A little while back I read Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion and had the opportunity to meet him and hear him speak at a book party in NYC. I’ve been meaning to say a few things about it and the recent appearance of a piece by Haidt in Time magazine prompts it, an article and a quiz that illustrates his points. If you are not familiar with Haidt or his methodology, I encourage you to click over and do the quick 12 question quiz now before reading further; even if you are, you might go ahead and do it anyway because it is fun and will refresh your memory. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
So what’s Haidt’s argument? His basic idea is twofold. First, that people do not rationally choose their ideologies. You do not come into the political arena as a blank slate and then just examine all the moral and consequential arguments for different policies and pick the one that is most “correct.” Instead, you come into the political arena with subconscious, largely unexamined psychological beliefs. Initially for Haidt what he focused on was ideas of “disgust.” Over time that has broadened and he describes five key vectors or values of psychological morality: (1) care/harm, (2) fairness, (3) loyalty, (4) authority, and (5) sanctity. Haidt finds in his research that self-described “conservatives” tend to value all five vectors of morality (as he defines them). Liberals, by contrast, place a high value on “care” and “fairness” and a lower value on loyalty, authority, and sanctity. On the two values that conservatives and liberals both value (care and fairness) they do not define those terms the same way, although they both value them according to their different definitions.
The second part […]