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

by Jonathan Haidt

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2,751664,537 (4.08)89
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."
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A great book, but not perfect. Haidt addresses questions I'm really interested in and gives reasonable explanations for the way we behave in political and religious contexts. I've never seen a book that better addresses these issues from an evo psych perspective. ( )
  steve02476 | Jan 3, 2023 |
This is an interesting book about the psychology of morality, politics, and religion. The author is knowledgeable and well researched. He provides logical arguments regarding people’s tendency to have instinctual responses to moral questions and to only secondarily rationalize their opinions. He provides logic as to why varied systems of morality have developed and examined commonality. The author provides insight into the morality and values of the left and right political views. He examines the evolutionary development of religion, its value, and purpose. One of the most important points I found was in the need to understand and value opposing political views. I liked the book and found it interesting and educational. ( )
  GlennBell | Jan 2, 2023 |
This is a wonderfully even-handed and well-researched explanation of, well, why good people are divided by politics and religion. I've been struggling to understand the 2016 election for the last seventeen months, and I now empathize with both sides - something I wouldn't have thought possible before reading this book. ( )
  MikeMcGuire | Nov 12, 2022 |
It's only April, but this may well end up being the most important book I read this year.

The Righteous Mind is about morality, but it's about descriptive morality, not normative morality. It does not tell us what moral system we should have, instead, it's a deep dive into what moral systems are and why they exist. This is an important distinction. It would be easy, using the framework in this book, to describe a functionally effective moral system that you and I would consider to be immoral. Given that the driving example of this book is politics, if you're strongly partisan, you'll likely see such an example right in front of you. That is, in fact, the value of this book: it gives you a framework for understanding the persistence -- and perhaps even the value -- of systems that you might otherwise be inclined to just label as evil and illogical.

Haidt's book is organized around three central claims and accompanying metaphors.

The first claim is that intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. Metaphor: The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider's job is to serve the elephant. This metaphor came from Haidt's earlier book and has become pretty popular, so it may sound familiar. This means that any explanation of human behavior that assumes that individuals are led by their rational mind is just plain wrong. This doesn't mean that human behavior is irrational in the sense of being baseless or absurd. It does mean that the reasons people think they are acting on are often incorrect or incomplete.

The second claim is that there's more to morality than harm and fairness. Metaphor: The righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors. In most cultures, morality is concerned with a combination of harm, justice, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. The morality of western liberals tends to rely heavily on the first two, lightly on the third and, to varying degrees, reject the last three. Whether or not you agree all six of these are good moral foundations, it's important to understand that for much of the world -- including American conservatives -- morality is much more complex than preventing harm and increasing fairness.

The third claim is that morality binds and blinds. Metaphor: Human beings are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee. It's been assumed for several decades that most altruism and group positive behavior is due to enlightened self-interest -- people only do things to help the group if they can also intuit that it will help them as individuals. However, the influence of group goals and culture has helped humans evolve into creatures that can sometimes truly act in self-sacrificing ways. However, this switch cannot be flipped arbitrarily. Humans are groupish -- they'll only sacrifice for those that they see as part of their own group.

There is a lot more to the book than this, but these are the central ideas. I highly recommend reading it to see the rest. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
I had mixed feelings about this book. All in all, I liked it. It made me think about political discourse and want to learn more about some topics raised. That is what, for me, makes a good book.

That said, his outline of the history of moral philosophy was complicated and dry. It was when I got to the moral foundations chapter and the book grabbed me. I spent some time enthused by the insight that liberals rely on primarily two moral pillars (caring and fairness) and conservatives rely on those, along with authority, loyalty and sanctity. It explained why I often find it so hard to argue morality with conservatives.

Upon further reflection, I became less enthused. I don’t like the implication that conservatives have a broader moral base. I think liberals and conservatives have different definitions of sanctity (e.g. over our own bodies -- leading to issues around reproductive rights and sexual consent), and loyalty, and definitions of legitimate authority.

I think Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow gives a superior understanding of intuition vs. reasoning. It’s not that a reasoning rider is serving an intuitive elephant….it’s that the elephant reacts faster….necessarily so in many cases…but it isn’t in charge.

I was intrigued by the idea of a genetic basis for political ideologies. I found the discussion of both moral and group evolution fascinating, but not yet convincing….I’d need to learn more. ( )
  LynnB | Jun 2, 2022 |
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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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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."

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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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