UMD Reads The Righteous Mind

A blog for and about the 2013 UMD First Year Book Project

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?

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97 thoughts on “Moral Diversity: Venturing Beyond Our Cocoons of Like-Mindedness

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  1. This is an excellent analysis

  2. Nic Zanghi on said:

    I feel as though I am coming from a huge cocoon coming from a pretty non-diverse high school and background. I am eager to break out of this though because I believe it is very important for everyone to do so. Learning about other peoples backgrounds and cultures can help you learn more about yourself.

    • from what i learned from his book something like going off to college inst realy breaking out of your coocon.but the aspect of opening you horizons dosnt come just by going to college it happens every day you walk outside no matter how small every day you vision widens

  3. Aleah Bobb on said:

    I agree that moral diversity still needs work in this country. I really like that you refer to the Treyvon Martin case because it spiraled throughout the whole country. What grabbed my attention the most was the scenarios in the beginning of the book. One of them was when the man had sexual intercourse with the chicken he brought. Some people would say that is disrespect and degrading; on the other hand, others would say it is okay because he is not hurting anybody. When I read this, I personally was disgusted, and I was very surprised that people would be okay with this. So this book actually revealed to me that morality does separate us, which connects to politics and religion.

  4. Vinicius Barreiros on said:

    I’m usually the type that is open to new ideas and diversity. I will listen to peoples opinions and if they make a good point I’m not afraid to acknowledge the fact that they could be right. Like with the chicken scenario for example, I don’t find that morally right because I was taught that stuff like that is only done by crazy people. I guess because it was in the privacy in his own home there’s not much we can say about it Now if it was done out in the public then that’s just not right.

  5. I completely understand this point and also agree with it because one people are so not mind opened to new things or different things and they are so ready to jump up and judge people for how they look or how they seem to act, that could just be a faze but not a persons personality. I think we need to be more careful when it comes to judging people by who they seem and not by how they really are.

  6. Matthew St.Pierre on said:

    I feel as though many people break out of this cocoon. These are just the people who are naturally leaders and who can identify what they want to be, without letting other opinions or norms bring them down or place them in some “category” they may not fit into. People love acceptance and if you are branching off in any kind of new direction culturally or otherwise most of the time at first you will not be accepted. This is what people fear. But as with everything with time you will eventually find that there are other people like you or who can accept or even take on your new way of doing thing, what ever it may be.

  7. Ryan Dunn on said:

    Talking about the fact that we feel more comfortable in groups leads me to believe that people of compatibility will eventually live near each other and that’s whet we see now. Every town has there persona. And then if we look at the different places people live and how they are brought up and there morals I have a feeling we would see the most people that lived close to the city would have different morals than someone that lives in the suburbs. This shows how the way we make groups and the groups we chose to live around may shape the moral fibers of our being.

  8. Mitchell Kearney on said:

    Some of the passages that stood out to me the most were the ones about acts most people would never do but aren’t really morally wrong. The two examples are when Haidt told the story of the chicken and the brother and sister. Both of these stories seem wrong but as he explained them they seemed less and less taboo. As he explained the chicken was the guys property and no one was hurt by the brother and sister. The reason this stuck out to me the most was it was the first time in the book that I really began to think morality wasn’t black and white.

  9. Liz Mourousas on said:

    I agree that moral diversity is the way for people to be more open minded. Life would be incredibly different if we don’t experience these differences from our own lifestyle. Different cultures and more acceptance of moral diversity would definitely create more rights for the people and a more open minded society.

  10. Ally Heap on said:

    I completely agree with this point. I feel that as a whole a lot of people are quick to judge without really understanding others and where they were brought up. I myself tend to to this and this book taught me to think twice before making such judgements.

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