The righteous mind: why good people are divided by politics and religion

Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: why good people are divided by politics and religion. New York: Pantheon Books.

An engrossing, important book. This is really three books. For me, the first is the most important, for it spells out clearly and distinctly the arguments that many of us cognitive scientists have been making in the past few years: emotions first, reasoning second. More and more, we are learning that people make rapid, subconscious decisions, driven by past experience, driven by quick (and often shallow) surface features and analyses, and by emotions. Then, afterwards, their reflective systems chime in, offering reasons and logic long after the decision has been made. We reason, goes the new approach in order to justify our decisions to ourselves - that is, to our conscious selves. Our subconscious needs no rationalization. Haidt says this is somewhat like a person riding an elephant, where the rider is our conscious mind and the elephant our subconscious. It is similar to the distinction Kahneman made with his type 1 and type 2 system (See Kahneman's book "Thinking fast and slow.") In my own work, the subconscious is the visceral and behavioral parts of our minds, while the conscious slow deliberations take place in the reflective, conscious part (See my book "Emotional Design.") This is also reflected in the early paper I wrote with Tim Shallice, "Attention to action: Willed and automatic control of behavior." An excellent review of much experimental work on this topic can be found in the paper by Mercier and Sperber and the many responses to it: Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory. Book two lays out Haidt's theory of moral judgment. He suggests that all people have six basic dimensions:

Care/Harm Liberty/Aggression Fairness/Cheating Loyalty/Betrayal Authority/Subversion Sanctity/Degradation

Different people, cultures, and societies weight the six dimensions very differently, thus leading to many conflicts in which one group firmly believes it is simply following common sense in their beliefs and cannot understand why the other believes differently except, perhaps, through sheer perversity or evil. But the other side feels the same way. These two books lead us to the third book where we see how these principles play out in life, and in particular, in American Politics. Liberals and Conservatives disagree rather strongly about many things, but Haidt argues that all actually agree about the importance of the six dimensions of morality The difference is that liberals heavily weight the top three items (care, Liberty, and Fairness) whereas conservatives use all six, but weight the ones on the bottom of the list most heavily (Sanctity, Authority, and Loyalty).

References The publisher and author's overview and summary of the book Mercier, H., & Sperber, D. (2010). Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 57-74, 2011. Norman, D. A., & Shallice, T. (1986). Attention to action: Willed and automatic control of behavior. In R. J. Davidson, G. E. Schwartz & D. Shapiro (Eds.), Consciousness and self regulation: Advances in research, Vol. IV. New York: Plenum Press. Link to book at The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion