Interesting Reading…

I recently read a book titled “The Righteous Mind”, Why Good People Are Divided by Politics & Religion authored By Jonathon Haidt.  His summary of this book is found below:

In Sum

People don’t adopt their ideologies at random, or by soaking up whatever ideas are around them.  People whose genes gave them brains that get a special pleasure from novelty, variety, and diversity, while simultaneously being less sensitive to signs of threat, are predisposed (but not predestined) to become liberals.  They tend to develop certain “characteristic adaptations” and “life narratives” that make them resonate – unconsciously and intuitively – with the grand narratives told by political movements on the left (such as the liberal progressive narrative).  People whose genes give them brains with opposite settings are predisposed, for the same reasons, to resonate with the grand narratives of the right (such as the Reagan narrative).

Once people join a political team, they get ensnared in its moral matrix.  They see confirmation of their grand narrative everywhere, and it’s more difficult – perhaps impossible – to convince them that they are wrong if you argue with them from outside of their matrix.  I suggested that liberals might have even more difficulty understanding conservatives than the other way around, because liberals often have difficulty understanding how the Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity foundations have anything to do with morality.  In particular, liberals often have difficulty seeing moral capital, which I defined as the resources that sustain a moral community.

I suggested that liberals and conservatives are like yin and yang – both are “necessary elements of a healthy state of political life,” as John Stuart Mill put it.  Liberals are experts in care; they are better able to see the victims of existing social arrangements, and they continually push us to update those arrangements and invent new ones.  As Robert F. Kennedy said: “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why?  I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”  I showed how this moral matrix leads liberals to make two points that are (in my opinion) profoundly important for the health of a society: (1) governments can and should restrain corporate superorganisms, and (2) some big problems really can be solved by regulation.

I explained how libertarians (who sacralize liberty) and social conservatives (who sacralize certain institutions and traditions) provide a crucial counterweight to the liberal reform movements that have been so influential in America and Europe since the early twentieth century.  I said that libertarians are right that markets are miraculous (at least when their externalities and other failures can be addressed), and I said that social conservatives are right if you don’t usually help the bees by destroying the hive.

Finally, I said that the increasing Manichaesism of American political life is not something we can address by signing pledges and resolving to be nicer.  Our politics will become more civil when we find ways to change the procedures for electing politicians and the institutions and environments within which they interact.

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 the battle.  It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.

This was a good book, that required a bit of work to read and understand.  It was even-handed and frankly came as close to the non-offensive definition of liberals and conservatives as my mind’s eye laid out for me.  I suspect this might be a book that could go some distance to help keep the debate between more-liberal and more-conservative people civilized and productive.

If you have those of the opposite political persuasion with whom you discuss politics or simply things political, I would suggest you go to this book to find both sides well-represented so far as substance and logic.  There is a place for both approaches and it is nice that there is a well-written book to which to turn for this earnest discussion.

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