Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, a Book Review
I first saw Jonathan Haidt (pronounced height) on Bill Moyer's show. He is a Professor of Moral Psychology from the University of Virginia. As a result of many years of worldly research, analysis, and many lab experiments, he wrote a book about the difference in thinking between liberal and conservatives. The book is called: The Righteous Mind...Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. This is a book review of his work. I paraphrased the key points of his work. My commentary is in italics.
I found this book to be fascinating. It gives reasons why there is such a difference between liberal and conservative thinking and why discussions of politics and religion can become so vitriolic. He uses three metaphors to explain these differences and behaviors. The three metaphors are as follows:
- The mind is divided like a rider on an elephant and the rider's job is to serve the elephant.
- The righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors
- We are 90% Chimp and 10% Bee
The mind is divided like a rider on an elephant and the rider's job is to serve the elephant.
He states: "We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reason why we came to a particluar judgment. We reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment."
If you can picture a very large elephant with a rider on top of the elephant, this is the metaphor that he uses. I reiterated this because it seemed like an abstract concept that took some time for me to grasp. But once I got it. It really made sense.
The rider is our controlled processes including reasoning why. The elephant is the automatic processes including emotion, intuition, and all forms of seeing that reason.
The rider can do several useful things it can see further into the future because we can examine alternative scenarios in our heads and therefore can help the elephant make better decisions in the present The rider can learn new skills and master new technologies which can be deployed to help the elephant reach its goals and prevent disaster. And most important the writer acts as a spokesman for the elephant even though it doesn't necessarily know what the elephant is really thinking."
I think this is why we can make decisions based on intuition and better judgment and why the reason for it comes sometimes later. It is also why our first response in political and religious arguments is emotional and intuitive.
The righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors
Here he uses six Moral Foundations to describe the difference between liberals and conservative thinking and behavior. These six moral foundations are like taste buds on our tongue. Taste buds allow us to taste sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Some people have more sensitivity to different tastes than others. The six Moral Foundations are:
The words following the slash mark are the opposite of the moral foundation.
He describes how both the liberal mind and the conservative mind have a pre-disposition to these six Moral Foundations. The liberal mind is much more attuned to the first three (care, liberty, and fairness), while the conservative mind is attuned to all six of them (care, liberty, fariness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Thus, he feels this gives conservatives the political edge, because they have more moral capital to work with than liberals do.
We are 90% Chimp and 10% Bee
He uses this metaphor to show how we have a dual nature. We are selfish primates who long to be something nobler than ourselves. The selfish part is more like chimp behavior where studies have shown that chimps are really not good at working together. But we are also like bees, where we also have a need to work together for something bigger and nobler than ourselves.
Conservatives react more to certain situations than liberals. His research and studies show that conservatives react more strongly than liberals to signs of danger including the threat of germs contamination and even low-level threats such as sudden blast of white noise. Conservatives prefer to stick with what is tried and true. They care a lot more about guarding borders, boundaries and traditions.
While liberals are more attracted to sensation seeking and openness to experience and they have less need for order and structure. They are also attracted to new people new foods, music and new ideas.
All of this comes about because we have the need for these experience. Because when they are fulfilled, they make us feel better. Studies have shown that pleasure neurotransmitters are triggered by genes differently for liberals than conservatives.
My Opinion of the Book
I thought the organization was excellent. Each chapter has a summary that describes the key points of the chapter. Each chapter gives a scholarly description of the research and analysis that brought him to the conclusion in the book. It might be a little too scholarly for some, but the summary of each chapter keeps it at a higher level. There is also very comprehensive sections on notes and references.
Would I recommend this book?
Absolutely, it gives me a much better understanding of the liberal and conservative mind set and why we react the way we do to political and religious discussion. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has that curiosity. I hope I have whetted your appetite. I believe the more people who read this book, the more we can understand each other and iron out our differences...and if not, why we can't.