Home' Policy Magazine : Policy Vol 29 - No 4 Contents 63
POLICY • Vol. 29 No. 4 • Summer 2013–2014
give a nuanced response that acknowledges the
man’s right to do what he wants, as long as it does
not hurt anyone. If you are not a classical liberal,
you probably think such behavior is wrong.
We are now entering the fascinating world
With morality, most of us like to think of ourselves
arriving at moral positions on the basis of reason.
It was therefore not without trepidation that
I began reading the opening chapters of Haidt’s
book, which claims we are all slaves to our intuition
in the sense that when making judgments we first
follow our gut feeling and then use our ability to
reason to find ways of justifying the (intuitive) decision
The ‘we’ may come as an affront to some Policy
readers. Surely Haidt is thinking of less gifted
people or those dye-in-the-wool conservatives
and (American) liberals. After all, the book is
written for an American audience with today’s
political polarisation in mind. Alas, Haidt seeks to
demonstrate this is true of everyone (including
classical liberals), only some of us are a little
more clever at convincing ourselves otherwise.
Moreover, as a psychologist he knows his science
and has the knowledge of great thinkers such as
Hume on his side. So sceptical readers should put
on their thinking caps before picking up this book.
Haidt’s arguments about our self-deluding nature
were explored in his previous book, The Happiness
Hypothesis, where he crystalised his findings into
the analogy of an elephant (representing our
intuition) and its rider (representing our reason),
with the rider being more or less at the mercy of
the elephant. Though imperfect, the analogy sticks
and is typical of Haidt’s writing style whereby he
tries to make the academic and lofty accessible
for a non-specialist audience. If the high-profile
academic accolades are anything to go by, he does
this without compromising his professional integrity.
In the The Righteous Mind, Haidt builds upon the
elephant-rider analogy to answer the topical issue
of why Americans have become so politically
partisan. In a nutshell, our morality is pre-determined
and we are less open to reasoning than we perceive
(Part 1); morality means different things to different
people and we can be categorised into moral
groupings (Part 2); and people are primarily
groupish beings, so when circumstances conspire
to sharpen political division—as has been in the case
in the United States since the 1990s—(American)
liberals and conservatives become increasingly
antagonistic towards each another (Part 3).
This summary counts as a spoiler, but the book’s
journey is as important as its destination. Readers
can expect to be titillated by quirky scientific
findings (washing our hands make us more
judgmental), and learn why Hindus perceive it
immoral for widows to eat fish. Moreover, Haidt is
adept at drawing the red line between his experiences
and the developments in various academic fields to
relevant questions that we can all relate to. In doing
so, Haidt brings academia ‘down from the bookshelf ’
to remind us of the real importance of these fields to
our understanding of ourselves.
The book’s most interesting discussion covers his
research into identifying five traits (or foundations)
upon which morality is based: care, fairness,
loyalty, authority and sanctity. Using the Internet
(yourmorals.org) to test 132,000 people,
Haidt and his co-researchers found that for those
on the far political left, morality consisted almost
entirely (only) of the care and fairness foundations.
As one moves to the right of the political spectrum,
the loyalty, authority and sanctity foundations
feature and weigh increasingly more, the upshot
being mutual incomprehension for those on
the left and right of each another’s morality.
As a self-identified (American) liberal, Haidt
contends the left’s incomprehension of the right is
most severe due to the left’s inability to empathise
with the right on the three moral foundations they
do not share (loyalty, authority and sanctity). Haidt
says this gives conservative messages a broader
appeal, which he calls ‘The Conservative Advantage’,
with reference to George W. Bush’s electoral victories.
Annoyingly, Haidt wrongly identifies Hayek as a
conservative, and for the most part lumps classical
liberals with conservatives. While the classical liberal
voice should not be exaggerated, having himself
discussed classical liberalism as an alternative moral
matrix, Haidt only cursorily attempts to show how
it fits into his overall theory.
Similarly, although the book’s chapters read
convincingly on a micro basis, Haidt fails to tie
the individual parts into a convincing narrative.
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