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Just in time for Jonathan Haidt's RSA lecture tomorrow lunchtime, here are my first thoughts on his fascinating new book...

Beyond 'The Righteous Mind': helping Jonathan Haidt understand his own turning-points

Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind is as fascinating and challenging as I felt sure it would be – sure enough that I had even plugged the book, and Jonathan as a potential RSA speaker, in Matthew Taylor’s blog comments from the moment I heard about the book almost two years ago.

Yet, at the end of it all, my concern is that Haidt risks remaining so confined by the invisible walls of his own academic discipline that he ends up leaving unexplored and unexplained his own two fascinating personal turning-points - awakenings - that he makes a key part of the book. I aim to show where we might find an explanation.

Understanding the twists and turns, awakenings and closures, of the growing self is the realm of the academic discipline of adult development - seemingly off the radar of Haidt, the social psychologist. As we shall see later, it is adult developmental psychology that could well enable Haidt to fully fathom the deep changes in his own thinking over the last decade or two, that he has been candid enough to share with us.

Anyone who has read Haidt’s previous book, The Happiness Hypothesis - Putting Ancient Wisdom and Philosophy to the Test of Modern Science, won’t be surprised that the key metaphor of his new book is, once again, the Elephant and the Rider. Haidt’s ‘Social Intuitionist’ model argues that ‘intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second’ - the human mind is like a large, powerful, emotional ‘Elephant’, with a rather puny, rational ‘Rider’ sitting on top.

As Haidt puts it: “the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant”.

Like Kahneman’s ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ systems, the Elephant’s intuitions “arise automatically and almost instantly”, long before “reasoning has had a chance to get started”.
And any moral arguments the Rider later makes are usually just “post-hoc constructions made up on the fly”. The ‘rationalist’ model of moral judgements developed by Lawrence Kohlberg comes particularly under fire from Haidt - the Rider just isn’t leading the action, the Elephant is, argues Haidt.

“The thinking system [ie Rider] is not equipped to lead - it simply doesn’t have the power to make things happen - but it can be a useful advisor”, he adds.

The Righteous Mind is also an investigation of the six moral foundations Haidt has uncovered: Care-Harm; Liberty-Oppression; Fairness-Cheating; Loyalty-Betrayal; Authority-Subversion; and Sanctity-Degradation. Perhaps surprisingly, Haidt finds that conservatives use all six foundations, whilst liberals use only three, at best.

“The righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors. Secular Western moralities are like cuisines that try to activate just one or two of these receptors,” he says.
This leads Haidt to conclude that liberalism “is not sufficient as a governing philosophy”.
”It tends to overreach, change too may things too quickly, and reduce the stock of moral capital inadvertently”, he says.

Haidt also explores how “human beings are 90 per cent chimp and 10 per cent bee” - even offering advice on how to make our organisations more “hivish, happy and productive”.
The book contains much else too - Haidt also discusses how between a third and a half of the variability in political attitudes is heritable. He sets out to debunk ‘New Atheists’ like Dawkins and Hitchens by showing that religion does have an adaptive role, in the Darwinian sense (Darwinian logic is a fundamental explanation throughout the book).

His moral foundations analysis of political signs and slogans - eg belonging to Occupy Wall St. - is yet more fun.
Haidt over evolves his thinking, shares his innovations, engages with the wider public and responds to feedback - in a way that seems very healthy.

Challenges, reflections and future directions:
(These points could be viewed as ‘criticisms’ of Haidt’s book, but they’re really just areas I’d love him to explore next).

1 Haidt’s model cannot explain his own two turning points/awakenings
“My own intellectual life narrative has had two turning points”, Jonathan shares with us - calling them “a kind of awakening”.

The first was in 1993, when it fully came home to him that there are multiple - equally valid - moral foundations. (“We are multiple from the start”, his ‘hero’ - the cultural psychologist/anthropologist Richard Shweder, had argued).
“Our minds contain a toolbox of psychological systems, including the six moral foundations”, says Haidt.
“I began to see that many moral matrices coexist within each nation,” he tells us.

Yet acceptance of multiplicity as a concept seems to come long before Haidt’s day to day behaviours, experiences and motivations change. These aren’t transformed until a second turning point, in 2009, when he evolves from a fairly standard liberal, Obama-fan, view to a truly post-partisan outlook.

“I had escaped from my prior partisan mind-set (reject first, ask rhetorical questions later)”, Haidt realised - “I was no longer on the defensive”.
“It felt good to be released from partisan anger”, he adds.
He found that he could begin to “think about liberal and conservative policies as manifestations of deeply conflicting but equally heartfelt visions of the good society”.

Despite these turning points being the core of the book, Haidt doesn’t seem to have the models to understand his own change - which isn’t analysed. (Shouldn’t he jump to find neo-darwinian explanations, given that that focus pervades the book?).

As already suggested, models of adult psychological maturation drawn from the discipline of Adult Development might help join the dots about these deeply felt changes in Haidt’s narrative.

In the ‘Spiral Dynamics’ model of adult psychological growth, a Haidt-like personal awakening to multiplicity takes place at the culmination of the ‘First Tier’ of adult developmental growth, as a ‘Second Tier’ begins. (And, as with Haidt, mere conceptual approval that there might well be a multiplicity of valid value/thinking systems usually comes years before our actual behaviours change, showing that we really believe it).
The key book on Spiral Dynamics, by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, states: “As the Yellow value-meme peaks, scales drop from our eyes enabling us to see, for the first time, the legitimacy of all of the human systems awakened to date.” (Spiral Dynamics - mastering values, leadership and change, page 276).

Does this not sound awfully similar - if not identical - to Haidt’s own awakening?

But Spiral Dynamics doesn’t stop there, around this awakening to multiplicity it builds a whole model for how to healthily nourish all the thinking systems of our human ‘Spiral’ (that we are now aware of): “This view honours values system differences and facilitates the movement of people up and down the human Spiral’ (Spiral Dynamics, page 277).

Spiral Dynamics labels the different value systems with colours and offers a “a recognition of the layered dynamics of human systems operating within people and societies. If Purple is sick, it needs to be made well. If Red is running amuck, the raw energy must be channelled. If Blue turns sour and becomes punitive, it must be reformed. Since many of our social ‘messes’ are caused by the interaction of people at different levels, such ‘messes’ can only be sorted out through the Yellow complex of intelligences and resources.”

The implication of this is that the political ‘messes’ of our time can only be adequately understood – and successfully attended to - by people who have themselves also had a Haidt-like awakening to the multiplicity of moral foundations, or a Spiral Dynamics ‘Yellow’ value-meme awakening to the multiplicity of thinking systems. (The four ways of organising depicted in Cultural Theory, and often discusses by RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor, are very reminiscent of Spiral Dynamics’ values systems - though stripped of any judgements about development, about one way of organising perhaps being more complex or adequate than others, or the approach that seeks to include them all being a vital advance).

At one point, Haidt suggests: “if you take home one souvenir from this part of the tour, may I suggest that it be a suspicion of moral monists. Beware of anyone who insists that there is one true morality for all people, times, and places - particularly if that morality is founded upon a single moral foundation”.

In a warning against our own moral monism Don Beck sagely advises: ‘If what you are about to say or do looks and sounds good to you, don’t do it! (Unless, of course, your listeners or readers have the same value systems as you)’. (This comes from his book ‘The Crucible - Forging South Africa’s Future’ - Beck put his own awareness of multiplicity to work in assisting the shift beyond apartheid, during his 60+ trips to South Africa).

Predictably, everything involved in the novel task of working with this multiplicity is far from straighforward. Beck joined forces to set up the Integral Institute with another advocate of multiplicity, Ken Wilber, a US developmentalist philosopher who has attracted praise and attention from thought-leaders as diverse as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, the Bishop of London, Jeb Bush, Geoff Mulgan and Charles Taylor.
The Integral Institute aimed to gather scholars and practitioners who were working with this multiplicity - hundreds would attend the initial meetings of its various disciplinary branches (education, medicine, politics etc). Yet almost all of them had only gone through Haidt’s first awakening and not yet his second: Beck recalls that only around a dozen of all these hundreds wouldn’t automatically bristle if anyone talked about the positive role of the Church, or similar non-PC, post-partisan ideas.

In a move which was either the height of arrogance, or unusually inspired (or both!), Beck and Wilber decided to try to push these hundreds of people – and perhaps the hundreds of thousands who read Wilber’s books around the world – towards also going through Haidt’s second awakening.

They sought to make life hard for the thinking system that professed multiplicity but couldn’t, in reality, abide it - publicy dubbing that way of thinking the ‘Mean Green Meme’. You’ve probably never heard of it, but might nevertheless be able to guess at the strange mix of anger and liberation that ensued when such politically correct thinking was labelled as ‘mean’ - particularly when it saw itself as purveying multiplicity. (I was fortunate enough also to experience a workshop Beck developed to illuminate the contrasting thinking systems at work in the participants. Though, of course, he didn’t tell us what we’d really learn from it beforehand. We all thought it was a ‘competition’ to see which of three teams could draw up the best presentation ‘for the UN’ showing how to build a new healthy world system drawing on multiplicity. In the event, only one of the three groups came up with anything like a convincing presentation.

Yet when Beck saw that only one group was going to have a presentable solution, he quietly told me “That one won’t be allowed to win”. This seemed an absurd thing to say - when there was clearly only one credible solution on offer, it would surely win? - yet when the simple decision on a winner descended in rancour and a very poor presentation won, in order to keep people happy, he was proved correct. Beck had, in fact, deliberately set the stage for contrasting thinking systems to surface - for instance, mixing the egalitarian idealism of a healthy future world with an excellence-focused competition over a winner’s kitty for a single winning team.)

2. Move over Richard Shweder: “Ken Wilber is our Neo”, says Larry Wachowski

Haidt talks about how in the film The Matrix, the protagonist ‘Neo’ (Keanu Reeves) is offered the choice between a blue pill or a red pill: the former will let him remain unconsciously enmeshed in an illusion, whilst feeling free, but the red pill would dissolve the ‘pleasant hallucination’ forever.
Haidt tells us how Shweder’s writings were his ‘red pill’.

Interestingly the Matrix Director Larry Wachowski reportedly told a press conference in 2004 that “Ken Wilber is our Neo”. Wilber was asked to record the Directors’ commentary for The Ultimate Matrix Collection DVD set, alongside Prof. Cornel West.

Wilber dubs the prevailing view that ignores multiplicity ‘flatland’ - and in a series of books stretching back to the seventies has sought to awaken people to an awareness of the importance of multiplicity. (It was finding his book Eye to Eye - The Quest for the New Paradigm in a Detroit second-hand bookshop in 1989 that would go on to precipitate my first Haidt-style turning point, an awakening to multiplicity. My eventual second awakening, to post-partisanship, that I suspect must inevitably follow eventually - unless one opts for stasis,  was some time in the early 2000s.)

3. Haidt’s world without ‘reflective thinkers’

As described earlier, Haidt argues that the Rider just looks for supporting evidence: “The thinking system is not equipped to lead - it simply doesn’t have the power to make things happen - but it can be a useful advisor”.

“We are terrible at seeking evidence that challenges our own beliefs”, he explains.
Haidt says he believes it to be rare for people to reason their way to a moral conclusion that contradicts their earlier intuitive judgement (and knows of only one study that has demonstrated such overruling experimentally. Paxton, Ungar, Greene - forthcoming).
To me, this feels like rather a misleading generalisation. There are are a number of researchers who investigate how often people question what they believe. This capacity is often known as ‘Reflective thinking’, and involves a conscious and active investigation of evidence for one’s beliefs, rather than being driven by largely unconscious and potentially prejudicial sources and motives.

These ‘reflective thinkers’ strive to collect all the relevant data, in an ongoing process; they take a critical stance towards their own patterns in thinking.
From Haidt’s passing assertions you’d think that such people, such behaviour, was barely in existence at all.

In fact, research  - including numerous longitudinal studies by Patricia King and Karen Kitchener - finds that about 15 per cent of people have matured to a stage of ‘reflective thinking’, beyond the reliance on prejudice, authority or whatever feels right of pre-reflective absolutists.

These curious and ‘passionate knowers’ are people who are happy to maintain a constant state of mental unrest, suspending judgment.

I suspect that the RSA might attract a disproportionate number of such ‘passionate knowers’ - the more of them, the better, in my opinion. What is the cost that society pays - in politics, social issues, education etc - for the current failure to develop widespread reflective thinking across society?

Haidt even mentions the work of a researcher into thinking called Deanna Kuhn - but seems unaware that she, also, offers the same figure of 15 per cent of people being true reflective thinkers - or what she calls ‘evaluative’ thinkers.

Once again, longitudinal study by adult development researchers is left out of Haidt’s account, to its detriment. We are left with a rather superficial and misleading view of the prevalence of these self-challenging behaviours by ‘passionate knowers’.

4. Does ‘Hiving’ decoupled from moral development open up the risk of Nazi-like conformism?
Non-developmental approaches to morality - like Haidt’s - perhaps unknowingly open us up again to the risk of some rather dark and disturbing outcomes.

The great researcher on stages of moral development – Lawrence Kohlberg – had importantly sought to highlight that there is a major distinction between social conformity and moral development. This distinction was necessary in order to explain how in some situations (eg Nazi Germany in the 1930s) social conformity worked against moral development, and in others, resisting social pressures (US Civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s) was the virtuous path.

Movements such as behaviourism and psychoanalysis – which had preceded cognitive developmentalists such as Kohlberg – had made ‘enculturation’ (social conformity) their ultimate goal, leaving them prey to moral relativism and moral paralysis.

But the ‘rationalist’ approach of Kohlberg – rooted in Enlightenment values – is a key target of Jonathan Haidt’s ‘social intuitionist’ model - with it’s focus on implicit processes, gut reactions etc.

Haidt wrote in 2008 that “a fully enculturated person is a virtuous person” – taking us back to the kind of moral relativism that existed before Kohlberg began his work, 50 years ago.

Unlike Kohlberg, social intuitionists like Haidt have no way of condemning Hitler and supporting Martin Luther King Jr: “Post-conventional thinking, which represents a more sophisticated set of tools than conventional thinking for moral decision making, is completely absent from models like the social intuitionist model that emphasize enculturation as the goal of moral development,” explains University of Notre Dame Associate Professor of Psychology Darcia Narvaez (see ‘Moral Complexity - The Fatal Attraction of Truthiness and the Importance of Mature Moral Functioning’, p. 168).

Though social intuitionist approaches are certainly a valuable corrective to balance ‘rationalist’ approaches, they often fail to distinguish between naive intuition and well-formed intuition: “moral intuitionist theories often seem to rely on data from novices using seat-of-the-pants intuition – a quick, prereflective, front-end intuition that novices usually display [ie naive intuition]. Having a gut reaction to something does not indicate that a person is well informed, knowledgeable, or trustworthy. In contrast, experience-based, postreflective, well-educated intuition comes about at the back end of experience (when conscious effort becomes automatised)” (‘Moral Complexity - The Fatal Attraction of Truthiness and the Importance of Mature Moral Functioning’, p. 171).

Though Haidt and Narvaez got into an interesting intellectual debate - an exchange of papers and responses in journals - The Righteous Mind doesn’t mention this.

Haidt seems to recognise that Narvaez could have a point: “As a normative definition, [my definition of morality] would give high marks to fascist and communist societies as well as to cults, so long as they achieved high levels of cooperation by creating a shared moral order”.

He does, however, state “I am not a relativist” - not all moral visions are equally good, or equally able to create a humane society. But quite how we might choose, is not explained.
If he did choose, he might find that egocentric moral visions are less good that ethnocentric moral visions, and that ethnocentric are less good than worldcentric.

Something that Haidt doesn’t share with us is that his hero, the cultural anthropologist Shweder is viewed by many as quite an extreme cultural relativist.

Shweder doesn’t only lay into those who think that Northern Europeans have “cornered the market in progress”, he defends female genital mutilation - dismissing ‘self-congratulatory’ critics of the practice for their ‘sensational accusation”. In classic anthropologists’ style, he attacks the UN Declaration of Rights of Man as ‘colonialist’.
Shweder also attacks ‘Western-educated’ scholars from the Third World who seek development for their countries. He argues that he is more of an ‘indigenous’ person than such ‘cosmopolitan intellectuals’ are.

As you might guess, these personal attacks by Shweder make some of their non-Western victims a bit annoyed: “It would be terribly boring if free, democratic elections were organised all over Africa. Were that to happen, we would no longer be real Africans, and by losing our identity - and our authoritarianism, our bloody civil wars, our illiteracy, our 45-year life expectancy - we would be letting down not only ourselves but also those Western anthropologists who study us so sympathetically and understand that we can’t be expected to behave like human beings who seek dignity on the eve of the third millennium. We are Africans and our identity matters!” writes Daniel Etounga-Maguelle (Culture Matters - How Values Shape Human Progress, pg 173)

Somewhat more measured is Carlos Alberto Montaner: “I don’t understand why Shweder thinks that we ought to resign ourselves to authoritarian governments and economic models that condemn half of our people to misery when the entire world - beginning with the Japanese - believes it was admirable when Japan copied the production techniques and social organisation of the West.”

Surprisingly, Shweder doesn’t actually object to using Piagetian labels to compare the thinking of people in different cultures, as long as there are no implications of a general pattern of cultural evolution (see Stages of Thought - The Co-Evolution of Religious Thought and Science, Michael Horace Barnes, page 47). Generally, though, he prefers to speak of frames rather than stages, and proposes that “it is ‘frame-switching’ rather than progressive development that accounts for differences in thought styles”. As one might expect with a cultural relativist, he avoids the issue that “in some cultures there are fewer frames of thought available to adults than in others.”

5. Haidt’s misleading generalisations about ‘WEIRD’ western individualistic psychology
A 2010 journal article The Weirdest People in the World? criticises much psychological research as only being relevant to the Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) societies where it is undertaken.

The individuals in these narrow and biased samples tend to see a world of separate objects, rather than relationships, the articles finds -  a conclusion Haidt strongly supports (indeed he and Shweder helped the paper’s authors).

Yet again, though, Haidt doesn’t cross the academic boundaries to see whether developmental psychology has anything to add.

It turns out that it does - indeed it arguably offers a way beyond the atomised and mechanistic worldview that Haidt - wrongly - seems to suggest is all that Western psychology has to offer.

Western researchers into the rarer stages of adult development find a far more intriguing - and positive? - picture emerges than what Haidt offers.

Dr Susanne Cook-Greuter’s research finds that a characteristic of later stage adult development “is the depth at which they experience and understand the interdependency of self and others” (pg 136 Postautonomous Ego Development: A Study of Its Nature and Measurement).

The later the stage, “the clearer becomes the non-distinctiveness of the ‘permanent object world’ and the impermanence of the precious self”, increased mind-body-feeling integration is also found.

Such (admittedly uncommon) late stage thinking “is directed towards capturing thinking as an automatic, ceaseless habit that cannot be voluntarily stopped. It is thinking about thinking from a perspective that allows the thinker to observe thinking while it occurs and influences what is being thought about. It is not thinking about thinking after the fact.” (Postautonomous Ego Development, page 106).

Not only does this research in adult development seem to undermine the easy conclusions of the authors of The Weirdest People in the World?, it sounds like it can tell us rather a lot about how the Rider becomes increasingly able to observe the Elephant at work...

I would have expected the WEIRD paper to have discussed some of multi-nation research efforts that are studying population’s psychologies and values. The anti-WEIRD authors have an answer to that: research that deliberately sets out to compare psychologies cross-culturally will be left out of their review - meaning that there will be no Ronald Inglehart, Shalom Schwartz, Ed Diener, Robert McCrae etc. So, the paper is in fact only looking at a rather narrow sliver - experiments in behavioural science.

The 2010 WEIRD paper does mentions John Snarey’s 1985 paper looking at the cross-cultural validity of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, but not the 2007 follow-up paper. This new paper concludes: “Our review bolsters the conclusion that Kohlberg was in principle correct regarding the universality of basic moral judgment development, moral values, and related social perspective-taking processes across cultures”.

6. Haidt seems to have forgotten that ‘Meditation tames and calms the elephant’ (Haidt, the Happiness Hypothesis 2006)
With all the talk in The Righteous Mind about how powerless the ‘Rider’ is, how rare it is for anyone to challenge their own thinking, or automatic reactions, it comes as a surprise to remember that Haidt wrote, near the beginning of his previous book The Happiness Hypothesis, about how such things as meditation and cognitive therapy can challenge automatic thoughts.

More recent research on meditation confirms and extends such findings (eg see ‘Enhanced Response Inhibition During Intensive Meditation Training Predicts Improvements in Self-Reported Adaptive Socioemotional Functioning’, Emotion, 2011).
Response inhibition is the “voluntary withholding of a habitual or impulsive response” - which at times Haidt leaves us thinking must be about as common as an encounter with a dodo.
Yet control response inhibition is enhanced in a lasting manner by meditation.

Worth remembering too that some view the division between the elephant and the rider as a false dichotomy. One of these is Roy Baumeister, a recent RSA speaker.

A recent recent overview of the research on automaticity - ‘Do Concsious Thoughts Cause Behavior?’ co-authored by Baumeister - concluded that “the evidence for conscious causation of behaviour is profound, extensive, adaptive, multifaceted and empirically strong.”
“The unconscious can process single words but not sentences, so consciousness is needed for both speaking to and understanding others,” it explained.

7. No-one steers by their own compass
Haidt is rather dismissive of people who steer by their own compass, dubbing them “self-proclaimed mavericks”.

Yet the RSA report ‘Beyond the Big Society - Psychological Foundations of Active Citizenship” highighed the work of the respected developmental psychologist Prof Robert Kegan, which finds that up to 40% of people manage to develop the ability to be guided by their own compass, what Kegan calls a ‘self-authoring’ way of thinking, rather than the socialised mindset which merely follows external formulas.

From his dismissive comments, Haidt seems to be in the dark about the research on self-authorship, and decades long longitudinal studies of its emergence and stabilisation in people (see eg Development and Assessment of Self-authorship - Exploring the Concept Across Cultures).

And surely the decades of research on people who have a Inner vs an Outer locus of control must have some insights into those who steer by their own compass.
Instead Haidt quotes a single rather contrived social psychology lab experiment that he seems to interpret as showing that no-one can “truly steer by their own compass”.

8. Haidt’s multiplicity... leaves out multiplicity!
Interestingly, the early 20th century Greek-Armenian spiritual teacher GI Gurdjieff used a similar kind of metaphor to Haidt’s Elephant and Rider. Gurdjieff talked about the human mind as being like a horse (the equivalent of Haidt’s elephant) along with the accompanying carriage, driver and passenger.

Like Haidt - but a century earlier - he depicts people as primarily driven by automatic reactions and apparent free will as little more than an illusion. (Though there are practices that can slowly change this situation).
What is particularly interesting is the role of the ‘passenger’ - for Gurdjieff argues that a human being is in fact a cacophony of different selves, and these these different selves will, one after another, step in and out of the carriage, attempting to  take change.
Basically, the ordinary person is a multiplicity of ‘I’s, or selves, or subpersonalities, or whatever label one wants to put on them.

This idea of multiplicity isn’t just a century old idea of Gurdjieff’s, it is an increasingly popular contemporary idea. The book Personification - Using the Dialogical Self in Psychotherapy and Counselling, by John Rowan, aims to show “how important the idea of multiplicity within the person is to all psychotherapists, counsellors and coaches”. Hubert Hermans is using this notion of multiplicity to look at globalisation.

9. How to flip the Hive switch
Haidt investigates a number of methods he suggests might be able to “flip the Hive switch” - in a wide-ranging discussion that covers everything from raves and LSD to the Good Friday experiment with psilocybin.
The “awe in nature” of American Transcendentalists like Emerson is one way to flip the switch.

“All mean egotism vanishes”, he quotes from one experience of Emerson’s - who finds himself  becoming a “part of particle of god” during one experience of nature.

There is a whole field of psychology - Transpersonal Psychology - devoted to understanding such trans-egoic (beyond ego) experiences. It was launched in 1969 by Abraham Maslow, after his pioneering research on the surprising number of ‘Peak experiences’ that people report having had, when questioned about it.

Yet again, I’m left wishing that Haidt would step a bit further out of his constricting disiplinary silos - and learn more from others who’ve been research this for decades.

10 Dan McAdams - stripping his contribution of its developmentalist core
Haidt draws on the the work of Dan McAdams to distinguish between the three different levels of personality: dispositional traits, characteristic adaptions and life narratives. He praises McAdams “greatest contribution to psychology has been his insistence that  psychologists connect their quantitative data (about the two lower levels, which we measure with questionnaires and reaction-time measures) to a more qualitative understanding of the narratives people create to make sense of their lives.”

But it we dig deeper, we find a richer and more illuminating picture. McAdams is in fact rather critical of Haidt’s ‘hero’ Richard Shweder. Remembering his time as a student in the 70s, he mentions that “Those familiar with the history of personality psychology as an academic discipline will know that 1977 was not an especially good year in my field” - with the “conventional wisdom of the day” - he singles out people including Shweder and Mischel  - arguing that behaviours depend on specific situations not personality dispositions, that personality lies more in the eyes of the observer etc. Mischel did indeed lead the whole field of social psychology down a cul-de-sac of pure ‘situationism’ for a decade or two, until his one-sided model was proven inadequate by further research.

A rather more significant oversight by Haidt is that McAdams is a developmental psychologist, who uses Loevinger’s model of adult ego stage development as a foundation to understand how the traits recede into the background and become less and less influential in defining the self, as the ego matures.

“As one moves beyond the Conscientious stage, the process of selfing becomes more expertly equipped for meeting the storytelling challenge of identity, in an especially appealing way,” explains McAdams.

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Replies to This Discussion

Thank you Matthew, I think you make a lot of very valid points and I hope the field of adult development gets 'plugged in' to Haidt's Social/Evolutionary Psychology model in some way. In this sense I think your points are less a critique of Haidt's work on its own terms and more a pointer to ways that he has failed to acknowledge the links between his work and other areas of psychology. Of course, some of the reason that he doesn't do that (in the scope of the book at least) will no doubt be due to the affordances of the popular science genre - which aims to be essential rather than comprehensive. Leaving development out of spirituality is however perhaps one reason why Haidt's spirituality seems to be reduced only to moral emotions on one hand and groupish self-transcendence on the other. George Vaillant's recent Spiritual Evolution too, puts positive moral emotions as the summum bonum of spirituality, which also seems to leave out a great deal. 

Part of the problem seems to be the perception regarding developmental approaches as a whole, which have traditionally been much maligned by both post-modernists (who see nothing as clean and tidy as stage conceptions) as well as cognitive scientists (who have tended to deal with a desituated, atemporal cognito). The movement in 'third phase' cognitive science ( e.g. Varela, Thompson, Gallagher) towards a more scientific phenomenology is perhaps a fertile ground from which could spring the consilience you are advocating for here Matthew. I'm not sure Spiral Dynamics is the right development model to map to, but then to be fair, I'm not sure which would be, or whether one even exists that would do utter justice to this endeavour.

But bravo, you seem to have hit on an interesting angle of criticism, and one that I hope to see expanded in the future, as it gives evolutionary and social psychology an important injunction to 'get with the (adult development) program'.

Hi Alex,

Great insights, many thanks.

You're certainly right that Spiral Dynamics might not be the best model to look at.

Prof Michael Commons is suggesting I should've drawn on William Perry's. He's probably right.

Yet, the Spiral Dynamics quote really seemed to represent the same turning-point experience that Jonathan Haidt had had. I couldn't easily find a similar description in Loevinger, Kegan, Torbert etc. (Neglected to look in Perry).

No time to write more right now...



Matthew Kálmán Mezey said:

Hi Alex,

Great insights, many thanks.

You're certainly right that Spiral Dynamics might not be the best model to look at.

Prof Michael Commons is suggesting I should've drawn on William Perry's. He's probably right.

Yet, the Spiral Dynamics quote really seemed to represent the same turning-point experience that Jonathan Haidt had had. I couldn't easily find a similar description in Loevinger, Kegan, Torbert etc. (Neglected to look in Perry).


No time to write more right now...






Hi Matthew / Alex,


As an SDi specialist I am naturally inclined to leap to the defence of that theory, but I am not sure what I would be defending here.   What is it that you perceive the need for a developmental theory to do?   And what makes you certain that SDi doesn't do it.

However my main concern with psychology as a discipline (I have written tho Jonathan Haidt on this subject) is that it buys in too much into a materialist scientific model.   I find it interesting that Alex cites Varela.  Again I may misunderstand what aspect of Varela is being referred to, but my viewpoint is based on the Maturana and Varela "Tree of knowledge" presentation of reality as having no external point of reference, rather being a “a bringing forth of the world through the process of living itself”.

In attempting to prove that it is a "Science", psychology has squeezed itself into the epistemological frame that the "hard sciences" dictate to it.    This forces an essentially subjective experience to be analysed using the kinds of toolkit which make the human being into a "black box" phenomenon.  Haidt's achievement in breaking through the tough skin of Dawkins' "Selfish Gene"  is important.  Dawkins is an extremist - a fundamentalist.   But this is only one small piece of a scientific edifice that is in fact flawed.  The kind of world presented by Maturana and Varela simply cannot exist compatibly with a materialist science.   If reality is constructed collaboratively, "brought forth in co-existence with other people" as they would say ,then it is not to be found in matter and it is not to be found inside the brain.  So where is it?

Of course there are presentations of reality - all thoroughly ignored, or rubbished on principle by scientific orthodoxy - which would encompass such views.   They are even based on evidence!   Haidt's book detects the flaw and exploses one limitation in the Dawkins schema.  Psychology would benefit greatly from exloring that small chink in the conventional armour and would find itself more potent by doing so.  And in my view, by understanding the dynamics of the universe which are missing from conventional science, it might be better able to understand the subtleties of human existence.   It might even then understand why Spiral Dynamics has something to offer that makes it greater than a mere developmental theory.   What it truly is, is the socio-psychological equivalent of Darwin's theory - the extension of an adaptive evolutionary principle into the development of humanity beyond its biological frontiers.   Now that's a journey worth taking! 

Jon Freeman


Hi Jon,

The reason that Spiral Dynamics is not a great theory to rely on to convince people like Jonathan Haidt (that adult development has a key explanatory role in his two turning-points) is that it has barely any standing in academia.

Dr Oliver Robinson - who you may have met? - is currently writing a textbook on Adult Development and wanted to include Spiral Dynamics - yet I'm not sure he could find a single peer-reviewed paper to refer to. And may well have had to drop it. I tried to help him, and dug out all I could for him, but....

Its seems to be well-known in developmental circles that the original raw empirical data of Prof Clare Graves no longer exists.

I certainly find it an informative model, and a great lens for looking at the world - and 'a journey worth taking', but is it the best model if the goal is to engage with academics, and get adult development on to their agenda. Probably not.



Hi Matthew,

Ah - I understand.  This is a familiar theme.  I thought that the reference was to something about the theory itself, not to its academic standing.

It would be really wonderful if the academic community had the courage, or the intellectual integrity to repeat Graves research.   Even if the data exists (which it may do somewhere in either Beck's or Cowan's sheds) it is now forty years out of date.   And of course we (the SDi community) have much confirmatory data from the Values tests that have been conducted since then, though it would probably require adding to in order to create a statistically acceptable sample.  But of course there is the question of funding, and the potential that it would undermine the intellectual position or vested interest of some part of the establishment.   All of this is part of why I am grateful that I didn't follow the academic path that was in front of me almost four decades ago.  There is nothing new in the observation that academic theories advance at the rate of death of tenured professors.  That has been true for centuries.  In Galileo's time, new knowledge was suppressed by the church.  Now it is suppresssed by commercial interests. 

I am also in no doubt that the work of many theorists and researchers since Graves time, has confirmed pieces of the theory.  Others who know more detail than I do about the various developmental theories have indicated to me that this is the case.   It was inevitable that over such a time-period, others would arrive at the same place - either quite independently or without feeling free to acknowledge the source of their approach for the reasons you describe.      There is probably a wonderful PHD thesis waiting for someone who would like to take all the subsequent research and use it to validate Graves theory from the sum of the available parts.   Graves lacked so much information in the "bio" area of his bio-socio-psychological architecture that is now available.

The frustration for me of course is that the currently available parts do not reach the explanatory power of the whole.  It is like being given Mendelian inheritance and the DNA structure and not having Darwin to go back to for an understanding of the evolutionary process itself.  



PS. I haven't met Oliver Robinson.   I have a list of Graves material which might add to what is available to him.   I will send that to you.


Talking with Jonathan Haidt after his lecture at the RSA, he mentioned that he had been teaching a 14-week moral psychology class to students.

He said that he noticed a kind of 'opening' in students.

But is it just cerebral opening, he wondered...?

They do seem more open to conservatives, he felt.

The issues of whether a course is enabling an 'opening', and which dimensions of the students it is affecting, are exactly the issues that Adult Development models can enable us to understand. (But which seem to be entirely missing from his book).

William Perry's pioneering longitudinal studies in adult development, helped us to understand how students can begin to understand the stages of 'Multiplicity' and 'Relativism'.

Perry's approach has been used to create the 'Developmental Instruction' approach to designing curricula that foster development.

And Marcia Baxter Magolda's 22-year longitudinal study has helped us to distinguish betwen three different  dimensions (some might call them 'Lines of development') of the stage of 'Self-Authorship' (Kegan's 4th stage of developmental growth).

The three dimensions are:

  • Interpersonal
  • Epistemological
  • Intrapersonal

Her approach to building curricula that foster development is known as the 'Learning Parternships Model'.

It's exactly these kinds of models that might have helped Haidt to understand his own two major turning-points/awakenings, and also how he could try to structure his 14-week moral psychology course to ensure that the 'opening' would emerge in his students.

Patricia King and Karen Kitchener's longitudinal studies on 'Reflective thinking' would have similarly helped Haidt - and might have stopped him from leaving the impression that almost no-one is capable of 'Reflective thinking' (actually about 15% of people do it).

These models would even enable him to measure what is going on - rather than have to speculate about an 'opening' occuring.

I rather wish I'd included these points in my large review of his book, above!


Hi Matthew,

As you know I have greater enthusiasm for the practical toolkits than for the theories.  What I find particularly interesting in the above is that not only does  Perry's view of multiplicity and relativism fit right in to the Spiral Dynamics framework (explained very clearly at the stages referred to as Green and Yellow) but that they also equate strongly to the leadership development approaches used by Rand Stagen's organisation in the US.  These are designed around an Integral model, and very explicitly used to develop capacityalong those dimensions.   These approaches have been very successful when measured in terms of company performance.   Theoretical validation is great, but for me less exciting than seeing transformation out in the real world.

Similarly, the dimensions that you quote as being studied by Marcia Baxter Magolda map very well to Cindy Wigglesworth's Spiritual Intelligence (SQ21) assessment and coaching methodology, which is also expressed in relation to Integral 4Q model, but also works closely with Suzanne Cook-Greuter's stages, and has been validated to correlate with stage development.

I don't know how important these things would seem to Jonathan Haidt.  I suspect that the areas you are drawing attention to could well be the next direction for him to go because moral psychology, EQ/SQ and increasing bandwidth of awareness are all interconnected.  They are the individual skillsets which increase the adaptability of the group, enable humanity to respond to the challenging life conditions we face which put moral (sustainability, fairness, stewardship) questions right at the heart of our major survival issues.   In evolutionary terms, these are the memes and Values which will need to increase their presence in the collective human mindset if we are to adapt to complex resource, political, climate and social/financial challenges.   This is why SQ and leadership are central to my own work.  I think that they would be important to him.  I certainly hope so.   It is not too late for you to add these further points in another e-mail.  He says he will read everything he receives!



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