[O]ur initial moral sense appears to be biased toward our own kind. There’s plenty of research showing that babies have within-group preferences: 3-month-olds prefer the faces of the race that is most familiar to them to those of other races; 11-month-olds prefer individuals who share their own taste in food and expect these individuals to be nicer than those with different tastes; 12-month-olds prefer to learn from someone who speaks their own language over someone who speaks a foreign language. And studies with young children have found that once they are segregated into different groups — even under the most arbitrary of schemes, like wearing different colored T-shirts — they eagerly favor their own groups in their attitudes and their actions.
The aspect of morality that we truly marvel at — its generality and universality — is the product of culture, not of biology. There is no need to posit divine intervention. A fully developed morality is the product of cultural development, of the accumulation of rational insight and hard-earned innovations. The morality we start off with is primitive, not merely in the obvious sense that it’s incomplete, but in the deeper sense that when individuals and societies aspire toward an enlightened morality — one in which all beings capable of reason and suffering are on an equal footing, where all people are equal — they are fighting with what children have from the get-go.
This presents a few problems, however, that the author doesn’t seem to dwell on nearly enough.
A friend alerted me to a post over at Ephphatha Poetry on the politics of the Tea Party — and what might be the response if the protesters were black. It’s a nice thought experiment, for sure, but even more valuable than that, I thought, was the documentation of several recent actions and statements by Tea Partiers and their supporters that I had missed.
This video went around the interwebs a while back:
It makes a valuable point, so watch it.
But I was thinking about another way, not always so obviously racially coded, that doesn’t get as much media play and yet still gives a good example of the problems associated with idealized notions of what humans are and the way they look and act and communicate.
So I went to see The Mikado, by Gilbert and Sullivan, tonight. I was of mixed feelings about the whole affair. It was amusing enough and the singing was alright (although certain roles left something to be desired — I had the distinct feeling one of the actors was trying to do his best interpretation of Scooby-Doo as an opera singer). Others were quite good, especially the unscrupulous character whose “shtick” was being an official who held a number of positions — attorney general, prime solicitor, chief justice, home secretary, chancellor of the exchequer, and so forth — and who often used these positions to a…synergy…not often found in government.
At the same time, the choreography left much to be desired, and the articulation of the chorus made much of the singing a mash of undistinguished words. I laughed not a few times when a particularly inept chorus member bumped into someone or handled a set piece badly in between scenes. But hey, it was a university production at a university not known for its opera programs or music department. I’m not going to be too picky.
But there was something I didn’t like…below the jump.
Last weekend, a fourth-year student in the College at the University of Chicago was being loud in the A-level of the Regenstein University Library.
A little bit about the A-level: it’s loud. Almost always. I have seen drunk people hollering there. I have been here less than a year, and already I have seen people put up tents in the A-level. That’s right. TENTS. WITH POLES. PLUS FABRIC. The A-level is basically an ongoing party, plus books.
So this library attendant tells some students to quiet down or she’ll call the cops. Doesn’t tell them she’s a library attendant, oh no. If was talking to friends in the A-level of the Regenstein and some random person told me to be quiet or she was calling the cops, I would introduce her to a great tradition in my favorite webcomic, the “fuck-you friday.” And so would most people.