Monday, November 17, 2014

The Righteous Mind

[Guest Contributor - Donald G. Mutersbaugh Sr.]

I would like to share my thoughts about a book whose subtopic should be of interest to all political animals and religious leaders: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Jonathan Haidt's words of wisdom can be summed up: whatever position you have politically or religiously, always try to question what else it is that you are missing. Henry Ford had similar thinking: “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 that person’s angle as well as from your own.” What makes Haidt’s rather scholarly work different centers on this: Reason is often less decisive in deciding what the best moral or political position is; rather, it’s our emotions and intuitions that react first. The following presentation will include quotes from Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind.  Please keep in mind that this is more of a book review than an editorial. Also, be aware that there are many other points to his theory, but space limitations prevent me from presenting all of them; this is a summary of the main topics.
Haidt starts with notion that our views are the product of reasoned thought. Haidt uses the metaphor of an elephant and rider. The rider is our conscious (rational) mind, which you may believe is in charge. But the elephant is our unconscious (intuition) mind, which is far bigger and stronger. The rider is really the elephant’s servant whose job it is to come up with rationalizations justifying the elephant’s position and movement. This is the first principle of moral psychology: “Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.” As Heidt recommends, “Thinking in this way [rider and elephant] can make you more patient with other people. When you catch yourself making up ridiculous post hoc arguments, you might be slower to dismiss other people just because you can so easily refute their arguments.” He then presents “The social intuitionist model. Intuitions come first and reasoning is usually produced after a judgment is made, in order to influence other people. But as the discussion progresses, the reasons given by other people sometimes change our intuitions and judgments.”
In the next section Heidt presents the second principle of moral psychology: “There's more to morality than harm and fairness…. Moral matrices bind people together and blind them to the coherence, or even existence, of other matrices. This makes it very difficult for people to consider the possibility that there might really be more than one form of moral truth, or more than one valid framework for judging people or running a society.” Heidt uses a metaphor that the righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors (the following is directly quoted):
The Care/harm foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of caring for vulnerable children.
The Fairness/cheating foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of reaping the rewards of cooperation without getting exploited.
The Loyalty/betrayal foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forming and maintaining coalitions.
The Authority/subversion foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forging relationships that will benefit us within social hierarchies.
The Sanctity/degradation foundation evolved initially in response to the adaptive challenge of the omnivore's dilemma, and then the broader challenge of living in a world of pathogens and parasites…. It makes possible for people to invest objects with irrational and extreme values – both positive and negative – which are important for binding groups together.
The Liberty/oppression foundation… evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of living in small groups with individuals who would, if given the chance, dominate, bully, and constrain others.
You might ask why this is important. It is because liberals, conservatives and libertarians all place differing degrees of emphasis on these different foundations. In the Liberal Moral Matrix, the most sacred value is care for the victims of oppression. In the Libertarian Moral Matrix, the most sacred value is individual liberty. And in the Social Conservative Moral Matrix, the most sacred value is to preserve the institutions and traditions that sustain a moral community. “Republicans understand the social intuitionist model better than do Democrats. Republicans speak more directly to the elephant. They also have a better grasp of Moral Foundations Theory; they trigger every single taste receptor [six, not just two or three].” This is why Republicans have a hard time understanding Democrats and why Democrats have a hard time understanding Republicans. All of these people are good people, intelligent people, and mean well; it's more of a comprehension or lack of understanding type of problem.
The third part of the book deals with our “groupishness”. As he explains, “Yes, people are often selfish, and a great deal of our moral, political, and religious behavior can be understood as thinly veiled ways of pursuing self-interest…. But it's also true that people are groupish. We love to join teams, clubs, leagues, and fraternities. We take on group identities and work shoulder to shoulder with strangers toward common goals so enthusiastically that it seems as if our minds were designed for teamwork…. our minds contain a variety of mental mechanisms that make us adept at promoting our group's interests, in competition with other groups.”This leads us to the third and final principle of moral psychology: "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." Once we understand this, it makes it easier for us to understand who we are, and more importantly, it helps us to understand the opposing viewpoint of another group. With this approach, we hopefully avoid the tendency to negatively confront the other group – just because it's the other group. It also helps explain why people make decisions within the group that might be different than what the individual wants: it's because we are “groupish”!
So, if you’re ready to trade in anger for understanding, do as Haidt concludes: "We`re all stuck here for a while, so let`s try to work it out."
Donald G. Mutersbaugh, Sr. earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Maryland and his Master of Business Administration degree from Mary Washington College. He is the former Associate Administrator of Information Resources for the U.S House of Representatives under Speaker Newt Gingrich. He is also an ordained minister and has a Doctor of Divinity degree.

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