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On new member Jon Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind

I had a great call yesterday with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt — author of a fascinating book that’s been getting a lot of buzz in our field and elsewhere called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (in the Resource Center here, or at Amazon here).

I was a little nervous about the call once I watched his Bill Moyers interview — though so excited about what he would think about NCDD and our community of practice.

I’m happy to say that he became a supporting NCDD member on the spot, at the end of our call.  Plus he thought of several ways we can collaborate.  His civilpolitics.org site has an impressive cadre of academic bloggers and academic resources.  Jonathan would like to see NCDD’s more practice-based community using the materials on the site, so he offered to let us cross-post any posts on the civilpolitics.org site that we’d like to.

He also asked if I’d be interested in finding an academic from our community who might be interested in writing up a report for civilpolitics.org that overviews what’s working in “assisted” dialogue and deliberation, including links to the evidence that D&D actually does/can work, and that links to existing materials and resources of interest to those who want to learn more.  This NCDD member would then curate the page over the longer term, like Hal Movius is curating the Assisted Negotiation page.  I have a couple of members in mind for this, but let me know if you’re interested in the task.

And of course he joined NCDD, and is interested in participating in our listserv and seeing what this community of practice is all about!

I’ll paste a description of Jonathan’s book below, but I must encourage you to take the time to watch his interview with Bill Moyers. As with many fields focused on the social sciences, we skew progressive, and we’re always struggling to understand and welcome more conservatives to our field and to our efforts in communities.  I think Jonathan’s ideas can give a very different and useful way at looking at the real differences in values between liberals, conservatives, and libertarians–and help us see (and teach others) why our country needs them all.

Why can’t our political leaders work together as threats loom and problems mount? Why do people so readily assume the worst about the motives of their fellow citizens? In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding.

His starting point is moral intuition—the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do. These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who see things differently are wrong. Haidt shows us how these intuitions differ across cultures, including the cultures of the political left and right. He blends his own research findings with those of anthropologists, historians, and other psychologists to draw a map of the moral domain, and he explains why conservatives can navigate that map more skillfully than can liberals. He then examines the origins of morality, overturning the view that evolution made us fundamentally selfish creatures. But rather than arguing that we are innately altruistic, he makes a more subtle claim—that we are fundamentally groupish. It is our groupishness, he explains, that leads to our greatest joys, our religious divisions, and our political affiliations.

In a stunning final chapter on ideology and civility, Haidt shows what each side is right about, and why we need the insights of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to flourish as a nation.

Be sure to visit Jonathan Haidt’s CivilPolitics.org website.  And check out the New York Times book review on The Righteous Mind and the must-see Bill Moyers interview with Jonathan Haidt.

Sandy Heierbacher is the director of the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD). She co-founded NCDD in 2002 with her husband Andy Fluke. Sandy has an M.A. in International Management from SIT Graduate Institute. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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  1. Phil Neisser says:

    To me the most important message of Jonathan’s work is in the title of his book: good people are indeed divided by politics and religion. That statement challenges the common belief that if all people were good then everyone would all agree about the basics and politics would go away. That belief certainly needs to be challenged, and Jonathan has done so in a credible way.

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