The Righteous Mind is a book about morals. At first glance, morality may belong to the realm of philosophers and theologians, but not actuaries. Indeed, it may be hard to find a discourse on the greater good in a statistics text book. Yet, there are three reasons I think actuaries will find this book appealing:
- Much of what actuaries are concerned with involves predicting human behavior. Perhaps understanding someone's moral framework can yield insights about their risk taking behavior or why they'd even consider buying insurance (or cheating the insurer).
- The book provides mathematical framework for morality. The author introduces the Morality Matrix, which should get the actuarial taste buds salivating. Haidt expands left/right orientations into a deeper palate of dimension. For actuaries who enjoy component based studies, this will be a welcome analysis.
- Actuaries are humans, too. This book offers a look in the mirror, an opportunity to "know thyself" a little bit better, and also sheds some light on your fellow human beings.
Putting Reason in its Place
Haidt is a social psychologist, and as such much of the text is cracking open the skull to see what is happening in our minds. And out of the gates, one of the first items he addresses is Reason.
He argues that reasoning "has not evolved to help us find truth, but to help us engage in arguments, persuasion, and manipulation...". In other words, people won't arrive at a moral sentiment through logic, but instead use logic to justify whatever morality we posses.
As part of the evidence for flawed rationality, he provides an amusing ironic anecdote that in dozens of libraries the most common type of academic book that is never returned is a book on ethics.
Beyond that, studies about how much philosophers give to charity, call their moms, or do other noble actions, have shown that moral philosophers do no better than any other type of philosophers!
This leads to the cognitive bias predicament that we encounter so often. Haidt has a useful spin on the concept:
- If there is a conclusion we want to accept we ask ourselves can I believe this? In more actuarial terms, does it have a non zero chance of being true? When
- If there is a conclusion we don't want to accept, we ask ourselves, do I have to believe this? That is, is there a non zero chance of this being false.
- Autonomy - people are individuals with wants an needs and should be free to pursue these so long as they do not impose upon another's pursuits. This one should sound vey familiar.
- Community - people are first and foremost members of a family, tribe or nation and it is the group that matters most.
- Divinity - people are temporary vessels in which a scared soul is renting space.
The Morality Matrix
Case 1 - Vaccination and Masking
- For the left - consider how to discuss masking and vaccination absent of the care/harm ethic. How could you normalize these behaviors such that it's what people would choose to do out of their own free will? Are there other moral grounds on which you could appeal?
- For the right - forget about the mandates for a moment, how would it feel if you knew you were directly responsible for someone's death? Spend some time focusing on the care/harm ethic exclusively and consider what sorts of things you would support that help reduce the harm of someone else?
Case 2 - Abortion
Getting Religious with Monkeys and Bees
Temet Nosce - Know Thyself
- If our internal chemistry responds more strongly to new things we may be more comfortable changing systems - more progressive
- If our internal chemistry responds more strongly to threats we may prefer stability and resist chance - more conservative
- The Implicit Assumption Test offers ways for you to see if you have unconscious associations with race or body time or gender. As an example, let's say I think I don't have a bias against dentists. The test will show me an image of dentist and then a positive word ('happy') or negative word ('sad'), and depending on the lag it takes be to identify the word category after the image, I will have some indication of my prejudice. For example, I I found out I am somewhat more biased toward associating males with science and math.
- Your Morals - gives you a chance to see what dimensions matter to you more.