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!

Thinking about EVIL!

evil baumeisterHello all!! Not to play with the title too much or anything, but I’ve been really bad in the last few days about blogging. So I have a week’s worth of posts around the theme of being bad to make up for it…

Starting with this review of  a review of Baumeister’s work. Now I probably have to put in a ton of disclaimers because to be frank I’m not a psychologist or an expert on this subject. Fortunately this book is written in such a clear and logical fashion that even a totally bananas monkey, like me, can get a lot out of it. All the ideas are disseminated in a straight forward manner, without lofty prose to obscure the meaning, and with very solid reasoning behind the arguments put forth. As is probably apparent from the title, this book was heavy going at times- the subject matter is no picnic after all- however I was often grateful for the clinical style which allowed for fair analysis and conclusions to be drawn.

Apart from that, there were plenty of other small things to like about this book. One of the fantastic things about Evil is that in the introduction Baumeister lays out his intention to forgo political correctness, which therefore promises the reader there will be no skirting round the issues. With regard to politics, I did find coincidental signposting (even foreshadowing) of some more current ideologies rather telling (for instance, “countering the hatred of women with the hatred of men is a bad strategy” (82) ).

I did have a fair few niggling issues with the book, which left me not entirely satisfied. There were often moments where I was filling in the gaps of his argument- yet when I looked back overall Baumeister had addressed every one of those points. Perhaps it is just the way my brain works, but I felt like I’d write something in the margins and then see it discussed thirty pages later. I just felt like it could have been a little tighter.

Personally, I also felt like his arguments from a military perspective could also be lacking- for instance there was not one single reason for bombing Dresden, but rather the usual complex multiplicity of motives that arise as war escalates.

My final complaint was that I could not help but think of House, every so often, when he discussed issues from the perspective of the perpetrators…

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So while it provided good grounds for further exploration, I was left with many open-ended questions on subjects he touched on. But, considering the fact I was left with a thirst to discover more, I would say that this was in no way a bad thing.

Rating: 4/5 bananas


So are you interested in the psychology of evil? Will you be checking out this book? Let me know in the comments!