Thursday, February 7, 2013


Jonathan Haidt's guest appearance with Bill Moyer impressed me with his understanding of how people cling to their beliefs in the face of logic.  He even said that those dastardly conservatives have a legitimate viewpoint.  After the 8 days it took me to finish it seems the best book I have read this year.

In "The Righteous Mind" he builds his case carefully.  Jonathan has an interest in philosophy, psychology, morals, sociology and politics.  Like many observers he has been dismayed over how polarized politics has become in the United States.

Evolution plays a key role.  It is thought that every human trait is there for its survivability value.  Much thinking has focused on individuals, but increasingly it is realized that individuals survived who could fit into groups.  The first groups of people were essentially equal and were very careful to not let anyone slack off.  As groups got bigger it became possible to have a division of labour that made them more effective.  A more cohesive group could dominate lesser groups and survive difficult times more effectively.

One of the most important factors became religion.  The key was not so much the specific beliefs, but that members felt a sense of belonging that encouraged them to support other group members that were not close kin.  Some of Jonathan's thinking came from Emile Durkheim who was the founder of sociology which essentially deals with group social pressure.

A key definition which comes near the end of the book, after a lot of preliminary explanation is  "Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make co-operative societies possible."  We don't always understand from what moral system other people operate from and we would benefit if we could really appreciate they really feel they are right.

Joanathan feels that three main segments of American politics; liberalism, conservatism, and libertarianism all have a role to play.  Too much conservative control and society doesn't make the necessary changes.  Too much liberalism and things can get out of hand.  It is healthy that each can balance with the others.  Compromise is more likely to come after each group realizes that the opposition is not totally wrong and in fact are a healthy check.

One area where conservatives and liberals see things differently is fairness.  From a liberal perspective they are well aware of disadvantaged groups and strive to remedy the inequalities.  From a conservative viewpoint they feel it is unfair that some people do the work and others take advantage of the rewards.  These two views can be reconciled better if each side realizes the other side does in fact have a strong sense of what is fair.

It is hard to realize that my underlying moral philosophy might not be totally right and that other person might not be totally wrong.  Progress will occur as we respect each other.

On the link below you can connect with a website devoted to this book that includes videos and blog posts.

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