Podcast – Episode 0316 – The Righteous Mind and Our Moral Taste Buds

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In this episode, Joel and Antonia talk about Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind – and how we can think about the “moral taste buds” we bring to the world.

In this podcast you’ll find:

  • Food is very regional. 
  • Jonathan Haidt “Moral Taste Buds”
  • People have different relationships with morality in the same way that people have different relationships with food. 
  • As the world becomes more globalized, our concepts of morality bump up against different flavors of morality. 
  • When people think of morals, they don’t think of it in terms of taste. 
  • They consider morals absolute.
  • Our morals and values become embedded in our identity.
  • One of the advantages we have, as we get more globalized, is we experience more culinary flair. 
  • As our tastes broaden, we realize how limited we have been. 
  • Our morality can also broaden and change as we expand our viewpoints.
  • Morality isn’t as stagnant as we think it is.
  • When we force ourselves to try something new, it builds character and gives us a broader perspective on other people.
  • We are resistant to anything outside our framework. This is dangerous.
  • We aren’t insinuating someone should change their morals/values.
  • When we automatically adopt the morals and values around us, we are outsourcing these things to others. 
  • Bring your morals/values in-house. Make sure they are yours and not someone else’s.
  • Jonathan Haidt “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion”
  • Robert Anton Wilson, in Prometheus Rising, said: “What the thinker thinks, the prover proves.”
  • The assumption people have is that when it comes to making moral judgments, we are in control of our mind and intuition.
  • The rider and the elephant. 
  • The elephant is our intuitive mind
  • The rider is our rational mind
  • The Prover is the Rider
  • The Thinker is the Elephant
  • The rider thinks he is control of the elephant, but he isn’t.
  • Antonio Damasio “We are not thinking machines that feel. We are feeling machines that think.”
  • We start with feelings and biases; then our thinking mind rationalizes all of it. 
  • We are more groupish than we are selfish.
  • When our elephant heads a certain way and the rider is rationalizing the direction, it is usually on behalf of a group dynamic.
  • It helps us build civilizations.
  • It is a blind spot, though, because we can convince ourselves we are rational when we aren’t.
  • When we create moral judgments and values, we can’t ignore a lot of bias, and groupthink is coming into it.
  • Hollywood is in the business of make-believe, and they keep casting the narratives of how things should be. 
  • They understand the value of collective make-believe.
  • We are prewired to care about certain things.
  • Care vs. harm
  • Fairness vs. cheating
  • Loyalty vs. betrayal
  • Authority vs. subversion
  • Sanctity vs. Degradation
  • Liberty vs. Oppression
  • These are Modules that evolved to deal with common challenges.
  • Care vs. harm is related to childrearing
  • Anything that reminds us of the distress of a child gets folded into this care vs. harm trigger.
  • Like animal cruelty
  • Care vs. harm brings up the emotion of compassion
  • The virtues are caring and kindness.
  • When people value this module, they see themselves as kind, caring people.
  • We all have these modules, but some come to the forefront more than others, depending on the individual.
  • Fairness vs. cheating is where we reap the benefits of two-way partnerships.
  • Marital fidelity.  
  • Emotions associated with this module are anger, guilt, gratitude
  • The virtues associated with this module are fairness, trustworthiness, justice.
  • We can see this module in little kids.
  • At a certain age, this comes up with ferocity: “That’s not fair!”
  • In the early days of our evolutionary adaptation, survival may have relied on this.
  • Loyalty vs. betrayal was adapted to form cohesive coalitions.
  • Groups of people that make sure we have each other’s back.
  • Benedict Arnold
  • Nationalism, patriotism, sports teams, etc.
  • Emotions associated with this module are group pride and rage at traitors.
  • Some religions treat their followers as traitors if they leave the fold.
  • The virtues associated with this module are loyalty and self-sacrifice.
  • Authority vs. subversion was adapted to forge beneficial relationships within hierarchies.
  • Dominance and submission
  • What’s the pecking order?
  • Who is the boss?
  • The characteristic emotions are respect and fear.
  • The relevant virtues are obedience and deference.
  • Most people might skew on the side of subversion.
  • People struggle with authority, but this is the moral backbone for progress and order.
  • A modern attitude is to feel a sense of distaste against authority because we have built civilization so well we can forget how much we benefit from hierarchies. 
  • This module is to foster safety.
  • Sanctity vs. degradation was to avoid contaminants.
  • We recognized early on the importance of staying away from dead bodies.
  • How do we handle waste and disease?
  • We now think of ideas in terms of sanctity and degradation, like Communism, racism, etc.
  • The characteristic emotion is disgust. We are repelled by disease, human waste, and death.
  • We also respond with disgust if someone presents an idea we find repellant.
  • Virtues are chastity, piety, cleanliness, and temperance.
  • We are more focused now on eating clean, organic food. 
  • How are we taking care of our bodies and our planet?
  • The final module evolved later than the rest. 
  • Liberty vs. Oppression makes us think of the French and American Revolutions and the Age of Enlightenment
  • An adaptive challenge is the overthrow of bullies and tyrants.
  • Original triggers were reduced access to food and mates.
  • Everybody needs to get a fair shake
  • Current triggers are gov’t overreach or social injustice.
  • Emotions are indignation and a desire to punish the oppressor.
  • Relevant virtues are egalitarianism and anti-authoritarianism
  • Everyone needs to get the proper proportion.
  • This particular taste bud is in a dance with the others.
  • This module evolved to make sure we keep tyrants in check.
  • We are all prewired to have these modules prepped with individual scripts that live within them.
  • An American is going to see English rule as tyrannical. 
  • Somebody in England may have a different viewpoint.
  • These are the moral foundations that underpin our cultural biases.
  • There’s no objective reason why you are right, and everyone else is wrong.
  • We need a more sophisticated way of seeing the other people in our lives who have different moral/ethical wiring.
  • Their perspective is just as valid as yours.
  • There’s tribalism in the western world today.
  • Us against them.
  • We tend to lock down things as absolute that are not absolute.
  • Why do different people see things the way they do?
  • Have some curiosity.
  • You can pull on any authority you want to, and at the end of the day, you can’t prove anything.
  • Have you outsourced your values?
  • If you have, you can use this as a handy template to determine where your morals came from.
  • Where do your values fit? 
  • What was its original intent? 
  • Do you personally agree with it?
  • Your intuition is going to come first, and your rationalizations are going to come second. 
  • Intuitions come first because they’re cultural.
  • If we never introduce ourselves to the moral taste buds of other people, we are neglecting to broaden our horizons and find things that may be more native to ourselves than what we were taught.

 

In this episode, Joel and Antonia talk about Jonathan Haidt's book The Righteous Mind - and how we can think about the "moral taste buds" we bring to the world. #righteousmind

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Showing 8 comments
  • Ryan
    Reply

    Dear Antonia and Joel,
    I was mistyped as an INFP and an INFJ, both for very long periods of time, before I found The personality hacker podcast after looking through podcasts on Spotify, for whatever reason, and almost immediately realized I was an INTP and that was a weird transition of permission and it has given me a baseline of peace (kinda like a religion, but it’s reliable), it’s nice to be able to test iterate to trust someones’s words. (< $
    Anyways, I have a a theory. I noticed on my nature ride today that my newest group of friends (I've known them for about 2 years now) mainly consists of Fe-Ti-polar people (and vice versa), and they are the people I actually feel I fit in with the most. Of course, I felt that way before I realized their types. But, oddly enough, the kid in my friend group who's kind of a leader in the sense that me and some others look up to him, is an INTJ (I believe on a higher graves level of 3 or 4 while I believe I'm 2 on the edge of 3, hence looking up). So.. ok I guess that's not a theory but an interesting observation. But can any sense be made of that?
    – some junior in high school

  • mks
    Reply

    I am so glad you covered the Moral Foundations and are getting its ideas out there. Your use of the taste bud/palette analogy is on point

    I have been a fan of MFT since I learned of it in 2015 and added it to my mental inventory of type systems, though Haidt and his fellow researchers put a good amount of effort to not characterize their model as a typology P:

    I think the concept of the module is useful for other type systems to adopt, which are comparable to the idea of mental circuits (Prometheus Rising?) or processes (Jungian type?). Haidt’s philosophizing on pluralism also reminds me a lot of other personality models and what they offer.

  • Betsy
    Reply

    A few years ago, I stumbled upon Personality Hacker looking for insights on my Myers Briggs type. I am an INFP (bordering ISFP) and have found your observations of MBTI to be extremely helpful. Around the same time that I discovered Personality Hacker, I also came across a TED Talk of Jonathan Haidt’s and immediately became hooked on his writings. Unsurprisingly, I was really excited to hear your take on The Righteous Mind, especially with how much that I appreciate all of y’all’s perspectives.

    As a very picky eater, the metaphor of “taste” throughout this episode really resonated with me. My parents raised me very sheltered when it came to eating and, as I’ve grown up, I have resented them for not exposing me to more foods because it is very difficult for me to try new things. It isn’t that I don’t want to be an adventurous eater; trust me – I would love to have a sophisticated palette – but I honestly think that when I do try something different, my tastebuds have been so unexposed that it makes it harder for me to NOT react dramatically to a new taste. I think that this metaphor makes a lot of sense when it comes to talking about opening up to new ideas that one’s mind hasn’t been exposed to. It’s not that something new is distasteful or gag-worthy, it’s more that something new is uncomfortable. I have to make an active effort to try new foods and, most of the time, I don’t like it at first. (I still can’t get on board with sushi, but I’ll keep trying.) I think that when it comes to the concept of exposing oneself to a foreign taste, whether it be a new food or an idea, it will always be uncomfortable at first. When I think about how insecure my picky-eating-habits are for me, I wonder if the same insecurities lie within people who are picky about giving new ideologies a try.

    I grew up in an upper middle class, educated, white family in the Southeast US. As mentioned with my unsophisticated food palette, I was definitely brought up in very sheltered environment, though I believe that my parents did do their best to make sure that my sisters & I experienced the world as unfiltered as possible. In reality, I was not exposed to other cultures, perspectives, and people different than myself, until I reached college. This time in my life changed the person that I am now drastically. I attended college in Miami, where my friend group consisted of mostly international students from the Middle East, South America, Europe, and Asia. My mindset on politics & society broadened after meeting people from all over the world, with varying backgrounds, and I am extremely grateful for that. When I graduated, I moved back to my hometown of Atlanta, and was surprised by how many of my peers here did not have the same eye-opening college experience that I had while in Miami. My friends and loved ones from Atlanta definitely seem to have less of an open mind than I do when it comes to “trying” new ideas or “tasting” something different, metaphorically speaking. I respect their opinions, and I believe that they are reasonable & intelligent people, but it has been hard for me to understand why they cannot be open to other perspectives as willingly as I am. I think this all comes down to their exposure to different things. Sure, they may love Indian food & sushi much more than I do, but they are – in my opinion – stuck in their ways re: political ideologies and moral standards. I may be the picky eater of the gang, but I am by far the most adventurous when it comes to opening up about society at large. Of the few who have veered away from the Southern status quo, however, it’s almost like they have chosen to be so very radically on the other side, that I am yet again wondering how open-minded they actually are when they are so vehemently against other positions. I have had a lot of questions about how & why things have become so polarized; questions of why there seems to be two stark versions of what’s “right” or “wrong” yet no middle ground of compromise. Am I too idealistic to hope that somehow people can meet in the middle somehow?

    I’d love to hear an even more in-depth look into the concepts pointed out in The Righteous Mind, and perhaps how – from a psychology perspective – people like myself can develop more effective ways to form bridges with others in this very polarized climate that we have found ourselves in today.

  • Firefly
    Reply

    I have to admit I got a laugh out this. I mean, the idea of being primed by our upbringing morally like how we are with food was interesting, but I found it a bit funny how it was just lacking in self- awareness to such a degree… the idea starts with the observation that our minds find patterns and things that make sense to us, then continues in in justifying those patterns, and that we need to step back and evaluate other patterns from time to time, even if only to understand others. Sounds good. But then the rest is just about how we evolved this and evolved that because of how our ancestors did this or that…. How is that any different? All of that is just a narrative spun around a handful of observations, designed to uphold the authors viewpoints, worldview, and personal assumptions. I mean maybe it’s very hard or even impossible for people not to do such things, especially when we’re talking about how those handful of actual observed traits came to be in a distant, unobservable past, but a little self-awareness would’ve made that segment a lot easier to listen to & probably a lot more interesting and valuable.

    • Antonia Dodge
      Reply

      This was your response after reading Haidt’s methodologies to discover his findings?

      Interesting, I didn’t have that response after reading his book. I found his arguments compelling.

      -A-

    • mks
      Reply

      I had a similar first reaction when I read The Righteous Mind and Haidt’s evolutionary psychology arguments for the six moral foundations. They sounded like your typical ‘just-so’ scientistic stories for claiming the foundations are natural.

      In the past few months I’ve done a deep dive in Haidt and collaborators’ research and become more persuaded that there is solid precedence for the moral foundations not only in psychological/sociological technical research but in anthropological/primatological observational research that lines up with most of the foundations. For example ‘reciprocal altruism’ is a well-established term for maintaining relationships with members of your out group who have an incentive to cheat you. It’s been observed under lab conditions with other animals, fits with Marcel Mauss’s classic anthropological text The Gift, and even infants seem to be keenly aware of when something unfair happens, suggesting there’s something natural/innate to it

      At very least there seems to be a wider breadth of evidence for the moral foundations than say the cognitive processes or the enneagram, the former of which I am a believer in so I can’t really hold the evolutionary evidence against Haidt.

      • Antonia Dodge
        Reply

        When did evolutionary psychology suddenly become persona non grata? Is it a threat to the current “everything is socially constructed” fad?

        -A-

  • Mark
    Reply

    I observe that even a boundless secular or religious mind makes dualistic (i.e. bounded) statements such as “It is not that, it is this” or asks linear based questions such as “Where does it begin?” or “Where does it end?”. It creates statements such as “You must start here and not there”. The addiction to creating a beginning and end myth (aka an ‘axiom’) to feel bounded. This is rather like trying to find where the wind begins and ends or a search for the beginning or end of the water cycle. Linear thinking has its uses, especially in the material world. But linear thinking is, by definition, limited (bounded). It is desperate to cling to a knowledge of good and evil.

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