2nd Reading Response

what is this assignment ?These responses should be roughly 1-1.5 pages in length, double spaced. Footnotes, citations, bibliographies, etc. are not required, however your responses must critically engage with the material and relate it to larger themes in the class. Unoriginal observations (“this guy seems to take Islam pretty seriously”) or summaries of the material will not do.

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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
© 2012 by Jonathan Haidt. To be published by Pantheon Books in March 2012. All rights reserved. This is the final
copyedited draft from 12/28/11. Do not quote or distribute without permission from the author or publisher. To learn
more about the book, and to find the references for this chapter, please visit www.RighteousMind.com
The Moral Foundations of Politics
Behind every act of altruism, heroism, and human decency you’ll find either selfishness or
stupidity. That, at least, is the view long held by many social scientists who accepted the idea
that Homo sapiens is really Homo economicus.1 “Economic man” is a simple creature who
makes all of life’s choices like a shopper in a supermarket with plenty of time to compare jars of
applesauce. If that’s your view of human nature, then it’s easy to create mathematical models of
behavior because there’s really just one principle at work: self-interest. People do whatever gets
them the most benefit for the lowest cost.
To see how wrong this view is, answer the ten questions in Figure 7.1. Homo economicus
would put a price on sticking a needle into his own arm, and a lower price—perhaps zero—on
the other nine actions, none of which hurts him directly or costs him anything.
More important than the numbers you wrote are the comparisons between columns.
Homo economicus would find the actions in column B no more aversive than those in column A.
If you found any of the actions in column B worse than their counterparts in column A, then
congratulations, you are a human being, not an economist’s fantasy. You have concerns beyond
narrow self-interest. You have a working set of moral foundations.
I wrote these five pairs of actions so that the B column would give you an intuitive flash
from each foundation, like putting a grain of salt or sugar on your tongue. The five rows
illustrate violations of Care (hurting a child), Fairness (profiting from someone else’s undeserved
loss), Loyalty (criticizing your nation to outsiders), Authority (disrespecting your father), and
Sanctity (acting in a degrading or disgusting way).
In the rest of this chapter I’ll describe these foundations and how they became part of
human nature. I’ll show that these foundations are used differently, and to different degrees, to
support moral matrices on the political left and right.
E.g., Luce and Raiffa 1957.
How much would someone have to pay you to perform each of these actions? Assume that
you’d be paid secretly and that there would be no social, legal, or other harmful
consequences to you afterward. Answer by writing a number from 0 to 4 after each action,
0 = $0, I’d do it for free
1 = $100
2 = $10,000
3 = $1,000,000
4 = I would not do this for any amount of money
Column A
Column B
1a. Stick a sterile hypodermic needle
1b. Stick a sterile hypodermic
into your arm. _____
needle into the arm of a child you don’t
know. ____
2a. Accept a plasma-screen television
that a friend of yours wants to give you. You
2b. Accept a plasma-screen
know that the friend got the TV a year ago
television that a friend of yours wants to
when the company that made it sent it to your
give you. You know that your friend
friend, by mistake and at no charge. ____
bought the TV a year ago from a thief
who had stolen it from a wealthy family.
3a. Say something critical about your
nation (which you believe to be true) while
calling in, anonymously, to a talk-radio show
3b. Say something critical about
in your nation. ____
your nation (which you believe to be true)
while calling in, anonymously, to a talk4a. Slap a male friend in the face (with radio show in a foreign nation. ____
his permission) as part of a comedy skit. ____
4b. Slap your father in the face
5a. Attend a short avant-garde play in
(with his permission) as part of a comedy
which the actors act like fools for thirty
skit. ____
minutes, including failing to solve simple
problems and falling down repeatedly onstage.
5b. Attend a short avant-garde
play in which the actors act like animals
for 30 minutes, including crawling around
naked and grunting like chimpanzees.
Total for Column A: ____
Figure 7.1. What’s your price?
Total for Column B: ____
A Note on Innateness
It used to be risky for a scientist to assert that anything about human behavior was innate. To
back up such claims, you had to show that the trait was hardwired, unchangeable by experience,
and found in all cultures. With that definition, not much is innate, aside from a few infant
reflexes such as that cute thing they do when you put one finger into their little hands. If you
proposed that anything more complex than that was innate—particularly a sex difference—you’d
be told that there was a tribe somewhere on earth that didn’t show the trait, so therefore it’s not
We’ve advanced a lot since the 1970s in our understanding of the brain, and now we
know that traits can be innate without being either hardwired or universal. As the neuroscientist
Gary Marcus explains, “Nature bestows upon the newborn a considerably complex brain, but one
that is best seen as prewired—flexible and subject to change—rather than hardwired, fixed, and
To replace wiring diagrams, Marcus suggests a better analogy: the brain is like a book,
the first draft of which is written by the genes during fetal development. No chapters are
complete at birth, and some are just rough outlines waiting to be filled in during childhood. But
not a single chapter—be it the one on sexuality, language, food preferences, or morality—
consists of blank pages on which a society can inscribe any conceivable set of words. Marcus’s
analogy leads to the best definition of innateness I have ever seen:
Nature provides a first draft, which experience then revises. . . . “Built-in” does not mean
unmalleable; it means “organized in advance of experience.”3
The list of five moral foundations was my first attempt to specify how the righteous mind
was “organized in advance of experience.” But Moral Foundations Theory also tries to explain
how that first draft gets revised during childhood to produce the diversity of moralities that we
find across cultures—and across the political spectrum.
1. The Care/harm Foundation
Reptiles get a bad rap for being cold—not just cold-blooded but cold-hearted. Some reptile
mothers do hang around after their babies hatch, to provide some protection, but in many species
they don’t. So when the first mammals began suckling their young, they raised the cost of
motherhood. No longer would females turn out dozens of babies and bet that a few would
survive on their own.
Mammals make fewer bets and invest a lot more in each one, so mammals face the
challenge of caring for and nurturing their children for a long time. Primate moms place even
Marcus 2004, p. 12.
Marcus 2004. I stitched this definition together from two pages. The first sentence is on p. 34, the second is on p.
40. But it’s all part of a unified discussion in chapter 3.
fewer bets and invest still more in each one. And human babies, whose brains are so enormous
that they must be pushed out through the birth canal a year before the child can walk, are bets so
huge that a woman can’t even put her chips on the table by herself. She needs help in the last
months of pregnancy, help to deliver the baby, and help to feed and care for the child for years
after the birth. Given this big wager, there is an enormous adaptive challenge: to care for the
vulnerable and expensive child, keep it safe, keep it alive, keep it from harm.
It is just not conceivable that the chapter on mothering in the book of human nature is
entirely blank, leaving it for mothers to learn everything by cultural instruction or trial and error.
Mothers who were innately sensitive to signs of suffering, distress, or neediness improved their
odds, relative to their less sensitive sisters.
And it’s not only mothers who need innate knowledge. Given the number of people who
pool their resources to bet on each child, evolution favored women and (to a lesser extent) men
who had an automatic reaction to signs of need or suffering, such as crying, from children in
their midst (who, in ancient times, were likely to be kin).4 The suffering of your own children is
the original trigger of one of the key modules of the Care foundation. (I’ll often refer to
foundations using only the first of their two names, e.g., “Care” rather than “Care/harm”.) This
module works with other related modules5 to meet the adaptive challenge of protecting and
caring for children.
This is not a just-so story. It is my retelling of the beginning of attachment theory, a wellsupported theory that describes the system by which mothers and children regulate each other’s
behavior so that the child gets a good mix of protection and opportunities for independent
It has recently been discovered that genetic kinship in hunter-gatherer groups is not nearly as high as
anthropologists had long assumed (Hill et al. 2011). I assume, however, that this drop in relatedness came in the last
few hundred thousand years, as our cultural complexity increased. I assume that the care foundation had already
been modified and intensified in the few million years before that, as our brain size and length of childhood
Such as for tracking degree of kinship, or for distinguishing intentional from accidental harm so that you know
when to get angry at someone who causes your child to cry. I repeat my note from the last chapter that these are not
modules as Fodor 1983 originally defined them. Fodor’s criteria were so stringent that pretty much nothing in higher
cognition could qualify. For a discussion of how higher cognition can be partially modularized, see Haidt and Joseph
2007, and see Barrett and Kurzban on modules as functional systems, rather than as spots in the brain.
Bowlby 1969.
Figure 7.2. Baby Gogo, Max, and Gogo.
The set of current triggers for any module is often much larger than the set of original
triggers. The photo in Figure 7.2 illustrates this expansion in four ways. First, you might find it
cute. If you do, it’s because your mind is automatically responsive to certain proportions and
patterns that distinguish human children from adults. Cuteness primes us to care, nurture, protect,
and interact.7 It gets the elephant leaning. Second, although this is not your child, you might still
have an instant emotional response because the Care foundation can be triggered by any child.
Third, you might find my son’s companions (Gogo and Baby Gogo) cute, even though they are
not real children, because they were designed by a toy company to trigger your Care foundation.
Fourth, Max loves Gogo; he screams when I accidentally sit on Gogo, and he often says, “I am
Gogo’s mommy,” because his attachment system and Care foundation are developing normally.
If your buttons can get pushed by a photo of a child sleeping with two stuffed monkeys,
just imagine how you’d feel if you saw a child or a cute animal facing the threat of violence.
Figure 7.3. A current trigger for the Care/harm foundation.
See Sherman and Haidt 2011 for a review.
It makes no evolutionary sense for you to care about what happens to my son Max, a
hungry child in a faraway country, or a baby seal. But Darwin doesn’t have to explain why you
shed any particular tear. He just has to explain why you have tear ducts in the first place, and
why those ducts can sometimes be activated by suffering that is not your own.8 Darwin must
explain the original triggers of each module. The current triggers can change rapidly. We care
about violence toward many more classes of victims today than our grandparents did in their
Political parties and interest groups strive to make their concerns become current triggers
of your moral modules. To get your vote, your money, or your time, they must activate at least
one of your moral foundations.10 For example, here are two cars I photographed in
Charlottesville. What can you guess about the drivers’ politics?
For a recent account of the evolution and neurology of empathy, see Decety 2011.
See Pinker 2011 on the long and steady rise of repugnance toward violence. For example, jokes about wife-beating
were common and acceptable in American movies and television programs up through the 1960s.
Sometimes a political bumper sticker will appeal to fear or monetary self-interest (e.g., “drill here, drill now, pay
less” for Republicans in 2008) but this is rare compared to moralistic appeals.
Figure 7.4. Liberal and conservative caring.
Bumper stickers are often tribal badges; they advertise the teams we support, including
sports teams, universities, and rock bands. The driver of the “Save Darfur” car is announcing that
he or she is on the liberal team. You know that intuitively, but I can give a more formal reason:
the moral matrix of liberals, in America and elsewhere, rests more heavily on the Care
foundation than do the matrices of conservatives, and this driver has selected three bumper
stickers urging people to protect innocent victims.11 The driver has no relationship to these
victims. The driver is trying to get you to connect your thinking about Darfur and meat-eating to
the intuitions generated by your Care foundation.
It was harder to find bumper stickers related to compassion for conservatives, but the
“wounded warrior” car is an example. This driver is also trying to get you to care, but
conservative caring is somewhat different—it is aimed not at animals or at people in other
countries but at those who’ve sacrificed for the group.12 It is not universalist; it is more local, and
blended with loyalty.
2. The Fairness/cheating Foundation
Suppose a coworker offers to take on your workload for five days so that you can add a second
week to your Caribbean vacation. How would you feel? Homo economicus would feel unalloyed
pleasure, as though he had just been given a free bag of groceries. But the rest of us know that
the bag isn’t free. It’s a big favor, and you can’t repay your coworker by bringing back a bottle
of rum. If you accept her offer, you’re likely to do so while gushing forth expressions of
gratitude, praise for her kindness, and a promise to do the same for her whenever she goes on
For non-American readers I note again that by liberal I mean the political left. The data I’ll show in the next
chapter indicate that people on the left, in every country we have examined, score higher on the Care/harm
foundation than do people on the political right.
Conservative Christians do send a great deal of money abroad, and do provide a great deal of help and relief to the
poor, but it is generally done through missionary groups that strive to add converts to the group. It is still a form of
parochial caring, not universalist caring.
Evolutionary theorists often speak of genes as being “selfish,” meaning that they can only
influence an animal to do things that will spread copies of that gene. But one of the most
important insights into the origins of morality is that “selfish” genes can give rise to generous
creatures, as long as those creatures are selective in their generosity. Altruism toward kin is not a
puzzle at all. Altruism toward non-kin, on the other hand, has presented one of the longestrunning puzzles in the history of evolutionary thinking.13 A big step toward its solution came in
1971 when Robert Trivers published his theory of reciprocal altruism.14
Trivers noted that evolution could create altruists in a species where individuals could
remember their prior interactions with other individuals and then limit their current niceness to
those who were likely to repay the favor. We humans are obviously just such a species. Trivers
proposed that we evolved a set of moral emotions that make us play “tit for tat.” We’re usually
nice to people when we first meet them. But after that we’re selective: we cooperate with those
who have been nice to us, and we shun those who took advantage of us.
Human life is a series of opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation. If we play our
cards right, we can work with others to enlarge the pie that we ultimately share. Hunters work
together to bring down large prey that nobody could catch alone. Neighbors watch each other’s
houses and loan each other tools. Coworkers cover each other’s shifts. For millions of years, our
ancestors faced the adaptive challenge of reaping these benefits without getting suckered. Those
whose moral emotions compelled them to play “tit for tat” reaped more of these benefits than
those who played any other strategy, such as “help anyone who needs it” (which invites
exploitation), or “take but don’t give” (which can work just once with each person; pretty soon
nobody’s willing to share pie with you).15 The original triggers of the Fairness modules are acts
of cooperation or selfishness that people show toward us. We feel pleasure, liking, and friendship
when people show signs that they can be trusted to reciprocate. We feel anger, contempt, and
even sometimes disgust when people try to cheat us or take advantage of us.16
The current triggers of the Fairness modules include a great many things that have gotten
linked, culturally and politically, to the dynamics of reciprocity and cheating. On the left,
concerns about equality and social justice are based in part on the Fairness foundation—wealthy
and powerful groups are accused of gaining by exploiting those at the bottom while not paying
their “fair share” of the tax burden. This is a major theme of the Occupy Wall Street movement,
which I visited in October 2011 (see figure 7.5). On the right, the Tea Party movement is also
very concerned about fairness. They see Democrats as “socialists” who take money from hard
working Americans and give it to lazy people (including those who receive welfare or
It was a major concern for Darwin, in Origin of Species and in Descent of Man. I’ll return to Darwin’s puzzlement
and his solutions in chapter 9.
Trivers 1971.
This point was demonstrated elegantly in Robert Axelrod’s 1984 famous tournament in which strategies competed
in an evolutionary simulation on a computer. No strategy was able to beat tit for tat. (But see Nowak 2010 for a
discussion of his “Win Stay, Lose Shift” strategy, which is superior when you take account of errors and
Rozin, Lowery, Imada, and Haidt 1999; Sanfey et al. 2003.
unemployment benefits) and to illegal immigrants (in the form of free health care and
Figure 7.5: Fairness Left and Right. Top: Sign at Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park, New York City.
Bottom: Sign at Tea Party rally, Washington DC (Photo by Emily Ekins). Everyone believes that taxes
should be “fair.”
Everyone cares about fairness, but there are two major kinds. On the left, fairness often
implies equality, but on the right it means proportionality—people should be rewarded in
proportion to what they contribute, even if that guarantees unequal outcomes.
3. The Loyalty/betrayal Foundation
In the summer of 1954, Muzafar Sherif convinced twenty-two sets of working-class parents to let
him take their twelve-year-old boys off their hands for three weeks. He brought the boys to a
summer camp he had rented in Robbers Cave State Park, Oklahoma. There he conducted one of
the most famous studies in social psychology, and one of the richest for understanding the
foundations of morality. Sherif brought the boys to the camp in two groups of eleven, on two
consecutive days, and housed them in different parts of the park. For the first five days, each
group thou …
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