A review on Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religions (2012) by Eric Panicco, Business Analyst at Birdseye Renewable Energy. 

This is a powerful read, and while its central aim is not directly connected to sustainability, it provides insights that are valuable to sustainability professionals.

Jonathan Haidt sets the scene with the highpoints of moral philosophy and political ideology—using as touchstones the work of David Hume, Thomas Jefferson, and Immanuel Kant—to present his pioneering research in moral science. For Haidt, moral science is an exercise in psychology to understand how we think about what is good and bad.

He writes: “In psychology, our goal is descriptive. We want to discover how the moral mind actually works, not how it ought to work, and that can’t be done by reasoning, math, or logic. It can be done only by observation…”

Getting into his research, Haidt really starts to shine. He presents the observations of his research and tells a compelling story on the way the moral mind works. He offers six conceptual dualities that he argues are the most fundamental building blocks of the moral mind. They are care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation.

He then goes on to highlight the ways people tend to prioritize certain concepts over others—e.g. care and fairness— and how individuals might think differently from others who prioritize different concepts, or who might weigh all the concepts evenly. After laying this foundation, he presents his findings on how prioritizing certain values corresponds with a specific political identification.

For anyone, this is an interesting read in how to understand others and ourselves—a chance to understand how someone might prioritize different values and, best of all, a chance to begin to break down the barriers that are common in our political discourse.

For sustainability professionals this is an interesting read because we are always looking for ways to appeal to others in making the case for taking into account long-term considerations. This book provides an understanding of the different kinds of reasons that will appeal to others and a toolbox for telling compelling stories about sustainability. As it was put in one of the first blog posts on SP3, differentiation offers enhanced value. In the context of “The Righteous Mind,” sustainability professionals will be able to frame the value of sustainability to diverse audiences with the different moral mindsets outlined by Jonathan Haidt.

Review by: Eric Panicco, Business Analyst, Birdseye Renewable Energy
epanicco@birdseyeenergy.com; (704) 626-2726