Culture and Religion

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Righteous Mind in a Group

The recent book by Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion), is highly recommended by this web site because of the relevant observations on one's morality affects decision making and how there seem to be a small number of different political tendencies even across different cultures in humanity (what the American political pundits consider liberals, libertarians, or social conservatives). There are several online videos (in case more are added after this topic, just search the internet for Jonathan Haidt video and many will be found, including several recorded at TED) and even web sites (through his university UVA or one for the book) about the subject covered in the book.

The book makes a point about our innate groupishness. However I feel the book has missed a critical point that should follow that observation. Political and religious leaders attempt to take advantage of that natural groupishness by seeking wedges for the divide and conquer approach. If the opposition can be divided then the leader can find a way to get support for their attempts to suppress and persecute the other groups. People must be taught to be more sensitive to the motives of others, to recognize when they are being pushed against one group, to benefit only those following the leader while the opposition will be given subject to a range of consequences, from inconvenience to pain and suffering.

The book makes a point about modern corporations being a superorganism, a collection of people that can act, by policy of law, as an individual. I feel the book has missed a critical point that should follow that observation. Those at the top of this superorganism are far removed from the impacts on those living things affected by their decisions. A normal individual has some difficulty causing pain and suffering on another human being when that pain is directly witnessed. By leaders being unable to see any human pain and suffering they are apparently more willing to direct actions with severe consequences for those affected. We see this in leaders attacking other countries, or attempting to destabilize governments in other countries, or suppressing any demonstrations critical of administration policies. We see this in corporate leaders moving operations from one place to another both to take advantage of poor people who will work for extremely low wages (where the previous location had workers who were responsible for the operation's economic success and who had sought economic reward for their efforts) and to pollute their environment (where the previous location would not allow that pollution of their neighborhoods). We see this in financial leaders consumed by maintaining the growth of their own wealth to the detriment of the economic well being of everyone else.

As the world's population has grown substantially in the last century leading to much larger social structures in cities and countries, there is much less accountability for those at the top of those hierarchies. Humanity must create mechanisms to maintain accountability or else those at the top will have all the power while those at the bottom (having no real power to manage the needs of their daily lives) are subject to only the whims of those in charge.

created - Oct. 2012
last change - 10/07/2012

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