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Starts well but falls off toward the end
on 5 June 2012
Haidt says we use reason to justify the values we instinctively hold, and seldom arrive at a set of values through reason. In his metaphor we are elephant riders whose purpose is to serve the elephant, and to justify its actions. I find this a very attractive idea. If someone argues strongly for beliefs you cannot possibly accept, yet does not appear to be mad or bad, perhaps this is why. He is riding a different elephant.
He explains how honest folk can never agree about ethics. I think this also explains how mutually exclusive arguments can be used to justify (NOT reach) shared conclusions. Consider Singer and Regan on vegetarianism (this is my example, not in the book). Singer's utilitarian beliefs explicitly reject natural rights, and Regan's natural rights based approach explicitly rejects utilitarianism. Yet they are colleagues, friends and vegetarians - despite the reasoning of each rejecting that of the other.
He also claims that conservatives value the same things that liberals value (caring, fairness, liberty), but also value other things which liberals value less (loyalty, authority, and sacredness). Liberals who don't realise this wrongly suppose that conservatives don't value the first three things, which can result in a dialogue of the deaf. He gives a description of the psychological questionnaire based techniques which led him to this conclusion. It all seems very persuasive. If you want to influence people politically you need to understand their feelings, because you will get nowhere if you rely on arguments alone.
He also makes the point that religion is mostly what people do, not what they believe, and its benefits are in social integration. Support for football teams etc has similar benefits. He recognizes that this creates in-groups and out-groups but that is the way of things, not bad in itself, so long as they avoid war. He uses the phrase 'morality binds and blinds' which is a great phrase though not, I think, original.
Unfortunately in part three he goes off on a tangent and starts talking about group selection complementing kin (genetic) selection. He seems to be well out of his comfort zone here. Dawkins would no doubt be spitting feathers (though some might regard that as a plus!).
He also has no concept of a public good. His criticism of the US health care system is well founded but his solution is to scrap health care insurance altogether. He thinks we should pay as we go just as we do for canned goods in the supermarket - he uses this metaphor. Might be OK if we were talking about routine vaccinations but if you have the misfortune to need major treatment and you can't afford it that is tough. For all his claims to understand the cultures of different continents he would appear to have no idea about Europe.
When he starts wittering on about Yin and Yang, and the benefits of the 'Hive Mind', I think he is losing the plot. He felt the need to offer solutions, which is way beyond his competence, and what little he does offer is exclusively about the USA.
In short, I suggest you read the first eight chapters, not the last four.