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Notes on the Righteous Mind
By Jim Guenther


June 08, 2012

According to Jonathan Haidt author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, humans are genetically hard wired to respond in intuitive ways when presented with moral questions. Sure our environment and social situations are reflected in our belief systems but he makes a strong argument, based on thousands of surveys, that intuition overrides reason for most of our responses concerning politics and religion; which, he contends, are nearly inseparable. Arguing for or against a political party’s’ ideals is much like telling a Christian that they are wrong about their choice of Gods. He divides the moral response into six general categories.  For example liberal Democrats hold Caring, or empathy for fellow man, highest in their hierarchy of criteria for stance making, while on the other side of the spectrum the conservative Republican favors platforms that hold to Fairness, the idea that one deserves what is given them. They also highly regard Loyalty, (remember Reagan’s’ eleventh commandment), Liberty, and Authority. Libertarians who participated in his study choose Liberty almost exclusively above all others and tended to put Caring in the least influential category.

Neither the author nor I are attempting to say that any one way is correct. All have strong merits and should be balanced in the mix. The problem is that we, as a country, are not very willing to listen to the other side. We hold our own truths as sacred and we don’t think very lucidly while discussing them.

So how do we move forward?  Haidt suggests that the legislative calendar itself causes polarization; that congressmen take longer recesses now allowing them to leave the capital, when they used to work three weeks then take a week off during which they would stay and mingle. Mingling is a thing of the past. He also implies that bourbon consumption has gone way down in DC. Drinking invites socialization hence collaboration.  Lastly he believes that a common problem requiring an immediate solution could teach us the power of working together. But lacking an interstellar asteroid hurtling toward Earth, we are probably going to be stuck with a polarized society for a very long time. It’s a shame really. I say break out the bourbon.

Jim Guenther
Ketchikan, AK

Received May 30, 2012 - Published June 08, 2012


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