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Thursday, April 12, 2012

If You're "Liberal" or "Conservative" You Might Not Like This..but need it

A very conservative friend gave me this book after we both heard the author, Jonathan Haidt, interviewed on NPR. We are familiar with and tired of the complaint of the lack of civility in public discourse and, especially in politics. The author is a moral psychologist, liberal, atheist, Jewish person who says that classic liberals (like himself) don't get it...and neither do conservatives.
I'll let you fill in the names of your poster child "Liberals" and "Conservatives." This 318 page book is divided into three fascinating (and challenging) parts. Part one is devoted to the first principle of moral psychology: intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. By this Haidt makes an argument that we are not all that rational. We have strong and immediate opinions, emotions, and intuitions about things that we let our reason post hoc back up. He sites many brain and genetic studies to demonstrate his point.
Part two is devoted to the second principle of moral psychology: there's more to morality than harm and fairness. This is where the book get really interesting. Haidt posits that we live in a world with six moral matrixes: care/harm, liberty/oppression, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. Every person has their most beloved matrix and others fall into line, or are unimportant. Liberals and Conservatives, Haidt argues, don't understand the other's "sacred narratives."
Part three is devoted to the principle that morality binds and blinds. We bind together with those we agree with as in a "hive" and we act as selfish individuals as a "chimp" in what Haidt describes as "Homo duplex", our two sides. The tighter our "hives" the more we see others who differ with us a enemies.
The answer? Become a friend with someone you really disagree with philosophically or theologically or politically. Learn their story even though you do not agree. Haidt does not urge for moral or spiritual capitulation, but for conversation and friendship. Goodness knows, we need it.

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