DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Elephants, Chimpanzees and Bees

Written by: on April 7, 2019

The degree of WEIRDness (western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic) we are, determines the depth of autonomy, individualization and independence revealed in our perspectives and confirmation biases. This concept described by Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, seems to read like a diary of his own elephant ride experience.[1]

Haidt, an American social psychologist and professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, began his ride studying moral psychology as a highly WEIRD, atheistic student and through the journey transformed “into a moderate post-partisan who finds value in religion and in political views he once scorned.”[2] Haidt’s well researched, three-premise argument begins with the metaphor of an elephant, symbolizing the automatic process of intuition, and a rider, the controlled process of reason. “The rider does not guide the elephant but merely explains and justifies its movements.”[3] The author has come to believe that intuitions, including affections and emotions, are the deciding factor of morality, and reason has evolved for the purpose of articulating and justifying the moral decisions humans make post hoc.

Haidt’s second premise is based on the metaphor of the taste pallet. Just as there are multiple taste receptors, he argues there are six fundamental moral tastes: care, fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity and liberty.  This was the discovery that began to influence the author’s own political and religious biases. Haidt processed data from over 132,000 subjects and concluded “that conservatives have a moral advantage when speaking to the intuitions of most Americans because conservatives value the six moral foundations equally whereas liberals narrowly value care (compassion), liberty and fairness while ignoring the others.”[4]

The author’s third premise is the outcome of what morality does, it “binds” and “blinds.” This emphasizes the role morality plays in group solidarity and claims it validates the very existence and survivability of groups. Yet, it is a double-edged sword as it soon causes the group to become blind to their own biases and closed to possibly understanding how others could come to a differing view. Stephen Vaisey describes this as creating a “team sport” mentality among the group rather than providing “potential venues for communicative rationality.”[5]

The morals which conservatives value are those that cause individuals to bond with a group such as allegiance or loyalty, authority and religion. Haidt argues that liberals who live by the moral values that make for success “in a modern WEIRD culture would probably not have lasted very long on the African savannah hundreds of thousands of years ago.”[6]

Haidt’s form of belief in evolution brings him to a final metaphor that humans emerged as a species as “90% chimpanzee (selfish and individualistic) and 10% bee (altruistic and hivish).”[7] Elephants, chimpanzees and bees, WEIRD liberals and conservatives, culture and taste receptors, intuition and reason. All of this is used to describe Haidt’s hope for how humans can get along. Though I have a better understanding of the “why” behind some of the political drama the United States has engaged, I cannot say I left this book with hope. It seems Haidt is a rare breed, someone that can be honest with research and allow his own bias to be reshaped by the discoveries, and have the courage to talk about it in hopes of bringing divided sides together.

Whatever we think about Haidt’s perspective, his research must be considered in regard to the importance of balance in the six areas of morality and allowing intuition to have a stronger place than many have accepted in the modern era. We certainly need more binding but with less blindness. How about a less WEIRD, trusted elephant with bee like lifestyle? Is this possible in today’s society?

[1] Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York: Pantheon Books, 2012), 112.

[2] Margery Lucas, “Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” Society 50, no. 1 (2013): 86-88.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Anthony B. Bradley, “Review of ‘The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion’ by Jonathan Haidt.” Journal of Markets and Morality 15, no. 2 (2012).

[5] Stephen Vaisey, “The Righteous Mind.” Archives Europeennes De Sociologie/European Journal of Sociology 53, no. 3 (0, 2012): 448-451.

[6] Lucas, 87.

[7] Ibid.

About the Author


Tammy Dunahoo

Tammy is a lover of God, her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the V.P. of U.S. Operations/General Supervisor of The Foursquare Church.