The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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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.
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|Listening Length||11 hours and 1 minute|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||July 23, 2012|
|Publisher||Gildan Media, LLC|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #6,099 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#15 in Ethics & Morality Philosophy
#16 in Conservatism & Liberalism
#38 in Social Psychology
Reviewed in the United States on June 4, 2021
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Haidt is a certified "top world thinker" [wikipedia] so all who think about morality, religion, politics have to read this excellent, challenging, enormously informative book, a powerful contribution to the old "nature-nurture" debate. As it has been widely reviewed and praised, I will focus on some criticisms. His study of a vast range of material from philosophy to neuroscience, and his original research, forms the basis of his "moral science." Is it good science? Less than 40% of psychological research is replicated (scientificamerican).
He boldly makes an argument (chapter 9) in favor of a theory of natural selection at the group level. Group selection isn’t widely accepted by evolutionists, but it's useful for Haidt's theory of innate moral foundations, the "groupiness" of humans coded in their genes and in "gene-culture co-evolution.". For good discussion search Haidt + Steven Pinker / Massimo Pigliucci / Sam Harris / Daniel Dennett /Jerry Coyne / John Jost.
He quotes colleagues who note that "nearly all our research in psychology is conducted on a very small subset of the human population: people from cultures that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (forming the acronym WEIRD)." (96) This unrepresentative set probably skews the results. I think another bias, not mentioned, may result from much of the work being done with college students -- in addition to being WEIRD, they are young and inexperienced in the adult world of work, religion, politics.
He cites (99) previous research which identifies three major clusters of moral values: 1) autonomy cluster: individual liberty, rights, justice, equality. 2) Community cluster: submergence in family, army, tribe, religious sect, nation; values duty, hierarchy, respect, reputation, patriotism, self-sacrifice. 3) divinity cluster: sanctity/sin, purity/pollution; soul/spirit/mind is spark of divinity, the body is a holy temple not a playground; individualism is denounced as libertinism, hedonism, disobedience, sacrilege; taboos prohibit acts that degrade a person (miscegenation, homosexuality) or dishonor the Creator or violate the sacred order. "The ethic of divinity is sometimes incompatible with compassion, egalitarianism, and basic human rights." (106) Cluster 2 and 3 were the basis of social control for millennia; it was a fierce struggle in recent centuries that elevated cluster 1, autonomy. Haidt seems to deprecate this achievement.
Developing this theory further, Haidt identifies five clusters, or "moral foundations." His theory posits innate disposition or intuition, partly genetic, partly cultural, to exhibit values and behaviors on one or more of these five clusters. They are: Care/harm, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/degradation. He finds that liberals rely on the first two predominately; conservatives rely on all five, which may "give conservative politicians a broader variety of ways to connect with voters." (154). Perhaps a game point to conservatives, but does that valorize the code of ancient regimes? An example of politicians exploiting moral intuitions of conservatives is the North Carolina legislature drafting and passing in one day a law which responds to disgust/fear about transsexuals using the wrong bathroom -- a few months before a tight election. Trump expressed disgust at Clinton's use of a restroom--many were embarrassed, but maybe Trump knew what he was doing.
Ongoing research and criticism convinced Haidt that his five foundations failed to fully explain moral and political values. More analysis is needed on the cluster of values around Liberty/oppression. This oversight is strange, as Liberty is the central moral value of modern liberalism, at the root of the Enlightenment, the American Revolution and our Constitution and Laws. Other values he believes need study are Proportionality (a division of Fairness), Honesty, Property (the main concern of moralists like Abbe Augustin Barruel and Edmund Burke!).
I have seen conservatives misuse this book to say it proves conservatives are more intelligent or moral than liberals. Haidt is not saying which moral cluster is best: the theory is a descriptive analysis of how people think. But he allows such misinterpretation by lecturing liberals on their need to honor conservative intuitions.
In the U.S., he says, these five or six clusters of moral intuition are at the root of the left-right political conflict. Can we explain current political conflict as growing out of genetically embedded feelings? Can we describe as "morality" attitudes based on Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity without evaluating specific attitudes or acts? He says Democrats are naive because they respond to a narrower set of "moral tastes" than conservatives. (157) That's a value judgment. If we are being urged to choose our moral foundation, we need to discuss specifics: appeal to loyalty gave us McCarthyism; appeal to authority gave us a war based on lies; appeal to sanctity gave us slavery and homophobia. The "five moral foundations" are not equal in merit for guiding moral choice. Haidt acknowledges this criticism but does not, in my opinion, make a satisfactory revision of his analysis.
The "research" consists in the questions and stories framed, and the body of respondents selected. I think questions and stories could be framed that reveal liberal embrace and conservative rejection of Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity. Do you loyally honor the President even if he is a black Democrat? Should persons and corporations comply with the authority of the IRS and the EPA to make rules, and respect the authority of scientists on issues like evolution and human-caused global warming and species extinction? Does sanctity (purity, avoidance of disease) motivate citizens to support FDA in protecting the purity and healthfulness of consumer products? Do you approve the disloyalty of the American Revolution? Of the Confederate rebellion? Do you support the authority of the Supreme Court (and the value of autonomy) to say gays have the right to marry?
It is not a great revelation that liberals care more about Care/harm and Fairness/cheating and Liberty/oppression than about Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity. Has Haidt proven that conservatives do not value autonomy higher, or is it merely that they are more easily triggered by the older codes? If one catalogs all the "triggers", gut reactions, fear, hate, superstition associated with each "foundation", it's not hard to see where the higher morality is -- which conservatives and liberals perhaps equally embrace. Surely most Americans highly value the overthrow of millennia of tyranny under monarchy, aristocracy, theocracy and the enshrinement (new content for Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity??) of liberty, justice, equality.
Haidt puts cleanliness, avoidance of disease, and such under Sanctity (purity), and implies liberals don't value this cluster much. That's clearly wrong, and he acknowledges that "the Sanctity item showed no partisan tilt; both sides prefer clean[liness]" (162).
Learned responses are wrongly defined, it seems to me, as "intuitive" or gut instinct. EGGs show the brains of liberals and conservatives react differently to significant words without deliberation. Yes: the brain has already learned the meaning of words, and the meanings vary with one's learning.
His famous metaphor -- the mind is divided into parts, like a small rider (conscious reasoning) on a very large elephant (automatic and intuitive processes) -- is upside down. He says the metaphorical elephant is in charge, but a real rider or trainer of an elephant is clearly in charge of a very powerful animal. The power of intelligence to control atavistic impulses is the foundation of civilization. His other metaphor -- humans are 90% chimp and 10% bee -- is equally misleading. Bees don't think, so where is human intelligence in this metaphor?
"Democrats often pursue policies that promote pluribus at the expense of unum, policies that leave them open to charges of treason, subversion, and sacrilege." (185) He doesn't say the charges are fair, but he says Ann Coulter's book "Treason: Liberal Treachery" "says it all" (141) What it says to me is that hateful slanders of liberals are popular among conservatives. What does Haidt think it says? Such charges are bogus (McCarthyism) and a "morality" that motivates them is atavistic. The thesis of the book is that Republicans successfully appeal to these (atavistic--my word) impulses. If liberal politicians decline to push these effective (atavistic) triggers, is that evidence of truncated moral foundations?
In chapter 11 Haidt criticizes three scientists, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, for books denouncing religion as delusion. (He omits Victor Stenger, physicist, philosopher, atheist, who has written a dozen books on science ["flies us to the moon"] and religion ["flies us into buildings"].) Haidt faults them for focusing on belief in supernatural agents. Haidt says that is not the principle function of religion, which is to create community. But state churches created warring communities until our new constitutions disestablished religion. Haidt is advocating a "Durkheimian model" is which humans are fully human only as part of a social group. He acknowledges the danger -- the value creates fascist societies too (271) but still he defends group loyalty and authority as a necessary foundation for morality. Don't liberals support building social cohesion? Doesn't the American "creed" enshrined in our Constitution and Laws give us a superior unity without blind loyalty or obedience to (what other?) authority?
Haidt quotes two archetypal narratives on pages 284-285 that give us a clear choice. The "liberal progressive narrative" seeks liberty and justice and has "succeeded in establishing modern, liberal, democratic, capitalist, welfare societies." The "Reagan narrative" calls on good Americans to "take back" the nation that has been "undermined" by anti-market, anti-American, anti-family, criminal-coddling, flag-burning liberals. [How many liberals have ever burned a flag?!] The merit of the conservative narrative, relying on all five (or six) "moral foundations", where conservatives smear liberals as flag-burners, escapes me. It's a dishonest caricature.
A caricature from Haidt: liberals see only individuals, while conservatives see that essential moral community arises from "the complete community." (292) [But it was conservatives who ridiculed Hillary Clinton for borrowing the African wisdom "it takes a village to raise a child."] Another Haidt caricature, unscientifically taken from conservative rhetoric: liberals think fairness means equal outcomes. No liberal theorist or Democratic leader takes that position.
Haidt defines morality near the end of the book (270) : "Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make co-operative societies possible." He is clear that he is describing, not prescribing, morality. He includes "technologies" but omits "rational guidance for good behavior" or the idea that morality "make good societies possible." But calling bad ideas and behaviors a system of morality is confusing. Morality usually implies the search for ideal or prescriptive values, even if the search is unending and full of disagreement. Here is a better definition, IMO, from the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy -- "morality, an informal public system applying to all rational persons, governing behavior that affects others, having the lessening of evil or harm as its goal, and including what are commonly known as the moral rules, moral ideals, and moral virtues." I think liberals and conservatives would subscribe to this. It addresses the social aspect of morality, in contrast to Haidt's claim that liberals "focus intently on individuals" while conservatives "recognize that human flourishing requires social order" (272) -- a false dichotomy. Hillary Clinton's theme was that flourishing societies are necessary for the development of flourishing individuals.
Despite his disparagement of "the rationalist delusion" (28, 88) his work is rational/scientific and he expects his book to influence rational persons toward civility and cooperation. This is an affirmation of the power of learning to shape morality. It made me more sympathetic toward people who differ from me. This is an important book and Haidt earns great deference -- respect for authority -- for his mastery of a vast literature in philosophy and science, and for his ongoing industry. He is associated with several websites that continue this research.
I really did love this book; but as I was reading it I kept getting the nagging feeling that something about it was just a bit off -- something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Now I don't want to leave the wrong impression; so I want to say up front that this is a wonderful, well-written, thought-provoking book that everyone ought to read. I've given it five stars because I genuinely believe it's worthy of the highest possible rating. Haidt's theory of political affiliation is original -- one might even say radical -- flying in the face of much of the conventional wisdom within the social and behavioral sciences; but if you are willing to consider Haidt's argument with an open mind, it actually makes a whole lot of sense. So, when I say that something about this book felt a bit off to me, please don't interpret this as a criticism of Haidt's theory, his approach to the subject, or his writing style. This is a book that you really ought to read, and that you will probably enjoy. That said, I still felt slightly dissatisfied after reading it; but it was hard to say exactly why.
After some reflection, I think that my dissatisfaction was due to three things. First, I felt that Haidt's argument was a bit anticlimactic. Haidt spends most of the book laying the foundations for his theory of political affiliation; and the theory he finally presents is, at least in my view, quite compelling. But, after all that setup, I was expecting more of a discussion of how this theory can be applied to help us understand why different people hold such radically differing views on such a wide range of political issues. But Haidt skimped on the application of his theory. The main insight that Haidt gives us into why some people are liberal while others are conservative or libertarian is that a combination of nature and nurture has predisposed some people to build their morality primarily on just three core principles -- care, liberty, and fairness -- while predisposing other people to build their morality on six principles -- care, liberty, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity -- and still others to build their morality on a single principle -- liberty. As I'm sure you've guessed, those in the first group become liberals, those in the second group become conservatives, and those in the third group become libertarians. This is certainly an important insight; but I was hoping for more. For example, I wish Haidt had given us a bit more insight into how the three liberal values shape liberal policy positions, how the six conservative values shape conservative policy positions, and how the lone libertarian value shapes libertarian policy positions. He did briefly discuss some of the differences between liberal, conservative, and libertarian views of the economy; but he didn't really have all that much to say about the myriad other policy issues that liberals, conservatives, and libertarians routinely fight over -- e.g. abortion, equal pay, gay marriage, affirmative action, collective bargaining, voter access, immigration reform, taxes, entitlements, gun control, civil liberties, criminal justice, drug laws, military spending, the conduct of foreign policy, the appropriate use of military force, etc. Haidt's theory does provide a framework that can help us to understand why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians might take different positions on these issues; but he doesn't spell it out for us issue by issue. I really wish he had. I think it would have been very useful, and would have made his excellent book even better.
Second, while I admired his efforts to treat liberals, conservatives, and libertarians with equal respect, and not to treat conservatism as if it were some sort of mental disorder (as many political psychologists are wont to do), I ultimately felt that he went a little too far in his efforts to be "fair and balanced", and ended up glossing over some of the biggest moral failings on the right (e.g. sexism, racism, homophobia, religious bigotry, jingoism, xenophobia, demagoguery, anti-intellectualism, and science denialism) in the interest of portraying conservative values as being just as legitimate as liberal values. Besides, the conservatism that Haidt found worthy of praise was old-fashioned Tory conservatism -- a cautious, genteel, intellectual form of conservatism based on the ideals of serious thinkers like Edmund Burke, who mainly just wanted to preserve society against the sort of chaos that often accompanies radical change -- which bears little resemblance to the "red meat" conservatism that prevails on the American right today. So, when Haidt advises us to pay attention to what conservatives have to teach us about what it takes to maintain a healthy, functioning society, he's really talking about old-school conservative intellectuals of the center-right, like George Will and Colin Powell, not the dogmatic culture warriors of the far-right, like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin. In fact, Haidt has relatively little to say about the conservatism represented by the evangelical Religious Right or the Tea Party movement, where ideological zeal often manifests itself as an ugly form of demagoguery. It's almost as if he wants to sweep this under the rug so he can sell the idea that mutually respectful civil discourse and bipartisanship are actually possible in this day and age. I think this book would have been better if Haidt had stuck to trying to explain partisanship rather than trying to find a cure for it.
And third, although I found Haidt's argument quite compelling, there are certain aspects of it that might alienate some readers, causing them to simply reject Haidt's conclusions out of hand without much critical thought. The last thing I would ever want to do in a classroom is to alienate any of my students so they stop listening to what I have to teach. So I'm more than a little reluctant to assign a highly controversial text that many students will likely have a knee-jerk reaction against. Why might this book be controversial? For one thing, Haidt's theory draws heavily on evolutionary psychology, which is rejected by many on both the right and the left. Many progressives decry evolutionary psychology as "politically incorrect" because it argues that much of human behavior -- including such things as gender differences, xenophobia, and aggression -- may be innate parts of human nature that can never be changed by social engineering. Many conservatives, on the other hand, reject evolutionary psychology because they don't believe in Darwinian evolution at all. So Haidt's use of evolutionary psychology may be enough to cause some readers to reject his argument outright. In addition to this, he bases much of his argument on the evolutionary principle of "group selection" -- a theory that has been pretty firmly rejected by biologists for several decades now, but which Haidt argues ought to be reconsidered. But perhaps the most controversial part of Haidt's argument is his treatment of religion. Haidt himself is an atheist; so he makes no pretense of actually believing that any religion is "true". He looks at religion purely from a psychological and sociological perspective in an attempt to figure out what function religion has played in human society throughout history. Yet he forcefully rejects the anti-religious fervor of the so-called "New Atheism" popularized over the past decade by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens, among others, with its assertion that religion is a dangerous "meme" -- a "virus of the mind" -- that is inherently harmful to human wellbeing. Haidt devotes an entire chapter to refuting the New Atheists' claims about religion, arguing that religion has actually been a force for good in the world which serves to strengthen social bonds and discourage individual selfishness, and that religion is actually a product of natural selection. So, his treatment of religion is unlikely to win Haidt any friends from among either the devoutly religious or the fervently irreligious. And, on top of all this, Haidt defends conservative values that many liberals find abhorrent, arguing that they are just as vital to the wellbeing of society as are liberal values. So, suffice it to say that this iconoclastic book is liable to alienate many different people for many different reasons. Haidt butchers a lot of sacred cows in these pages. So, I suspect that plenty of folks will simply reject everything that he has to say out of hand. While I am an advocate of open-minded critical inquiry, I'm also a pragmatist. I know that many of my students are not going to be as open-minded as I would like them to be; so, as an educator, I have to be sensitive to this if I want to help them learn. A little controversy in the classroom can be healthy; but too much can derail the entire lesson plan. I wouldn't want the class to get sidetracked by debates over tangential issues that are not directly relevant to the subject I'm trying to teach. So, if I were to teach a course on political psychology, I would be a bit hesitant to use this book as the main text for fear that students would get too distracted by some of its more controversial elements. However, I would consider using this book as a supplemental text, and would definitely put it on the recommended readings list.
Anyway, these three problems are relatively minor, and do not detract from the overall quality of the book. They simply leave me ever-so-slightly dissatisfied, perhaps because my expectations were unreasonably high. I would certainly recommend Haidt's book. I really do feel that it deserves to be read and talked about. There's no doubt in my mind that it deserves a five-star rating. But I'm afraid that the five stars I give it will have to come with an asterisk.
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Multiculturalism hardly means people living together as a community, it means having community within a larger community. Take the example of London, you have people from Eastern Europe on one side, the Polish only stays with the Polish, the Slovakian with the Slovakian and so on and so forth. Then, you have Black Jamaican who make up another unit. You have Black African (Anglophone and Francophone) - Nigerian, Ghanaian, Ugandan, Ivorian, Congolese...etc. Obviously nobody actually mix together. Nigerian stays with Nigerian, Ivorian with Ivorian and so on and so forth. Then you have Indians and Pakistani who stays with people who come from the same country as them. Even Italian in London usually stays with Italians. In fact not long ago, an Italian told me that there was a big association for Italian in London and that he was a member. There are many other group that I skipped because I couldn't be bothered but you understand what I mean. And then you have the English - some accept this diversity (usually easier in good economic time), others merely tolerate it.
All group have a natural tendency toward self-segregation. But on top of that, these days we have an external pressure from the Left. The Left does everything it can to remind people how different they are from another, besides picking nonsense battle which erode social trust and our already tenuous social cohesion (i.e tearing statues, protests on university...etc).
The left in its haste to remake fail to understand that a) the world as it is though not perfect is way better than it use to be and b)that if they continue it will only lead us to a civil war. There is still poverty but anyone who'd read history would know that it's nothing as it used to be (read for example Way to Wigan Road), racism though still a major issue is better now than it ever was. I should also point out something people always talk about how Trump brought a fascist state, about how much of a Nazi he is and so on and so forth. Do they not realise that if they were living in a true Nazi state they could not insult him, or his supporter the way they do on TV or even anonymously on social media? Trump is bad, but no he's isn't creating a new Nazi Germany or URSS. And really saying such things is terribly insensitive to the people who lived through those time.
By the way, I do not mean to say that injustice should not be tackled, but it has to be done in a pragmatic and useful way. Concretely, though I understand why he did this, what has Kaeparnick protesting the American flag accomplished besides increasing polarisation? Similarly, for the last couple of years I have heard using terms such as white privilege, white supremacists, old white men, patriarchy and other similar words in almost in every sense and often when they aren't warranted. But what has it accomplished? It has created a backlash from conservative and annoyed liberals. You also have white liberals who have accepted those terms. But I believe for some, it is only a cool trend they have stumbled into, for other it is a form of religion which I'm not entirely sure they fully believe into, and the last group simply feel obliged.
To be clear, I do believe that in an unfair world, black people are more likely to suffer from unfairness than white people. There are various reasons for this bias and prejudice, the fact that black people are a numeral minority (10% of black in US, only 2% in UK and probably also about 2% in France) whereas white are the majority, lack of economic power of black people in the country they live, lack of economic country of African countries and cultural difference. So, in a sense I believe that white privilege exists, but I think that the way we go about talking about it is simply too divisive and does not promote understanding or even compassion.
I am very well aware of all the wrong white led country have done in history. Though if we're being very fair about it, Arab countries (slavery) and Asian countries (mostly Japon have done the same [severe colonisation of neighbours]) have done similar misdeed. But really, we can't expect someone to understand our point of view when we scream have him that the colour of his skin make him a bad person, even if he personally hasn't done anything. Or when we say that all white people are basically evil. I understand where people are coming from when they say that. Exchanging with someone who has entrenched beliefs about you & your people, who simply cannot imagine that his experience is not the experience of everybody else or someone who is wilfully ignorant/ selectively chose morsel of history (many Conservative) can be very trying. Nonetheless, if our objective is to make a positive change then we need to change how we communicate.
Going back to the book, though Haidt says that Conservative have six moral foundation rather than the Liberal's three, he does point out the flaws within the Conservative movement. Besides, Haidt never said that having the six moral foundation mean that you can't be biases or that your reasoning is perfect. In fact, you could argue that he said the contrary. One more thing, someone pointed out that if Conservative score high in Loyalty how come they distrust the government. Well, this reading is wrong. Conservative do trust government to provide a good environment/ market, they trust the government's words, including its lies. Essentially, they gov to rule the environment but not the individual. You should remember that they also score high in Liberty. Hence, it isn't surprising that they do not want an external force to rule them.
I suppose some people aren't happy just because he didn't call them racist idiots. By the way, even after reading this book, I still have trouble reconciling my initial views with the picture Haidt presented. What I'm trying to say is that though Haidt's book gave me a lot of insight, I still have much to digest.
I would recommend this book to anyone who want to understand politics and their neighbours with different political opinion.
There's only one thing which the book is missing for me. It is a niggle and really, Haidt already did enough and couldn't have looked at this. But I wonder how morality work/ develop across race. For example, a lot of black people are liberal/ democrats because this side have generally been against injustice and willing to do something for the lower section of society. But, could it be that some despite their skin colour are actually closer in their moral spectrum to the white conservative they despise (and who in turn may despise them)? More bluntly said, if instead of being black, they had been born white, could their political leaning be completely different because being white and conservative doesn't come with the same baggage has being black and conservative? Really, if they white conservative could leave out his bias, could the black who have the same moral makeup as him get along better with him than with fellow black who do not have the same moral buds?
Really, I can't help wondering how much who you are outside influence your political leaning despite who you are inside. If I had the opportunity I would have done a Phd on this. But ah...I'm way too busy. Has anyone ever thought about this?
In any case, as I said, highly recommended!
Haidt: The Righteous Mind
This was one of our best recent book club choices. It was well written, clear and thought provoking. The main point of the book to me was to demonstrate that morality has a social purpose, as the foundation on which social capital is constructed. What matters is that people share the same moral values, not whether those values are “right or wrong”. It has changed my thinking, and I have bought copies for friends of mine to see if it can also change theirs.
The book is divided into sections:
• Section 1: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second
The central metaphor is that the mind is like a rider on an elephant, whose job is to serve the elephant without much control of where the elephant is going. Traditionally Western philosophy separated the body and the mind, with the mind being the “ghost in the machine”, but according to Haidt the two are intimately connected. In fact morality is rooted in emotion and not in reason. We act first (the elephant moves), and justify our actions later (the rider).
• Section 2: There’s more to morality than harm and fairness
The central metaphor is like a tongue with six taste receptors. Morality has evolved to bind social groups together. Haidt identifies 6 different moral foundations, each of which has a role to play in addressing specific human behaviours:
Care/Harm: evolved for the protection and care of vulnerable offspring
Fairness/Cheating: evolved to encourage sharing and punish cheating
Loyalty/Betrayal: evolved to bind people together in social groups and to punish defectors
Authority/Subversion: evolved to bind people within a hierarchical social structure within the group
Sanctity/Degradation: evolved to protect health by avoiding unsafe foods and encouraging hygienic practises
Liberty/Oppression: evolved to balance the personal freedom and group loyalty
• Section 3: Morality binds and blinds
The central metaphor we are 90 percent bee and 10 percent chimp. We naturally tend to aggregate into large social groups bound by shared morals. In this context religion should not be seen as a parasitic meme, but as a social tool that binds people together into a cohesive and effective unit. Further, our political inclinations are a function of our individual sensitivities to each of the 6 moral foundations. Socialists are primarily driven by Care/Harm considerations for “social justice” and equality of outcomes. Conservatives are more concerned with maintaining social capital in an imperfect world where people cheat and exploit the system. Neither has a monopoly on righteousness, and each has their place in maintaining a balanced society.
I thought that this was an excellent book, grounded in science, which succeeds in its main argument that morality is an evolutionary adaptation whose purpose is to behind social groups together. I also very much enjoyed the description of how the field of moral psychology has developed over time. I have only a few points to discuss:
1. Religion as a meme
Haidt argues that the new Atheists are wrong in characterising Religion as a pernicious meme, and that instead it has a social purpose in binding people together into a cohesive whole. I think he overstates his case, and that his argument is not incompatible with that of the new atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens etc). Although the set of religions as a whole may well have a social purpose (religion has spontaneously evolved too often for it not to have some use), each individual religion can also be regarded as a meme that exploits humanity’s social needs to propagate itself. Thus when Haidt states that religions change over time to fit the needs of a changing society, the New Atheists would argue that the meme mutates and evolves with its host to ensure its continued propagation. It is merely a question of perspective.
2. Moral foundations of political views
Although, the conclusion of Haidt’s discussion of the moral foundations for Conservative and Liberal viewpoints is a refreshing call for tolerance, I thought that this was the weakest part of the book. His claim that political beliefs can be traced back to differing sensitivities to the 6 moral foundations mentioned above was justified by social surveys in which people were asked their political orientation and then asked to answer moral questionnaires. Conservatives and Liberals were then found to have different reactions to questions that targeted particular moral foundations. Correlation is not necessarily causation I thought that some of the graphs showed relatively weak relationships. In order for Haidt to be right the questions must be formulated so that the subject interprets them in the way intended, and that each question must target the intended moral foundation correctly. There is significant room for error and ambiguity there. His results seemed strong enough to draw general but not specific conclusions from.
3. I have an old friend whose politics are different from mine (he is a lifelong Socialist), so I bought him a copy of the book in the hope that it would provide some perspective and allow us to better understand each other’s viewpoints. As I handed it over he took one look and said “Not bloody Haidt, I hated that book.” We continue to avoid discussing politics. I am pessimistic that Haidt’s call for political toleration will be heeded.
I thought that this was a terrific book, and one of the best we have read in a while.