October 18, 2010

Unselfishness is at the core of solving world problems

The big evolutionary idea that I think is going to transform our thinking in the social sciences in the next 10 years is group selection. What this means is that we actually have all kinds of mental equipment for suppressing self-interest, for working for the common good, but only when we are basically at war with another team. We can be unselfish, we can be cooperative, but that is activated by intergroup conflict.

If we are attacked by space aliens, I think we humans will unite pretty well. But until then, it’s just very, very difficult for us to solve any sort of dilemma that requires people to sacrifice for the greater good—unless it’s the greater good of their team versus another’s.

So it’s really a shame that global warming has become so politicized. We are capable of solving some things, like taking lead out of gasoline. There are some regulatory changes that have been made that weren’t so politicized. But once it becomes politicized, it’s very difficult to achieve global cooperation.
Quoting Jonathan Haidt, from a recent discussion with Michael Bergeisen, posted at the Greater Good website.  Haidt is best known for his 2006 book The Happiness Hypothesis.   "His [forthcoming] book focuses on the psychological foundations of our moral and political views, exploring how recent discoveries in moral psychology might help us get past the culture wars and create more civil forms of politics."


Nagarjuna said...

Thanks for calling the Haidt interview to my attention. I downloaded the podcast this morning and listened to it during my walk this afternoon.

So many interesting points surfaced during the interview, but I was especially intrigued by the differences Haidt's group has noticed between liberals and conservatives, and it was surprising to hear him say that libertarians and liberals show very similar values except that liberals evidence much more compassion than do libertarians.

Finally, I was also surprised to hear Haidt say that, despite other studies suggesting that liberals are better able to take on different perspectives than are conservatives, his studies show that conservatives seem to be much better at understanding the liberal mindset, at least in a purely intellectual way, than liberals are at understanding the conservative mindset. He attributed this to the fact that conservative morality seems predominately shaped by five value clusters as opposed to the liberal emphasis on only two of them.

Tom Armstrong said...

Thanks, N. And thanks to you for turning me on to Haidt in the first place.

Haidt's Morals Foundation Questionaire highlights the five values clusters you mention. As it happens, I posted about this a year-and-a-half ago in a post titled "My Morals."

Taking the Questionaire is fun and seeing how you're assessed is interesting.

At face, I'm disappointed (if it's surprizingly true) that conservatives better understand liberals than vis versa, but (if it's true) maybe conservative are enabled to 'come around' to liberals' way of seeing things, which has seems unpromising in recent decades.

ALSO, of some interest, a recent paper that Haidt co-authored, "Understanding Libertarian Morality."