The Righteous Mind: A Worthy Read

righteous mind

“My goal in this book is to draw some of the heat, anger and divisiveness out of these topics and replace them with awe, wonder, and curiosity.”

I knew this would be good. Having watched some of Haidt’s interviews and lectures, I already had a pretty clear view of his intellectual rigour. Yet what I didn’t know before going into this was how powerful and necessary this book would be. Especially in today’s incendiary political climate, Righteous Mind successfully bridges the growing gap between partisan views.

“Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say”

Exploring the differences in liberal/conservative thinking through moral psychology, this book gives a fascinating view into partisanship, polarisation and the moral blindness (on both sides) that can stand in the way of productive debates.

“We humans have an extraordinary ability to care about things beyond ourselves, to circle around those things with other people, and in the process to bind ourselves to teams they can pursue larger projects.”

This is a rich area for discussion and exploration, so don’t expect to walk away from this book with a complete picture. Nonetheless, it will certainly provide an interested individual with plenty of puzzle pieces to get started.

“Team membership blinds people to the motives and morals of their opponents- and to the wisdom that is to be found scattered among diverse political ideologies.”

What’s especially interesting about Righteous Mind is that it tracks a personal journey. If you’re familiar with the author, you might know that he’s had an intriguing political awakening over the last few years, leading Haidt to co-founding the Heterodox Academy (a membership organisation that supports viewpoint diversity in universities). Needless to say, this book serves a purpose in that greater desire to create civil dialogues.

“It felt good to be released from partisan anger. And once I was no longer angry, I was no longer committed to reaching the conclusion that righteous anger demands: we are right, they are wrong.”

While there is some “suspicion of moral monists” prevalent in the book, the fundamental message is empathetic and understanding. It ends on a beautiful idea: we can work it out. Above all, this book encourages people to sit down and find common ground.

Interesting titbits from the book:

  • Liberals have a harder time predicting/understanding conservatives (probably more to do with the political climate than anything innate)
  • Conservatives lower in agreeableness (Dr Peterson currently has a doctorate student exploring how the big five personality can be used to predict political views, so essentially true, but there’s more complexity here)
  • To understand another group, follow the sacredness
  • There’s more to morality than harm and fairness.
  • Like rats that cannot stop pressing a button, partisans may be simply unable to stop believing weird things.
  • We found that libertarians look more like liberals than like conservatives on most measures of personality

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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Have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

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All the ways you can shoehorn politics into your book

Hello!! After my post yesterday, I thought it might be fun to talk about all the ways you can (and some of the ways I’ve seen) shoehorn politics into books- enjoy!

Usual *disclaimers* that this is satire and should not be taken too seriously applies…

First and foremost, let’s address the elephant in the room: Donald Trump is ORANGE- and there’s no way that joke’s been overused- so make it at least five times. For no reason. Preferably with cheerleaders over lunch. Because cheerleaders are very politically engaged.

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Yeah laugh it up… but all us orangutans are *offended*

While we’re at it these high schoolers are having a normal conversation and then BAM *moralising*. It’s been a lonnng time since I’ve mentioned this but you can and you must *insert the most banal opinions* into dialogue. Preferably something that virtue signals just how on message the author is and strawmans the opposing view. My favourite is the good, old-fashioned “war is bad”. You can follow this up with “yes, but it’s necessary”, then “but it’s b-a-d”. Etcetera, etcetera, until the bell tolls.

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Well done, have a pat on the back

Oh look, your character has litter- and you know what that means don’t you… GLOBAL WARMING (of course there are several stages in between, but who cares, what is science anyway) And you know when I’m reading a fluffy teen romance, I want to be reminded that the polar ice caps are melting. Please, tell me more. Time for a page long monologue while they walk the halls…

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Remember: “catch it, bin it, kill it”- put that on your book’s tagline 😉

Now your character is sitting in class. Perfect time for some internal thoughts! Perhaps akin to: “Something, something, red button, something something, we’re all gonna die… oh is that a hot guy! Never mind.” That’s called stream of consciousness and it’s for only the smartest writers!

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BREXIT (there’s no punchline, just put that in and leave your reader to squirm)

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Also, the teacher gets to use their lesson as a soapbox for their political views- YAY MORE MORALISING! (actually this happens … I don’t know why I’m being so sarky about books for, they’re kinda just representing the politicisation of everyday life- which means all of the above is actually just representing real life- which makes me wonder WHAT THE HELL is happening in the real world arghhhh)

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Annnd that’s all I have for now! What other ways do you think politics can be shoehorned into a book? Let me know in the comments!

Politicked Out

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Well here’s something I’m not sure many people on here know: I’m obsessed with politics. It’s pretty hard to get me to shut up about it in real life and I follow a lot of it (too much). So by rights you would assume that every time an especially political book comes out that I’d be excited to read it… but that’s not the case at all.

You see, what with all the podcasts and articles I read, I can’t say I’m especially excited to read books that moralise to me about matters that I’m pretty sure they know nothing about (well the arguments often use generally betray that)

Now I’m not talking about books where it’s pretty clear that they’ll be political- especially non-fiction– because they’re “does what it says on the tin” kind of books. And if you pick up a can of beans and are disappointed when you find that it is in fact a can of beans, then that’s on you. All I can say about that is I went about 6 months subconsciously avoiding any fiction which is overtly political– and now that I know I’m doing it, I’m gonna keep at it deliberately.

Because the truth is- and forgive me for making the political personal- I’m a bit tired of it all. I’m tired of the constant intrusion of politics into art, I’m tired of the fact I can’t go five minutes without being clobbered over the head with someone’s view, I’m tired of feeling like there’s a good chance I’ll have to defend my political views or skirt over it entirely if I do decide to share my thoughts on a book. For goodness sakes- I’m a book reviewer- not an economist, not a social commentator, not a politician.

Yet there seems to be a movement of people- especially in the contemporary world- who are determined to bring messages into books, make every romance political, overpower us all with their propagandistic flair. *Newsflash*: that’s not how it works, nor how it should work (crazy idea, I know, but if you want to be informed you have to read some pretty boring things). I don’t think anyone’s mind was ever changed by a throwaway line in a fluffy romance… just sayin’.

And what I’ve found is that when it comes to reviewing books which have sneak attack politics embedded into their core is that I don’t feel comfortable objectively discussing what I had an issue with– which makes my job as a reviewer nigh on impossible. I can’t lie and I can’t get into the ins and outs without writing an off-topic essay. And I don’t especially want to (see above: not a politician, don’t want to be either). Nor do I fancy being dragged over the coals for my political views. It’s not really relevant.

Of course, everyone has the right to read what they want; everyone has the right to write what they want. All I’ll say, for people planning on shoehorning politics into their books, spare a thought for us poor political junkies who might end up reading it. It’s not necessary all the damn time.

Apologies for the rant, just needed to get all this off my chest. I’ll leave you with this:

What do you feel about politics in books? Yay or nay? Let me know in the comments!

The Gulag Archipelago: The Book That Shook the Soviet Union and Why You Need to Read It

“Hate begets hate! The black water of hate flows easily and quickly along the horizontal. That was easier than for it to erupt upward through a crater against those who conundrum both the old and the young to a slave’s fate.”

Gulag Archipelago, 3 volumes

It’s hard to talk about such a monumental book. Scratch that: it’s nigh on impossible. A thorough, detailed work drawing on Solzhenitsyn’s own experience and the accounts of 200+ fellow prisoners and Soviet archives, this book revealed the true nature of the Stalin’s tyrannical regime and decimated the claim of communism’s moral superiority.

“like eyes seeing through badly prescribed eyeglasses could in no wise read with exactitude the phrases of the cruel teaching. Not long before, apparently, proclaimed terror- yet it was still impossible to believe!”

Credited with exposing the Stalinist regime, this book stands as an historical landmark. Yet it has also had remarkable implications for political philosophy and literature.

“It was a second Civil War- this time against the peasants. It was indeed the Great Turning Point, or as the phrase had it, the Great Break. Only we are never told what broke.

It was the backbone of Russia.”

One notable aspect I found in the opening chapter, “Arrest”, was the Kafkaesque feel and how remarkably reminiscent it was of The Trial. However, as I continued reading, I soon realised how it proved the prophetic nature of more than one book. Time and time again, as I’ve mentioned on this blog, I found myself reminded of 1984– a book written long before Gulag’s publication in 1973. From descriptions of censorship to the police state (with its informers, spies, and interrogators), the correlation was simply uncanny.

 “Nothing more horrible!” exclaimed Tolstoi. It is, however, very easy to imagine things more horrible. It is more horrible when executions take place not from time to time, and in one particular city of which everybody knows, but everywhere and every day and not twenty but two hundred at a time, with the newspapers saying nothing about it in print big or small, but saying instead that “life has become more cheerful””

More even than this, the book was a cry for freedom from beneath the oppressive heel of the Soviet government. As discussed in the chapter “Our Muzzled Freedom”, the constant fear, servitude, corruption, secrecy and mistrust all played their part in keeping people in line.

“And what the devil is the point of talking about the any kind of struggle? Struggle against whom? Against our own people? Struggle- for what? For personal release? For that you don’t need to struggle, you have to ask according to rules. A struggle for the overthrow of the Soviet Union government? Shut your mouth.”

Yet the truths of the Gulag do not end there. It is, frankly, impossible to read this and not draw parallels with the Communist Manifesto, with other communist regimes or with present day societies like North Korea. Gulag is the actualisation of a far left ideology which breeds on the fury of resentment, facilitates theft, and is fundamentally anti-freedom after all. Crucially, this is the book that dispels the myth that “communism has never really been tried”- here is  documented the outcome of that failed experiment.

 “Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology”

“Ideology that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination.”

And that really was my primary interest in reading it. Not to include a diatribe about my own political journey, but I felt like my education on this subject was severely lacking. There’s this generic phrase toted about when it comes to communism: “it’s a nice idea, but it really doesn’t really work.” No. It’s not a “nice idea”. Not even kind of close.

“To do evil human being must first believe what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Fortunately, it is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions.”

As this book exemplifies, there’s nothing nice about the deliberate breakdown of the family, with children forced into an endless cycle of camps and accusations (ie relating to the aim in the Communist Manifesto titled  “Abolition of the family”). There’s nothing nice about the “abolition of bourgeois individuality, bourgeois independence, and bourgeois freedom”-  which is a fancy way to say the enslavement of large swathes of the population based on group identity (an identity defined as and when needed). There’s nothing nice about all the power “in the hands of the State” and the consequential torture, secret police, or kangaroo courts that inevitably entails.

“Some children cannot adjust to artificial feeding without their mothers and die. The survivors are sent after a year to a general orphanage. And thus it is that the son of two natives may depart from the Archipelago for the time being though not without hope of returning as a juvenile offender”

Now I will be honest: it’s not an easy book to read. The Peasant Plague chapter, for instance, begins: “This chapter will deal with a small matter. Fifteen million lives”. Gulag is more harrowing than a cry from the depths of an authoritarian regime- it is the echoing silence of people who never had the opportunity to speak.  It’s something you’ll be in for the long haul, it’s graphically harrowing and it’s a hard slog- but it is essential reading if you care about concepts of freedom, democracy, and humanity itself.

“they quite blatantly borrowed from the Nazis the practice which had proved valuable to them- the substitution of a number for the prisoner’s name, his “I”, his human individuality, so that the difference between one and another was a digit more or less in an otherwise identical row of figures.”

Above all, though, you should read it because you can. Returning to the beginning of my journey, one of the first things I wrote in my notes was the story of how this was smuggled into the West, how the author was censored in Russia, and how the preface addresses the fact that names are often left out to protect identities. I am reminded how Solzhenitsyn writes “the very reading and handing on of this book will be very dangerous, so that I am bound to salute future readers”- which is why I now say over to you.

“Is it not more dreadful that we were being told thirty years later “Don’t talk about it!” If we start to recall the sufferings of millions, we are told it will distort the historical perspective! If we doggedly seek out the essence of our morality, we are told it will darken our material progress.”

Naturally, I’m not including a rating or anything like that here, but do let me know if you plan to read it.

A Critical Review of The Tiger Who Came To Tea

*Insert usual “this is satire” disclaimer here: sometimes my brain just comes up with this and I can’t be held accountable 😉 *

In times of Trump…

And of Brexit…

What we really need is to come together and invite tigers into our homes… to steal our food and make our water bills impossibly high…?

Wait a minute… I don’t think this book is actually being inclusive. In fact, I think The Tiger Who Came to Tea is actually bigoted propaganda for the BNP… or something…

Oh my goodness, Judith Kerr ran away from the Nazis to start her own genocide against tigers!!! This is racist bilge and we must burn it… Cos that worked out so many times before…

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#MakeCensorshipGreatAgain

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Oh boy- I just know I’ll get in trouble for this one- I really shouldn’t be allowed near children’s books, should I?

The Great Thing About Hogwarts Houses… And Sorting British Politicians!

If there’s one thing I really like about Hogwarts, it’s the Houses system. What makes it different from, say, Divergent is that it is not just measuring your qualities, nor does it completely define you, but takes into account who you want to be most- it’s what makes it the perfect system. It’s how people perceive themselves, rather than what they are. And it’s why it makes sense to me that Peter Pettigrew was in Gryffindor and that Snape would identify himself with Slytherin. (It’s also why Dumbledore is right about sorting them to early- cos let’s face it, eleven year olds don’t always have a huge amount of self-awareness)

As you can see it’s an area that is ripe for discussion. Now since writing my review of Boris Johnson’s Churchill biography– partly looking into BoJo’s own character- I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with my friend a while ago where we started “sorting” British politicians into houses. I’d like to share some of my theories with you:

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I’d put Theresa May in Ravenclaw- she’s certainly a very capable woman

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I had a massive disagreement with my friend on where to put BoJo- but I chose Gryffindor- because I bet he’d ask the hat to put him there for sure. It’s not that I think he deserves to be, but that he wants to be.

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Nick Clegg would definitely get put in Hufflepuff- not that he’s especially loyal- but he’d probably like to think he is. Plus there’s no way he’s smart or cunning or bold enough for the other houses.

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No hesitation- Osborne would be sorted into Slytherin faster than you could say “by George!”- I think he’d actually beat Draco Malfoy’s record for how long it took the Sorting Hat to decide.

Jeremy Corbyn is, of course, a muggle 😉

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Sorry, sorry, I forgot, he prefers “Supreme Leader”…

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So what do you think? Do you agree with me? And- dare I ask- where would you place your politicians? 

(Meanwhile I’m looking forward to all the love I’m gonna get from Corbynistas 😉 )