I am a student of human nature, first and foremost. All my life while others were paying attention to their own fetishes – fishing, guns, cars, etc – I was studying why folks like fishing, guns, cars, etc. Although I had my own preoccupations – comic books, rpgs, excel spreadsheets – my primary motivation in life was studying primary motivations in life. I know people, particularly Tom, pretty well. In fact, it’s what makes me a good salesman for the company. I can’t claim to be the world’s most knowledgeable appliance guy and I don’t really know much about sales techniques, but I do know people. It doesn’t take me long at all to assess a person’s needs and find the right product to suit it, whether I have it or not. “You made this easy” is by far my favorite compliment.
So I understand motivation, it’s my thing. Human nature is my passion. To that end I gravitate towards readings and studies that illuminate my understanding of human nature. Some years ago, when trying to elucidate the understanding of one of my favorite subjects (me), I stumbled upon a book by Jonathan Haidt with the title The Happiness Hypothesis. “Finding Modern Truth In Ancient Wisdom” is the subtitle, and the book had great value to me. Haidt did indeed delve into ancient wisdom, but he coupled it with a great understanding of modern psychological research. The underlying premise that stuck with me, and helped me understand the greater humanity as a whole, was the concept that we are not in charge of our subconscious but rather we guide it, like a rider on an elephant. The elephant is far bigger and stronger than we are but if we learn to tame it we can lead it where we need it to go. Obviously, that’s a simplification of the premise but I do encourage you to read the book.
A few years after reading that book I was looking for something new and I googled Haidt to see if he’d done any follow up work. He had. In 2012 he wrote a book called The Righteous Mind with the subtitle “Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion.” That sounded like a great follow up so I downloaded it from Amazon on November 5th, 2014. Something I’ve forgotten about now distracted me immediately afterwards and I didn’t read the book right away. In fact, it sat in queue for more than 4 years and I finally cracked it open just a few weeks ago.
Jonathan Haidt and I would get along fine. Like me, he is a student of human nature with a great understanding of his own self. In my lifetime studies I have learned that self-knowledge is the rarest knowledge of all, so that to me is a valuable thing. He is also, like me, a liberal with a love of the conservative mind and an atheist with a great appreciation of religion.
This isn’t so much a book review (I do those sometimes, in my own way) but a book recommendation. Really, this is more of a concept recommendation that might lead to a website recommendation that could become a book recommendation that might take you on to enjoy a good thinker. If you’re looking to understand your own happiness, or lack thereof, or want to understand happiness in general, do what the Father of Positive Psychology says and “Begin with Haidt.” Read The Happiness Hypothesis. I intend to read it again soon. If you want to understand what separates us, motivates us, towards our chosen ideologies, read The Righteous Mind.
In congruence with your reading of The Righteous Mind, or for a general lark, go visit the website dedicated to his ideas (YourMorals.org), and take a test or two there upon. I’ll briefly set that up:
Haidt divides our motivations (the impulses of the elephant) into six (perhaps seven) foundations. These foundations, and how we focus upon them, develop our morals. Our morals, accompanied with our upbringing, decide our ideological directions in life. This, again, is a gross simplification of a thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating exposition.
I took the test, just this morning. It would surprise no one to find out that I scored very close to the liberal average on the Care/Harm foundation, dead even with the lot on Equality, slightly below the liberal average on Equity, nearly to the libertarian level on the Autonomy/Oppression scale, and below all ideological averages on the scales of Loyalty, Authority, and Purity. It is simply not my way to follow the group without reservation or the leader without question. And when it comes to “purity” or “degradation”? Eh. To each their own.
I’ll leave you to your day now, and leave these recommendations here for you to peruse. I’ll close by saying this has been a very good year for reading. I finished one Harari book and Pinker’s Enlightenment Now. I started and finished 21 Lessons in its entirety. I finally read To Kill A Mockingbird. I started The Soul of America but it didn’t catch on with me. I am currently, and finally, reading The Global Minotaur, and it is illuminating.
What are you reading now? Knowing me, as you do, what other tomes would you suggest? And where, pray tell, do you place on the scales of moral foundation? You know a lot about me, so tell me something more about yourself. While I was enthralled by the processes of human nature, lo these fifty years, what enthralled you?
We have much to teach each other. We have time to learn.