Certainty, Cables & Our Moral Foundations

Jim’s post made me think of 2 things:

1) Phyllis Tickle’s picture of “the cable of meaning” and

2) Jonathan Haidt’s 5 moral foundations.

#1 Tickle’s Cable of Meaning
Tickle paints a wonderful picture of us (humans) connected to some purpose and/or power like a dinghy tethered to a dock.  The key is the cable itself.

The “outer waterproof casing is … the story.  That is, it represents the shared history – mythic, actual and assumed – of the social unit … that all members share, that they hold unself-consciously in common and by which they recognize one another as being alike or of one piece.”  (p. 34, The Great Emergence)

Inside this casing is the mesh sleeve that is called the common imagination – this is the “general, operating opinion of the group”.  This common imagination is why cable TV (be it Fox News or Democracy Now) thrives – we like to hear those of our common imagination imagining the story we agree with.

Where certainty really lies however is inside that sleeve, in Tickle’s 3 strands:

  • Spirituality: those experiences and values that are internal to the individual (to use Phyllis’ phrasing)
  • Corporeality: the physical and overt evidence of the religion in place
  • Morality: the rules by which we live our lives.

When we finger these strands (Phyllis says we do so about every 500 years or so), we touch them and worry them in this order: spirituality, corporeality, morality.  Over the last 20+ years, spirituality has been the term.  Recently we’ve been talking more and more about embodying.  In a few decades we’ll move from embodiment to morality (at least historically that’s what we’ve done the past 3 times – Gregory the Great, the Great Schism and the Great Reformation).

#2 Haidt’s Moral Foundations
But certainty has everything to do with that last strand – morality.  And here is where Jon Haidt has helped me the most with his 5 moral foundations:

  1. Care/harm
  2. Fairness/cheating
  3. Loyalty/betrayal
  4. Authority/subversion
  5. Sanctity/degradation

The reality, cross-culturally, is that we’re ‘dead certain’ about our morality.  Interestingly, though, we’re usually only 2-channel moralists (typically left-leaning) or 5-channel moralists (typically right-leaning).  In fact if you want to see your personal moral foundation, go to yourmorals.org and get your graph.  Here’s mine:

You might be surprised.  I was.  I didn’t score as high as I thought I would on some scales (fairness for example), but I did score way up there on purity of all things!

If Phyllis is right – we’re actually asking the larger 500-year question:

“Where now is the authority?”

right now.  Each of us needs to ask it – even in an election year.  Not because we’re right (all of us think we are) but because we’re living in a ‘hinge’ time.

A friend of mine once said, “I follow Jesus because he was the free-est human being to every walk the earth.”  Me too, but I believe Jesus was free – precisely because he knew this world was deeply spiritual, that his embodiment in it was crucial and that there was a higher (more real) reality breaking into our existence.

One thought on “Certainty, Cables & Our Moral Foundations

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