37 pages 1 hour read

Jonathan Haidt

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2012

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Important Quotes

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“Shweder offered a simple idea to explain why the self differs so much across cultures: all societies must resolve a small set of questions about how to order society, the most important being how to balance the needs of individuals and groups.” 

(Chapter 1, Page 14)

The author uses the insights of Richard Shweder, a psychological anthropologist, to understand morality and politics in current societies. According to Shweder, society has only two options. Societies can be sociocentric and emphasize the needs of the group, or they can be individualistic and emphasize the needs of the individual. Most of the world’s societies are sociocentric in orientation, though the Western world is not.

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“When you put individuals first, before society, then any rule or social practice can be questioned. If it doesn’t protect someone from harm, then it can’t be morally justified. It’s just social convention.” 

(Chapter 1, Page 17)

Haidt explains why the reactions to theoretical anecdotes varied so widely between Indians and Americans. Americans see any situation that causes harm to an individual as wrong, whereas their Indian counterparts condemn actions that compromise the strength of the society and societal rules.  

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“They seemed to be morally dumbfounded—rendered speechless by their inability to explain verbally what they knew intuitively.” 

(Chapter 1, Page 25)

In his research, Haidt found that sometimes participants would be disgusted by a situation in which no harm had been done to any person (or animal). These participants would feel the need to invent a victim in order to articulate a reason to condemn the behavior.