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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, October 13, 2012 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“If you've ever argued about politics with someone holding very different views, you surely know that Hume was right: 'Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.'

“In his fascinating, important, and exasperating new book, 'The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,' Jonathan Haidt explores the root of those passions. A social psychologist at the University of Virginia and once a professed liberal Democrat, Haidt is dismayed by the rightward shift of the country's political center of gravity over the last 30 years. Seeking to understand it, he looks for answers in the different characters of liberals and conservatives and proposes a new, or at any rate newly formulated, theory of our moral and political judgments, which he calls moral foundations theory.

“As we all know and often forget, humans are not purely rational. Or, to put it another way, there's more to rationality than is dreamed of in our everyday philosophies. We have a long, complex evolutionary history, which has left us with a tangled, multilayered psyche and many more motives than we are usually conscious of. With the help of research by a couple of generations of psychologists, anthropologists, and behavioral economists, Haidt has excavated these psychic structures. But before entering on a detailed description, Haidt pauses to emphasize the first principle of any adequate moral psychology: 'Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.' ”

– From “Head and Heart” at bostonreview.com

A quiz

A cattle driver was a “drover,” and a cattle stall was a “crib.” What was a cattle roundup called?

Wisdom of the ages

“Life must be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards.” – Kierkegaard

Current wisdom

“Gov. Romney had a good night. I had a bad night. It's not the first time I've had a bad night.” – President Obama in an interview with ABC, conceding that he did poorly in a debate last week that fueled a comeback by his rival in the race for the White House.

Quiz answer

A “drift.”

Snob words

tardigrade (TAHR-di-greyd), adj. – slow in pace or movement, as in: “The mayor's tardigrade pace in walking to the microphone put the reporters at the press conference to sleep.” From the Latin tardigradus, “slow-paced.”

Today in history

On this day in 1960 Richard Nixon and JFK had their third debate; what, before Twitter?

Now you know

It is not the illumination that draws moths to a flame or light bulb, but the infrared light of radiant heat, which to us is invisible.