The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion: Jon Haidt: Top Ten Conflict Tips

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:

  1. 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
  2.  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’
  3. 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
  4. 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. 
  5. We have a hive switch and have the capacity to transcend self interest
  6. 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
  7. We are deeply intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive our strategic reasoning
  8. It is hard to connect with those who live in different moral matrices, using different moral foundations
  9. But it is worth a try: look for commonality, establish some trust, show some interest before wading into morally based arguments
  10. 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.
Jon quotes Isaiah Berlin:
‘I am not a relativist; I do say: I like my coffee with milk and you like it without; I am in favor of kindness and you prefer concentration camps – each of us with his own values, which cannot be overcome or integrated. This I believe to be false…..I came to the conclusion that there is a plurality of ideals, as there is a plurality of cultures and of temperaments….There is not an infinity of values: the number of human values, of values which I can pursue while maintaining my semblance, my human character, is finite – let us say 74, or perhaps 122 or 27, but finite, whatever it may be. And the differences this makes is that if a man pursues one of these values, I, who do not, am able to understand why he pursues it or what it would be like, in his circumstances , for me to be induced to pursue it. Hence the possibility of human understanding.
Below a cartoon on the Manichaen thinking of President ‘Evil Empire’ Reagan; of course to portray his thinking like this is itself Manichaen thinking on our part. 🙂

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Book Reviews, Conflict History, Conflict Processes, Neuro-science of conflict, PERSONAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION: CREATIVE STRATEGIES, Philosophy of Conflict, Religious Conflict, Top Ten Conflict Tips from Great Thinkers, Uncategorized, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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