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Thu Jan 28, 2016, 05:42 AM


Why understanding gut reactions is key to building powerful movements

when you are living with IBS, this headline is a "groaner" of innuendo!


Many protesters are driven by their emotions, including anger at injustice and sympathy for victims of oppression. Acts of resistance, such as by Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama in December 1955, can trigger an outpouring of support. Yet, at other times, people are acquiescent to injustice. What happened to their emotional responses?

Insight into the role of emotions in nonviolent action can be obtained from studies by psychologist Jonathan Haidt and colleagues into “moral foundations.” These are six basic factors that shape human judgments about good and bad: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. These have great relevance to activists.

Here I will first describe Haidt’s perspective on the operation of the human mind. Then I will examine each of the six moral foundations for relevance to nonviolent action.

Our two minds

Most people think they have a single mind, the one we recognize every day when we think. However, Haidt, like other psychologists, subscribes to the view that humans have two minds. One, the intuitive mind, usually operates without conscious awareness, and is automatic and high-capacity. For example, if you notice a dark moving spot in your visual field, you don’t have time to consciously calculate its speed and direction; instead, you instinctively duck to avoid the rock. The second, higher-order human mind, the rational mind, is slow, careful and requires more effort.

In practice, people often make a decision about right and wrong based on their gut reactions, using the intuitive mind, and then use their rational mind to produce a rationalization for the decision. Haidt developed some ingenious scenarios that would cause perplexity, because people had an intuitive response but no rational justification for it.


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