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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion Paperback – 2 May 2013
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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.
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!
Top international reviews
Haidt starts by dividing the human mind into what he calls the elephant and the rider. The rider is the reasoning, rational mind, whereas the elephant is the irrational, impulsive and intuitive mind. He argues that human moral decisions are guided by the elephant, and that the rider just comes up with a rationalized, post-facto "reasonable" justification after the decisions have been made by the elephant. Of course, anyone who has been alive for more than a couple decades may have noticed this kind of "logic" in his fellow humans. It goes like this: "Here are my biases, now how do I make an argument to justify it."
Later in the book, he goes into more detail and lists the specific intuitions that may bias people towards certain moral conclusions: care/harm, liberty/oppression, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation.
However, he doesn't call them biases (that's my own terminology). He describes them as something like the taste buds of morality, whereupon one may develop certain "tastes" over a lifetime that cause one to be liberal (progressive) or conservative. Just like we may have a preference for sweet food, we might also have partially inborn and partially acquired intuition for, to make an example, loyalty, which may lead one to make statements like "My country, right or wrong" in the face of unethical behavior by one's government.
Haidt rejects rational thinking entirely. Indeed, he goes so far as to label those who engage in systematic rational thinking as "autistic" (pg 136). He labels modern, civilized countries as WEIRD (an insulting acronym he made up). He also has no interest in individual rights, such as America's Bill of Rights. Rather, he finds solace in the ignorance of impoverished villagers in northeast Brazil and primitive people of India who wipe their butts with their hands (really! see pg 122). He praises studies which show that ignorant people prefer collectivism and use their intuitions (prejudices/biases) when making moral decisions. Critical thinking? Rights? To Haidt, they're irrelevant. He's openly hostile to critical thinking. He disparages psychological studies of advanced ("WEIRD") countries as "statistical outliers" (pg 112).
Essentially, his ethics can be summarized as "cultural relativism", except that Western cultures are always wrong and those on the upper half of the bell curve (advanced, civilized societies) are WEIRD. Since humans are incapable of reason (according to Haidt), we can only navigate ethical and political decisions by intuitions. Whose intuitions should we follow, you ask? Well, that's unclear, although he does provide some helpful graphs of the intuitions of different political views towards the end of the book. I guess whoever shouts the loudest gets to make the rules.
I don't actually disagree with any of Haidt's psychological studies. I just come to entirely different conclusion. When Haidt finds ignorance and prejudice, he wants to build a code of ethics out of it. Where I find ignorance and prejudice, I want to educate people and help them to understand the points of views of others. How can this come about? Well, first one must accept that there is a real, physical reality out there, and that certain actions make sense in the real world and others don't. If you compare today's political discussion with that of previous generations, you can see how far we've fallen. For example, read "The Federalist Papers" and compare that to any modern day politician's anti-intellectualism, and you can realize how much America has lost since our founding in terms of critical thinking and honest debate.
The Enlightenment-style system of individual rights has advanced society enormously. Unfortunately, there are still pseudo-intellectuals like Haidt who want to drag us back into the stone age, or worse, towards fascism, religious fundamentalism, or communism. I find this book disturbing and could go on and on about problems I have with it, however I think I've said enough to get my point across.
I guess, in the end, listening and reflecting before reacting and constantly reminding oneself of that rule and practising it unceasingly will be rewarding eventually, in enhancing understanding and even in enabling co-operation by finding common ground.
Alas, the modern society is set up to elicit and to demand instant reaction rather than allow deliberate reflection.
Humans - as the book says - have certain pre-dispositions even if they are not pre-destinations. Modern technological developments seem to pander to and encourage some of our worst pre-dispositions.
In the end, regardless of how heartless or unfair some of the conservative positions might seem, there is no innate contradiction in their overall framework. Whereas there is something deeply illiberal about the absolutes and certitudes of the so-called liberals.
If one were not open-minded enough to explore, examine alternative viewpoints, accept the cognitive limitations of humans in general and be humble about them, how can one even claim to be liberal? That is disappointing, troubling and unfathomable.
Anyway, the book is recommended reading for all those who admit to their own follies and to their limitations in understanding the world around them and are prepared to and intellectually open enough to want to improve upon it.
I still found this a good read. The 3 principles of moral psychology are all worthy of much contemplation and action.
I agree that both religion and politics can "bind and blind" and found solace in the idea that reputation has overriding importance when it comes to morality.
One conclusion I align with "religion is therefore often an accessory to attrocity rather than the driving force of the attrocity."
I also gained further appreciation from this book into yin and yang and the awesome value of third alternatives.
Jonathan Haidt est psychologue social nous dit Wikipédia, pas n'importe lequel puisque : "Il est considéré comme l'un des plus grands « penseurs globaux » (top global thinkers) par Foreign Policy et l'un des plus grands intellectuels de la planète par Prospect magazine. Ses trois conférences TED ont été visionnées plusieurs millions de fois"
Bon les américains aiment bien épater la galerie, mais oui, Haidt est une référence, et la lecture de ce livre vous le prouvera aisément.
Haidt pratique la psychologie évolutive, c'est-à-dire l'explication de nos comportements par la théorie de l'évolution.
Haidt n'en fait pas sa réponse à tout puisqu'il utilise aussi la politique, l'histoire, la sociologie classique (Durkheim, cocorico !)
Son but est de décrire les mécanismes tribaux, de groupe, que tout humain, en général, possède. Le livre date de 2012 mais, chose intéressante, le climat "Trump", assez virulent, est déjà décrit par Haidt. Trump n'est en fait que la conclusion (mais aussi la prolongation) d'une crise préexistante.
Pourquoi de tels affrontements politiques ? Une telle véhémence entre groupes ? Surtout que les Etats-Unis, en plus d'être divisés politiquement et socialement, le son aussi "racialement", le mot et le concept de race étant très utilisé là-bas. De quoi rajouter multiples huiles sur le barbecue.
Haidt commence son livre par introduire le concept de cerveau 1/cerveau 2 de Kahneman (à lire absolument aussi). Cela servira pour la suite du livre, lui utilise une métaphore d'éléphant et son "driver". L'éléphant est en quelque sorte la partie du cerveau fonctionnant grâce à des automatismes, le rider celle qui prend son temps pour réfléchir au problème.
Ces bases ainsi posées, Haidt tentera d'expliquer qu'est-ce qui a bien pu, au cours de l'histoire humaine, faire surgir la morale, nécessaire à la survie du groupe (group selection). L'évolution de l'homme et sa spécificité biologique a fait de lui un être hautement social, son aversion pour un groupe extérieur est quelque chose d'encré en lui, Haidt nous donne des pistes pour nous "déxénophobié" (néologisme foireaux de ma part, tant pis), sans mettre de côté et même supprimer notre tribalisme, nécessaire, en effet les individus solitaires sont souvent les plus anxieux, les plus enclins à avoir des problèmes de santé, la solitude tue ! Il faut trouver le juste milieu.
Haidt étudie d'un point de vue scientifique les religions, mais aussi les partis politiques, les équipes sportives, bref, tout ce qui fonctionne en groupe part des mêmes bases. Ces mécanismes s'explique scientifiquement, biologiquement, mais pas que.
Un livre vite devenu classique chez les anglo-saxons, malheureusement, peu de gens relayent ce qui se passe outre-Atlantique, il se passe autre chose que les séries netflix et les films marvel aux Etats-Unis !
P.S. : Pour continuer ses recherches : - "Moral Tribes" de Joshua Greene (prof de neuroscience)
- "Us and Them" de David Berreby (premier livre à attaquer cette question sous l'angle des sciences modernes)
Les trois livres à lire pour ceux qui désire comprendre les mécanismes de groupes.
Normalmente pensamos que somos seres racionais que lidam com paixões, mas através da aplicação de seu conhecimento profissional (moral psychology) e uma ampla perspectiva, Jonathan Haidt demonstra que a melhor explicação para o comportamento humano é o contrário. O intuitivo, desenvolvido primeiro e com muito maior experiência na espécie humana, é na verdade o comandante de tudo que fazemos. O racional, o condutor do elefante, faz o que pode, mas é geralmente apenas um porta-voz, "contratado" pelo elefante para justificar suas decisões. E se discordarem, o elefante faz o que tinha resolvido no primeiro instante que considerou a questão.
Neste livro o autor desenvolve a analogia para explicar por que as pessoas têm diferente partidos, times, religiões, por que discordam em questões fundamentais e o que pode ser feito para lidar com isto, através de outra analogia: nosso sentido do gosto tem sensores diferentes para doce, salgado, amargo etc., mas nenhum restaurante que se dedicasse apenas a um deles teria sucesso. Do mesmo modo, a moralidade tem seis fundamentos: Proteção, Honestidade, Lealdade, Autoridade, Santidade e Liberdade. Atitudes partidárias, religiosas, esportivas divergem exatamente pelo fato de umas pessoas levarem em conta apenas um ou dois desses fundamentos e outras levarem em conta todos - ou outros, parcial ou totalmente em desacordo com as primeiras.
Bom livro para quem gosta de saber os motivos das atitudes, suas e dos outros, o que nos leva a discordar em questões emocionais e como podemos aprender a lidar com isto.
Haidt explica cómo y por qué se produce ese fenómeno y cómo, a través del análisis de los principios morales de cada grupo, puede concluirse que el contrario es sincero en sus planteamientos y sus motivos, los compartamos o no, pueden ser tan legítimos como los propios.
The Righteous Mind is hands-down the most important book I've ever consumed. Haidt's understanding of human morality and the science of communication and decision making are weaved together into an approachable, beautiful and potentially life changing symphony.
Enough has been said about why you should read this book so I want to use the rest of this review to tell you exactly what I experienced after finishing this book and how it became "The most important thing I've ever read".
I have struggled for years to communicate with some of my friends and family. So many words were wasted discussing politics, religion and conspiracy theories and all we ever accomplished was self-fulfillment. We never had resolution and we never succeeded in convincing the other side.
I'm a person who considers myself well-read and a champion for pragmatism and logic. You can probably imagine how frustrated I felt when I was consistently unable to win arguments about out-there, government's coming for us-so buy some guns, conspiracy discussions.
Something had to give, so I went searching and ended up on this book. I read it, digested it and decided to try and apply the principles to my communications. I was determined to "align with their elephant" first so I could then shift their mindset to my point of view.
Let's be honest: I was just trying to manipulate other people into seeing things my way.
Well, something incredible and completely unintentional happened: I realized I was wrong, a lot.
One of the foundational pieces discussed in the book is the fact that we, as humans, make decisions in the parts of our brain that aren't subject to critical thinking. If you want to sway someones opinion, Haidt suggests, you must first appeal to their elephant (the emotional part of their brain or "why they feel the way they do").
In the effort to start practicing this: I dedicated myself to asking "why do they believe this way?" first and only made suggestions after I felt that I could articulate what the other person was "feeling" about the subject.
A crazy thing happened: many times I would find myself changing my mind about a subject mid conversation. As it turns out, other people aren't quite as crazy as I thought, they just have different experiences than I do.
After I spent some time training my brain, I started to conversate this way without any conscious effort. I actually seem to have re-wired my brain. The implication of this can't be overstated.
I now see the world in completely different ways and I feel that I can actually empathize for the first time in my life.
I only wish everyone could read this book, understand their natural decision making process and be aware of what's happening to them when they have disagreements or strong opinions on a subject.
You need to read this book. Everyone does.
To the author: Thank you, Jonathan, for giving your life to understanding us a little better and for taking the time to write it all down and pass these lessons onto the rest of us.
This book really provides a great paradigm for which to view human interactions; in this I would say that it lives up to its title and then some.
Very well written and engaging throughout.
Wer mehr über den Autor Jonathan Haidt erfahren will kann sich gerne Google und Youtube bemühen. Ich sage nur so viel: Er ist nicht durch die Zugehörigkeit zu einer Partei geblendet, und kann dadurch sehr sachlich, anschaulich und unterhaltsam in das Thema der Moralpsychologie einführen.
Es lässt einen Alltagssituationen und Menschen in einem völlig anderen Blickwinkel betrachten, und ist in Zeiten von Trump und Brexit, nochmal eine Spur interessanter und relevanter.
1. Passions is the master, Reason the servant.
2. We possess multiple moral tastes.
3.We are 80% Chimps 20%Bees.
Messhed up Durkheim, Darwin, Hume and Adam Smith...