Review of The Righteous Mind

Posted on May 15, 2016 by Richard Goulter
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I’ve been a big fan of Jonathan Haidt since seeing his 2013 Boyarsky Lecture, in which he explains his Moral Foundations Theory. – It’s compelling as showing how conservatives can hold morality differently than the social-justice crowd holds it.

I finally got around to reading the actual book, rather than just picking up tidbits from various articles, podcasts and videos.
Very much worth reading.

Compared to Previous Things I’d Read

The book has a somewhat different emphasis than just MFT + explanations of various cultural rifts:
Each part presents a metaphor/model:

The book is filled with interesting tidbits, stories, and occasionally diagrams. One interesting one was this ‘Social Intuitionist’ model:

The takeaway from this model was, as intuition drives our judgement (& reasoning follows judgement), it’s ineffective to try and change someone’s judgement directly through reasoning. (Possible, but rare). More effective was “elephant to elephant”, nudging an intuition from a socially respected source. (Since appearing respectable is important, intuition is more willing to yield). – As discussion progressed, after intuitions had adjusted, reasoning was more likely to persuade.
Haidt later remarks about US Democrats vs Republicans; that Democrats have done so poorly in recent decades because Democrats’ speeches tend to talk to the elephant’s rider, whereas Republicans’ speeches resonate more with the elephant.

“Moral Matrix” is another recurring model in the book: ‘Matrix’ like the film, where under the binding/blinding righteousness, reality is distorted by one’s moral tastes.
– The suggestion is to try and see things from within another’s moral matrix; to first gain social respect, then adjust intuition talking to the elephant, then to the rider.

Diversity & Groups

This was a bit interesting.
I guess it makes sense in terms of, ‘our righteousness binds us together, blinds us to inconvenient truths’, but there was the remark that the more diverse a group, the less capable it was. – It’s not that more diverse groups drew more love of in-group, hatred of out-group, but instead an ‘anomie’: individuals were more socially isolated. (So, in order to get different people to work together, it’s better to emphasise similarities; highlighting differences has negative effects).

– This also came up in terms of the yin/yang of Am-Liberals v Conservatives; under Am-Liberals, society grows more diverse, “falls apart” under anomie. Conservatives valued ‘moral capital’ more, & preserved social/moral order. – Conservatives protect Chesterton’s Fence. – As a selection process, the society which is best able to balance progress vs stability wins.

So, yes, it’s well worth reading “The Righteous Mind” for its ideas even with some awareness of the amazing thing JHaidt tends to say.

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