The Righteous Mind

The Righteous Mind (2012) by Jonathan Haidt is a fascinating account of how people think and feel about politics. This book will help you understand why people who disagree with you are clearly demented. Actually, it will do the opposite, Haidt builds a solid picture of how people’s morals and attitudes shape their politics.

Haidt describes how our emotions and instincts guide our politics. He strongly believes in David Hume’s dictum that reason is like a rider on an elephant, it can guide the elephant but the elephant goes where it chooses. We often use our reason not to find the truth but to justify our actions.

Haidt groups our morals into 6 areas, care/harm, liberty/oppression, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion and sanctity/degradation. He suggest that democrats believe in looking at the first two and the third somewhat but neglect the other values and that this is why there had been only 1 Democrat re-elected to a second term since FDR. Haidt also includes praise for President Obama and suggests that he addresses all five issues as did President Clinton.

As with many categorizations the grouping is questionable and his assertion that the US left only addresses some of the concerns is even more questionable. Anyone who leaves a political group experiences how they feel about loyalty and betrayal and the Left behaves in similar way. Disrespecting a Democratic President also happily fires feelings of authority and subversion.

However, as with many good books the journey is more interesting than the destination. The way that Haidt builds up his case by describing how his psychological tests are used to build a picture of morality in different areas is fascinating.

Haidt also looks at religion and echoes the ideas of David Solan Wilson on group selection. Wilson’s ideas have been strongly criticized by numerous biologists but Haidt things they are wrong about people because people are so much more intelligent than other animals.

The book is a really interesting read and Haidt writes well. His summaries at the end of chapters and the structure of the book really help the reader to comprehend the book. The anecdotes and quotes in the book are well chosen.


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