claim simply to escape blame. Like dealing with climate change, they may wait for someone else to tell them what to do about it, then complain that the proposal is impractical.

In my experience, people who would take responsibility for evaluativism are rare, and people who declare themselves “evaluativists” are of that caliber. Why else would they bother to take the stand that evaluativism either can’t or shouldn’t be eliminated? I’d bet they took responsibility for the problem, but turned to the dark-side because they found no other way out. If you are trying to solve the evaluativism problem, it might help to know what obstacles blocked your predecessors, so it is wise to examine the philosophy of self-proclaimed evaluativists.

This article examines three sets of authors who advocated for evaluativism:

These people seemed to have reached their positions independently, so it is interesting to note commonalities in their thinking:

All three sets of professors frame evaluativism as a solution to the ancient problem of epistemology: the problem of establishing genuine knowledge as distinguished from our other (unjustified) beliefs. The problem probably arose because the ancients found that they could collaboratively catch many of their errors by checking each other’s thinking. When this practice occasionally produced disagreements they could not resolve, the ancients wondered who was in error, and, if they were in error, which of their other beliefs were in error as well.

The ancients believed they were akin to gods in the sense of having viable independent minds, rather than realize they were mere parts of a larger knower such that some disagreements would be predictable based on the different functions of different parts (e.g. the liberal/ conservative divide). Had they been humble, they might have attempted to reverse-engineer the mechanics of the larger knower, so they could distinguish predictable disagreements from those that signal actual errors. Instead, the ancients came to one of the following three classical positions (a) we should doubt everything we think we know (“skepticism“), (b) we should count multiple sides of a disagreement as correct (“subjectivism“), or (c) we should keep fighting over who is correct until we all agree (“objectivism“).

All three positions are terrible. At some point, the relentlessness of the objectivist’s struggle becomes a waste, if not a counterproductive source of social strife. On the other hand, skeptics and subjectivists will not seek agreement, so they are less able to catch their errors. However, instead of acknowledging option (d), that we are parts of a larger knower which reduces error at the higher level by placing its parts in opposition (like attorneys taking opposing sides in a court), Field, Kuhn, Zachar, and Kendler framed evaluativism as the only alternative to the classical options.

The Philosopher

Field proposed evaluativism as the answer to the question of how one should justify such premises as “If Socrates is an old man, then Socrates must be a man.” Such premises are so pervasive that hardly any useful knowledge can be had without justifying them. A subjectivist might simply declare such beliefs justified, but Field rejected that approach (which he called “egocentric”) as chauvinistic. He also provided a list of reasons to reject several objectivist approaches, including making the point that we are surely justified in holding false beliefs if we have no access to better alternatives. He recommended that we declare our beliefs justified if and only if we evaluate them to be justified (i.e. “evaluativism”).

Evaluativism may be less-often chauvinistic than the egocentric approach because the evaluativist makes an actual and supposedly earnest effort to consider contrary perspectives. However, Field admitted that evaluativists with different values make different evaluations, so disagreement would persist and segregate. For example, he wrote: “In dealing with a follower of the Reverend Moon, we may find that too little is shared for a neutral evaluation of anything to be possible, and we may have no interest in the evaluations the Moonie gives.” In this example, supposing the Moonie is in error, the Moonie’s potential to catch the error as an evaluativist is so low that they would be in the same boat as subjectivists.

The Teacher

Rather than write about how people should think, Deanna Kuhn claimed to measure the following pattern in the way people actually do think:

  1. The least mature people claim that only one side in a disagreement can be correct (she labels them “absolutists” or “objectivists”)
  2. The next most mature people claim that all sides in a disagreement are equally correct (she labels them “multiplists” or “subjectivists”)
  3. The most mature people claim that multiple sides can be correct, but that one is more correct (she labels them “evaluativists”)

Kuhn’s later description of evaluativists as people who evaluate evidence according to their own personal values matched Field’s, but her measurement instrument did not match that definition: Evaluativists do not necessarily claim that multiple sides can be correct. Her instrument allowed only three categories, so one alternate explanation for her results would be that the most mature people resist siding with either objectivism or subjectivism, but do not necessarily side with evaluativism either. Kuhn never offered option (d), so her data cannot tell us whether the most mature people would pick (d) over evaluativism; nonetheless, it launched a new subfield of educational psychology which takes evaluativism as its gold-standard.

The Doctors

Zachar and Kendler did not pretend that evaluativism is an alternative to subjectivism—they contrasted it only with objectivism, and were concerned specifically with disagreements about what counts as mental illness. For example, consider the case of a patient who is depressed because he forgoes meaningful relationships in favor of working long hours to get promoted. The patient asks a doctor to prescribe anti-depressants and refuses any other lifestyle change or treatment. Before writing a prescription to resolve the depression, the doctor needs to determine whether the refusal to engage in other treatments reflects an illness that could be aggravated by being given the effective ability to self-prescribe.

The objectivist claims that there is a single correct choice, and we should eliminate disagreement; if some doctors would write the prescription in this case and others would not, then they should duke it out. In contrast, the evaluativist claims that each doctor gets to decide what counts as illness, so the only way for a doctor to make the wrong decision is to neglect to evaluate the situation (whatever that means to the doctor at the time). Where debates cannot be resolved, Zachar and Kendler conclude that doctors should be evaluativists—i.e. we should not designate controversial issues as deserving more intense examination. If patients can easily shift to a doctor willing to write a prescription, this would give patients the effective ability to self-prescribe in such cases.

It is tempting to suppose that self-declared evaluativists are simply unaware of the evidence that evaluativism produces exactly the sorts of harm they are trying to avoid (i.e. broken families, missallocated scholarship funds, low-quality decision-making, etc.). However, the self-declared evaluativists cited here are professors, highly intelligent people, and it is unlikely that they all made the same mistake purely coincidentally. Furthermore, they are not now warning other people from making the same mistake, engaging in tests to determine whether it was a mistake, examining the similarities of evaluativism to other forms of discrimination, nor testing the possibility that we are mere parts of a larger knower.

The God-Complex

It is more plausible that these self-declared evaluativists suffered from the same bias as the ancients: belief that we are akin to gods. The growing need to delegate decision-making to specialists, computers, or evidence-based protocols stands in tension with the still-believed myth that doctors should individually understand what they are doing. The need to accommodate belief in this myth could easily have prevented Zachar and Kendler from discussing the possibility that doctors are mere parts of a larger knower—that they ought to argue their sides in a court of medicine which establishes regulations under constant threat of appeal (this would quickly get so complicated that only computers would be able to prescribe medicine, leaving humans to be mere attorneys/ researchers).

The god-complex of Kuhn and her followers was made almost explicit in the name they gave their typology: “personal epistemology.” This name suggests that knowledge should be pursued at a personal level, in contrast with “social epistemology,” which investigates why persons should defer to larger knowers (e.g. markets, juries, electorates, doctrines, research fields). Only God can afford to discard social epistemology, but teachers (Kuhn’s audience) are still made responsible for educating particular individuals (i.e. paid per student), rather than for raising the general intellectual ability of society. Like doctors, teachers are expected to accomplish what no individual can accomplish.

Field’s audience, in contrast, would not condemn him for claiming that personal knowledge has limits; his audience celebrated Godel’s Incompleteness Proof and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Field could have concluded that he knows “If Socrates is an old man, then Socrates is a man,” in the same way a neuron knows that mass is conserved: it is part of a larger knower which reduces its error over time (i.e. to ask about the current knowledge of the neuron is to analyse the situation at the wrong level). Field instead insisted that he is an independent knower (like a god) apparently because his method consists in explicating what feels true, and we really do feel less interdependent than we actually are. The problem is that our feelings are misleading. For example, even though we think we oppose discrimination, Shanto Iyengar found that 73% of us have implicit racist biases and 80% have implicit evaluativist biases.

There are many situations in which our intuitions fail; for example, learning to drive a car backwards. At first, the student is distracted by an intuition which tells him/her to turn the wheel in the wrong direction. The student overcomes that distraction through science: running the experiment of turning the wheel in either direction and trusting the feedback (over intuition). Likewise, we overcome the intuition which tells us race is a good indicator of character by actually conducting the experiment of getting to know people of diverse races.

To overcome our intuitions that we have individually complete minds (like gods) and that it will be best to avoid people who tend to disagree with us, it may help to conduct the kinds of experiments Douglass Wilde conducted at Stanford. Wilde demonstrated that the teams which produce the best designs are those which have the greatest internal conflict due to diversity. But Wilde’s experiment does not provide a constant reminder that our intuition is misleading, like looking over your shoulder when driving backwards does. Like experiments that debunk our intuitions that the world is flat, or that time advances at the same pace for everyone, Wilde’s results are easily forgotten in practice.

To correct our bias, we may need constant monitoring of evaluativism and its impact on social success. Until that is achieved, even brilliant people may be inclined to move in exactly the wrong direction. It is dangerous for some people to drive a car without corrective lenses, and it is plausible that social leadership is similarly dangerous until we develop a way to correct our misleading intuitions. Leaders got by without such technology in the past, but new technologies give modern leaders opportunities to make errors that are less survivable.

The examples we have examined demonstrate that people who call themselves “evaluativists” are not necessarily unintelligent or uneducated. They deserve respect for bothering with the topic at all. Yet their conclusion is not supported by evidence—it stems purely from biases ingrained in our society and in our intuitions. Those who would oppose evaluativism should take heed: You are engaging in a war against the current mode of humanity, a war against our natural egocentric arrogance. Anyone unprepared to face that obstacle may end-up turning to the dark-side.

Discrimination threatens families, churches, businesses, and nations

Witness evaluativism in the dinner scene from Lee Daniels’ The Butler:

Then consider the science behind why we act this way (note that this kind of discrimination needs to be managed differently because, while there is no race or gender we should not tolerate, one can easily invent values that we should not tolerate):

Finally, help spread the word. Just like racism, sexism, classism, lookism, and ableism, evaluativism will run rampant if we do not raise awareness.

 

Transcript of video, “Overcoming Evaluativism”:

The award-winning movie The Butler follows the life of Cecil, a butler at the white house. Cecil fought for civil rights by building the trust of powerful white men while his son, Louis, fought for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. by building conflict with powerful white men. Cecil and Louis disagreed, but the movie makes a compelling case that both approaches were essential to the advancement of civil rights.

“Evaluativism” is when we fail to appreciate disagreement, when disagreement frustrates us so much that certain topics, like politics and religion, become taboo at the dinner table. In The Butler, Cecil and Louis avoided communicating for years to avoid disagreement, and many people sadly witness this kind of evaluativism in their own families.

Evaluativism is irrational. Disagreement is so valuable that we are genetically designed to disagree with each other. Evaluativism interferes with this design, such that the values of young people like Louis tend to align with their genes only after they achieve financial independence from their parents, and only until they lose it again through old age. Likewise Cecil was unable to express his values to his boss because evaluativism interacted with racial privilege.

As with sexism and racism, we engage in evaluativism instinctively. Jennifer Mueller of Wharton manipulated experimental subjects’ values regarding creativity, and found that, although all groups endorsed the same values, differences in speed of endorsement revealed subconscious biases which influenced ratings of product prototypes. Subconscious biases make a big difference.

Is evaluativism weaker than sexism and racism? To the contrary, Jonathan Haidt of NYU found that college student have significantly less comfort with evaluative diversity than with diversity of race, appearance, class or religion. Likewise, Shanto Iyengar of Stanford found that evaluativism biases resume review seven percent more than racism does.

What would change if there were less evaluativism? We would probably see a decrease in the divorce rate, for one. You may think your marriage, and those of others dear to you, are bullet-proof, but the current divorce rate is high enough to merit precaution against evaluativism between spouses.

Politics is another area that would probably shift. The Pew Center found that between ten and twenty percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” or “consistent conservatives”. Consistency may be a strength, but not when these people accuse each other of threatening our nation. This is evaluativism tearing America apart as it tore Cecil’s family.

The problem is not that we disagree, but that we do not appreciate our disagreements. Perhaps we can gain appreciation by learning the reasons why our genes give us the evaluative diversity that they do.

You used to look like this: a single unified stem cell called a “zygote”. Then you divided into more stem cells… and more… and more. Why be so divisive? Why not remain united as a single-celled organism? The advantage to division became apparent when your stems cells began to specialize, like this stem cell turning into a neuron. The specialized cells of your body are very different from each other. Bone cells do things muscle cells could never do, and muscle cells do things bone cells could never do. But all of these cells are you, so you can do all of these things. You can do things that single-celled organisms could never do. That is the purpose of division.

I have three practical suggestions about how we can let our evaluative diversity serve its purpose:

  1. The first is to believe that it is not your job to be right. Only God is right all the time. Cecil and Louis were never both right—Cecil was right sometimes and Louis was right at other times. If you believe that you are supposed to become right more and more often, then you are aiming to become God. Instead, try to be like the opposing attorneys of a courtroom. If attorneys tried to be right all the time, defense attorneys would stop defending clients whom they judged as guilty, and prosecutors would stop accusing people whom they judged as innocent. Such attorneys would be playing God. Trying to be right would distract them from their real jobs. Your real job is to be yourself, and that will entail disagreeing with each other.
  2. I call my second suggestion “multi-level love“. This is my son Miguel. And this is a skin cell in Miguel’s hand. We’ll call this skin cell “Miguel Junior”. If Miguel sees that I love him, but never sees that I love Miguel Junior, then I am teaching my son that mere parts are not lovable, and that he would not be lovable if he were a mere part. That might pressure him into trying to be right all by himself. So I’m going to start modeling multi-level love right now by showing you what I love about Miguel Junior. Do you see that gap? That’s a wound. Now take a look at what cells like Miguel Junior do to heal a wound. See how he leaps from the comfort of his family to reach across the isle? How can you not love skin cells? I love my son, but I’ve got to say I would love Miguel Junior even if he were not a part of Miguel.
  3. My final suggestion is to devote journals and academic departments to test claims about interdependence. Your own body developed from in-dependent stem cells to in-ter-dependent specialized cells, yet some people expect to progress in the opposite direction. They think advancements in education and medicine should make us more flexible and balanced individually, so that all individuals will converge on the same ideal. We have journals and departments to test claims about race, why are there none to test these claims about evaluative diversity?

Sexual diversity is one example of interdependence. Mushrooms have no sexual diversity—they are all female. Each is basically identical to her mother, so there is hardly any hope of progress across mushroom generations.

In contrast, flowers can reproduce sexually. When daughters are unique mixes of mother and father, there can be progress, but each flower is both male and female, so it risks pollinating itself, which would put flowers in the same boat as mushrooms.

The blue-banded goby switches back and forth between male and female, so it cannot impregnate itself, but sex change would be very difficult outside water, so mammals get to keep the sex they were born with. Granted, each still has to find a mate, and that can take years in the case of humans.

Bees, on the other hand, have only one sexually active female per hive. She mates once, collects about six million sperm, then lays about one-thousand eggs every day for the next six years. This lets most bees focus on concerns other than reproduction.

Currently, some human beings shift evaluative type like gobies, but others are more like mammals and bees. Which should we expect to go extinct? the small businesses where one person wears many hats, or the large corporations in which people lock into specializations? Science should help us reach better-informed answers.

Science can also help us monitor diversity and see where it is helpful. As an example, consider Christian churches. Here we see differences between the diversity mixes of Christians and non-Christians in the United States. These differences are amplified when we look at people who convert toward or away from Christianity. Some evaluative types bridge Christian and non-Christian social circles, but others seem to be victims of evaluativism. Here we see mixes among Americans with artistic careers, Americans with enterprising careers, Americans who identify with child or elder care, Americans who identify with sports, Americans who identify as conservatives, and Americans who have been accused of a crime or other serious betrayal of trust. The same measurement techniques could be applied to monitor the evaluativism of particular congregations, workplaces, clubs, and school programs.

We can also monitor consequences of evaluativism. For example, studies at many universities have now confirmed that the prevention of self-segregation when forming design teams raises interpersonal conflict, but ultimately yields superior results.

The evaluativism that tore Cecil’s family apart threatens our own families, churches, workplaces, and nation, but we don’t have to be frustrated by disagreement. If we study interdependence, we can discover its value, and maybe that discovery will allow us to disagree like attorneys—in a spirit of appreciation.

Microevaluativism and Macroevaluativism: A Romeo and Juliet tragedy

You’ve heard of microeconomics, which deals at the level of specific transactions (e.g. price-setting), and of macroeconomics, which deals at the level of entire economic systems (e.g. unemployment rate).  Discrimination also operates at the micro- and macro- levels, and tragedy befalls anyone who attempts to address one but not the other.

Romeo, Juliet, and CinderellaThe stories Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet provide classic examples of discrimination operating at these levels.  Romeo is a Montague, but Juliet is a Capulet.  At the macro-level, the Montagues and Capulets are segregated—they don’t have much opportunity to get to know each other, so they have to accept on faith that everyone from the opposing camp is ultimately bad.  However, Romeo and Juliet happen to fall in love.  When they discover each other’s identities, they must deal with discrimination on a micro-level, confronting their personal biases against people of the other kind.  They overcome discrimination at the micro-level, but not at the macro-level, so their love is doomed.

In contrast, Cinderella stories have happy endings (at least in versions following the popularization by Disney).  Again, two lovers come from socially segregated groups—different socioeconomic classes.  That’s the macrodiscrimination.  Again there is a necessary grappling with personal biases when their identities are revealed.  That’s the microdiscrimination.  The difference in the plot of Cinderella stories is that one of the lovers has so much social power that ending their microdiscrimination automatically ends the macrodiscrimination; if the prince will not discriminate against people like Cinderella, then neither can anyone else in the kingdom.

For macrodiscrimination to fall with microdiscrimination seems too good to be true.  They are typically two separate struggles which require separate solutions.  Microdiscrimination typically ends by achieving humility, but humility is achieved one person at a time, while macrodiscrimination is system-wide.  In contrast, macroevaluativism typically ends through institutional reform—for example, the end of macroracism required the abolition of slavery—but institutional reform is not sufficient to end microdiscrimination which continues even subconsciously in certain individual brains.

 

A More Realistic Scenario

For those who intend to overcome evaluativism (i.e. discrimination against people of different kinds of values), it is important to understand the difference between microevaluativism and macroevaluativism, and to appreciate the need to fight on both fronts.  Here’s a realistic modern example: Suppose you teach your daughter that education is valuable, and send her to a nice college where she meets a bright physics student, and they fall in love.  Her lover is a natural gadfly, and develops the opinion that college does not provide very good education—it exists mostly for dogmatic purposes that are wasting his youth—so, in his senior year, he drops out of school (like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg did) to join a start-up company.  His business has a remarkably good start, and the lovers get married.

Then the company hits some bad luck.  It struggles for about ten years before petering out.  Your son-in-law applies for other jobs as a scientist or engineer, but is disqualified because he did not complete his degree.  He applies for jobs unrelated to science, and is able to get some temporary and part-time work, but jobs are designed for particular IQ levels, and employers are reluctant to award full-time positions to anyone mismatched.  He becomes depressed.

The system seems to expect people of his IQ to have certain credentials, but getting the credentials requires much more than just taking an IQ test.  He cannot simply finish his senior year; college students quickly forget most of what they learned in school, so he would need to retake all his prerequisite classes as well.  These complications reinforce his conviction that his education had no educational value, and he cannot stand to subject himself to such hazing all over again, this time with eyes wide open and no scholarship or parental contribution to pay the bill.  He’s the kind of guy to stand against hypocrisy and injustice, not the kind to suffer them.

Your daughter is not naturally a risk-taker, but she overcame her bias against gadflies to fall in love with this man.  Now she is falling out of love.  Managing microevaluativism is an endless job—we say it has been “overcome” when the struggle gets easy, but it is always possible for the struggle to become difficult again.  She previously managed her bias through empathy, but empathizing with someone who is trapped makes her want his release, and it is exhausting to want what she cannot control.  Like most other human beings, your daughter’s brain is designed to stop empathizing when exhausted.  Her marriage has become a trap for her because being herself with her husband impacts her brain in a way that prevents her from being herself.

Your son-in-law doesn’t want to trap anyone, so he projects a front designed to minimize her pain; he enjoys life as much as he can while waiting for his big break to magically arrive.  They don’t talk about his career.  In fact, they don’t talk much at all.  Each has his/her own support-network of friends, and spends more and more time with those friends as things get worse and worse.  He comes home late each night.  They sleep in the same bed, but that’s about all the interaction they have.  It’s better than hurting each other.

You are part of your daughter’s support-network, and like everyone else in both support networks, you are fighting microevaluativism.  You struggle to convince yourself that this guy’s values are not messed-up, that they do not create an impasse, that the evaluative diversity of your daughter and son-in-law is a gift which brings strength to society and to their marriage.  You can make progress at accepting them both in your own heart, and that may help them to accept each other.

However, your son-in-law is also a victim of macroevaluativism, and is dragging your daughter down with him.  To filter job-applicants by educational credentials perpetuates classism—which is the justification for financial aid—but also perpetuates evaluativism against natural gadflies, some of which will rebel against the education system.  To supplement your struggles with microevaluativism, someone needs to address the macroevaluativism by reforming the job-applicant filtering process.

The institutional reform required to make hiring processes non-evaluativist would be as intense as the reform that was required to make the cotton industry non-racist (i.e. to abolish slavery).  It would likely create economic disaster for some businesses, so even just discussing such reform could be threatening to some people.  Most people simply want to reduce the pain—they have no intention to threaten anybody—so they avoided deeply discussing the situations of slaves and now avoid deeply discussing your son-in-law’s career and marriage.  Unlike in the Cinderella story, there is no prince who has the power to reform the system by himself (although someone who employs scientists might be able to bend the rules of the hiring process for your son-in-law, if nepotism is allowed—in that way, all forms of discrimination could be more painful for the poor).

 

What is the solution?

We are fortunate to live in an age in which we can be encouraged by progress already made against various forms of discrimination.  We can be assured that the situation is not hopeless, and can use the history of social progress as a map for future advances.

Macroevaluativism and microevaluativism cause each other.  Social stress causes discrimination to flare-up, which causes more social stress.  The quality of your son-in-law’s relationship with his wife (and with you) depends upon his dignity, which, in turn, depends upon the quality of his relationship with society.

Progress made on microevaluativism will unravel if macroevaluativism is not also addressed.  For this reason, we need large national/international organizations to address various forms of discrimination through institutional reform.  On the other hand, we also need to address microevaluativism because discrimination comes in forms laws cannot punish.  For example, studies have shown that subconscious racism influences clinical decisions, robbing minorities of life-saving prescriptions.  We can see that pattern statistically, and even identify doctors most likely to make racist decisions, but not all of those doctors’ decisions are racist, and we cannot tell which particular prescriptions are inappropriate.  Likewise, if we do not overcome microevaluativism, job applicants will misrepresent their natures, and diverse teammates will not leverage each other’s strengths—no laws can fix these inefficiencies.

It may not be practical for a single advocate to fight on both fronts simultaneously, but that’s OK.  It is appropriate that advocates for interdependency are interdependent.  Don’t consider yourself adequate to address evaluativism alone.  Be part of something larger.

Measuring Support for Invisible Stigmatized Identities

Evaluative diversity is in a category of diversity known as “invisible stigmatized identities” which also includes sexual orientations, learning styles, economic backgrounds, and mental conditions. So far, we have identified three approaches to managing environments to support such diversity:

  1. We could follow the approach of ancient religions, and build humility by regularly reminding people of the inadequacies of their own personal types
  2. We could follow the approach of biodiversity, and monitor the environments we maintain, implementing interventions when measures exceed thresholds
  3. We could follow the approach of the gay-pride movement, and talk about who we are and how we feel, so that love will translate into support

The second approach may be a prerequisite for the third. Harvey Milk’s push to disclose sexual orientation was controversial in the 1960s, because ”coming out of the closet” was typically met with rejection and even abuse. Even today, young people are advised not to disclose their sexual orientations to their parents until they leave home.

On the other hand, Belle Rose Ragins has advanced the theory that humans have “a primary psychological need to create social identities that reinforce coherent self-views.” Hiding core aspects of one’s identity would frustrate the satisfaction of that psychological need. Thus, while it might be hazardous to disclose one’s identity in the most caustic environments, it might be hazardous to not disclose core aspects of one’s identity in supportive environments. I would want to know which kind of environment my children are in (and will be in) before advising them about whether to disclose their evaluative types. That requires measurement.

In her dissertation, The Disclosure Process of an Invisible Stigmatized Identity, Jessica Hudson demonstrated two kinds of measures we can use to distinguish between caustic and supportive environments: measuring perception of support, and measuring impacts of disclosure.

With respect to perception, she found significant correlations to mental health (measured using Derogatis’ Brief Symptom Inventory) for:

Such measures of perception may be a step removed from measurement of actual support, but Hudson’s research shows they are nonetheless meaningful.

Theoretically, it is even better to measure actual health impacts of disclosure. In an environment of persecution, such as an evaluativist school, church, or workplace , one would expect significant negative correlation between disclosure and mental health, since persecution more directly targets people who have disclosed their identities. However, at DePaul University, Hudson found no significant correlation between disclosure and mental health. This demonstrates reduced persecution compared to the 1960s, and, if Ragins is right, DePaul University could go even further to achieve significant positive correlation.

It is left to the rest of us to create benchmarks for schools, workplaces and churches by implementing such measures broadly. This will allow us to recognize the accomplishments of people who aim to create supportive environments. The measured success of such leaders also provides evidence which can justify following them.

Here are versions of Hudson’s measures, adapted to measure support for evaluative diversity at a university. Scores would be calculated as follows:

  • Perceived Stigma= q1+ q2+ q3+ q4+ q6+ q7+ q8+ q9- q5- q10
  • Perceived Social Support= q11+ q13+ q14+ q15+ q18+ q19+ q20+ q21+ q22+ q23+ q24+ q26+ q27+ q29- q12- q16- q17- q25- q28- q30
  • Perceived Institutional Support= q32+ q33+ q36+ q37+ q38+ 3q9+ q40+ q42+ q44- q31- q34- q35- q41- q43
  • Disclosure= The sum of q45 through q50
  • Psychological Symptoms= The sum of q51 through q103
  • Impact of Disclosure on Health= The correlation between Disclosure and Psychological Symptoms

Evaluativism’s Victim: The Relationship to Ageism

Evaluativism is our instinctive irrational frustration with people who have values contrary to our own. It is irrational in the same way it would be irrational for a prosecuting attorney to wish the defense attorney stopped showing up at court. Evaluative diversity makes society more successful on average, which is good for everyone (see Evaluativism 101). Thus, in one sense, evaluativism makes victims of us all.

In another sense, however, evaluativism hurts certain individuals more than it hurts others. It creates conflicts, and certain people lose those conflicts. The people most likely to win–parents, teachers, bosses–are people with privilege. This is where evaluativism aligns with ageism (and perhaps other forms of discrimination).

Variance Components by AgeThe above graph from an article by Peter Hatemi and his colleagues in the July 2009 issue of the Journal of Politics show the results of comparing the political values of identical and fraternal twins separated at birth vs. raised together. Such twin studies tell us whether our values come from our genes, from siblings’ shared environments (e.g. parenting), or from something else. For example, if the values of identical twins are more similar than the values of fraternal twins, then genes must play a significant role. Such studies have been conducted for decades and confirm that genes play a significant role in all human behavioral traits–what’s different about this graph is that it breaks-out the results by age.

The surprise here is that the significance of the role of genes (i.e., the blue bars) varies by age. It plays a minor role until the mid twenties, but becomes the dominant factor by age 50. A similar pattern is found with religious values. The values of identical twins raised apart gradually become more similar as they get older, even if they do not interact with each other.

I asked John Hibbing whether this indicated that younger people are oppressed, and he thought “oppressed” might be too strong a word. Maybe it just takes humans 20-50 years to find themselves. Maybe older people are more stubborn. Maybe society is blessed that many 50-year-olds can remember what it was like to be on the other side of the fence.

On the other hand, we wouldn’t educate our populace by forcing people to experience other races, sexes, and disabilities. Even if society would be better for it, such education would put undue stress on students. Many homosexuals do know what it was like to exhibit a different sexual orientation, but we count that as oppression, rather than as education.

Furthermore, the alignment with genes is low for the old as well as the young. It is awfully suspicious that the pattern so closely matches the ages in which people lack privilege. In fact, Hetami found that alignment of one’s values with one’s genes happens in the early 20’s only for people who leave their parental home. This suggests that the parental home, rather than age, is the trigger–that the parental home provides a kind of brainwashing that temporarily blocks people from discovering their own values.

It turns out that oppression is so rampant that it would be naive not to blame it for this pattern. Shanto Iyengar had 1021 people judge applications for a scholarship. As expected, the result proved that judges have an irrational bias against resumes that included hints of racial minority, but it also proved that they have an even stronger irrational bias against resumes that show hints of an opposing ideology (e.g., President of the Young Republicans).

Through other tests in the study, Iyengar found that this bias is instinctive and more of a hate bias against opponents than an affinity bias towards people with similar values. Young homosexuals are advised not to come-out to their parents until they are financially independent; given that parents, teachers, and bosses instinctively favor children, students and employees who exhibit their own values, it seems equally advisable for the underprivileged to temporarily adopt the values of their oppressors.

As mentioned at the top of this article, evaluativism is irrational. Parents, teachers and bosses who suppress evaluative diversity by discouraging the expression of contrary values handicap their families, companies and nations, thus ultimately shooting themselves in the foot. Ideological opponents are extremely valuable. Causing opponents to temporarily abandon their values is not equivalent to taking years from their lives, but it does greatly diminish their value to society. In that sense, evaluativism is foolish in the same way as slaughtering one’s workforce or killing endangered species.

To compensate for their instinctive evaluativism, authorities should create cultures of appreciation by demonstrating a commitment to learn about evaluative diversity. We should do this for our own sake, but also out of compassion for the underprivileged who are especially victimized. Hatemi’s results appear to exemplify intersectionality–where the intersection of two kinds of discrimination (in this case, evaluativism and ageism) produce a whole new kind of oppression (divergence from genetic predispositions). This should make us ask to see twin studies broken-out by race, class, gender, and sexuality as well.

What makes the intersection with ageism special may be that ageism is so widely experienced. All adults can recall being young, and many would resist subjecting themselves again to the authority of parents, teachers, and bosses. Hatemi’s results further warn that those who enjoy privilege now are likely to lose it in old-age. Evaluativism seems to be something we cannot avoid forever, unless, of course, we address it before we find ourselves on the receiving end.