Sunday, March 27, 2016

Good People

"Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion," is one book that I have read and find difficult in understanding the themes thoroughly. When I sit down to reflect and write my interpretation of the book's crust of the matter, all I have is a muddled up and vogue thoughts on the central points of the book. Nothing coherent and concrete to help me to articulate clearly any useful points. So be warned that what  you read here will compound that confusion;

It seems the author is pointing out how our mind is made up. What determinates the righteous mind from the perspective of moral psychology, and thus dwelling further by taking us on a tour of human nature and the history of human kind.  The author unequivocally stresses that moral psychology is the key to understanding politics and religion. Shedding light on why these ideas divide people.

I feel this book would be an excellent supplementary teaching aid for a psychology class.  As for me, it takes a while to dissect completely and digest the points raised in the book. It requires careful reading and reflection to absorb the theories and principles of understanding human psychology for an average reader like me fully. Except that I can not unlock the intricacy of the new knowledge and research presented, the book is indeed a treasured repository of knowledge and understanding of moral psychology, but too mysterious and metaphysical and far-fetched to my mind.

 The one thing that brings some clarity of thoughts is in the following analogy:

The righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors:
"morality is like cuisine, it is a cultural construction, influenced by accidents of environment and history, but it is not so flexible that anything goes. You can't have a cuisine based on tree bark, nor can you have one based primarily on bitter tastes.  Cuisines vary, but they all must please tongues equipped with the same five taste receptors. Moral matrices vary, but they all must please righteous minds equipped with the same six social receptors" (p. 114).

The six moral foundations based on which we cling to our ideology are: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/degradation.

But again these theories may not be the absolute truth and have different application.

"In  Psychology, theories are cheap. Anyone can invent one. Progress happens when theories are tested, supported and corrected by empirical evidence, especially when a theory proves to be useful- for example  if it helps people to understand  why half of the people in their country seem to live in a different moral universe...(p.127)

So based on this, the first thing is to find a definite answer and comprehensively understand what is the righteous mind. To me, it appears that the righteous mind is again influx and dynamic. The righteous mind is based on certain wisdom and logic. For example in the following, John Stuart Mill, 1989.   In describing harm, principle espoused the theory that  " The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will is to prevent harm to others."
This puts in perspective as under what circumstance and situation would violence being allowed and acceptable.

John Stuart's harm principle is in sync with utilitarianism, which is defined as "the doctrine that the morally correct course of action consists in the greatest good for the greatest number..., ". This is again allied with the idea of majority rule.

Chinese sage Mencius "Moral principles please our minds as beef and mutton and pork please our mouths."
The author urged that readers should avoid moral monism, which is a belief that attempt to ground all of the morality on a single principle-leads to societies that are unsatisfying to most people and at high risk of becoming inhumane because they ignore so many other moral principles.(p.113).

The reason moral monism doesn't work are because human beings are complex, and there are more than one answers to solve any of human problems.
But morality in no ways ends here, as Emile Durkheim noted "There is more to morality than harm and fairness" and morality even binds and blinds.

 The admonitions of sages from so many eras and cultures warning us about self-righteousness:

From Buddha:
It is easy to see the faults of others, but difficult to see one's faults. One shows the faults of others like chaff winnowed in the wind, but one conceals one's faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice."

Equally, the Bible says "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your eye?... you hypocrite, first take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

As I announced at the opening, of this summary,  this book is confusing, and I have failed to distill it. The ideas are too grand to grasp, to complicated to follow.