The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
June 29, 2012
Quick break from financial tech and risk. Ever find yourself occaisionally in a disagreement about an issue where you really struggle to understand the other person's point of view? It happens to me less than it used to I think (a sign of age I guess!), but I have found it most recently talking to some of the folks here about the division in US politics and intertwined issues such as healthcare. Hopefully these gaps in common understanding don't occur too often, but we all have our "values" and the way we all look at things can be wildly different in all walks of life, whether at work or at home.
Picking this up from a book review in the FT, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion has been a really interesting read and in my view a useful one. The book talks about people's ideas of "right" and "wrong" and demonstrates some very different behavioural differences in people based on questions that are (to say the least!) very interesting in their content.
The author, Jonathan Haidt, puts forward a model of human morals with six different dimensions:
He suggests that his studies (involving some feedback from the tests on his site YourMorals.org) suggest the following differences in values and morals between liberals (mostly Democrat), conservatives (mostly Republican) and libertarians (again mostly Republican voters):
- Liberals – main concerns around Care/Harm (focussed on equality of outcome), Liberty/Oppression and Fairness/Cheating
- Libertarians – main concerns around Liberty/Oppression, some concerns on Fairness/Cheating (mainly proportionality rather than equality of outcome)
- Conservatives – seem to value all six dimensions of morality relatively evenly
So on the political debate here in the US, Haidt's work seems to suggest that liberals/Democrats find it difficult to engage with Republicans since they simply aren't registering the relative importance of Loyalty/Betrayal (e.g. support for the armed forces abroad), Authority/Subversion (e.g. anti-Occupy Wall St) and Sanctity/Degradation (e.g. abortion) to Republican voters. Obviously this misunderstanding/mis-comprehension works in reverse too. I think Haidt should extend his research to look at national and geographical differences in morals – it might go someway to explain general differences in approaches between Americans and Europeans.
Anyway, forgive my too-short (and uneducated) summary above, but the book is a very interesting read and even puts forward some theories as to why some people are more liberal or conservative in their thinking. It is also worth reading simply for the questions Haidt asks in his experimental research on morality – they will both entertain and potentially disgust some, but great topics for a lively conversation once the first glass of wine has gone down…
p.s. a couple of other (related) good reads: