Book Review:

The Moral Stress of the Nations

The Moral Stress of Nations presents both the underlying drivers of damaging political partisanship and presents down to earth and practical solutions to lower stress. The book aims at seeking answers to some of humankind’s most pressing problems as it talks about the world’s most iconic democracies as well as the poorest authoritarian states.

By Anshuman Goria

Nothing is denying the fact that we live in a polarized environment. We are all aware of the fact that in this age of information, we are fed with only the facts that we want to hear!!

Leftists’ ideology versus Right-wing values are the reality of the political scenario today. However, this is taking a toll on our understanding of each other, our outlook towards society, our fellow citizens and our emotional well-being. This strain in relationships, we can all agree, causes stress in our day-to-day life. The Book addresses this very aspect!

It classifies the society into 2 Moral Tribes – one leaning more toward moral values dear to Liberal and the other leaning more towards those moral values important to Conservative. It gives a scientific analysis of tests such as the MBTI (Myers and Briggs Type Indicator) to state that Liberals tend to make decisions based on feelings while   Conservatives are more likely to take on board the facts of a situation when making a decision.

Further, the latest research in behavioural genetics confirms the existence of these two tribes who think differently and hold different moral values to be important to them. At no point does the Author state that one group is better than the other.

There are broadly 7 moral values which, define the difference between the two tribes:
·      Liberals value Care and Fairness as a priority
·      Conservatives value  Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity
·      2 additional values of Liberty (against Cheaters and Bullies) and Industriousness are valued by both tribes.

Gavin P. Fraser

About the Author:
Gavin is a Chemical Engineer, an MBA, Bachelor of Musicology and a Performance Licentiate in Voice. As an Orchestral conductor, his recent recordings of Mozart’s Symphonies 40 and 41 recently topped the charts on the world’s most popular music streaming sites. Gavin was born and grew up in South Africa, spent most of his life in the United Kingdom while working globally. He believes if people are kind, well-intentioned and thoughtful then their political leanings are less likely to interfere with their relationships. He has experienced friendship’s crumble under the strain of strong political feelings. The Moral Stress of Nations is the result of this mission of 10 years.

To give an example in legal terms, Liberals believe that punishment should consider the background and the circumstance of the crime and the Conservatives believe that the law should be applied as written and be blind to the background and the circumstance of the crime. For Liberals the court should apply social justice, equal justice is insufficient! Conservatives believe that crime is the result of criminals malfunctioning conscience and induction into a criminal hierarchy, while Liberals believe the root causes are poverty and racism.

There are varied examples of the fact that people might remain in their Moral Tribe for life but may vote for different political parties depending on the issues of the day. Political Parties shift their manifesto to the left or to the right as well, and an election may focus on a particular issue, which may or may not be relevant to one tribe or the other. Both of these will affect voter turnout. There are references to President Bush and President Clinton in it.

What really stood out for me was the fact that this ‘Moral Stress’ has specific reasoning to it. The Author has given clarity that Liberals and Conservatives have existed since day one and anytime the society moved forward or the civilization made gains was when both the ends of the spectrum came together. The Book has some wonderful anecdotes of the Sumerian and Egyptian Civilizations, the Roman Empire and Henry VIII.

The fact that without the North Pole and the South Pole, a Magnet has no power is a compelling argument. Both liberal–Nurturers and Conservative-Builders are needed for human societies to flourish. When either one of the tribes believes it has all the answers and does not need the other tribe the warning lights should start flashing.

There are references to the fact that we are all emotional creatures and believe that we are right! The way we empathize is different as well. A Conservative empathizes more with Family and Country, whereas the Liberal extends it to friends, socially disadvantaged and citizens of the world.

On religion, the views are that of Sanctity and Purity for Conservatives. Liberals tend to view the agenda of the state taking precedence over Religion and value Sanctity far less than Conservatives do.
The fact that Conservatives support President Trump is because they focus on what a person does and not on what he is, which is completely opposite for Liberals!!

This Moral stress is the result of the government policies grinding against the moral values of the tribe, not in power. Moral stress from partisan politics ripples through a society down to the personal level. It happens when friendships are broken due to a social media post or when family members refuse to talk to each other during seasonal gatherings because of their political convictions. This Moral stress causes fear – and fear is known to lead to anger and depression. However, if people are born into a moral tribe it does not seem a good reason to demonize them!

There two primary axes of leadership competence: a ‘task focus’ (doing things/Builder) and a ‘relationship focus’ (working with people/Nurturer). It is difficult to determine, which one is most important. This led to the creation of the Blake Mouton Grid in 1964. According to their model, the best leaders combined both aspects. The contribution of organizational psychologist Fred Fiedler (1922–2017) was that successful leaders mix their task- or people-orientated leadership style in different proportions depending on the situation they are facing.

“This debate about the ‘task vs. people’ focus of leaders reflects the need for a leader to consider the values of both the Builder and Nurturer moral archetypes in order for a group or team to be successful. The leader needs to represent this duality, even though they will naturally belong to one of the two tribes.”

The Book takes us through surveys and studies such as Happiness Index, Human Development Index, Where-to-be-Born, Social Progress Index, OECD Better life index and Bloomberg Stress factor- states that all of these studies focus mainly on the moral values of Care and Fairness. The missing values are loyalty, Respect for authority and Sanctity, all-important to Conservatives.

There are numbers thrown in on Poverty  (this is a quote from the book) “The target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline. More than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990. In 1990, nearly half of the population in the developing regions lived on less than $1.25 per day. This rate dropped to 14 per cent in 2015. Much of this rise comes from China embracing economic liberty. Individual and civil liberty remain contentious issues within and outside of China.

Results for India are controversial: the general conclusion is that poverty has declined in urban areas and risen in rural areas. Despite this progress in tackling income poverty, at the global level more than 800 million people are still living in multidimensional poverty which, according to the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, ‘Encompasses the various deprivations experienced by poor people in their daily lives—such as poor health, lack of education, inadequate living standards, disempowerment, poor quality of work, the threat of violence, and living in areas that are environmentally hazardous, among others.”

The Book is a good read and explains the moral stress caused by political systems on both the authoritarian right and the authoritarian left and uses the core moral values to clear the confusion that exists in understanding these. It identifies how moral stress is created in authoritarian states and free democracies. It examines the performance data of 148 countries over 51 different variables to examine the relationship between performance on the core moral values and moral stress. It provides solutions to lowering personal moral stress. Solutions to lower moral stress in free democracies with a roadmap to achieve greater safety, prosperity, social wellbeing and low moral stress for poor authoritarian countries. Gavin concludes with a remarkable anecdote on how Liberals and Conservatives can get together to solve a problem of importance to each other.

I agree with him on the fact that considering the moral values that are important to both tribes is not an act of accommodation but a means of gaining more profound insights and generating vastly better solutions to the most difficult and pressing problems facing society today and a solid foundation from which to tackle the challenges of tomorrow. “We appear to be moving further away from each other, rather than closer together—leading to increased moral stress and less ability to tackle complex societal challenges.”

I see this book as an effort to create an understanding of moral stress and how to lower it between family members, friends, communities and within countries. The author believes that if we carry with us the lessons in these pages that if we apply them a little more and a little better every day—then we will start to “become more morally generous with one another, no matter what our tribe.

The book is available on Kindle, 391 pages – divided into 11 Chapters.

4 thoughts on “Book Review:

  1. The liberal vs conservative dichotomy and their need for each other is very well captured in this review. What really brings it all together is the observation that the best leaders that either tribe has to offer are the ones who find ways to leverage the other tribe’s strengths. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I definitely learned something new.

  2. What a brilliant review.. was so engaging and informative. Read it multiple times and was a revelation each time. And it has given me a certain perspective tht both the sides need to understand the importance and agree to disagree with views and moral value systems. Well done Anshuman Goria with a fantastic review. 👏 👍 Brilliant 👏

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