Stephen Cataldo's Reviews > The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt
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it was amazing

The Righteous Mind is a favorite. I find myself thinking about politics using the structures from this book more than any other -- especially to understand politicians I don't like. This book is the answer to What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America which argues that many people vote against their own interests but doesn't explain why.

Righteous Mind very wide-spanning. At it's core, it explores the different moral foundations that lead people to become liberal or conservative. He is particularly good at explaining conservatives to liberals, something that is rarely done well. But the journey there, exploring how to figure out how we think and why, is well worth the read too.

The core: Haidt exposes, mostly through surveys, the ways that liberals and conservatives see the world similarly and differently. Across that divide, we all seem to believe in fairness, compassion and liberty. Conservatives also have "moral tastes" beyond these, tuning themselves to leadership, group loyalty, and sacredness -- or betrayals of those things. I like the use of surveys: unlike studies that, for example, put people in MRIs and watch them react, the surveys get at how people see their own views. Both liberals and conservative views seem well represented, rather than one being better and the other being a deficiency. Other political studies look at, for example, that both Republicans and Democrats look at pictures of Clinton longer than Bush, and try to explain why -- Haidt just asks people for their actual opinions and finds quite a lot of structure that hadn't been discovered before.

The path there: Haidt uses the analogy that our brains are like rational riders on automatic or intuitive elephants. This means that we have a tough time sticking to logical and rational political discussions, even when we mean to. This model helps explain both dieting and political arguments -- even though one is just in my head and the other between two people. For me this adds a certain gentleness to politics: if I can't stick to my own diet and similar intentions because the way my brain is wired, then perhaps my political intuitions are sometimes off or defensive, and certainly I should be able to forgive other people if their automatic response is different than mine.

Haidt also explores why humans work together -- it's wide spanning, with a long look at evolution. Righteous Mind has big goals: starts with less-cooperative chimpanzees and more-cooperative bees, and aims to explain how humans evolved into conservatives and liberals screaming politics at each other and unable to understand where our neighbors are coming from, while almost everyone is trying to do good when they vote.

It's interesting to read blogs about this book. It seems to trigger people in all kinds of directions: you'll find liberals and conservatives each thinking that Haidt's work proves they are right, you'll find other liberals and conservatives each thinking that Haidt is just attacking them. Haidt is strikingly respectful for someone writing about politics, which is really refreshing. He is a scientist rather than a politician, describing what people seem to be choosing as their morals rather than saying what should be. This triggers so many exclamations of betrayal or proof of superiority.

Haidt explores the disagreements, without offering a clear solution for people who want to win political arguments, but I find the ideas are a great start to better conversations. Combining these ideas with communications techniques, like prompts plus active listening, and you can even have calm conversations about abortion across the divide.

I've seen his work used in real life, for example the same sex marriage campaign in Washington State a few years ago, and it seems to work quite well.


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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
May 16, 2016 – Shelved

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