The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religionby Jonathan Haidt
A groundbreaking investigation into the origins of morality, which turns out to be the basis for religion and politics. The book is timely (explaining the American culture wars and refuting the "New Atheists"), scholarly (integrating insights from many fields) and great fun to read (like Haidt's last book, The Happiness Hypothesis).
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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 is timely (explaining the American culture wars and refuting the "New Atheists"), scholarly (integrating insights from many fields) and great fun to read (like Haidt's last book, The Happiness Hypothesis).
The New York Times Book Review
“A landmark contribution to humanity’s understanding of itself. . . . Haidt is looking for more than victory. He’s looking for wisdom. That’s what makes The Righteous Mind well worth reading.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“An eye-opening and deceptively ambitious best seller . . . undoubtedly one of the most talked-about books of the year.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Splendidly written, sophisticated and stimulating. It may well change how you think and talk about politics, religion and human nature.”
“Ingenious prose. . . . Beautifully written, Haidt’s book shines a new and creative light on moral psychology and presents a provocative message.”
“A remarkable and original synthesis of social psychology, political analysis, and moral reasoning.”
—Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University
“Highly readable, highly insightful. . . . The principal posture in which one envisions him is that of a scrappy, voluble, discerning patriot standing between the warring factions in American politics urging each to see the other’s viewpoint, to stop demonizing, bashing, clobbering. . . . Haidt’s real contribution, in my judgment, is inviting us all to sit at the table.”
“Excellent. . . . An impressive book that should be read by anyone who has the slightest interest in how political opinions are reached.”
—The Daily Beast
“Haidt’s work feels particularly relevant now. . . . Haidt’s perspective can help us better understand our own political and religious leanings.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Jonathan Haidt is one of smartest and most creative psychologists alive, and his newest book, The Righteous Mind is a tour de force—a brave, brilliant and eloquent exploration of the most important issues of our time. It will challenge the way you think about liberals and conservatives, atheism and religion, good and evil. This is the book that everyone is going to be talking about.”
—Paul Bloom, Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology, Yale University
“Haidt’s research has revolutionized the field of moral psychology. This elegantly written book has far-reaching implications for anyone interested in anthropology, politics, religion, or the many controversies that divide modern societies. If you want to know why you hold your moral beliefs and why many people disagree with you, read this book..”
—Simon Baron-Cohen, Cambridge University, Author of Zero Degrees of Empathy and The Science of Evil
“A much-needed voice of moral sanity.”
“[Haidt’s] framework for the different moral universes of liberals and conservatives struck me as a brilliant breakthrough . . . The Righteous Mind provides an invaluable road map.”
“A well-informed tour of contemporary moral psychology…A cogent rendering of a moral universe of fertile complexity and latent flexibility.”
“Haidt’s a good thing.”
“Jonathan Haidt’s absorbing The Righteous Mind should come with a warning label: ‘contents highly addictive.’ Written in a breezy and accessible style but informed by an impressively wide range of cutting-edge research in the social sciences, evolutionary biology and psychology, The Righteous Mind is about as interesting a book as you’ll pick up this year.”
—The Globe and Mail
“What makes [The Righteous Mind] so compelling is the fluid combination of erudition and entertainment, and the author’s obvious pleasure in challenging conventional wisdom. . . . [Haidt’s] core point is simple and well-made: our morality, much of it wired into brains from birth, at the same time binds us together and blinds us to different configurations of morality.”
—The Guardian (London)
“An important and timely book. . . . His ideas are controversial but they make you think.”
—Bill Moyers, Moyers & Company
“The Righteous Mind refutes the ‘New Atheists’ and shows that religion is a central part of our moral heritage. Haidt’s brilliant synthesis shows that Christians have nothing to fear and much to gain from the evolutionary paradigm.”
—Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution
“The Righteous Mind is an intellectual tour de force that brings Darwinian theorizing to the practical realm of everyday politics. The book is beautifully written, and it is truly unusual to encounter a book that makes a major theoretical contribution yet encourages one to turn its pages enthusiastically.”
—Christopher Boehm, Professor of Anthropology, University of Southern California, author of Moral Origins
“As a fellow who listens to heated political debate daily, I was fascinated, enlightened, and even amused by Haidt’s brilliant insights. This penetrating yet accessible book will help readers understand the righteous minds that inhabit politics.”
—Larry Sabato, University of Virginia, author of A More Perfect Constitution
“A profound discussion of the diverse psychological roots of morality and their role in producing political conflicts. It’s not too much to hope that the book will help to reduce those conflicts.”
—Richard E. Nisbett, University of Michigan, Author of The Geography of Thought
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Read an Excerpt
“Can we all get along?” That appeal was made famous on May 1, 1992, by Rodney King, a black man who had been beaten nearly to death by four Los Angeles police officers a year earlier. The entire nation had seen a videotape of the beating, so when a jury failed to convict the officers, their acquittal triggered widespread outrage and six days of rioting in Los Angeles. Fifty-three people were killed and more than seven thousand buildings were torched. Much of the mayhem was carried live; news cameras tracked the action from helicopters circling overhead. After a particularly horrific act of violence against a white truck driver, King was moved to make his appeal for peace.
King’s appeal is now so overused that it has become cultural kitsch, a catchphrase1 more often said for laughs than as a serious plea for mutual understanding. I therefore hesitated to use King’s words as the opening line of this book, but I decided to go ahead, for two reasons. The first is because most Americans nowadays are asking King’s question not about race relations but about political relations and the collapse of cooperation across party lines. Many Americans feel as though the nightly news from Washington is being sent to us from helicopters circling over the city, delivering dispatches from the war zone.
The second reason I decided to open this book with an overused phrase is because King followed it up with something lovely, something rarely quoted. As he stumbled through his television interview, fighting back tears and often repeating himself, he found these words: “Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out.”
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, each one certain of its righteousness.
People who devote their lives to studying something often come to believe that the object of their fascination is the key to understanding everything. Books have been published in recent years on the transformative role in human history played by cooking, mothering, war . . . even salt. This is one of those books. I study moral psychology, and I’m going to make the case that morality is the extraordinary human capacity that made civilization possible. I don’t mean to imply that cooking, mothering, war, and salt were not also necessary, but in this book I’m going to take you on a tour of human nature and history from the perspective of moral psychology.
By the end of the tour, I hope to have given you a new way to think about two of the most important, vexing, and divisive topics in human life: politics and religion. Etiquette books tell us not to discuss these topics in polite company, but I say go ahead. 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. My hope is that this book will make conversations about morality, politics, and religion more common, more civil, and more fun, even in mixed company. My hope is that it will help us to get along.
BORN TO BE RIGHTEOUS
I could have titled this book The Moral Mind to convey the sense that the human mind is designed to “do” morality, just as it’s designed to do language, sexuality, music, and many other things described in popular books reporting the latest scientific findings. But I chose the title The Righteous Mind to convey the sense that human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental.
The word righteous comes from the old Norse word rettviss and the old English word rihtwis, both of which mean “just, upright, virtuous.” This meaning has been carried into the modern English words righteous and righteousness, although nowadays those words have strong religious connotations because they are usually used to translate the Hebrew word tzedek. Tzedek is a common word in the Hebrew Bible, often used to describe people who act in accordance with God’s wishes, but it is also an attribute of God and of God’s judgment of people (which is often harsh but always thought to be just).
The linkage of righteousness and judgmentalism is captured in some modern definitions of righteous, such as “arising from an outraged sense of justice, morality, or fair play.” The link also appears in the term self- righteous, which means “convinced of one’s own righteousness, especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others; narrowly moralistic and intolerant.” 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.
Our righteous minds made it possible for human beings—but no other animals—to produce large cooperative groups, tribes, and nations without the glue of kinship. But at the same time, our righteous minds guarantee that our cooperative groups will always be cursed by moralistic strife. Some degree of conflict among groups may even be necessary for the health and development of any society. When I was a teenager I wished for world peace, but now I yearn for a world in which competing ideologies are kept in balance, systems of accountability keep us all from getting away with too much, and fewer people believe that righteous ends justify violent means. Not a very romantic wish, but one that we might actually achieve.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
This book has three parts, which you can think of as three separate books—except that each one depends on the one before it. Each part presents one major principle of moral psychology.
Part I is about the first principle: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. Moral intuitions arise automatically and almost instantaneously, long before moral reasoning has a chance to get started, and those first intuitions tend to drive our later reasoning. If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you. But if you think about moral reasoning as a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas—to justify our own actions and to defend the teams we belong to—then things will make a lot more sense. Keep your eye on the intuitions, and don’t take people’s moral arguments at face value. They’re mostly post hoc constructions made up on the fly, crafted to advance one or more strategic objectives.
The central metaphor of these four chapters is that the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning—the stream of words and images of which we are fully aware. The elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes—the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior. I developed this metaphor in my last book, The Happiness Hypothesis, where I described how the rider and elephant work together, sometimes poorly, as we stumble through life in search of meaning and connection. In this book I’ll use the metaphor to solve puzzles such as why it seems like everyone (else) is a hypocrite and why political partisans are so willing to believe outrageous lies and conspiracy theories. I’ll also use the metaphor to show you how you can better persuade people who seem unresponsive to reason.
Part II is about the second principle of moral psychology, which is that there’s more to morality than harm and fairness. The central metaphor of these four chapters is that the righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors. Secular Western moralities are like cuisines that try to activate just one or two of these receptors—either concerns about harm and suffering, or concerns about fairness and injustice. But people have so many other powerful moral intuitions, such as those related to liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. I’ll explain where these six taste receptors come from, how they form the basis of the world’s many moral cuisines, and why politicians on the right have a built- in advantage when it comes to cooking meals that voters like.
Part III is about the third principle: Morality binds and blinds. The central metaphor of these four chapters is that human beings are 90 percent chimp and percent bee. Human nature was produced by natural selection working at two levels simultaneously. Individuals compete with individuals within every group, and we are the descendants of primates who excelled at that competition. This gives us the ugly side of our nature, the one that is usually featured in books about our evolutionary origins. We are indeed selfish hypocrites so skilled at putting on a show of virtue that we fool even ourselves.
But human nature was also shaped as groups competed with other groups. As Darwin said long ago, the most cohesive and cooperative groups generally beat the groups of selfish individualists. Darwin’s ideas about group selection fell out of favor in the 1960s, but recent discoveries are putting his ideas back into play, and the implications are profound. We’re not always selfish hypocrites. We also have the ability, under special circumstances, to shut down our petty selves and become like cells in a larger body, or like bees in a hive, working for the good of the group. These experiences are often among the most cherished of our lives, although our hivishness can blind us to other moral concerns. Our bee-like nature facilitates altruism, heroism, war, and genocide.
Once you see our righteous minds as primate minds with a hivish overlay, you get a whole new perspective on morality, politics, and religion. I’ll show that our “higher nature” allows us to be profoundly altruistic, but that altruism is mostly aimed at members of our own groups. I’ll show that religion is (probably) an evolutionary adaptation for binding groups together and helping them to create communities with a shared morality. It is not a virus or a parasite, as some scientists (the “New Atheists”) have argued in recent years. And I’ll use this perspective to explain why some people are conservative, others are liberal (or progressive), and still others become libertarians. People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds.
(A note on terminology: In the United States, the word liberal refers to progressive or left- wing politics, and I will use the word in this sense. But in Europe and elsewhere, the word liberal is truer to its original meaning—valuing liberty above all else, including in economic activities. When Europeans use the word liberal, they often mean something more like the American term libertarian, which cannot be placed easily on the left- right spectrum. Readers from outside the United States may want to swap in the words progressive or left- wing whenever I say liberal.) In the coming chapters I’ll draw on the latest research in neuroscience, genetics, social psychology, and evolutionary modeling, but the take- home message of the book is ancient. It is the realization that we are all self- righteous hypocrites:
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? . . . You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7:3–5)
Enlightenment (or wisdom, if you prefer) requires us all to take the logs out of our own eyes and then escape from our ceaseless, petty, and divisive moralism. As the eighth- century Chinese Zen master Sen-ts’an wrote:
The Perfect Way is only difficult for those who pick and choose;
Do not like, do not dislike;
all will then be clear.
Make a hairbreadth difference,
and Heaven and Earth are set apart;
If you want the truth to stand clear before you,
never be for or against.
The struggle between “for” and “against”
is the mind’s worst disease.
I’m not saying we should live our lives like Sen-ts’an. In fact, I believe that a world without moralism, gossip, and judgment would quickly decay into chaos. But if we want to understand ourselves, our divisions, our limits, and our potentials, we need to step back, drop the moralism, apply some moral psychology, and analyze the game we’re all playing. .
Let us now examine the psychology of this struggle between “for” and “against.” It is a struggle that plays out in each of our righteous minds, and among all of our righteous groups.
What People are saying about this
“Jonathan Haidt is one of smartest and most creative psychologists alive, and his newest book, The Righteous Mind, is a tour de force—a brave, brilliant and eloquent exploration of the most important issues of our time. It will challenge the way you think about liberals and conservatives, atheism and religion, good and evil. This is the book that everyone will be talking about.”—Paul Bloom, Yale University, Author of How Pleasure Works
“As a fellow who listens to heated political debate daily, I was fascinated, enlightened, and even amused by Haidt's brilliant insights. This penetrating yet accessible book will help readers understand the righteous minds that inhabit politics.” —Larry Sabato, University of Virginia, author of A More Perfect Constitution
“A remarkable and original synthesis of social psychology, political analysis, and moral reasoning that reflects the best of sciences in these fields and adds evidence that we are innately capable of the decency and righteousness needed for societies to survive.” —Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University
“Here is the first attempt to give an in depth analysis of the underlying moral stance and dispositions of liberals and conservatives. I couldn't put it down and discovered things about myself!” —Michael Gazzaniga, University of California, Santa Barbara, author of The Ethical Brain
“Haidt’s a good thing.” –The Atlantic online
“A well-informed tour of contemporary moral psychology…A cogent rendering of a moral universe of fertile complexity and latent flexibility.” –Kirkus
“[Haidt’s] framework for the different moral universes of liberals and conservatives struck me as a brilliant breakthrough…The Righteous Mind provides an invaluable road map.” –Miller-McCune.com
“A much-needed voice of moral sanity.” –Booklist
"An important and timely book…His ideas are controversial but they make you think…Haidt has made his reputation as a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, where he and his colleagues explore reason and intuition, why people disagree so passionately and how the moral mind works." —Bill Moyers, Moyers & Company
“Highly readable, highly insightful…The principal posture in which one envisions him is that of a scrappy, voluble, discerning patriot standing between the warring factions in American politics urging each to see the other’s viewpoint, to stop demonizing, bashing, clobbering…Haidt’s real contribution, in my judgment, is inviting us all to sit at the table.” –Washington Times
“Haidt's work feels particularly relevant now…The Righteous Mind isn't just election-year reading. Haidt's perspective can help us better understand our own political and religious leanings.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“Ingenious prose…Beautifully written, Haidt’s book shines a new and creative light on moral psychology and presents a provocative message.” –Science
"A profound discussion of the diverse psychological roots of morality and their role in producing political conflicts. It's not too much to hope that the book will help to reduce those conflicts." —Richard E. Nisbett, University of Michigan, author of The Geography of Thought
"The Righteous Mind refutes the 'New Atheists' and shows that religion is a central part of our moral heritage. Haidt's brilliant synthesis shows that Christians have nothing to fear and much to gain from the evolutionary paradigm."—Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution
"Haidt's research has revolutionized the field of moral psychology. This elegantly written book has far-reaching implications for anyone interested in politics, religion, or the many controversies that divide modern societies. If you want to know why you hold your moral beliefs, and why many people disagree with you, read this book". —Simon Baron-Cohen, Cambridge University, Author of The Science of Evil
“The Righteous Mind is an intellectual tour de force that brings Darwinian theorizing to the practical realm of everyday politics. The book is beautifully written, and it is truly unusual to encounter a book that makes a major theoretical contribution yet encourages one to turn its pages enthusiastically.” —Christopher Boehm, University of Southern California, author of Moral Origins.
“A rich, intriguing contribution to positive psychology. Recommended.” –Choice Magazine
“Can help bridge the ever-widening gaps that occur in politics…This is not one of those books where a researcher boils down a complex subject into a simple tag line. Haidt takes readers on a journey through that complexity, so that we can understand the nuances and contradictions inherent in human morality.” –Psychology News
Meet the Author
Jonathan Haidt is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and a visiting professor of business ethics at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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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.
The Righteous Mind asks the big question, ‘why do smart people, seeing the same world, have such a different viewpoint on so many basic issues?’. The book begins to address this question by reporting the results of experiments in which persons are asked whether or not a set of hypothetical actions are immoral. The monitors of this webpage would probably not appreciate a description of these scenarios, but trust me, most would find them morally disgusting. The question is, why do we find them disgusting? This leads to the conclusion that morality is strongly based on cultural values embedded in our brains as a result of combined genetic and upbringing conditions. The author then asks, which of two basic types of morality, best serves society… a morality based on the individual, or a morality based on what’s best for society? Again, he brings up experimental evidence to show that people will flip-flop between these two extremes depending on the conditions they face. Finally, he presents more experimental evidence showing how political ‘conservatives’ have a broader range of values and moral concerns than do ‘liberals’, which in turn gives the conservatives an edge in politics and governing. What’s particularly interesting in these discussions is that the author himself admits to being an academic liberal although he admits that the experimental support many (but not all) of the traditional conservative positions. One particularly interesting discussion focused on the role of religion in the modern world, taking into account the voices of the ‘New Atheists’ (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens). Haidt presents the most intelligent rebuttal I’ve heard in response to these writers and their followers, pointing out that religion serves a much broader purpose than just explaining how the universe came into existence and providing a moral framework. It also provides an important social network that serves the communal needs of people and makes them feel part of something bigger than themself. However, in developing this rebuttal, Haight overlooks the working definition that the ‘New Atheists’ have of religion, which focuses on a supernatural being and the disparity between science and religion So in some sense, Haight’s rebuttals are a red herring to the main points of Harris et al. A second ‘red herring’ that is subtly introduced comes from an earlier explanation of human behavior and morality. On page 73 of The Righteous Mind’, the reader is reminded of Glaucon’s question to Socrates in Plato’s ‘The Republic’. In this dialogue, Glaucon asks Socrates to defend why it is better to be a just man with a bad reputation than an unjust man who is widely thought to be good. Haight, looking at the problem from a societal perspective, convincingly argues that it is better to be an unjust man who widely thought to be good. However, readers of ‘The Republic’ will recall that Socrates examined the problem from the perspective of the individual, concluding it’s better to be a just man with a bad reputation. Readers of The Righteous Mind will have fun answering Glaucon’s challenge to Socrates as they study the data presented in this book. Highly recommended, with lots of information on many ‘big picture’ topics, including morality, intuition vs. reason, individualism vs. group-think, conservative politics vs. liberal politics, and the basis for the extreme divisiveness seen in politics today.
One of best non-fiction books I have read (over 74 years). I am reading it for the second time to re-enforce the lessons offered. I learned of the book from the Moyers and Company TV program in February 2012 and down-loaded it as soon as it came out in early March. Very readable and presented in a well organized manner. Very well researched as shown by 100+ pages of reference notes.
If you think you can win an argument based on reasoned thought with someone of an opposing view think again! This book explains why good people on both sides are swayed mostly by their intuition based on 6 parameters the author delves into. Surprisingly, liberals are strong on 2 of the parameters (fairness and caring), but low on the others. Conservatives are balanced across all 6, most importantly loyalty, which allows them to rally around their cause or candidate after they've battled to get there; witness the recent GOP primary debates and the subsequent support of Romney. Liberals, on the other hand, will abandon their standard barrier if they don't feel he or she has supported their hot button cause sufficiently (gay marriage, legalized drugs, abortion etc. etc.).
Only read this book of you are willing to entertain the thought that your political foes may not be the idiots you imagine and GASP! might have a point or two on their side. One of the most amazing books I have read this year.
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.
While the detail of this book would make any advanced college student proud, it's the layman's explanation of how we've arrived at this point in our evolution that makes this book so insightful. Instead of liberals and conservatives talking at each other, a read of this book shows that the talking at each other part of our public discourse isn't bad manners; it's innate in our species. Best line of the book....you'll never see two chimps carrying a log together.
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.
This book gives the best insight I've ever read into how people think about politics, religion, morality, and judgements of right or wrong. A must-read if you want to better understand people you disagree with -- OR if you want to have any chance of changing their views.
Stunningly provocative. No discussion of morality or consideration of why peoplle may hold contradictory views so tightly will be greatly limited if the participants have not read this book. A great addition of academic or non-academic discussions.
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.
Why Moral Psychology Just Might Change the World Jonathan Haidt's book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion contains powerful insights that just might change the world. Haidt is a moral psychologist who gains insights into people's moral priorities by traveling to different countries and regions and asking intentionally disturbing questions in order to comprehend otherwise inexplicable matters--such as why in certain cultures it is considered horrible for a widow to eat fish. One of the biggest ideas presented in Haidt's book has to do with the way logic follows intuition in all humans, rather than the other way around. While people frequently assume we are being reasonable and behaving rationally, research studies show that humans actually lean in the direction of our emotional gut feelings from our subconscious first... and once we start leaning one way or another, our rational minds busy themselves to come up with explanations why our preferred particular direction makes so much sense. This wouldn't be much of a problem if we all tended to lean the same direction as one another, thus tending to generally agree, but it can present difficulties when individuals or groups of individuals all start emotionally leaning one way or another and then disagreeing regarding rational reasons for why that direction is better than others. Haidt outlines something called Moral Foundations Theory in his book, in such a way that shows how people from different cultures around the world identify to varying degrees with several basic foundations of morality. These are a bit like tastes, so just as some people might have a "sweet tooth" and others prefer salty or sour, people also show preferences and varying degrees of identifying with the six basic foundational pillars of morality: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Liberty/Oppression, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation. I've been thinking about these pillars of morality ever since reading the book, noticing when I run across them as they are utilized in emotional arguments with friends, family, and in the media. Intriguingly, these moral foundations illuminate similarities in viewpoints of members of groups who share concern about Care/Harm and Fairness/Cheating (Liberals)... and the study of moral psychology thus illuminates reasons great rifts can sometimes occur between Liberals who presume Conservatives do not share their same concerns with regard to Care/Harm and Fairness/Cheating, when studies show Conservatives do care about these things... in addition to all the other elements of moral foundation, and perhaps a bit less than some. What a revelation this is! When we understand that some people respond more quickly and passionately to certain moral appeals than others, with everyone coming up with perfectly rational explanations for why they are correct, it's no small wonder we have such rifts between differing religious and political groups everywhere. So how does a better knowledge of moral psychology help in healing social rifts, such as those we may find around the holiday dinner table this year? Haidt explains that learning how people have initial intuitive leanings and viewpoints about things as being good or bad so they subsequently create logical support for them can be extremely important, in order that we can better respect that feelings are the primary driving force. Jonathan Haidt recommends that when we really want to understand someone from a different viewpoint or culture, we do well to listen with open hearts, following a sense of sacredness. This is excellent advice for deep listening in general, as deep listening truly is the best way to show respect to others, and bridge gaps between ourselves and others. Highly recommended for any student of psychology, philosophy, political science, political history, logic, communications, journalism, religious studies and religious history... and every single citizen who votes.
This is honestly one of the best books I have read in years. Haidt makes very convincing arguments for his three main points: 1) intuitions comes first, strategic reason second, 2) there is more to morality than harm and fairness and 3) morality binds and blinds. His writing style is very clear and accessible although I paused several times during the book just to explore some of the many ideas he presents. This book really opened my eyes.
This is a rather boring and distracting book with all the "Elephant/Rider" analogy. Probably better just to watch a utube presentation for Michael Shermer about why people believe what they do without very little if no evidence for those beliefs. Don't waste your money on Haidt's book.
A supremely well-research, documented, and cross-referenced scholarly work. Compares, contrasts, and combines accepted as well as discarded research from sociology and psychology disciplines. Great length is devoted to discussing the foundations of morality in various cultures and over long periods of time and distills complex human emotions and reasonings down to a handfull of fundamental concepts and principles that, if understood and incorporated into one's interactions with others of like and unlike political and religious viewpoints, would probably result in a tsunami-like change in interpersonal relationships. This book is definitely one of only several books I have read that I would sincerely credit as changing my life for the positive. It creates a whole new template with which to view and communicate with the contentious world in which we live. Agreement is not the goal; understanding and acceptance is.
"The Righteous Mind" uses a lot of psychological and sociological research to address why people believe the things they do and act the way they do. Although not as engrossing as some other psychology books such as "Thinking Fast and Slow", I found it very thought-provoking. I also thought it was very even-handed. His positions are generally well-supported by research (as opposed to being just logical-sounding conjecture), although I have to take it on faith that the research he cites is accepted/respected and not "cherry picked" to support a predetermined position. I am seriously thinking about writing to the author about a couple of points that I think warrant a slightly different perspective - this is the first book that has ever made me want to do that.
I had to be dragged to this book by recommendations from other reviewers because I thought it would be lightweight and narrow. I was wrong. I'll be revisiting this book and the sources it pointed to for a long time. First, the book is beautifully written, packed with research and wisdom (both), and extremely well-argued. Although Haidt is a moral philosopher/psychologist, he calls on knowledge from a broad range of fields as well as giving us a deep introduction into his own. The strategy of following the author's developing thinking from his student days to the present worked extremely well to entrain me in to arguments that only gradually emerged from the fog and that I would have argued with along the way if he had presented what he has to say more directly. Some components of the argument are: 1) The individualist, progressive (very little 'p,' meaning only that we let our society change), culture of people in and from Europe is an outlier. I guess we knew this, and we celebrate its strengths, including the frontier mentality, freedom of religion, women's rights and the rights of minorities. 2) The rational part of us that respects reason over tradition, emotion, and the observed truth (these are three things) is fragile and little-used. Many of the outcomes of what we think of as our reason are after-the-fact justification of what we just did or what our traditions and emotions call for. OK, so now I know why people don't believe in evolution or global warming. Moving on. In the two ways above educated Westerners have traveled very far from our current fellow humans. After humanity's long period in tribes, we are giving individuality a try. Now I am ready to give an example of how well-written this book is, from page 246: "These tribal instincts are a kind of overlay, a set of groupish emotions and mental mechanisms laid down over our older and more selfish primate nature. It may sound depressing to think that our righteous minds are basically tribal minds, but consider the alternative. Our tribal minds make it easy to divide us, but without our long period of tribal living there'd be nothing to divide in the first place." At this point I began to think that perhaps our Western society is trying to exceed what humans are built for. Much of the book is concerned with the political left-right split. Haidt argues quite convincingly that the conservative side has the argument that is destined to appeal to more people. Probably other reviewers have listed the components, so I'll skip them. One point that struck me was Haidt's assertion that homogeneous groups are more successful, but that an effective (add a strikeout to this word->) cheerleader (end strikeout) transformational leader can bring everyone together, that race and other differences need not matter. He gives a good example from the military. Sorry, there was little follow-up on just how the divisional issues that are huge for our society will just go away. Haidt makes clear that groups are Us and Them. "We" can be family, a team, etc. Anyone who is out of the group will stay out -- absent the transformational leader who somehow arrived programmed to include them. Here is the list that leaped to my mind of those who will be out of the group: women, minorities of all sorts, artists, members of unusual religions, etc. Being part of two of these groups and some of the etc., my thought was that our country and what I see as its values are doomed. I was disappointed that there was not more in the book about how our type of society has or might handle this, given that after the first wave of Europeans so many of us came from a variety of places either because they wanted to or because they were brought. In an online piece Haidt posted in response to criticism of the book, he said " My book is overwhelmingly descriptive. I’m trying to understand divergent moral matrices by climbing into them and seeing how they are built." OK. I see that throughout the book. I am not asking him to like or dislike what he learned about exclusion. I am asking him to either tell us what he knows that bears on this question, or to tell us he hasn't found anything. I also thought quite highly of the Chris Hedges review in TruthDig which Haidt is responding to in the quote above. I agree with Haidt that Hedges took some cheap shots, but Haidt's response focuses on them and evades the good parts of Hedges' analysis. A little past this point I started to get depressed. Being a modern, counseled westerner, I know reading a book can't make me depressed, so my rationally kicked in and I tried to convert this to discouragement. My thoughts were going in many directions. One was our current economic inequality and the discussions of it. I am o.k. with people doing well. But isn't there a limit? Adam Smith wrote a long time ago, when commerce had just begun to yield obscene wealth. He kinda thought it was bad for companies to be richer than most nations. Before that, conquest (a kinder word for murdering and enslaving lots of people) was the route to unimaginable wealth. I have to go back to King Midas to find a social response to it. I'm still working on this one. At the extreme end of the book Haidt mentions that he opposes the current economic distribution. He even mentions Adam Smith! But he does not give this topic the kind of analysis that he gives those earlier in the book . OK, this is the end of a very dense book and Haidt is ready to go on to his next quest, applying moral psychology to business ethics. I look forward to what he has to say. So, thanks to all who told me to read this book in order to understand the conservative mind. I have a greater understanding of the role of tribes in humanity. I set out to understand the values that drive American political divisions, and this book did not aim directly at that. Which is OK, Haidt didn't have my question in mind when he wrote the book. I do not see what America calls "conservative," as embodied in the current version of Republican party, in what Haidt writes. It was a great read and it has given me a lot to think about. I'll follow much of the trail of sources he left, starting with Durkheim. I particularly appreciated his appreciation for E.O. Wilson, who I have long thought was not being heard. I am still puzzled and disconcerted that he left me hanging on the diversity question, as to me this seems to be essential to our society. Also wish there had been more about inequality, and wish he had focused at some point on the free-rider problem, which he mentioned *repeatedly* in lists of problems, but never addressed. At times as I read I thought the book is just really savory Kool-aid. Haidt is a plenty good enough thinker and writer to pull that off. If so, the information it contained and thoughts it provoked were worth the read to me. If the line breaks in this review are in the wrong place for you, I apologize. Because the review is long, I wrote it in Word. For some reason this text-entry box did not wrap my text, so I went back and inserted carriage returns.
One of the most engaging works I have read in quite sometime. I found myself checking his footnotes (actually endnotes) to find additional information and other resources on the various issues he discussed. It is thoroughly researched. It is important to note that Haidt identifies himself as a "liberal atheist" but does everything he can to remain neutral in his research. He is not always successful, but does pretty darn good. I have read several reviews that were negative. What I found quite interesting was that the such reviewers did little more than verify Haidt's research! The book is informative and well worth the read.
Did I enjoy this book: I picked this book because I’m deeply disturbed by the rancor in American politics. I hoped this book could help me find a response when faced with someone seething with anger because “the other guy” is ruining our country, and I enjoyed it. I’ve been saying for years that people see, hear, and believe exactly what they want to see, hear, and believe, but I’m not an expert. So I decided to read what the expert says. He pretty much agrees. It just takes him longer to say it. One of my favorite quotes is about confirmation bias. He defines it as, “The tendency to seek out and interpret new evidence in ways that confirm what you already think.” That explains why highly partisan Americans watch only a single cable news channel – the one that tells them they are correct in their views and the other guy’s a blubbering moron hell-bent on destroying the country. The reason I went with just four out of five stars is because it takes Haidt forever to make a simple point. He embellishes his book with analogies, research, history lessons, etc. I understand he needs to support his position with documentation. but for me, it went on too long. Would I recommend it: Yes. I want to buy a copy for some of my more partisan friends and family members. Unfortunately, if what he says in this book is correct, they’ll just disregard it and say I’m too liberal or too conservative – depending on where they are on the political spectrum. Either way, I still have to try. As reviewed by Belinda at Every Free Chance Books.
Jonathan Haidt, psychologist and of the liberal intelligensia, has offered advice on themes for propaganda against Republicans. Target psychological habits common to virtually all and attack on issues of moral philosophy. Flaws both psychological and philosophical are numerous and grave, not nullified by eclectic incorporation of entertaining bits from a variety of noted philosophers and psychologists. But this may matter little, as 50 percent of the votes plus 1 is adequate for a tyranny of the majority. Traditional Democrat tactics fared quite well in 2008 and 2012, so adding to them should be needed only if there is a perception that some voters must be won over from the Republican camp to continue the string of victories. In the last case, Republicans may be attacked on what Haidt terms moral foundations Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Liberty/oppression, and Sanctity/degradation, factors that will not interest the Democrat core constituency at all but that may encourage disaffection from the Republican constituency. His characterization of mankind as 90 percent chimp, 10 percent bee is off target, but perhaps stems from his extensive familiarity with the core constituency of the Democrat Party. His emphasis on "hive behavior" as the means to transform competitive individuals (chimps) into cooperative, altruistic, "ultrasocial" groups (bees) neglects that what he terms "hive behavior" easily slips over into what others would call "mob action," and its attendent propensity to shift to genocide, racism, and other nefarious attributes of thorough-going in-group out-group competition. He recognizes Democrat principles place overwhelming emphasis on what he euphemistically terms the Care/harm moral foundation and the Fairness/cheating moral foundation. Of course, these would be more accurately termed "gimmie what I want, because my victimhood means I need it" and "make others pay for it, because I don't have the money due to nefarious practices by those who do." Extension of this emphasis leads naturally to diatribe against "supercorporations" and calls for Government action against them, but that is a side issue and one he waffles on in the addenda. He recognizes that moral judgment, like virtually all human judgment, is based primarily on intuition rather than reason. But while he recognizes that many factors are involved in morality, he fails to recognize that moral behavior is predominately a matter of habit, and that this in itself is of paramount importance. Habit is hard to change, and is easiest to mould in early life, but can be extensively altered, to avoid or minimize the weaknesses that result from genetic impulse and uncontrolled environmental influences. Not that a Democrat would ever be interested in shaping moral habits for anything other than the purpose of gaining power, so perhaps this too may matter little. For a summary assessment of Haidt's position and message, consider his acknowledgement that his definition of morality, in the normative sense, "would give high marks to fascist and communist societies as well as to cults, so long as they achieved high levels of cooperation by creating a shared moral order." His disclaimer that his morality would be only "an adjunct to other normative theories" politely disregards that theory supporting ideologies and fantasies clearly inimical to the well-being of mankind are not excusible as merely "an adjunct," even were that to be the case.