Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, is the winner of the 2013 Zócalo Book Prize. He spent 16 years at the University of Virginia before joining the faculty of New York University’s Stern School of Business in 2011. Before talking about whether Americans can learn to reconcile politics and reason, he lauded Glen Beck, evaluated the open-mindedness of New Yorkers, and confessed to crimes he gets away with in the Zócalo green room.
If you had a theme song, what would it be?
I guess it would be “Sympathy for the Devil.”
What author, blogger, or intellectual’s work do you read who would appall your liberal friends?
I really enjoy listening to Glen Beck, in part because he is really funny. And he is such a coherent spokesman for a particular worldview.
What’s the last law you broke?
The last interesting law? Well, speeding every day of course. Also, I live in New York, so walking, you break laws every block.
How did you get into trouble as a child?
I didn’t really—I mostly got away with it.
What’d you get away with?
Oh, drinking, cigarettes, drugs, petty theft. The only time I got caught by the police I hadn’t actually done anything.
Where do you come up with your best ideas?
By feeding my brain the right books and articles over several days, and then waiting for invisible processes to shake them into some order.
Have you ever been forced to work or collaborate with or live in close proximity to someone you just couldn’t stand?
Yes, the two years that I worked in the government and got a taste of what it’s like to live and work in an office, there were some individuals that made life miserable for the rest of us.
Who’s your favorite artist?
I would say Monet, but my wife would laugh at me for my childish tastes. At the opposite extreme, I would say I was actually very moved by Andres Serrano, the artist who did “Piss Christ,” because his work was so disgusting when you think about it and so beautiful when you look at it, and I like that contrast.
How would you describe yourself in five words or less?
I like to figure things out. Oops, that’s six ...
Who’s more open-minded on average: New Yorkers or residents of Charlottesville?
I once used the phrase, “New York parochialism,” and a New Yorker said, “But that’s an oxymoron, that’s impossible.” I rest my case.