By Arnold Kling
We are only half way through March, and I think I already have come across more must-read books than in all of 2011. I am about 2/3 of the way through Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, which makes the must-read category with room to spare. I could write extensively about it, and perhaps I will. Two quick takes:
1. Haidt discusses the tension between group selection and individual selection. Group selection means that tribal loyalty will be selected for. However, the tendency to go overboard in sacrificing for your tribe will be selected against. So, when Bryan disdains any tribal loyalty, his role in the evolutionary drama is one of a free rider. Members of his tribe believe that he is trying to free ride on their tribal loyalty in the inevitable conflict with an enemy tribe. If they are correct, then a tribe full of Bryans would be slaughtered. If Bryan is right, then their xenophobia is hurting themselves.
2. My one objection to Haidt’s analysis is his claim that liberals have weak “receptors” for moral foundations of authority or group loyalty. If he surveys people using questions that jerk a conservatives’ chain (desecration of the flag, for example), then when liberals do not respond, it does not mean that they lack chains you can jerk. I would recommend that Haidt try the following:
a) Enter a conversational group of liberals. Inject into the conversation a statement like, “Did anyone hear the interesting story that was on Fox News the other day? They were saying that….” and then see if the reaction has no group-loyalty foundation.
b) At a convention of liberal academics (the MLA, or the American Sociological Association), interrupt the Presidential address as follows: “Excuse me, but I’m a colleague of Bo Swerdlup’s–we are both adjunct faculty at Idaho State–and what you are proposing is completely inconsistent with his work. How do you plan to deal with the discrepancy?” Keep pressing the issue. See if the reaction in the room has no authority-hierarchy foundation.