Please read this first.

Welcome! This blog is devoted to considerations of morality in the The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim by Bethesda. Rather than a fansite, review, or walkthrough, it is a serious attempt to examine the game through a moral lens. Please note that the purpose of this blog is to discuss morality within the context of the game, not to determine whether playing the game is immoral in and of itself; the latter type of "discussion" tends toward tedium and inhibits, rather than promotes, a meaningful conversation.

If you have not visited this blog before, it might be helpful to read the posts labeled "Orientation," most of which are the first few entries in the blog archive (see right). These posts include a short introduction to this project, a content-specific author bio, and a few other pieces that explain key concepts relevant to this study. These posts are of particular use to those readers less familiar with Skyrim (or video games in general).


If you have visited this blog before, thanks and welcome back!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sidebar: Jonathan Haidt — The Psychology Behind Morality

I'd like to take a break from chronicling Katnys's moral descent in order to bring to your attention a podcast that a colleague recommended to me recently.  In it, Jonathan Haidt discusses some of the psychology that informs certain moral stances, which is a key concept in my consideration of moral issues within Skyrim.  While the whole podcast is worth a listen, the following except from the transcript is particularly relevant:

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm. You use some really, um, helpful metaphors and analogies. You talk about the moral matrix. Um, give us that. That...
Dr. Haidt: Okay, first, so yeah, that comes straight out of the movie The Matrix.
Ms. Tippett: Right.
Dr. Haidt: The matrix is a consensual hallucination. And that’s kind of cool. And you know, the internet, and all that stuff. But, um, it was just the perfect metaphor for the moral world that we live in. It defines what’s true and what’s not true. Um, it is a closed epistemic world. What I mean by that is, it has within it everything it needs to prove itself. And it has within it defenses against any possible argument that could be thrown at it. Um, it’s impossible to see the defects in your own moral matrix, so again...
Ms. Tippett: So it becomes impossible to think beyond.
Dr. Haidt: Exactly.
Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.
Dr. Haidt: Exactly. And that’s why foreign travel is so good, getting disoriented is so good, reading literature can be so good. Uh, so, there are ways of it getting out of your moral matrix. But it’s hard, especially in the context of any — any sort of intergroup conflict. Then it — we’re just locked into it, and our goal is defend the matrix, defeat theirs.
Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm. You know, I think a question that gets raised in this country, and I imagine that it might be on people’s minds in this room right now is, um, that the people who most would benefit from those relationships...
Dr. Haidt: Mm-hmm.
Ms. Tippett: ...or from stepping outside or seeing beyond their matrix, are precisely the ones who are not going to go on the trips to the West Bank, right?
Dr. Haidt: Right. Yeah.
Ms. Tippett: Or whatever the other examples would be. Now, I think that we in this culture — we tend to actually focus on the extreme poles, and think that they are the ones who have to be convinced. And we always center the debates around them, and maybe that’s what we do wrong. Do we need those — do we need those extremists, or do we...
Dr. Haidt: No, we don’t.
Ms. Tippett: ...start without them and that’s fine?
Dr. Haidt: Yeah. So, first, uh, let me be clear, that while each side, uh, can’t see the flaws in its own matrix, there is a symmetry here, and left and right are similar in some ways. But one of the clearest differences between left and right, psychologically, is that the left is generally universalist, almost to a fault. And the right is parochial. Um, often to a fault. And what I mean by parochial isn’t just narrow-minded, and dumb. What I mean is, um, the — so we have a survey at where we ask like how much do you care about, or think about, or value people in your community? People in your country? People in the world at large? And, you know, okay, so, uh, conservatives value people in their nation and their community much more than people in the world at large.
Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.
Dr. Haidt: Well, then you might say, okay, well, that’s parochial. But what do liberals do? Liberals on our survey actually say they value people in the world at large more than people in their own country or than people in their community. So liberals are so universalist they often don’t really pay much attention to their own groups, as my mother said about my grandfather, who was a labor organizer. He loved humanity so much that he didn’t really have much time to care for his family.

The entire podcast can be found here:


  1. I may have you check out I don't normally take those personality test/survey things, but this seems interesting.

    1. Thanks, DannyJ. I've only taken one survey so far (moral foundations), and the results were fascinating, but not entirely surprising; for example, I seem to value authority like a conservative, but de-value loyalty like a liberal, which squares with Lothar's profile.

      Like you, I don't often do personality quizzes, but I couldn't help but do the Alignment Chart (I forget the site -- something on Facebook): I got Neutral Good. Again, not surprising.

    2. It says that I have the loyalty of a conservative, the harm/care and fairness of a liberal, and I more or less fall directly in the middle point between the two sides for purity.

      What made me laugh was the authority score, which I apparently devalue to a shocking degree. Which is true, I guess. I don't exactly consider myself a rebel, but I think anyone who had teachers like mine would develop a distrust for authority figures. Some of the men and women who taught me were legendarily incompetent.

  2. Are you finished posting to this blog? It's been a couple months, and I'm feeling that sad, nostalgia feeling. haha.

    1. The past few months have presented some extra challenges at work -- good challenges, but time-consuming nonetheless. I'm now making a concerted effort to reconnect with my hobbies, so I should be posting more regularly now.

      Thanks for checking in!