The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt (Feb 2013)

righteous-mindQuestion:  Do you ever feel righteous anger?  Like, you KNOW you’re right, and the other guy is WRONG-O reindeer, and there is no doubt that you are perched on the moral high ground.  And, bloody hell, how can people BE so IMmoral?!  Do they have no moral compass?  I had a bad case of this recently.  Something someone (anonymous) did threw me for a loop.  I couldn’t understand her/him.  I had thought she/he had higher principles.  And so I sought help.  I did what many people — especially librarians — do:  I looked for a book.   I found it in “The Righteous Mind”.  It was the perfect antidote.  While the book placated me with the assurance that every single human on the planet is plagued by their own feelings of righteous anger, it helped me get some remove from the emotion as well, by getting some perspective.  I learned the evolutionary reasons that righteous anger is actually adaptive, and has helped our species survive, although for most of our history that was in groups of fewer than 150 individuals.  The emotion seems less adaptive in our highly mobile, constantly changing, global society.  I also learned that I tend to base my moral assumptions on only 2 of the 6 main “modules”, or platforms, that Haidt cites.  Could it be that this person who threw me for a loop, this one so lacking in a moral compass, could simply be basing her/his views of morality on a broader range of “modules” than I?  Could I (in league with most liberals), in fact, be in the moral minority — when looking at how most people globally come to their moral beliefs — by using relatively narrow criteria for deciding what is right and wrong?  After reading this book, I won’t go so far as to think I’m the one who was wrong-0 reindeer.  That would be asking a bit much.  But I’m not quite so convinced I’m righteous.  And I can allow that this someone’s principles might not be bottomed out — just based on values on which I don’t happen to place importance.  In the final analysis, Haidt indicates we all make our moral judgements based on gut intuitions first, and then find intellectual justifications for those intuitions afterward.  So it’s a little bit harder now, after reading Haidt’s book, to be convinced of my superior moral reasoning — even when I KNOW I’m right.  Which I am.

About Cheryl McNeil
I am the User Services Librarian at the Orangeburg Library in Orangeburg, NY

4 Responses to The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt (Feb 2013)

  1. A.M.B. says:

    What an interesting topic. I’d be curious to know more about the “modules.” I think I’m less prone to “righteous anger” now than when I was a teenager (and boy was I political back then). I’m less angry now and more accepting of other people’s positions. That said, when it comes to most policies, I’m actually even more to the left now than I was back then.

  2. john851 says:

    This book sounds fascinating, Cheryl. I really need to read this book. I have been trying hard not to get too riled up by those who take what I view as an extreme, and so wrong, position on a variety of issues. I have been trying to rationalize that there have to be extremes on both sides of the pole so that the center makes sense. It is so difficult to do this, though. Hopefully this book will help. As always, thanks for your review!

    • Cheryl McNeil says:

      Hey John — It is indeed SOOooo hard. As moral people, we know we have to respect views, even those that seem irrational and frankly stupid. But how do we make that more than empty self-talk: “Ok, I have to respect this person, I have to respect this person, I have to respect this person.” It doesn’t work very well. I’ve struggled forever with trying to make it more heartfelt. And I will still struggle mightily with it — but at least after reading this book, I have a few tools to aid in understanding the other side, and the POSSIBILITY that seemingly irrational positions are coming from sincere grappling with moral foundations I don’t happen to care about. A good summary is at: http://www.moralfoundations.org/. Of course, this doesn’t touch on the existence of sociopaths among us . . .

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