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A Brief Overview of the Sociology of Morality with Steven Hitlin

Dr. Steven Hitlin is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Iowa. He has written numerous articles and book chapters on the sociology of morality, and has written and co-edited four books, including the Handbook of Sociology of Morality, as well as a second volume of the handbook to be published in 2021. His work has been supported by multiple grants, including funding from the MINERVA initiative to study “Moral Schemas, Cultural Conflict, and Socio-Political Action.” In this episode, we discuss sociology’s traditional interest in morality, Steven’s hopes for a renewed vigor in the sociology of morality and partnership between moral psychology and moral sociology, as well as comparing and contrasting the approaches these disciplines utilize in their research endeavors.

APA citation: Cazzell, A. R. (Host). A Brief Overview of the Sociology of Morality with Steven Hitlin (2019, November 19).  [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from


NOTE: This transcript was generated automatically. Please excuse typos and errors.

Amber Cazzell: 00:01:19 Hi everyone. I am here with Steve Hitlin and today I'm Steve, I'm so excited to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. Yeah, so Steve is going to be actually our first sociologist on the podcast, which I am very excited about because sociology just approaches the topic of morality a lot differently than upsychologists, which is what I'm most familiar with. And uso far we've heard from psychologists and philosophers but not sociologists. So I'm, I'm really happy to be here. So first,uI think everybody knows by now I like to start off with hearing backgrounds. How does one get interested in sociology and specifically in sociology of morality?

Steven Hitlin: 00:02:05 How does one do it in general? So I'll tell you this, I I went to college, I thought I was going to be a psych major. And I took a couple of, of intro psych classes and was just thinking that's not quite what I see in the world. Maybe, maybe they weren't the best teachers. And I ended up stumbled into a, a sociology class called a self, an identity, what was it called? Identity and society or something. And the way that sociologists see the world, it just starts from a different place and it just felt more at home. So one of the things that so I'm a sociological social psychologist and I tell my undergrads, there's probably 600 people on the planet that care about the difference between a sociological, social psychologist and a psychological social psychologist.

Steven Hitlin: 00:02:49 So I have a degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin, but my advisor, Jane Piliavin, and she's in the sociology department, but she has a PhD in psychology, Stanford, and she worked with Festinger. And so in my mind, right, psychology is important. It's a, it's a thing, but there's, there's extra ways to look at it that I think are a little harder for Americans to see. So the way I try to explain it is it's analogous the two fields to the United States and Canada. All right. So if you live in Canada, you have a very good sense of what's going on in the United States politically, culturally, economically. We kind of know what's going on in that country. And people in America don't know anything about Canada and don't pay much attention at all. They may have heard of things.

Steven Hitlin: 00:03:31 And so psychological, social psych is the United States and has a lot more people and a lot more visibility and a lot more sway. And sociological social psych is more like Canada, so we know what goes on in a lot of the field. In terms of psychology, so most, I'm very excited about the podcast because I've learned a lot from listening to a lot of people whose work I've read. I've worked, I've, I've met a few of the people too, but I have a fairly decent sense of what's going on in the debates on the psychological side and the frustration. And I think the reason I emailed you out of nowhere, it was like, you know, we're doing really interesting stuff on our end and it just doesn't migrate down from Canada. It's so much, so much psychology going on. You don't have to sort of look around.

Steven Hitlin: 00:04:13 So you come to it from saying that like, okay, if psychology starts with the idea of how the organism works, sociology comes to things starting with how the society has put together that the organism develops within. And so there's a sociologist, I think he passed away a few years ago named Alan Johnson who used to talk about this. He had this metaphor. He said, all right, you think about the game of monopoly, right? Which is boring to play. Was actually invented right by somebody who was making fun of capitalism. And then some company stole it from her and has made all the money and she was relatively destitute, I think. But the idea of monopoly is a game that you know how to play with your family. It has a set of rules. It has a board and you could study how the game is played without ever worrying about who the players are and anybody who plays monopoly the way it's supposed to tries to crush their family and bankrupt your siblings and, and do all sorts of behaviors that are, you wouldn't do in normal life.

Steven Hitlin: 00:05:20 Most people, right? Wall street might have a different view, but normal humans don't do that. But you could study the game by looking at the rules, right? The things on the box. You could study the positions of the pieces on the board and whether, you know, JL is over here and park place is over there and you can do all of that without ever having to study the players. And he analogizes that to how sociology starts by looking at the world. What is the system of society? What are the rules? Who gets the stuff? Who has the hotels? And what happens when you get in trouble and you can look at all those rules and it's only secondary who the players are. So sociologist starts looking at the world from that point of view. What is the structure of a society? Who has the power what are the cultural rules that people follow and how do things, you know, transform over generations and who has influence.

Steven Hitlin: 00:06:12 And then if you're a sociological social psychologist, you're probably at the micro end of that which overlaps with the psychological focus on the organism. So the big insight in sociological social psych is the idea from Cooley and Mead and these names that are sacred to us that you learn who you are because of a socially shared language and based on the ways that other people treat you and they treat you based on societies beliefs, categories roles and that sort of thing. And you internalize that. So when we look at the world, it's sort of saying and I always tell again, my undergrad classes that if, if something happens to me the university will make sure that the next class, somebody else is playing the role of professor. And I tell them that every semester you all leave in some other set of students sits in front of me.

Steven Hitlin: 00:07:01 And we can look at those systems without first looking at the people in them. But that sort of insight that we're fitting into a structure is what we're trying to add to this conversation. And so when I took my psych class and it was behavioral, a lot of stuff about rats and mazes and cheese felt like a lot of stuff that was like, well that doesn't sound right. And then I took a course that starts with Mead and this idea that you have identities and you have norms and values. And I said, okay, that just seems to fit more. And so that's sort of one of the differences. So how do you stumble into one over the other? Not really sure in general whatever your prior, is that all right? It sort of seems to fit for you, but.

Amber Cazzell: 00:07:42 We can explain it through a sociological or psychological framing I guess.

Steven Hitlin: 00:07:45 Right, right. And both, both are obviously correct. I do think there is something, and this is a theory that I don't have very good data for, but I do think there is something to be said. In America it's harder to see what we would call the sociological imagination. Then I think in many other cultures, because we're so focused on individual's success failure, if you did it, if you just try hard enough, it'll, you'll succeed. You just need to have grit, right? This is very much in a, an American kind of way of seeing things. Whereas my sense of other cultures, and I'm not the most worldly person and I work in Iowa, so you know, it's not like I'm seeing the world, but the many other cultures are much more comfortable with the ways that your social class limits your opportunities, the way that gender limits your opportunities, the way that racial categories shape what opportunities you're going to have.

Steven Hitlin: 00:08:33 And I more and more of that is getting into political discourse in the last few years. But I think that view that there's a lot of things outside of us that affect us, it's just harder for Americans to see. So my pet theory is that a lot of students going through college sort of gravitate towards the discipline that's focused most on how the individual's choices, perceptions, efforts are going to work. And it's a little harder to convince them sometimes that like, you know people that look a certain way have advantages over other people cause we don't want to believe that. And it sort of is tricky. So in from sociology's point of view, we're often sort of fighting against this American point of view. So I don't know what that means for those of us that stumble into this other point of view along the way. But I can just say it sort of fit better for me then. And I, it might've just been looking back a really bad textbook in psychology or something

Amber Cazzell: 00:09:27 That's fascinating. That's a fascinating remark about the effect of individualism on our, on our preferences for meaning making in the world. And it makes sense to me. I wonder if, I wonder if there's data out there that could compare sociology and psychology majors across the different degrees of individualism in a society that'd be pretty cool.

Steven Hitlin: 00:09:52 Right? And who selects in and who changes once they're in there? So I don't, I don't know of that data, I do know, one of my mentors, a guy named Jerry Marwell passed away a few years ago did a study in the 70s, and he was kind of trying to figure out like, who among college students actually act the way that economists think people, right? Like most of us don't actually sort of cost benefit everything at that way. We have a lot of other things, a lot of moral concerns, but who, who's more likely to act that way? And it turned out in his data, like the people that select into economics majors largely already see the world very rationally. And no one else does. Everybody else has other sorts of things. That's all data. But I just remembered that sort of punchline.

Amber Cazzell: 00:10:31 Sure. So when I was reading through your, your paper the paper, it is "the new sociology of morality." and, and hearing you talk now, I kept having the battle for human nature by Barry Schwartz. Come to mind. I don't know if you've read that book, have you?

Steven Hitlin: 00:10:48 I think I have a while ago. Right. I've read a lot of things and so pulling, pulling out which one?

Amber Cazzell: 00:10:52 Yeah. Well, it's interesting because he's, he's trying to grapple with like the nature what, what human nature is, what does it really mean and is talking a lot about how you know, like behavioral sciences and economics have sort of reified like this, this rational economic man as the essential human nature, but that it's, it's potentially a reification that has the results that we become like that. So it kind of echos some of the things you're saying. But anyway, I, I'm digressing here. Let's let's go ahead and jump into some of the meat of, of sociological approaches to morality. So I am naive in this space. Could you just give me sort of a brief overview of the history of the sociology of morality?

Steven Hitlin: 00:11:40 So there's a, there's a, the brief version would pretend that it started with work on that paper. And a handbook that I co-edited with Steve Vaisey who's at Duke now. And we sort of brought what we calling it, the sociology of morality. So one version of the history would be like, well, we kind of started it 10 years ago, which would be great. The real history of it would be at the founding of sociology which, you know, the first people that kind of a lot of people we consider sociologists wouldn't have considered them sociologist at the time. But you know, sort of the mid, like 17 hundreds and whatnot with a lot of different thinkers into the 18 hundreds that were watching the world around them shift. Technology was changing quickly. Economic structures were changing. Society was becoming much more urban.

Steven Hitlin: 00:12:29 And so a whole lot of people were trying at the beginning of what we now would consider sociology, we're trying to figure out like what are these changes and how do they affect people's lives. At the beginning of this, you know, Adam Smith at the time he was writing the words moral and social were used fairly interchangeably. Durkheim is one of our big thinkers in sociology and, and people that know much more about his writing and French than I do say that it's the same kind of idea that for these earlier thinkers social life, the fact that we have to exist around other people is inextricably moral. And I believe Durkheim sort of went with the sociology because other people were using that kind of phrase and he really would've wanted to call, they call it something like moralology.

Steven Hitlin: 00:13:15 It's probably good that he didn't go that way. But the idea of these early thinkers, and it's a thing that Steve and I say in our handbook at the beginning if we, if we somehow exhumed them and showed them where our field is now and we said, Hey, we're getting into issues of morality, they would've said, wait, that was at the core of what we thought we were doing early on. What are our social obligations to each other and how are they shifting as everyone becomes urbanized or a religion starts to wane or all of the changes that were going on in the 18 hundreds and 19 hundreds. So the dawn of my field, which is sort of social organization and why people do things and what are the patterns and the rules was, was fundamentally about moral senses of obligation and how those change based on who's in power or what the society, how it's organized or what the labor force looks like and that sort of thing.

Steven Hitlin: 00:14:04 So that's at the dawn of the field. In the way sociological theory went. I teach a course on contemporary theory and I've structured it based on how some people who are more expert on this than me, positive. But there was sort of a, a period in the 1930s, forties, 50s and sociology. So while psychology is, is getting stuck in behaviorist kind of circles sociology is trying to separate itself as a science from economics from political science and from psychology. And the idea there became norms and values and these things that are sort of outside the person shaped the person. And we kind of claimed that as our space and the study of society became about, all right, what are the norms and values of the States or Russia or whatever the countries were and how did those things get internalized in the people.

Steven Hitlin: 00:14:57 And so, again, as sociology is really getting started in different parts of the world and different thinkers have different names for it, but, but this guy John Levy Martin in Chicago calls it the sociological hunch. It's the idea that something outside of us shapes us, even if we can't see it or put our hands on it so that that position gets instantiated. And a guy named Talcott Parsons at Harvard became very influential in the 30s, forties, and 50s for sort of setting up the rules, how society gets organized. It sets up certain values, members of society internalize those values, and then they kind of reproduce society. And actually Rick Shweder went through the program that Parsons taught at. I, I dealt with Rick for for a while on a project and he would tell me stories about Parsons, who you start to learn now has this sort of sense of being a devilish ogre.

Steven Hitlin: 00:15:49 And Rick says, like I said, just pretty quiet guy. He had this view though that a lot of people started to push back against in the sixties and seventies as if he was making a model that everyone, society believed the same things. And one of the traditions in sociology where morality comes from is that morality is what holds a society together. And you have shared ideals, shared symbols. And it's the thing that makes a country a country. There was a lot of pushback which said, well, look at American society especially, there are a whole lot of groups and genders that don't have the same rights as the white guys and the straight people that are running everything. And so you had this criticism of Parson's work and there was a little over stereotype, but people are just Garfinkel, Hank said, Parson says, "we are just cultural dopes," right?

Steven Hitlin: 00:16:40 We just download, this is not the language they would use, but we just download our values and then we play them out. And people thought that was too inaccurate. It didn't allow for the fact that people had different racial backgrounds, religious backgrounds, gender issues. And therefore this idea of morality as holding a society together became pretty unpopular and sociology and it became sort of a code name for a very functional top down view of the world and that people were pushing out, pushing against in the real world civil rights movement and women's movement. And inside the field it became, well, if you're studying sort of values and morals, you're trying, you're sort of part of the problem and what we need to do is figure out how to fight those values. So, so for a period, and this is all well before I got my degree, I can't take any credit or blame for any of this, but by the time I came along Vaisey's the same age as me and there are other people who were kind of working on these issues a little bit, but there wasn't any sort of movement.

Steven Hitlin: 00:17:45 At some point the people sort of adopted a different of what values and morals were getting at. And that's a way that different groups sort of hold themselves together and differentiate themselves from each other. And so in our handbook, Steve and I say the, the first view that, that morality holds a society together comes from Durkheim. And that one was kind of frowned upon because it glossed over all the ways that, that values were used to keep people out of power, out of power and more of a Weberian approach. And Weber was a sociologist again, 250 years ago. And more than that now who basically saw society as a three ring circus. There are different interest groups, power groups, gender groups, political groups that are all competing all the time. And when you zoom into that, you no longer look at societies having a single unified moral code, but a different groups have their views of moral, what's good, what's right and what's wrong and it's contested.

Steven Hitlin: 00:18:44 And it's a way for some groups to get power or to claim for power. It's a way for other groups to draw boundaries between themselves and groups that they don't like. And it's a much messier kind of situation. And so that view bubbled around for awhile and then a number of us in different pockets start bringing this out in different ways. I'm a social psychologist and people are talking about this in, in organizational sociology family sociology and different cultural sociology, all these different sub fields. And one of the things that I've been working on and, and my work with Steve and some other people is saying, all right, a bunch of us are doing this in disparate places. Meanwhile, psychology is getting a lot of progress and publicity for the trolley problem and all of Haidt's work, which is been really influential on how it actually sites.

Steven Hitlin: 00:19:37 It's our time. So we always like the fact that he's read a little bit of our field. But there's a whole lot of moral psychology sort of flowing out into the world and into time magazine and the New York times. Back when magazines were a thing you would see people talking about the moral brain in the moral sense and all this kind of work, which was important. And we were saying a few of us among ourselves, wait a minute, morals are thing. That's our whole field was started with the idea that morality is a major part of what social organizations about. And yet we're not in the conversation. So Steve and I did the handbook. We did the annual review chapter. And then luckily, or, or maybe because we're right, it's hard to tell other people are picking up on it and you see this more and more in our journals and in more and more books being written.

Steven Hitlin: 00:20:25 And the American Sociological Association a few years ago Vince Jeffries is a guy who kind of pushed this, but a lot of us were at the beginning of getting a section on I think it's called altruism, morality and social solidarity. And so there's a section in the ASA and there's like 50 sections of things. Social psych is one of them. That that sort of puts moral issues at the center and says, look, is something we do and we should be engaged in. And so that's a brief history of the field. I think one of the other good and bad things about the way sociologists approach this topic or any topic we don't have a unified theory in the field. We don't have a unified method in the field. Most of psychology that is organized around the idea of an experiment, right?

Steven Hitlin: 00:21:11 We have people that do experiments. We have people that do survey research, we have people that do ethnographies, we have people that just do pure theory. So we don't have a particularly coherent approach to the topic and people are studying this topic in ways as it's applied in different domains. So I just listened to your Shweder podcast the other day and one of the things that Rick said in there that I thought was actually really helpful for me, I'm thinking through my own work is that even if we solve the issue of the, you know, the moral, conventional distinction and even if it turns out that Turiel's, right, or that Haidt's right or right, five plus six, whatever, whoever's right. The real interesting stuff is how those ideas are applied in particular cases where people have particular histories and particular identities and such.

Steven Hitlin: 00:21:59 And so the kind of work that'll come out of sociology people that look for example at the work family conflict and the moral messages you're getting from one part of your life that says you need to take more time with your family and be a better parent. And the moral messages from others, that say no to be a good employee, you spend more time at the office and how people apply, whatever their moral sense is to that issue. Or criminology is a major part of sociology and how, and whether people that commit crimes think they're committing moral violations. It turns out, and this is for some of Vaisey's work people have a lot of moral justifications for pretty much anything we do. And so we kind of get into what Steve and I called the a, I think it's the ecological complexity of moral issues, right? We're borrowing a lot of psychology, but then, okay, how does this actually play out among real people in real messy situations?

Amber Cazzell: 00:22:50 Yeah. Yeah. As I was reading through your work, I just kept thinking like, wow, I feel like sociology takes like formal causation a lot more seriously than psychologists do and recognize that, okay, there's this whole system and it's one thing changes. A lot of other things are changing at the same time. And as I was reading through your work, I also kept thinking like, you know, with psychologists there, as you said, a lot of, a lot of times our work is experimental. But that can, that, that assumes that there is a simple cause then effect thing. And we can, we can isolate variables and things. Where sociologists, you just, you really can't in most cases. Right?

Steven Hitlin: 00:23:35 Yeah. Well, I mean there, there are people in sociology, a lot of them here at Iowa, they do experiments. And so there are folks that do that. I, as a discipline or view, or at least my view of our view would be like, okay, life's really complicated and you need to approach it from these different ways. And so we look at morality sometimes as a dependent variable in ways that psychology or at least a lot of the work I read isn't quite as concerned about where it comes from. And then how it plays out is, is just going to be different depending on where you are and what identity is salient and what situation you're in. So some of, I don't know if it's a drawback or not, we have some things that are a little more maybe accurate in the real world, but then it gets harder to build propositions that you can go out and test when some of our studies are of more piecemeal problems.

Steven Hitlin: 00:24:26 And so this is a, this is a, the problem we have it, or not a problem I should say, but a debate we have in the field, right? To what extent are we trying to get generalizable principles and to what extent are we really trying to understand what's going on with this group of people at this time? And so I'm a, I'm a methodological omnivore or in a sense, I mean not that my, I'm, I'm, I've done different things myself, but I think we need to all sorts of different approaches to figuring out what's going on. And I'm teaching a seminar now, a graduate seminar on sociology of morality, although there's a lot of psychology in it and we're halfway through and I've told them I'm not, I'm still not sure I can define what morality is and I'm supposed to be an expert in this and where it plays out and how it plays, you know, the stuff is messy, but then again, so is human life.

Steven Hitlin: 00:25:10 So at the same time, it's important to sort of, you know, make some claims and testable propositions does a cause B, right? Also, hopefully there are people involved finding out what real people think. And there's a lot more work. A lot of the implicit stuff from psychology is filtering into sociology because it turns out people don't actually know what they think and yet something affects our behavior. And how much of that comes from inside of us versus outside of us. These are the sorts of things that we're debating. So I think we're more as a stereotype. We might be more comfortable with probability. Most of us we have to take a few statistics courses on the way. And sociology is at its root, a probabilistic science. So some people, you know, have certain colors, races, genders, and ages are more likely to engage in this as opposed to, right.

Steven Hitlin: 00:26:03 The hard sciences. And I'll put that in quotes, which are more deterministic. All right? And if you're going to drop a rock off a building, it's going to fall that way. And from outside it's a little hard to tell. Some of psychology I find really up my alley and, and very much comfortable with the kind of probabilistic thinking. And sometimes psychology, sometimes it's trying to become a hard science in the sense of A always leads to B. And so I don't know if that's a, a piece of this, but those of us that get this far along in, in sociology at least are probably more, probably more comfortable with probability. Interesting. How the world works.

Amber Cazzell: 00:26:45 Well. Can you talk to me a bit about, so you would, he would spoken in the, in this paper I keep referencing the new sociology and morality. You talked about how sociology relies more heavily on formal definitions of morality and, and is interested in, in like what gets classified as a moral versus in amoral issue and, and how structures of society kind of influenced that. Could you just tell me a bit about that in a, what some of the findings and sociology have been some of the more impactful findings regarding like how morality interplays with social structures.

Steven Hitlin: 00:27:28 So, okay. There's a lot going on there. The, the first thing that comes to mind is it's one of these things where again, and your podcast actually helped me, listening to people like Nucci work through the moral conventional distinction and what counts is moral and what counts is just a norm or convention. One of the things that not all of the field agrees on, but is that there's not going to be a unified sense of what mortality is in a society, right? So there are people that use, for example, the moral identity. A Jan Statz has done a lot of work in sociology using Aquino and Reed's measure of the moral identity. And it's one among a number of other identities you can have and the more salient it is to you and the stronger it is, the more likely you are to act in a certain prosocial way.

Steven Hitlin: 00:28:19 And so in that sense there's sort of like a good way to be, we call it altruism and we can measure it, but a sociologist is more likely to come at things and say, all right most people, I think it would be a demonstrably true statement. Think they're the hero of their own story, right? So Darth Vader I think thought he was doing the right thing in the movies, right? Thanos, watch the Avengers Thanos, thought he was doing the right thing. And so the idea of this sort of external idea of what moral is from a sociological point of view says, well, wait, but what are the people think they're doing? And I don't know how many people walk around saying, I'm the bad guy. And so the idea of a moral conventional distinction makes some sense in some ways.

Steven Hitlin: 00:29:06 But on the other hand, if you take seriously the idea that the moral equals the social, then the social fabric, this idea that we all have these sort of explicit and implicit obligations to each other as we go through the world. Anything that messes with that is going to be considered a moral violation. So it is a conventional issue that you should wear a nice suit to a wedding or a funeral. It's not a moral issue in the sense that I think the, the Kohlbergian and traditions seems to worry about things except if you think of as a social event that has a, a sense of dignity and respect given to the people involved by wearing the right outfit, then wearing the wrong outfit is sort of perceived as a moral violation. And so I, that's a different one of Haidt's foundations when you break it down.

Steven Hitlin: 00:29:58 But for us, the idea is the primacy of the moral. So there was a guy, a Garfinkel who's approached the world in a very peculiar way. His idea was you don't know these sorts of expectations until you break them. So he would have his students, and this is in the 60s UCLA he would have a students go around and violate very minor norms in the world and watch how angry people got, right? So he would have people, for example, go play tic TAC toe with their roommates and let their roommate go first. So they put the, the, the unsuspecting person puts an X in the middle of the board the way you're supposed to. And then the, his student, the job was to erase the X, move it to one of the corners and put an O in the space and watch how people react.

Steven Hitlin: 00:30:51 I like to do this. I would show like old candid camera clips to my class where people go through and they'll like shop out of other people's carts in our grocery store and sort of pick up a melon and take it. And these things that are really, they're not harm, they're not justice per se, but the argument that Garfinkel would make the argument underlying a lot of what sociology is, is, look, our society is so structured by these informal things that violating that itself can be taken as a ripping of the moral fabric. So Goffman who was one of the most important, you'd be on our Mount Rushmore of sociology, thinkers talks about the moral orders, sort of this just this is the way that society is set up. Children have to learn to fit into it and it becomes so deeply ingrained that any kind of violation can be seen as violating the social agreement that people never even realize they've agreed to.

Steven Hitlin: 00:31:44 So at one level we're interested in that. Now that means that anything could be plausibly moral, which it's not a very good theory if you say everything is a, is this thing. But in our view, or at least my view, everything that social structure in society is itself. If people agree on it as this is the way the social world is and should be, then it's itself subject to moral approbation if you kind of violate things. Now what does that mean? As we set up the world, right? I mean, I think, I do think one of the things from, I guess you'd consider it psychology, essentially identity theory says that in the language I'm used to, but people, and it seems to be a human universal divide the world into us and them, right? And, and we're very tribal species and new Josh Greene has done this stuff in there.

Steven Hitlin: 00:32:31 I like, this just seems to be pretty basic thing. Someone might argue with me on this, but I feel like I've got a lot of allies on this. So if you take for granted that humans divide the world into us and them, then the interesting questions for sociology from anthropology become, you know, how are you drawing those lines and what do they mean? So within sociology one of the major people doing this work, Michelle Lamont at Harvard has written some books about the way people, you draw moral boundaries between members of other groups. She does a lot on social class in the United States and France. And the ways that you sort of justify your group and your pursuits, however you handle your job, however you handle your family using moral language and it's a way to differentiate your group being the moral one and that other groups sort of violating those and different people have done that for social class.

Steven Hitlin: 00:33:24 I've done that for race. Certain ways that we draw lines based on structures and show that among the boundaries we draw, some of them are moral, all right, we are the good people and or at least where the good enough people and those people are the bad ones. And a really successful politician for example, can get that country and democracy to view certain people as the good ones and other ones is the bad ones. And that has a lot of rhetorical power. So a lot of research and sociology has been on social movements and a successful social movement manages to mobilize people in general. And one of the key ways you do it is by getting this sort of moral impetus to your side, to your work. And if enough people go along with you, maybe you can make some changes. But things like drunk driving used to just be or, or domestic violence weren't immoral, they were just things that happened and there was no name to it. But if you can get enough people to kind of give a moral gloss to it, then you get legal changes and social changes. That then in turn shift how social relations work. And that's, that's a lot of what we would consider social structure. There's a long answer, I'm not sure those are like key findings, but that's the way we think of it.

Amber Cazzell: 00:34:32 I think it's useful. It's a useful framework and it's kind of been echoing just some personal musings that I've been going through lately are wondering about like how these social movements really start. Like how do you get the, the morality to align with a cause like, like drunk driving and so forth. And so I've been doing a lot of thinking like, gosh, like who are people who actually cause the social change as well. I tend to think of them as marketers, as lobbyists. And that's interesting. Like whether or not, I mean, then we could ask the question or when we're starting these social movements, is it that these guys are coming along, the marketers and the lobbyists are coming along? That's a, that's because there's already been a movement underway or are they kind of responsible for, for pushing the needle in some respect?

Steven Hitlin: 00:35:30 So my guess, and I'm not an expert in social movements, but the S is sort of both, or it depends on whichever movement it is, right? That I remember president Obama used to tell people like, you have to make me do certain kinds of things, right? With gay marriage, right? Like, I can't come out and lead on this one. There has to be a groundswell. Other times people talk about others. There's a chapter in a handbook by Jal Mehta and Chris Winship who are at Harvard on sort of the moral power that some kinds of individuals can actually mobilize to get a movement going. And so, you know, what creates something as moral or not what mobilizes people. It, yeah, it's a bunch of it must tap into something that's out there and yet you also have to create it. So I, as with a lot of things in my field, the answer is going to be, well, it depends.

Amber Cazzell: 00:36:15 Yeah. Yeah. And I think it's, I mean, the whole idea of sociology and morality, I think part of what interests me is I tend to think of a society is such a big structure that it's difficult to imagine changing it. Like, is this a deterministic thing or not? And I know that's, that's asking a philosophical question that can't be answered in a sitting here anyway. But like when we're talking about it, it doesn't make sense to ask what, what kind of a society is a good society that we want to be? Unless to some degree, we believe that we can shape that society in some way.

Steven Hitlin: 00:36:57 So, oddly enough, that's one of the schisms too strong, but that's a debate in our field. To what extent can you describe the is of the world and then are you describing what it ought to be? And, and different sociologists come down in different places on this. So I tend to be a little more agnostic. I just want to understand what's happening in the world and how it's going on and, and what the moving parts are and what the, what the mechanisms are. That's sort of where I go. And I'm not as a professional going to tell other people how they should structure their lives or society. I'll leave that to priests and rabbis and therapists and, and politicians. But a significant number of people in sociology don't separate out the normative from their work. And the idea is right. We have courses, we teach on social problems, right?

Steven Hitlin: 00:37:45 There are things that are wrong and there are people that are disadvantaged. And so in understanding that people advocate changing it. Karl Marx, who would also be on our Mount Rushmore, although he didn't know he was a sociologist thought that, you know, academic life for its own sake was a waste of time. Like, of course you have to see what's wrong with the world and try to change it. And so I don't know if there's a disagreement on this. You know, Seligman had his positive psychology movement which was very influential and very well put together. I went to a meeting, there were some people trying to figure out if we could develop a positive sociology and what that would look like. And Seligman explained sort of how he put, he got some grant money and where he put it to get talent students to focus on those issues.

Steven Hitlin: 00:38:27 And it gets right into a sort of a, on the one hand, there's a lot of inequality and, and things that we would like to fix. On the other hand, right, the fear, a cadre of educated people trying to design the country to be the way they want it to be is not going over well. And I'm not sure I'm qualified to do that. So it is a sort of thing in the field, in our altruism section between, well, so I'm also trying to study it. Others are trying to change it. And ultimately I come down on this part a, a great sociologist, Stephen Colbert said early on in the show, right? Unfortunately, the facts have a liberal bias. And so it's very hard to me to study who has money, power, and influence in American society and not just have the inequalities sort of in your face without a political or normative movement.

Steven Hitlin: 00:39:12 Right? It's just the Senate looks a lot like I, I'm, I'm a middleclass white guy, so the Senate looks a lot like me in the house except that there are millionaires and and I'm not a millionaire, but certain groups have it a lot easier and that's baked in. There are people in the field who then want to use this knowledge to change it and others that are reticent of that. So the way to deal with this sort of normative push to the field, I don't think we agree. I just want to represent two different sides here.

Amber Cazzell: 00:39:41 Yeah. So what do you feel, based on your knowledge of kind of the major findings in in sociology, what would you hope that the other social science disciplines take away from sociology when approaching their own work?

Steven Hitlin: 00:39:59 Well, I think one of the things that I'd like to think that we can offer, and when I say we, it's people that are doing much more interesting work maybe than what I'm doing. But as a field again, when, when Shweder was talking and he said right, when people, even if you find the few moral principles in the world, the issue with how someone with a particular history in a particular situation is interacting. We in sociology have languages, a language concepts, empirical measures of lots of things that get sort of a grouped together as the environment in other fields. So I was a postdoc for a couple of years at North Carolina and I hung out with developmental scientists and it's an interdisciplinary program, but it was pretty psychological. And they had this model, I think it was Gottlieb's model a, it was a model of human behavior.

Steven Hitlin: 00:40:48 And it had I think, genes at one level and different alleles at the next level. Then neuroscience then align and then something about the environment. And I just remember sitting there in these meetings with these very smart people thinking like, well, there's a lot more lines on an environment, right? There's social networks, there's social organizations, there's cultural beliefs, there's all sorts of things that we have measures of and ways to study qualitatively quantitatively about the environment that can help sort of set the stage for a lot of the psychological processes that are in play. So as a sociological, social psychologist, I'm trying to juggle both how, you know, the country you're in, your social class, gender, how those things sort of interact to get you to have certain beliefs and whether or not those beliefs translate into behavior. So my first hope for other fields would be, you know, go to wherever university you're at and make friends with a sociologist or two or come to our meetings.

Steven Hitlin: 00:41:49 We're happy to have more people and start seeing, okay, we have insights about social networks. We have insights about how organizations are put together. We have insights about what culture means and what's a collective about it in addition to idiosyncratic at the individual. So that's a big part of what I think we're doing. Another answer to this, I'm just going to steal from a social theorist, a sociologist at NYU named Gabi Abend and Gabi has written some of the best stuff in the sociology of morality. But one of the distinctions he makes is he argues that a lot of the experimental psychology, psychological work trolley problems and that sort of thing, he turns it a thin understanding of morality. And I don't think he means it as judgmentally as it might sound, but the idea is it's very much abstract principles outside of real context and it gives you a thin understanding of what people do and it's important and necessary.

Steven Hitlin: 00:42:46 But he's arguing that sociology, and I think anthropology does this, and, and some psychologists, he's arguing for a thick view of morality. So instead of things like harm care and justice he suggests we need to focus on things like integrity, pettiness, exploitation, dignity, fanaticism, right? These are other terms that explain moral behavior, moral action, the way people relate themselves to each other. But embedded in the term are two things, a description of the world and a normative sense that someone is being good or bad. And that kind of thick description is what he wants a sociology of morality to focus on, which gets very, it gets tricky to sort of have that kind of a thickness alongside generalize ability. And so it'll take a lot of people doing a lot of work to get at this, but that sort of idea of the richness of human moral experience.

Steven Hitlin: 00:43:40 I'm working on I have a couple of chapters with a former student, Matt Anderson, who's now a Baylor. And we have a paper under review and we're thinking about writing a book on dignity and whatever dignity means. It's a term that people use in lots of different ways for whatever they need it to mean, but it, it, we're thinking that it points to some kind of richness about whether you're living up to your moral obligations, whatever those are. So you can have dignity as a PhD and you have dignity as a family member. You can have dignity as a gang member, you can have dignity as a, as a basketball fan, like whatever it is, you can sort of measure up to the expectations of the people around you and get a sense of moral worth. And we're kind of arguing we have some ways to measure that, but that gets at something that's thicker and more embedded in social interaction then a lot of the tools we've from psychology.

Amber Cazzell: 00:44:31 Yeah. Yeah. So when I think about dignity, I'm still, I still have trouble, I think thinking about it in a thick way. I'm still thinking about it as sort of this abstract and I'm probably just trained as a psychologist thinking about it from a psychological perspective. So like, can you give me examples of some of the chapters of like what a sociological approach to, to try and understand that dignity.

Steven Hitlin: 00:44:57 Yeah. So all right. I can give you sort of the pretentious answer and then the more practical answer of what we've been trying to do. But the idea there is, is I spend time contrasting dignity with something like self esteem. Can I, so self esteem which is I think was at one point like the most research social psych topic for awhile, like 20,000 papers. And it was in sociology as well as a sort of important dependent variable. It's sort of an abstract measure of do people like me and you know, Leary's sociometer hypothesis like, am I kind of making people like me here? But the, the originator of it, Rosenberg said he probably should have called it the self-worth scale. And so what we do is we steal some items from that and in our theory and some items from other places to get it sort of the bigger idea, which is your sense of worth a hinges not just on whether people like you, but how well you're living up to whatever the standards are that are important to you.

Steven Hitlin: 00:45:56 And the big sociology insight that covers a lot of my field is that those standards come from your roles, your significant others, your the things that are important to you, give you a sense of what you should be doing. And so when we get a dignity, we're trying to say like, well, this the measures we have, which are a little bit agnostic as to what roles are important to you as opposed to a lot of the identity research, which says, how much are you living up to this or that identity? We found a bunch of items that get at this sense of worth and they get it. This idea that you are living up to your community standards and that allows us to remain agnostic as to what their standards are. So one of the issues I have with the moral identity work, which is you know, really interesting work in a lot of ways, but it also tells people what is moral and what we allow in these survey items mostly that we're stealing from a national surveys is the idea that the items don't ask about are you living up to your role as a parent or as a scholar?

Steven Hitlin: 00:46:55 Or they just sort of say, you know, are you living up a life you find worthwhile? Do the people around you validate you in these sorts of things and what it gets that we think is sort of a cross situational sense of are you a morally decent human being? And what we're finding is sort of a threshold effect. So it's not that more dignity better, but if you don't have enough dignity there are all sorts of mental health problems later in life. We have some longitudinal data. Matt's done some clever stuff to show that there are actual biomarkers. Jane, if you have enough data, a dignity of this measure as we're it, then you're more likely to be physically healthy later on. But, but having more of it, like it's not sort of an allayed good, right? So Baumeister's stuff on self esteem.

Steven Hitlin: 00:47:37 Like, you know, you really don't want to have too much self-esteem cause that makes you actually dangerous. If it gets punctured. Dignity works a little bit the same way as long as you have enough, then you can operate well in society. But this idea that you're just not living up to whatever those standards are seems to capture. Some of the, it seems to explain some of the mental health issues that we find in society. And so the, the idea of this is this is a thicker understanding of the human person and the self then putting together self esteem, self efficacy and all the other self hyphen things that have been in both sociology and psychology for awhile. So we're trying to sort of make this argument and our data works, but you have to believe that we're measuring dignity and dignity is such a slippery concept.

Steven Hitlin: 00:48:21 I, in my own work I just sort of found that I'm attracted, I've done work on values, on morality, on identity, on agency and now dignity, these sorts of terms that people use. Very slipperily, that's not a word, but they tend to to mean what people need them to mean in the context and trying to specify a little bit, okay, I can we measure these things, can we quantify them? And if we do now we have a little hopefully a more precise understanding of what it is we're talking about. So I was a philosophy major in college and so I'm sort of attracted to these weird ideas, but I wanna to measure them. I'm at one end of how sociologists approach this. So I'm, I'm fairly abstract too.

Amber Cazzell: 00:49:01 Okay. Okay. And so when you, when you do studies and sociology, like how much have you had set? There's a lot of methodological. Just a lot of different methodologies that are, that are being employed. Is there, is that all getting compared very well? Like are you, you have some, some qualitative work I presume, and then you've got some quantitative work and then it's, I presume also happening at different levels. So you're getting like cross-cultural comparisons and then, and then in the same culture but within different subcultures.

Steven Hitlin: 00:49:43 So that's, that's I think you just put your finger on sort of maybe one of the reasons that the United States isn't paying attention to Canada because one, the first sort of step was the thing that we've been doing, which is, well, let's put it all into at least one sort of handbook or one annual review article to sort of draw a line around, Hey, we're all doing things that are similar. And in that umbrella are all sorts of different things that are sometimes incommensurate and sometimes hard to generate out as to what the the testable theories are out of that. So, you know, we grew up together people that are studying trends and national values. Off of like the Schwartz surveys with people that do there. There's a small movement in sociology of a guy named Dan Winchester is doing a lot of this work at Purdue on embodiment.

Steven Hitlin: 00:50:32 So his argument is that there's a lot of sort of overly cognitive in the way we talk about morality. And if you study people who are devoutly religious, for example it isn't just something that's in their head that they think about. It's in a set of practices and movements and fasting patterns that are outside of the head, but are fundamental to how people experience the world. And there's a moral dimension to that. You have people interviewing each other to find out where these moral lines are being drawn. You do have, we're actually doing some neurological work. I'm trying to link right, which parts of the brain are lighting up when you ask these questions, but not just trolley problems with different kinds of questions. And under this broad umbrella I think we don't have a great way to write it.

Steven Hitlin: 00:51:17 I, I, we're going to do a next volume of handbook of sociology, of morality. I'm working with a couple of people younger scholars Aliza Luft and Shai Dromi. So she's at UCLA. He's a Harvard. And we're mapping out now, okay, what's the next a decade into this new sociology of morality. What's sort of the, the map of the field and in different countries and in different sub-fields. And I don't know if in that we're going to be able to write any kind of summary statement or if the goal is just keep putting things in the same room and hope that other people can learn from them. So this is sort of a drawback in I think our science is fairly accurate in the way that the world is complicated and we have lots of ways to study yet, but if you're from outside, it's going to be tricky to figure out exactly what you need and what's helpful to you.

Steven Hitlin: 00:52:01 Now if you talk to some other sociologists, they might have pithier a summary statements of what goes on. I've always sort of just been in the meta sense of, OK, social structure matters, identity matters, these other things shape behavior. But once we get into details where, and when again, I, I quoted John Levy Martin earlier. He has another quote in one of his books as sociologists and he says, the first rule of sociology is "some do, some don't." So it's very hard to say all people are going to do something unless you're at a real high level of extraction. But when it comes to things, you know, some Americans will do this and some won't and some rich people will do this and some won't. And which makes it a little harder to build the kind of scientific exportable premises maybe that other people want.

Amber Cazzell: 00:52:50 Yeah. So what else are you working on besides dignity book and besides kind of trying to get psychology and sociology to have a reciprocated conversation?

Steven Hitlin: 00:53:04 Um so I, I tell people like, the danger of asking an academic what they're working on right is that they can go on for a long time. I would say in addition to that, I'm going to be helping with the social psych textbook, believe it or not in a little bit, which has a lot more sociology than many of those socialpsych books. The other biggest thing that I'm working on now, a couple of different things with various students, former students and current students of mine on sort of cross cultural, social psychology. So a couple of students Rangan Firat who's at UC Riverside and Haywan Kwan, who's at Turku University in Finland as a postdoc. The three of us had been working for a while on a cross cultural understandings of values and how people use those values to differentiate their in and out groups.

Steven Hitlin: 00:53:50 So we have certain sort of quantitative models and some measures of like, like the shorts values. I don't know if you're familiar with Shalom Schwartz. Schwartz's stuff's been pretty useful, a pretty good set of interdisciplinary thinking on the topic. So the, one of the issues with that is that people tend to aggregate, right? What do Americans think? You, you give them the Schwartz questionnaire, whichever version is easiest to get to and then you aggregate it up. And so you end up with this thing like you know, Americans believe have these values and more of those. And we've put together a measure of what we're calling third order values. So instead of saying, I'm like, what are your most important groups? And it turns out people around the world more most likely to say family is their most important group.

Steven Hitlin: 00:54:40 Occupation is second in the countries we've looked at more, it's in the top three. And then there's some various differences depending on how important religion is to you what your groups are. But you can, instead of saying aggregating what the values are for those groups, we ask another question. We have a new sort of measure that builds off of Schwartz where we say, what are the values of those groups? So instead of aggregating a bunch of individuals to get what they think, we just ask people, what do you think of that? And it's sort of known as third order thinking. Sociology talks about third order beliefs. So it's what do you think they think about the world? And so we've been trying to map that for what people have for their ingroups and outgroups and whether it gets messy cause there's a lot of different groups in different countries, but as a, as a broad stereotype, we're kind of saying, well, when people draw an ingroup for example, whatever it is, it's probably your family or occupation, but whatever it is, you tend to draw on sort of self transcendent values.

Steven Hitlin: 00:55:37 So my group is the one that cares about other people. And that seems to be true in the four countries that we're studying. Regardless of what the group is, right, the ingroup tends to be seen with these transcendent values. The way we're measuring it, and outgroups tend to, it's a little complicated, but tend to be seen as more focused on the kind of power and achievement self enhancement values. And a little bit more the for Schwartz, it's the openness to change values. So it's like the ones that are kind of ready to try new things. And so whatever your out-group is, it's a little less clear. But we are the people that help others and those are the people that are selfish and try to mess with things and try to get power regardless of the groups.

Steven Hitlin: 00:56:21 Now that gets colored because a lot of the countries really dislike homosexuals and so it's hard to tell or there's a general trend or just they're very anti, a very bigoted kind of anti gay kind of thing. We're trying to tease it out. So that's one pocket of what we're doing. I've got another, just published a book with a colleague, Sarah Harkness here at Iowa on we call it unequal foundations. And the idea there is Susan Fiske in psychology has this book envy up, scorn down and it's sort of a psychological look at where people are in the social structures that we like, that their social structure and the idea is the emotions you have towards people above and below you. And I think she argues that there is some generalized ability to that right. And wherever you are in a society, I think anthropologists would disagree somewhat.

Steven Hitlin: 00:57:05 But in modern societies we have certain feelings towards the people above us in a different set of a moral emotions towards those below us. What Sarah and I do in this book, and we have this very strange data, which I won't bore you to try to explain but, and it's again, only have a few countries, but we noticed that the more unequal a country the harsher the moral language seems to be the more present certain moral judgment words that about shame and guilt and even sort of sanctioning emotions about other people. They're more prevalent. The more unequal the society is based on the Gini coefficient. So we wrote this, sorry, the Gini coefficient. So the measure of how unequal is society is economically. It's this you know, if everyone in, if one person society had everything, the number would be a one and if everybody was equal, the number would be a zero.

Steven Hitlin: 00:57:55 And you can rank societies on this. So lots of different disciplines, rank societies, it's an empirical number. And so the United States is getting more and equal over the past few years, right? It's not just in political talk, it's actually true this number. And so the United States and China are both very unequal actually economically. And when you look at this very strange metric, which I won't try to explain, you end up seeing, I just more embedded in the language, more times that people will use things about blaming others or condemning others. Right? I used, we used Haidt's moral emotions type of thinking and a lot of the negative stuff comes out in those more unequal places. And so the argument that we make, and there's a sociologist named Andrew Sayer from Britain, who's been making this argument for awhile, that one of the ways you police the boundaries in a society economically is to use certain terms and certain kinds of markers that say we are the more cultured people or do is a big sociologist who's done this right?

Steven Hitlin: 00:58:56 Certain kinds of tastes and certain kind of music is these are the better refined kinds of things. And so we just try to show that the level of unequalness economic inequality in a society plays out in the sort of emotions that seem to pop up randomly among a population that's sort of a short version of what we're doing. So we may, the book makes a, an argument, we say our data is consistent with this. It certainly doesn't prove it, but we're going to make the strong version of the argument in the hope that it'll generate, motivate other people to get better data to sort of see if we're right. And so we make a strong claim that's, I think could be true, but it's not exactly easy to prove. And yeah, so that's a lot of what we do. I'm another student of mine, Ji Hye Kim here is doing some really interesting stuff on sort of how scheme is they're put together but using new measurement to say that societies have different underlying maps about how we group things together.

Steven Hitlin: 00:59:50 So you know, there's a lot of work in sociology and what, you know, what you want your kids to do when they grow up and what kind of values you want them to have. And she's looking at it from a different way, which is to say it may be the case and it's not just that you have different values, but that you see different maps. Right. So one of the things as a straight middle-class white guy whose parents have advanced degrees are, I never worried about whether I'd get a college degree. Right. I, it just, there's one day in, in freshman biology, I worried I would get a college degree, I think the mid term. But other than that, it's never been a concern for me. It just was what I was going to do. And juggling issues of you know, having a family and getting my career to work was not anything I ever had to worry about it.

Steven Hitlin: 01:00:33 It wasn't a real concern or how to fit these things through. So I had a roadmap that was incredibly privileged and I like to take some of the credit for the successes I've had. But again, I had an easier actual map in the world. And what Ji Hye is trying to measure is what that map looked like to me, where I didn't see going to school and getting an advanced degree as it being a cost of any kind. Many of my other friends and a lot of my female friends and colleagues fundamentally felt like they were making choices. And if I'm going to spend more time getting a degree, I'm going to hurt my potential home life or delay certain and delay decisions. And so one of the things she's been doing and we've been working on is what are the maps available to people in the United States?

Steven Hitlin: 01:01:14 And in her case, she's from Korea. Just do people even see the same sorts of choices and what map do you have available to you and how much can we predict that based on your social class, your gender, and this sort of thing. And so kind of trying to figure out how to measure that and how those maps play out for people. Like are there different maps and then you know, really caring about your family means something different. If you have my privileged map, then if you view that as making a choice in your life that you're going to have to give up something else. And that may really affect how people allocate their decisions and their over their life course. A life course is one of the big things that sociologists try to study. Right. What are the actual rules available to you and what are the, what is the game board look like when you go through life?

Steven Hitlin: 01:01:57 So if you see an easier game board in my case, it must've helped contribute to me doing well in the game because I didn't have a lot of time to stress about there's alternative costs and, and colleagues and friends of mine, women, people, people of color had to overcome a harder board in their mind and actually in the world to get to the same spot. And so that's one of the, we're trying to figure it out. Can we measure it and does it actually do anything? So that's a long answer to your question, but I warned you that's what you get when you ask you academically.

Amber Cazzell: 01:02:25 No, I loved it. I, it's really interesting. So once all of those studies kind of settle down, do you have a sense for, do you have any next studies brewing in your brewing in your head?

Steven Hitlin: 01:02:38 I mean at that point I may or may not still be breathing. We'll sort of see how that works. But I, there's various ideas along I'm working with Aliza now on sort of a theory piece, just trying to figure out what, what we're doing is a science and what the precision is how to be precise about what we're doing as a field. And will that help us export our ideas better? I have some vague ideas. I'm really fascinated. America is a strange outlier on a lot of the national or the international kinds of studies that are out there. And Inglehart has done a lot of work on how countries change and, and Hoffstead and there are a lot of different things. And when you look at the way America operates and what we believe, we're strange we're much more religious than we're supposed to be given how how economically advanced we are now that's changing a little bit.

Steven Hitlin: 01:03:39 It turns out that our religious people are getting just more and more and more religious and it's, it's sort of dragging our averages up. And that younger people today look like the rest of the world, but ever else in the world, the more advanced you get economically, the less religious you get. And, and the sort of the kinds of values you have shift in a certain way except for America. And so one of the things I'd really like to do down the line, and, and I'm not exactly sure what kind of data to find, but it's a sort of track through America since its beginning, has been very concerned with religion and money. And Tocqueville is a thinker from the 1820s and thirties. He came over to America and he hung out for a couple of years and he wrote democracy in America, a couple of volumes.

Steven Hitlin: 01:04:20 And in there, there are all these insights and you just how strange these Americans are and how they strive and the way we're put together because we do think everything begins and ends with us. You can read these quotes from almost 200 years ago and see a lot of like explaining what's happening today. So there's this book by Kurt Annison, a fantasy land, and he's not a sociologist. He's just a smart guy. Has this book that I, one of my favorite books I've read recently and his argument is something about America seems to lead to people believing that they have the freedom to have their own facts. And he said, you know, he wrote this before the current political administration, but he's been working on just this idea that you can't, I am free. You can't tell me what I'm supposed to believe.

Steven Hitlin: 01:05:04 And that extends to what I'm supposed to believe about finances and reality and science and climate. And, and it just that, that freedom in America for some reason extends down to the fact that there aren't experts anymore. And he argues as a culture specific or a much more common to go for cults and strange religions or any religion depending on your view scams and grifters and all these kinds of people that are like, you just Hey argument. His argument is you find more of that in America when people sort of have this, this fundamental background belief that says, I get to be believe what I want. And some people prey on that. So I'd really love if anyone out there has an idea or wants to fund a project on that. I want to play with that. But it's a little hard to figure out how that data looks over time.

Steven Hitlin: 01:05:51 And no, if we were religious and money crazy, the people that came over here on the boats originally by choice I should say, not the ones that were brought here as slaves, but the ones who came by choice were the ones who were trying to find religious freedom and we're really concerned about making money. And now hundreds of years later, the motivating things in America are making money and, and religiosity. And I, I, that fascinates me and lots of historians and people have talked about that. I'd like to try to figure out what to do data data wise with it. So I'm very unformed, but that might be something down the line if I ever.

Amber Cazzell: 01:06:28 Very cool. And what was the name of that book? What was the title?

Steven Hitlin: 01:06:32 Fantasy Land. Yeah. I just, I just found it really enjoyable. And, and I don't know how to test it or do anything, but it was just such a smart person insight as to the weirdness in the culture we live in, which is hard to see when you're in the culture. But identifies a lot of things. And again, he says, I've heard interviews with him and he specifically did this before the current president in terms of just the ability to get people to believe whatever they want for expedience that he's been working on this for a long time.

Amber Cazzell: 01:07:00 Yeah. Interesting. Cool. We'll see. Thanks so much. This has been a lot of fun and I have some major homework to do and learning about Canada now, so I appreciate your time and willingness to kind of impart your wisdom as far as what's going on in, in sociology.

Steven Hitlin: 01:07:23 I appreciate your time. I think, right? The idea of the moral science, right? That cuts across a lot of disciplines. This stuff is out there in different places. There are biologists, where this is a people doing this thing and all sorts of different fields. So hopefully someday you can look back at this kind of a podcast. It's like, Oh yeah, we used to think differently and we didn't talk to each other and that was silly. So maybe this will be a step towards people in our departments on various college campuses going to the other departments and divisions.

Outro: 01:07:51 Yes, yes, definitely. Thanks for listening. If you have questions, comments, suggestions, or requests, contact the moral science podcast is sponsored by ERA inc a research and design think tank that's reinventing how people with each other. Music throughout the program is Microobee by Keinzweiter and can be found at


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