Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt


There seems to be no alternative to a political process in which parties compete to win votes and money. That competition always involves trickery and demagoguery, as politicians play fast and loose with the truth... [America] now [is] polarized and embattled to the point of dysfunction... Candidates... spend more time and money on opposition research, in which staff members or paid consultants dig up dirt on opponents (sometimes illegally) and then shovel it to the media... America's hyper-partisanship is now a threat to the world...




The Grand Narratives of Liberalism (Democrats) and Conservatism (Republicans): 

“‘Once upon a time, the vast majority of human persons suffered in societies and social institutions that were unjust, unhealthy, repressive, and oppressive. These traditional societies were reprehensible because of their deep-rooted inequality, exploitation, and irrational traditionalism… But the noble human aspiration for autonomy, equality, and prosperity struggled mightily against the forces of misery and oppression, and eventually succeeded in establishing modern, liberal, democratic, capitalist, welfare societies. While modern social conditions hold the potential to maximize the individual freedom and pleasure of all, there is much work to be done to dismantle the powerful vestiges of inequality, exploitation, and repression. This struggle for the good society in which individuals are equal and free to pursue their self-defined happiness is the one mission truly worth dedicating one’s life to achieving’ (Smith, Christian. Moral, Believing Animals).

“‘…Once upon a time, America was a shining beacon. Then liberals came along and erected an enormous federal bureaucracy that handcuffed the invisible hand of the free market. They subverted our traditional American values and opposed God and faith at every step of the way… Instead of requiring that people work for a living, they siphoned money from hardworking Americans and gave it to Cadillac-driving drug addicts and welfare queens. Instead of punishing criminals, they tried to ‘understand’ them. Instead of worrying about the victims of crimes, they worried about the rights of criminals... Instead of adhering to traditional American values of family, fidelity, and personal responsibility, they preached promiscuity, premarital sex, and the gay lifestyle… and they encouraged a feminist agenda that undermined traditional family roles… Instead of projecting strength to those who do evil around the world, they cut military budgets, disrespected our soldiers in uniform, burned our flag, and chose negotiation and multilateralism…’ (Smith).

...Conservatives... are... concerned about their groups, rather than humanity. For them, the Liberty/oppression foundation and the hatred of tyranny supports many of the tenets of economic conservatism: don't tread on me (with your nanny state and its high taxes); don't thread on my business (with your oppressive regulations); don't tread on my nation (with your United Nations, [NATO], and your sovereignty-reducing international treaties). American conservatives, therefore, sacralize the word liberty, not the word equality...
 
...Liberals... rely more heavily upon the Care/harm foundation--the Liberty/oppression foundation is employed in the service of underdogs, victims, and powerless groups everywhere. It leads liberals (but not others) to sacralize equality, which is then pursued by fighting for civil rights and human rights. Liberals sometimes go beyond equality of rights to pursue equality of outcomes, which cannot be obtained in a capitalistic system. This may be why the left usually favors higher taxes on the rich, high levels of services provided to the poor, and sometimes a guaranteed minimum income for everyone...

“People don’t adopt their ideologies at random, [however], or by soaking up whatever ideas are around them. People whose genes gave them brains that get pleasure from novelty, variety, and diversity, while simultaneously being less sensitive to signs of threat, are predisposed (but not predestined) to become liberals. They tend to develop certain ‘characteristic adaptations’ and ‘life narratives’ that make them resonate—unconsciously and intuitively—with the grand narratives told by political movements on the left (such as the liberal progress narrative).

“People whose genes give them brains with the opposite settings are predisposed, for the same reasons, to resonate with the grand narratives of the right (such as the Reagan narrative). Once people join a political team, they get ensnared in its moral matrix. They see confirmation of their grand narrative everywhere, and it’s difficult—perhaps impossible—to convince them that they are wrong if you argue with them from outside of their [moral] matrix…

“…When a group of people make something sacred, the members of the cult lose the ability to think clearly about it. Morality binds and blinds… Moral reasoning [is] mostly just a post hoc search for reasons to justify the judgments people [have] already made… We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves [come] to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment… You can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments…! Reason… was designed to seek justification, not truth… to seek out and interpret new evidence in ways to confirm what you already think [This is called confirmation bias]…

“The social psychologist Tom Gilovich [studied] the cognitive mechanisms of strange beliefs. His simple formulation is that when we want to believe something, we ask ourselves, ‘Can I believe it?’ Then… we search for supporting evidence, and if we find even a single piece of pseudo-evidence, we can stop thinking. We now have permission to believe. We have a justification…

“In contrast, when we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves, ‘Must I believe it?’ Then we search for contrary evidence, and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it. You only need one key to unlock the handcuffs of must…

“Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. We lie, cheat, and cut ethical corners quite often when we think we can get away with it, and then we use our moral thinking to manage our reputations and justify ourselves to others. We believe our own post hoc reasoning so thoroughly that we end up self-righteously convinced of our own virtue… 

Yes, people are often selfish and a great deal of our moral, political, and religious behavior can be understood as thinly-veiled ways of pursuing self-interest. (Just look at the awful hypocrisy of so many politicians and religious leaders, [especially today])… [However], we have the ability (under special conditions) to transcend self-interest and lose ourselves (temporarily and ecstatically) in something larger than ourselves…”


Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Vintage Books, 2012.

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