The Everyday Elephant and its Rider
When I first began reading The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, I found myself extremely intrigued by Jonathan Haidt’s first statements. While I found myself thinking about the yes/no moral stories, I decided to talk about the book itself with my friends and family. We had our agreements and our disagreements with our moral standings, something I have never discussed before reading this book with others. Having a conversation like that really had my mind going, and I found myself relating this conversation to the points made in the book itself.
These discussions related to Haidt’s first metaphor, “The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. “After reading the first part, I kept Haidt’s theories in mind while talking about the book, and while out running errands. I noticed while telling the moral stories, the “elephant” was doing the answering. The initial flash of disgust was enough for some to instantly say the scenarios were morally wrong, even when no one was being harmed. Many times the person I was asking had, “The tendency to seek out and interpret new evidence in ways that confirm what [they] already think”(Haidt, 93), or confirmation bias. But when I discussed the book with my friends that read it, the “rider” was steering the “elephant” to a more thoughtful decision. “Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second” (Haidt, 61) I find myself making impulse purchases from time to time, only to think about it later to why I bought something in the first place. The “elephant’s” reasoning is, “I need this.” before the rider can say “but you need money for gas” or “you need to save for emergencies”. But in making a big purchase, I find myself pausing in the store, allowing the “rider” to reason, “When we want to believe something, we ask ourselves, ‘Can I believe it?’ Then, we search for supporting evidence, and if we find even a single piece of pseudo-evidence, we can stop thinking.” (Haidt, 98) I weigh my options and make a much smarter decision (which usually saves me money). The symbiosis of rider and elephant representing our moral thinking is apparent on a regular basis, helping us make better decisions (the rider), but also defending our thoughts, morals, and ideas (the elephant).