Posted by midiguru on October 11, 2010
If you ever wonder why we are the way we are, I recommend reading Robert Wright’s fascinating book The Moral Animal. Wright lucidly explains the insights of the emerging science of evolutionary psychology.
It’s more than a little disheartening to see one’s grand pretensions laid bare, but it’s also freeing. The foundations of human morality seem very clearly to lie in the adaptive trait of reciprocal altruism — you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Like our cousins the chimpanzees, we form alliances by doing one another small favors.
There’s more to the book than that. Wright discusses both status hierarchies and cheating in considerable detail, along with the values related to mate selection.
After re-reading The Moral Animal, I’m afraid I may need to rethink my fondness for the ideals of socialism. As I define it, socialism springs from the insight that we’re all in this together. It’s a small planet, and if we can’t figure out how to live with one another, we’re doomed. But while this insight is inarguable, it also Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in evolution, politics, society & culture | Tagged: evolution, psychology | 3 Comments »
Posted by midiguru on October 11, 2010
According to a story on NPR, this year eleven mayors of towns in Mexico have been murdered by drug gangs. The gangs seem to have felt, and probably with some justification, that the municipal governments were interfering, or likely to interfere, with their personal freedom — in this case, the freedom to earn large amounts of money transporting and selling drugs.
The drug gangs took direct, effective measures to protect their individual liberty from the burden of intrusive government regulation.
I trust my conservative friends will applaud them.
I myself take a slightly different view. In my view, one of the main reasons why we need a strong government is to protect us from the barbarians. When the government is unable to do this, the quality of our lives deteriorates.
Barbarians are far more varied in their pillaging now than in former days, but their activities have the same motivation (rampant greed) and the same result (widespread suffering). By any reasonable definition, BP looted and pillaged the entire Gulf of Mexico this summer. Granted, fewer people died in the Gulf oil spill than in the Viking assault on the British Isles a thousand years ago – but the damage to wildlife was more severe, and the economic damage was far-reaching. BP are barbarians. The movers and shakers on Wall Street are barbarians. The health insurance industry are barbarians. Monsanto are barbarians. And our government is powerless to protect us against them — as powerless as the Mexican government is to protect their citizens from the drug gangs.
Posted in politics, society & culture | Tagged: conservatism | 5 Comments »
Posted by midiguru on October 7, 2010
A key shortcoming of conservatism is the tendency of conservatives to apply broad-brush slogans to social problems rather than think through the messy business of public policy. Today on Facebook, a friend of a friend trotted out one of those slogans — “Less government is better.”
I asked him, “If your home is broken into and your valuables stolen, are you planning to track down the criminals yourself? Or will you be calling the police?”
He ducked the question. He responded with another slogan, something about how he doesn’t want the government making decisions for him. What he really wants, though he failed to acknowledge the fact, is for the government Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in politics, society & culture | 18 Comments »
Posted by midiguru on October 3, 2010
Evolution has equipped the human species with a fairly strong herd instinct. We all want to be part of a close-knit group. The craving may be stronger in some people and weaker in others, stronger at certain points in life and weaker at others, but it’s seldom entirely absent.
It’s not hard to see why. In the environment in which our ancestors lived, being part of a group meant both more physical safety and more access to potential mates. Those who went their own way faced greater dangers, and had less chance of passing their genes to the next generation. So genes that promote social behavior would inevitably have flourished.
From what I’ve seen, fitting in with a group is far more important for most people in the modern world than thinking for themselves. For a great many people, this is a sensible strategy: They’re Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in evolution, politics, random musings, religion, society & culture | Tagged: evolution, religion | 3 Comments »