BookNotes: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
By Jonathan Haidt, Vintage, March 13, 2012, 0307377903
The Righteous Mind helps us see there are other other points of view and why. It is built on Haidt’s Moral foundations theory, which in turn was built on Richard Schweder’s (Haidt’s graduate advisor) work cultural variability of moral judgements. Essentially, Schweder came up with three pillars or axes of morality in all culturals. Haidt expanded that to five pillars, and then in this book he adds a sixth (liberty/oppression foundation).
Haidt thinks that Lawrence Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development is too cerebral and fits our rational minds too neatly. He thinks that morals are more intuitive, building on more modern theories of how the mind works. We react from our subconscious and only then rationalize from our conscious mind (confabulate) a justification for our reactions.
I learned a lot from this book about moral psychology. I am not sure his conclusions are all right, e.g. the lead hypythosesis for crime (see below), but I do think we could do more to take another’s point of view. It’s tough for me to do, but this book provides our reasoning mind a valid justification for me to try.
[k263] Piaget and Kohlberg both thought that parents and other authorities were obstacles to moral development.
[k259] Kohlberg’s most influential finding was that the most morally advanced kids (according to his scoring technique) were those who had frequent opportunities for role taking–for putting themselves into another person’s shoes and looking at a problem from that person’s perspective. Egalitarian relationships (such as with peers) invite role taking, but hierarchical relationships (such as with teachers and parents) do not. It’s really hard for a child to see things from the teacher’s point of view, because the child has never been a teacher. Piaget and Kohlberg both thought that parents and other authorities were obstacles to moral development.
[k267] Kohlberg’s timing was perfect. Just as the first wave of baby boomers was entering graduate school, he transformed moral psychology into a boomer-friendly ode to justice, and he gave them a tool to measure children’s progress toward the liberal ideal.
[k288] Children recognize that rules that prevent harm are moral rules, which Turiel defined as rules related to “justice, rights, and welfare pertaining to how people ought to relate to each other.” In other words, young children don’t treat all rules the same, as Piaget and Kohlberg had supposed.
[k541] It was reasoning as described by the philosopher David Hume, who wrote in 1739 that “reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”
[k590] It justifies their perpetual employment as the high priests of reason, or as dispassionate philosopher-kings. It’s the ultimate rationalist fantasy–the passions are and ought only to be the servants of reason, to reverse Hume’s formulation. And just in case there was any doubt about Plato’s contempt for the passions, Timaeus adds that a man who masters his emotions will live a life of reason and justice, and will be reborn into a celestial heaven of eternal happiness. A man who is mastered by his passions, however, will be reincarnated as a woman.
[k627] Plato, Hume, and Jefferson tried to understand the design of the human mind without the help of the most powerful tool ever devised for understanding the design of living things: Darwin’s theory of evolution.
[k861] We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment.
[k933] A dog’s tail wags to communicate. You can’t make a dog happy by forcibly wagging its tail. And you can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments. Hume diagnosed the problem long ago: And as reasoning is not the source, whence either disputant derives his tenets; it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder principles.
[k945] But Carnegie was in fact a brilliant moral psychologist who grasped one of the deepest truths about conflict. He used a quotation from Henry Ford to express it: “If there is any one secret of success it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own.” [k948] It’s such an obvious point, yet few of us apply it in moral and political arguments because our righteous minds so readily shift into combat mode.
[k953] Empathy is an antidote to righteousness, although it’s very difficult to empathize across a moral divide.
[k1262] When discussions are hostile, the odds of change are slight. The elephant leans away from the opponent, and the rider works frantically to rebut the opponent’s charges. But if there is affection, admiration, or a desire to please the other person, then the elephant leans toward that person and the rider tries to find the truth in the other person’s arguments.
[k1375] But in the social world, things are different, according to Tetlock. The social world is Glauconian. Appearance is usually far more important than reality.
[k1380] Tetlock found that when left to their own devices, people show the usual catalogue of errors, laziness, and reliance on gut feelings that has been documented in so much decision-making research. But when people know in advance that they’ll have to explain themselves, they think more systematically and self-critically. They are less likely to jump to premature conclusions and more likely to revise their beliefs in response to evidence.
[k1424] But the self-proclaimed mavericks suffered shocks almost as big. They might indeed have steered by their own compass, but they didn’t realize that their compass tracked public opinion, not true north. It was just as Glaucon said.
[k1429] But the fact is that we care a lot about what others think of us. The only people known to have no sociometer are psychopaths.
[k1476] Schools don’t teach people to reason thoroughly; they select the applicants with higher IQs, and people with higher IQs are able to generate more reasons.
[k1554] Whatever you want to believe about the causes of global warming or whether a fetus can feel pain, just Google your belief. You’ll find partisan websites summarizing and sometimes distorting relevant scientific studies. Science is a smorgasbord, and Google will guide you to the study that’s right for you.
[k1607] The partisan brain has been reinforced so many times for performing mental contortions that free it from unwanted beliefs. Extreme partisanship may be literally addictive.
[k1611] As an intuitionist, I’d say that the worship of reason is itself an illustration of one of the most long-lived delusions in Western history: the rationalist delusion.
[k1628] Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason.
[k1633] This explains why the confirmation bias is so powerful, and so ineradicable.
[k1638] Gut feelings are sometimes better guides than reasoning for making consumer choices and interpersonal judgments, but they are often disastrous as a basis for public policy, science, and law. Rather, what I’m saying is that we must be wary of any individual’s ability to reason. We should see each individual as being limited, like a neuron. A neuron is really good at one thing: summing up the stimulation coming into its dendrites to “decide” whether to fire a pulse along its axon.A neuron by itself isn’t very smart. But if you put neurons together in the right way you get a brain; you get an emergent system that is much smarter and more flexible than a single neuron.
[k1650] And if our goal is to produce good behavior, not just good thinking, then it’s even more important to reject rationalism and embrace intuitionism.
[k1712] The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships.
[k1745] So let’s try to understand moral diversity first, before we judge other moralities.
[k1754] A dictum of cultural psychology is that “culture and psyche make each other up.”
[k1814] had read about Shweder’s ethic of community and had understood it intellectually. But now, for the first time in my life, I began to feel it. I could see beauty in a moral code that emphasizes duty, respect for one’s elders, service to the group, and negation of the self’s desires. I could still see its ugly side: I could see that power sometimes leads to pomposity and abuse. And I could see that subordinates–particularly women–were often blocked from doing what they wanted to do by the whims of their elders (male and female). But for the first time in my life, I was able to step outside of my home morality, the ethic of autonomy. I had a place to stand, and from the vantage point of the ethic of community, the ethic of autonomy now seemed overly individualistic and self-focused.
[k1878] The ethic of divinity is sometimes incompatible with compassion, egalitarianism, and basic human rights.
[k1933] In 1991, Shweder wrote about the power of cultural psychology to cause such awakenings: Yet the conceptions held by others are available to us, in the sense that when we truly understand their conception of things we come to recognize possibilities latent within our own rationality … and those ways of conceiving of things become salient for us for the first time, or once again. In other words, there is no homogeneous “backcloth” to our world. We are multiple from the start.
[k2030] In the decades after Hume’s death the rationalists claimed victory over religion and took the moral sciences off on a two-hundred-year tangent.
[k2048] The two leading ethical theories in Western philosophy were founded by men who were as high as could be on systemizing, and were rather low on empathizing.
[k2622] The message of my talk to the Charlottesville Democrats was simple: Republicans understand moral psychology. Democrats don’t.
[k2949] Liberals sometimes go beyond equality of rights to pursue equality of outcomes, which cannot be obtained in a capitalist system.
[k2981] Genes for fairness evolved, said Trivers, because people who had those genes outcompeted people who didn’t. We don’t have to abandon the idea of Homo economicus; we just have to give him emotional reactions that compel him to play tit for tat.
[k2992] Yet punish we do, and our propensity to punish turns out to be one of the keys to large-scale cooperation.
[k3181] In a few remarkable pages of The Descent of Man, Darwin made the case for group selection, raised the principal objection to it, and then proposed a way around the objection: When two tribes of primeval man, living in the same country, came into competition, if (other circumstances being equal) the one tribe included a great number of courageous, sympathetic and faithful members, who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other, this tribe would succeed better and conquer the other…. The advantage which disciplined soldiers have over undisciplined hordes follows chiefly from the confidence which each man feels in his comrades…. Selfish and contentious people will not cohere, and without coherence nothing can be effected. A tribe rich in the above qualities would spread and be victorious over other tribes.
[k3219] Darwin, writing in Victorian England, shared Glaucon’s view (from aristocratic Athens) that people are obsessed with their reputations. Darwin believed that the emotions that drive this obsession were acquired by natural selection acting at the individual level: those who lacked a sense of shame or a love of glory were less likely to attract friends and mates.
[k3315] My goal is to show you that morality is the key to understanding humanity.
[k3407] I used to believe that there were too many small steps in the evolution of morality to identify one as the Rubicon, but I changed my mind when I heard Michael Tomasello, one of the world’s foremost experts on chimpanzee cognition, utter this sentence: “It is inconceivable that you would ever see two chimpanzees carrying a log together.”
[k3430] Tomasello notes that these monkey hunts are the only time that chimps seem to be working together, yet even in these rare cases they fail to show the signs of real cooperation.
[k4065] Once you understand our dual nature, including our groupish overlay, you can see why happiness comes from between. We evolved to live in groups. Our minds were designed not only to help us win the competition within our groups, but also to help us unite with those in our group to win competitions across groups.
[k4195] The hypersensitive agency detection device is finely tuned to maximize survival, not accuracy.
[k4286] Irrational beliefs can sometimes help the group function more rationally, particularly when those beliefs rest upon the Sanctity foundation. Sacredness binds people together, and then blinds them to the arbitrariness of the practice.
[k4324] In one region of Bali, rainwater flows down the side of a high volcano through rivulets and rivers in the soft volcanic rock. Over several centuries the Balinese carved hundreds of terraced pools into the mountainside and irrigated them with an elaborate series of aqueducts and tunnels, some running underground for more than a kilometer. At the top of the whole system, near the crest of the volcano, they built an immense temple for the worship of the Goddess of the Waters. They staffed the temple with twenty-four full-time priests selected in childhood, and a high priest who was thought to be the earthly representative of the goddess herself.
[k4331] But how did the subaks work together to build the system in the first place?
[k4334] The ingenious religious solution to this problem of social engineering was to place a small temple at every fork in the irrigation system. The god in each such temple united all the subaks that were downstream from it into a community that worshipped that god, thereby helping the subaks to resolve their disputes more amicably.
[k4354] As Wilson puts it: “Religions exist primarily for people to achieve together what they cannot achieve on their own.”
[k4384] Gods and religions, in sum, are group-level adaptations for producing cohesiveness and trust.
[k4390] And 50,000 years is more than plenty of time for genes, brains, groups, and religions to have coevolved into a very tight embrace.
[k4396] Asking people to give up all forms of sacralized belonging and live in a world of purely “rational” beliefs might be like asking people to give up the Earth and live in colonies orbiting the moon.
[k4445] Putnam and Campbell put their findings bluntly: By many different measures religiously observant Americans are better neighbors and better citizens than secular Americans–they are more generous with their time and money, especially in helping the needy, and they are more active in community life.
[k4919] Social cohesion is a necessity, and mankind has never yet succeeded in enforcing cohesion by merely rational arguments.
[k4996] Even more amazingly, several studies have demonstrated that the phaseout, which began in the late 1970s, may have been responsible for up to half of the extraordinary and otherwise unexplained drop in crime that occurred in the 1990s. Tens of millions of children, particularly poor children in big cities, had grown up with high levels of lead, which interfered with their neural development from the 1950s until the late 1970s. The boys in this group went on to cause the giant surge of criminality that terrified America–and drove it to the right–from the 1960s until the early 1990s. These young men were eventually replaced by a new generation of young men with unleaded brains (and therefore better impulse control), which seems to be part of the reason the crime rate plummeted.
[k5008] Rather than building more prisons, the cheapest (and most humane) way to fight crime may be to give more money and authority to the Environmental Protection Agency.