Evolution, Morality, Ethics and the Naturalistic Fallacy
#13
(16-Sep-2011, 11:09 AM)srikgn Wrote: :- This should be the case when we think naturally. But most express mercy/concern seeing troubles they witness for e.g. See on TV the troubled african nations and their plight stuck with famine and few also donate money. But we fail to connect it to our own villages which are still lacking fundamental needs.[Roti kapda and makan]. This village could be the one that we often visited in our child hood.

'Long-distance solidarity' appearing to trump 'charity beginning at home' is indeed sometimes observed, and this seeming quirk may have a fairly simple explanation. There's a cute t-shirt quote I once heard, "Everybody wants to save whales in the Pacific. Nobody wants to help mom do the dishes!" Why distant issues sometimes engage us (or we choose to engage more distant issues over local ones) could be because:

(i) Out of sight is out of mind. Out of the monitor is not monitored. The suffering or evil that needs redressal must be 'in front of our eyes' to trigger our evolutionary empathic impulses, simply because these behaviors evolved to respond to situations in the immediate sensory environment. Today, in an urban setting, it turns out that what is 'in front of our eyes', thanks to television or the internet, is actually geographically distant and what maybe geographically close maybe outside of our visual purview thanks to the way our societies are organized. Think of Mumbai skyscrapers that are designed so that none of their windows open to the slums alongside, thus conveniently shutting them from view.

(ii) Custom could inure us to local suffering. Our evolutionary co-operative impulses perhaps are best triggered when there is a great sense of urgency and emergency, in other words, when there is 'shock value' in the way the problem is presented to us. There is no shock value in the so-called 'routine suffering' one sees daily in a Third World setting and after a while it scarcely registers. On the other hand, a tautly edited frontline report from a distant shore with evocative images may shock us into action and loosen our purse-strings.

(iii) Not having to be there means less pain, and less pains, for us. Fighting to end local suffering can involve literally getting ones hands dirty or worse, participation in the worst of the life experiences of those we wish to help and in some cases, real threats and dangers as well. Helping mitigate suffering in distant shores offers us a means to assuage our consciences with less of a threat of pain and fewer pains to take. It is not surprising therefore, that the latter seems an easier path to take.

(iv) Distant beneficiaries tend to be viewed less as a competing out-group and viewed less judgmentally, hence more charitably. Familiarity, as noted above, tends to inure one to witnessed suffering. Familiarity also breeds contempt. The poor within our borders maybe not receive the full share of empathy of their compatriots because many compatriots think the problems of the poor are of their own making and hence 'deserved' in some way, or because the seemingly well-to-do sections themselves suffer from a 'scarcity complex' and view the poor as a competing out-group eyeing a limited pool of resources. The out-group barrier towards helping the poor is especially exacerbated in societies where the poverty line often coincides with other social barriers such as caste.
When distant suffering is reported, say due to war or natural calamities, it is easier to have the feeling that the suffering was 'undeserved', and that the suffering ones are less likely to elicit visceral out-group hostility in us since they are likely to compete with us before or after, and hence maybe seen by us as readier recipients of our charity.

Recognizing the above traits and staying aware can be a useful aid in overcoming habits that prevent us from being as charitable and generous as we can, and as seized by a sense of urgency that we should be, to respond to suffering within our own country.

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#14
Frans BM de Waal a primatologist at Emory University has this to say, in a recent book "Joy of Secularism: 11 Essays for How We Live Now" (Princeton, ed. George Levine):

“the reasons why a behavior evolved and the reasons why individual actors show it, a distinction as sacred to biologists as the one between church and state in modern society.” ... “The evolutionary reasons for altruistic behavior are not necessarily the animals’ reasons.”

In a review of this compilation by Harvard critic, James Wood, in the New Yorker, he adds to de Waal's assertion, "In other words, human morality can be explained without being explained away."

Sources:

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/at...ntPage=all

http://www.scientificamerican.com/articl...el-empathy

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#15
From Frans de Waal's recent TED talk 'Moral behavior in animals'

Quote:It (morality) would be impossible without these ingredients we find in other primates, which would be
empathy and consolation, prosocial tendencies, reciprocity and a sense of fairness.
So we work on these particular issues and see if we can create a morality from the bottom-up so to speak, without necessarily God and religion involved, to see how we can get to an evolved morality
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