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20140802 The Righteous Mind


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Humans are genetically conditioned to have moral philosophy, which defines their individual behavior and expectations they have for rules of behavior in the group because human evolution worked at two levels: individual survival and group survival. This genetic makeup defines to a large degree our thoughts and action via unconscious intuition for up to 90% with remaining 10% defined by conscious reasoning. There are 6 different dimensions of morality, which define individual’s belonging to specific ideological/political group. These are: Care / Harm, Fairness / Cheating, Loyalty / Betrayal, Authority / Subversion, Sanctity / Degradation, Liberty / Oppression. Political movements in this view are not equally effective because American Liberals are mainly one-dimensional around Care / Harm, Libertarians are one-dimensional around Liberty / Oppression, while Conservatives are multi-dimensional around all 6 dimensions. This gives conservatives advantage on the long run. The final call to everybody is to try to understand each other rather then fight because healthy society needs all these views.


This book is designed as a tour of human nature and history from point of view of moral philosophy. Its purpose is to provide a new way of thinking about religion and politics. Each part of this book reviews one key principle of moral philosophy.

PART I Intuitions Come First, Strategic Reasoning Second
1. Where Does Morality Come From?

The method used to analyze people’s moral attitudes is developing a story challenging moral judgment and collect reactions of individuals to these stories.
The results led author to a new type of answer to the question of this chapter. The typical answers are either morality is innate quality (a nativist answer) or it is coming from childhood learning and socialization (an empiricist answer). The author’s answer is more sophisticated combination of typical two:
• The moral domain is varies by culture with Western culture being more narrow then non-western sociocentric cultures
• People have gut feelings especially about disgust and disrespect with moral judgment build on the top to justify these gut feelings
• Morality could not be self-constructed by children exclusively (rationalist point of view), it requires cultural guidance from adults.
The author’s proposed combination: “we born with innate righteousness, but we need cultural training to develop knowledge of what to be righteous about”.

2. The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail
Here author introduces a key metaphor of this book: rider and elephant with rider being a conscious mind and elephant being an unconscious part of brain both genetically provided and developed through interactions with environment. In order to win an argument and/or effectively communicate one should talk to elephant (intuition) first and supply reasoning for rider second.

3. Elephants Rule
This chapter designed to support the main principle of moral philosophy presented in part 1: Intuitions first, reasoning second. Six areas of experimental research to support it provided:
• Brains evaluate instantly and constantly
• Social and political judgments depend on quick intuitive flashes
• Bodily states sometime influence moral judgments
• Psychopaths reason but don’t feel
• Babies feel, but do not reason
• Affective reactions are in the right place at the right time in the brain. This one relates to biological backbone of morality and ethics (E.Q.Wilson’s consilience) when something inside absolutely forbid some actions or makes a must for some other actions.
The chapter ends with another important question: why evolution selected such a complex structure when reason used on the top of intuition providing support for something that is not always the truth. The tentative answer is that it may be because truth is less important for survival then reputation so reason main role is as inner lawyer rather then inner scientist.

4. Vote for Me (Here’s Why)
Here the human behavior reviewed as mainly driven by intuition with reasoning used as politician to obtain votes of other people. Five areas of research demonstrate:
• We are obsessively, but often unconsciously concerned with what others think about us
• Conscious mind serves more as press secretary then as decision maker
• Lies and cheating used extensively and so effectively that we themselves believe them
• Reasoning uses important technics for this. When our intuition wants to believe something we as “Can I believe it?” otherwise we ask, “Must I believe it?” It is nearly always YES to first question and NO to the second.
• In moral and political matters we are more Groupish then selfish.

PART II There’s More To Morality then Harm and Fairness
5. Beyond WEIRD Morality

This chapter describes handicap of being WEIRD and unable to see things differently from regular American liberals point of view as legitimate. Author’s trip from being close minded liberal to something more pluralistic in his attitudes somehow brings him to idea that western culture is more narrow then other cultures lacking ethics of community and divinity. However the main point is that moral matrix bind people together making them blind to moral matrixes of other groups.

6. Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind
This chapter is based on metaphor of morality as taste with narrow morality being bland and tasteless as food without salt and spices. It also discusses 5 foundations of morality and their role in evolutionary fitness of individual and groups. These are:
• Care / Harm
• Fairness / Cheating
• Loyalty / Betrayal
• Authority / Subversion
• Sanctity / Degradation

7.The Moral Foundations of Politics

This chapter is a more detailed review of 5 foundations with textual and visual examples of polar attitudes for each of them in American attitude to politics.

8. The Conservative Advantage
This chapter reviews data on comparative intensity of appreciation of value for different parameters and finds out that liberals are mainly two dimensional people putting high value on Care and Fairness and low value on other 3 parameters, while conservatives are multidimensional putting high value on all 5 parameters. Another interesting discovery is that that there is different understanding of the same values. For example Fairness is based on equal shares for liberals, but on proportionality of returns to inputs for conservatives.
This chapter also provides an evidence for deficiency of 5 parameters of Moral Foundations Theory and argues for necessity to add one more dimension: Liberty / Oppression.

PART III Morality Binds and Blinds
The Central Metaphor of this part: We are 90% Chimp and 10% Bee.

9. Why Are We So Groupish?
This chapter is about going back to Darwin and it considers human evolution as a dual process: individual and group evolution when some part of genome about 90% relates to individual survival and another 10% to group survival. The related science is presented in four exhibits:
A: Major transitions produce superorganisms such as groups or societies
B: Shared intentionality generates moral matrices. It means individuals in the group collaborate, divide labor, and develop norms to achieve common objectives
C: Genes and Culture coevolve. In other words the cultural evolution occurs in individual’s gene, which support or restrict survival of individual in whatever culture he/she happens to be.
D: Evolution can be fast so 30-40 generations produce significant difference. For humans 40 generations would be less then 1000 years.

10. The Hive Switch
It is about innate joy of being part of collective such as marching troop. A switch to hive mode could make even individualistic person enjoy being a part of collective. Oxytocin and mirror neurons could be a bio mechanism supporting this happy cog mode. The inference is that we are Human Duplexes who live mainly in self-sustainment mode, but from time to time under special circumstances we are conditioned to switch to hive mode when overriding objective is group sustainment mode all the way to self-sacrifice if needed.

11. Religion Is a Team Sport
This chapter reviews religions as method of individual adaptation that increases chances of group survival. From here comes definition of moral systems:
Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.

12. Can’t We All Disagree More Constructively?
This chapter provides political analysis of America society along moral dimensions that are valued differently by main participants in political game liberals, conservatives, and libertarians. The point is made that all groups are necessary and provide healthy counterweight to each other. The final inference is that all groups should tolerate and listen to each other to avoid blind promotion of their cause.


I am fully agreed with and appreciate main points of this book. However I see problem of infighting a bit different then author. He sees it as honest disagreement between individuals with different genetic makeup, upbringing, and experience all of which want prosperity of society as whole. I do not think that it is completely true regardless of what people tell to themselves and others. I see world as divided between individuals who have deep internal need to control others via coercion and individuals who can live without such control over other or even feel repulsion to having it. The Coercives typically support big government regardless either it is big in suppressing economic freedoms or intellectual freedoms, or lifestyles or whatever. The big issue of our time is not to find way to accommodate Coercives either in form of American liberals hell bound to coerce people into their government healthcare, regulation, and ideological believes; or in form of Islamic mullahs hell bound to coerce people into their religion. In both cases accommodation is impossible except in form of submission. The only way is to win is by depriving Coercives of any ability to use coercion. In case of American liberals it is probably possible to achieve via democratic elections by making electorate more supportive of free market by creating unalienable property rights and making everybody effective participants in market exchange. In case of mullahs I think the war is inevitable and it is already going on for some 40 years ever since mullahs pushed out secular powers in Muslim world. In both cases only decisive action would stop coercion. In both cases lack of decisive action would lead to continuing pain and suffering for years to come.

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