Book Review: The Risks of Righteous Fury
This is a book review of The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. The review was written by Vicky Yu.
Morality and common sense suffer from the same underlying assumptions; we believe that people all abide by the same principles. Experience teaches us that common sense is not universal, but accepting the same verdict on morality is more difficult. Acknowledging differences in how we determine right versus wrong fundamentally alters perceptions of who we are and our place in the world.
Moral Foundations in the United States
A Western description of morality might begin and end with “do no harm,” but in his novel, The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt combines evolutionary theory, psychology, and philosophy into a novel explanation of morality. This theory, dubbed “Moral Foundations Theory,” proposes six facets of morality: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity.
Haidt explains the chasm between conservatives and liberals as different distributions of these six fundamental principles. Liberals are galvanized by care, fairness and liberty whereas conservatives tend to have a more balanced appreciation for all six tenets.
If that fact makes you pause, if you cannot believe that narrow-minded conservatives have a more expansive view of morality than bleeding-heart liberals, then this book is for you. Haidt, who once identified as a partisan liberal, wrote this book as a message to those who cannot fathom anger where they feel empathy. It is a mirror for those who would consider themselves better, nobler, more just.
It is a lesson in understanding.
Morality for Everyone
There’s more to this book than just American politics. Haidt’s journey into different moral frameworks reveals moral principles that transcend all cultures: divinity, community, hierarchy, tradition, sin and degradation. As a young millennial growing up in a society moving further away from religion and community, this section of the book rattled my preconceived notions. Cultures who value cohesion over independence, order over expression, groups over individuals, are directly opposed to the values I am surrounded by. They were backwards and oppressive, or so I thought.
The truth is that these ideas are different, nothing more. In the face of different values, we often recede into the safety of our own. We judge, we demean and we don’t listen. Some of these values may come in conflict with each other, but we owe it to each other to at least be respectful and recognize our shared humanity. As Haidt points out, emotions lie at the core of our moral values.
Though the ad-hoc explanation (morals) may be different, the underlying motivations are the same: disgust, happiness, a desire to belong. If you’ve ever struggled to explain why something is wrong even though you know, in your heart, that it is, this is probably why. As much as we think that our intentions are motivated by reason and principle, they’re often driven by our intuition.
Righteous fury stirs the heart, but closes the mind. The Righteous Mind, is a book that will make you think. Through reason and reflection, Haidt seeks to reframe the way we think about the world and about each other. If you feel uncomfortable, it is the surest sign to keep on reading.
About the Author:
Vicky is a curious undergraduate student currently pursuing two degrees in economics and statistics at the University of Maryland. She tries to integrate knowledge from a wide variety of different fields to craft her understanding. Her goal is to encourage people to think critically.