Moral Endo-skeletons and Exo-skeletons: A Perspective on America’s Cultural Divide and Current Crisis

In the months after the 2004 election, when the Red States were said to have voted on the basis of their “moral values,” it was noted by many observers that the sleazy TV and movies the traditionalist and Christian right denounce so energetically also tend to get their highest ratings in the same parts of the country most populated by such people. (It was noted, as well, that some of the family pathologies that traditionalists decry are found at high rates among these most vocal proponents of “family values.”)

Some took this as a clear indication of the hypocrisy of the conservatives: what they denounce, they also secretly enjoy. They are not as concerned about morality, this critique declared, as they pretend to be. A posture of devotion to righteousness, all the while indulging forbidden impulses in hidden ways.

Jimmy Swaggart writ large.

But I don’t think “hypocrisy” is the most illuminating way of seeing this phenomenon. Not if hypocrisy is understood as a form of deliberate dishonesty.

Different Structures of Morality

From my discussions of morality with religious traditionalists, I’ve gleaned that many of them assume that people who do not believe in their firm moral structures –who do not believe in God, or in the Ten Commandments, or in inviolable and absolute rules of moral conduct– must be living lives of sin and debauchery. They cannot understand –and often seem unwilling even to believe– that people like Unitarians might be living the well-ordered lives –as hard-working and law-abiding citizens, as responsible and dedicated family people– that they themselves strive to do.

Their failure to understand how non-believing “liberals” can live moral lives is actually the reverse side of the same coin from the liberals’ imputation of hypocrisy to the red staters who watch “Desperate Housewives” and may also have disordered family lives.

And these misunderstandings derive from the two groups’ having different moral structures.

Differences in the Locus of Control

It was a student of mine (in an adult education class about “America’s Moral Crisis”) who came up with the apt image. It didn’t matter much to her, she said, whether her society has a lot of enforced rules. She’s got her moral beliefs firmly inside her– a kind of endo-skeleton, she said.

We had been talking about the distress American traditionalists have felt at the erosion of a social consensus about the straight-and-narrow path. Morality for them, she said, seemed to be a kind of exo-skeleton. This was her image to capture their reliance on external moral structures –laws, punishments, etc.– to keep them within the moral confines in which they believe.

In that perspective, some of what might seem anomalies –or hypocrisies– of some traditionalists makes greater sense.

It becomes clear why such people –with intense moral concerns combined with a reliance on external moral structures to keep one’s own forbidden impulses in check– would support a state that enforces moral rules and a social culture that stigmatizes those who violate those rules. It really is a threat to them –a threat to their own inner moral order–when the society around them fails to be clear in its rules and strict in its enforcement.

For one whose moral structure is cast in that exo-skeleton form, the absence of external moral authority seems necessarily to imply the outbreak of moral anarchy. That’s the logic implied by that famous line, from a character in Dostoyevski’s BROTHER’S KARAMAZOV, that “if there is no God, everything is permitted.” That’s what lies behind that fear that –if gays are allowed to marry– marriage generally would somehow be threatened, including the sanctity of one’s own.

To the liberal, with the endoskeleton structure, both of those seem like logical non sequiturs. And logically, perhaps they are. But they bespeak a psychological reality. If the outside structure breaks down, who knows what I might do? It’s like that writing in the mirror in the movie, “Stop me before I kill again.”

Liberals have often failed to understand how genuinely threatening it is to the moral order of those with the exo-skeleton structure if there is a loosening of society’s moral standards, rules, and sanctions. They have not appreciated the plight of people who deeply want to toe the line, and need help in doing it.

Likewise, many liberals have responded with anger, unleavened by understanding, to the tendency of some traditionalists to try to impose their moral views on others. It is their dependence on the strength and integrity of the external moral order that drives many “exo-skeletons” to crusade to make the whole world around them conform to the moral system to which they themselves are striving to adhere. The unspoken –and generally unacknowledged– need is: please, society, be morally strict enough to keep me on the straight-and-narrow path.

Integrity and Hypocrisy: The Challenge to the Exo-Skeletons

These fears of traditionalists reflect a lack of integration– the morality is not fully integrated into the psyche.

St. Paul lamented: “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” Truly, he wanted to do the good. But it is not entirely true that the evil he did was something he wanted not. For a part of him did want it, or he wouldn’t have done it.

So was Paul a hypocrite for doing what he declared himself to be against? And are the red-staters hypocrites if they indulge –perhaps more even than the liberals– the forbidden desires?

Well, yes and no. Yes, in that they are not practicing what they preach. And that does represent a kind of lack of integrity. But the “dishonesty” involved is not about lying to others so much as it is a natural outgrowth of the identification with only a part of the self, the moral part, with a concomitant sense that the other part, with the forbidden desire, is the not-I.

So that is the hypocritical part: the failure to embrace the whole truth about the self– that is comprised not only of the “righteous” part but of the “sinner” part as well.

If the moral order of the society around him weakens, the person with a moral exo-skeleton is genuinely threatened –not just regarding his conduct, but also even regarding his identity.

The Dangerous Blindness of Some of Us Moral Endo-Skeletons

Those of us with the endo-skeleton structure –who can live moral and orderly lives even if we live in an “anything goes” society– can reasonably be tempted to feel superior to those others with the exo-skeleton dependency on the moral sanctions of a more straight-and-narrow society.

And indeed there are theories of moral development according to which the internalization of moral order is a more “advanced” form of moral development.

But, at this point in American history, it can be seen that the quest for advanced consciousness has many dimensions, and neither side of America’s divide has aced the course. This is part of the cost of our cultural polarization– two forms of moral blindness, very different but also two sides of the same coin.

Just as the cultural right has damaged America because of its failure to acknowledge its inner sinner, the left has damaged America through its failure to recognize its inner moral structure.

This was one of the greatest shortcomings of the counterculture that arose in the 60s. We –and I was a member of that tribe– simply tore down a great many of our society’s moral structures and assumed that all would be well. We had half-baked theories of human nature, and of society, that justified “letting it all hang out” and “doing our own thing” and “if it feels good, do it.”

History has shown that we were naive. Not all has been well. Indeed, I would argue that this naive miscalculation is part of what has led, ultimately, to the rise of the dark and destructive forces from the right embodied by the current dangerous Bushite regime.

Living Off Our Moral Capital

What many in the counterculture did, I believe, was to look at themselves –in their “liberated” state–and imagine that they saw human nature in its pristine state. But in reality, most of the middle class youth –brought up in the 1940s and 1950s– who comprised the counterculture had already internalized a great many of the disciplines –moral and otherwise– of traditional American culture.

That’s why they could engage in the cultural revolution of liberation, and then go on to become effective middle class professionals, and the kind of liberals with well-ordered lives that I meet when I speak to Unitarian groups.

The loosening of the moral structures of American society did not, indeed, greatly disturb the lives of most of us middle class American youths of the counterculture, because the necessary structures were already inside us. Our endo-skeletons made the social enforcement of norms and standards and morals unnecessary.

For us, that is. Meanwhile, the rest of society was not identical to us endo-skeletons. And there, the costs of the cultural loosening have been more visible.

For one thing, there are elements of American society in which the disciplines of moral order were less firmly established than in the white middle class. And for them, the loosening of the moral fabric of the overall cultural system led to disastrous results, such as a steep increase in the rate of illegitimate births and a general deterioration of family structure.

(This picture is painted plausibly in Myron Magnet’s THE DREAM AND THE NIGHTMARE: THE SIXTIES’ LEGACY TO THE UNDERCLASS. I continue to believe that there was much that was valid and right in the counterculture, whereas Magnet is basically a conservative counter-revolutionary; but I nonetheless think it is important to recognize the truth of valid critiques even –sometimes especially– from people who are in many ways adversaries.)

In addition to the effects of the loosening of our culture’s moral structures on the underclass, there is also the impact that the dissipation of our culture’s moral capital has had on our heirs, the young.

The youth coming up did not form their characters in the tighter environments of the 1940s and 1950s, but in the culturally looser decades since. And one has been hearing from veteran teachers for a long time now that each successive wave of students shows signs of a loosening of discipline of various kinds. The culture has grown trashier, the demands of society have become less stringent, the culture of indulgence has grown deeper– and all this has led to a visible cultural decline. Many of the children of those who carried with them the older structures have managed to raise children whose lives are also fairly well-ordered. But even there it is a diminishing cultural capital that we are living off of. And I expect that the necessary forms of moral structure (and other disciplines) will attenuate in time– in the absence of some kind of cultural renewal.

But it is on the other side of the cultural divide –in the realm of the endo-skeletons– that the loosening of the moral order has proved most dangerous.

It is not only that the cultural right, more dependent on the external restraints, becomes more likely to succumb to forbidden impulses—like sailors come to port.

More dangerous for the society is that the particular nature of the right’s moral vision —its relative harshness and its punitiveness—transforms the impulses of the human animal into something darker.

Fragile orders tend also to be harsher– tyranny as the surest means to avoid anarchy. And, accordingly, a moral order that is less internalized, being more fragile, tends also toward harshness.

Thus the morality of the exo-skeletons tends to denigrate the human nature it seeks to control. This morality also tends to be more punitive in its approach to control– glad to invest big sums in a brutal prison system (whether or not such punishments actually serve society best, as with drug offenders), passionately committed to the death penalty, and building its worldview around a highly punitive figure as Lord of the Universe.

(Think here of that major cultural phenomenon of recent years– the controversy over Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.)

And the harsher the morality –the more the interaction between cultural demand and human nature is conducted in the form of of war– the darker become the feelings inside the human creature socialized in that morality– the more the feelings inside the human creature turn toward rage (at the wounds inflicted), toward a desire for power (to counteract the powerlessness of being small in a world that has declared war on you), and toward a lust for vengeance (for all the punishment and rejection inflicted).

The harsh morality of the cultural right thus engenders within the human spirit a kind of wolf . It is a wolf such as Shakespeare described in Troilus and Cressida:

Then every thing includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself.

And the same harsh morality that goads this wolf into life will also –when it is intact– help confine that beast its cage.

That wolf –the lust for power and the rage for revenge– has always been there, and it has played a role in the dark parts of American history. But it was largely, more than now, kept from running rampant.

The loosening of the cage of America’s social morality had one meaning, therefore, among America’s endo-skeletons, but another darker meaning among America’s exo-skeletons. It is as though a boat was tipped by the left, but it was the right that got wet.

It was not just id that was loosed on the cultural right, but also unleashed were those impulses that their sub-culture’s harshness had made dark. (One thinks of that famous passage in Carl Jung, written in the years before the rise of the Nazis, about the “blond beast stirring in its subterranean prison…threatening us with an outbreak that will have devastating consequences.” )

The wolf has now broken from its cage. We in the counterculture who wanted to liberate, for example, the natural sexual energies of the human creature also, unwittingly, weakened the checks on the lust for power, on greed, on self-aggrandisement. Morality, it turns out, is of a piece. And so is our culture.

“Make love, not war,” we chanted. But now, being undisciplined in our approach to the moral issues of making love, we live in a country that defies all international laws in its making of war.

Now it is the wolf that rules America.

Turning Back from Fascism

Fascism arises from the sense that the choice is between its tyranny and mere anarchy.

Never mind that the fascists merely bring the anarchy of the enraged wolf, hiding under the national flag, to prowl around society. They do it from the precincts of power, and they fool enough of the people into thinking that what they’re bringing is order.

But there are, in any event, better options than either tyranny or anarchy. But they are to be achieved. Good order in the human realm does not happen except through wise and hard human effort.

The task then is two-fold. It is not only to remove that wolf from power, but it is also to help reconstruct the cage –those structures of morality– that kept it in check.

Ideally, we’d do much better than merely “reconstruct” the moral cage of an earlier era. That would be an improvement over this loosening, which has unleashed these dark forces. But still better would be to find a better means of containment, even a more harmonious form of domestication that does not need to abuse the creature it brings into the social fold. That old order was far from ideal.

That much the counter-culture recognized, but it failed to realize that a truly beneficent revolution is not accomplished by the storming of the Bastille. And it failed to recognize that the movement of a culture to its next, more advanced form is a long-term and difficult process.

What is needed this time around is not a wanton rejection of the old structures, replacing them with nothing. We endo-skeletons must understand more fully the structures that hold us together. We must understand, that is, that the endo-skeleton is not nothing.

And, more, we need to understand that the endo-skeleton does not come from nothing. It is the internalization of the order the growing creature encounters around him/her.

And no skeleton at all is a recipe for falling apart.

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13 Responses to “Moral Endo-skeletons and Exo-skeletons: A Perspective on America’s Cultural Divide and Current Crisis”

  1. bob adams Says:

    Andy:
    Very provocative piece. You remind us that, even though we are all alike, we are different: we have different upbringings and different life experiences; we think, process information differently, and emote differently; and, as you point out, our moral compasses may not only be oriented variably, they may be structured differently. “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus”. We are either right- or left brained. etc. etc.
    This realization should help all of us deal gently with our political adversaries—those on the right may not be stupid or evil (possibly excepting Vice)—they may have a moral exoskeleton.

    You also allude to the fact that the leftward tilt of the 60′s led to our current reactionary state of political affairs. Historians could probably remind us of similarities of the 1890′s and the 1920′s. This gives us hope that the pendulum will (hopefully soon) swing back. This, of course, does not suggest we should passively wait for the tide to turn; we must act.

    Thanks for your writings and your actions

  2. JJ Bodine Says:

    –a moderated version of a prior comment–sorry I could not recall my name or password for the site!

    Hi Andy, this is a very good piece of analysis in my opinion. It does set a background for
    conversation which indicates both the positives and negatives rather than assigning blame and
    seeking retribution. It is in many ways a familiar analysis to me if I think of George Lakoff’s
    Moral Politics and his distinction between the “strong father” model and the “nurturing parent”
    model. I’d like to see you press the foundation you have laid here a bit farther by offering
    some reflections on exo and endo boundaries and how they relate to each other as well as some
    projections on the shaping of a process by which to reach a better place. By “boundariesâ€? I mean the limitations placed on behavior (as when a parent tells a child not to run into the street—thus setting a boundary on behavior), or the description of what does and does not count as positive ethical or moral behavior behavior. Insofar as both the “endos and exosâ€? concern themselves with behavioral results, that means what indeed are the limits (and why) to acceptable or positive moral behavior. As you have described the exo- and endo-skeletal ethical types, and indicated overlaps, it seems clear to me that exploring the kinds and classes of boundaries and their enforcement will be a significant exercise in understanding and conversation. This may be too open-ended, yet it seems to me that you would be in a stronger position for conversation with “adversaries” on both the Blue and Red sides with a kind of comparative proposal. Congratulations on the use of the metaphor to provide at least a beginning conversation point.
    And it’s not just Unitarians who hold many of the endo- points you make!

  3. NDW Says:

    Andy, my take on this perspective: The counter-culture message of the sixties alienated traditional/conservative folks because they were “too far out there�. The counter-culture was also dismissed and abandoned by the sophisticated/elitist left and cruelly demonized by the right. Therefore, the neocon stronghold today is very comfortable projecting the liberal voice as the “occult� or as being Godless. Meanwhile, liberal politics can simply be defined as an opportunistic political group that has represented one side on the playing field of an unprecedented economic commercial agenda, which has been mutually exclusive to the aristocracy. The counter-cultural movement ended very quickly because the wealthy class saw that it had run its course. Thus it did not waste time assuming a business as usual posture.

    You said: “And it (the counter-culture of the sixties) failed to recognize that the movement of a culture to its next, more advanced form is a long-term and difficult process. It is the internalization of the order the growing creature encounters around him/her.â€? Here I think you underestimate what the effective inner moral structure is and can be. As I mentioned on another recent thread, an inner moral structure that does not alienate “exo-skeletonsâ€? and yet satisfies “endo-skeletonsâ€? is not a difficult task when the message encompasses basic moral points that all generations can relate to. I don’t think the “exo-skeletonsâ€? have as hard a time personalizing or “internalizingâ€? things as I think they have identifying or being included within the culture. Conservative Politics demonized the counter-culture movement. It was the “country bumpkinâ€? or the conservative/traditional segment, as well as African American’s, who didn’t “fully integrate into the psycheâ€? the language and indeed the culture exhibited in cosmopolitan-highly populated urban areas. The counter-cultural movement was way “looseâ€? in the fact that its message failed to fully identify, organize and reach out to these “exo-skeletonsâ€? as you put it. All kinds of aesthetic appeals went out (folk music, etc.) to factory workers and the poor but essentially uneducated whites thought of MLK as an agitator. And the poor, well they never have a voice. So I think a structured, common and inclusive message is the key. Simply, the counter-culture ended when economic forces doubled, the wealthy coalesced and political order “restoredâ€? social order. I’d like to say more about all of this later but basically I think you underestimate the situation we are in, outside of the direct threat posed by our current over-the-top political leadership.

  4. Philip Callas Says:

    I really enjoyed this brilliant essay. I’m left perplexed, though, about the different dimensions of morality. The various moral strictures of left-wing endo-skeletons and those of right-wing exo-skeletons overlap only incompletely at best. For my part, I plan to teach my daughter about the many hazards of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, early pregnancy, sex without love, and the immorality of coercion, of environmental degradation, and of the abuse of animals. I agree with what Andy has written, but even though I wish to help keep the wolf of this country in its cage, if I tried to teach my daughter that contraception is wrong, or that same-sex relationships are wrong, or that women are inherently inferior, or that children are essentially property, or that criticizing illegitimate authority is wrong, or that first-trimester abortions are always wrong, then I don’t think I could look her in the eye. I myself was brought up under harsh–and mostly arbitrary, even immoral–moral edicts, and I’m genuinely surprised that I survived it. I would argue that my sense of right and wrong–which overlaps only partially with that of my parents–is at least as strong as that of my right-wing relatives, but mine is based more upon natural values and less upon archetypal ones. Nevertheless, my relatives would probably look upon me as being immoral, even as they drive their SUVs, slap their kids for frowning, and patronize factory farms. It hardly makes sense to even call that ‘morality’.

  5. Rob Wentworth Says:

    I once read about an interesting psychology experiment that bears on issues of moral endo- and exo-skeletons. My recollection is that the researchers experimented with different tactics for telling boys not to play with a very appealing toy that they were going to be left alone with. A fairly heavy-handed approach (I think involving promised punishment) resulted in a significant number of boys playing with the forbidden toy, and even more playing with it weeks later when they were again put in the same room with the same toy. A more subtle approach (alas, I don’t recall how the warning was phrased) was fairly effective—and was strikingly better than the heavy-handed approach on the re-test weeks later—when the boys still didn’t play with the forbidden toy. The explanation was that because of the lack of an external threat, the boys needed to explain to themselves why they didn’t play with the toy the first time and rationalized that they didn’t want to. So, the decision to not play with the toy was experienced as internally rather than externally motivated. The internal motivation persisted until the later session, whereas the external motivation did not. (This experiment was perhaps described in, “Influence: the Psychology of Pursuasion,â€? by Robert Cialdini. Unfortunately I don’t have the book handy to check details.)

    I think an implication of this is that strict external strictures can actually retard the development of a moral endo-skeleton. Of course, a moral endo-skeleton isn’t likely to form in the complete absence of external strictures either—there is likely some level and structuring of external strictures that is optimum for helping people internalize their morality.

  6. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    Thanks to Rob Wentworth for that very illuminating and pertinent report about the research.

    In terms of the relationship between external structures (or strictures) and the internalization of the morality, one thing that comes to mind is what Aristotle advocated. Aristotle recommended that the young be compelled to DO the things that correspond with virtue first before being taught the basis and reasons for a commitment to virtue. It was his thought that the young can develop the HABITS of virtue before their able to understand the REASONS for it.

    As a parent, I’ve proceeded as if the young child can always understand some of the reasons for it, and so I’ve tried to combine the two elements pretty much all along, pitching the explanation to the level of understanding. Even a two-year-old can understand “don’t go into the road” in terms of “you could get hurt,” or “don’t jump on my stomach” in terms of “it doesn’t feel good to me.” (The Goldern Rule can come later.)

    I’ve never been one for “Because I told you so (and I’m your father),” which seems to lead to the kind of non-learning that Rob’s report about the research points toward.

  7. JimZ Says:

    Andy, your last comment prompted a recollection from reading Gordon Allport’s book “The Nature of Prejudice.” In it he said that those who ACT kindly toward people different than themselves come to love them, and people who ACT in a hateful manner come to hate the object of their behavior. He turned on its head the notion that people first use their intellectual or emotional faculties to (then) rationalize hateful acts against others. This was, of course relevent to the fact that children see and learn hateful behavior from their parents, and copy that, without knowing why.

    Allport also cited studies in which people who lived physically near those of other ethnic heritages had more favorable atitudes about them, and those who lived distant had more negative attitudes (“the more you know me the more you’ll like me”). Writing in the early 1950′s, this may have been true; don’t know whether the results would be the same today.

    For my part, as an Anglo, I grew up amidst Latino neighbors and classmates in Arizona (& subsequent similar experiences in Wyoming and Colorado), and have always had positive and comfortable feelings towards people of Latino background. You tend to see dating, marriages, etc., and I suppose these events seem normal. My scoutmaster, and father’s most cherished friend, were Hispanic men.

    Likewise, I’m fortunate that parochial grade 1-8 school, I recall, left me with a positive recollection of the civil rights movement despite the fact that no Blacks lived near us then. For whatever reason, I was able to transfer the same favorable impression to that of African Americans. My hunch is, though, that solidifying such attitude required me to spend some time around African American neighbors, classmates and friends (which I did get to do in both Arizona and New York) before this feeling was solidified.

    Also perhaps on point, my wife tells of the time she took a job in a strange town & state, and feared that she had made a terrible mistake in making the move. But she committed to giving it six weeks before passing judgment, diving into all possible activities, getting to know the people, etc.. Well before the 6 weeks were up, she found that it felt like home to her, and she never looked back. Again, she took action, and the emotional bond followed.

    Aristotle and Allport seem to be correct. Whether we are compelled by external or internal authority, right action seems to be a marvellous teacher.

    Thanks for the fine essay.

  8. NDW Says:

    If endo-skeletons are highly functional amidst disorder and exo-skeletons are not doesn’t it stand to reason that the more functional type should be the “older siblingâ€? and do everything it can to welcome the less functional who truly values the whole over the sum of its parts? Because from what you say that’s what that tells me. That is if the exo-skeleton cannot live in a society that’s whole then his whole being reflects a kind of dissonance. Meaning the exo so needs familiar order within the whole of society that he can’t begin to see the other side because the endo is defending a perspective that is seemingly broken. The endo-skeleton, even in the culturally loosest decade, devoid of moral capital, may demonstrate an ability to function effectively. But at that point what good would that serve this individual endo-skeleton since most everyone else would be caught up in chaos? My point is that endo’s can very easily give up on identifying with the exo-type. And most of the time those attempts to reach out are futile because the solutions to restore order aren’t dynamic enough to persuade the exo that there will be a more harmonious culture.

    I think you characterize these two types well. But it just doesn’t seem like you go far enough in describing what endo’s can do to reach out to the exo’s. I think that exo’s want to be entertained with radical solutions because essentially they value order within the whole more than anyone does. I think that is why many exo’s seem to flock in to the churches so much. I think this is why they take biblical passages so literally and not so much by symbol. You actually say this; “Liberals have often failed to understand how genuinely threatening it is to the moral order of those with the exo-skeleton structure if there is a loosening of society’s moral standards, rules, and sanctions. They have not appreciated the plight of people who deeply want to toe the line, and need help in doing it. The unspoken –and generally unacknowledged– need is: please, society, be morally strict enough to keep me on the straight-and-narrow path.â€?

  9. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    Response to NDW, re what the endos can do for the exos. It seems important in the context of your question, to emphasize a point in the piece: that a great many endos –not knowing they were endos– have made a great mistake in failing to recognize the importance of there being external moral structures. Such structures are what made them endos, and not having enough such structures doesn’t work for society generally.

    I’ve seen a lot of my liberal-minded baby-boomer friends have real difficulty providing their children with as much of discipline, of standards (of conduct and of performance, and of moral training as their children need.

    So one thing the endos can do is to work to develop more of these structures in their belief systems, in society, etc. It has been part of our polarization that some on the left do not believe in authority, or in making judgments (including stigmatizing undesirable behaviors), or in imposing discipline.

    If these endos would give more support to reasonable and compassionate forms of external moral structure, then that would give the exos less cause for the anxieties that drive them into the hands of the pseudo-righteous demagogues who have seduced them.

  10. CT Says:

    Yes. This was fascinating.
    Please bear with me as I try to formulate my thoughts as I am not formally educated in these topics.
    My experience says there is an dynamic in some “endos” which may limit our ability to engage with “exos” in a manner that would be sufficiently reassuring to exos. Some of us who have been exposed to a crushing moral authoritarianism in childhood make a desperate run away from what we experience as the threat of psychic annihilation. This terror, instead of weakening the capacity to internalize a moral structure, provides energy for intense questioning, a search into alternative moral & spiritual perspectives. This usually provides enough internal security to re-establish satisfactory personal relationships with exos – as long as boundaries are respected. However, even tamed and harnessed terror has a memory which perceives the demands of absolutism (perhaps an exo’s most extreme reaction to the loss of external structure) as a threat to psychic integrity. The demand from some exos that the world conform to their particular absolutisms may result in power strugges as we try to build the humane moral structures & institutions which a healthy society so clearly needs. It will be difficult to reconcile the exo’s need for a sufficiently rigid external skeletin with the endo’s memory of crushing annihilation.

    I am assuming that the cause of these differing moral types is caused by the damaging psychic effects of rigid morality imposed in childhood. But I wonder if there are not other causes or influences? What about choice? Perhaps there is a reward in the lust for power and control over others and catharsis when the unacknowledge wolf emerges from the shadows? Perhaps there is a reward in being blind to consequence and unanswerable as we rule our personal kingdoms clothed in naked insipidness.

  11. Todd Says:

    Very provocative essay and responses. I’m going to send it to friends and family to get their thoughts. While reading, I also thought of Lakoff. a couple others I need to think about are Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, especially the break between stage 4 (law and order) and stage 5 (social contract); and, i forget the psychologist that did the studies on internal and external fate control. As I new adult in the sixties, I can relate to the counter-culture discussion, my reaction to the moral order of my parents and nation, my child-rearing practices. I need to reflect on the sixties as a “cause” of the 80s and 90s and the conservative reaction. I need to think of who sends their kids to the local public alternative high school that demands internal controls (we did) and who sends their kids to the local public traditional school. I need to engage the conservative Christians I know as well as the progressive Christians I know with this article.

  12. kim Says:

    Andy — I have been re-reading this excellent essay as part of preparing for a sermon on UU morals I am giving.
    Two comments:

    You discuss how the exos have projected the shadow side away from themselves. I think maybe both sides do that: as evidenced by the endos’ belief that “we are basically good” and a reluctance to even deal with the issue of evil.

    I see that we are all confused about what upbringing produces endos versus exos. I am not sure of this, but I believe that Dr. Spock (remember him?) advocated a method that was more likely to produce endos, while the traditional method produces exos. The traditional method is using punishment and reward and authority, while Dr. Spock advocated reasons, discussion, and approval and disapproval.
    I remember reading an article about psychological tests showing that rewards and punishments produce compliance in the short term but no internalization of the values. The other method, presumably, by showing an intrinsic value to the behavior, helps internalize the value. I think this is the source of the dichotomy your essay was about.
    The next question becomes — how do we recover from the swamp we are in now?

  13. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    Kim, responding to this: “You discuss how the exos have projected the shadow side away from themselves. I think maybe both sides do that: as evidenced by the endos’ belief that “we are basically goodâ€? and a reluctance to even deal with the issue of evil.”

    I don’t think that the problem of evil within oneself is uniformly distributed. Evil is a function of brokenness, and while we’re all damaged and wounded in some ways, I don’t think we’re all equally broken or twisted. And while I don’t think that being an “endo” is any guarantee of being unbroken, I believe that the kind of child-rearing differences you quite appropriately mention here produce markedly different levels of integration of the personality (of impulse and morality) and thus markedly different vulnerabilities to evil.

    So I don’t see the failure of liberal America to perceive evil as in itself an indication of that part of America being in thrall to evil the way that the right-wing part of America has lately come to be. Rather, I see it as a failure of understanding and of spiritual connection, so that the whole issue of good and evil –the battle between which is so central to the human drama– escapes their mapping of the world.

    It is a sign of ignorance, and of naivete, and of superficialitity of insight into the human realm– but these do not equate to evil.

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