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A fascinating test for the reader,
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This review is from: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (Hardcover)
This is an important book and one that will test readers' objectivity, for it draws conclusions about differences between conservatives and liberals (American sense) in how they make judgements. It reports years of painstaking research in evolutionary psychology, which in itself will put off those conservatives who prefer Genesis to Darwin. Haidt finds that liberals judge things on a narrower basis, which may upset them.
Testing large numbers of subjects with questions such as 'Is it wrong for a brother and sister to have sex as a one-off experiment, using contraceptives?' and 'A man's dog is killed in a road accident; is it wrong for him to cook and eat it?' Subjects were also asked to explain their answers. People did not consciously refer to abstract values when they made their decisions. They reacted instantly to the scenarios and often could not explain their responses. Haidt uses the metaphor of the elephant and its rider for this; our unconscious mind throws up intuitions, which our conscious mind then tries to explain and perhaps redirect.
Analysis of the results found that people use six bases for their judgements, which Haidt likens to a tongue with six taste receptors: care, fairness, loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity; these were the five of the initial hypothesis, but it emerged from the research that there is a sixth - liberty. Each of these is hypothesized to have had survival value for our ancestors, contributing to the flourishing and survival of the individual and the group.
The balance between individual and group has produced a species that behaves 90% like the chimpanzee and 10% like the bee. Haidt found that people's moral views were correlated with their political positions. Liberals were chiefly, though not exclusively concerned with care, fairness and liberty, while conservatives invoked the whole range of bases for their judgements. I imagine that conservatives will like this result, feeling that it makes them more completely human. Liberals may argue that the values they focus on are more highly evolved, emphasizing the well-being of individual more than that of the group. A dispassionate view would argue that both approaches are important.
Haidt himself, an avowed liberal, has been mellowed by his research. His book should help America's increasingly polarized society to cultivate dialogue and mutual respect between its factions. It deserves a wide readership, being clearly written, well structured and full of concrete examples.