This weekend, Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind debuted at
number six on The New York Times
bestseller list, and was the subject of a two-page review
in the paper, which called it "well worth reading." The Righteous Mind
revolves around morality's role in politics and religion—eschewing partisan rhetoric to drill down to the real motivations behind people's political and religious views. The Times
writes that "Haidt seeks to enrich liberalism, and political discourse generally, with a deeper awareness of human nature.” One of his main arguments is that, in almost all cases, morality trumps reason. Washington's political deadlock is partly due to the fact that each side believes it can eventually “win,” if it could just get the other side to listen to “reason.” Haidt sees reason as a product of morality, not as a tool to form it. Here's the Times
To the question many people ask about politics — Why doesn’t the other side listen to reason? — Haidt replies: We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided. The funniest and most painful illustrations are Haidt’s transcripts of interviews about bizarre scenarios. Is it wrong to have sex with a dead chicken? How about with your sister? Is it O.K. to defecate in a urinal? If your dog dies, why not eat it? Under interrogation, most subjects in psychology experiments agree these things are wrong. But none can explain why. The problem isn’t that people don’t reason. They do reason. But their arguments aim to support their conclusions, not yours.
The central theme of Jonathan Haidt's new book is that a deeper understanding of human morality can help alleviate the anger between the left and the right, and lead to civil discourse and bipartisan solutions. His goal isn't to prove that one side is more moral than the other, it's to "start a conversation about integrating a better understanding of human nature — our sentiments, sociality and morality — into the ways we debate and govern ourselves."