By and large, I think this is a good and even an important book. In it, Haidt very clearly lays out the research that supports the view that human beings have been endowed by evolution with 6 moral intuitions, or foundations. The moral intuitions are innate, which Haidt clearly explains does not mean fixed and immutable, but, rather, arranged in advance of experience. We don't all have a fixed set of moral intuitions, but there is a limited palate from which experience may paint the picture of how we perceive the world.
The most important part of Haidt's research and the argument of this book is that liberal and conservatives share these moral intuitions but tend to emphasize them very differently, and it is the different emphases that cause the divisions among us. In brief, liberals tend to assign moral weight to issues of justice (is it fair - does everyone have an equal chance) and harm/care (does it cause harm to another - bad; or does it help another - good). Conservatives share these intuitions, but their take on justice is different. For a conservative, justice is determined by proportionality. Each according to his/ her contribution, not his/ her need. In addition, everyone, but conservatives to a much greater extent than liberals, also feel that questions of loyalty (to one's group/family/country), authority (obedience), and purity/ sanctity (as in not mixing this with that) are moral issues. A sixth intuition concerns liberty. Here again, however, liberals and conservatives differ in how they think about liberty. Liberals wish to be free of constraints applied by other members of the group, while conservatives think of liberty as freedom from government.
As a framework for parsing arguments between liberals and conservatives, I think this is extraordinarily helpful. What Haidt and colleagues argue is that when we disagree with our ideological counterparts, the disagreements arise from differences in the weight we apply to these moral intuitions. For liberals, there really are just two primary moral issues, fairness and harm/care, while conservatives also value authority, loyalty, purity and liberty to a great extent.
Importantly, Haidt argues that each of the moral intuitions has been vital to the evolution of human culture. While those among us who are liberals care more about justice and care, without the other intuitions, we would never have achieved the groupishness and hence the culture that separates humans from other animals. It is primarily the conservative intuitions that have been responsible for providing the glue that held groups together over our evolutionary history, and it is as groups that human beings have generated a culture that has distanced us from our primitive ape cousins.
Not much to take issue with there.
Ultimately, however, Haidt explains that his study of morality produced in him a sort of conversion from liberal to moderately conservative, having discovered the value of groupish moral intuitions. He also cites research showing that conservatives are better able to take the view of a liberal into account that vice versa, and invites liberals to try to broaden their view to include these other intuitions. His suggestion in this book and elsewhere is that more conservative voices should be added to the intellectual debate over the role of moral intuitions in society.
So here's my problem with that. 1) I am liberal and have a hard time, as he says, understanding how the groupish intuitions might continue to retain their value as moral intuitions in the modern world. It seems to me that many of our greatest problems today have to do with the oversized role of these moral intuitions in buttressing parochial concerns (issues of importance to my group only), leading to inter-group conflict.
2) I am a member of a group (gays) that has been and still is legally disenfranchised in this country, and that disenfranchisement is largely justified by referral to the moral intuition purity. I can't marry my partner, because too many people in this country believe that to allow me to do so would somehow violate the purity/sanctity of heterosexual marriage. So, I can't get behind it. Of course, that is my parochial concern, but I can point to similar concerns that would affect nearly everyone. Purity/Sanctity, in my view, is a moral intuition that has outlived its useful life.
3) Too much of Haidt's argument has the flavor of a naturalistic fallacy. One is committing the naturalistic fallacy when one deems something to be good on the basis of it being natural. Another way it is expressed is when a person assumes that something ought or should be a certain way solely on the basis that it is that way in nature. Haidt's argument is more subtle than saying that because people are endowed with six moral intuitions, therefore all six ought to be valued equally. But, for may taste, his argument still relies mostly on the argument that because these six moral foundations were all critical for the development of what we consider to be civilized society, that they are all to be consulted in policy- and decision-making now. Much of our civilization consists of norms and rules for curbing natural instincts. The instincts that continually reify parochial groupishness, ie, the conservative moral intuitions, are among the natural instincts that I believe must be curbed. An alternative take is that the moral foundations are fine as is, but the groups to which they are applied must be continually enlarged to include everyone, and then perhaps everything. Clearly, this circle-enlarging has been occurring and will likely continue. That's great. But, shouldn't we also work to limit the sway of the intuitions that, while historically vital, are presently harmful or at best of dubious value for large swathes (i.e., anyone not in the majority) of our society today?
Just enjoying my readin', 'ritin', and 'rithmatic.
The Reason I Jump is a book written in 2006 by a 13 year old child with autism. In it, he attempts to answer the basic questions one might ask of someone with a spectrum disorder. That is, if they weren’t too uncomfortable to ask such questions. I don’t normally review non-fiction, but I do follow science and the autism spectrum disorder has been featured a great deal in science during the past 15 years. And thanks to wackos, like Jenny McCarthy preaching nonsense about her mommy instincts being better than science, many people think autism is caused by vaccines despite numerous clinical studies to the contrary. The truth is, science has not completely determined the causes, though genetics seems to be a dominant factor. That digression aside, I decided to read this book because I don’t really know anybody with autism. I don’t know much about the disorder at all, and when I heard about this book, I thought it an excellent time to get some information straight from the source and what better source than from a child?
David Mitchell has a child with autism and a Japanese wife. These two circumstances led to his spearheading the translation of this monograph from Japanese to English, so if you enjoyed this work in English, you can thank him and his wife for wanting to help get this information to English speakers. An introduction written by David Mitchell appears at the beginning. I think he works a little too hard at trying to describe what it is like to have autism and should have stuck to what it was like being the parent of such a child. Regardless, his words did not detract from the rest of the book. I felt it appropriate to give him his due for his contributions to the publishing process, but that also means I have to ask why he threw in his two cents since we’re effectively reading to get a first hand account, not his interpretations of what it is like to be autistic.
The Reason I Jump is not written as a narrative. It is a simple list of frequently asked questions. Or, as I said above, questions people want to ask, but would feel too uncomfortable, or maybe fear it too politically incorrect to ask. But Don’t get me started on the PC nonsense. It is this sort of nonsense that prevents people from asking these questions when the answers would aid in understanding.
The book is actually quite refreshing I often find personalized accounts annoying to read because they constantly have to appeal to some sense of over stylized humanity. Apparently most accounts have to have some bizarre human angle to get people to “care” about it. I find it strange that people aren’t interested in something just for the sake of knowing. This is the primary reason I don’t read a lot Human interest stories. They may have an element of reality that most find alluring, but they’re written like fiction and it always makes me wonder what it is they’re leaving out or what is being embellished for effect. I don’t want fairy tale embellishments, I want the straight talk and this is exactly what this book provides.
Naoki Higashida cannot speak (at least at the time he wrote the book) but he could communicate by pointing at a laminated card with letters, so no doubt the economy of the book is due to the slow method by which it was written. In my opinion, long drawn out narratives should be antithetical to much non-fiction since the goal is to communicate ideas. One would think the author and the readers would want to get to the point.
If you think that a child, or in particular, a child with autism couldn’t possibly challenge a “neurotypical” person’s understanding of their own world view, I would wager something in the first dozen questions and answers will open your eyes. Speaking of eyes, that is one points he makes. He is/was always told to look someone in the eyes when speaking to them or being spoken to by them. He effectively begs the response question: Why would his understanding of the words be improved simply by making eye contact? Too true! Just because “normal” people feel compelled to garner social cues and other information through eye-contact, why do we insist the same action will/should have the same effect on someone whom we all agree does not process the world in the same way?
Naoki Higadisha describes people’s voices as being close or far away, like a dandelion or a mountain, only the actual distance does not determine how people with autism hear the voice. He doesn’t get into the factors that determine the distance of the voice at any given time, but rather he gives some simple advice to help a speaker draw their voice closer. He asks that you say “our” name first, so they know they are being spoken to. A simple elegant solution to a situation so both parties can relate.
“What’s the worst thing about having autism?”
“Would you like to be normal?”
Numerous “Why do you do this or that” questions are all examples of the types of insights Naoki Higadisha tries to answer. He does not pretend he can answer all these questions for every autistic person, but he gives his most reasonable guess. No doubt there will be questions you’ll feel should have been asked and answered, but I think that’s just a by product of being inquisitive. A person will ask several questions for each one answered on any topic, if they are truly engaged.
The book is fairly short and ends with a short story written by Naoki Higashida. I won’t spoil any of that for you and end my review with a simple recommendation. If you would like a bit of insight into how a different set of people think and perceive the world, and how you should interact with them, this book is a good start.