Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 12:17:17 AM
If there is one thing that is true of humans, it would be that humans are convinced of our “righteousness.” Humans are convinced that their version of morality is correct and believe anyone who disagrees with their version of morality is immoral. My favorite book, The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, attempts to explain why we as humans are so convinced of our own “righteousness” and he theorizes that it is based firmly in the need to protect and serve the group to which one belongs. According to Haidt, moral intuitions come first and moral reasoning is applied to justify the intuitions, almost if not always to the benefit of keeping social order in the group. The bases for moral reasoning comes from six foundations—care/harm, fairness/cheating, authority/subversion, loyalty/subversion, purity/degradation, and liberty/oppression—and these six foundations are found in almost all people; the main difference is in what emphasis is put on each base. It is that emphasis which often marks the difference between the left-wing and the right-wing and what divides humanity as a whole. In general, the left-wing puts a heavy focus on the care/harm and fairness/cheating foundations while the right-wing puts approximately equal focus on all six foundations. The book also explained the concept of moral matrices, or the matrix within a society than dictates what is moral and immoral—a matrix that varies from culture to culture though the matrix of a person can be changed via assimilation into a new culture.
My mother had seen The Righteous Mind a magazine article and recommended that I should read it given my interest in social psychology. I read it and loved it. The arguments made sense and I finally realized how much I behaved like every other human on the planet: I gave into my belief of my own rightness and could not even begin to see how other groups could think like they did. The book helped me to understand how people of other moral matrices reasoned, even if I did not agree with their reasoning. The book became especially interesting once the Republicans began to run for their party’s nomination for President of the United States and I found myself laughing at what I regarded to be their foolishness and their pandering to the extreme right-wing fringes of the United States political spectrum (I am a political leftie and freely admit it). It forced me to realize that just because I thought their rationale to be incorrect did not invalidate the sincerely held moral beliefs of the extreme right. Even now, when I am listening to moral arguments from those I disagree with and fall into the belief that I am right because, well, I am right I can stop myself and give a sincere attempt to listen to the reasoning of those I disagree with (for all it is post hoc, just as all moral reasoning is according to Haidt). Overall, The Righteous Mind forced me to become more open-minded and realize that just because I am right according to myself does not mean the other person is wrong.