Book Summary: “Righteous Mind: Why People Are Divided by Politics and Reason” by Jonathan Haidt


Title: Righteous Mind: Why People Are Divided by Politics and Reason
Author: Jonathan Haidt
Scope: 4 stars
Readability: 4 stars
My personal rating: 5 stars
See more on my book rating system.

If you enjoy this summary, please support the author by buying the book.

Topic of Book

Haidt explores the role that biology and morality play in systems of thought, such as politics, ideology and religion. By understanding its psychological roots, Haidt hopes that we can ramp down the ideological division that is increasingly dividing us.

If you would like to learn more about how ideology, politics and religion have undermined progress and people’s perception that progress exists, read my book From Poverty to Progress: How Humans Invented Progress, and How We Can Keep It Going.

My Comments

While I do not necessarily agree with his “6-taste” theory of morality or his proposed solution, I believe that Haidt’s perspective helps us to understand why religion and ideology are so important to us. Those beliefs can bind us together, but they can also tear us apart. Unfortunately, the latter is increasingly happening in the Western world, particularly in the United States.

Ideology has become a “reverse hive switch,” which turns otherwise rational and productive people into “bees” with an intense desire to sting anyone with a different opinion. This leads constantly expanding the domain of politics into new domains where it was not previously considered respectable. While the dangers of ideology were once relatively safely contained to our politics, it is now taking over large portions of American society.

Over the last 10-15 years, intense ideologies have been undermining progress by:

  • Creating a perception that something is fundamentally wrong with American society.
  • Undermining trust in each other
  • Undermining our ability to work together as groups to solve common problems.
  • Accentuating perceived differences between citizens based upon their demographic characteristics.
  • Undermining our national cohesion.
  • Undermining our sympathy towards people with different beliefs or different demographic characteristics.
  • Tearing apart families and friendships.
  • Polarizing our politics and party system.
  • Increasingly forcing individuals to choose sides in the political struggle and make flamboyant public statements to preserve their social standing.
  • Increasingly forcing every institution, particularly media, social media, interest groups and corporations, to choose sides in the political struggle and then shift resources from solving problems to making ideological statements.
  • Undermining confidence in our institutions.

While progress is based upon taking action that delivers results to society, our society is increasingly focused on public relations to maintain an image of intelligence, expertise, competence and caring regardless of actual contributions to society.

Public image has become more important than reality, and ideology has become the means to project a good public image. To rebuild our society, we need to shift from reputation based upon public image, ideology, intelligence and caring to reputation based upon delivering positive results for society.

I also believe that a focus on results would greatly enhance the effectiveness and reputation of our institutions, particularly the government.

I highly recommend this book!

Key Take-aways

  • The human mind is based on moral reasoning, not rationality. We perceive our own thinking as based upon rationality, but we perceive people with differing views as being irrational.
  • Western philosophy and intelligent people have been worshiping reason and distrusting passions for thousands of years. They are incorrect. Rationality (usually) cannot override passions.
  • This “rationality” delusion also has an implicit assumption that philosophers and scientists should have more power. It also usually comes with a utopian program.
  • Intuitions come first and reasoning is usually produced after a judgment is made, in order to influence other people.
  • Intelligent people are not more rational. They are just better at arguing that their side is correct. They are no better than others at understanding the other side and questioning their own assumption.
  • Our brain is like elephant (intuition) and a rider (conscious reasoning). The elephant is in control, while the rider functions as a press secretary whose job is to invent rational arguments to justify the elephant’s actions.
  • Our morality binds us as groups, but it blinds us as to why we believe what we do. We think that our beliefs are based upon rationality, when they are actually based upon projecting an image of morality to others.
  • Because of this, you cannot convince someone with a different ideology/religion with facts. That is like trying to make a dog happy by forcibly wagging its tail.
  • Humans are moral animals. We all want to believe that we are moral. More importantly, we want others to believe that we are moral so that we are accepted by a larger group.
  • Religion and ideology are the primary means through which we enable others to believe that we are moral. This is why these value systems are so important to people.
  • Because common moral values pull a group together, humans evolved moral reasoning to enable cooperation within groups that are competing with other groups to survive.
  • Rationality did not evolve to help us find truth but to help us persuade others.
  • We are all self-righteous hypocrites.
  • We are terrible at seeing errors in our own reasoning, but we are good at spotting weaknesses in other people’s reasoning.
  • We need others to point out our errors, but discussion can degenerate to people pointing out “facts” to each other, and both parties getting increasingly angry over the perceived irrationality of the other party.
  • When discussions are hostile, the odds of change are slight. The elephant leans away from the opponent, and the rider works frantically to rebut the opponent’s charges.
  • But if there is affection, admiration, or a desire to please the other person, then the elephant leans toward that person and the rider tries to find the truth in the other person’s arguments. The elephant may not often change its direction in response to objections from its own rider, but it is easily steered by the mere presence of friendly elephants or by good arguments given to it by the riders of those friendly elephants.
  • Perceived similarity and competition between groups creates a strong bond between people.
  • In general, the Right has a very clear understanding about the Left, but the Left has a very poor understanding of the Left. This undermines the effectiveness in politics.
  • The Left usually fails and produces bad consequences for society because they do not understand the importance of moral capital.
  • The Left is constantly trying to help a subset of bees, while not recognizing that their efforts potentially hurt the entire hive.

Important Quotes from Book

The human mind is designed to “do” morality, just as it’s designed to do language, sexuality, music.

Our righteous minds made it possible for human beings—but no other animals—to produce large cooperative groups, tribes, and nations without the glue of kinship. But at the same time, our righteous minds guarantee that our cooperative groups will always be cursed by principle of moral psychology.

The first principle: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. Moral intuitions arise automatically and almost instantaneously, long before moral reasoning has a chance to get started, and those first intuitions tend to drive our later reasoning. If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you. But if you think about moral reasoning as a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas—to justify our own actions and to defend the teams we belong to—then things will make a lot more sense. Keep your eye on the intuitions, and don’t take people’s moral arguments at face value. They’re mostly post hoc constructions made up on the fly, crafted to advance one or more strategic objectives.

The central metaphor of these four chapters is that the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning—the stream of wordsand images of which we are fully aware. The elephant is the other 99percent of mental processes—the ones that occur outside of awarenessbut that actually govern most of our behavior.

The second principle of moral psychology, which is that there’s more to morality than harm and fairness. The central metaphor of these four chapters is that the righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors. Secular Western moralities are like cuisines that try to activate just one or two of these receptors—either concerns about harm and suffering, or concerns about fairness and injustice. But people have so many other powerful moral intuitions, such as those related to liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

The third principle: Morality binds and blinds. The central metaphor of these four chapters is that human beings are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee. Human nature was produced by natural selection working at two levels simultaneously. Individuals compete with individuals within every group, and we are the descendants of primates who excelled at that competition. This gives us the ugly side of our nature, the one that is usually featured in books about our evolutionary origins. We are indeed selfish hypocrites so skilled at putting on a show of virtue that we fool even ourselves.

But human nature was also shaped as groups competed with other groups.

Once you see our righteous minds as primate minds with a hivish overlay, you get a whole new perspective on morality, politics, and religion. I’ll show that our “higher nature” allows us to be profoundly altruistic, but that altruism is mostly aimed at members of our own groups. I’ll show that religion is (probably) an evolutionary adaptation for binding groups together and helping them to create communities with a shared morality.

We are all self-righteous hypocrites.

Western philosophy has been worshipping reason and distrusting the passions for thousands of years. There’s a direct line running from Plato through Immanuel Kant to Lawrence Kohlberg. I’ll refer to this worshipful attitude throughout this book as the rationalist delusion. I call it a delusion because when a group of people make something sacred, the members of the cult lose the ability to think clearly about it. Morality binds and blinds.

We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment.

Automatic processes run the human mind, just as they have been running animal minds for 500 million years, so they’re very good at what they do, like software that has been improved through thousands of product cycles. When human beings evolved the capacity for language and reasoning at some point in the last million years, the brain did not rewire itself to hand over the reins to a new and inexperienced charioteer. Rather, the rider (language-based reasoning) evolved because it did something useful for the elephant.

The rider can do several useful things. It can see further into the future (because we can examine alternative scenarios in our heads) and therefore it can help the elephant make better decisions in the present. It can learn new skills and master new technologies, which can be deployed to help the elephant reach its goals and sidestep disasters. And, most important, the rider acts as the spokesman for the elephant, even though it doesn’t necessarily know what the elephant is really thinking. The rider is skilled at fabricating post hoc explanations for whatever the elephant has just done, and it is good at finding reasons to justify whatever the elephant wants to do next. Once human beings developed language and began to use it to gossip about each other, it became extremely valuable for elephants to carry around on their backs a full-time public relations firm.

The social intuitionist model. Intuitions come first and reasoning is usually produced after a judgment is made, in order to influence other people. But as a discussion progresses, the reasons given by other people sometimes change our intuitions and judgments.

The social intuitionist model offers an explanation of why moral and political arguments are so frustrating: because moral reasons are the tailwagged by the intuitive dog. A dog’s tail wags to communicate. You can’t make a dog happy by forcibly wagging its tail. And you can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments.

My goal is to change the way a diverse group of readers—liberal and conservative, secular and religious—think about morality, politics, religion, and each other.

Brains evaluate everything in terms of potential threat or benefit to the self, and then adjust behavior to get more of the good stuff and less of the bad. Animal brains make such appraisals thousands of times a day with no need for conscious reasoning, all in order to optimize the brain’s answer to the fundamental question of animal life: Approach or avoid?

The most widely used measure of these implicit attitudes is the Implicit Association Test (IAT)… Most people turn out to have negative implicit associations with many social groups, such as black people, immigrants, obese people, and the elderly.

The bottom line is that human minds, like animal minds, are constantly reacting intuitively to everything they perceive, and basing their responses on those reactions. Within the first second of seeing, hearing, or meeting another person, the elephant has already begun to lean toward or away, and that lean influences what you think and do next. Intuitions come first.

Roughly one in a hundred men (and many fewer women) are psychopaths. Most are not violent, but the ones who are commit nearly half of the most serious crimes, such as serial murder, serial rape, and the killing of police officers.

They feel no compassion, guilt, shame, or even embarrassment, which makes it easy for them to lie, and to hurt family, friends, and animals.

Psychopaths do have some emotions… But psychopaths don’t show emotions that indicate that they care about other people. Psychopaths seem to live in a world of objects, some of which happen to walk around on two legs.

When does the elephant listen to reason? The main way that we change our minds on moral issues is by interacting with other people. We are terrible at seeking evidence that challenges our own beliefs, but other people do us this favor, just as we are quite good at finding errors in other people’s beliefs. When discussions are hostile, the odds of change are slight. The elephant leans away from the opponent, and the rider works frantically to rebut the opponent’s charges.

But if there is affection, admiration, or a desire to please the other person, then the elephant leans toward that person and the rider tries to find the truth in the other person’s arguments. The elephant may not often change its direction in response to objections from its own rider, but it is easily steered by the mere presence of friendly elephants (that’s the social persuasion link in the social intuitionist model) or by good arguments given to it by the riders of those friendly elephants (that’s the reasoned persuasion link).

There are even times when we change our minds on our own, with no help from other people. it is possible for people simply to reason their way to a moral conclusion that contradicts their initial intuitive judgment, although I believe this process is rare.

In other words, under normal circumstances the rider takes its cue from the elephant, just as a lawyer takes instructions from a client.

But if you force the two to sit around and chat for a few minutes, the elephant actually opens up to advice from the rider and arguments from outside sources. Intuitions come first, and under normal circumstances they cause us to engage in socially strategic reasoning, but there are ways to make the relationship more of a two-way street.

Glaucon (Plato’s brother was right): people care a great deal more about appearance and reputation than about reality. In fact, I’ll praise Glaucon for the rest of the book as the guy who got it right—the guy who realized that the most important principle for designing an ethical society is to make sure that everyone’s reputation is on the line all the time, so that bad behavior will always bring bad consequences.

The most important principle for designing an ethical society is to make sure that everyone’s reputation is on the line all the time, so that bad behavior will always bring bad consequences.

Human beings are the world champions of cooperation beyond kinship, and we do it in large part by creating systems of formal and informal accountability. We’re really good at holding others accountable for their actions, and we’re really skilled at navigating through a world in which others hold us accountable for our own.

Accountability increases exploratory thought only when three conditions apply: (1) decision makers learn before forming any opinion that they will be accountable to an audience, (2) the audience’s views are unknown, and (3) they believe the audience is well informed and interested in accuracy.

When all three conditions apply, people do their darnedest to figure out the truth, because that’s what the audience wants to hear. But the rest of the time—which is almost all of the time—accountability pressures simply increase confirmatory thought. People are trying harder to look right than to be right.

Tetlock concludes that conscious reasoning is carried out largely for the purpose of persuasion, rather than discovery. But Tetlock adds that we are also trying to persuade ourselves. We want to believe the things we are about to say to others.

We care a lot about what others think of us. The only people known to have no sociometer are psychopaths.

That’s one of the rider’s main jobs: to be the full-time in-house press secretary for the elephant.

Schools don’t teach people to reason thoroughly; they select the applicants with higher IQs, and people with higher IQs are able to generate more reasons.

The findings get more disturbing. Perkins found that IQ was by far the biggest predictor of how well people argued, but it predicted only the number of my-side arguments. Smart people make really good lawyers and press secretaries, but they are no better than others at finding reasons on the other side.

Many political scientists used to assume that people vote selfishly, choosing the candidate or policy that will benefit them the most. But decades of research on public opinion have led to the conclusion that self-interest is a weak predictor of policy preferences.

People care about their groups, whether those be racial, regional, religious, or political. The political scientist Don Kinder summarizes the findings like this: “In matters of public opinion, citizens seem to be asking themselves not ‘What’s in it for me?’ but rather ‘What’s in it for my group?’ ”Political opinions function as “badges of social membership.”

Several studies have documented the “attitude polarization” effect that happens when you give a single body of information to people with differing partisan leanings.

All animal brains are designed to create flashes of pleasure when the animal does something important for its survival, and small pulses of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the ventral striatum (and a few other places) are where these good feelings are manufactured. Heroin and cocaine are addictive because they artificially trigger this dopamine response. Rats who can press a button to deliver electrical stimulation to their reward centers will continue pressing until they collapse from starvation.

if this is true, then it would explain why extreme partisans are so stubborn, closed-minded, and committed to beliefs that often seem bizarre or paranoid. Like rats that cannot stop pressing a button, partisans may be simply unable to stop believing weird things. The partisan brain has been reinforced so many times for performing mental contortions that free it from unwanted beliefs. Extreme partisanship may be literally addictive.

As an intuitionist, I’d say that the worship of reason is itself an illustration of one of the most long-lived delusions in Western history: the rationalist delusion.

The rationalist delusion is not just a claim about human nature. It’s also a claim that the rational caste (philosophers or scientists) should have more power, and it usually comes along with a utopian program for raising more rational children.

But if that were the case, then moral philosophers—who reason about ethical principles all day long—should be more virtuous than other people. Are they? The philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel tried to find out. He used surveys and more surreptitious methods to measure how often moral philosophers give to charity, vote, call their mothers, donate blood, donate organs, clean up after themselves at philosophy conferences, and respond to emails purportedly from students. And in none of these ways are moral philosophers better than other philosophers or professors in other fields.

Most of the bizarre and depressing research findings make perfect sense once you see reasoning as having evolved not to help us find truth but to help us engage in arguments, persuasion, and manipulation in the context of discussions with other people.

I am not saying we should all stop reasoning and go with our gut feelings. Gut feelings are sometimes better guides than reasoning for making consumer choices and interpersonal judgments, but they are often disastrous as a basis for public policy, science, and law. Rather, what I’m saying is that we must be wary of any individual’s ability to reason. We should see each individual as being limited, like a neuron.

This is why it’s so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth (such as an intelligence agency or a community of scientists) or to produce good public policy (such as a legislature or advisory board).

And if our goal is to produce good behavior, not just good thinking, then it’s even more important to reject rationalism and embrace intuitionism. Nobody is ever going to invent an ethics class that makes people behave ethically after they step out of the classroom.

I began to think about liberal and conservative policies as manifestations of deeply conflicting but equally heartfelt visions of the good society.

It felt good to be released from partisan anger. And once I was no longer angry, I was no longer committed to reaching the conclusion that righteous anger demands: we are right, they are wrong. I was able to explore new moral matrices, each one supported by its own intellectual traditions. It felt like a kind of awakening.

[David] Hume got it right. When he died in 1776, he and other sentimentalists had laid a superb foundation for “moral science,” one that has, in my view, been largely vindicated by modern research. You would think, then, that in the decades after his death, the moral sciences progressed rapidly. But you would be wrong. In the decades after Hume’s death the rationalists claimed victory over religion and took the moral sciences off on a two-hundred-year.

Political ideologies are based upon five foundations:

  • Care/harm
  • Fairness/cheating
  • Loyalty/betrayal
  • Authority/subversion
  • Sanctity/degradation
  • Liberty/Oppression

Political parties and interest groups strive to make their concerns become current triggers of your moral modules. To get your vote, your money, or your time, they must activate at least one of your moral foundations.

Liberals believe strongly in Care and Fairness, but are far less interested in Liberty, Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity. Libertarians believe strongly in Liberty, but are far less interested in the other five foundations. Conservatives cared roughly equally in all six.

We can say, as shorthand, that conservatives have a five-foundation morality.

In January 2005, I was invited to speak to the Charlottesville Democratic Party about moral psychology.

The message of my talk to the Charlottesville Democrats was simple: Republicans understand moral psychology. Democrats don’t. Republicans have long understood that the elephant is in charge of political behavior, not the rider, and they know how elephants work.

Republicans don’t just aim to cause fear, as some Democrats charge. They trigger the full range of intuitions described by Moral Foundations Theory.

I didn’t blame the Republicans for trickery. I blamed the Democrats for psychological naiveté.

[Liberals] start by assuming that Republicans do not care… These approaches all had one feature in common: they used psychology to explain away conservatism. They made it unnecessary for liberals to take conservative ideas seriously because these ideas are caused by bad childhoods or ugly personality traits. I suggested a very different approach: start by assuming that conservatives are just as sincere as liberals, and then use Moral Foundations Theory to understand the moral matrices of both sides.

The key idea in the essay was that there are two radically different approaches to the challenge of creating a society in which unrelated people can live together peacefully.

I advised Democrats to stop dismissing conservatism as a pathology and start thinking about morality beyond care and fairness. I urged them to close the sacredness gap between the two parties by making greater use of the Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity foundations, not just in their “messaging,” but in how they think about public policy and the best interests of the nation.

Human beings are the giraffes of altruism. We’re one-of-a-kind freaks of nature who occasionally—even if rarely—can be as selfless and team-spirited as bees. If your moral ideal is the person who devotes her life to helping strangers, well then, OK—such people are so rare that we send film crews out to record them for the evening news. But if you focus, as Darwin did, on behavior in groups of people who know each other and share goals and values, then our ability to work together, divide labor, help each other, and function as a team is so all-pervasive that we don’t even notice it. You’ll never see the headline “Forty-five Unrelated College Students Work Together Cooperatively, and for No Pay, to Prepare for Opening Night of Romeo and Juliet.”

My goal is to show you that morality is the key to understanding humanity.

Human beings are conditional hive creatures. We have the ability (under special conditions) to transcend self-interest and lose ourselves (temporarily and ecstatically) in something larger than ourselves. That ability is what I’m calling the hive switch. The hive switch, I propose, is a group-related adaptation that can only be explained “by a theory of between-group selection”.

The hive switch may be more of a slider switch than an on-off switch, and with a few institutional changes you can create environments that will nudge everyone’s sliders a bit closer to the hive position. For example:

  • Increase similarity, not diversity. To make a human hive, you want to make everyone feel like a family. So don’t call attention to racial and ethnic differences; make them less relevant by ramping up similarity and celebrating the group’s shared values and common identity.
  • Exploit synchrony.
  • Create healthy competition among teams, not individuals

Studies show that intergroup competition increases love of the in-group far more than it increases dislike of the out-group… But pitting individuals against each other in a competition for scarce resources (such as bonuses) will destroy hivishness, trust, and morale.

The yearning to serve something larger than the self has been the basis of so many modern political movements.

Fascism is hive psychology scaled up to grotesque heights. It’s the doctrine of the nation as a superorganism, within which the individual loses all importance.

Happiness comes from between. It comes from getting the right relationships between yourself and others, yourself and your work, and yourself and something larger than yourself.

A college football game is a superb analogy for religion. From a naive perspective, focusing only on what is most visible (i.e., the game being played on the field), college football is an extravagant, costly, wasteful institution that impairs people’s ability to think rationally while leaving a long trail of victims (including the players themselves, plus the many fans who suffer alcohol-related injuries). But from a sociologically informed perspective, it is a religious rite that does just what it is supposed to do: it pulls people up from Durkheim’s lower level (the profane) to his higher level (the sacred). It flips the hive switch and makes people feel, for a few hours, that they are “simply a part of a whole.”

Religions are social facts. Religion cannot be studied in lone individuals any more than hivishness can be studied in lone bees.

Many scientists misunderstand religion because they ignore this principle and examine only what is most visible. They focus on individuals and their supernatural beliefs, rather than on groups and their binding practices. They conclude that religion is an extravagant, costly, wasteful institution that impairs people’s ability to think rationally while leaving a long trail of victims. I do not deny that religions do, at times, fit that description.

But if we are to render a fair judgment about religion—and understand its relationship to morality and politics—we must first describe it accurately.

Gods and religions, in sum, are group-level adaptations for producing cohesiveness and trust.

Religions are moral exoskeletons. If you live in a religious community, you are enmeshed in a set of norms, relationships, and institutions that work primarily on the elephant to influence your behavior.

Societies that forgo the exoskeleton of religion should reflect carefully on what will happen to them over several generations. We don’t really know, because the first atheistic societies have only emerged in Europe in the last few decades. They are the least efficient societies ever known at turning resources (of which they have a lot) into offspring (of which they have few).

My definition puts these two sets of puzzle pieces together to define moral systems: Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.

Rationalists might dream of a utopian state where policy is made by panels of unbiased experts, but in the real world there seems to be no alternative to a political process in which parties compete to win votes and money. That competition always involves trickery and demagoguery, as politicians play fast and loose with the truth, using their inner press secretaries to portray themselves in the best possible light and their opponents as fools who would lead the country to ruin.

And yet, does it have to be this nasty? A lot of Americans have noticed things getting worse. The country now seems polarized and embattled to the point of dysfunction.

Here’s a simple definition of ideology: “A set of beliefs about the proper order of society and how it can be achieved.”8 And here’s the most basic of all ideological questions: Preserve the present order, or change it?

Political theorists since Marx had long assumed that people chose ideologies to further their self-interest. The rich and powerful want to preserve and conserve; the peasants and workers want to change things.

Whether you end up on the right or the left of the political spectrum turns out to be just as heritable as most other traits: genetics explains between a third and a half of the variability among people on their political attitudes. Being raised in a liberal or conservative household accounts for much less.

To achieve almost any moral vision, you’d probably want high levels of social capital. (It’s hard to imagine how anomie and distrust could be beneficial.) But will linking people together into healthy, trusting relationships be enough to improve the ethical profile of the group?

If you believe that people are inherently good, and that they flourish when constraints and divisions are removed, then yes, that may be sufficient. But conservatives generally take a very different view of human nature. They believe that people need external structures or constraints in order to behave well, cooperate, and thrive. These external constraints include laws, institutions, customs, traditions, nations, and religions. People who hold this “constrained” view are therefore very concerned about the health and integrity of these “outside-the-mind” coordination devices. Without them, they believe, people will begin to cheat and behave selfishly. Without them, social capital will rapidly decay.

We can define moral capital as the resources that sustain a moral community. More specifically, moral capital refers to the degree to which a community possesses interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and technologies that mesh well with evolved psychological mechanisms and thereby enable the community to suppress or regulate selfishness and make cooperation possible.

Nonetheless, if you are trying to change an organization or a society and you do not consider the effects of your changes on moral capital, you’re asking for trouble. This, I believe, is the fundamental blind spot of the left. It explains why liberal reforms so often backfire, and why communist revolutions usually end up in despotism. It is the reason I believe that liberalism—which has done so much to bring about freedom and equal opportunity—is not sufficient as a governing philosophy. It tends to overreach, change too many things too quickly, and reduce the stock of moral capital inadvertently. Conversely, while conservatives do a better job of preserving moral capital, they often fail to notice certain classes of victims, fail to limit the predations of certain powerful interests, and fail to see the need to change or update institutions as times change.

Emphasizing differences makes many people more racist, not less.

On issue after issue, it’s as though liberals are trying to help a subset of bees (which really does need help) even if doing so damages the hive. Such “reforms” may lower the overall welfare of a society, and sometimes they even hurt the very victims liberals were trying to help.

This book explained why people are divided by politics and religion. The answer is not, as Manichaeans would have it, because some people are good and others are evil. Instead, the explanation is that our minds were designed for groupish righteousness. We are deeply intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive our strategic reasoning. This makes it difficult—but not impossible—to connect with those who live in other matrices, which are often built on different configurations of the available moral foundations.

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