Saturday, March 31, 2012 - Robert Wright (The Evolution of God) and Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind)

On this week's episode of The Wright Show on, Robert Wright speaks with Jonathan Haidt about his new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

These two people are the closest thing we have in the U.S. to public intellectuals who are developmentally oriented in how they view some of the crucial issues diving the country - religion and politics. Both men employ models of cultural evolution that are similar to Clare Graves' biopsychosocial "Emergent, Cyclical, Levels of Existence" model, although neither (to my knowledge) ever clearly defines the structures behind their models.

Graves on "Levels of Existence, Forms of Being"
        "I am not saying in this conception of adult behavior that one style of being, one form of human existence is inevitably and in all circumstances superior to or better than another form of human existence, another style of being. What I am saying is that when one form of being is more congruent with the realities of existence, then it is the better form of living for those realities. And what I am saying is that when one form of existence ceases to be functional for the realities of existence then some other form, either higher or lower in the hierarchy, is the better form of living. I do suggest, however, and this I deeply believe is so, that for the overall welfare of total man's existence in this world, over the long run of time, higher levels are better than lower levels and that the prime good of any society's governing figures should be to promote human movement up the levels of human existence."

        -- Dr. Clare W. Graves

In The Evolution of God, Wright suggests stages of cultural evolution almost identical to Graves, or even to Jean Gebser.
In characterizing the emergent consciousness as arational (as opposed to irrational) and aperspectival, Gebser sought to indicate that it transcended the dualistic, black-or-white categories of the rational orientation to life. Rationalism, for him, was by no means the pinnacle of human existence, but, on the contrary, an evolutionary digression with fatal consequences. He regarded it as a deficient of the inherently balanced mental structure of consciousness. In other words, Gebser did not reject reason, merely its inflation into the sole arbiter of our lives. As he recognized, the human being is a composite of several evolutionary structures of consciousness, and we must live all of them according to their intrinsic value. The individual who is dominated by the rational structure represses all other structures, which are viewed as irrational and hence dispensable. Thus the "reasonable" person is inclined to reject magic, myth, religion, feeling, empathy, and not least ego-transcendence.

One of the downsides for me, in hearing Haidt's views, is that he adheres to the current perspective dominating neuroscience that most of our actions and moral views are preconscious and outside of our rational control. There is considerable evidence for this, but the studies are looking at all people as occupying the same stage of development. However, there is also evidence that people who engage in meditation and mindfulness are more consciously able to examine their beliefs and not simply react from preconscious states.

I'm also a little uneasy with Haidt's assertions around conservative values vs. liberal values and that conservatives are more in-tune with the realities of human needs and values. He tends to reject liberal values almost wholesale, and that feels like an agenda to me.

Anyway, around the 8-9 minute mark, Haidt explains some elements of his cultural development model.

Robert Wright and Jonathan Haidt - The Righteous Mind

Recorded: Mar 29 — Posted: Mar 30
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