Reflecting Upon Our Righteous Minds

Global warming ubx

Global warming ubx (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was going to continue with the theme  “the end of trust” by giving a thumb nail sketch of our declining trust in science.  Liberals see this as a result of an ongoing campaign by some on the right to raise doubts about scientific conclusions that threaten their (our) economic interests, especially these days related to the predicted climate change effects of global warming.

While I believe global warming to be a threat, I also realize how complex the matter is and how little I know.    I am aware of several sources that proffer strong scientific support for  the liberal view, but a minority of scientists do question the imminent catastrophe as often portrayed.  Not the fact of global warming itself, like the Rick Perrys of the world like to dismiss, but the time frame and  overall impact.  To even consider that there may be some validity to their criticisms feels like a sin to this liberal mind, which is part of our problem.

This seems a good time to step back and think about the sources of distrust that are not simply end products of political spin, but more deeply a part of our human/social nature.    Prompting this thought is a recently published book by Jonathan Haight, The Righteous Mind.  The book has been well received by a variety of reviewers which suggests that people both left and right of center could actually have a good conversation about its contents, something rare these days.

If he’s new to you, Haight is a cultural psychologist who employs a wide array of knowledge in making his points, some of which liberals will warm up to while others conservatives will like.  For example, he asserts that studies show liberals to be much more open minded to new experiences.  One point liberals.  But studies also show that liberals are more closed minded when it comes to appreciating the values of their conservative counterparts, values that are valuable, such as the “great conservative insight … that order is very hard to achieve, it’s precious, and very easy to lose.”  (*1).   A point to the conservatives.

Haight argues that we are trapped in our righteous minds, thinking we are being reasonable, while often blind to the truth.   In a nutshell, Haight is saying:   “Our righteous minds were ‘designed’ to ….

–         unite us into teams

–         divide us against other teams, and

–         blind us to the truth”

To come together we must “step out of the moral matrix”  into “a space of moral humility”, at least from time to time.

That summary comes from a 20 minute lecture by Haight in 2008 that can be found at TED (worth checking out in itself).    He is very smart and can be funny, too, so the clip is worth viewing even if you don’t want to read the book.

I hope you do want to read it, though, as I just bought it.

Below are a couple of reviews if you want to learn more before diving in:

William Saletan in the New York Times

Gary Rosen in the Wall Street Journal


(*1)  Thomas Jefferson showed a liberal discounting of “order” when he cheered on the French Revolution even as it got to the “off with their heads” phase, while John Adams detested the events.   The split  became rancorous for years but they patched things up via letters late in life and managed to die on the same day,  July 4, 50 years after the Declaration of Independence (yes, strange but true).  One commentator has suggested that the Declaration may have been the only thing they agreed upon, but in the end they must also have agreed that friendship is better than enmity.