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Monday, November 22, 2010

Left or right?

In the October 2010 edition of Prospect magazine, there is a fascinating article about a simple experiment to explore moral perspectives. I won't go into all the details, except to note that the thought experiment rests on notions of railways, tracks and switches: essentially, people are asked to make choices about life and death. In one experiment, you can set the switch to send an out-of-control train down one branch, where it will kill five people, or down another branch, where it will kill one person. That sort of thing. Quite the most surprising result of the experiments concerns the difference between liberals and conservatives.

In an experiment where subjects could save a Philharmonic orchestra by pushing an African American on to the tracks or could save the Harlem Jazz Orchestra by pushing a WASP on to the tracks, the liberals showed a marked propensity to make different choices, whereas conservatives did not. The lesson that I took from this is that conservatives make decisions according to a set of moral principles and are "colour blind" in the sense that they do not modify their position according to the race, gender, age, nationality or sexual orientation of the actors. A true commitment to equality. I think I fall into that category: things are right or wrong and it doesn't depend on who is doing them. Does this condemn me as a reactionary, permanently out of phase with the world from now on?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

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