[ExI] Fwd: [EP_group] Is 'Doing Unto Others' Written Into Our Genes?

hkhenson hkhenson at rogers.com
Tue Sep 18 18:45:54 UTC 2007

Interesting. HKH

>Is 'Doing Unto Others' Written Into Our Genes?
>NYTimes from Science Times section
>Published: September 18, 2007
>Where do moral rules come from? From reason, some philosophers say. 
> From God, say believers. Seldom considered is a source now being 
>advocated by some biologists, that of evolution.
>At first glance, natural selection and the survival of the fittest 
>may seem to reward only the most selfish values. But for animals 
>that live in groups, selfishness must be strictly curbed or there 
>will be no advantage to social living. Could the behaviors evolved 
>by social animals to make societies work be the foundation from 
>which human morality evolved?
>In a series of recent articles and a book, ?The Happiness 
>Hypothesis,? Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist at the University 
>of Virginia, has been constructing a broad evolutionary view of 
>morality that traces its connections both to religion and to politics.
>Dr. Haidt (pronounced height) began his research career by probing 
>the emotion of disgust. Testing people?s reactions to situations 
>like that of a hungry family that cooked and ate its pet dog after 
>it had become roadkill, he explored the phenomenon of moral 
>dumbfounding ? when people feel strongly that something is wrong but 
>cannot explain why.
>Dumbfounding led him to view morality as driven by two separate 
>mental systems, one ancient and one modern, though the mind is 
>scarcely aware of the difference. The ancient system, which he calls 
>moral intuition, is based on the emotion-laden moral behaviors that 
>evolved before the development of language. The modern system ? he 
>calls it moral judgment ? came after language, when people became 
>able to articulate why something was right or wrong.
>The emotional responses of moral intuition occur instantaneously ? 
>they are primitive gut reactions that evolved to generate 
>split-second decisions and enhance survival in a dangerous world. 
>Moral judgment, on the other hand, comes later, as the conscious 
>mind develops a plausible rationalization for the decision already 
>arrived at through moral intuition.
>Moral dumbfounding, in Dr. Haidt?s view, occurs when moral judgment 
>fails to come up with a convincing explanation for what moral 
>intuition has decided.
>So why has evolution equipped the brain with two moral systems when 
>just one might seem plenty?
>?We have a complex animal mind that only recently evolved language 
>and language-based reasoning,? Dr. Haidt said. ?No way was control 
>of the organism going to be handed over to this novel faculty.?
>He likens the mind?s subterranean moral machinery to an elephant, 
>and conscious moral reasoning to a small rider on the elephant?s 
>back. Psychologists and philosophers have long taken a far too 
>narrow view of morality, he believes, because they have focused on 
>the rider and largely ignored the elephant.
>Dr. Haidt developed a better sense of the elephant after visiting 
>India at the suggestion of an anthropologist, Richard Shweder. In 
>Bhubaneswar, in the Indian state of Orissa, Dr. Haidt saw that 
>people recognized a much wider moral domain than the issues of harm 
>and justice that are central to Western morality. Indians were 
>concerned with integrating the community through rituals and 
>committed to concepts of religious purity as a way to restrain behavior.
>On his return from India, Dr. Haidt combed the literature of 
>anthropology and psychology for ideas about morality throughout the 
>world. He identified five components of morality that were common to 
>most cultures. Some concerned the protection of individuals, others 
>the ties that bind a group together.
>Of the moral systems that protect individuals, one is concerned with 
>preventing harm to the person and the other with reciprocity and 
>fairness. Less familiar are the three systems that promote behaviors 
>developed for strengthening the group. These are loyalty to the 
>in-group, respect for authority and hierarchy, and a sense of purity 
>or sanctity.
>The five moral systems, in Dr. Haidt?s view, are innate 
>psychological mechanisms that predispose children to absorb certain 
>virtues. Because these virtues are learned, morality may vary widely 
>from culture to culture, while maintaining its central role of 
>restraining selfishness. In Western societies, the focus is on 
>protecting individuals by insisting that everyone be treated fairly. 
>Creativity is high, but society is less orderly. In many other 
>societies, selfishness is suppressed ?through practices, rituals and 
>stories that help a person play a cooperative role in a larger 
>social entity,? Dr. Haidt said.
>He is aware that many people ? including ?the politically 
>homogeneous discipline of psychology? ? equate morality with 
>justice, rights and the welfare of the individual, and dismiss 
>everything else as mere social convention. But many societies around 
>the world do in fact behave as if loyalty, respect for authority and 
>sanctity are moral concepts, Dr. Haidt notes, and this justifies 
>taking a wider view of the moral domain.
>The idea that morality and sacredness are intertwined, he said, may 
>now be out of fashion but has a venerable pedigree, tracing back to 
>Emile Durkheim, a founder of sociology.
>Dr. Haidt believes that religion has played an important role in 
>human evolution by strengthening and extending the cohesion provided 
>by the moral systems. ?If we didn?t have religious minds we would 
>not have stepped through the transition to groupishness,? he said. 
>?We?d still be just small bands roving around.?
>Religious behavior may be the result of natural selection, in his 
>view, shaped at a time when early human groups were competing with 
>one another. ?Those who found ways to bind themselves together were 
>more successful,? he said.
>Dr. Haidt came to recognize the importance of religion by a 
>roundabout route. ?I first found divinity in disgust,? he writes in 
>his book ?The Happiness Hypothesis.?
>The emotion of disgust probably evolved when people became meat 
>eaters and had to learn which foods might be contaminated with 
>bacteria, a problem not presented by plant foods. Disgust was then 
>extended to many other categories, he argues, to people who were 
>unclean, to unacceptable sexual practices and to a wide class of 
>bodily functions and behaviors that were seen as separating humans 
>from animals.
>?Imagine visiting a town,? Dr. Haidt writes, ?where people wear no 
>clothes, never bathe, have sex ?doggie style? in public, and eat raw 
>meat by biting off pieces directly from the carcass.?
>He sees the disgust evoked by such a scene as allied to notions of 
>physical and religious purity. Purity is, in his view, a moral 
>system that promotes the goals of controlling selfish desires and 
>acting in a religiously approved way.
>Notions of disgust and purity are widespread outside Western 
>cultures. ?Educated liberals are the only group to say, ?I find that 
>disgusting but that doesn?t make it wrong,? ? Dr. Haidt said.
>Working with a graduate student, Jesse Graham, Dr. Haidt has 
>detected a striking political dimension to morality. He and Mr. 
>Graham asked people to identify their position on a 
>liberal-conservative spectrum and then complete a questionnaire that 
>assessed the importance attached to each of the five moral systems. 
>(The test, called the moral foundations questionnaire, can be taken 
>online, at www.YourMorals.org.)
>They found that people who identified themselves as liberals 
>attached great weight to the two moral systems protective of 
>individuals ? those of not harming others and of doing as you would 
>be done by. But liberals assigned much less importance to the three 
>moral systems that protect the group, those of loyalty, respect for 
>authority and purity.
>Conservatives placed value on all five moral systems but they 
>assigned less weight than liberals to the moralities protective of 
>Dr. Haidt believes that many political disagreements between 
>liberals and conservatives may reflect the different emphasis each 
>places on the five moral categories.
>Take attitudes to contemporary art and music. Conservatives fear 
>that subversive art will undermine authority, violate the in-group?s 
>traditions and offend canons of purity and sanctity. Liberals, on 
>the other hand, see contemporary art as protecting equality by 
>assailing the establishment, especially if the art is by oppressed groups.
>Extreme liberals, Dr. Haidt argues, attach almost no importance to 
>the moral systems that protect the group. Because conservatives do 
>give some weight to individual protections, they often have a better 
>understanding of liberal views than liberals do of conservative 
>attitudes, in his view.
>Dr. Haidt, who describes himself as a moderate liberal, says that 
>societies need people with both types of personality. ?A liberal 
>morality will encourage much greater creativity but will weaken 
>social structure and deplete social capital,? he said. ?I am really 
>glad we have New York and San Francisco ? most of our creativity 
>comes out of cities like these. But a nation that was just New York 
>and San Francisco could not survive very long. Conservatives give 
>more to charity and tend to be more supportive of essential 
>institutions like the military and law enforcement.?
>Other psychologists have mixed views about Dr. Haidt?s ideas.
>Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard, said, ?I?m a big 
>fan of Haidt?s work.? He added that the idea of including purity in 
>the moral domain could make psychological sense even if purity had 
>no place in moral reasoning.
>But Frans B. M. de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University, said 
>he disagreed with Dr. Haidt?s view that the task of morality is to 
>suppress selfishness. Many animals show empathy and altruistic 
>tendencies but do not have moral systems.
>?For me, the moral system is one that resolves the tension between 
>individual and group interests in a way that seems best for the most 
>members of the group, hence promotes a give and take,? Dr. de Waal said.
>He said that he also disagreed with Dr. Haidt?s alignment of 
>liberals with individual rights and conservatives with social cohesiveness.
>?It is obvious that liberals emphasize the common good ? safety laws 
>for coal mines, health care for all, support for the poor ? that are 
>not nearly as well recognized by conservatives,? Dr. de Waal said.
>That alignment also bothers John T. Jost, a political psychologist 
>at New York University. Dr. Jost said he admired Dr. Haidt as a 
>?very interesting and creative social psychologist? and found his 
>work useful in drawing attention to the strong moral element in 
>political beliefs.
>But the fact that liberals and conservatives agree on the first two 
>of Dr. Haidt?s principles ? do no harm and do unto others as you 
>would have them do unto you ? means that those are good candidates 
>to be moral virtues. The fact that liberals and conservatives 
>disagree on the other three principles ?suggests to me that they are 
>not general moral virtues but specific ideological commitments or 
>values,? Dr. Jost said.
>In defense of his views, Dr. Haidt said that moral claims could be 
>valid even if not universally acknowledged.
>?It is at least possible,? he said, ?that conservatives and 
>traditional societies have some moral or sociological insights that 
>secular liberals do not understand.?
>[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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