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Jonathan Haidt on the Morality of Occupy Wall Street Protesters
#ows | November 01, 2011

Jonathan Haidt on the Morality of Occupy Wall Street Protesters

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, whose work focuses on morality and emotion and how they vary across cultures, paid a visit to Occupy Wall Street in New York recently. He took with him a camera and something called the Moral Foundations Theory. His goal: to make sense of the OWS protesters' motivations. Writing about his findings in Reason, Haidt outlines the six moral clusters that people fit into (care/harm, fairness/cheating and liberty/oppression), then concludes that the protesters lean left in general—meaning “fairness, care, and concerns about oppression” are high priorities. “The difference is that fairness is cranked up from the second position in which we normally find it (behind care) to the number one motivation. This makes sense given that the protests are a response to the perceived cheating, law-breaking, and greed of the major financial firms,” says Haidt.

The noted psychologist goes on to note that pundits have missed the mark by saying there are no clear demands. “The protesters' basic message is quite clear: Rein in the influence of big business, which has cheated and manipulated its way to great wealth (in part by buying legislation) while leaving a trail of oppressed and impoverished victims in its wake.” Haidt concludes by suggesting that the protesters can really tap into greater national sympathy by focusing on on the “cheating” and “oppression” at the hands of Wall Street. They'll get much further with their message than with flag burning, destruction, or violence.

Jonathan Haidt is a highly respected and sought after speaker who has spoken at the TED Conference, and is slated to speak again this year. He is also the author of The Happiness Hypothesis and Flourishing. In addition to his work on morality, Haidt is also an expert on positive psychology (the scientific study of human flourishing) and studies positive emotions such as moral elevation, admiration, and awe.
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