The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has just won the third annual $5,000 book prize from the Los Angeles-based public affairs group Zócalo Public Square, for his great work The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Reason was proud to run a cover excerpt from the book, which we headlined "Born This Way? Nature, nurture, narratives, and the making of our political personalities."
Q. There are joiners like the 1930s fascists or communists who remained blind to all faults on their own side, and then there are loners like George Orwell, who seemed extraordinarily immune to some of the moral and logical blindness common to human beings. What characterizes the clear-eyed person who can see the truth in front of his nose from the person who can't?
A. One of the three principles of moral psychology that I present in the book is "morality binds and blinds." Some people do this with more gusto than others. Some people crave the security and moral certainty that comes with joining a group that is engaged in ideological battles. Orwell, somehow, didn't just join the left and go blind. I don't know if the reason is to be found in his personality—perhaps he was more secure or more of a loner—or whether it is to be found in some of his idiosyncratic profile of experiences. A deeply disillusioning experience can snap one out of a dream, as happened with Orwell during the Spanish Civil War. Then again, Robert Frost defined a liberal as a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel. So Orwell might be an example of the true liberal—not just a partisan, but a true descendent of the Enlightenment, which many leftists are not.
Haidt recently gave a great talk at a Reason-sponsored event at the Museum of Sex in New York, which you can watch below: