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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Are You Right Or Self-Righteous?

The Supreme Court's decisions draw on legal and moral arguments. (AP)

Did you find yourself thinking as you listened to this week’s Supreme Court debates, “Why don’t they on another side, think the way I do?”

Social and moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt says maybe they can’t.

He argues that while morals bind us together, they also blind us.

In his new book, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion,” Haidt argues that our morality isn’t just an individual affair — it’s about the team we belong to.

“We’ve moved into gated moral communities in which many people on the left never meet or socialize with people on the right, or vice versa,” he told Here & Now’s Robin Young.

Congress — A Place Of Moral Divisions

Haidt says look at Congress to understand how distant and how isolated right and left have become from each other.

Not too long ago, legislators used to live in Washington, D.C., with their families. But in the 1990s, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich changed the calendar so that members could fly in on a Monday or Tuesday and leave by Thursday or Friday.

Their families stayed home and like-minded lawmakers got apartments in the city together. They did battle for a few days and headed home and Haidt says a lot was lost.

Competing Views Of Fairness

Haidt also explains how liberals and conservatives view fairness. Liberals’ notion of fairness has to do with compassion and equality — “giving people who are suffering things that they need, protecting people.”

But, Haidt says, “Conservatives focus on fairness as proportionality — they’re fine with Social Security, but they’re much more uncomfortable with any type of redistributive scheme that they think can be gamed or cheated.”

Haidt also has a message for his fellow liberals in particular, that, while the left focuses on fairness and doing no harm, the right has a broader moral compass, that includes freedom and the importance of authority. And liberals ignore the sanctity of that at their peril.

Book Excerpt: “The Righteous Mind, Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion”

By: Jonathan Haidt

“Can we all get along?” That appeal was made famous on May 1, 1992, by Rodney King, a black man who had been beaten nearly to death by four Los Angeles police officers a year earlier. The entire nation had seen a videotape of the beating, so when a jury failed to convict the officers, their acquittal triggered widespread outrage and six days of rioting in Los Angeles. Fifty three people were killed and more than seven thousand buildings were torched. Much of the mayhem was carried live by news cameras from helicopters circling overhead. After a particularly horrific act of violence against a white truck driver, King was moved to make his appeal for peace.

King’s appeal is now so overused that it has become cultural kitsch, a catch phrase more often said for laughs then as a serious plea for mutual understanding. I therefore hesitated to use King’s words as the opening line of this book, but I decided to go ahead, for two reasons. First, because most Americans nowadays are asking King’s question, not about race relations but about political relations and the collapse of cooperation across party lines. Many Americans feel as though the nightly news from Washington is sent to us from helicopters circling over the city–dispatches from the war zone.

The second reason I decided to open this book with an overused phrase is because King followed it up with something lovely, something rarely quoted. As he stumbled through his television interview, fighting back tears and often repeating himself, he found these words: “Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out.”

This book is about why it’s so hard for us to get along. We are indeed all stuck here for a while, so while we’re waiting, let’s at least try to understand why we are so easily divided into hostile groups, each one certain of its righteousness.

* * * * *

People who devote their lives to studying something often come to believe that the object of their fascination is the key to understanding everything. Books have been published in recent years on the transformative role in human history played by cooking, mothering, war . . . even salt. This is one of those books. I study moral psychology, and I’m going to make the case that morality is the extraordinary human capacity that made civilization possible. I don’t mean to imply that cooking, mothering, war, and salt were not also necessary, but in this book I’m going to take you on a tour of human nature and history from the perspective of moral psychology.

By the end of the tour, I hope to have given you a new way to think about two of the most important, vexing, and divisive topics in human life: politics and religion. Etiquette books tell us not to discuss these topics in polite company, but I say go ahead. Politics and religion are both expressions of our underlying moral psychology, and an understanding of that psychology can help to bring people together. My goal in this book is to drain some of the heat, anger, and divisiveness out of these topics and replace them with a mixture of awe, wonder, and curiosity. We are downright lucky that we evolved this complex moral psychology that allowed our species to burst out of the forests and savannas, and into the delights, comforts, and extraordinary peacefulness of modern societies in just the last few thousand years. My hope is that this book will make conversations about morality, politics, and religion more common, more civil, and more fun, even in mixed company. My hope is that it will help us to get along.

Born to Be Righteous

I could have titled this book The Moral Mind to convey the sense that the human mind is designed to “do” morality, just as it’s designed to do language, sexuality, music, and many other things described in popular books reporting the latest scientific findings. But I chose the title The Righteous Mind to convey the sense that human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental.

The word righteous comes from the old Norse word rettviss and the old English word rihtwis, both of which meant “just, upright, virtuous.” This meaning has been carried into the modern English words righteous and righteousness, although nowadays those words have strong religious connotations because they are usually used to translate the Hebrew word tzedek. Tzedek is a common word in the Old Testament, often used to describe people who act in accordance with God’s wishes, but it is also an attribute of God and of God’s judgment of people (which is often harsh but always thought to be just).

The linkage of righteousness and judgmentalism is captured in some modern definitions of righteous, such as “arising from an outraged sense of justice, morality, or fair play.” The link also appears in the term self-righteous, which means “convinced of one’s own righteousness, especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others; narrowly moralistic and intolerant.” I want to show you that an obsession with righteousness (leading inevitably to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition. It is a feature of our evolutionary design, not a bug or error that crept into minds that would otherwise be objective and rational.

Our righteous minds made it possible for human beings—but no other animals—to produce large cooperative groups, tribes, and nations without the glue of kinship. But at the same time, our righteous minds guarantee that our cooperative groups will always be cursed by moralistic strife. Some degree of conflict among groups may even be necessary for the health and development of any society. When I was a teenager I wished for world peace, but now I yearn for a world in which competing ideologies are kept in balance, systems of accountability keep us all from getting away with too much, and fewer people believe that righteous ends justify violent means. Not a very romantic wish, but one that we might actually achieve.

What Lies Ahead

This book has three parts which you can think of as three separate books, except that each one depends heavily on the one before it. Each part presents one major principle of moral psychology.

Part I is about the first principle: intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. Moral intuitions arise automatically and almost instantaneously, long before moral reasoning has a chance to get started, and those first intuitions tend to drive our later reasoning. If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you. But if you think about moral reasoning as a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas—to justify our own actions and to defend the teams we belong to—then things will make a lot more sense. Keep your eye on the intuitions, and don’t take people’s moral arguments at face value. They’re mostly post-hoc constructions made up on the fly, crafted to advance one or more strategic objectives.

The central metaphor of these four chapters is that the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning—the stream of words and images that hogs the stage of our awareness. The elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes—the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior. I developed this metaphor in my last book, The Happiness Hypothesis, where I described how the rider and elephant work together, sometimes poorly, as we stumble through life in search of meaning and connection. In this book I’ll use the metaphor to solve puzzles such as why it seems like everyone (else) is a hypocrite and why political partisans are so willing to believe outrageous lies and conspiracy theories. I’ll also use the metaphor to show you how you can better persuade people who seem unresponsive to reason.

Part II is about the second principle of moral psychology, which is that there’s more to morality than harm and fairness. The central metaphor of these four chapters is that the righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors. Secular Western moralities are like cuisines that try to activate just one or two of these receptors—either concerns about harm and suffering, or concerns about fairness and injustice. But people have so many other powerful moral intuitions, such as those related to liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. I’ll explain where these six taste receptors come from, how they form the basis of the world’s many moral cuisines, and why politicians on the right have a built-in advantage when it comes to cooking meals that voters like.

Part III is about the third principle: morality binds and blinds. The central metaphor of these four chapters is that human beings are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee. Human nature was produced by natural selection working at two levels simultaneously. Individuals compete with individuals within every group, and we are the descendants of primates who excelled at that competition. This gives us the ugly side of our nature, the one that is usually featured in books about our evolutionary origins. We are indeed selfish hypocrites so skilled at putting on a show of virtue that we fool even ourselves.

But human nature was also shaped as groups competed with other groups. As Darwin said long ago, the most cohesive and cooperative groups generally beat the groups of selfish individualists. Darwin’s ideas about group selection fell out of favor in the 1960s, but recent discoveries are putting his ideas back into play, and the implications are profound. We’re not always selfish hypocrites. We also have the ability, under special circumstances, to shut down our petty selves and become like cells in a larger body, or like bees in a hive, working for the good of the group. These experiences are often among the most cherished of our lives, although our hivishness can blind us to other moral concerns. Our bee-like nature facilitates altruism, heroism, war, and genocide.

Once you see our righteous minds as primate minds with a hivish overlay, you get a whole new perspective on morality, politics, and religion. I’ll show that our “higher nature” allows us to be profoundly altruistic, but that altruism is mostly aimed at members of our groups. I’ll show that religion is (probably) an evolutionary adaptation for binding groups together and helping them to create communities with a shared morality. It is not a virus or parasite, as some scientists (the “new atheists”) have argued in recent years. And I’ll use this perspective to explain why some people are conservative, others are liberal (or progressive), and still others become libertarians. People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds.

(A note on terminology: In the United States the word liberal refers to progressive or left-wing politics, and I will use the word in this sense. But in Europe and elsewhere the word liberal is truer to its original meaning—valuing liberty above all else, including in economic activities. When Europeans use the word liberal, they often mean something more like the American term libertarian, which cannot be placed easily on the left-right spectrum. Readers from outside the United States may want to swap in the words progressive or left-wing whenever I say liberal.)

* * * * *

In the coming chapters I’ll draw on the latest research in neuroscience, genetics, social psychology, and evolutionary modeling, but the take-home message of the book is ancient. It is one of the Great Truths found in most of the world’s wisdom traditions. It begins with the realization that we are all self-righteous hypocrites:

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? . . . You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7:3–5)

It continues with the claim that enlightenment (or wisdom, if you prefer) requires us all to take the logs out of our own eyes and then escape from our ceaseless, petty, and divisive moralism. As the eighth-century Chinese Zen master Sen-ts’an wrote:

The Perfect Way is only difficult
for those who pick and choose;
Do not like, do not dislike;
all will then be clear.
Make a hairbreadth difference,
and Heaven and Earth are set apart;
If you want the truth to stand clear before you,
never be for or against.
The struggle between “for” and “against”
is the mind’s worst disease.

I’m not saying we should live our lives like Sen-ts’an. In fact, I believe that a world without moralism, gossip, and judgment would quickly decay into chaos. But if we want to understand ourselves, our divisions, our limits, and our potentials, we need to step back, drop the moralism, apply some moral psychology, and analyze the game we’re all playing.

Let us now examine the psychology of this struggle between “for” and “against.” It is a struggle that plays out in each of our righteous minds, and among all of our righteous groups.

Excerpted from “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion,” Pantheon. (March 13, 2012)


  • Jonathan Haidt, University of Virginia social psychologist and author

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  • Sailing551

    I think a big difference between the left and the right is that the right demands conformity of thought, deed, and “tradition” and is very upset when anyone steps outside their comfort zone.
    The left loves to go their own way, be it style, thought, or innovation. Change scares the right and the left generally believes change can be a good thing.

    • Sp_harris_03

      I agree.  I’d like to take some of these folks seeking understanding to a music festival or a gay pride rally and see how tolerant or understanding they are.  And really have you ever seen anyone protesting outside of a church asking people NOT to worship as they see fit.  I found this guy to be an apologist and probably a closeted fascist at worst.

  • Neutral

    I had expected that this discussion would have been party neutral, but the author and the host made clear their ideological and party affiliations. Being soundly in the middle and despising the partisan bile that abounds these days, it’s very disappointing to see a potentially useful dialog decay into unilateral pandering. I look to NPR for its largely balanced and reasoned reporting, but have noticed an alarming trend toward one-sidedeness…

  • Jadefox

    You must be kidding me? Please Mr. Haidt, explain to me just how we (progressives) are supposed to try and undertsand a group of people who are completely and utterly INSANE? Their belief system is based upon fear, hate and picking and choosing which passages from the bible already fit those beliefs. Being of a scientific, rational mind, how does one attempt to relate to someone who actually believes if we can cause chaos in the Middle East it will bring about WWIII which will cause Jesus to return? How does one communicate with an individual who wants to use the government to impose laws based on their personal beliefs to control someone else’s body, medical decisions and personal behavior based on gender? Really? No, seriously, REALLY??? The republicans I know personally and communicate well with just happen to be the ones who do not believe in all of the above. They are moderates. I am a moderate progressive. It is the far right insanotards that neither of us are able to “understand” or communicate with. Because you can’t  communicate with crazy.

    • Anonymous

      Well put. Please see my comments above.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/CFXLGMH5IAELJSSQTLQN32YB5Y Anonymous

      Well put.  And, this just in, “Conservatives Losing Trust in Science.”  Not that it’s really news.

    • Inkc

      I think your post just proved the point Mr. Haidt was making.   Calling those with whom you disagree childish names does nothing to further the dialogue between the Right and Left.   We all really need to be more respectful towards each other. 

  • Lisa

    Jonathan has written about a topic I have been thinking about a lot recently.  I have always been a Democrat, and most of  my friends are, too.  But, silently, I enjoy and appreciate hearing both sides of arguments on current issues.  I refuse to automatically jump on the bandwagon and criticize every word uttered by a Republican.  Frankly, I am bored by the predictablility of my Democratic friends’ opinions.  They seem cliquish and at times, frankly, superficial intellectually.  I have really enjoyed listening to the commentary from both sides of this week’s discussions about Obamacare.  Discussions from both sides have been very informative.    I feel proud to be part of a nation where this can go on.  Part of me is silently thrilled at the growing strength of some conservative ideals, because I feel the perhaps extreme ideals of the right balance out the extremes on the left.   We all are part of one nation, and let’s hope ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’  We do need to listen to and respect one another’s thoughts.  We do not have to agree, but we can perhaps come to understand why people believe what they do.  I would welcome opportunities to cross the political divide socially. I am still a Democrat ideologically, and probably always will be, but I have a lot to learn from Republicans and Independents.  I don’t want anyone to force their ideals on me, and or tell me I have wrong, or stupid, but likewise, I should not do this to others, or partisanship is going to crush us.

    • Ttripath

      If you don’t like predictability Republicans can teach you how to unpredictable. They forcefully argued for individual mandate at that time health care reform, at that time they called it Hilary care. And now they are ready to take guns and start a civil war on this issue. If there is a diversity of opinion it is on the democratic side, not on the side that takes its orders from Rush Limbaugh. Listen to a Rush’s show and you can rehear it from any republican later in the day. Did you hear a conservative judge talking about broccoli? You can guess where he got that argument from. 

  • Fred

     What crap. UVA is in horse country so Haidt’s droppings would fit right in. In my life the only thing
    that Repubs have believed in are that unions are evil and social security must be eliminated. Well, they’ve got rid of the unions and look how good things are. Just wait
    for the  elimination of the Social Security, that will be another noble experiment.
    The conservatives are for the enduring national values embodied by the Confederate States of America. Of course, those are the values of treasonous secessionists, amen.

  • Peter

    The right may hate programs they  fear can be gamed, but they also believe that everyone who benefits from these programs is gaming them.

    • Disgusted with the evilness

      Yes.  Also, it is absolutely amazing that the right are unable to see that unrestrained capitalism “games” everyone.   We have no say in businesses’ decisions to rip us off on a daily basis – (take the price of oil and healthcare costs for example), but we do have a chance of having a say in our government.  Why do Republicans feel that business is naturally going to do anything for them and government is out to get them?  That the tax code is absolutely fair as it is? -With the rich taking it all home, even though without us regular folk to buy and consume their businesses’ goods and roads to get their products distributed they would be nowhere?   All big businesses  (and the so called small businesses which are really huge) care about is profits for the few Royal Families of America, like the Romneys for example.  Romney will make the country into a poverty-ridden land with a few elite like himself to rule the land as Kings and send the military off to fight expensive wars for their ego boost, and the land and air will be poisoned with their lack of consideration and unbridled quest for riches for the few -above all else. The right is not morally good.  They are duped into believing the propaganda of Fox news.

  • http://twitter.com/pait Felipe Pait

    Probably right on some points, but this is not science. More like seat of pants political guesswork with a little scientific quote here and there.

  • no name

    As happens frequently on this show, you let an obviously neo-liberal guy disguise himself as a neutral commentator.  It is obvious that his actual goal is to stop “progressive or left-wingers” (his description) from being progressives or left-wingers.  And why was he allowed to simply claim that liberals are about giving special preferences to “interest groups” while giving nothing to “ordinary” people?  The claim doesn’t make even sense (after all, women and Afro-americans make up the majority of the population and are regular people, just like euro-american males).  His examples concerning liberals and crucifixes also was distorted.  The question is not simply whether a crucifix in urine upsets people; what if a Spanish, Jewish person living in Spain in 1502 created the image in response to the christian church deciding to torture and kill any none christian who refused to convert? What if a southern Afro-american living in Mississippi in 1960 created the image in response to the southern baptist church saying that segregation comes from the bible?
    I could go on: for instance, in the materials above, he states that religion is a product of evolution.  He then goes on to strongly imply that as a consequence, religion cannnot be a “virus or parasite”.  Assuming that it IS a product of evolution, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a virus, etc.  (In fact, viruses and parasites ARE evolutuionary.) For example, is the tendancy to kill people or enslave them because they are of a different group O.K. because it is evolutionary?  Is cancer not a virus or a parasite, at least, metamorphicly speaking, because they are part of evolution? 
    Why didn’t the announcer require the guest to face real, nuanced questions about his political screed? 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jon-Snow/100003527452160 Jon Snow

      Enslavement may have derived from “evolutionary” sources, but we are intelligent beings and able to make judgments on our behavior.

      • Anonymous

        amen brother!

      • Anonymous

        and we are “able to make judgments” on religion.  And some, many, believe it to be a virus, etc.

  • AlternateUniverse

    Haidt is attributing a great deal , way too much, to genetics. We agree that different personality traits are affected by neural set points in the brain that are influenced by genetics, but how people behave and how personality interacts with politics depends heavily on political culture. The different dimensions of moral systems in the brain –  reciprocity, helping those in need (compassion), avoiding harm to others, rationality, deference to authority, purity, tribalism/nationalism/xenophobia, and religiosity – can play themselves out in socially constructive or destructive ways. Right now right wing culture is obsessed with disrupting any solution to our social problems lest Obama receive some credit for it — this is highly destructive.

    Haidt erects a false equivalence in his obnoxious middle-of-the-road desire to have us all come together (maybe that is the view from Virginia, where the state legislature has been considering vaginal probes to humiliate women contemplating abortions). Living in the South skews one’s views about Right and Left.

    There is nobody remotely like Limbaugh on the left, no gun nuts talking under their breaths about “second amendment remedies.” Despite his uplifting rhetoric, Obama is a centrist, and as is most of the Democratic Party. Isn’t it interesting that the political assassinations of abortion providers, the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma,  and attempts on the life of US congressmen come from deranged people under the spell of right wing propaganda? Most of the right doesn’t believe in evolution — they simply don’t subscribe to notions of intellectual honesty — feel good fundamentalism, religious and/or political, is their thing. 

    It is difficult to have a conversation with someone who espouses such views without treating their beliefs in a disrespectful manner. What in the end is there to talk about? you can’t talk about facts because they just disregard them. You can’t talk to them about moral precepts and Christian notions of caring for our brethren because they don’t subscribe to the notion that their moral systems should be consistent or they should be treat others as they would like to be treated were they in the same situation.

    Yes, their vote counts the same as ours, and we need to talk with them if the country is to move forward (mostly the problem is media in the heartland is dominated by conservative organizations funded by Big Money — we need to get them to think for themselves). But, I’m sorry, as much I believe that there are no moral absolutes,  there is no equivalence between the two cultures.

    We need to find ways that angry, religious authoritarian tribalists can contribute in a more constructive way to our society than to oppose all efforts to deal with the problems we face as a nation. It won’t happen by having a calm, rational conversation with them (much as many of us progressives would like), because truth and reason are not what they are about. I think that progressives need to appeal to Christian values of mutual aid and compassion, which will appeal to some of them (i.e those who have not adopted the studied selfishness of Ayn Rand).

  • http://twitter.com/scrxbandit david

    There is no republican conspiracy and there is no democratic conspiracy. The conspiracy is keeping idiots like yourself completely naive and apathetic about banking, wars and corporate fascism by having you believe in a 2 party system that talks about neither.

  • Michael Gottlieb

    Your guest Jonathan Haidt is full crap and I wish you would challenged him more forcefully on his viewpoints. I could go on but I won’t. This guy just pissed me off with his right-wing BS rant.

  • Tripathi

    It was disappointing to hear Jonathan Haidt’s frivolous moralizing on liberal politics. What doesn’t  seem to be registering in his mind is that not everyone does everything keeping electoral politics in mind. Democrats should  keep supporting affirmative action even if that loses them elections, that’s a sound moral and political policy. What makes this guy a liberal anyway? What makes any one liberal? Noam Chomsky, who I will say is true liberal, wouldn’t take any of this garbage Jonathan Haidt subjected us to. Now which is liberal?

    • Sherry Baer


  • http://brielle.sosdg.org Brielle

    So, all this talk about how important it is for the liberals to understand the conservatives…

    But what about the conservatives understanding the liberals?

    Why is it that the liberals must always capitulate to the wants and demands of the conservatives?

    I see an awful lot of liberals trying to appease and understand what the right wants, but it never being enough.

    Maybe this insistence of one sided understanding is a sign of deeper issues with the attitudes and behavior of conservatives? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/SkylarWoodman Skylar Woodman

    “that’s why the white working class hates them (democrats)” Jonathan Haigt, at end of your interview. Yep, you just lost me. What a strange and invalidating way to finish a conversation.

    • Anonymous

      It seemed that at the end od his diatrbe he suddenly could no longer maintain his false cover of “objective neutrality” and blurted out his actual feelings (I almost wrote “thoughts” but there was a remarkably small amount of “thought” in his opinion).

      Jonathon, dude, if you really believe that “the white working class” actually hate others simply because they are democrats, perhaps you should be focusing on why those people are so full of “hate” instead of spending so much time demanding that “progressives” give up their beliefs simply so that right wingers won’t have to face any disagreement with their opinions. 

  • Anonymous

    I, generally, did not agree with the author. He did not address a huge problem that folks like me (a former republican – 1st worked on Gerald Ford’s campaign in Michigan in the 1970′s). I do not think his utopian ideals will work anymore, because of what the right has become. It is not just matter of reaching a middle ground, because….
    They are all, pathological, liars. Truth does not matter anymore. The days of going to the dictionary (or an encyclopedia) to settle a bet are gone. Today’s republicans and tea baggers merely respond that the dictionary (or encyclopedia) is “owned by the leftist media.” Accordingly, they will not read those publications! I get a big kick out of watching the republican clowns eat their young. Almost every single republican that I know – and I am surrounded by them here in Missouri — every one of them will simply refuse to look at the facts if their ideas or statements are challenged. Recently, an email has been making the rounds that claims that President Obama is, “….going to paint the White House purple.” When I responded to 200+ people on the email list with 4, separate, links that proved this was a lie, those that responded all reacted in the exact same way: “I refuse to look at those links, Ken, they are owned by George Soros and the liberal left.” When I show them that these assertions (about the links being “owned” by the liberal left) are false, they insist on believing them anyway. Even going so far as to say.”I don’t care what the facts or the truth is, I am going to believe the story that I want to believe; the story that suits my, preconceived ideas.” The republicans and tea baggers will  admit that they know they are lying; admit that they are furthering on false information and admit that they will say or do anything as long as it results in President Obama losing the next election. This former republican has left the party forever. I cannot live with liars and thieves and idiots. The nuns taught me better than that. Remember, our nation’s decline began with President Bush. When the Supreme court allowed that sophomoric dude to steal the election, our nation began its downfall. The good news is that there are many of us with long memories and we will vote out all republicans at the state and federal levels. If a former (30 year) republican like me is turned off by the GOP, imagine how the rest feel?
    Lost on all of them is the fact that they, universally, get their information from FOX or AM radio.
    BTW, those of you that want to lob ad hominum attacks at me..Just Google the term: “Lying for Jesus.” You will find thousands of videos and quotes and articles of folks from the GOP and tea baggers saying those exact words I quoted above. This is a well documented phenomenon and is not some obscure observation that belongs to me alone (or was discovered by me). Also, while educating yourself, research: “Preconceived notions and the facts.” Countless studies and surveys confirm that the majority of Americans prefer news and information that is in line with their, existing, beliefs. Further, the studies prove that those that identify as republicans tend to commit this (ignoring the facts) at a ratio of 2 to 1 over those that identify themselves as democrats. The sad part? The tea baggers reading this will not Google those terms I offered above. As described in the first paragraph, they refuse to look at any information that does not conform with what they already feel & think.

    • Sid_Shock

      I have to agree with this post. I, too, am basically conservative in many ways, but I have no stomach for the outright propaganda and lies routinely hurled by the extreme right. I guess AM radio and Fox news provide the “facts/opinions” to support the visceral reactions some feel toward those left of center. All too frequently, however, discussions from the far right get reduced to name calling and gross distortions of truth.

      What’s happened to this country? It all reminds me of William Golding’s tribe of lost boys on that island.

  • none

    It is easy for Dr. Haidt to talk about understanding the beauty of a culture which focuses on the wellness of the group or avoiding an act of sacrilege by demanding that women have access to birth control.  He is absolutely part of the group which benefits . . . a dominant culture man.  
    Young women in much of the Indian culture he so admires are servants to their families and have little control over their own immediate destinies, unable to choose their husbands or expect education.  While this is not universally true, the grace of the culture depends on who you are inside that culture.  Also, he talks about the “left” caring more about race than class;  truly, it is that this mysterious left has largely abandoned issues of gender.  The poor are, overwhelming, women.  Globally, according to WHO, over 360,000 women died from pregnancy or complications of child birth a year.  To claim that not paying for birth control is a matter of religious freedom is frivolous.  No one is asking the Church of Christ Scientists how they feel about paying for any medical insurance at all.  This is not a matter of religious freedom (or again, all health insurance would be thrown out as objectionable to someone) but of a LARGE religion getting to dominate everyone else.

  • JCmke

    Your guest recommends that the left surrender their principles of fairness in order to not offend the sensibilities of conservatives. (his suggestion of not requiring religious institutions to provide contraception to employers is a case in point)
    And while in general it makes sense to be sensitive to what the other side holds sacred, the problem is that the leaders of the right wing do not want to reach across the ideological divide. It is like Obama, naively compromising again and again only to be undercut by conservatives who continuously move the goal post back each time. (watching Obama offer to work with republicans is like watching Charlie Brown offer to play football with Lucy, you know it going to end with Charlie on his back humiliated)
    By refusing to compromise, conservative Republicans have moved the nation’s political center so far to the right, that even conservative icons such as Ronald Reagan would have no place in the republican party today.
    A more relevant angle on the story might be how to frame th e issues of

    • JCmke

      fairness and social justice in a way that appeals to conservatives by framing the issues in a way that appeals to their world view

  • Smithdf2008

    Looks like people just didnt listen to what Prof Haidt had to say, and  the comments here prove it. It consists of people abusing him and even the concept of understanding the other side. NPR listners, I thought, were better than this, but, I am sorry to be mistaken.

    • Inkc

      I agree, I think he was just trying to explain why both sides need to quit pushing the other sides, ‘hot buttons,’ but unfortunately some of us didn’t listen.  I really liked the idea of Congress having to spend more time in D.C. so maybe they could learn to work together, instead of their current partisianship, which hurts the country.  

  • Ewben

    Haidt was very subjective.  The subject about which he wrote and talked requires objectivity.  He was not objective and he is probably not a very good scienctist.  Thanks for your show.  Ed

  • Evelyn Brown

    I Think Prof. Haidt gave us a good description of what each “side” stands for in the short 15 min. he was on air. He is absolutely right that congress has become more polarized since  1995.  Members don’t live in D.C. anymore; and therefore don’t fraternize with the “other side”. This has led to “Us against Them” thinking and less compromising! In my own family, my brother and son are Republicans. While the rest of us (9) are Democrats. I think I will now be able to listen to their viewpoints more easily since I understand, more or less, where we all stand. I will certainly read The Righteous Mind by Prof. Jonathon Haidt. I think some of the other commenters  should do like-wise!

    • Inkc

      I too plan on reading this book, sounds fascinating.  My Mom is liberal, my Dad conservative, so this sounds like interesting reading to me.

    • bsbBelize


  • Ingrid Landberg

    Do liberals believe in the Golden Rule while conservatives screw others before others can screw them? The Cain and Abel dichotomy; Abel lived with faith while Cain lived out of fear.  Remember who murdered whom?

  • Craftsmanslife

    Wow, most of these comments prove his point.

    • bsbBelize

       I agree.  While reading the above comments, which
      seem to be perfect examples of the blinders that each side has, I kept
      wondering if we had listened to the same program! Perhaps Haidt did describe
      the left/liberal view in more narrow terms, but the process that both groups go
      through is the same.  Each group uses filters, just different ones. 
      I am flummoxed by the Comments.

  • S Marg

    Robin, are you kidding me? I happen to be very liberal and work and socialize mostly with conservatives. I am constantly called names that I can’t repeat on your site, told to go to Russia, Cuba, China etc if I don’t like something (although both sides of my family have been here since the mid 1600′s), told I’m going to hell because of any of my beliefs,  but they will pray for me, while I’m in hell and have even been threatened with physical harm. I’ve been called un-American and un-patriotic by people who never spent a day in uniform and recieved multiple deferrments, even though I spent 4 years in the Marine Corps and served in Vietnam. And your guest thinks liberals need to be more compassionate toward conservatives? I constantly see conservative politicians on the news and talk shows talking to and about liberals in the same way. Your guest is so completely out of touch I can only think it must have something to do with living in Virginia among so many conservatives and being isolated from liberal thought.

  • It

    Great story! I am a conservative Ron Paul supporter who
    listens to NPR trying to understand the liberal point of view that dominates its
    stories. The guest was correct on so many things. I even felt my anxiety rising
    toward the end of the segment when both Robin and the guest were discussing how
    the “liberals could win.” Then it came to me that of course they are going to
    try to win because they both think that is right. What a great story for self-reflection
    and understanding of others.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/CFXLGMH5IAELJSSQTLQN32YB5Y Anonymous

      NPR is not the liberal perspective and Robin Young is just right of center, IMHO.  If you want to see liberal, go read the comments to articles at CommonDreams.org.  NPR is extremely focused on supporting the Demo/corporatist mainstream perspective and give little in the way of views different from that and the Republican. 

  • Anonymous

    Here’s the reference: 
    http://www.asanet.org/images/journals/docs/pdf/asr/Apr12ASRFeature.pdf  And this is what was reported in Towleroad.com today:
    According to University of North Carolina sociology professor Gordon Gauchat, only 35% of self-identified conservatives say they have “a great deal of trust” in science. That’s a 28% decline since the first survey in 1974. Gauchat traces the evolution — or devolution — of conservatives’ distrust for science back to Barry Goldwater, telling US News & World Report, “It kind of began with the loss of Barry Goldwater and the construction of Fox News and all these [conservative] think tanks. The perception among conservatives is that they’re at a disadvantage, a minority.””It’s not surprising that the conservative subculture would challenge what’s viewed as the dominant knowledge production groups in society—science and the media.”He went on: “Science is charged with what religion used to be charged with—answering questions about who we are and what we came from, what the world is about. We’re using it in American society to weigh in on political debates, and people are coming down on a specific side.” And one’s right, and the other’s wrong. Can you guess which is which?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/CFXLGMH5IAELJSSQTLQN32YB5Y Anonymous

    It looks like I’ve been beaten to the bunch by several other liberals who found Haidt un-objective. 
    His point on the science is well established that we react with our guts, and that part was interesting, however, there are factual reasons to dispute Republican claims.  They’re often erroneous if not deceptive.  Which is another reason it can be quite frustrating talking to Conservatives, they get their “facts” from a well funded collection of propaganda sources: FOX, right-wing radio, Republican leaders, etc.
    But his comment about David Brooks quote, that there’s not enough bourbon in Congress, gave me pause when I thought about how in sync the parties appear when they’re not portraying their dramatic roles (Congress is just theatre now).  It made me think of the Patriot Act and the following from Glenn Greenwald:
    “So when they were out of power, the Democrats reviled the Patriot Act and constantly complained about fear-mongering tactics and exploitation of the Terrorist threat being used to stifle civil liberties and privacy concerns. Now that they’re in power and a Democratic administration is arguing for extension of the Patriot Act, they use fear-mongering tactics and exploitation of the Terrorist threat to stifle civil liberties and privacy concerns (“If somebody wants to take on their shoulders not having provisions in place which are necessary to protect the United States at this time, that’s a big, big weight to bear,” warned Feinstein). And they’re joined in those efforts by the vast majority of the GOP caucus. Remember, though: there is no bipartisanship in Washington, the parties are constantly at each other’s throats, and they don’t agree on anything significant, and thus can’t get anything done. If only that were true.”


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1074932106 Colleen Fritze

    Neither I’m a leftist liberal…who wants to expose neo-liberal hegemony started in the 1980′s with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher’s credo TINA-There is no alternative.

  • Sherry Baer

    I was so disgusted with the one-sidedness of Jonathan’s spiel that I turned it off, muttering.  Then I thought, “No, I should hear him out,” and turned it back on with teeth gritting all the way. Liberals, by their very nature, are only too willing, too often, to listen to the other side.  Look at the first term of this President.  If anyone needs encouragement to be a little more understanding, open-minded, and not so quick to judge, it is the right.  I am sick and tired of hearing how the “liberals” have tried to be nonpartisan and so have let too many things get passed over that are for the betterment of all Americans, while the right won’t change their stance one iota.  Mr. Haidt came across as a bit full of himself, lacking in really good thought processes, and evoked authority (which he obviously doesn’t have).  Please balance this with the other side SOON!

  • NancyV

    This was a fascinating interview that voices my frustration in the polarization of political views as demonstrated by many of the comments below.  Most Americans are not extremists at either end and would love to have more dialogue and understanding about the position of others.  We are now almost forced by the media to choose which party will define us all as stereotypes.  
    Some Republicans don’t like any of the current choices of candidates but may simply want to see the country curb spending.  Some Democrats may not find Obama specifically to their
    taste, but he represents ideas they like.  We are each individuals, and most of us
    are devoted to America with the freedom to decide what we hope the future America to be.
    Each of our unique visions is possibly worth considering if we could just meet in the middle and quit being so angry because not everyone shares our particular view.

  • Interested

    I find it interesting how many of these comments demonstrate the author’s point while howling about how wrong he is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jon-Snow/100003527452160 Jon Snow

    I heard the interview when it first aired.  Mr.Haidt is a bit arrogant in thinking he has all the answers, like many of the commentators.  What disturbs me his analysis which seems to require liberals make all the concessions to the conservatives, because they are the group which seems to have more restrictions and boundaries.  Interesting.  The liberals are seen as the ones who must be responsible and try to meet the conservatives half way.  Mr. Haidt may be recognizing the intransigence of conservative mind-set which resists all objective reality.  He points to conservatives need for heirarchy, but they will believe total lies (Obama is a Kenyan) which drives liberals, and most rational people, to distraction.  How do we deal with that?  We have seen Obama try again and again and again to deal with the Republicans to absolutely no success whatsoever.

    Occasionally you need to take a stand.

  • J Frog

    I enjoyed this interview.    I think there is a lot of truth in what the guest hypothesizes.  For instance, conservatives value “level playing field”…whereas liberals think “even starting point” is more important.  Which is right?  I guess it depends…but it certainly effects the policy decisions that we prefer.  Plenty of other examples.  Thought provoking….that’s why I listen to H&N!

  • Anonymous

    I would love
    to hear your social psychologist discuss one; greed and two; hypocrisy and how
    it relates to liberal and conservative mind… . 

  • Anonymous

    and How Winning is everything — the only end result to playing the game is the Winning Mentality.  Is it liberal and conservative… ?  The Liberal is to play the Conservatives’s game,eh… ?

  • Roxyholmes

    I listen to the show every day at work. I am a production worker. I do the same thing over and over and over again.  It seems like I hear the same arguments in the same way. I have tried so many times to have a conversation , not an argument, with conservative types. I have been called names. I have been told that because of my beliefs the person I just spoke to for 30 minutes is now going to discount everything I said.
    I am not a whacko. I think I am pretty much middle of the road on most things. I do however feel threatened and afraid when honoring someone else’s religious freedom means I am forced to follow their beliefs regardless of my own feelings and morals-yes-I do have them. Why is it that when the right are confronted with things that offend their morals we all have to capitulate, back down and apologize? Yet when all we ask for are basic human rights, like say, voting, equal opportunity based on skill or the control over our own bodies, we are all raving psychotics who are trying to force our beliefs on them? I don’t care if you don’t like gay people….if they’re not showing up at your house in drag and forcing you to go to karaoke with them…who cares. No one is forcing you to be gay, or accept their lifestyle choices, just don’t treat them like they’re less than human. But the conservative wing is trying to worm it’s way into my bedroom and my body, and none of my feelings or beliefs are treated as anything other than godless heathanism. I’m not saying you can’t go out and have a million children, that my tax dollars will help to educate, etc, etc. All I want is to know that in my atheistic, childless state, I get the same consideration as the woman with 18 children, who’s never had a job. I certainly don’t think I’m any more or less noble.
    No conservative type I’ve ever tried to talk lets me get past the words “atheist” or “birth control” without discounting me as a compassionate human being.

  • Jon Altman

    It may be because I live in Pelahatchie, MS, rather than Charlottesville, VA (with a semester in NYC), but I don’t agree that “liberals” try less hard to understand “conservatives” than vice versa.

  • Bob

    Most of the comments here confirm exactly what this guy says.

    When I was young, I was pretty conservative. When I got to my early 20s, I became gradually very liberal. After a while I realized this one-dimensional way of looking at these things is nonsense, and these days I hold a bunch of positions that I think are philosophically consistent, but most folks would regard as a mixture of extreme left, extreme right, and wacko fringe (off the spectrum).

    I’ve lived in one of the most conservative states and one of the most liberal ones, and I’ve heard it all from both sides.

    Frankly, there are plenty of ignorant blind believers on both sides. My own personal experience is that conservative media is more ignorant and insensitive to the views of the other side than liberal media, but in person, liberals tend to be much more insulting and willful in their refusal to try to understand conservative views. This is an overall trend from my own personal experience, so I don’t claim it to be universally true. But I’ve rarely seen a conservative come out on the attack unless provoked — if someone brings up that he is in favor of some liberal idea, often the conservative will just be silent or change the subject… whereas liberals are more likely to be derogatory.

    Note that I’m not talking about people who have close or on-going close relationships, where both sides can be troublesome. I’m mostly talking about the reactions I’ve seen at cocktail parties on both sides.

    In any case, we’d all be better if we actually sincerely tried to understand the other side — try to
    come up with a debate argument if you were trying to argue for the other side. If you start from the assumption that no reasonable person can ever entertain such views, you are not as open-minded as you’d like to think.

  • Lesleefraser

    Robin Young’s interview with Jonathan Haidt was as intellectually lazy as any I have heard on the 24-hour cable news shows. I cannot believe the half-baked criticism of the photographs of Andre Serrano was allowed to be casually tossed into another hackneyed argument about the “natural” underpinnings of societies. I have found that when people trot out “Piss Christ” to make some point about art or society, they have usually not seen it, or bothered to look at the entire body of work, or are otherwise unwilling to give any challenging work more than a cursory glance. Mr. Haidt is obviously allowed to create and put his name to anything he sees as fit, but I expect more rigor from Public Radio. Leslee Fraser 

  • Al

    OK Robin fess up. Your not on air  Sunday April Fool’s Day. Very clever.

  • Another Hater for Christ

    I’m supposed to dialogue with people who don’t believe in science (not even evoloution, let alone man-made climate change)? Really? I’m supposed to have a political conversation with people who don’t believe that Obama’s a citizen? Really? You first, Robin and Johnathon–show me how it’s done, ok?

  • Swag

    Lots of talk about liberals understanding conservatives, not vice versa. As a former conservative who’s been transformed by my life experience I have to say based on my personal experience conservatives have virtually no understanding of liberals, furthermore, they detest the idea of even attempting such.

    As I was listening I had the thought that an emotionally and intellectually mature person invest more effort to understanding another than will an immature person, think parent/child.

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