The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
Great descriptions of how humans reason and intuit, how we evolved, how we form into groups, and some of the inherent psychological factors that prevent us from understanding our political and cultural opponents. Haidt uses modern science, but “the take-home message” of the book is ancient. It is the realization that we are all self-righteous hypocrites.” Haidt recommends we view political differences through the lens of yin and yang (complementary) rather than Manichaeism (good versus evil).
2 reviews for “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion”
This should be the Bible for Braver Angels. Haidt goes through one example after another of how the human brain works, and there are some surprising lessons here. When making moral judgments, our brain does not operate as a cool, rational information processor; instead, intuition immediately generates feelings, and then reason serves as the lawyer or press secretary for the feelings, trying to construct post hoc justifications for those feelings.
Further, “we are dreadful at seeking out evidence that might disconfirm those initial judgments. Yet friends can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves: they can challenge us, giving us reasons and arguments . . . that sometimes trigger new intuitions, thereby making it possible for us to change our minds.” One lesson from this: Escape confirmation bias by opening yourself to other perspectives. Don’t get stuck in a bubble where you’re just hearing from one side.
Another good lesson: “[Y]ou can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments.” You have to “talk to their elephants” – that is, you need to understand that reasoning is not the source of people’s moral and political views. You need to get the other person’s point of view and see things from their angle (including their intuitions) as well as your own. Then you need to stay out of combat mode; approach the other person in a friendly way and show them you deeply understand their views. Never say “You’re wrong.” Convey respect, warmth, and an openness to dialogue before trying to use reasoned persuasion. Once people go into combat mode it’s almost impossible to have a constructive discussion.
Haidt also explains that those in Western secular society – particularly the educated, economically well-off members of that society – are statistical outliers. They’re “WEIRD”: Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic. They (we?) are the least typical, least representative people you could study if you want to make generalizations about human nature. They operate with a more limited menu of moral foundations than most of humanity.
Finally, Haidt emphasizes that building and preserving moral capital is a critical task for any society. Without it, society will have a difficult time suppressing or regulating selfishness and making cooperation possible.
This is one of the most interesting and inspiring books I’ve read in a long time. I was fascinated to read about the great advances being made in studying the physical brain as a means of helping to understand how our minds work—and some history of moral concerns throughout the world and over centuries.
But for me the most helpful part is the section on what the author and his colleagues call Moral Foundations Theory, which explores the six basic sets of values all people hold, and how the relative emphasis we place on each one affects our political and ethical opinions.
So how we each feel about the relative importance of care or harm, liberty or oppression, fairness or cheating, loyalty or betrayal, authority or subversion, and sanctity or degradation, causes us to lean toward particular sides of the political spectrum, and to feel strongly about the kinds of policies we support or feel are harmful.
There’s so much food for thought here. I keep going back and reading portions of it again and again. It seems to relate closely to our work in Braver Angels, trying to ferret out what we all have in common, and how we might honor that in each other enough to work together for the sake of our families and our country. I highly recommend this book.
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