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Annotated captions of Johnathan Haidt on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives in English

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Suppose that two American friends are traveling together in Italy.

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They go to see Michelangelo's "David,"

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and when they finally come face to face with the statue,

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they both freeze dead in their tracks.

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The first guy -- we'll call him Adam --

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is transfixed by the beauty of the perfect human form.

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The second guy -- we'll call him Bill --

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is transfixed by embarrassment, at staring at the thing there in the center.

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So here's my question for you:

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which one of these two guys was more likely to have voted for George Bush,

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which for Al Gore?

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I don't need a show of hands

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because we all have the same political stereotypes.

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We all know that it's Bill.

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And in this case, the stereotype corresponds to reality.

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It really is a fact that liberals are much higher than conservatives

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on a major personality trait called openness to experience.

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People who are high in openness to experience

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just crave novelty, variety, diversity, new ideas, travel.

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People low on it like things that are familiar, that are safe and dependable.

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If you know about this trait,

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you can understand a lot of puzzles about human behavior.

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You can understand why artists are so different from accountants.

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You can actually predict what kinds of books they like to read,

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what kinds of places they like to travel to,

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and what kinds of food they like to eat.

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Once you understand this trait, you can understand

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why anybody would eat at Applebee's, but not anybody that you know.

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(Laughter)

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This trait also tells us a lot about politics.

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The main researcher of this trait, Robert McCrae says that,

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"Open individuals have an affinity for liberal, progressive, left-wing political views" --

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they like a society which is open and changing --

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"whereas closed individuals prefer conservative, traditional, right-wing views."

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This trait also tells us a lot about the kinds of groups people join.

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So here's the description of a group I found on the Web.

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What kinds of people would join a global community

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welcoming people from every discipline and culture,

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who seek a deeper understanding of the world,

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and who hope to turn that understanding into a better future for us all?

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This is from some guy named Ted.

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(Laughter)

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Well, let's see now, if openness predicts who becomes liberal,

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and openness predicts who becomes a TEDster,

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then might we predict that most TEDsters are liberal?

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Let's find out.

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I'm going to ask you to raise your hand, whether you are liberal, left of center --

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on social issues, we're talking about, primarily --

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or conservative, and I'll give a third option,

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because I know there are a number of libertarians in the audience.

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So, right now, please raise your hand --

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down in the simulcast rooms, too,

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let's let everybody see who's here --

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please raise your hand if you would say that you are liberal or left of center.

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Please raise your hand high right now. OK.

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Please raise your hand if you'd say you're libertarian.

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OK, about a -- two dozen.

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And please raise your hand if you'd say you are right of center or conservative.

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One, two, three, four, five -- about eight or 10.

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OK. This is a bit of a problem.

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Because if our goal is to understand the world,

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to seek a deeper understanding of the world,

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our general lack of moral diversity here is going to make it harder.

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Because when people all share values, when people all share morals,

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they become a team, and once you engage the psychology of teams,

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it shuts down open-minded thinking.

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When the liberal team loses, as it did in 2004,

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and as it almost did in 2000, we comfort ourselves.

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(Laughter)

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We try to explain why half of America voted for the other team.

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We think they must be blinded by religion, or by simple stupidity.

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(Laughter)

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(Applause)

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So, if you think that half of America votes Republican

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because they are blinded in this way,

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then my message to you is that you're trapped in a moral matrix,

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in a particular moral matrix.

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And by the matrix, I mean literally the matrix, like the movie "The Matrix."

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But I'm here today to give you a choice.

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You can either take the blue pill and stick to your comforting delusions,

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or you can take the red pill,

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learn some moral psychology and step outside the moral matrix.

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Now, because I know --

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(Applause) --

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OK, I assume that answers my question.

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I was going to ask you which one you picked, but no need.

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You're all high in openness to experience, and besides,

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it looks like it might even taste good, and you're all epicures.

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So anyway, let's go with the red pill.

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Let's study some moral psychology and see where it takes us.

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Let's start at the beginning.

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What is morality and where does it come from?

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The worst idea in all of psychology

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is the idea that the mind is a blank slate at birth.

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Developmental psychology has shown

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that kids come into the world already knowing so much

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about the physical and social worlds,

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and programmed to make it really easy for them to learn certain things

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and hard to learn others.

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The best definition of innateness I've ever seen --

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this just clarifies so many things for me --

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is from the brain scientist Gary Marcus.

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He says, "The initial organization of the brain does not depend that much on experience.

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Nature provides a first draft, which experience then revises.

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Built-in doesn't mean unmalleable;

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it means organized in advance of experience."

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OK, so what's on the first draft of the moral mind?

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To find out, my colleague, Craig Joseph, and I

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read through the literature on anthropology,

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on culture variation in morality

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and also on evolutionary psychology, looking for matches.

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What are the sorts of things that people talk about across disciplines?

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That you find across cultures and even across species?

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We found five -- five best matches,

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which we call the five foundations of morality.

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The first one is harm/care.

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We're all mammals here, we all have a lot of neural and hormonal programming

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that makes us really bond with others, care for others,

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feel compassion for others, especially the weak and vulnerable.

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It gives us very strong feelings about those who cause harm.

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This moral foundation underlies about 70 percent

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of the moral statements I've heard here at TED.

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The second foundation is fairness/reciprocity.

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There's actually ambiguous evidence

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as to whether you find reciprocity in other animals,

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but the evidence for people could not be clearer.

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This Norman Rockwell painting is called "The Golden Rule,"

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and we heard about this from Karen Armstrong, of course,

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as the foundation of so many religions.

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That second foundation underlies the other 30 percent

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of the moral statements I've heard here at TED.

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The third foundation is in-group/loyalty.

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You do find groups in the animal kingdom --

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you do find cooperative groups --

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but these groups are always either very small or they're all siblings.

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It's only among humans that you find very large groups of people

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who are able to cooperate, join together into groups,

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but in this case, groups that are united to fight other groups.

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This probably comes from our long history of tribal living, of tribal psychology.

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And this tribal psychology is so deeply pleasurable

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that even when we don't have tribes,

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we go ahead and make them, because it's fun.

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(Laughter)

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Sports is to war as pornography is to sex.

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We get to exercise some ancient, ancient drives.

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The fourth foundation is authority/respect.

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Here you see submissive gestures from two members of very closely related species.

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But authority in humans is not so closely based on power and brutality,

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as it is in other primates.

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It's based on more voluntary deference,

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and even elements of love, at times.

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The fifth foundation is purity/sanctity.

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This painting is called "The Allegory Of Chastity,"

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but purity's not just about suppressing female sexuality.

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It's about any kind of ideology, any kind of idea

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that tells you that you can attain virtue

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by controlling what you do with your body,

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by controlling what you put into your body.

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And while the political right may moralize sex much more,

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the political left is really doing a lot of it with food.

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Food is becoming extremely moralized nowadays,

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and a lot of it is ideas about purity,

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about what you're willing to touch, or put into your body.

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I believe these are the five best candidates

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for what's written on the first draft of the moral mind.

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I think this is what we come with, at least

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a preparedness to learn all of these things.

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But as my son, Max, grows up in a liberal college town,

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how is this first draft going to get revised?

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And how will it end up being different

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from a kid born 60 miles south of us in Lynchburg, Virginia?

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To think about culture variation, let's try a different metaphor.

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If there really are five systems at work in the mind --

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five sources of intuitions and emotions --

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then we can think of the moral mind

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as being like one of those audio equalizers that has five channels,

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where you can set it to a different setting on every channel.

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And my colleagues, Brian Nosek and Jesse Graham, and I,

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made a questionnaire, which we put up on the Web at www.YourMorals.org.

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And so far, 30,000 people have taken this questionnaire, and you can too.

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Here are the results.

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Here are the results from about 23,000 American citizens.

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On the left, I've plotted the scores for liberals;

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on the right, those for conservatives; in the middle, the moderates.

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The blue line shows you people's responses

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on the average of all the harm questions.

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So, as you see, people care about harm and care issues.

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They give high endorsement of these sorts of statements

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all across the board, but as you also see,

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liberals care about it a little more than conservatives -- the line slopes down.

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Same story for fairness.

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But look at the other three lines.

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For liberals, the scores are very low.

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Liberals are basically saying, "No, this is not morality.

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In-group, authority, purity -- this stuff has nothing to do with morality. I reject it."

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But as people get more conservative, the values rise.

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We can say that liberals have a kind of a two-channel,

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or two-foundation morality.

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Conservatives have more of a five-foundation,

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or five-channel morality.

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We find this in every country we look at.

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Here's the data for 1,100 Canadians.

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I'll just flip through a few other slides.

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The U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Western Europe, Eastern Europe,

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Latin America, the Middle East, East Asia and South Asia.

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Notice also that on all of these graphs,

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the slope is steeper on in-group, authority, purity.

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Which shows that within any country,

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the disagreement isn't over harm and fairness.

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Everybody -- I mean, we debate over what's fair --

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but everybody agrees that harm and fairness matter.

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Moral arguments within cultures

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are especially about issues of in-group, authority, purity.

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This effect is so robust that we find it no matter how we ask the question.

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In one recent study,

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we asked people to suppose you're about to get a dog.

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You picked a particular breed,

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you learned some new information about the breed.

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Suppose you learn that this particular breed is independent-minded,

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and relates to its owner as a friend and an equal?

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Well, if you are a liberal, you say, "Hey, that's great!"

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Because liberals like to say, "Fetch, please."

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(Laughter)

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But if you're conservative, that's not so attractive.

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If you're conservative, and you learn that a dog's extremely loyal

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to its home and family, and doesn't warm up quickly to strangers,

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for conservatives, well, loyalty is good -- dogs ought to be loyal.

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But to a liberal, it sounds like this dog

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is running for the Republican nomination.

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(Laughter)

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So, you might say, OK,

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there are these differences between liberals and conservatives,

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but what makes those three other foundations moral?

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Aren't those just the foundations of xenophobia

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and authoritarianism and Puritanism?

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What makes them moral?

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The answer, I think, is contained in this incredible triptych from Hieronymus Bosch,

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"The Garden of Earthly Delights."

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In the first panel, we see the moment of creation.

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All is ordered, all is beautiful, all the people and animals

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are doing what they're supposed to be doing, where they're supposed to be.

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But then, given the way of the world, things change.

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We get every person doing whatever he wants,

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with every aperture of every other person and every other animal.

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Some of you might recognize this as the '60s.

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(Laughter)

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But the '60s inevitably gives way to the '70s,

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where the cuttings of the apertures hurt a little bit more.

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Of course, Bosch called this hell.

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So this triptych, these three panels

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portray the timeless truth that order tends to decay.

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The truth of social entropy.

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But lest you think this is just some part of the Christian imagination

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where Christians have this weird problem with pleasure,

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here's the same story, the same progression,

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told in a paper that was published in Nature a few years ago,

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in which Ernst Fehr and Simon Gachter had people play a commons dilemma.

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A game in which you give people money,

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and then, on each round of the game,

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they can put money into a common pot,

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and then the experimenter doubles what's in there,

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and then it's all divided among the players.

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So it's a really nice analog for all sorts of environmental issues,

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where we're asking people to make a sacrifice

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and they themselves don't really benefit from their own sacrifice.

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But you really want everybody else to sacrifice,

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but everybody has a temptation to a free ride.

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And what happens is that, at first, people start off reasonably cooperative --

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and this is all played anonymously.

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On the first round, people give about half of the money that they can.

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But they quickly see, "You know what, other people aren't doing so much though.

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I don't want to be a sucker. I'm not going to cooperate."

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And so cooperation quickly decays from reasonably good, down to close to zero.

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But then -- and here's the trick --

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Fehr and Gachter said, on the seventh round, they told people,

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"You know what? New rule.

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If you want to give some of your own money

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to punish people who aren't contributing, you can do that."

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And as soon as people heard about the punishment issue going on,

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cooperation shoots up.

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It shoots up and it keeps going up.

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There's a lot of research showing that to solve cooperative problems, it really helps.

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It's not enough to just appeal to people's good motives.

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It really helps to have some sort of punishment.

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Even if it's just shame or embarrassment or gossip,

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you need some sort of punishment to bring people,

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when they're in large groups, to cooperate.

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There's even some recent research suggesting that religion --

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priming God, making people think about God --

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often, in some situations, leads to more cooperative, more pro-social behavior.

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Some people think that religion is an adaptation

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evolved both by cultural and biological evolution

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to make groups to cohere,

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in part for the purpose of trusting each other,

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and then being more effective at competing with other groups.

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I think that's probably right,

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although this is a controversial issue.

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But I'm particularly interested in religion,

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and the origin of religion, and in what it does to us and for us.

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Because I think that the greatest wonder in the world is not the Grand Canyon.

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The Grand Canyon is really simple.

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It's just a lot of rock, and then a lot of water and wind, and a lot of time,

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and you get the Grand Canyon.

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It's not that complicated.

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This is what's really complicated,

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that there were people living in places like the Grand Canyon,

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cooperating with each other, or on the savannahs of Africa,

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or on the frozen shores of Alaska, and then some of these villages

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grew into the mighty cities of Babylon, and Rome, and Tenochtitlan.

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How did this happen?

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This is an absolute miracle, much harder to explain than the Grand Canyon.

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The answer, I think, is that they used every tool in the toolbox.

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13:33

It took all of our moral psychology

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to create these cooperative groups.

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Yes, you do need to be concerned about harm,

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you do need a psychology of justice.

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But it really helps to organize a group if you can have sub-groups,

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and if those sub-groups have some internal structure,

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and if you have some ideology that tells people

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to suppress their carnality, to pursue higher, nobler ends.

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13:52

And now we get to the crux of the disagreement

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13:54

between liberals and conservatives.

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13:56

Because liberals reject three of these foundations.

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13:59

They say "No, let's celebrate diversity, not common in-group membership."

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14:01

They say, "Let's question authority."

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And they say, "Keep your laws off my body."

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14:06

Liberals have very noble motives for doing this.

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Traditional authority, traditional morality can be quite repressive,

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and restrictive to those at the bottom, to women, to people that don't fit in.

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14:14

So liberals speak for the weak and oppressed.

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14:16

They want change and justice, even at the risk of chaos.

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14:19

This guy's shirt says, "Stop bitching, start a revolution."

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14:21

If you're high in openness to experience, revolution is good,

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it's change, it's fun.

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14:26

Conservatives, on the other hand, speak for institutions and traditions.

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14:30

They want order, even at some cost to those at the bottom.

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The great conservative insight is that order is really hard to achieve.

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It's really precious, and it's really easy to lose.

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14:37

So as Edmund Burke said, "The restraints on men,

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14:40

as well as their liberties, are to be reckoned among their rights."

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14:42

This was after the chaos of the French Revolution.

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So once you see this -- once you see

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14:47

that liberals and conservatives both have something to contribute,

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that they form a balance on change versus stability --

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then I think the way is open to step outside the moral matrix.

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14:58

This is the great insight that all the Asian religions have attained.

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15:00

Think about yin and yang.

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Yin and yang aren't enemies. Yin and yang don't hate each other.

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Yin and yang are both necessary, like night and day,

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for the functioning of the world.

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You find the same thing in Hinduism.

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15:10

There are many high gods in Hinduism.

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Two of them are Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer.

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This image actually is both of those gods sharing the same body.

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15:18

You have the markings of Vishnu on the left,

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15:21

so we could think of Vishnu as the conservative god.

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You have the markings of Shiva on the right,

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Shiva's the liberal god. And they work together.

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You find the same thing in Buddhism.

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15:29

These two stanzas contain, I think, the deepest insights

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15:32

that have ever been attained into moral psychology.

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15:34

From the Zen master Seng-ts'an:

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"If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against.

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15:42

The struggle between for and against is the mind's worst disease."

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15:44

Now unfortunately, it's a disease

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that has been caught by many of the world's leaders.

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15:49

But before you feel superior to George Bush,

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before you throw a stone, ask yourself, do you accept this?

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15:56

Do you accept stepping out of the battle of good and evil?

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15:59

Can you be not for or against anything?

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16:03

So, what's the point? What should you do?

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16:05

Well, if you take the greatest insights

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16:07

from ancient Asian philosophies and religions,

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16:09

and you combine them with the latest research on moral psychology,

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16:11

I think you come to these conclusions:

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16:15

that our righteous minds were designed by evolution

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16:18

to unite us into teams, to divide us against other teams

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16:20

and then to blind us to the truth.

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16:25

So what should you do? Am I telling you to not strive?

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16:28

Am I telling you to embrace Seng-ts'an and stop,

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16:31

stop with this struggle of for and against?

tedtalks 16:31
16:33

No, absolutely not. I'm not saying that.

tedtalks 16:33
16:36

This is an amazing group of people who are doing so much,

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16:40

using so much of their talent, their brilliance, their energy, their money,

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16:42

to make the world a better place, to fight --

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16:45

to fight wrongs, to solve problems.

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16:50

But as we learned from Samantha Power, in her story

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16:55

about Sergio Vieira de Mello, you can't just go charging in,

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16:57

saying, "You're wrong, and I'm right."

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17:01

Because, as we just heard, everybody thinks they are right.

tedtalks 17:01
17:03

A lot of the problems we have to solve

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17:06

are problems that require us to change other people.

tedtalks 17:06
17:09

And if you want to change other people, a much better way to do it

tedtalks 17:09
17:13

is to first understand who we are -- understand our moral psychology,

tedtalks 17:13
17:16

understand that we all think we're right -- and then step out,

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17:20

even if it's just for a moment, step out -- check in with Seng-ts'an.

tedtalks 17:20
17:22

Step out of the moral matrix,

tedtalks 17:22
17:24

just try to see it as a struggle playing out,

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17:26

in which everybody does think they're right,

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17:28

and everybody, at least, has some reasons -- even if you disagree with them --

tedtalks 17:28
17:30

everybody has some reasons for what they're doing.

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17:31

Step out.

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17:35

And if you do that, that's the essential move to cultivate moral humility,

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17:36

to get yourself out of this self-righteousness,

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17:38

which is the normal human condition.

tedtalks 17:38
17:40

Think about the Dalai Lama.

tedtalks 17:40
17:43

Think about the enormous moral authority of the Dalai Lama --

tedtalks 17:43
17:45

and it comes from his moral humility.

tedtalks 17:47
17:49

So I think the point -- the point of my talk,

tedtalks 17:49
17:52

and I think the point of TED --

tedtalks 17:52
17:55

is that this is a group that is passionately engaged

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17:57

in the pursuit of changing the world for the better.

tedtalks 17:57
18:00

People here are passionately engaged

tedtalks 18:00
18:02

in trying to make the world a better place.

tedtalks 18:02
18:05

But there is also a passionate commitment to the truth.

tedtalks 18:05
18:09

And so I think that the answer is to use that passionate commitment

tedtalks 18:09
18:13

to the truth to try to turn it into a better future for us all.

tedtalks 18:13
18:14

Thank you.

tedtalks 18:14
18:17

(Applause)