Very Short Book Review: “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion”
This is part 2 of a 10 part series, exploring five books designed to change liberal minds and five to change conservative minds. I’ve decided to read all ten, in alternating fashion.
The second book in this series is called “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion”.
I’ll be honest. The thought of reading a book that attempts explain conservative ideology did not seem the least bit enjoyable to me. I was worried I’d give up after only a chapter or two. After finishing The Righteous Mind, however, I have to tip my hat to Jonathan Haidt for both the substance and the style of this book. Although a lot of the best stuff is towards the end, the author skillfully opens your mind to accept foreign ideas by building a bridge throughout the early and middle sections.
At its core, this book is about all the different ways various people define morality, and how to understand people who define it differently than you choose to. As a liberal, I’ve always used something resembling the utilitarian version mentioned in the book, which is essentially “morality is the set of principles that provides the greatest amount of good and the least amount of bad”.
The book provides a couple of different lenses to morality that help explain the differences between liberals and conservatives. The first lens splits up morality into three ethics: autonomy, community, and divinity. In liberal minds, autonomy usually dominates. The wants, needs, and rights of individuals come first. In conservative minds, however, community and divinity are often more important. Things like putting family units and religious beliefs above the concerns of individuals are common.
The second lens splits up morality into a moral matrix of six “senses”: Care/Harm, Liberty/Oppression, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation. The author contends that liberals use only three of these senses (with Care/Harm dominating considerably) while conservatives use all six. When you first hear a statement like this, your immediate thought is “wait, that makes it sounds like liberals are less moral than conservatives”, but that’s not really what it means. It just means that conservatives, when weighing morality, use more ingredients… which you could say is either a good or bad thing.
Another great insight from this book is the role religion plays in creating evolutionarily advantageous hive behavior. Groups of people working in lockstep with each other — suppressing selfish instincts — should be able to outperform and outlast random collections of self-serving individuals. You can see why some people believe so deeply in the importance of religion — even from a purely evolutionary perspective.
There are a lot of other great tidbits in this book including how genetics play a role in how open to change (liberal) or reactive to threats (conservative) you are, but I will let you discover them for yourself.
I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it for people who are interested in how conservatives view morality as well as how emotion and reason act together in determining the way humans make decisions.