Book recommendation: The Righteous Mind

I recently read a fascinating book: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. It drills into the thought processes and beliefs behind right and wrong, and comes up with an excellent model of how people think about morality.

First point: if you ask someone why a certain behavior is wrong, they can usually justify it, but what they’re doing is trying to convince you that it’s wrong. They (typically) decided it was wrong long before considering the reasons. The reasons are to justify their conclusion after the fact. Right vs wrong is typically a gut-level response; the reasoning comes later. Sometimes people will get stuck: “I can’t explain why it’s wrong; it just is.”

Second point: the author identifies six “moral taste buds” — categories of right vs wrong determinations — that combine to determine our gut-level response. The punch line here is that different people are more/less sensitive to different moral tastes.

Third point: in the US at least, there’s a high correlation between people’s “moral taste profiles” and their political affiliation. Typically, Republicans show some sensitivity to all 6 tastes, but Democrats only show sensitivity to 3 of the 6 tastes. Which means that when campaigns try to appeal to voters from the other party, they can easily sound tone-deaf: either claiming a moral high ground that looks like a swamp, or else trampling over sacred spaces.

By coincidence, I was reading this at the time of this year’s conventions. Through the lens of this book, the conventions were Amazing. The Republican platform ignored a few of these taste buds, and the Democratic platform spoke to them like they haven’t before.

Anyway, fascinating book; strongly recommended.

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