The Far-From Righteous Mind By James Reed
Here is my brief take on the book sent to me by the noble editor to review, Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, (Vintage books, New York, 2013). I was genuinely hoping to find some answers here, but was disappointed for my vast investment of time spent ploughing through 449 pages. Was I told the inner secrets of psychology, or how human nature ticked?
Well, early in the book I was introduced to moral problems. How best to enlighten a Christian audience when the profane is involved? Just push ahead and offer an apology, because this is not my fault. But, Professor Haidt really likes his example of a moral problem, and I quote: “A man goes to the supermarket and buys a chicken. But before cooking the chicken, he has sexual intercourse with it. Then he cooks it and eats it.” (p. 4) I did not expect to be hit by such a shocking example so early in a popular, yet still scholarly book. Worse, it is not clear why this is a moral problem, rather than one needing to be deal with by mental health workers. It may well be that there is nothing morally wrong here from a secular humanist framework, unless masturbation is wrong (which from a Christian framework, it arguably is), but that does not mean that the activity does not exhibit psycho-pathological sexual disorders. It is the wrong example to illustrate a moral/ethical problem, and I found myself questioning many of Haidt’s claims in the book: but where is the argument for that?
Haidt’s chicken discussion is on page 4 of the book, but the book opens with a quote from Rodney King, the excuse for the May 1, 1992 LA race roits, asking: “Can we get along?” is this a trick question? the riots led to six days of rioting in LA with 53 people killed and 7,000 buildings torched: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1992_Los_Angeles_riots. This is over King’s beating, not murder. King was a violent person who had a long criminal record, and the record continued way after the 1992 riots: http://www.famous-trials.com/lapd/576-kingarrest; http://www.ibtimes.com/rodney-kings-long-rap-sheet-dui-arrest-298359. The officers who were acquitted by a court of law, had difficulty subduing King with their lightweight plastic batons, so it was necessary to hit him multiple times. It looked worse than it was. In any case, all of this does not occur to Haidt, who is working on the conventional racist guilt narrative.
Haidt presents oodles of psychological evidence to show, that “we” are not good people, but “self-righteous hypocrites,” although this conclusion does not seem to have filtered through to affect the main conclusion of his book. If it is true, then there is not a righteous mind at all, but a pretty corrupt one, and there is evidence presented to indicate that most people are corrupt and dishonest to various degree. So, at a deep level, the book is internally inconsistent.
One of Haidt’s conclusions from an exhausting study of the psychological literature, is that morality is innate, but its particular expression is based on social learning. Moral intuitions, which are ultimately grounded in biology, come first, and reasoning comes later. The conscious process is 1 percent; the unconscious, 99 percent. Humans are thus 90 percent chimp and only 10 percent bee, which is to say only 10 percent social, although altruism is primarily directed to members of our group. Many pages are devoted to cognitive biases that humans suffer from, all of which indicate that man is not a rational animal, as Aristotle thought, but an irrational one.
In this light, religion is not irrational, but is an evolutionary adaptation for binding groups together and helping to create communities with a shared morality.” (p. xxii) We, thus, will believe almost anything to support our team/tribe. (p. 100) But, I think Haidt has not considered Anglo-Saxons, who as a group are so deracinated that as a matter of principle, they will support anything provided that it harms their group and benefits the racial other. This is a group with a racial death wish, the most extreme form of White pathology, which stands as a counter-example to many of the psychological generalisations made in Haidt’s book.
Overall, this was a very time-consuming exercise in review. I was not impressed by the book, and did not find much there to aid me in my quest for the meaning of life, or even why society is imploding the way it is. The bottom line is that it is not good people at all who are disagreeing, but those with various shades of grey and black.