9:21:12 The Righteous Mind, a book review

The approach of November 2012 reminds us, once more, of how polarized otherwise intelligent people are about politics. I picked up Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion to see if he had answers for this vexing behavior.

I got far more than I expected: a multi-faceted answer encompassing, among other topics, ethics, human and group psychology and historical context. Haidt, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, explores his question with an academic rigor shown by the more than 25 pages of footnoted references at the end of the book. But The Righteous Mind is far from pedantry. It has an engaging freshness one might get from Malcolm Gladwell--that is, any layman can easily take this on as pleasurable reading for insight in why so often we fail to have civil conversation about politics and religion.

[the righteous mind]Albert Camus, writing in one of his notebooks, commented "The need to be right: a sure sign of a vulgar mind." Haidt, however, sees the righteous in more nuanced terms.

As a psychology professor, Haidt sets forth a morality matrix that has six dimensions: Care/harm, Liberty/oppression, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/degradation.

For example, the liberal moral matrix places highest value on the first two dimensions, specifically making caring for victims of oppression a priority. Alas, the moral matrix for liberals is relatively incomplete compared to conservatives. The moral matrix for conservatives gives similar weighting to all six dimensions, with a special emphasis on preserving the institutions and traditions that sustain a moral community.

To illustrate the difference, Haidt says a liberal's idea of heaven is spelled out in John Lennon's song "Imagine." No countries, no religions, then the "world would be as one." Conservatives know it would quickly turn into hell and much of Haidt's research leads him to agree.

The Righteous Mind is an impressive, ambitious work and I can only hint at the scope. Why are humans so groupish? How is the group "hive switch" triggered?. Most importantly, Haidt gives us reason to think we might have more constructive discussion with those with whom we disagree. He concludes with a list of merit in select positions taken by Liberal, Libertarian, and Conservative political types.

Thus, The Righteous Mind is not only timely, it's also reading that will allow us to follow politics in the weeks ahead with more of an open mind!


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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

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