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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Jonathan Haidt

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5411718,630 (4.05)23
Member:ThufirHawat
Title:The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
Authors:Jonathan Haidt
Info:Pantheon (2012), Hardcover, 448 pages
Collections:Kindle Editions
Rating:
Tags:psychology, social psychology, political psychology, religion, politics, United States, current affairs

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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt (2012)

Recently added bypadorothyk, rivkat, LesleyAshton, private library, etbm2003, JSMill, ethnosax
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Haidt has a pretty good response to any criticism, which is that it comes from the critic’s precommitments/moral tastes based in genes as guided in their expression by environment, but oh well. There are several big ideas here (presented as a business book with lots of repetition), including that there are six “flavors” of morality, of which liberals use only three (care/harm, fairness, liberty/oppression), while conservatives use all six at different levels (fairness to them means proportionality, plus sanctity, respect/authority, and loyalty). Haidt suggests that liberals have particular trouble understanding conservatives because those three considerations don’t even seem moral to them. Haidt also argues in favor of group selection as one way in which natural selection operates, not just individual selection (the dominant account for decades), suggesting that it’s the best way to explain why certain aspects of human behavior seem group-promoting rather than individual-promoting (e.g., willingness to die in battle for one’s group).

It was a provocative but frustrating book, in part because Haidt seemed unwilling to acknowledge the deepness of the divides even while talking about them. For example, he discussed flagburning as an issue where one “side” sees nothing special about the flag while the other sees it as sacred. But I’ve never heard of an instance of flagburning where the burner’s position was “this flag is meaningless.” (One of Haidt's survey questions asks about a woman who uses a flag as a cleaning rag, but it's a hypothetical.) To the contrary, both the burner and the people who support the burner’s free speech right to burn despite the offense it gives understand quite well that the burner isn’t trying to stay warm. The sides agree on the meaning of the flag, but not on the acceptable implications of that meaning. Authority/subversion isn’t just an axis of morality that goes only in one positive direction—it’s possible for people to believe that subversion is justified and even good. I don’t need to be convinced that the flag has meaning—that’s not where I disagree with those who would ban flagburning.

Another version of this: Haidt makes some brief historical and European references, but treats liberalism/conservatism as genetically based while drawing all his examples from contemporary American politics. “Conservatives are predisposed against change” and “liberals are predisposed towards change” is a weak enough thesis that it doesn’t really do much to help explain our current mess; on the other side it’s hard to derive a genetic basis for opposing Obamacare or opposing teacher’s unions specifically. Or for explaining how cultures and politics change; I'm willing to accept his weak thesis without thinking it has any implications for policy. This difficulty making the leap from genetics to policy comes out particularly at the end of the book, where Haidt suggests that we should all try to understand each other better so that we can get along (but doesn’t have much advice for gay people about how that should work with people who think they’re destroying the country) and also says conservatives are right about markets being good at getting (some) incentives right and therefore health insurance is bad. See, because you don’t pay for the full costs of your routine care, you don’t comparison shop and so health care costs keep rising. Setting aside the ways in which this is a weird description of seeking health care in the US and ignores the credence good character of healthcare that makes comparison shopping quite difficult, it perfectly encapsulates Haidt’s complete American-centricness as he advances his universalist thesis.

Don’t even get me started on his experience in India where the “silent wives” initially freaked him out, but then he got to know people—he doesn’t say whether any of them were wives—and realized that their system had upsides and positive values as well as downsides, which I’m sure it does but I would have appreciated examples instead of platitudes about how the powerful have obligations in these systems too, notwithstanding that they sometimes abuse their power. This is a book about conflict that doesn’t really have violence in it, because Haidt wants us to approve of imposing sanctions on moral misbehavior, but I don’t think he wants us to face the question of whether beating someone up for violating community norms (including norms I endorse, like “don’t cheat people”) is a good idea. Basically, Haidt really likes some features of “red” morality (cf. Cahn & Carbone’s Red Families v. Blue Families and Luker’s Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood), but can’t bring himself to say what those other authors, also sympathetic to conservatives without agreeing with them, do: red morality only works if people can’t opt out of it. This means that if things go wrong—if you marry a man who beats you, if you get pregnant while unmarried—you must suffer to protect others. Conservatives identify other victims of blue morality, and some I will concede; the point is that, while Haidt says we should try to get along because we’re all stuck here for a while, morality also requires punishing deviants (which he acknowledges elsewhere, but not in his celebration of understanding the other's point of view), and you have to face up to who the deviants are and what will happen to them in any moral system. ( )
2 vote rivkat | Aug 21, 2014 |
Haidt's The Righteous Mind is a really fascinating book. I don't know where you'd categorise it -- I've read people saying moral psychology, political philosophy, sociology, anthropology... As far as I can gather, Haidt gathers up research and thought from different fields in setting out this book. And what does he seek to explore? Well, not so much "why good people are divided by politics and religion", as the subtitle would have it, but the more fundamental question: why do people make different moral decisions with the same information?

He pulls in a lot of research as he goes through this. The fact that disgust makes people more conservative; if you can portray something as dirty (Jewish people, gay people, whatever kind of sex you disapprove of, people of colour, people with disabilities) then you're halfway to calling it immoral already. Particularly for people who tend to be more conservative anyway. In fact, more easily disgusted people are usually more politically and socially conservative. (I'm an aberration; now I think about it, I wonder if that's because I have obsessive-compulsive tendencies causing my fear of germs and disgust responses, rather than actually thinking that way naturally.)

A lot of this, I've come across before, but not synthesised into a full theory like this. (Paul Bloom uses a lot of the same ideas, for example. Particularly in his Coursera course on Moralities of Everyday Life). Mostly, it worked for me. Some of Haidt's analogies and examples are a little clunky. The elephant (emotion)/rider (rationality) metaphor gets increasingly ridiculous the more he uses it, despite the aptness of the metaphor in some ways. Likewise the 'taste receptor' analogy for moral issues. I don't know how much he tested this out on people outside his field, but I think he does need to look for feedback on his imagery.

I tried to watch myself for knee-jerk reactions while reading this. Reading other reviews made me smile wryly, as other people reacted immediately to what they perceived as the thrust of Haidt's argument without reasoning it through. The fact that Haidt divides morality up into six regions which are more or less relevant to every culture really annoys people right off, particularly when he then shows that research has liberals focusing on three of these areas while conservatives focus on all six. As a matter of fact, Haidt seems to hold fairly liberal views himself. He's not criticising the goals of the liberal movement so much as a short sightedness that's preventing liberal politicians making the gains they could.

It's basically a validation of the positive sides of conservative and libertarian ethics. It's mostly an American Democrat writing about American Republicans, and trying to uncover the way they think and the reasonable basis for their beliefs and moral decisions.

What I don't think he's doing is saying that liberalism is bad, that conservatism is automatically the answer, or that the core values of liberalism are wrong. He's looking at the positive aspects of both sides, seeing them as a yin and yang system, rather than diametrically opposed systems on their own.

I'm gonna confess that my politics probably fall fairly close to Haidt's, so I'm not the best person to pick holes in his argument. To me, some of it felt clumsy due to the imagery he employed, but most of it made sense. I'm now reading Sam Harris, who advocates reason and scientifically proven morality, which doesn't fit into Haidt's system well at all. I'm looking forward to seeing how that goes.

I will just note that from this, Haidt is capable of considering other people's views. He makes a good response to Dawkins' atheism, for example, and does a good job of laying out Dawkins' position. Harris, on the other hand... This may be me projecting, but he has a kind of arrogance in the way he writes (and in the way he speaks -- I've watched both of them lecture) that turns me off. I'm having a very hard time not knee-jerking in response. ( )
2 vote shanaqui | Jul 3, 2014 |
This book was a choice of my non-fiction group at our public library. I agree with one of the members who said, “If I’m going to read a textbook, I want college credit.”

Yes, it did read like a textbook. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t get something out of it. It was just a hard slog.

The author is earnest, and the text is well sourced. It’s just that he is accustomed to writing for academics, not for readers who prefer a book that is less dense and more entertaining (for lack of a better word).

The member of the group who recommended The Righteous Mind said she got a lot more out of the book the second time she read it. Unfortunately, I don’t believe most people would finish the book once, much less twice. ( )
  NewsieQ | May 20, 2014 |
First, this is not a book about religion. Haidt is attempting to establish a rational basis for morality. Using research from psychology, anthropology, and biology, he develops a six-factor basis for morality: Care/Harm, Liberty/Oppression, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation. His thesis is that moral judgement is what he calls "an innate intuitive ability" which is then justified by post-hoc arguements. Morality serves to bind society together, and moral skills have their basis in various evolutionary mechanisms developed over time.

To take an example, Haidt claims that Liberals draws from only the first three moral factors (Care/Harm, Liberty/Oppression, Fairness/Cheating) most strongly from Care/Hrm, while Conservatives draw evenly from all six. It is this differing moral basis that lead to deeply felt clashes between Liberals and Conservatives. ( )
  bke | Mar 30, 2014 |
This is one of the most important books of our time. Haidt goes into great detail to explain the evolutionary origins behind human habits and thinking that lead to discord and disagreement.

Although he is an atheist and a liberal, Haidt did not set out to validate his world view. In fact, he actually affirms the role of religion as a net plus (albeit in evolutionary terms) for society. He also points out where many liberals miss the boat when it comes to moral thinking and claims that they view the world in an unbalanced, though well-meaning, way.

Of the many studies he conducted and discusses, the one that struck me the most was the one where liberals and conservatives were asked to explain how the "other side" would view an issue. His results aligned with my personal experience. Conservatives, in general, understood what the views of liberals are. Liberals, however, generally had an inaccurate understanding of a conservative perspective.

This is not at all to say that this book is an affirmation of conservative views etc. It isn't. Haidt does not jettison his personal views. Instead he explains how people are usually so entrenched with their world view and "team" that, even if they ultimately have the same goals as the "other side," they aren't hearing them because at a very deep, intuitive level they can't "hear" them. We start building our defensive arguments before we have even really heard or considered the facts.

This book is an example of something I often tell me students about. You know experience of learning a new word and then almost magically seeing it everywhere? That is what reading this book is like. It is absolutely mindblowing to see how clearly Haidt's Six Foundations of Moral Thinking can be transposed onto just about any controversy or disagreement. I am astounded- and even angered - to see how mass media and political entities have mastered the art of manipulation through the use of trigger words and constructions. Haidt actually has a Web site where you can see lists of words and the particular moral foundation with which they connect.

Ultimately, I am encouraged by research like this. I am aligned with Haidt's final comments in the book which present the hope that, if we can work to truly understand the perspectives of others and also literally observe how our minds are working (and short-circuit gut level defensiveness), we can attain remarkable levels of cooperation and progress. ( )
1 vote Scarchin | Nov 12, 2013 |
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I could not understand how any thinking person would voluntarily embrace the party of evil, and so I and my fellow liberals looked for psychological explanations for conservatism, but not for liberalism.
In psychology, theories are cheap.
Libertarians are basically liberals who love markets and lack bleeding hearts.
When libertarians talk about the miracle of "spontaneous order" that emerges when people are allowed to make their own choices, the rest of us should listen.
Emphasizing differences makes many people more racist, not less.
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Book description
Why can’t our political leaders work together as threats loom and problems mount? Why do people so readily assume the worst about the motives of their fellow citizens?

In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding. His starting point is moral intuition - the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do. These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who see things differently are wrong.

Haidt shows us how these intuitions differ across cultures, including the cultures of the political left and right. He blends his own research findings with those of anthropologists, historians, and other psychologists to draw a map of the moral domain, and he explains why conservatives can navigate that map more skillfully than can liberals. He then examines the origins of morality, overturning the view that evolution made us fundamentally selfish creatures.

But rather than arguing that we are innately altruistic, he makes a more subtle claim - that we are fundamentally groupish. It is our groupishness, he explains, that leads to our greatest joys, our religious divisions, and our political affiliations. In a stunning final chapter on ideology and civility, Haidt shows what each side is right about, and why we need the insights of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to flourish as a nation.

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307377903, Hardcover)

Why can’t our political leaders work together as threats loom and problems mount? Why do people so readily assume the worst about the motives of their fellow citizens? In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding.
 
His starting point is moral intuition—the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do. These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who see things differently are wrong. Haidt shows us how these intuitions differ across cultures, including the cultures of the political left and right. He blends his own research findings with those of anthropologists, historians, and other psychologists to draw a map of the moral domain, and he explains why conservatives can navigate that map more skillfully than can liberals. He then examines the origins of morality, overturning the view that evolution made us fundamentally selfish creatures. But rather than arguing that we are innately altruistic, he makes a more subtle claim—that we are fundamentally groupish. It is our groupishness, he explains, that leads to our greatest joys, our religious divisions, and our political affiliations. In a stunning final chapter on ideology and civility, Haidt shows what each side is right about, and why we need the insights of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to flourish as a nation.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:35 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A groundbreaking investigation into the origins of morality, which turns out to be the basis for religion and politics. The book explains the American culture wars and refutes the "New Atheists."

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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