In-Group/Loyalty & Purity/Sanctity

In-group/Loyalty and Purity/Sanctity are aspects of morality that require a further look.  Both of these values find strong foundations within religious or cultural contexts (moral spheres) but again fail to provide an empathetic individual response which can be logically argued in an ethical way.  Haidt was on to something with his association of both tenants of morality to religious and historical cultures, not to mention the path at which he discovered these traits of morality, that is via the response of disgust and its apparent evolution.

While Authority/Respect can rise to the level of asacred value quite easily (such as the authority of God), the concepts of In-group/Loyalty and Purity/Sanctity by connotation and definition are the stuff sacred values are made of – highly emotive conventional abstractions.

Directed from Referenced Article:

Chapter Seven: “Sacred Values and the Limits of Rational Choice: Conflicting Cultural Frameworks in the Struggle Against Terrorism” –  Scott Atran


Religious behavior often seems to be motivated by Sacred Values (SVs).  “The concept of sacred values (or protected values) was developed to express the idea that certain values and moral principles are seen as absolute and non-negotiable and thus are protected from trade-offs with other values.

A sacred value has been defined as “any value that a moral community implicitly or explicitly treats as possessing infinite or transcendental significance that precludes comparisons, trade-offs, or indeed any other mingling with bounded or secular values”. Values like human life, health, nature, love, honor, justice, or human rights are seen as absolute and inviolable — in effect sacred.”  A sacred value is a value that incorporates moral beliefs and is “independently of its prospect of success.”

High cost personal sacrifices to (non-kin) others in society seem to be typically motivated by, and framed in terms of, non-instrumental values. This includes Jihadist conceptions of martyrdom, which also involves moral commitment to kill infidels for the sake of God. One review finds that “only a minority of human violence can be understood as rational, instrumental behavior aimed at securing or protecting material rewards. Historically, religiously-motivated violence tends to underpin the most intractable and enduring conflicts within and between cultures and civilizations.

Political scientists and economists acknowledge the role of religious values in coordinating groups for economic, social and political activities, and in providing people with immunity that goes with action in large numbers. From a rational-choice perspective, such values operate instrumentally to form convergent trust among masses of people with disparate interests and preferences, thus reducing “transaction costs” that would otherwise be needed to mobilize them.

Others grant the instrumental value of “ethnicity” – and values rooted in other ascriptive (birth-based) identities such as religion and language – but ask: “why would ethnicity be the basis for mobilization at all?” And why does the mobilization of these values energize the most enduring and intractable conflicts between groups?  This suggests that non-instrumental values possess inherent qualities that instrumental values may lack (passion, obligation), and that these two sorts of values can interact in intricate ways.

“Painting” a term or group in a negative light can be done in repetition such that eliciting the group or term takes on a visceral negative reaction which elicits some action.


Examples of the last statement:  Racist such as the Ku Klux Klan or Fundamentalist Conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh and his uses of the term “Liberal” as a negative connotation.

Sacred values seem to be easily adopted memes and no doubt useful.  As the saying goes, “Any tool can be used as a weapon if you hold it the right way.”  In other words, very useful items (including ideas) can be used for good or harm.  The tenants of In-group/Loyalty and Purity/Sanctity are effective means of social control.  The terms that classify these tenants of morality are recognizable sacred values.  There are a list of terms and concepts for both categories that provide embedded sacred values.

I highlight the ethical issues inherent in three of the five pillars of Morality (In-group/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, Purity/Sanctity) because I see them as being more easily used for harm than good.  This does not make them inherently bad or evil but of less importance than the first two elements (Harm/Care, Fairness/Reciprocity).  They are three items to use with caution.

These last three pillar of morality are not concepts of Ethics.  There is little doubt they are concepts of Morality however.  It is important to be able to distinguish between them and understand the difference.  The first two are core ethical concerns; the last three elements of morality are tools of social control used by religion and culture throughout history.  They deal with matters of convention.

The memes that give certain individuals or groups authority over others needs to constantly be challenged.  No one individual or group has any more authority over another than what they are given by the society they live in.  As members of society we need to continually keep our authority figures in check.  Authority is not a right, it is a privilege; one that is continually renewed.  This is something the founding fathers of the USA understood well.

The meme of In-group/Loyalty has been expanded as the world has shrunk socially and that is a good thing.  The divisions of us verses them is an ethically poor one.  It has a place and purpose in our human evolution but serves us poorly today.  The world will be a better place when all humans see each other as being part of the same group; post religious and post nationalist.

“Social progress makes the well-being of all more and more the business of each.”  – Henry George. (5-4).

The meme of Purity/Sanctity is one that is far too often used to confuse issues.  This meme tends to greatly warp the lens people see the world through.  For this reason the memes of Purity/Sanctity need to be continually challenged when they run a muck… which they have a good tendency to do.

If more people understood ethics we would all be much better off.  The lack of understanding of ethics leaves people unable to argue ethics properly.  Without understanding of ethics people are only left with their own relativistic personal views which leads to a lot of yelling or worse but little resolution of problems.




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