Doctor Who redeemed?

Doctor Who redeemed?

Examples of a New Paradigm Dalek (foreground) ...

Daleks, new and old (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve just finished rewatching Asylum of the Daleks, the first in the new Doctor Who series which aired on BBC HD on 1 September. After a previous series which can best be described as patchy, and an earlier outing for Daleks in Victory of the Daleks which was widely seen as lamentable, I was fearing the worst.
What I actually got was approaching the best.
The problem with Daleks — as I think Stephen Moffatt pointed out — is that over the years they have become British cultural icons and are, in the Doctor Who world, the most dangerous enemies, but in the viewers’ world the most reliably defeatable creatures in the universe.
As a child I hid behind the sofa when the Day of the Daleks came on. When I watched it again, on UK Gold, years later, it was just as sinister, just as scary. Back in those days the producers had the trick of introducing us to a heroic and noble character who we could get attached to in the first episode of a four parter, who would then be killed somewhere in the second episode. Even when defeated, they still managed to scorch the earth of whichever planet they happened to be on. Victories against the Daleks were always partial, and bitter.
Daleks in the 21st century Doctor Whos have just never been that scary. Even when they moveed the Earth and threatened to destroy the universe, it all got fixed in the end and no-one seemed (a couple of series later) to have actually noticed. Time got rewritten, the Stolen Earth never happened, and it was all a bit like a cross between the Simpsons and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (on Buffy’s gravestone at the end of series six it read ‘she saved the world, a lot’).
In the mean time, some much meaner monsters emerged. The nastiest of all were the Time Lords of the final David Tennant episode. When the good guys turn bad, it’s very bad. When the Daleks pitch up with yet another master plan, it’s a bit like the clowns turning up with a very large black sphere marked ‘bomb’.
So, to expunge the Daleks serving tea to Winston Churchill and then reappearing as if they had been designed by the same chap who did the new Mini, in Victory of the Daleks, Moffatt has come back with a genuinely passionate and scary piece of science-fiction which goes right back to the gothic horrors of the Jon Pertwee years.
I don’t want to give the plot away, but the story turns on two really strong ideas: that Amy and/or Rory and/or the Doctor are threatened with becoming Daleks, and an extraordinary plot twist at the end which is no less shocking for being prefigured throughout the episode. IIt’s still shocking on the second viewing.
Moffatt has played the same trick which worked so well in Death to the Daleks: the Daleks are actually scarier when weakened.
The other really great thing about this episode is that it expunges the horribly embarrassing reputation which the Doctor has picked up with the Daleks, which never seems to turn into anything. In the original series the Doctor was largely unknown to the Daleks (despite having knocked around the universe for six hundred years), and it was only after Genesis of the Daleks and the emergence of Davros that they started taking a real interest in him.
By the start of the new series, the Daleks have a name for him — the oncoming storm — and, rather like The Comic Strip Presents version of the Famous Five, seem on the point of giving in whenever he tells them who he is. Asylum of the Daleks faces this embarrassing situation head on, giving us at the start for once a plausible reason why they don’t just shoot first and ask questions afterwards. By the end of the episodes,we know we’ll never have to face the embarrassment of ‘A-Team firing’, as TVtropes calls it, again. Now the Daleks no longer know who he is, we get a chance to start again, and all bets are off.
And —and I wouldn’t have believed this could happen — they’ve even redeemed the final ill-conceived question from the last minute of the previous series.
Let’s hope the whole season is this good.
Homeland versus Once Upon A Time: brilliant versus abominable

Homeland versus Once Upon A Time: brilliant versus abominable

Once upon a time, RumpelstiltskinChannel 5 has done well out of its American imports over the last few years. Once it got over its late night sultry made-for-TV phase, it picked up with CSI, CSI New York, CSI Miami, and, to a lesser extent, Law and Order, with all of its variations. Procedural drama, as its called, is all very well, and CSI has certainly done Channel 5 proud. But the time has come for the station to spread its wings a little, and spreading its wings is into the area of updated fantasy. People who enjoyed The 10th Kingdom (come on, somebody must have enjoyed it) and the Jack and the Beanstalk update will probably have been looking forward to it. It’s called Once Upon A Time, and it does for fairy tale what Lost and Heroes did for coherent story-telling. That is to say, not a great deal.

On the other hand, or, rather, on the other channel, Homeland was looking to be the punchiest piece of post-X Files intelligence drama to have come out of the USA in… well, since the X Files. As if to underscore the point, after showing the final episode of the first series of Homeland, Channel 4 showed the X Files movie (1998), a film which simply could never be made in the post 9/11 climate, since it begins with a catastrophic bomb destroying a federal building.
Both Once Upon a Time and Homeland share some common characteristics. They’ve got a much-loved female lead: Jennifer Morrison (House, How I Met Your Mother) heads up Once Upon a Time, and Clare Danes (Romeo + Juliet, Terminator 3, Stardust) play the apparently solid but, as the story develops, unexpectedly fragile protagonists. They also share the unfortunate post-Lost/Heroes penchant for taking up the first minutes telling you what has previously happened, and the final minutes telling you what is going to happen. And they keep piling on more story problems in each episode.
Homeland Series 1 has now finished. It looked like it was going to resolve all of the problems in the final episode, and then didn’t. Series 2, as the Channel 4 announcer regretfully said, will be on the station at a later date — that is, when they’ve made it. Once Upon A Time has been going less time, and shows no signs of ever resolving any of its problems, though it does introduce more unconnected aspects from fairy-tales and Disney-tales each week.
My verdict:
Homeland, basically brilliant, someone spoiled by the obvious desire to keep the franchise going for a second series.
Once Upon A Time, only watchable if you really, really want to.
So, why?
Homeland got going pretty quickly, and it stayed going. It connects to recent events and to real anxieties. The fragility of the female lead comes as an enormous shock, just when it looks like she’s going to sort things out. The details are authentic, at least to a viewer from this side of the pond, and the characters entrancing.
Once Upon A Time just doesn’t do the same things. First off, it suffers from a serious problem of genre-clogging. Jiminy Cricket is a Disney character, an Americanised version of the talking cricket in the original Pinocchio, a 19th century children’s book by Carlo Collodi. The premise of Once Upon A Time is that ‘all of the fairy tales you know’ are true, and the characters are trapped in an American village as a result of a curse (this isn’t a spoiler — they explain this in great detail at the start of every episode). Someone tell the producers that Pinocchio is not a fairy tale, any more than Babes in the Wood is, or Winnie the Pooh or the Jungle Book.
Second, the first rule of doing fairy-tale is that it has to be done with British accents. Everybody knows this. Whether it be the faux-fairy tale The Princess Bride or the grand Stardust (with Clare Danes, qv), even if the actors are American, the accents have to be British, or possibly indeterminate European. For some, probably connected, reason, we British are happy to accept sort-of British accents, whereas UK actors in America have to be very careful (Hugh Laurie being the exception) to make sure their native tones go undetected. The producers seem to have confused this rule with the one that says that, in any American thriller, the guy with the British accent is the bad guy, thereby giving us Robert Carlyle as Rumpelstiltskin, who has been elevated to the character equivalent of super-string theory for the purposes of.
Third, and most important, the problem which Lost ran into right the way through to its reputedly disappointing climax (I never made it that far), of just chucking in more and more complications every episode is that the viewer loses interest. If you’re bought into watching something like Lost there is probably a point at which you feel that you’ve invested so much time in watching so far that you have to watch to the end. But, you may very well not.
Fairy tales of all kinds have a shape. Archetypally, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning establishes the plot, often very quickly. The Hans Christian Andersen Tinderbox, for example, dives straight in. But if the beginning is quick, then the middle has to be reasonably uncomplicated as well. Most genuine fairy tales — by which I mean, those constructed without extensive literary artifice — really just have one big complication in the middle. The Tinderbox soldier runs out of money, and discovers the secret of the tinderbox, which leads on to the denouement. The Snow Queen, which has really headed out of fairy tale and into literary story, is more extensive, but the underlying complication is that Gerda must get to the Snow Queen’s palace. For the kind of folktale fairy tales which Andrew Lang anthologised (though he did not collect them himself) in the Blue Fairy Book and the subsequent Red, Green, Yellow and other editions through to Lilac, the beginning, middle and ending go very quickly indeed, often with just one complication to make the tale worth telling.
TV series — especially the US kind, which seem to go on for ever until cancelled, and are then either hastily wrapped up in a couple of episodes, or, as with the lamented Veronica Mars, are just left hanging — by their nature are shapeless. You can tell a story (or ‘story-arc’ as they like to call it, though, the original term ‘story’ is just as good) over a number of episodes, or even across an entire series. Babylon 5 even managed to lay out its story across four series, with one tacked on the end. But to achieve that you have to pad with comedy episodes, low-budget episodes, the episode in which none of the main character appears, and so on, taken either knowingly or accidentally from the categories set out by
One reason — I feel — why British costume dramas are as popular in the USA as they are here is that, when it’s a Dickens or Austen novel in question, you know that it is going to tell its story, and stop. Pace Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, there will not be a sequel, the main characters will not be called back to face the chief villain who, it turns out, never died after all, and the ends so neatly tied up will not turn out to have been done with those kind of nylon laces that never manage to grip, causing your shoes to come open after about half a mile.
With something as realistic as Homeland you can accept that the world is disorganised and that there will be elements of things not going to plan. That said, aside from the deliberate door-opening for the second series, Homeland was remarkably coherent. When the subject is completely fantastical, as in Lost, Heroes or Once Upon A Time, you expect a formal structure and symmetry, a story-type that you know well, which is the fairy tale, to take you in an orderly (but, one hopes, thrilling) fashion right from the start to the finish.
The Princess Bride achieves this, both in the film version and in the altogether more knowing book original. Stardust does this — more so in the film than the book, which gets a bit ragged, but satisfyingly in both. The extended tales of The Hobbit and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe do it, though, by this point, we have left fairy-tale far behind and are perhaps in faerie-tale (as Tolkien has it in Tree and Leaf). The 10th Kingdom, Lost, Heroes and Once Upon A Time don’t do it.
As I’m writing this only part way through the series, you might want to take issue and say that it might all work out in the end. I will be glad if it does, but, for me, we have already crossed the ‘episode event horizon’. Even if everything is wrapped up next week, or the characters we already have start to tackle their collective problems rather than revealing ever more back story, there is now just too much buzzing round.
To the writers of the next semi-hit US series to be ported to Channel 5 in the guise of ‘modern fantasy’: Keep it simple. If you’re going to tell a fairy tale, tell it, then stop.
What makes great science-fiction? The Foundation Trilogy

What makes great science-fiction? The Foundation Trilogy

Segunda Fundación, Isaac AsimovWhat makes great science-fiction? List some of the greats: A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K Dick, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin, Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson (most people will think of Neuromancer, but for my money, MLO is better), A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C Clarke, and you might wonder if there’s any connection at all. Apart from the fact they were all written some time ago, of course. Since Star Wars, great vision in Science Fiction seems to find its way to TV or film much more quickly, perhaps sometimes too quickly, before the author can really get their mind round it

For my money, and by this I mean that I’ve bought the books, mislaid them, and bought them again, the original Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov epitomises what great science-fiction is like. Of course, to some people, this is the nadir of SF from the bad old days of space opera. Those people can write their own article.


I first came across Foundation when my parents recorded the BBC  radio adaptation, and we listened to it on long car journeys on a battery powered cassette recorder. It was a brilliant adaptation, and amazingly faithful to the book.


When I finally read the books, first as a nine year old, and then later as a teenager and an adult, they were everything I wanted in SF, and they still are. I’m talking about the original trilogy. In common with Frank Herbert, Ursula K LeGuin and the lesser André Norton, Asimov just couldn’t leave well alone and came back to write much longer novels to ‘complete’ the trilogy. The result, in my view, was a disaster. The new novels were overwritten, had lost the original science angle which made Foundation pretty much perfect, and included a lot of unneccessary sex. I’ve never been a fan of a lot of  sex in novels. This is not prudery, I just think it is something that does not transfer well to the printed page. However, if you are going to have sex in novels, leave it to DH Lawrence or William Golding, or even to a half-way decent soft-porn writer. Asimov (and virtually every SF writer) writing sex is like hearing Woody Allen on solemnity.


What made the trilogy — Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation — so good? In my view it was six things. Three things which it did, and three things which it avoided.

1 Make it about scienc

The clue is in the name. Science-fiction is about science. It’s not about engineering, or technology, or the mystical forces of the universe, on military hardware. All those things might feature, but none of them have to. Probably the finest science fiction story ever written, also by Asimov, and also regrettably tampered with as a novel late in his career, was Nightfall. It was a hard science story about a world where a multi-solar system means that civilisation sees nightfall only once in a thousand years — and destroys itself by fire out  of the fear of the dark at the end of every cycle. Of course, it takes them forever to work out the principle of gravitation because of the complexity of their system, and so Nightfall comes as a shock and a surprise each time.

Science is only science if you can do or follow the experiments and the reasoning yourself. Once it goes beyond that it either becomes — as Arthur C Clarke pointed out — magic, or it is simply technology. You are reading this article on a computer (unless someone has printed it off for you). Do you know how a computer works? If you’re technical you may at some point have built bistables with nand gates and programmed in 8 bit machine code. Only if you are incredibly nerdy will you have programmed in binary. Even if you’ve done all this, you may have only a limited notion of how the device you are reading actually works. That’s absolutely fine.  A vague idea puts you well ahead of any crowd. But that isn’t science, it’s technology.

The Foundation Trilogy postulates an entirely new, and totally plausible, kind of science: psycho-history. Psycho-history is a sort of quantum science of human behaviour, where, because the imagined future galatic empire has trillions of inhabitants, the flows of human behaviour in enormous crowds can be charted and predicted. If you know that, you know enough to understand all the science of psycho-history. What Asimov does throughout the first three books is tease out this premise in ways in which you, the reader, can follow. It keeps coming back to experiment, to the person of the scientist, to primary research as the basis on which the story develops. Yes, it does have spaceships and atom blasters and personal force shields and something which approaches psionics at the end, but these are the window dressing. The real topic is an imagined science, and its implications.

Get out into space (or at least do something amazing)


In the musical Return to the Forbidden Planet, a take off both of the movie of the same name and also of The Tempest which inspired it, the crowd pleasing song is “We’ve got to get out into space”, to the tune of “We’ve got to get out of this place”. If the hard-core bit of science fiction is the science, then the fiction bit has to be rewarding to keep us reading. If you’re reading SF, you don’t want to focus on whether or not Darcy will get Lizzie, or Eliza will go with Professor Higgins. You want spaceships, far stars, new suns, atom blasters and personal force fields. There’s a willing suspension of disbelief in SF. Everyone knows that you can’t exceed the speed of light, so the far stars are eternally off limits to us. Getting to Sirius would take 5 years even if you could go straight to the speed of light. Getting much further would take many lifetimes. Ursula LeGuin plays hard with these rules, and gives us a universe where to travel is to say goodbye to everyone you ever met for ever — the premise  of Semley’s Necklace which became the prologue to her break out novel Rocannon”s World. But even LeGuin allows instant transmission by Ansible.


For science fiction to be fiction at all, it needs a fictional element, and, having done the hard work of understanding and following the author’s science, we want to be rewarded with big stuff happening. In the Foundation Trilogy we get space battles, tricks with Hyper Space, psionics and all kinds of cool stuff. But, crucially, a new piece of cool stuff never arrives to suddenly save the day when the science couldn’t. Cool stuff almost always arrives    in the hands of the enemy, and its science must be tamed by the good guys, or not at all. This is one reason why the Lensman series by EE ‘Doc’ Smith never really held my attention, and why the later episodes of the Dune Trilogy+ didn’t work for me. Simply inventing something fictional to get you out of a hole in the plot is not science, it’s not even tech, it’s just magic. I love magic in fiction, but I want it kept in Harry Potter, Tolkien and Narnia, not suddenly introduced as a deus ex machina (or, simply machinus ex deo) when I’m not paying attention.


Not all SF is about space travel. But you’ve got to give us something big and whizzy to keep us entertained.  Robots are great, so are glimmer suits (A Scanner Darkly), cyberspace and bespeaking (Ursula Le Guin). But give us something fancy.


Make it about enormous issues

Back to Lizzie and Darcy, or Eliza and Professor Higgins. In a comedy of manners, or a romance, we are most concerned about what happens to the characters. In science fiction (I thank my old school teacher Dr Tom Hosty for pointing this out when I was 17) the characters are more figures than characters. Asimov does actually paint a bit more of Salvor  Hardin and Hober Mallow, alongside the incorigible Arkady Darrell, in the Foundation Trilogy. But, seriously, none of these characters are going to stack up against Brridget Jones when it comes to making us feel that they are real people that we actually know. The flip side of this is that science fiction can be about enormous things, and it should be. The fate of the universe, or at least the inhabited portion of it, is usually what we are interested in. After all, the impact of a revolutionary discovery does impact all of manking for better — electricity, penicillin, radar — or for worse — the atom bomb, the impact of pollution on climate change, the extinction of species.


Half way through Foundation, I don’t really care whether Salvor Hardin is married or not. I’m not interested in whether or not he has a happy home life. One of the problems of the follow-up books was that they tried to answer these questions. What I am interested in is whether he solves the puzzle which allows him to satisfy the crisis.


Don’t over-write


Now to the negatives which Asimov avoided. First off, the style of the original trilogy is incredibly sparse. When you do get an image, it works much harder because the rest of the prose is so unflowery. It’s not in any sense bad prose. It has its internal rhythms, it does its job, it moves smoothly through the story, delivering its punches without drawing attention to itself. Ideal prose for science fiction.


The sequels not so much. I don’t know if Asimov had been on a creative writing course, or had read some books by ‘great’ authors and wanted to emulate them. But it just didn’t work for his voice. And I don’t think it was an Asimov thing. Science Fiction works  by the almost transparent communication of ideas. The ideas flow thick and fast, with descriptions of unknown worlds, new civilisations, machines that will not exist for thousands of years. There siimply isn’t space for the prose to be saying ‘look at me, look at me’ at the same time..

Leave romance to the romantics

By his own admission, Asimov at the time was inexperienced in the ways of love. In his later books he is only to keen to make up for this. It’s like the slightly embarrassing way in which Woody Allen tries to cast himself against hot-girls in his films. It’s as though he is trying to make up for something. I love Woody Allen cynically making jokes about everything, and dithering his way out of trouble. Woody Allen seducing girls is always the bit I want to fast forward. It’s not that the writers of SF cannot cope with romance. Clearly some of them really can’t, but Ursuala K LeGuin and William Gibson seem to have mastered it in their non-SF books. It’s that the genre doesn’t like it. SF is accessible to boys of nine. It was my first love in books, and it will always be somewhere close to my heart. It’s also accessible to the kind of people portrayed by the cast of the Big Bang Theory, and by people like the young Asimov himself. If romance is not high on your readers’ list of wants, don’t try to draw in another load of readers by adding it. The original readers will hate you for it, and the new ones will be put off by the robots, space travel and the explanations of the principle of moments.


Stay away from pulp


Everything comes from somewhere, and science fiction as a genre grew up in the pulp magazines which also showcased Conan saving maidens from abandoned ruins and adventurers beating foreign savages to a pulp in the name of civilisation. A lot of the better of these early stories are collected by Asimov himself in Before the Golden Age. But it was the golden age, when, led by Asimov himself, SF said goodbye to its pulp roots and established itself as a serious — if still derided by the literati — branch of writing.


Pulp was originally defined as the paper on which the magazines were printed, but pulp fiction has come very much to be the fiction where someone is always beaten to a pulp at some point in the proceedings. Fists are huger, guns either vastly less penetrating or vastly messier, pain is for the other guy, unless we need to show that our guy is weakened prior to the big encounter. One-liners are quippier, hats are jauntier, girls are girlier, and the heroes are real heroes.


All this runs counter to the character of the nerdy scientist types who were writing SF at the start of the golden age, and it was really the first thing they got away from. SF defines itself as a more cerebral genre. If an entire spaceship of people is killed, we can be wistful about the loss, but we don’t want to read about their dying gasps. Threats are made like a game of chess, not implemented like a boxing match.


Again, this is something that Asimov got so right in the original trilogy, and lost sight of in the additional books.


Not many of the books I read when I was nine are still with me. The Hobbit, the Box of Delights and the Narnia books, I suppose, but I reread those knowing that they are children’s books, and delighting in the wisdom they put into their simplicity. Of the adult books I was reading then, the Foundation Trilogy is I think the only set. Every once in a while, I take them down from the shelf and immerse myself once more in a cerebral but galactic world, in a science that will almost certainly never exist, and in a deliberate decision to stop reading at the end of Second Foundation, and under no circumstances to pickup Forward the Foundation, Foundation’s edge, or any of the other unwise sequels.

The not-so Righteous Mind?

The not-so Righteous Mind?

[amazon_link id=”1846141818″ target=”_blank” locale=”UK” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion[/amazon_link]Social and Cultural psychologist Jonathan Haidt begins his quest for a new psychological theory of morality with the question of why people on the political left and right (or, in American, liberal and conservative) are so adamant that the other side have virtually no morality at all.

Haidt’s book starts by reviewing the work of Drew Weston and others in establishing that, for many of our moral decisions, we are not thinking morally at all, but rather post-rationalising what we already think. So far so good. Haidt is actually very good at teaching the reader to question psychological theories of morality. Most instructive is the way he points out that most psychological research is WEIRD — that is to say, it is based on White Educated Industrial Rich and Democratic people, and therefore suffers from selection bias.

Haidt wrestles manfully with his selection bias, but as the book progresses it becomes increasingly clear that he is working with an American sample but trying to develop a universal theory of morality.

Despite this caveat, Haidt’s work is really quite compelling until the later chapters — and until you put the book down and think about what he has actually said.

Essentially, his major thesis is that there are six dimensions of morality which our moral sense engages with. These are:

  • Care vs harm
  • Liberty vs oppression
  • Fairness vs cheating
  • Loyalty vs betrayal
  • Authority vs subversion
  • Sanctity vs degradation
So far so good, but his crucial insight is that liberals (in the US sense, meaning progressives) only harness the Care vs harm, Liberty vs oppression and Fairness vs cheating dimensions, while conservatives (again in the US sense) appeal to all six.
This is the reason — according to Haidt — why Democrats have done badly at the polls over the last few years compared to Republicans.
If Haidt is really right — and he has amassed an impressive sample using to test his theories — then everyone involved in politics anywhere should be taking notes.
But is he right?
The methodological bias in Haidt’s research is that participants only get to answer the questions that Haidt and his team chose to ask. And these questions are fundamentally about explaining why Americans vote in a particular way. Care, Fairness and Sanctity (though many people would choose a different term) are in a certain sense moral absolutes: you cannot have too much care, you cannot have too much fairness and you cannot treat the things you regard as sacred too sacredly. Loyalty, authority and liberty are a little more problematic. While right wing Americans may believe it is impossible to be too loyal to America, an awful of lot of other people believe that too much loyalty is a dangerous thing. When Europeans (including the British) see too much loyalty, we tend to think of the loyalty that Hitler and Mussolini inspired. We have the same issues with too much authority. Liberty — in the libertarian sense of the freedom to do whatever we want — is also a quality which liberals outside the USA feel should be moderated, especially by care. This is not to say that anyone believes that betrayal or oppression are good things, though there are certainly groups that believe that subversion is always preferable to authority.
Haidt might argue that we think this because we are liberals (almost everyone in Britain and Europe is ‘liberal’ by comparison with USA norms), but that is equivalent to making the claim that the USA is a naturally more moral nation than anywhere else in the world. Most independent commentators would probably suggest that Americans look north, to Canada, a more liberal but also more generally crime-free nation. When we think of ‘USA’, very few of us think of ‘morally upright’ as the first epithet.
Is it that Republicans successfully engage with more of the brain’s moral sensors, or that they successfully engage with more of the American cultural distinctives. Americans don’t have the European perspective on Authority or unquestioning Loyalty (“We were only obeying orders”), but they do have a strong historical narrative of America, the land that defeated Oppression.
A broader international study might show up different results, and Haidt could improve his model.
However, it is what is missing which is more problematic than what is present. Crucially, Truth vs Lies is not one of his dimensions. This is very strange: one of the earliest moral lessons we teach children is that it is wrong to tell lies, and we always distrust someone, and consider them to be less moral than we previously thought, if we discover they deliberately lied about some important issue, especially for the sake of gain. Linked to that is the absence of Greed on any of the negative poles, and the absence of Love (however we define it) on the positive.
Haidt’s book introduces some genuinely interesting research, and raises some substantial questions about political discourse. What it doesn’t do is account for morality in any sense that we normally discuss it.
To some extent, Haidt’s quest was bound to fail. Something which has challenged philosophers to define over three millennia is unlikely to be solved by doing a few surveys, no matter how comprehensive or rigorous they are. As an American researcher, and one who admits he has begun to cross the shop floor towards conservatism, Haidt was always going to find the answers he went looking for.
What needs rather more thought is how we frame the questions.

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