Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The end of ISMs

Marc D. Hauser:

"Racism, Sexism, Species-ism, Age-ism, Elitism, Fundamentalism, Atheism. These –isms, and others, have fueled hatred, inspired war, justified torture, divided countries, prevented education, increased disparities in wealth, and destroyed civilizations...there is a single underlying cause: a brain that evolved an unconscious capacity to seek differences between self and other, and once identified, seek to demote the other in the service of selfish gains... The good news is that science is uncovering some of the details of this destructive capacity, and may hold the key to an applied solution. My optimism: if we play our cards correctly, we may see the day when our instinctive prejudice toward the other will dissolve, gaining greater respect for differences, expanding our moral circle."

Among the items Hauser suggests in a possible playbook:

"Recognize the universality of our moral intuitions...Remove the doctrinal rules and our intuitive moral psychology propels us to decide what is morally right or wrong based on general principles concerning the welfare of others and our own virtues. If the Protestant and Catholic Irish can see past their religious beliefs, empathize with the other, recognize their shared underlying humanity and settle into peaceful co-existence, why not other warring factions?"

"Be vigilant of disgust...Although disgust was born out of an adaptive response to potential disease vectors, things that are normally inside but are now outside such as vomit, blood, and feces, it is a mischievous emotion, sneaking into other problems, alighting, wreaking havoc on group structure, and then spreading. Throughout the history of warfare, every warring group has tagged their enemy with qualities that are reminiscent of disease, filth, and parasites."

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