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.
©2012 Jonathan Haidt (P)2012 Gildan Media LLC
"Haidt is looking for more than victory. He's looking for wisdom. That's what makes The Righteous Mind well worth reading…. a landmark contribution to humanity’s understanding of itself.” (The New York Times Book Review)
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?
I really enjoyed this book! Haidt has a wonderful ability to make research ideas and results gripping and easy to understand. And when it comes to how the human mind works, there are quite a few surprises in this book even for a seasoned psychologist :)
Haidt's ideas on why religions are useful and existed in every society throughout the human evolution are riveting!
For anybody who enjoyed Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis, you will love this book as well.
I found the first half of the book much more fast-paced and engaging than the second half but I still couldn't stop listening to it until the very end and it was well worth it. By "couldn't stop listening to it", I meant that I didn't switch to some other book or podcast like I normally do when the pace gets slower. I do not listen to anything in one sitting - I only listen to books when driving, doing chores around the house, cooking, etc. But then, with this book, it really pays off to have some time between ideas to absorb and process them.
This is a good audiobook.
I have enjoyed thinking about how some people are unable to grasp things not because they are stupid, but because they have already formed an idea about them.
The author is rare for being a good performer as well. Given the divisiveness the topic could engender in some, the open, thoughtful voice of the author lends an even tone that allows everyone to enjoy and learn.
The importance of emotion to reason.
I heard about this book on a podcast I was listening to. In this book Jonathan Haidt does a great job explaining why we think the way we do and why we're shaped to think the way we do. Here is a book that if you listen/read it all the way through will explain to you why we vote the way we do and think the way we do. I used to not understand people who practice strict religious teachings. Now I understand it (read the book to find out why). It also explains why people are Republicans and others are Democrats. It explains why their not understanding each other or the world. This has been a real eye opener for me and has already been helpful since I began to apply the principles in my life. I've been recommending this book to everyone I hear say something about Republicans or Democrats. It is a must read for anyone!
The thing that saddens me when I read books on moral psychology is that it makes it clear that we as a species have come to a good understanding about how it is we think, yet that understanding doesn't filter down to the individual level. Like Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain, or Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson's Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), this book has within it much that could help keep in check the more extravagant of cognitive pitfalls, yet how does it make that tricky journey from the psychology journals and out into the public? This book, as good as any other on the topic I have read, has me hoping it will be able to make a little headway.
Since I'm not a psychologist, I can't comment on the quality of the research, except to say that I found the presentation of the ideas was clear and very illustrative. Haidt's writing style is very accessible, and whether or not you agree with him by the end, anyone who carefully listens should at least appreciate where he was coming from. By the end, there's perhaps a means to appreciate where other people are coming from.
One major problem was that in his efforts to give a descriptive moral psychology, he ignored the prescriptive aspect. The question of whether or not people see morality a particular way doesn't make that way warranted. Of course Jonathan Haidt knows this, but neglects to mention this until near the end of the penultimate chapter, and even then does little more than shrug at the prospect. That's fair enough as he's not a moral philosopher, but for several chapters preceding that brief mention he focused on trying to understand morality from a neurological perspective - even going so far as to ridicule those current prescriptive theories as being inadequate and possibly the result of Aspergers' syndrome. As the reader this was quite jarring, as he was seeming to make the same mistake Sam Harris did in The Moral Landscape by descending into neurobabble.
For example, much is made of Western Educated Industrial Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) phenomenon of moral psychology where the educated products of enlightenment thinking see the role of moral thought in a very different way from all other societies (and even the poor in their own society). While he makes an interesting case for why moral psychology as a discipline has misfired by focusing on the WEIRD, be doesn't address the inverse case - why some of us are WEIRD? After all, being weird is the anomaly.
If you keep in mind that his account of morality is descriptive rather than normative, then the book reads much better. It's a good account of how to think about how other people think on moral issues, and that is a vital part of having an understanding of where other people are coming from. For that, the book is good. And as far as the presentation goes, Haidt's willingness to describe the diagrams was useful, and him breaking out in song was an unexpected joy.
Absolutely. It helps Dems and Repubs see their differences more scientifically.
Brain Rules by John Medina because it is a very scientific look at how the brain reacts.
All of it. Couldn't put it down.
We can get along if we understand the other side.
Haidt builds a compelling case for his moral foundation theory and makes a convincing argument for why conservatives actually have a more balanced moral matrix than liberals, and just in case you're wondering, I am a life-long liberal. (So is he, apparently.) But this is only one small part of his thesis.
He is a good writer and a good reader and his book has practical applications for promoting greater civility and a more productive cross-party dialogue in American politics.
Insight into how your own mind and morals really work, not just how we think they should work. Helps you gain insights into not only your own values, but those of the people around. Helps Democrats understand why Republicans do what they do and visa versa. Would recommend this book to all my friends, especially the ministers, the President of the United States, and the whole of the US Congress.
Most "readers" will appreciate the superb delivery of the audio version. Those of us (myself included) who discover that his worldview and ideas reshape our own will either want to listen to the audio twice or also purchase the print version -- to enable note taking and marking up of the most important pages.
Because the ideas are so unsettling for social and political liberals (like myself!), the author's tone and personal story vignettes are absolutely vital to keep me from becoming defensive (and thus no longer really listening). Yet, by the time he concludes, I feel fully affirmed -- as the need today is not for liberals to go conservative, but for liberals to become morally fuller by maintaining our existing commitments while opening to searching for solutions that are no longer win-lose but win-win. In fact, I recall watching online a spring 2012 interview that Bill Moyers conducted with the author, and Bill's curiosity and open delight in this larger worldview are a treasure to watch. Morality becomes all encompassing.
The author is the audio narrator -- and he is superb! Personal stories he tells are especially powerful this way, and his best stories are those that reveal the pivotal experiences in his own life that led him from social/political liberal to a wider embrace of the full spectrum of moral and ethical appreciation.
It is way too long to listen to in one setting -- but very compelling to use as bedtime listening on consecutive nights or for a very long road trip.
I learn so much these days online via short videos, newsclips, blogs, op-ed pieces, etc. that I tend to become stingy about my time reading a traditional book. Books are often not time-efficient enough for me anymore. But The Righteous Mind exemplifies deep respect for the reader/listener's time via its organization, writing, storytelling, and editing. It actually restores my faith in learning via books. As I reflect on my experience, I see that what took the author a lifetime to achieve in worldview expansion, I actually got in a week of evening listening.
I love Audiobooks. I listen to roughly 50-100 hours a month. It's a good thing I work for Audible!
In terms of books on politics, philosophy and cognitive science, its one of the best.
The book tackles very sensitive topics - people's most closely held beliefs, and explains the WHY in a way that is sensible and non-controversial. Haidt provides a compelling case for why morality may have a genetic basis.
The chapter on Moral Foundations Theory. I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats.
Its not really that kind of book, but the part describing group selection theory was good.
The most boring movie that ever changed your life.
Regardless of your political or religious persuasion, you should listen to this book.
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