July 12, 2014

Moral Tribes - by Joshua Greene

Moral Tribes - by Joshua Greene

[A wonderful book on moral ethics]

“There is nobody in this country that got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there - good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You did not have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory.... Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea - God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.” - Elizabeth Warren, Senator,

In 1968, a worldly ecologist, Garrett Hardin published a class paper entitled “the tragedy of the commons”. in Hardin’s parable, a single group of herders shares a common pasture. The common is large enough to support many animals, but not infinitely many. From time to time, each herder must decide whether to add another animal to her flock. What’s a rational herder do? By adding an animal to her herd, she receives a substantial benefit when she sells the animal at market. However, the cost of supporting that animal is shared by all who use the commons. Thus herder gains a lot, but pays only a little, by adding an additional animal to indefinitely, so long as the commons remains available. Of course, every other herder has the same set of incentives. If each here acts according to her self-interest, the commons will be completely eroded and there will be nothing left for anyone”

Any one of herders is better off adding more animals to her herd, but this leads to collective ruin, which is in one’s best interest. The problem of cooperation, then, is the problem of getting collective interest to triumph over individual interest, when possible; the problem of cooperation is the central problem of social existence. Tension between Me and Us and thus, nearly all cooperative enterprises are in danger of eroding.

Morality is a set of psychological adaptation that allow otherwise selfish individuals to reap benefits of cooperation.

Evolution is an inherently competitive process. The faster lion catches more prey than other lions, produces offspring than other lions and thus raises the proportion of fast lions in the next generation. This couldn’t happen if there were no competition for resources. If lion food existed in unlimited supply, the faster lions would have no advantage over the slower ones, and the next generation of lions would be, on average, no faster than the last generation. No competition, no evolution by natural selection.

Two moral tragedies human well-being. The original tragedy is the ‘tragedy of commons’.  This is a tragedy of selfishness; a failure of individuals to put Us ahead of Me. Morality is nature’s solution to this problem. The new tragedy, the modern tragedy, is the tragedy of commonsense. Morality, the problem of life on the new pastures. Morality evolved to avert the tragedy of the commons, but it did not evolve to avert the tragedy of commonsense morality. Complex moral problems are about US versus Them. It’s our interests versus theirs, or our values versus theirs or both. This is the modern moral tragedy - The tragedy of commonsense Morality - and the source of strife on the pastures.

Here our disparate feelings and beliefs make it hard to get along. First, we are tribalistic, unapologetically valuing Us over Them. Second, different tribes cooperate on different terms. Some are more collectivist, some more individualists. Some respond aggressively to threats. Third, tribes differ in their ‘proper nouns’ - in the leaders, texts, institutions and practices that they invest with moral authority. Finally all of these differences lead to biased perception of what's true and what's fair.

In a famous episode related in the Talmud, Rabbi Hillel was approached by a skeptical man who vowed to convert to Judaism, on one condition. The great rabbi had to teach him the entire Torah in the time that he could stand on one foot. Rabbi Hillel replied, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and study it”

According to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, humans spend about 65% of their time talking about the good and bad deeds of other humans- that is gossiping. He argues that we devote an enormous amount of time to gossip because in human gossip is a critical mechanism for social control - that is for enforcing cooperation.. Indeed, the prospect of having ‘everyone’ know what you have done gives one a very strong incentive not to do it in first place.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors did routinely encounter male and females and males and females differ in biologically important ways. This suggests that gender-based categorization, as compared with race-based categorization, should be harder to change and that’s exactly what Robert Kurzban and his colleagues found.

Happiness Is from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown:

“Happiness is two kinds of ice cream
Knowing a secret
Climbing a tree

From sound of music film:

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,
brown paper packages tied up with strings,
these are a few of my favorite things.

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels,
door bells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles.
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings.
these are a few of my favorite things.

Girls in a white dresses with a blue satin sashes,
snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes,
silver white winters that melt into springs,
these are a few of my favorite things.

When the dog bites, when the bee stings,
when I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
and then I don't feel so bad”

“Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns in to universal, rather than religion-specific, values... it requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason.

Now I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, to take one example, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”

― Barack Obama

Movement and eyes have a powerful effect on us, but that can’t explain everything. The animal that most of us eat without a second thought move and have eyes. But fetuses, unlike the animals we eat, at some point start to look human. They have little human hands, little human feet and little human faces, and they move in very human ways. It also explains why the 1984 pro-life film The Silent Scream was such a stunning success.

There are three major schools of thoughts in Western moral philosophy: utilitarianism/consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics. These three schools of thoughts are essentially three different ways for a manual made to make sense of the automatic settings with which it is housed.

We can argue about rights and justice forever, but we are bound together by two more basic things. First, we are bound together by the ups and downs of the human experience. We all want happy and none of us wants to suffer. Second, we all understand the Golden Rule and the ideal of impartiality behind it. Put these ideas together and we have a common currency, a system for making principled compromises. There are many source of knowledge, but the most widely trusted by far, is science and for good reason. Since is not infallible, and people readily reject scientific knowledge when it contradicts their tribal beliefs. Nevertheless, nearly everyone appeals to scientific evidence when it suits them. In our tribal quarters and in our hearts, we may believe whatever we like. But on the new pastures, truth should be determined using the common currency of observables evidence.

Six rules for modern herders:

1. In the face of moral controversy, consult but do not trust, your instincts.
2. Rights are not for making arguments; they are for ending arguments
3. Focus on the facts and make others do the same
4. Beware of biased fairness
5. Use common currency
6. Give

Books referred in this book: Jonathan Haidt’s ‘The righteous mind’.

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