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Book: The Righteous Mind

by John on 09/24/2012

If you read this site, then you need to read this book.  Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion could be the basis for Informed Not Inflamed.

That being said, I may be blinded by his findings since they coincide so closely to mine – which is also a lesson of his book.  The difference: The Righteous Mind is a serious academic work; Informed Not Inflamed is a journalist’s observations of politics that uses the findings of people like Haidt.

I owe him a lot.

I’ll give you the Informed Not Inflamed book review in this posting.  But in subsequent postings, I will discuss how the book explains the current presidential campaign.  And I will offer you my – gulp – biases and insights that this book shows who I am.  (Don’t worry; it will be a separate post you can skip.)

First, here’s my review.

Haidt studies moral psychology and he uses scientific research to explain why our political views are so divergent in American society.  He admits to being a liberal.  But he shows great sympathy and empathy for conservatives.  In short, he becomes one with his findings.

Key points:

  1. There are reasons why some of us – even from different families and who are close friends – vote differently.
  2. We individuals tend to be group-ish.  It gives us identity.
  3. We also tend to react with our most primitive or innate reactions, then we use our intellect to justify them.
  4. Groups bind and blind.  There is a double-edged sword to our political, fraternal, business, and religious institutions.   They bring cohesion and order to society but they eventually become immoral to stay intact.
  5. There are six moral foundations in each of us.  Republicans experience all six; Democrats are influenced by three.
  6. By understanding these foundations, we can see what foundations are more prevalent in ourselves and our friends and new acquaintances.
  7. Haidt actually gives us ways to talk to each other civilly.

Who should read this book?

  • People are who are truly dismayed by the cacophony we call political discourse.
  • Liberals should read this to understand conservatives; and vice versa.
  • Aspiring and experienced journalists can use the book to better appeal to readers and interview subjects.
  • Political historians will enjoy how a psychologist explains liberals, libertarians, and conservatives.  (In a later post, I will explore how today’s Republican Party is no longer conservative, but almost an Orthodox Libertarianism.)  

Who should speed read the book?

Those of you who find scientific studies – and some its minutia – boring can read the first chapter and the last two chapters.   There’s a lot of Locke, Hume, Darwin, Durkheim, and Mill.  Plus, he gets into genetics and anthropology as well.  For some of you, there might be too much – what I call – “Inside Academics” about schools of thought that were negated in earlier decades and are now back in vogue.

People who shouldn’t read the book?

If you’re parochial in your religious beliefs, then this book might really set you off.  Haidt shows how Darwin explains our religious mind.  You might think he is telling you you’re a Neanderthal if you vote one way; he’s not, but you still might think it.

More in coming posts.

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