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The Morals of Our Story

Our correspondents illustrate the difficulty of bringing left and right together.

I am glad to read about Jonathan Haidt's academic research into the moral values decisions made by cultural conservatives ("Morals Authority," May/June). The question in Haidt's article about closing Guantánamo Bay could also be seen in the opposite way, however, from an "in-group loyalty" point of view. "In-group" loyalty in the U.S. could also mean to the Constitution, the Founders and "habeas corpus" being a central tenet of U.S. law and culture from the founding of the Republic, rather than as a "proactive attitude to an outside threat." In fact, seeing it the way these cultural conservatives see it could also be viewed as a threat — a threat from within! A Harper's article titled "Jesus Killed Mohammed" makes that threat very clear, and the extent to which it may already be a real issue here that sets us back to 1920s Europe.


The Founders knew about these impulses in human beings that Haidt so well defines and validates. So did Socrates. So did the framers of the Geneva Conventions, to which the U.S. was an early and important signatory. They all chose to rein this impulse in when deciding what is acceptable in this American "good society." Even though Callicles and his "in-group" loyal crowd managed to get Socrates executed because his ideas were such a threat to their in-group power, in the end, Socrates' ideas are what emerged from the marketplace of ideas to define what makes for a prosperous and well-functioning society — nevermind a just or a fair one.

Brett Barndt
New York, N.Y.

Is Haidt Confused...
I don't agree with Jonathan Haidt (or at least Tom Jacobs' interpretation of him) that liberals have a weak concept of authority. We need respect for authority — the courts, for example — among the populace to accomplish our progressive social goals. We only question authority when we think it is being misused. Perhaps the fact that authority is misused so often has confused Mr. Haidt's liberal moral compass.

Richard Hall
Red Bank, N.J.

... or a Secret Conservative!?!
Don't think I'll subscribe to your mag — and here's why. The first article I read is by this charlatan, Jonathan Haidt. [Editor's note: The article is about Haidt, but he did not write it.] If there is one thing I despise above all else, it's a conservative posing as an "atheist liberal"?! Quite apart from the frothing antagonism this guy has to all things liberal, he so utterly fails to understand liberal thinking (despite his absurd assertion that conservatives understand liberals better than the other around) that he can't help but give himself away. As do all conservative "pundits," he caricatures liberal views and whitewashes conservatives' views.

However, he gives himself away in a far more fundamental way when he fails to name any "moral" positions that involve money. In my experience, conservatives are totally fixated on sexual issues where values are concerned, and they almost totally disregard as a moral issue the biggest preoccupation of American culture — the pursuit of money.

Until conservatives become even remotely respect-worthy, most liberals will turn a deaf ear to drivel like the pseudo-sociology coming from conservatives like Jonathan Haidt.

Lori Kisling
Hudson, Wis.

Educating Botstein in the Afternoon
Good afternoon: While the interview with President Leon Botstein, Bard College ("In It for the Duration," May/June), furnished several accurate interpretations as related to university endowments, education of adolescents and the need for improving the science/mathematics education of American youth, I find it very flawed in its interpretation of the role served by professional education colleges. Would his criticism also apply to business schools, nursing colleges, engineering schools, agriculture colleges? I think not! Dr. Botstein reflects an overt prejudice to education schools as they have usurped a function formally held by liberal arts colleges in the 1700s and 1800s.

In past times, the role of Master Teacher and his assistants was to instill firm discipline and a rote learning style based on the Seven Liberal Arts. [That style] was strong on memorization and developing the ability to offer a response in Latin. It is true that education colleges have a passion for "educating the whole child" — not just the ability to memorize isolated facts or verses. However, one must note that many small liberal arts colleges have declined to attain accreditation of education programs from such associations as the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education and other professional societies, for example, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges or the National Council of Teachers of English.

A study of the current curricula for education majors would reveal the following: One-third of their degree program is in general education and one-third in a content major housed in a liberal arts college and one-third in professional education (with 25 to 30 percent being in a field-based internship). If there is any one to blame for the "poor quality of teachers in mathematics," let me suggest that the weakness might lie in the mathematics department of a liberal arts college!

Charles W. Ryan
Professor of Higher Education,
The College of Education and Human Services,
Wright State University
Dayton, Ohio

Do Women Want Super Dads?
In the May/June issue in which the cover story considers the human impact upon biodiversity, it's peculiar to find the article "Benefits Of The Daddy Brain," which, in essence, lionizes human procreation. As a non-parent, I'll withhold my outrage over the subtitle, "Why Becoming A Father Makes You A Better Man," except to invite author Kuchinskas out of her ivory tower and into the natural habitat for some field observation. Walking her through any neighborhood in the country, I can easily find more than sufficient examples to invalidate her theory.

Moreover, despite considerable lip service to the contrary, women eschew the sensitive types who would make a good Mr. Mom. Women instead want to mate with the high-testosterone bad boy. That they rate them as poor husband material does not negate the fact that they are instinctively drawn to mate with them. And if women might later want to settle down with a "Super Dad" type, the fact is, now those men are essentially being used. Mate-seeking and parenting are indeed often traded off when the female needs a brooding nest. Thus, we should not marvel at the divorce rate.

Humans have always been overly fond of anthropomorphizing other species. And although it is indeed true that Homo sapiens shares some traits with other species, willy-nilly extrapolating behavioral traits and chemistry triggers across species lines is specious. If Kuchinskas can find parenting triggers among deer mice and marmosets, then I eagerly await her warm, fuzzy extrapolation of the fact that many animals eat their young.

Bruce Glasrud
St. Louis Park, Minn.

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