Moral Diversity: Venturing Beyond Our Cocoons of Like-Mindedness
As we wind down our journey through The Righteous Mind, a key take away from the book for me centers on what would it mean to cultivate more acceptance for moral diversity?
In my previous post, I discussed the role of community in how we make sense of our worlds and ourselves. Haidt uses the term, “parochial altruism” to denote the ways that we are “great team players. We need groups, we love groups, and we develop virtues in groups, even though these groups necessarily exclude nonmembers” (359). At the same time, politics, technology, residential patterns, and other factors “have allowed each of us to isolate ourselves within cocoons of like-minded individuals” (363). Haidt notes that our towns are becoming “lifestyle enclaves,” segregated according to similar patterns in voting, eating, working, worshipping, etc. (364). Many of these patterns are fairly salient in our food culture – Stop & Shop vs. Whole Foods; local honey vs. high fructose corn syrup; organic agriculture vs. industrial agriculture; white bread vs. whole wheat; and so forth.
When we lift the hood on parochial altruism and these lifestyle enclaves, we need to also consider how stereotypes develop and perpetuate particularly for those who do not fit into our like-minded cocoons.
I know it is complex and controversial but the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case comes to mind as an example of how parochial altruism can play out. Three quarters of a century ago, sociologist Robert K. Merton (1948) aptly noted “The very same behavior undergoes a complete change in evaluation in its transition from the in-group to the out-group.” This change in evaluation might be said for the “hoodie” that Trayvon Martin was wearing and the possibility that the hoodie might have been perceived differently if the person wearing it were white. Although it is difficult to recognize or admit, many of us have been programmed or socialized with default settings or stereotypes (such as racial profiling) that we project on those that do not fit into our like-minded cocoons.
In the concluding paragraphs of the book, Haidt explains, “We are deeply intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive our strategic reasoning. This makes it difficult – but not impossible – to connect with those who live in other matrices, which are often built on different configurations of the available moral foundations” (370-371). This passage reminded me of a question that Henry David Thoreau (1854) posed in the book Walden, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”
As you reflect on the book what were some of the key take-away points for you? What specific passages drew your attention? Are there insights from the book that relate to the Martin/Zimmerman case? What would it look like to cultivate more moral diversity in our lives?