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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are…

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

by Jonathan Haidt

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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
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)

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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. ( )
  Scarchin | Nov 12, 2013 |
This is a frustrating book. We spent much of the year discussing it at Swarthmore College and while I was quite prepared to be appreciative of the intent of the book and much of its core argument, I found myself more and more irritated in small and large ways as the year's conversation wore on. Part of it is that Haidt, like many of the more faddish new devotees of neuroscience and cognitive science, habitually overreaches his arguments in several respects, particularly in the latter half of the book. He's trying so hard to knock a kind of straw man's version of rationalism off its perch in the first half of the book that he ends up leaving no room for what Daniel Kahneman calls "slow thinking". E.g., Haidt doesn't just say that much of what we assign to rational thought is not particularly rational thought, but essentially completely boxes out anything but a kind of shallow evolutionary psychology as an explanation of any cognitive or behavioral action. Among other things, this makes it hard to explain his own work (e.g., why isn't evolutionary psychology of this kind just another kind of righteousness that is solely motivated by inherited cognitive predispositions?) but also makes it hard to explain why anybody should in fact ever want to go beyond righteousness as he describes it. E.g., he has no normative conception of what moral behavior ought to be and leaves himself no way to get there, but the entire argument of the book drives towards trying to convince people to override their evolved predispositions.

The second big issue follows from the first. Much of the book ultimately amounts to trying to convince educated American progressives that they have to learn from conservatives, who Haidt believes operate on a wider spectrum of appeals to the "moral tastebuds" that human beings have evolved to have. But this first off is based on a prediction that liberals are losing out in American politics because they have such a narrow set of preferences, a prediction that isn't a particularly good reading of the longer arc of American politics since 1945 or even since 2000. It is ultimately either a liberal overreaction to two terms of George W. Bush or it is an elaborate bit of concern trolling by a conservative pretending to sympathy with progressives. But in the larger comparative sense (which Haidt claims to want to pursue) it is not at all clear that political movements that favor all the "tastebuds" tend to succeed, or that such movements tend to be "conservative" in any sense. The first half of the book tries quite seriously to ask whether its psychology can justifiably be called 'universal' but then Haidt completely forgets about that test in the second half. With a bigger "N", it's not clear at all that his assertions about why political movements succeed in relationship to whether they work the full range of deep or innate moral inclinations hold any water outside the United States in the last two decades or across human history at an even bigger scale. ( )
4 vote TimothyBurke | Oct 8, 2013 |
"This book is about why it’s so hard for us to get along. We are indeed all stuck here for a while, so let’s at least do what we can to understand why we are so easily divided into hostile groups, . . Politics and religion are both expressions of our underlying moral psychology, and an understanding of that psychology can help to bring people together. My goal in this book is to drain some of the heat, anger, and divisiveness out of these topics and replace them with awe, wonder, and curiosity. We are downright lucky that we evolved this complex moral psychology that allowed our species to burst out of the forests and savannas and into the delights, comforts, and extraordinary peacefulness of modern societies in just a few thousand years. . . I want to show you that an obsession with righteousness (leading inevitably to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition. It is a feature of our evolutionary design, not a bug or error that crept into minds that would otherwise be objective and rational."

I hardly feel qualified to make any kind of judgments on this book having little background in philosophy, especially moral philosophy, so I especially appreciate Haidt's lucid summary of the development of moral philosophy through examples and hypotheticals.

I remember several years ago having a visit from the local anti-abortion denizens, nice people, very concerned about youth, etc. They steered the conversation to abortion, their favorite topic. Being of a liberal and hopefully rational and reasoned mindset myself, I described a book I had recently read,[book:The Facts of Life: Science and the Abortion Controversy|672216] by Harold J. Morowitz, James Trefil, a small, excellent analysis of the abortion debate that contains a plea for looking at the issue rationally. I described their suggestion that we need to decide what constitutes "human" and then see when the fetus acquires the capability (cerebral cortex) to be human, etc. etc. To which the response was, "well, I don't believe that." All debate and discussions ceases when that statement arrives. Now, I could have said, well, you old biddy, I don't give a fuck what you believe, I'm trying to find some common ground here." But, my mother having raised me as a good little boy who is always polite to old people, I merely sat there rather stunned. That's the problem. How do you create a discussion of issues when either side can just say, well, I don't believe that.

This is not just a conservative or right-wing problem. Try having a rational or reasonable discussion about the merits of circumcision, climate. autism, raw milk or veganism. I guarantee the true believers will immediately assemble with truckloads of vitriol. We all suffer from what Haidt calls "confirmation bias," that is, our gut tells us what to believe first and then we seek out justifications for that belief.

Haidt's book reaffirms what has become fairly obvious: we divide ourselves into tribes and those tribes consist of like-minded people which we use to validate our intuitive predispositions. His stated goal is to attempt to find a way to bridge the divide between two different moral world views., and to find a way for each side to at least understand the other's perspective.

Both left and right are motivated by the moral foundations of care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. But they differ qualitatively: liberals tend to care more about suffering and violence; conservatives care about harm done to others but not as intensely. Conservatives, on the other hand, place more emphasis on fairness, i.e. getting what you deserve. Both sides value liberty but have differing definition as to what constitutes the oppressor. Similarly, with fairness, each side values it but define it differently: liberals view it from the standpoint of equality while conservatives look to proportionality, i.e. fairness is being rewarded for your accomplishments and if you work harder you should be rewarded proportionally.

The biggest divisions relate to sanctity, authority and loyalty. You can easily guess where the preferences of conservatives and liberals lie. Haidt suggests that liberals will fail to gain wider acceptance until they come to terms with those three moral values and find someway to create their own vocabulary validating them. I would add that liberals will have to be more accepting of groups, particularly religious ones (as much as I despise them,) which serve an evolutionary need to discount selfishness and promote group adherence and benefits.

To some extent that's why I am so puzzled by the right's celebration of Ayn Rand who promoted the antithesis of group-think by celebrating independence and selfishness, i.e. think of yourself first and what benefits accrue to yourself through your actions. She hated coercion both governmental and religious, in particular, yet both encourage group adherence and loyalty.

I just wonder how much of what Haidt says come from his intuitive side (the elephant) and how much from the rational or reasoning part (the rider.)

Here's a quote that struck me: "And why do so many Westerners, even secular ones, continue to see choices about food and sex as being heavily loaded with moral significance? Liberals sometimes say that religious conservatives are sexual prudes for whom anything other than missionary-position intercourse within marriage is a sin. But conservatives can just as well make fun of liberal struggles to choose a balanced breakfast—balanced among moral concerns about free-range eggs, fair-trade coffee, naturalness, and a variety of toxins, some of which (such as genetically modified corn and soybeans) pose a greater threat spiritually than biologically." ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
I hope more people read this book so we can try to understand each other and work together. Found it very enlightening. It also helped me understand why lower & middle class people can support the Republican Party and are anti-Obama. Turns out that, in general, this group values loyalty and authority more than personal interst which Republicans are more focused on. Hard to get into at first but definately worth the effort ( )
  lmcalister | Jul 16, 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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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)

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)

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