The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Author: Jonathan Haidt
All Hacker News 7
This Year Reddit 73
This Month Reddit 4


by TheAceOfHearts   2019-07-12
I'm surprised nobody has mentioned this one yet: "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion", by Jonathan Haidt [0]. This book fundamentally changed how I think about religion and politics. It helped me understand a lot of behaviors which I'd previous considered absolutely incomprehensible.


by crazygringo   2019-06-28
From the links, it seems like his main criticism of Dawkins is actually merely the word "selfish" in the title of his book, and that the CEO of Enron liked it?

Yes, Dawkins is saying that "universal love" does not have an evolutionary component, which seems like a fairly uncontroversial claim.

It seems like your criticism of Dawkins is more a criticism of how other people have misunderstood him, rather than any criticism of the arguments in The Selfish Gene itself?

If you haven't, I highly suggest you read Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind". While it's at a popular level, it does a fairly good job at presenting a plausible framework for how moral behavior (like altruism) can emerge from evolutionary principles. [1] Haidt is probably one of the most influential moral psychologists today.


by mpwoz   2019-04-08
I found the book 'The Righteous Mind' very eye-opening and it talks about exactly these things, I recommend it to all my friends.

Particularly relevant to my own experience was the commentary on how politicians have become less cooperative with their rivals in other parties, and how political views/party associations have become more extreme/less tolerant overall.

Highly recommend.

by BeetleB   2018-11-16
Often mentioned on HN, Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind ( is a worthy read. Briefly: Almost everyone comes up with the conclusion first, and rationale later. The former drives the latter. He gives examples from studies where people gave responses similar to what this paper has: Very poor reasons, and occasionally nonsensical ones.

This is true for pretty much everyone - don't go and count yourself as the exception. The more intelligent you are, the more refined your reasoning, but there's evidence to show that intelligence will not lower the bias. Counterarguments from others as intelligent or more intelligent will. One of the curses of being more intelligent is that if you hold a biased view, you usually need someone as smart as you to change your mind. The smarter you get, the fewer people there are who can help remove your bias.

Some people are more objective than others, but often only in a limited domain - not in their whole lives.

>However, 20 per cent of justifications were subjective and involved making a reference to one’s cultural identity, personal experience.

The book also touches on this. In my personal experience, fact based reasoning is rarer than this. There are many reasons people believe something. Attempting to discern the Truth is usually in the minority. It is to be expected that all the other reasons will be more prevalent - they simply have more utility than merely gaining knowledge. It shouldn't surprise people that factual reasoning is rare - it has little utility in most spheres of life. Much less than social cohesion and tribalism does.

Consider the issue of intelligence, and its spread across various groups (usually race and gender). It's very common to find a very well educated person insist that everyone is born equally with the same mental/intelligence potential, and differences exist merely in the extent they foster it. When asked for their rationale/evidence, the answer is usually a variant of "I choose to believe it" (usually for ideological or cultural reasons). I'm not referring only to ordinary folks, but also to university academics, etc.

(I'm not saying that they are factually wrong - merely the reasons they believe it are not based on any facts).

>whether they agreed with the scientific consensus on climate change, vaccines, genetically modified (GMO) foods and evolution

Two of those items (vaccines and GMO foods) touch on a strongly cultural force on purity. The book shows that a lot of people value purity (likely a genetic trait). They associate food consumption not just with physical health, but also mental/spiritual health. So they are quite sensitive to "unnatural" or foreign agents going into their bodies.

by Arguss   2018-11-10



  • Worldly is the Vox podcast for international politics, although it's not just exclusively Middle East, it does talk about it, including an episode on the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, and an episode on the war in Yemen being a proxy-war for two regional Middle Eastern powers.

  • The Weeds is Vox's podcast for domestic politics, which is pretty good.

  • Pod Save America is run by two former Obama staffers and is openly liberally biased, but quite fun.

  • Revolutions podcast goes through the big revolutions of history; their causes, the systemic failures that allowed them to occur, the reforms that weren't done, the way each side was perceived politically at the time, the actual wars/battles that occurred, and the political results.

The podcast so far has talked about: The English Civil War, The American Revolution, The French Revolution, The Haitian Revolution (the first successful slave-led revolution), The Venezuelan Revolution (and basically all of Northwest South America), The French Revolution of 1830, and they're now on The Revolutions of 1848.

These revolutions as you listen to them end up having common themes and patterns, and their political ideas shaped modern political discourse, such that what we now consider the 'acceptable bounds' of political discourse was largely determined by these earlier revolutions.

by austex_mike   2018-11-10

The best place to start is with J. Haidt's book The Righteous Mind .

Start with this video of him talking about his research, it is amazing.

by thexfiles81   2018-11-10

> often times the answer seems self-evident at a certain point, even if it would be difficult to convince someone else

I feel this way a lot too. Sometimes it feels like even if you were to find an absolute truth, nobody would want to listen anyways.

>For what I'm working on tonight, trying to develop ideas of how belief systems get constructed in people, and what it takes to make them change or shift them.

I've been reading a book on this sort of thing lately. Here's a link . I'm most of the way through and it seems to be a pretty well put together book that makes some good points about how and why people end up believing the way they do. You might like it.

by V_varius   2018-11-10

What's usually meant by that, I think, is that he's blunt.

Also, if you believe wrong things, he does seem to speak a lot of truth. Pigs don't know pigs stink, and Trump sure tells it like it is.

Edit: The 'pigs' line makes me sound more disgust -sensitive than I am, but everyone has the problem of not knowing what they don't know, and struggles to change that.

by sasha_says   2018-11-10

Jonathan Haidt The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives which I also highly recommend.

I recommend this lecture on fairness in economics that compares John Rawls and Robert Nozick’s notions of how to fairly distribute wealth among society.

Also Keynes and Hayek for economic theory/policy.

by bananymousse   2018-11-10

Sorry man, I'm not a social scientist, I just read the books. Specifically in this case, Haidt's The Righteous Mind . He also is more interested in talking about the different priorities between democrats and republicans in the US, so that's usually what he focuses on when he talks about it. My google-fu isn't great either.

Best I can find are some articles like this one from 2009, with comments that touch on it, like:

>As part of that early research, Haidt and a colleague, Brazilian psychologist Silvia Koller, posed a series of provocative questions to people in both Brazil and the U.S. One of the most revealing was: How would you react if a family ate the body of its pet dog, which had been accidentally run over that morning?

>"There were differences between nations, but the biggest differences were across social classes within each nation," Haidt recalls. "Students at a private school in Philadelphia thought it was just as gross, but it wasn't harming anyone; their attitude was rationalist and harm-based. But when you moved down in social class or into Brazil, morality is based not on just harm. It's also about loyalty and family and authority and respect and purity. That was an important early finding."

But for the actual studies you're gonna have to find someone who knows how to find those. Like I said, I just read the books. :(

The gist of the argument though, as I remember it, is basically that intelligent / clever / higher-educated (e.g. rich) people are much better at thinking through moral challenges than someone of the working-class might be. E.g., a clever person might come across a moral problem and, when deciding whether an action is immoral or not, carefully consider how much harm it causes, if any.

I think the canon example he uses at this point, when he only has time for one, is that of a guy buying a chicken for dinner and taking it home and fucking it before eating it. The intuition of most people to that example is various levels of revulsion and disgust, but 'clever' people when asked to justify that intuition won't be able to - fucking a dead chicken isn't actually harming anyone - so they conclude that actually it's fine. While someone who isn't good at thinking through their moral intuitions will simply say that fucking the chicken is inherently morally wrong and there's something wrong with you for even asking them to justify it. Of course, it goes the other way as well - with clever people being much better at justifying committing actual harm because (they think, or even just pretend) it's worth it for some greater goal. I'm sure we can all think of plenty of examples of that.

Haidt then goes on to conjecture at length about "moral foundations", and how e.g. people feel like fucking a chicken is wrong because it's a "morally impure" act that's derived from some complicated sense of associations mixed with our natural disgust intuitions (and which activates the same center in our brain that is responsible for physical disgust) and, uh, I realize now as I try to explain it that I'm not able to do his explanation justice on the fly right here - I'd have to read the relevant parts of the book again to give a good description of it. Don't know if I 100% buy the arguments for the moral foundations, but they, well... they're very clever, let met just leave it at that for now.

Book is definitely highly worth a read though, if you have the money / time for it.

by MrLegilimens   2018-11-10

If people are looking for more palatable reading about MFT, I believe Haidt just released a pop book about it.

I can also provide the academic sources if required! But yes, agreed this is a great starting place for discussion.

by Sunfried   2018-11-10

You certainly can.

If audio is more your thing, Haidt's been on a load of podcasts -- pretty much anything devoted to psychology, cognition, reason, social science, that sort of thing.

by jahfeelbruh   2018-11-10

Glad you enjoyed it. I only skimmed the article briefly to ensure it contained the points I was referring to. If you want to really get into that moral matrix stuff I would read his book The Righteous Mind . It was super interesting and I think it helped me take a step back and understand that it is okay to have differing points of view and that the vast majority of people are all trying to get to a better tomorrow, they just have wildly different views on how to do it. Plus his "elephant and the rider" metaphor is a superb way to understand your emotions and how they play into your logic and reasoning.

And yeah I understand the need to catch peoples attention with quick quips or memes, but I think that is severely damaging to a fruitful discussion. I know Lo can't write a white paper to everyone who he disagrees with nor do I expect him to, and I don't think he shouldn't give a verbal thrashing to people who are being assholes, but there should be some basic standards that we use to refute ideas and disavow the people espousing those ideas. Otherwise this is always going to be an us vs. them mentality that will never lead to anything more than hate for each other and zero progression to a better system.

by imVINCE   2018-11-10

Religion probably served a really important evolutionary function, as well, by ensuring social cohesion around a shared set of beliefs and identities, allowing for tight group bonding which gave some groups a selective advantage. Of course, in today's world this can actually become harmful- particularly when the shared beliefs require a suspension of the sort of objective and reasoned thinking necessary to function in this modern society, or when they inform or motivate antisocial economic or political activities- but I'm not sure it's fair to say that humanity would be better off without it. Maybe on net today, but it's also possible that we may have relied on it in our evolutionary past.

Source , a wonderful book which can really aid in understanding those with whom our worldviews disagree.

by jub-jub-bird   2018-11-10

> I'm gonna read that book just to get a better idea of what exactly I'm advocating for.

LOL, not my intention to spread the ideas I disagree with. But it sounded like a thesis you would.

> Do we know this? I don't think we do

I think the evidence suggests this. And it makes sense to me that the lives of people who highly value self-reliance are going to generally be far better than those who don't share that value and who are perfectly content to be on the dole.

At the risk of going down a completely different rabbit trail my view is actually a little more complex since I DO think interdependence in the context of family and community is important and of great value. I'm all for Edmund Burke "little platoons" of family, church and local neighborhood. It is large impersonal institutions that reliably fail, they cannot know and love the individual, they cannot make the moral judgments that a loving parent, or an increasingly impatient neighbor might make when presented with yet another plea for next month's rent. I very much agree with the title of Hillary Clinton's book "It takes a village" I don't think she understood the full meaning of the proverb... since she turned it around to mean: "It take a large impersonal bureaucracy" which is NOT the same thing at all.

> If you have any other reading suggestions then I'll take a look. I don't want to become massively entrenched in my views

None of these are necessarily related to your discussion though they might touch on some similar topics.

I recently read Haidt's The Righteous Mind not actually a conservative book but one which is really interesting in terms of figuring out why liberals and conservatives talk past each other.

And there's always the conservative classics that you'll always get when people ask. A few personal favorites: Kirke's The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot . Hayek's The Road to Serfdom by C.S. Lewis

Those last two are both relatively quick and easy reads.

And of course Sowell has written extensively on exactly this subject. I think Race and Economics was his first book so it may be a bit dated now.

Sadly I've not read that one nor his other books that seem most directly related to our discussion. Personally I've only read his Basic Economics and I read Race and Culture years ago which is somewhat related but about the impact of race, ethnicity and culture in an international setting. His ideas about the primacy of cultural capital in explaining group differences in economic capital are consistent but he's applying those concepts internationally in how various cultural groups have done economically as majorities, as minorities, migrants, conquers or conquered etc. it's been a while but I remembered more about the overseas Chinese minorities in Southeast Asia than about blacks in America.

by Bluedevil1945   2018-03-19

Classic emotion.

People react first and then find a way to rationalize it. This book is real eye opener:

by swampswing   2018-03-19

If you are interested in the psychology or history of morality, check out the book: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion , by Jonathan Haidt. I just started it myself, but so far it has been fascinating.

My fear is actually the opposite of yours. That society and trans-humanism is domesticating humanity into creatures ill-suited for long term survive. Essentially that we are mentally going from proud, fierce wolves to fragile, little chihuahua incapable of surviving or functioning outside of the decadence of our technological bubble.

by BeetleB   2018-03-05
>Oddly before opening the article I had assumed it was about how moral "disgust" is positively correlated with left-leaning. But then the study was referring to digestive disgust which appears positively correlated with right-leaning.

Actually, even moral disgust is positively correlated with right leaning folks. The Righteous Mind ( is a great read that covers the research on the topic.