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

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

by Jonathan Haidt


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307455772
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/12/2013
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 648
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership 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 New York City.

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.
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.
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.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Part I Intuitions Come First, Strategic Reasoning Second

1 Where Does Morality Come From? 3

2 The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail 27

3 Elephants Rule 52

4 Vote for Me (Here's Why) 72

Part II There's More to Morality than Harm and Fairness

5 Beyond WEIRD Morality 95

6 Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind 112

7 The Moral Foundations of Politics 128

8 The Conservative Advantage 155

Part III Morality Binds and Blinds

9 Why Are We So Groupish? 189

10 The Hive Switch 221

11 Religion Is a Team Sport 246

12 Can't We All Disagree More Constructively? 274

Conclusion 315

Acknowledgments 319

Notes 323

References 377

Index 407

What People are Saying About This

Paul Bloom

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)

Simon Baron-Cohen

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)

Larry Sabato

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)

Richard E. Nisbett

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)

From the Publisher

“Haidt is looking for more than victory. He’s looking for wisdom. That’s what makes The Righteous Mind well worth reading…a landmark contribution to humanity’s understanding of itself.” –New York Times Book Review  

“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.” – 

“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

Christopher Boehm

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)

Michael Gazzaniga

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)

Edward O. Wilson

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)

Michael Dowd

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)

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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
popscipopulizer More than 1 year ago
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.
Jonimaq More than 1 year ago
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.
Carl_in_Richland More than 1 year ago
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.
Mr6Sigma More than 1 year ago
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.).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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'll never see two chimps carrying a log together.
TMH45 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
the_cooler More than 1 year ago
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.
PeterRoeper More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
CynthiaSueLarson More than 1 year ago
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.
GSOgymrat More than 1 year ago
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.
garybehun More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
mbmackay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Subtitled - Why good people are divided by Politics and Religion, this is an interesting book that starts out well, but ends up a little less convincing. Haidt makes several good points: his first theme is that intuitions come first and reasoning second. He uses the analogy of reasoning as a very small rider on a very large elephant of intuition. He gives great examples and won me with this one. His next theme is to develop 6 "foundations" of the moral psychology of people generally: care/harm; liberty/oppression; fairness/cheating; loyalty/betrayal; authority/subversion; and sanctity/degradation. I was mostly convinced by this one, and again there were good examples. He makes the point that the Left is only really moved by the first 3 foundations, while Conservatives apply all 6. Great point. Haidt then tries to bring in the evolutionary influence of group living - as he says, we are "90% chimp and 10% bee". I liked the theory, but his attempt to build on group evolution was less than convincing. Group evolution may be a factor, but it would need better arguments than were used here.He also shows how religions are not really about the belief, it is the belonging that matters. For example, he starts with an analogy of a college football game in the lead-in to religion discussion. This section was poor. Although he addressed the benefits that flow from the sense of belonging, he avoided any discussion of the problems that can flow from partisanship, and the negatives of the in-groups dealings with all out-group members.The final chapter is an attempt to find some common ground in politics, starting from the knowledge of the 6 foundations. Nice idea, but not likely to work with anyone other than an open-minded US college professor. :)So, good book, thought provoking, but not all the content is as good at the first two themes. Read May 2012.
gbsallery on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was, for me, enlightening. Covering with broad sweeps (and fascinating detail) the latest thinking in moral psychology from an evolutionary perspective, Haidt proposes a theory of Moral Foundations. These (it is claimed) sit beneath the observable moral systems, and provide a framework which guides the development of the social manifestations of morality. As is the intent of the author, this elucidation of the drives behind people's feelings of right and wrong offers tremendous insight into actions which might otherwise be written off as incomprehensible, or driven by "tribalism" or "the wrong sort of politics". An understanding of Haidt's ideas may genuinely increase empathy and the ability to communicate across religious and political divides - strong stuff!In addition to the bigger-picture theory, there is copious and fascinating data on the experimental results which motivated it. This makes the book one of the most thought-provoking works I have recently seen, where even peripheral concerns are worthy of a great deal of reflection.Recommended for anyone who has ever felt human.
br77rino on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a great book that culls the best from philosophy, psychology, sociology, political science and anthropology, to come up with a truly original and truly scientific take on morality and politics. He starts with an insight into people's brains that he likens to an elephant (intuition) with a rider (reason), whereby the rider is needed to justify where his elephant is going to the other elephants and riders. No other species is encumbered in this "public relations" way. He then speaks of six foundations of morality that he found to be universally recognized across cultures, and how the cultures used these foundations differently and used different combinations of different subsets of these foundations, making "the morality" of different cultures seem much more different than they really are.The third and final part is on the idea that morality is primarily used to make uniquely coherent groups of people out of what would otherwise be ape-like individual actors (two chimps will never cooperatively carry a log together; hunting by chimps is more coincidental than cooperative), bound to each other in a way that's good both for the group and the people in it.
the.ken.petersen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If this is what passes for intellectual thought at the beginning of the twenty-first century, then I suggest that we form an orderly queue and head back for the trees. This may appear to be a harsh statement but, to argue that the human mind is dominated by intuition and that we use logic merely to provide the reason for a decision that we have already made, surely negates the point of writing this book. By Mr Haidt's own theory, I will not be persuaded; I either already believe this theory, or I don't.Leaving this aside, let us examine the main tenet of his opus: "why good people are divided by politics and religion". Haidt' says that Liberals (as far left as an American dare admit to being) use two 'foundations of morality' whilst the right use five. Why five? Is it because, after ruthless research, our author has unearthed five possibles, but no more? No, five is plucked from the air because the tongue has five taste receptors. WHAT??????OK, let us pass this over too. What are these moral functions? The universally shared functions are 'Care/Harm' and 'Fairness/Cheating' but the clever old right have three more (typical isn't it? Not satisfied with holding most of the land and money, they have to have more morals too.) These virtuous people also have 'Loyalty/Betrayal', Authority/Subversion' and 'Sanctity/Degradation'.As a member of the centre-left (a lunatic Communist for American media personnel) I am unable to feel loyalty, forge a relationship or avoid contaminants. I think that I can avoid reading any more of this contaminant! I am very proud of my country - not for charging into Afghanistan, Killing many of their people, and our own, then getting out, once we're bored to leave the Afghans with the mess; but because we have a National Health Service, we do not die of treatable issues because we don't have enough money. I am terrifically proud of our literary and art output. I support the football team of the City in which I was born and, despite them rarely winning anything, and regularly disappointing, I cannot change my allegiance. I plead guilty to having a 'thing' about authority. It is not, that I reject all authority, it is that I question the right of the person claiming superiority and yes, I will monitor a leader to ensure that he (would I offend the right were I to add "/she"?) sticks to the straight and narrow, because, 'All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely'. I am also told that, as a left leaning individual, I am incapable of religious thought. The British Labour Party has its roots in the Church. The working class have been historically, and I would suggest still are, the backbone of the Church and when it comes to the basest level of degradation, the poor not only have, in general, a high level of self cleanliness, but actually do the work to keep the upper class clean.This book uses a system that is often employed by those who wish to obfuscate: Mr Haidt tells us, with authority that something is true then, rather than allowing that statement to be challenged, he races into a proof based on this information. (I have just read that sentence, and I am not sure that I understand it so, I shall give an example):I make an unsupportable statement - Everything is either black or white.Now I tell you that I am going to amaze you - I shall prove that the night sky is as white as the driven snow.Then we go to the proof - go out on any given night. Even if it is cloudy, there is almost guaranteed to be a star, or the moon poking out somewhere; therefore, it is not totally black. As we have already agreed, if something is not black, it is white, QED.
annbury on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an important but exasperating book-- it is gives real insights into the psychological determinants of American politics, but it also overstates and oversimplifies its central points. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend it, particularly to blue-state Democrats like me, who have spend years wondering how the Republicans manage to fool so much of the electorate into voting against its own self interest. Mr. Haidt's first key point us that people don't really vote their own self interest, at least not in the rational economic sense. Rather, we vote for the kind of society that we would like to live in. Our preferences are based on underlying moral assumptions are intuitively and emotionally formed, not based on reason. For your average blue state Dem (particularly the more intellectual variety) that is not an appealing thought. It does, however, find support in a lot of the psychological research that has been done over the past thirty years. In economics, the idea of the rational "homo economicus" whose choices reflect self-interest is losing its grip, courtesy of Daniel Kahneman et al (also courtesy of the financial crisis). Mr. Haidt brings the same view to issues of political choice, convincingly challenging the notion of the "rational voter". He isn't the first to have done so, but instead of focusing on why non-rational voters are wrong, he focusses on what drives them.In doing so, he gets to his second key point -- that liberals and conservatives differ in their underlying moral assumptions. Liberals, he argues, focus strongly on two imperatives -- avoiding harm, and achieving fairness. Conservatives, he suggests, respond to those but also to other factors -- justice, hierarchy, and sanctity. Liberterians bring in another moral base -- liberty. He is not saying that any of these views is right in an absolute sense, just pointing out that they are there. He also argues that they derive from very basic patterns in human social arrangement, patterns that go far back into the past of our species.Here I began to have real problems with Mr. Haight's arguments. The orderly arrangement of moral principals seems simplistic, as does the argument that liberals are focused on two of them, conservatives on six, etc. Mr. Haight does tie these arguments to a survey that tries to relate moral bases to political attitudes. It would be gratifying to see more research, perhaps deeper research, on these issues. Also, several of Mr. Haight's arguments that link his moral bases to evolution seem to me to amount to a chain of assumptions producing a less than convincing conclusion. Still, I found this a very illuminating book -- so much so that I am recommending it to various other blue-state intellectuals. (Some have already assured me that they won't be convinced by it, because it is wrong. Hmmm.) I also found it in many ways a convincing book. Many things that people do, particularly things involving groups, seem to me based on deep emotional forces that may not be rational, but are powerful. As an intellectual, I don't like the argument that most of what people do (me included) isn't determined by reason. But I think that it is true. And if we blue-state Dems are to see anything like our idea of a good society, we have to listen to the other side, rather than dismiss them as stupid.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very insightful and necessary read particularly for those like me, whether left or right, with strong moral inclinations and often a very hard head.
KateUnger More than 1 year ago
The Righteous Mind is a fascinating look into the difference between liberal and conservative political and religious views. It really helped me a lot in my quest to understand what’s happening in America with the election of Trump and the continued rampant persecution of minorities. Haidt uses metaphors to explain his theories, all based in evolutionary psychology. This book is probably one of the best organized non-fiction books I’ve ever read. Each chapter starts with a introduction to what will be covered and contains a quick recap of the ideas presented. The whole book is well organized and Haidt gives explanations of why he’s laid things out the way he has. The audiobook was a terrific listen, and, while simply explained, the ideas are complex and will take more time to absorb. I need some time to reflect on what he’s proposed, and then I want to revisit his ideas again. Warning: This book may be offensive to those with strong religious beliefs. Haidt is an atheist, and he presents religion as a evolutionary necessity.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago