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

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

12 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

A Brief Summary

The old saying goes that we are never to discuss religion or politics in polite company. These topics are singled out of course because they tend to be the two that people are most passionate about, and which therefore have the greatest potential to cause enmity and str...
The old saying goes that we are never to discuss religion or politics in polite company. These topics are singled out of course because they tend to be the two that people are most passionate about, and which therefore have the greatest potential to cause enmity and strife. According to the psychologist Jonathan Haidt, the fact that we disagree over politics and religion is not necessarily such a bad thing. For him, though, the current wrangling between political and religious (and non-religious) factions has gotten rather out of hand, as it has recently reached such a pitch in the West (and particularly in America where Haidt resides) as to be threatening the very fabric of our nations. Now, according to Haidt, at least some of the enmity and strife between people of different political and religious stripes is caused by a failure to understand precisely where these beliefs ultimately come from--as well as a failure to understand how one's opponents understand their own beliefs. In an effort to remedy this situation, and to bring a degree of civility back into the ongoing debate, Haidt sets out to supply just these understandings in his new book `The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion'. According to Haidt, understanding political and religious beliefs begins with an understanding of the human moral sense as it was laid down by evolution over the past several million years. For Haidt, the moral sense actually consists of (at least) six moral modules, each of which evolved to answer a specific challenge that our ancestors faced in the environment in which our species evolved. While all of us come prewired with the six moral modules, each of them stands to be either amplified or quieted as well as somewhat modified by a host of internal and external factors. The internal factors include our personality and its development, while the external factors include the environment in which we are raised (including our cultural milieu), and the particular experiences that we have--the latter of which help to shape, among other things, our view of human nature, which itself influences our view of what a good society consists in. It is these internal and external factors--which differ for all of us--that explain the plurality of moral and political views and ideologies across cultures, as well as within the same culture across individuals. In addition to the six moral modules, Haidt maintains that human beings have also evolved an overlay of group-oriented sentiment sometime in the past 140,000 years, and as recently as in the past 10,000 years. This `groupishness', Haidt claims, not only explains some of our moral and political sentiments, but also helps explain our attraction to religion, and other group-oriented pursuits. While our groupishness is particularly adept at binding us to the organizations of which we are a part, it also sets us against those who are a part of opposing groups, and makes it especially difficult for us to appreciate their point of view. The end result is that people not only have opposing viewpoints when it comes to morality, politics and religion, but they are often even unable to appreciate (or truly understand) the viewpoints of their rivals. For a full summary of the book visit the website newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com, and click on article #10; the information in the article will also be available in a condensed version as a podcast shortly thereafter.

posted by popscipopulizer on April 8, 2012

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Most Helpful Critical Review

22 out of 38 people found this review helpful.

Nice try. I read this book also hoping to understand the other

Nice try. I read this book also hoping to understand the other side. Conservative republicans just seem so awfull, so hateful, selfish and vindictive, shortsighted and dense. I read this book looking for a more balanced and nuanced way of viewing evil and vile republ...
Nice try. I read this book also hoping to understand the other side. Conservative republicans just seem so awfull, so hateful, selfish and vindictive, shortsighted and dense. I read this book looking for a more balanced and nuanced way of viewing evil and vile republicans especially since they so outnumber me here in Texas.
This book didn't help. Haidt's argument is that conservatives have a broader moral foundation and consider more things than liberals such as God and Country. Is this not the same old assumption those without traditional orthodox beliefs have lesser spritual lives and essentially less morals? Sure, we are less socially cohessive in terms of participating in mega rallies, but, how is that a moral virtue?
How can conservatives love their country, especially anything military, and hate government so much? How is it that all this moral indignation about the debt seem not to exist when their party was in power? How can they hate all regulation while so determined to control others sexual behavior? The litany of hipocracy defies reason, and no, it does not exist on both sides. Reason and intelligence operates on the exact same scale.
Another overworn trope in this book is when the author describes the competiting narratives that the two parties. Republicans are at war to protect thier very way of life, shield their children from liberals who want to turn their children gay, descecrate thier statues of Jesus and give ayll thier hard earned money to caddilac driving welfare queens. That part is obviously true, but I object to the charatization of liberals as bleeding heart fairness obsessed redistributionists. It is not that we want to give money to losers any more than anyone else. I would be happy to be just as jingoistic and sterotype affirming as anyone. It's just that we are not as irrational as the unreflective xenophobic self-maximizers. It is simply that liberals are more rational. It is just that liberals are simply more intelligent. We have the same impusles, the same urge to prefer our family and our clan over others, it's just that we are more capable to take that extra step back and see things from a slightly less ignorant perspective.
There is no dispute that liberalism is a direct if unfortunate result of higher education and intelligence. There is a one to one correlation between academic achivement and liberal politics. The very words liberal and conservative essentially define this distinction.
Its' not that any one would not perfer to be a Bible thumping NRA good ole boy socially accepted member of the club. All should agree rock solid conservatives are essentially happier people. Who would not prefer to know all the answers to life's questions with utter certainy and live in a community where all agree with your views? I envy these people. Unfortunatley I'm too intelligent to be one of them.

posted by the_cooler on June 1, 2012

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  • Posted July 3, 2012

    A Must Read for Democrats and Republicans

    I found The Righteous Mind a challenging book to wade through - certainly not a book suitable for someone wanting a bit of leisurely reading. It reminded me of my days reading college text books steeped in research data. On the other hand, the author provides an interesting approach to question of why conservative and liberals find it so difficult to accept the political stance of the other side, which is the root cause of the toxic political climate that pervades Washington D.C. these days.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2013

    Fascinating look at the psychology of morality.

    While I personally disagree with Dr. Haidt, he shares a great deal of knowledge and understanding. While his bias, his elitist attitudes and disdain for the "common" person occassionally come through, it is not strong enough to wholly discredit his work.

    If you are looking for a good attempt to develop a moral code without religious influence, I certainly recommed giving this book serious consideration. He attempts to tie his entire proposed moral code to evolution, and the selection of the fittest. At times it's a stretch, and perhaps annoying, but I think it reflects considerable research, knowledge and insight.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 7, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    As a lay person, with no background in philosophy or psychology,

    As a lay person, with no background in philosophy or psychology, I found this book to be quite challenging to read. I was not so much interested in the research and historical background that he provides in detail, but in the conclusions drawn from them. The explanations of the six moral foundations and how those apply to people of different backgrounds, beliefs, political parties, etc., were easy enough to follow and understand. It should be required reading for members of Congress, though I wonder if it would really help. After all, the book points out that we seek to justify our own beliefs, which is why we fail to see beyond them, and thus we're back to our righteous minds.

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