Community Conversation: The Righteous Mind

Join us for a discussion of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathan Haidt, 2012.

Community Conversation / Book Discussion planned for Thursday, October 24th at 7:00pm. Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.


Haidt is a social psychologist who has researched human morality for several decades. In this book, described by the New York Times Book Review as “a landmark contribution to humanity’s understanding of itself,” he presents both a theoretical framework and a practical guide for thinking about morality. NPR boldly stated the book “may well change how you think and talk about politics, religion, and human nature.” Haidt offers a new perspective on two of the most important and divisive topics in human life: politics and religion. He claims both are expressions of our underlying moral psychology.

Haidt laments a mostly 21st century phenomenon: the collapse of political cooperation across party lines. He attributes this in part to our failure to understand why we are so easily divided into hostile groups, each one certain of its own righteousness. He argues that human nature is not only intrinsically moral, but moralistic (critical or judgmental). Humans are also predisposed to thrive in a group environment, which necessitates boundaries and makes inter‐group conflict inevitable. By understanding why we are different, he says we can avoid wholesale blaming and instead manage the conflict so it doesn’t destroy us.

Possible Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss the elephant and rider metaphor and Haidt’s assertion that Republicans speak more directly to the elephant while Democrats speak more directly to the rider.
  2. Respond to Haidt’s claim that conservatives have a broader moral foundation and therefore, more ways for politicians to connect with them.
  3. How plausible is gene‐culture coevolution and multi‐level selection?
  4. Evaluate the need for both a party of stability and order and a party of progress and reform. Is this the political analog of natural selection, which balances the rates of gene replication and mutation to maintain species viability?
  5. Haidt says erasing boundaries that divide us is a vision of heaven for liberals, but conservatives believe it would quickly descend into hell. Discuss the paradox of the vital role of groups, which necessitates exclusion of outsiders.
  6. Can close‐knit groups bridge across boundaries? Under what conditions might such groups serve as laboratories in which to perfect social interaction so it will carry over into the outside world?

Read the book summary:

Download The Righteous Mind Synopsis.pdf



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