Thinking the unthinkable: sacred Values and taboo cognitions

Thinking the unthinkable: sacred Values and taboo cognitions

THINKING THE UNTHINKABLE: SACRED VALUES AND TABOO COGNITIONS By: Philip E. Tetlock BACKGROUND Polynesian standards for taboo absolute, automatic, unreasoned aversion to any breach of the barriers separating profane from sacred Limitation of resources can cause the secular to seem more important or just as important as the sacred. Finite resources versus placing prices on something sacred

Tetlock defined sacred values as those values that a moral community treats as possessing transcendental significance that precludes comparisons, trade-offs, or indeed any mingling with secular values. SACRED VALUE PROTECTION MODEL (SVPM) People try to protect sacred values, as well as their public images, by avoiding taboo thoughts and actions. Moral-outrage hypotheses Moral-cleansing hypotheses Reality-constraint hypotheses

MORAL OUTRAGE People tend to have adverse reactions to individuals that do not protect or go against sacred values. Includes cognitive, affective, and behavioral components It is considered wrong to think about comparing what is secular to what is sacred. Taboo

trade-offs secular values versus sacred values Longer contemplation = harsher the reaction MORAL CLEANSING Having taboo thoughts can cause a person to feel guilty and aim to compensate for having those thoughts. Simply the mere act of contemplating engaging in actions that are against sacred values can cause a person to feel contaminated. The longer one contemplates taboo actions, the more tainted one feels.

REALITY-CONSTRAINT When presented with constraints, people search for rhetorical redefinitions of situations into more acceptable routine trade-offs or tragic trade-offs. Example: if parents dedicated their net worth to their childrens safety, they would make themselves poor. Example: if a government were to provide state-of-the-art health care to all citizens, it would use all of its GDP. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00fh jnb (10:05 - 11:41)

EMPIRICAL RESEARCH: PORTRAYING PEOPLE AS RELIABLE DEFENDERS OF SACRED VALUES Forbidden base rates and heretical counterfactuals Tetlock et al. (2000) looked at base rates in relation to race when setting premiums. Found that people were angry at executives that set premiums based on race, but were not angry at executives that set premiums without considering race. Tetlock et al. (2000) also looked at heretical counterfactuals when applied to the

founders of sacred movements. Found that people do not want secular rules to be applied to sacred beings. EMPIRICAL RESEARCH: TRAGIC TRADE-OFFS Tragic trade-offs sacred value versus sacred value Tetlock et al. (2000) looked at peoples judgments of a hospital administrators decision. (tragic versus taboo trade-offs) Found that there was a worse reaction to someone who spent more thought on a taboo trade-off and a better reaction to

someone who spent more thought on a tragic trade-off. Connection to crash and cannibalism EMPIRICAL RESEARCH: PORTRAYING PEOPLE AS NEITHER VIGILANT NOR RESOLUTE DEFENDERS OF THE SACRED In a world with scarce resources, someone (usually the political elite) must set priorities, which includes setting monetary values on sacred values. Sacred values are merely pseudo-sacred

Sale of organs study Reframing of taboo trade-offs to seem like tragic or routine trade-offs Sale of organs study Look the other way when it is not paraded in front of them. Toxic-waste study

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