The Righteous Mind

Personal experience

I recently read this book (The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion - Jonathan Haidt - 2012) after a long hiatus from reading non-required material, with rare exceptions. As a result, I had little confidence that I could get through it, or any book for that matter. I decided to forge ahead anyway and try the audiobook edition which I had purchased some time ago. Within ten minutes or so, I realized that this book claimed to answer essential questions about morality, ethics, and their implications on modern-day political ideologies that I actually had dying curiosities about. By the end of the book, I realized that I largely got what I was looking for: a framework of thought by which I could empathize with the strengths (I was largely blind to) and articulate the weaknesses (I was too focused on) of political views wildly different than mine. I’m not sure if this will spark long-term shifts in my own views, but I feel I am now better equipped to view those with well-founded divergent views from a starting point of goodwill and inquisitiveness rather than assuming faulty reasoning, misinformation, or stubbornness. I can’t imagine any of us has all of the answers to a system as complex as modern society, so we would all be well-served by talking to those who have different blind spots from ourselves.

Brief review

I can’t recommend this book enough. It manages to draw from a multitude of sources over millennia to trace a path of moral evolution through changing civilizations, political systems, religions, and more. It pulls one’s convictions in personal morals back down to reality by exposing underlying irrationalities and emotion-fueled reasoning while remaining largely politically-agnostic in tone, showing the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of ideologies throughout history. It also demonstrates an asymmetry in modern Western political convictions that I think would be of interest to anyone who (like me) has a challenging time identifying what drives those with differing political views, sometimes resorting to a sense of evil or malevolence on the “other side.” If you would like a more compassionate outlook on other political views, particularly important if you live in a democracy, I think you will find this book a wonderful experience.