Long ago and far away, my then girlfriend very conservative Sally said one day to a very radical me: ‘You know there are just as many assholes on my side in politics as on yours. And she named some examples on our politically divided, unruly university campus. And just as many good people, like you, on your side as on mine and she named them.’ I have never lost sight of that insight.
Moreover, a few years back, Sally, who is still a good friend, was being sounded out to be a British Conservative MP, and asked if I would be her agent. I said: ‘One small problem, I am not a Conservative’. ‘That’s exactly why I want you as my agent, and you have strong morals that are far more important to me for that role.‘ She wisely in my view decided to stay out of formal politics…
Now Jon Haidt has written a fabulous new book that throws new light on Sally’s profound insight. I strongly recommend it, and recently posted a link to the associated TED talk, with Jon explaining one aspect of the book, the evolutionary value of religion. But I thought it would be fun to create one of our Top Ten Conflict Tips, based on the conclusion of Jon’s book, using some of his words, wholly unauthorized by him I would stress, but I hope compressing his essence here:
- Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second aka The Elephant (our automatic self righteous pattern recognition) directs the Rider (our rational conscious brain) much of the time and in conflict makes us invent ex post rationalizations of our positions, without much account of our real interests, let along the other side’s
- There’s more to morality than harm and fairness and much of the world adds in loyalty, authority, sanctity and liberty. Yet much psychological research is conducted on WEIRD subjects in ‘Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic societies’
- Pluralism is not relativism: plurality of ideals, but they are finite (see the Berlin quote below) and everything doesn’t go, and we can understand other ideals even when we don’t share them
- Morality binds and blinds. We are products of multi-level selection and in tension between our selfish and groupish tendencies and religion helps create ever larger moral communities.
- We have a hive switch and have the capacity to transcend self interest
- We are not divided in politics as Manichaeans would have it, because some of people are good and some are evil, but our minds are designed for groupish righteousness
- We are deeply intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive our strategic reasoning
- It is hard to connect with those who live in different moral matrices, using different moral foundations
- But it is worth a try: look for commonality, establish some trust, show some interest before wading into morally based arguments
- And to add an insight from Scott Atran that I think fits here: recognize that some things are sacred to others as some things are sacred to you, and don’t try to bargain as if sacred is not part of the equation. Jerusalem is not for sale by Jews, Israelis or Christians, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find some way out of that conflict. As Jon concludes: ‘We are all stuck here for a while, so let’s try to work it out.