Why Morality Is Entwined With Our Sense of "Us and Them"
In his interesting review of Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind last month, the philosopher John Gray makes an important point about evolution-based attempts to account for human morality. To explain ethical behavior in evolutionary terms, we have to accept that morality is "groupish"—that curbing one's self was and is a matter of doing one's part for the group of which one is a member. Whatever its merits as a model of morality's origins, Gray notes, this notion, baldly stated, fails to do justice to moral dilemmas in the present.
"Human beings rarely, if ever, belong to only one group," he writes. "One of the tasks of morality is to arbitrate the clashing loyalties that regularly arise from the many group identities that human beings possess." This is right in the abstract (though I'm not sure it's fair to Haidt, who doesn't claim that we are all only members of one group at a time). But Gray seems to conclude from this fact that "groupishness" is irrelevant to the mystery of morality. He goes on: "In some cases, morality may lead people to put aside group loyalties altogether." And there the evidence is against him.
Here is his illustration:
In his diary recording the persecution he suffered in Nazi Germany, Victor Klemperer reports on tradesmen and neighbors occasionally slipping him and his wife food and chocolate. Against the background of pervasive hatred and cruelty that Klemperer experienced, these fitful expressions of kindness must qualify as moral behavior. But they are in no sense “groupish.” Quite the contrary: they show people setting aside group identities for the sake of human sympathy.
For the sake of human sympathy? Well, maybe, but what people usually say they did in such times is different. They say they set aside their identities for other identities. So they still refer to groups—just not the groups to which they were (often without their consent) assigned. Those who slipped Klemperer food or a kind word were still being "groupish." They did so because he was a fellow academic, a fellow German (non-Nazi version), a fellow Christian, or a neighbor.
Here's the first example I came across, leafing through my copy of Klemperer this morning (it's on page 226):
Zaunick, a grammar school teacher and honorary professor of something to do with physics at the TU, a man around fifty, once indebted to me, recently came up to the car as were parked at Bismarckplatz. Party badge. Could easily walk past without acknowledging us, could at the most greet us. But comes up with evident heartfelt pleasure. How am I, whether I have stayed in Dresden, how sorry he is…What have I published recently? "Wait and work!" — "for posterity?"—"One has to wait and see." Hearty handshake and sorrowful withdrawal. A Party member!
Is Zaunick here expressing some sort of abstract human solidarity that has nothing of the group about it? I guess the case could be made, but that's not how Klemperer commonsensically perceives it. This Nazi is a fellow academic, who once owed Klemperer a favor, if not money. After some nice words, he goes on to emphasize this shared identity by making academic shop talk. Zaunick puts aside group loyalty to the Nazi notion of a good German in favor of a different group, not no group.
In other words, people don't resolve the moral dilemmas Gray cites by ignoring their group identities; they solve them by choosing among those overlapping versions of themselves. Or, at least, struggling with them: Christopher Browning, in his The Origins of the Final Solution, notes that the Nazi official Wilhelm Kube, who was responsible for occupied Minsk, was troubled by transports of German Jews into his Eastern European fiefdom. "Among these Jews are front veterans with the Iron Cross first and second class, war wounded, half-Aryans, and even a three-quarter Aryan," he wrote. A few lines later, he added: “I am certainly tough and ready to help solve the Jewish question, but human beings who come from our cultural sphere are something other than the native bestial hordes."
Now, Nazism figures in moral arguments as an extreme case, but I wouldn't want to base a claim only on Third Reich examples. So here's another, non-Nazi, illustration of the practical effects of group-switching within a single mind: During the trial of several police officers accused of abusing Abner Louima in 1997, it emerged in the testimony that during the night of the incident, a police officer found himself in the men's room next to a Haitian man whom he had arrested and beaten up. When the cop spotted a crucifix around the other man's neck, he apologized for what he'd done. He also believed in Jesus, he said. The suspect merited more moral consideration as a fellow-Christian than he had as an alien "perp."
Now, it may be that there are instances in which moral conduct takes place without reference to any identity. I can't think of any, but no one should trust their intuitions about issues like this, and it it's an empirical question (I don't know if anyone has tried to address it). An even more important empirical question is how and why people do their group switching, and why among people with the same allegiances, some will switch (from, say, "cop" to "Christian") while others don't. But after spending a fair amount of time researching this, I've concluded that most acts of moral courage and defiance don't disprove the claim that ethics is tied to "groupish" psychology. On the contrary, those actions, when explained and justified, support the notion that morals and "usness" are connected.
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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.
Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.
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