Friday, June 29, 2012

Chris Hedges reviews The Righteous Mind

Some excerpts follow from Hedges' scathing review of Jonathan Haidt's book. (Compare with Rifkin's empathic evolutionary socio-economics.)

"He too repeatedly departs from legitimate science, including social science, into the simplification and corruption of science and scientific terms to promote a unified theory of human behavior that has no empirical basis. He is stunningly naive about power, especially corporate power, and often exhibits a disturbing indifference to the weak and oppressed. He is, in short, a Social Darwinian in analyst’s clothing.

" an heir of Herbert Spencer, who coined the term 'survival of the fittest' and who also attempted to use evolution to explain human behavior, sociology, politics and ethics. Haidt, like Spencer, is dismissive of those he refers to as 'slackers,' 'leeches,' 'free riders,' 'cheaters' or 'anyone else who ‘drinks the water’ rather than carries it for the group.' They are parasites who should be denied social assistance in the name of fair play. The failure of liberals, Haidt writes, to embrace this elemental form of justice, which he says we are hard-wired to adopt, leaves them despised by those who are more advanced as moral human beings. He chastises liberals, whom he sees as morally underdeveloped, for going 'beyond the equality of rights to pursue equality of outcomes, which cannot be obtained in a capitalist system.'

"Haidt lists six primary concerns of those he considers morally whole—care, liberty, fairness, loyalty, authority and sanctity. He believes liberals, because they do not sufficiently value fairness, loyalty, authority and sanctity, are morally deficient. The attributes he champions, however, when practiced among social conservatives, often mask a rapacious cruelty to the weak and oppressed. Slaveholders in the antebellum South, courteous and chivalrous to their own class, church going, fiercely loyal to the Confederacy, in short morally whole in Haidt’s thesis, created a hell on earth for African-Americans.

"His transformation from a liberal to a conservative, he writes, took place on 9/11 when 'the attacks turned me into a team player, with a powerful and unexpected urge to display my team’s flag and then do things to support the team, such as giving blood, donating money, and yes, supporting the leader.' In short, Haidt became a lover of conservatism and nationalism when he became afraid. He embraced an irrational, not to mention illegal, pre-emptive war against a country, Iraq, that had nothing to do with 9/11. And if there was ever a case for reason to conquer fear and the emotionalism of the crowd, the Iraq War was it. But Haidt, rather than acknowledge that fear had turned him into a member of an unthinking, frightened herd, holds this experience up as a form of enlightenment.

"His embrace of rigid social hierarchy and oppression, which makes him sound like the apologists for racial segregation, is a window into the entire book.

"Happiness, then, comes with conformity. If we are unhappy it is not because there is something wrong with the world around us. It is because we have failed to integrate into the hive. This, of course, is the central thesis of positive psychology, which Haidt is closely associated with. And it is an ideology promoted by corporations and the U.S. military to keep people disempowered.

"Haidt recognizes these [instinctual] biological passions, but unlike Freud he encourages us to give in to them. Reducing the moral life to this retreat into collective emotions, as Hannah Arendt has pointed out, is the central attraction of totalitarianism. It offers us an escape from the anxiety and responsibility of moral choice and abrogates to those in control the power to determine the moral and the immoral. Fear, the primary emotion that conquered Haidt, is the emotion skillfully manipulated by totalitarian systems to enforce conformity. Once we surrender our instincts to the crowd, once we are made afraid, we no longer think. This surrender elevates demagogues and charlatans, as well as corporate crooks, which perhaps is why Haidt lauds Dale Carnegie as 'a brilliant moral psychologist.'"

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