Who Are We?

Jonathan Haidt: I think we are basically products of a complex evolutionary story that we don‘t fully grasp. We’re caught debating. The scientists say we are primates. The religious side says we are children of God. And I think that literally speaking, of course, I think the scientists are right, but the scientists are so caught up in this reductionist approach to evolution in which we are individuals who evolved cooperation through reciprocity and kinship, and that’s it, that most scientists now looking at evolution are very wary of the idea that actually group level selection shaped us.

Once you see that human groups have competed with each other for a long time, and you start thinking, well, what are the aspects of human nature that would lead to success in group competition? You realize in group loyalty, tribalism hierarchy, respect, ideas of purity and pollution, religion, these were crucial in binding us into cooperative groups.

This is where, I think, religious believers and conservatives are onto some truths that we, secular, liberal scientists, have a hard time accepting. They’re truths nonetheless.

Recorded on May 9, 2008.

According to Haidt, we are the products of a complex evolutionary story that we do not fully grasp.

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