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The Righteous Mind

Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

by Jonathan Haidt

Why can’t our political leaders work together as threats loom and problems mount? Why do people so readily assume the worst about the motives of their fellow citizens?

In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding. His starting point is moral intuition - the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do. These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who see things differently are wrong.

Haidt shows us how these intuitions differ across cultures, including the cultures of the political left and right. He blends his own research findings with those of anthropologists, historians, and other psychologists to draw a map of the moral domain, and he explains why conservatives can navigate that map more skillfully than can liberals. He then examines the origins of morality, overturning the view that evolution made us fundamentally selfish creatures.

But rather than arguing that we are innately altruistic, he makes a more subtle claim - that we are fundamentally groupish. It is our groupishness, he explains, that leads to our greatest joys, our religious divisions, and our political affiliations. In a stunning final chapter on ideology and civility, Haidt shows what each side is right about, and why we need the insights of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to flourish as a nation.

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Recommendations: 2

Categories: Health & WellnessPolitics & Social SciencesPsychology & Mental Health

Reading time: 1112 hours


Ann Miura-Ko
Venture Capitalist

I love this book because it clarified for me a lot of things that I’ve been feeling for so long around… I actually have a lot of different types of friends and friends who I think would violently disagree with one another on a number of different topics.

I love them all. And I also know that if I got onto the wrong topic of conversation and confessed my beliefs to them, that we would end up in some serious disagreements with one another. And as a high school debater, I was forced to actually take the opposite side of what I believed multiple times, and I think it allowed me to explore ideas more completely as a result. And so I feel like, on some level, I have sympathy for when someone believes something fairly different from what I believe. I try to keep it a relatively open mind.

A.J. Jacobs
Author and Journalist

The guy did a great TED Talk and he wrote a book called The Righteous Mind and it’s all about trying to figure out the gap between the red and blue states – Republican and Democrat – and it’s really interesting. And he likens it to almost taste buds, like Republicans have different moral taste buds than Democrats.