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Book Review: “The Righteous Mind – Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathan Haidt

Book Review: “The Righteous Mind – Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathan Haidt

If we went for coffee today, this is what I would likely bring up. I just finished reading this book and it stretched me.

How did I get it?

I kept seeing this title referred to on Twitter among some of the accounts I follow for political commentary. I saw it referenced enough, and with enough direct encouragement to read it, that I put my request in at the local library for it.

I was like 10th in line. When it finally was available, I was away on a trip and couldn’t get it. So, I had to put my name in again, this time like 4th in line and finally was able to pick it up.

And, I can’t renew it, because there’s people waiting for it. And, I just finished it, 1 full day before it was due.

All that to say, I’m grateful for the local library, as this book is almost $30 new, and it’s obvious that it’s a popular book by how many people are in line to read it.

What’s it about?

Well, the author is a professor of psychology and a self-declared atheist liberal. In the book, he attempts to understand how two good people people can have such strong feelings about an issue that are completely opposite. Specifically, he can’t understand conservatives and wants to.

The book is a journey of discovery. He starts with the state of psychology about these things when he entered college and the prevailing paradigm that they worked under. He then shows how that was completely wrong, and how they discovered that people aren’t that way at all. I don’t recall what those things were, because they were wrong anyway.

Then, he has this epiphany of sorts, that people make these moral decisions based on their intuitions and then their reason will justify it. The metaphor he uses is like a rider on an elephant. The elephant really isn’t controlled at all by the rider, the rider is like the “press secretary” for the elephant, just telling other people why it’s so good whatever the elephant happens to be doing at the time.

But, then, his world gets upended because he took 6 months in India to do some field work. While he was there, he was immersed in a culture that prized authority and attributed a sacred value to objects. He scoffed at it in the beginning, but the longer he was there, he began to see the value of having these values in the culture.

That helped him to revise his entire thought process towards moral dilemmas, and quite frankly, gave him a tremendous amount of respect for conservatives.

That whole process was interesting as he was doing these surveys of ethical questions with people, and as he broadened the kinds of people that he would ask, it helped him to see the world the way that others see it. It rescued him from mocking and having a disdainful attitude towards others.

Lastly, he spent some time talking about “the hive insect” and the way that we humans have the capability of being like bees in this one respect. We have this ability to lose ourselves into a group, into a whole. The illustrations were amazing, as it’s something every human has experienced. Typically, for us in North America, it’s by being at a concert, where the beat and the rhythm and the singing, flips some switch in our brains and we become one massive group, and our sense of belonging and identity with everyone else is activated. That was wild to read about.

He closes the book with an appeal for people on both sides of the ideological aisle to attempt to understand each other, and recognize that we have different values, and those values, when understood, can be respected. The tension is good, and will help us make better political decisions.

What do I think? What’s my takeaway?

Well, I was astounded to see in black and white and even in diagrams how the conservative thinker actually has a broader and more developed palette of values. It made “my elephant” even more interested in people and what they think and believe and why. If you can believe it, it might make me more interested in a wider variety of people on a deeper level of topics.

This “hive mentality” thing is explosive. This is what is happening in some church services on a weekly basis. And, this is what some in our generation are really craving. They don’t have strong connections in their families and among their parents and grandparents and communities. And, so, being in a worship service, the music, the rhythm, the words, the singing, can bring such a powerful sense of belonging and oneness to the whole thing. No wonder I’ve walked away from some of those kinds of times, especially at the SouthEast Calvary Chapel Pastors Conference and the International Calvary Chapel Pastors and Leaders Conference thinking… “these are my people.” They are! And, that sense of oneness in our meetings is highly motivating. The “hive instinct” button got hit.

I think conclusions derived from the section on evolution would be way, way, easier to get to with creation. There would be a lot less guessing, and it would save a lot of embarrassment when someone comes along in a few years and shows how ridiculous all the speculative reasoning actually is.

Finally, I know this author didn’t intend this, and would probably cringe at my synopsis of his book earlier, and if I was his student would not giving me a passing grade, but he really did make the liberal atheist look ignorant, uninformed and immature. There was a big section in the book where he discussed the practical benefits of religion. It’s more than a foregone conclusion that humans thrive best in communities of faith. Beyond that, over and over, he explained how there’s really only one value that motivates the liberal and that’s care/harm. It’s off the charts. And, until this book, they had no way to understand a conservative other than as a heartless person.

Closing thoughts…

This is definitely a college-level book. It’s big, and parts of it are easy to get lost in. What he does really, really well in his writing, is his introductions to each chapter, and then the “In Sum” section at the end of each chapter. That’s a brilliant and helpful feature of his writing style.

His illustrations and stories are easy to follow. Without them, I would have been lost like a ball in high weeds!

How about you? Have you read this? Have you seen or heard people discussing it? What do you think of this “hive instinct?”

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2022 in Book Review

 

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