It may sound impious to say it on the eve of the Feast of Christ’s Nativity, but I just finished maybe the most important “secular” book I’ve read this year, Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.
Frankly, I think the title may have overpromised on why good people are divided by religion, but I’m too concerned about our divisive (“Manichean” is how Haidt puts it at the end) politics, which he observes shrewdly, not to forgive him for that.
I’ve often had occasion in recent years to accuse liberals of being simplistic – a charge I especially savor since they started accusing conservatives of being simplistic about the time I was in college. It turns out that in a very important sense, I’m right in that charge.
In a prior iteration of moral psychologist Haidt’s work, he was testing only for five moral bases or foundation:
2) fairness/reciprocity (including issues of rights),
4) authority/respect, and
You can see how you score by taking the Moral Foundations test at YourMorals.org
Liberals base their political views (instinctively – that’s how both sides do politics, with reasons being a sort of press agent to put a patina of intellectual plausibility on something much more visceral) on only the first one or two of those bases. Indeed, it sometimes appears that all they care about is helping folks they see as victims of oppression (the harm/care foundation).
Conservatives tend to use all five (now six, as liberty has been added) moral bases more or less equally.
Further, conservatives and moderates both understand liberals far better than liberals understand conservatives, who they caricature comically at times.
Now for my dirty little secret. I’m not as well-balanced as the prototypical conservative. I’m almost as low as liberals on one foundation (and that’s lower than a snake’s belly). But I blow away liberals and conservative on another.
I’d say I’m weird, except Haidt uses WEIRD to describe Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic folks — who are total outliers in the grand global scheme of things. If you want to study human nature, find a lot of subjects who aren’t WEIRD.
This book surely will promote mutual understanding, and in this instance, Tea Party shenanigans of recent years notwithstanding, it’s the liberals who especially need to up their understanding game.
(* I’m not really impious. We had more than 3 hours of Church services this morning and we’ll do another few hours starting at 11 pm. I’m just killing time right now.)
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