Jonathan Haidt – The Righteous Mind

March 19, 2012

Why is it that some of us are religious, some of us not… some of us liberal, some of us not?

If you’ve been paying attention, then by now you might have noticed that this doesn’t really have a lot to do with the intellectual validity of religious, or irreligious, or liberal, or conservative ideas.

So what causes it? And why can’t we all get along?

To get at this, Point of Inquiry invited on a scholar and thinker who has become famous for his scientific approach to this question—Jonathan Haidt, author of the new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

Jonathan Haidt
is a professor of social psychology at the University of Virginia, and a visiting professor of business ethics at the NYU-Stern School of Business. Haidt’s research examines the intuitive foundations of morality, and how morality varies across cultures. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, and he and his collaborators conduct research at the website

Links Mentioned in this Episode

Today’s show is brought to you by Audible. Please visit Audible podcast. Dot com slash point to get a free audio book download. This is Point of Inquiry from Monday, March 19th, 2012. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry. I’m Chris Mooney. Point of inquiry is the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grassroots. At the outset of our show, I want to let you know that this episode of Point of Inquiry is sponsored by Audible. Audible is the Web’s leading provider of spoken audio, entertainment, information and educational programing, offering thousands of books for download to your computer, iPod or c.D. And today, Audible’s willing to give you one book download for free. In order to participate, all you have to do is go to the following Web site, audible podcasts, dot com slash PT. Once again, that’s audible podcast, dot com slash point. And since we just had Ari Rubinoff on the show, let me recommend his latest book with David Brock, which is available on Audible The Fox Effect. You can download it now. So why is it that some of us are religious? Some of us not. Some of us liberal? Some of us not. If you’ve been paying attention, then by now you’ve probably noticed this doesn’t really have a lot to do with the intellectual validity of religious or irreligious or liberal or conservative ideas. 

So what causes it? 

To get it, this I’ve invited on a scholar and thinker who’s become famous for his scientific approach to this question. Jonathan Hite, author of the new book The Righteous Mind Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Jonathan Hiatt is a professor of social psychology at the University of Virginia and a visiting professor of business ethics at the NYU Stern School of Business. His research examines the intuitive foundations of morality, and he’s the author of The Happiness Hypothesis Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. He and his collaborators conduct research at the Web site. Your morals dot org. 

Jonathan Hight, welcome to Point of Inquiry. Thank you, Chris. Great to be here. 

I’m thrilled to have you on this show. We really have a lot of overlaps and interest and things we’ve been saying, including, I might add. We’ve both argued against the new atheists. So let us let us start in. Your new book is called The Righteous Mind. It’s about how liberals and conservatives misunderstand each other and religious and irreligious misunderstand each other and how this is rooted in automatic more responses. And these differ among us, perhaps, arguably partly for evolutionary reasons. 

So here’s my first question. If this is automatic on both sides and everybody feels righteous, what is the way to switch out a righteous mode into reflective mode? Is there a situation, training or background that helps you do this? 

Yes, certainly the approach I’m taking in the book is to say, let’s be serious about what reason is let’s let’s not worship. I mean, the scientific community, there’s so much worship of reason. 

But the research on reasoning is pretty grim. Reasoning is really, really good at getting us where we want to go. Reasoning, in my metaphor, evolved as a servant. It’s the rider. On top of the elephant is a metaphor I used in the book. So if we’re really devoted to reasoning, we should take the evidence seriously and say reasoning, especially by individuals, is not very good. Whenever there was any sort of motive, self-interest and especially group interest at stake in those cases, our reasoning just becomes basically lawyer like. So that means that under certain circumstances, we can reliably expect our recent to be terrible. And those circumstances, the most important of them is intergroup conflict. If you’ve got a battle between the new atheists and the religious right, you can pretty much bet ten to one that both sides are incapable of seeing the truth because they’re totally devoted to proving their side. 

So certainly there are situational effects that can improve our openness to evidence and science. 

Let’s let’s drill down into morality, as you describe it, why it matters. 

You talk about there being six moral foundations. You talk about the left and right differing on them and the right accessing more of them, especially moral purity, a sense of authority. So as it made me, they made me think when someone like Rick Santorum says JFK made me wanna throw up. When did he actually do you say to yourself, oh, there’s a guy who’s more sensitive, the disgust? 

Well, yes, we do. Yes, I do. Because there is a fair amount of evidence now that conservative social conservatives at least actually score higher on disgust sensitivity. It’s not a big effect, but they they do seem to feel disgust a little bit more. And a general approach I take in the book is you want to trace out one of the intuitions that gutsiness people start with. Now, those are not destiny. Those don’t force you to come to certain conclusions. But the starting point and they make certain arguments feel more natural than others. There is a long history on the right of using words related to disgust, dirt decay, those sorts of things. I mean, well, Hitler did it quite a lot in Mein Kampf. And while I don’t anyway mean to equate Newt Gingrich with Adolf Hitler, there is a memo from Gingrich in the late 80s, I think it was he was plotting how the Republicans can take over after 30 years or 40 years of being frozen out of power in Congress. And he specifically advised Republicans to use this set of words, which pushed all the moral buttons, including, you know, disgust, corrupt, came over what all that sick, twisted, things like that. So I think the rhetoric of disgust that’s used on both sides, but it’s used more on the right and more effectively on the right in political arguments. 

Does that mean that conservatives or the strongly religious find atheists and liberals literally disgusting like they turn? Oh, yeah, I think so. Oh, yeah. Yeah. 

I mean, my my I’ve done some research on moral disgust with Paul Rozin and we were so interested in why it is that people talk about disgust for hypocrisy and all sorts of things that don’t involve the body. And the basic idea is that things that make us feel teac rated dirty low that that in any way remind us of our animal nature. And the argument between the secular left and religious right for centuries now has been that the right says that the secular left is for libertinism and and, you know, they’re sexual, sexually loose people. So they’re more animalistic. And the left thinks that the right is uptight and afraid of pleasure. 

You also say that, you know, it’s since part of the argument is that there are these six foundations we’ve talked about discussed, but there are obviously others and more. We’ll get to them. You say that conservatives seem to access the more you say this gives them an advantage in politics. 

Is this is this a conscious advantage or do they just naturally do this? Because I wonder if they’re how strategic they actually are about it. 

Well, I think the advantage comes about quite naturally. And then, of course, you know, there’s so much money and research in politics nowadays, I don’t doubt that they’ve read the research and discussed and they’re using it consciously in the last decade or so. 

But in terms of being a natural advantage. So, you know, if you look at moral philosophy, you basically it’s almost all written by liberals. At least the stuff that’s read in philosophy departments. It’s basically an argument as to whether the one foundation of morality is justice or fairness, something like that, or is the one foundation of morality, care or protecting the vulnerable or, you know, utilitarianism in reducing harm. So the left kind of tries to figure out which is the one foundation, because this is part of the scientific mindset, is actually a problem that even if you dealt with but people drawn to science tend to be really high on systemizing. They like you know, they like you know, like, oh, well, you know, we can get a one one principle, you know, a unified field theory. And they’ve always been searching for unified field theory for morality. And it just ain’t ever going to happen. It’s like searching through a unified field theory of taste. You know, is everything sweet or is everything salt? You know, I say it’s sweet. Oh, I say it’s salt. I mean, that’s ridiculous. And that’s what morality is like. It’s a lot of things, at least six things and probably a lot more than that. 

So the left is focused on on these narrow moralities, attempts to create a narrow morality. It’s not a value judgment like it’s bad for saying they tend to focus on one receptor, whereas the right is under. No, I mean, they’d like Aristotle. They like the bag of virtues approach. They’re totally fine saying morality is lots of different things. And they’re right. Descriptively, the right descriptive about human nature. 

Right. That is the next question, of course, is that you talk about all this descriptively and you draw the distinction between descriptively and prescriptively and but you yourself say that certain kinds of Mirali are more parochial in the sense of having empathy only for your group rather than, say, all of humanity. Which one of the things you talk about as conservatives and group morality? So, you know, if you judge it yourself, you don’t think that all these moralities are equally moral. 

Well, so, yeah, I mean, I’m a social scientist and what I’m good at, what I’m paid to do is try to figure out how things work. I’m not a very good moral philosopher and I’m not trying to say who’s really right in the book. 

I do at the very end gingerly step out and try to cross the is OK distinction and say, you know, if we if we have a good clear view of what human nature is and what morality is, purely descriptively, can we hazard any guesses about what kinds of societies are better or worse? And to do that, you need some sort of criterion. And here, even though, you know, I disagree with Sam Harris on so much into the public policy, you know, in his book, the moral landscape takes a very utilitarian view and I think for public policy. 

That’s right. 

The difference the big difference is that I want whoever’s gonna be doing these utilitarian calculations. Odds are they’re a secular liberal who does not understand human nature is going to get it wrong. And this is why almost all, you know, liberal commun fail. Utopian schemes always fail because they don’t understand human nature. So I would want basically, if I could if we could revive Emile Durkheim, the sociologist, you know, liberal by disposition and belief, but really understood the importance of binding people into groups and maintaining moral order. Those are the great conservative insight that go back to Edmund Burke and David Hume and Adams. So I do think that moral psychology can help us plan a better society. And it’s going to be one that achieves liberal values, but not in ways that liberals would ever think of. 

I want to remind our listeners that Jonathan Heise new book, The Righteous Mind, is available through clicking on our website Point of Inquiry dot org now in the book. This is this is what really fascinates me. 

Having written about very similar things, you also talk about a lot of other things besides morality that separate left and right. You talk about personality. You even throw in a pitch for genes. And there’s a lot of research on that. Why use morality as the Uber explanation rather than all these other things like fear, sensitivity or openness to new things? 

Well, you know, I study morality, and this is a book about morality. It’s not it’s not a book about everything. It’s a book about moral psychology. And I think that moral psychology, if you understand it, can explain politics and religion. Not entirely. I mean, those are complicated areas, but it can provide some insights that I think have not been properly expressed and in particular the writings of the new atheists. I think they’ve just missed the boat on the moral nature of religion. You know, they focus so much on belief in gods. And I side with Durkheim and with some more modern anthropologists who say religion is really about forming communities and the gods are instruments in the formation of community. And once you look at that way, then you can see you can understand why it is that survey after survey finds that religion generates a lot of social capital and actually does a lot of good things, not always, not more context, but in the American context, where religions have to actually compete with each other to attract new members. 

They can’t get too vicious and nasty. You have a few weird churches, you know, like the guy in Florida wanted to burn Korans, but that’s not true. Church. That’s a weird family based thing. You know, real denominations in America have to compete for members and so they can’t be too nasty. At any rate, all I’m saying here is that if you keep your eye on the moral psychology, then suddenly religion looks very different than what the new atheists tell you. And even politics looks looks very different. It’s all basically these are all expressions of our tribal group ish righteous nature. 

Well, let’s jump to religion. I want to get back to a little more left and right and bias kind of questions. But since since since you’ve gone there, let’s let’s get into it a little bit. You you say well, is if, you know, mixing politics in wasn’t controversial enough, you also mix religion in and you actually argue that religion is in some way adaptive and evolutionary in evolutionary sense. We’ve had Scott HCN on some people who say it’s more like a byproduct. And so here’s my question. Do you think that the supernatural ideas evolved or you just think. Group nationis evolve. Their religion is one form that group Oceanus takes. 

Well, all of that is true. So you have to see it. So this is where it’s gotten. So the view I’m most against is that of the new atheists where they say here’s a trait that’s all over the world. Everybody’s got it. And it’s not an adaptation. They have a complicated story about how it’s a set of meems and viruses. So Scott got a trend, is a member of the newer group of of scholars that they don’t hate religion. They’re they’re all atheist, but they don’t hate religion. I think they’re much more open minded. And they say, well, it’s really look at what features of the mind here seem to be adaptations. And they come up with a story which I think is very compelling. And it’s true that there’s a lot of little switches and levers and modules in the mind that are adaptations, for one thing or other, that then get used in our religious life. So what they try to do is to say, you know, belief in supernatural agents. Well, we have this hyperactive agency detection device, you see, which is very useful. And that misfires and gives us gods. Well, I think that’s all true. If we go back 50000 years ago, I think these things did originate as byproducts. But here’s the question that I would ask all of them. OK, so you’ve got these byproducts sit in the mind 50000 years ago. They have huge implications on who lives and who dies. Which groups win, which group lose. And you’re gonna tell me that the gene sat still for 50000 years, that there was no that natural selection magically stopped when and for every other part of our nature, it sped up. Evolution reached a fever pitch in modern times. It was chugging along pretty slowly for millions of years. And then as we become cultural creatures living in large groups, it speeds up tenfold, a hundred fold. I mean, there’s been a lot of evolution in the last 10000 years, probably more than a hundred thousand years before it. So how could all these byproducts spitting out all kinds of actual consequence for survival? How could those not have come under this under the sway of natural selection? So I think that religion begins with a bunch of byproducts. 

But then, like everything else. They become adaptations. 

So does that include the belief in something, some sort of sense of an entity that infuses nature and surrounds us and binds everything together? Does it include the belief in some kind of greater power? 

I mean, would you go that far and say that there some some genetic basis for that? 

But here’s I would be here’s the one. Here’s the caveat. So you have to see genetic evolution and cultural evolution as two strands that are interwoven. So I make trying to make the argument in the book and and I have a recent TED talk on on religion and evolution. So I’m try to make the argument that our religious minds are products of of biological evolution. Now, what we do with those religious minds is just as culturally constructed as everything else we do. So, you know, large, gigantic religions with a belief in an afterlife. Those are pretty recent. And as a trend, as others have pointed out, those seem to really only emerge once you get agriculture in larger scale societies. God get much more moralistic. So cultural evolution can be quite rapid. I can’t weigh in on, you know, whether the belief, whether belief in certain kinds of gods is somehow in our genes or whether it’s just a common cultural conclusion that many groups come to. But I just don’t think you could get all this stuff in such similar form around the world if all we had were some byproducts from 50, 200 thousand years ago with no more recent shaping. 

Let’s let’s go to the new atheists. You certainly seem to agree with them that religious propositions are often factually false, which I think is their chief sense of moral outrage. They also argue that religion is damaging, which I’m ready to credit to a large extent. I mean, my disagreement with them is, is they seem not to know how to counter it by attacking it all. You know, it’s obviously just going to prompt defensive reactions based on all the research you talk about, about automatic responses and righteous marches and all the rest, they believe just as strong as the new atheists do. So you attack them, it’s going to go nowhere. 

Do you do you actually you don’t fuck you. I mean, I would fault them on that. 

And so would you. You also fault them on the argument that religion is damaging. 

Well, so let’s let’s let’s look at it. A little framework for thinking about this. The first decision for everybody thinks for that religion is are you a naturalist or a supernatural list? And we’re all set. We’re all naturalists in this game. 

Dawkins, me, Harris, none of us believe in God. 

Next question is. Well, people do believe in God all around the world. Is that because the religious minds are an adaptation or a byproduct? And I’m with Davisson Wilson saying that their adaptations. Now, if it’s an adaptation, then it’s an adaptation for something. And it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good in the modern world. But it appears to be, as Durkheim said, an adaptation for binding groups together, creating trust, allowing people to work as a moral community, suppressed self-interest and find that, well, basically and be successful. But in the process, find meaning and purpose in life. I would say bird got to fly, fish gotta swim, and human being got to be part of something larger than himself. So that’s my descriptive claim. And that’s where I fundamentally disagree with the new atheists. They focus entirely on the belief in God and say, can you believe it? These people believe such nonsense, such rot. Well, you know, I think they’re right that these religious beliefs are wrong, but they mischaracterize them. And because they say that religion is not an adaptation, it’s a virus. Well, the implication is pretty clear. If if all of humanity is infected with the virus, except for the 20 or 30 of us who see clearly, we must save humanity by ripping religion out. And if we can rip it out, then we’ll be healthy. Well, that’s nonsense. When you rip religion out, when you rip out all the sources of of order and stability and self suppression, what you get is Adamah and chaos. 

This is what the French revolutionaries found out. People should read up on history, the French Revolution. I think that it was a good thing. And of course, it was a good thing that overthrowing tyranny. But my God, I mean, genocide, mass murder, ideological. 

It was basically they were ideological genocides committed. They were so certain they were right in their church of reason. They actually had a church of reason. 

When reason runs amok, the results are ugly. 

You know, do you think you talk about six moral foundations? We talked about some of them. You know, the group Purity Sanctity Authority. 

What about truth and rationality? I mean, to stick with a new atheist, sort of go to the French revolutionary them in some sense, or to go to Carl Sagan and his candle in the dark. I mean, there is a deep moral attachment to truth. Now, I don’t see how evolution would have produced that, but on the other hand, it kind of creates just some of the same strong beliefs. 


So that is when we get it at moral foundations, that or my colleagues and I have run a contest, we back on it a couple years ago for people to suggest additional foundations because we never thought that we’d identified the original five. We never said that this is it, just these five. I don’t give a damn about parsimony, actually. I mean, I. Evolution didn’t give a damn about parsimony in creating us. And so I don’t give a damn about it. In trying to explain what I mean is, I don’t mind if a theory ends up positing 50 foundations rather than one. Obviously I care about parsimony in the sense that the two explanations are literally equally good. Yeah, prefer it. So is truth a moral foundation? A few people have suggested that to us at the contest. People do seem to care about truth. We find that it doesn’t do a lot of work explaining the culture war in that everybody thinks they everybody thinks they care about. 

And the way that I describe it is this. Everybody, every group values the truth. Everybody every group values its sacred commitment. And since when you sacrifice something, you lose the ability to think clearly about it. When you shoot something a sacred, it’s always going to conflict with the truth at some point. And at that point, every group throws truth under the bus. So it’s clear, you know, we’re also good at seeing this for the for the religious right. And, you know, they take relies the Bible and and there’s this evidence that the Earth is more than 10000 years old. So what do they do? They throw the throw the the evidence under the bus and go with the sacred values and they’ll they’ll deny what seems obvious to everyone else. But, you know, what I see is that we do the same thing in the sciences. We deny truth. We deny evidence whenever it conflicts with our sacred values. If you just you know, science is psychology. There’s more psychology. Psychology is full of. It was full of IQ deniers for a long time. People who deny that IQ test measured anything. And if it did well, you know, then and it was racist or if it I mean, because we think relies on the left, we think relies I think victim groups, especially African-Americans and women, a few other groups. And so when the evidence seems to in any way be racist, we just deny the evidence. So we had IQ deniers, we had heritability Neiers. We had we have six different deniers. We are I mean, I’ve found people who deny that hormones make hormones contribute to gendered behavior. Of course they do. They do it. Every other animal, they do enough. But, you know, well, that’s sexist. So I’m going to deny the evidence. 

So here’s a point where I kind of have to differ with you. I mean, it seems like based on moral foundation theory, as I read it, we’re all biased, biased by our emotions, by and, you know, bias by our moral intuitions. But just in different directions. So there’s not a difference in bias. And yet you you find, you know, by definition, the left changes its mind and it adopts new things in the right stays stable. If you’re open to changing your mind, then eventually you’re going to more come around to a different way of thinking about things that that shouldn’t that shouldn’t be an equal bias. 

You’re certainly right. That part of being a progressive is that you like change. You like to throw out what came before. So I’ll give you that. And part of what that means is that certain things that used to be understood. 

The left hand goes in faddish ideas and sometimes leaves the truth behind because it’s up for something new. New fads and his politics in general as a scientist. Yeah, sure. I think it’s right to be more open minded than to be too conservative. So, you know, I’ll give you that. I’m not trying to say that the two groups are equal or equally good as scientists. I think there is something in the liberal disposition of openness to experience and questioning authority that makes them predisposed to be scientists. But here’s here’s the thing where I think people don’t appreciate sufficiently. Science is so good at what it does not because scientists have high IQ is opens to experience rather. 

Science is so good at what it does because a scientific community was created in the 18th century in which people would write things and the things they wrote were backed up by evidence. But not just that they wrote things and then other people would challenge them because there is no cure for the confirmation bias. Other than other people. Science works because it’s a community of people who challenge each other, correct each other’s confirmation bias. And then the truth emerges. So as long as we have a good variety of opinions and people willing to say, you know what, I question your your claim about the evidence, here’s here’s another way to look at or. 

Here’s other evidence. Then it works brilliantly. So it’s not the scientists, per say who deserve the credit. It’s the institution of science. My concern. They talk about a few different places. Is that because we have basically no conservatives in the social sciences other than economics? There are certain views that don’t get stood up for. There are certain views that get put forth that are politically correct, but don’t get challenge. So the institution of science work generally very well. But is there a few areas in which the market isn’t working? Quite right. 

Fair enough. No, I think I think there blindspots. My question is just how long do they persist? You know, if you take a.. Evolutionism, it’s over 100 years old, you know. I mean, it’s now their people are never going to let that go. Minds don’t change there in the way that they change in academia where change is much more rapid. 

I will grant that. So there were evolution deniers all throughout the social sciences in the 70s and 80s. I mean, that is, of course, everybody was fine with evolution for other animals. That’s no, that’s never been a problem at all. But evolution for people, for people, for personalities, you know, for sex differences. Well, that was just flatly denied. I mean, E.O. Wilson was a racist and a sexist when he proposed all that in his book, Sociobiology. So I’ll grant you that evolution deniers on the left only lasted a generation. 

And as the baby boomers are, I think, sort of, you know, beginning to age out. And younger generations coming in. There’s very I find in social psychology last five or 10 years, there’s very little evolution denial anymore. So that is a change. And I and I think change does happen faster on the left than on the right. I’ll grant you that. 

So this goes back to the question I wanted to ask. But then we went off into religion land. So as you yourself. Right. There are many ways that left and right differ. And there even seems to be a partly genetic basis to this. You talk about the moral ways that they differ. But there are also personality based ways. And, you know, now there’s people at the University, Nebraska, Lincoln, who were talking about physiology and showing in experiments. So how is this all tied together? Is morality the root is personnel. 

Wait, wait, wait. You’re asking. Here’s the flower. Here’s the leaves. Here’s the stem. Here’s the root. And you’re saying, what’s really the root? The root. All I hear about. No. But the root. 

I mean, we don’t value plants for their roots. The root does one thing. So if you want to think about that, well, you could say, OK, the genes are the root. Well, actually, know the plant metaphor is not so good here because, you know, once you have the root and the nature of the plant, you’re going to get a very predictable flower. 

People are much more variable. So here’s the way I think about the way I talk about in the book. Almost everything is heritable. And yet there’s no gene for anything. Nobody can find a gene for anything. Anything interesting that isn’t logical. 

So the genes somehow the total collection of 20000 genes or so creates brains in these brains have certain tendencies to react more strongly to threat or to suffering, let’s say. And these traits are heritable. You know, identical twins tend to be similar. But that’s just the beginning of the developmental path. Human human lives have a developmental course that can not be predicted from their genes or their temperament at birth. All that is a starting point. So it starts from rolling in one direction. But life has lots of twists and turns. 

So it’s not so that the genetic findings are tiny. I mean, they explain so little variance. The few genes that have been identified, tiny, yet ideology is heritable. Like everything else, around 30 to 40, 50 percent of the variance is heritable. So the genes make the brain the brain makes people react to certain things. And as they grow, they’re then attracted to certain kinds of people, certain kinds of activities. A kid with a very liberal temperament is going to be attracted to more nonconformist tonight school. A kid with a very conservative temperance can be attracted to the more clean cut jock cheerleader said, let’s say the stereotypes. But like most stereotypes, there’s a basis in truth. 

So you have to trace it out development and you can’t just say, oh, well, if this genetic basis. And that’s really what’s happening. 

Okay. And, you know, you talk a lot about group selection. Here’s something that I wasn’t clear about from the book. I mean, does does your. Are you implying that group selection just made us act for the good of the group? Are you or are you implying that this actual variability that we have on these measures, which is partly genetically based, is itself good for the group? In other words, it’s good that we have all these different strategies or call them liberal strategies and conservative strategies, because in different situations, as the group might survive better, depending upon which strategy comes to the fore. Are you actually saying that or is it more limited? 

No, I’m saying I’m saying the former I’m saying that we we humans are all products of multilevel selection, which I’ll explain in just a moment. The second argument you made about how variation itself is good for groups. I mean, that’s been put forward is why it is that siblings are not at all similar in personality. If you share 50 percent of your genes with your sibling, you share almost none of your personality because there’s an advantage to the parents or the man’s genes to have genes shuffle and have a variety of traits. That’s a separate argument. 

That might be true, but that’s not that’s not the one I’m making. 

The point I’m making is that we are primates like all other primates. We are group living creatures. And the basic nature of that group living is we’re really competitive and women and we are the descendants of the ones who beat out their neighbors, especially in sexual selection and imagine in the battle for mating. So that makes us generally selfish. As the wall has shown. We can we can be kind. We can be sympathetic. You know, chimpanzees and bonobos, they’re not all dark and ugly and do some nice things about them, but they’re terrible at working together, just abysmal. I mean, they they hunt cooperatively, but it’s really not clear how much they’re cooperating and how much they’re just sort of all chasing the same animal, the same. That’s debated among the primatologist. So they’re just terrible at cooperation. But we’re brilliant at it. We are unbelievably good at it. 

I mean, look at all the people corporate. Just to put the show on. You know, you and I met once at a conference and and, you know, we were able to come together and a lot of other technology helps us and we’re able to put on a show together. We just do it so naturally. Where did that come from? 

And my answer is, it comes from the same place that massive cooperation always comes from in nature, which is group selection that is unlike chimpanzees and other animals. We are very much the product of a very long period of warfare in which it’s not just warfare, it’s a competition. Sometimes economic. But warfare is the clearest case of the genes on this planet today are not a cross-section of the genes that were on this planet 50000 years ago. They are exclusively from the people who in groups that the other groups. And so evolution fast. Evolution happens very quickly. A thousand a few thousand years is plenty of time for things to get tuned up. We are designed to be group ish and our selfishness within our groups and our group business in intergroup competition. That’s what makes us so interesting is to push in different directions. 

Fair enough. So just just quickly, because I want to ask you just some concluding question. The Rava, the variability then is just noye. I mean, we just naturally vary onna. It’s not for any good reason. It’s just well, it’s good to have diversity. 

Well, if you tell me if you can explain once you have an explanation of why personality vary so much. 


We we tend to look like our siblings, our hair color and eye color and face shape. We tend to resemble our siblings and physical features. We don’t resemble them on personality. And that’s very interesting. I don’t know why that is. So if you talk to personality psychologists and whatever their explanations for that variation, that would probably the variation, if they should, but a variation here. 

I think politics does grow out of personality traits in that way. So I don’t know what more to say about it. 

Well, let’s go on to the big question. Is depolarization right? And I guess I’ll let me remind our listeners again that Jonathan Hights new book, The Righteous Mind, is available through our Web site point of inquiry dot org. Mean solution is very hard, given that everybody’s responding automatically, righteously, defensively in favor of their different moral dispositions. So, I mean, you one thing you say is that people would behave more civilly if they actually, like, talked in person and, you know, bonded in that empathetic. 

It’s not that it’s not that simple. 

There’s a lot of research in social psychology on mere exposure. And when you bring, you know, gangs or, you know, racial groups together to talk, the results tend to be bad or neutral. And if you don’t bring them together, but you have them talk of the Internet, it’s pretty predictably awful. What has been found is, well, obviously, yeah, there’s a superordinate goal or need when they’re all together on the same team. If they’re in the military together, then you get very good results. But short of that, if you if you simply build relationships first before you talk about politics. So, you know, if what if a liberal, a conservative meet each other for the first time, they might be wary of each other because they’re from different tribes. But, you know, if they just if they talk for a while, if they eat together, if they have friends in common, if their kids go to the same school. Anything that ties you together makes you predisposed to like someone or be open to them. So if you can do a little bit of relationship building first and then you can begin to talk about politics and especially we can do it with an air of mutual respect. That’s really what I’m trying to do in the book, is to show people, you know, nobody’s crazy here. Nobody is over their views because they hate American, want to destroy our country. Everybody is pursuing a vision of the good. And you know what? They can see some things that you can’t. And you can see some things that they can’t. And we, you know, liberal and conservative, I think are like yin and yang, like night and day. You know, you need both. And. So that’s what I’m hoping to cultivate, is an attitude of helping people to turn off the demonization and turn it. Tone it down into just respectful disagreement. At that point, then sometimes it becomes quite possible to do it, to do negotiation, you know. OK, well, you care so much about marriage. And you’re right, the data supports that marriage is really good for kids. I care a lot about gay people who are excluded. OK, how about if we have a really strongly pro marriage policy and we try to really make it that all kids are raised by two or more parents? And then we allow gay marriage. So, I mean, there’s all kinds of room for compromise. Once you think once you see that the other people are not crazy. 

Just one last question. I mean, to me, I just came up saying President Obama seems like he’s talked about civility for four years now and it’s only become more polarized. I mean, that, you know, he seems to bend over backwards to say we’re all in this together all the time. Right. Does seem to do absolutely no good. 

Well, that’s right, because he doesn’t do it very effectively. I mean, first of all, there’s no reason to think that preaching civility is going to make people more civil. Everybody is going to think that they’re civil. But God damn it, those other folks, when they say something so outrageous, of course I’m going to slam on it. 

So preaching civility doesn’t do anything. Secondly, he made a huge strategic mistake of coming in during this that, you know, was a financial crisis. When he when he was sweating, it was it was dark times. And he said, you know, let’s all work together on this. And he had no stick. 

He had politics. So, you know, politics is different from normal life in normal life. People will respond to certain overtures. Politics is just they are knuckles competition between two parties. Electoral politics is a zero sum game. And the Republican size him up. And there was a couple of months where they were willing to go along, but they weren’t sure they were waiting. They were trying to figure out what would work. And I quickly found out Obama does not carry a big stick. 

Obama doesn’t threaten. Obama pleads and argues and and and makes Reid, you know, offers reasons. And if you’re the president of Iran and you don’t like his reasons, nothing bad will happen to you. I think he should have been a lot more like Lyndon Johnson, who knew how to how to threaten and carry through on breaking kneecaps. I think Obama was not a very effective politician early on, and he paid the price for it. 

Smirnoff Well, Jonathan, hi, this has been a very great discussion, and I know that our listeners are really going to dig it. So thank you so much. Best of luck with the book. It’s been great to have you on point of inquiry. 

Oh, my pleasure, Chris. Thanks. 

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One of inquiry is produced by Atomize, Ikke and AMRs New York, and our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Waler. Today’s intro featured Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Chris Mooney. 

Chris Mooney