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Monday, January 02, 2017

The Boundaries of Morality

One common argument made for an ideology or narrative is that it's the only moral narrative; all others are immoral. That argument pretty much never convinces anybody because almost everybody thinks they're moral. Indeed, even violent criminals (including murderers) think themselves moral:
The reasons behind violence are varied, but a common belief is that criminals act from a breakdown of morals.
But now, researchers in California claim most acts of violence come from a very different impulse - the desire to do the right thing.
The article calls the study "controversial" but it fits very closely with the observations of my lifetime. For example, I've never once yet met anyone who's said, "I'm a totally immoral asshole and I'm cool with that!" Don't get me wrong, I've met plenty of people who I think are totally immoral assholes, but they don't believe that. Nobody ever believes that.

Another article provides more detail:
Across practices, across cultures, and throughout historical periods, when people support and engage in violence, their primary motivations are moral. By ‘moral’, I mean that people are violent because they feel they must be; because they feel that their violence is obligatory. They know that they are harming fully human beings. Nonetheless, they believe they should. Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations. [...]
It would be easier to live in a world where perpetrators believe that violence is wrong and engage in it anyway. That is not the world we live in.
It's not that murderers didn't get that "Thou Shalt Not Kill" memo that was delivered to Moses' iPad (or however he got it) all those years ago. Rather it's that the commandments are more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual commandments (to paraphrase Captain Barbosa in Pirates of the Caribbean).

Many things bound the very simple "Thou Shalt Not Kill" commandment. One key boundary is that it only applies to your tribe or nation (group of tribes). There were constant wars during the time that the commandments were developed and a great deal of God's glory in the oldest religious texts comes from all the foes of the tribe that He slew or that He assisted tribe in slaying. For most of man's time on earth, the tribe was the boundary of morality. As long as it didn't hurt the tribe, anything could be done to those outside the tribe. It was shameful to do anything that hurt the tribe but not at all shameful to do things to those outside the tribe - even including murder.

When I was a child roughly a half-century ago, I had the impression that the nation of the United States was what I would now essentially call a gigantic tribe bound together by the Constitution and other ideological constructs. As such, the commandments were to be applied as best possible to everybody in the entire nation/tribe.

Globalism's primary tenet is that everybody in the world should be treated the same and that national boundaries are artificial and contrived and should be weakened and ignored as much as possible. While that sounds ideal, I suspect it is turning out to be disastrous.

Why? Because I believe most people need to part of at least one tribe. What I've observed is that the relentless onslaught of globalization has been accompanied by the fracturing of the citizens of the United States into a group of tribes that are essentially in a cold war with each other and I believe that it's a war that will turn quite hot before this century ends. The tribes are grouped by races and genders and status and geography. The tribes have adopted narratives that are impossible to reconcile yet are very, very strongly believed by members of the tribes.

The narratives are irreconcilable because each tribe believes their narrative to be absolutely moral and that every other narrative is totally evil. I'm now going to repeat one of the quotes above:
Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations.
From ISIS to Black Lives Matter to White Extremists to Progressives to Libertarians to Conservatives to Coastal Elites to Heartland Workers, etc., we are reverting to tribalism and we will revert to horrendous violence, not because we are immoral, but because of "perceived moral rights and obligations."

Happy New Year!

47 comments:

Harry Eagar said...

'Nobody ever believes that.'

You need to get out more

Bret said...

Can you provide an example of someone who believes that they are an immoral asshole? Perhaps a link?

Peter said...

If your thesis is right, Bret, would it not follow that comparatively non-violent individuals and societies are suffering from low moral fibre, or at least a less developed sense of right and wrong?

Clovis e Adri said...

Peter asks a very good question.

Maybe your take suffers from being the analysis of someone too brainy. There are no end of criminals who kill and destroy using their guts, not their moral brains.

erp said...

If we revert back to the rule of law, each of us don't need to make moral decisions about rights and obligations. We have in place an elaborate and expensive system to make, administer and adjudicate the law. All the rest is just details.

Bret said...

Peter, Clovis:

Say what? I don't think I'm getting it.

My conjecture (and that of the links I provided) is simply that people who do violent things think that they are acting morally. Furthermore, I think everybody thinks that they are acting morally (or at least not immorally) most of the time. If you have no moral reason (in you're subjective opinion) to be violent, you won't be violent. So I would say that peaceful societies (which happen to be richer societies on average) simply have no moral imperative to be violent.

Peter said...

I don't think morality is the right word here. In fact, I think the authors are leaning on the positive emotional cachet of the word to add a little lustre to what is actually a pretty banal observation--that humans tend to be very creative at instinctively justifying what they do or want to do. But the word morality implies some reference to what is intrinsically good or bad beyond the impulses of the moment and beyond the subjective. Only a radical postmodernist believes morality is a 100% individual construct and even they don't live their lives as if it were. A gangbanger may indeed feel he is justified in wiping out a rival gang member, but to say he does so in the conviction he is "acting morally" is to reduce the word to little more that the emotions that drive our animal instincts.

What is perhaps more interesting to explore in the modern political world is the growing tendency to simplify and demonize ideological adversaries. If one half of America has a growing conviction the other half are all cognitively challenged incorrigible racists and that half thinks the other all "hate America", that is indeed a recipe for heightened passions and a sense of righteousness that could lead to scary places.

Harry Eagar said...

I have been reading the collected wit and wisdom of Curtis Lemay, and he surely fits Bret's scheme. However, and specifically with respect to Peter's comment about intrinsic good/bad, it is not hard to find examples of people who are consciously acting immorally, and in these cases it is difficult to pull their behavior within even the most flexible boundaries of cognitive dissonance.

The obvious examples are priests who are paid to teach morality and nevertheless rape children. It's hard to see that as a defense of the tribe.

But thinking it over, and wanting to get away from the incendiary issue of priest pedophiles (although this raises an issue about those bishops who protect them), I thought over my encounters over the decades with immoral people and recalled the story of Evelyn:

http://restatingtheobviousmaui.blogspot.com/2017/01/fish-story.html

Bret said...

Harry,

I think it's very likely Evelyn thought she was being extremely moral donating to the church.

Harry Eagar said...

Perhaps but did she also think she was being moral by stealing from other people?

Over at RtO Skipper says I don't understand Christian moral teaching, but I'm pretty sure it includes an injunction against theft.

Hey Skipper said...

Harry, how often do I have to ask you to quote me directly?

Because when you don't, you always get it wrong, in this case by omitting context. From your post, you said: Anyhow, that is not the only reason I am automatically skeptical when Christians offer to instruct me about morality, but it's one of them.

What are you skeptical of? The Christian? Well, of course, that goes without saying, if you understood Christian morality. (Or, for that matter, reality. I presume you would be skeptical of an alcoholic preaching about the evils of addiction.)

Or is it the morality itself?

erp said...

Skipper, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember anyone here defending Christian morality in any of its convolutions. According to Comrade Google*, there are over 30,000 Christian denominations.

When Harry talks about Christians, he means Catholics who in his opinion are the major scourge of the earth. I agree Catholicism is a scourge, but far down the list from the major scourge of our time which goes by many names Marxism, Communism, Socialism, Fascism ... and as improbable as it may be, perhaps a new St. George is on deck to kill that dragon.

*Apparently soon to transmogrify into "Good Old Boy" Google as its boss kisses up to the new boss.

Harry Eagar said...

Sometimes things just drop into my lap:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/aide-to-md-lawmaker-fabricated-article-on-hillary-clinton-rigging-the-election/2017/01/18/5219bd0c-ddd7-11e6-acdf-14da832ae861_story.html?utm_term=.51b92d29058f

Christian education: check

Rightwing zealot: check

Values money more than honor: check

Does not see anything wrong with lying: check

Skipper, it's the morality itself, as already explained; but you make a practice of ignoring anything you dislike

erp said...

Harry, the Washington Post is not credible and anyone who thinks it is had something drop on his head, not his lap.

Harry Eagar said...

You know, erp, more than once I've asked you where you get your credible news -- like, for example, your numerous assertions that Obama is not a citizen.

You never have said.

I'd really like to know, because while I am pretty sure where some of your fantasies originate (Boortz, for one), some are -- so far as I know -- unique to you. If you're not making them up, the I'd like to know where you find them

erp said...

The voluminous file I had compiled after the Obama's "Jack & Jackie" skit at Kerry's convention (if you recall Mrs. Obama had her hair in a Jackie flip and wore a pink bouclé suit similar to Jackie's signature fashion choice and Mr. Obama had on a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a signature Jack fashion choice). Alas when it was clear he would be the Democratic nominee, lo and behold, all those files had disappeared into Comrade Google's Gulag.

Here are some facts (I am taking it at face value that Barrack Obama of Kenya is, in fact, Obama's father and Stanley Ann Dunham his mother and that his actual birth was in Hawaii):

Fact: Kenya was a British protectorate at the time of Obama's birth and as such his father's Moslem marriage would have precluded his marrying Stanley in Hawaii, at that time a U.S. territory. Ergo, Obama's parents weren't married and that is why there is no record of their being divorced. Let's not even go into how a 17 year old girl with a baby went to University of Washington graduate school when as far as I could find, she hadn't even been graduated from high school. BTW - in those days young girls with babies didn't and really couldn't travel alone ... That period was pretty much cleansed before I started my research. Must have put the same people in charge who closed up the Mary Jo Kopechne incident.

Fact: Obama was adopted by his mother's husband and taken to live in Indonesia. When an adoption occurs, the birth certificate is so amended. He lived in Indonesia as an Indonesian citizen and had an Indonesian passport. At age 18, he could have petitioned the court to restore his U.S. citizenship, but there is no record or his having done so. He was admitted to Occidental as a foreign student. His three roommates were Pakistani Moslems and he went to Pakistan as a guest of one his roommates who was the son of a wealthy man. Former President Obama also doesn't have a social security number of his own, but uses one issued to a Connecticut man who died in Hawaii.

Lots of other interesting interconnecting facts like Valerie Jarrett's and Timothy Geithner's familial connections to the Dunhams and how Obama, an abysmal non-student, got admitted to Columbia and Harvard Law School and who paid for it all and how a student not fit for admittance into Dershowitz' class on constitutional law, got to be Editor of the Harvard Review with not a single scholarly word on any kind law extant and how he got a job as a lecturer at the University of Chicago...

Then there are the Chicago capers too numerous to mention.

Harry, there is nothing you could possibly say can touch me in any way. Unfortunately for me, I had and to some extent still have a photographic memory and am an expert connector of dots. Interestingly, I get a lot of good tips from comments on lefty websites that point in directions which lead to facts the writer inexpertly tried to convolute to mean the polar opposite of the truth.

Here's a link to something in your line that I hope the president will take pains to correct ASAP, i.e., enforce the anti-trust laws to break up.

Harry Eagar said...

Here's another account, with links to the confession of the perp:

http://www.snopes.com/2017/01/19/maryland-lawmakers-aide-fired-creating-fake-news-site/

Harry Eagar said...

I agree that nothing anyone could say could touch you in any way. You are completely delusional.

Hey Skipper said...

[Peter:] If your thesis is right, Bret, would it not follow that comparatively non-violent individuals and societies are suffering from low moral fibre, or at least a less developed sense of right and wrong?

Excellent question.

I think the answer lies here, from Bret's post: Across practices, across cultures, and throughout historical periods, when people support and engage in violence, their primary motivations are moral. By ‘moral’, I mean that people are violent because they feel they must be; because they feel that their violence is obligatory.

When people support and engage in violence, they are accepting conduct that would be reprehensible within their circle of moral regard — by that I mean what passes for the virtual kin group. The larger the circle of moral regard, the fewer people outside it, who are less deserving, or not deserving at all, of moral consideration.

I think there is a moral arc to history, and it comes down to enlarging the circle of moral regard. Fifty years ago, within the US, blacks were outside that circle, and also women, but to a lesser extent.

Now, as far as the west goes, there is essentially no one outside the circle of moral regard, even those who deserve to be. Atavistic religion has virtually disappeared, except for those who deserve to be outside the circle of moral regard, and free markets mean virtually everyone is more valuable alive. You can't sell to the dead, and the insulted won't buy from you.

Even going beyond the west, the circle of moral regard is getting larger all the time — Islam notwithstanding.

Looking at the first linked article, other than sensationalist value, why did the researchers start with violent crimes? After all, it would be at least as illuminating to look at something more common, and less punished: adultery.

A common belief is that adulterers suffer from a moral breakdown. I am quite certain that many adulterers can find ways to justify their actions to themselves, but how many actually believe their conduct moral, in the sense that it is worthy of admiration, or should be an example to others?

That isn't to say adulterers (or shoplifters, or compulsive liars like Harry) don't find a way to justify themselves, but that justification substantiates the underlying morality. After all, if that basis wasn't there, than no justification would be required.

So, in my unavoidably meandering way — that's what happens when a response, due to travel, projects, and having to be social, stretches over weeks — this is my response to Peter's rhetorical question: Our sense of right and wrong hasn't changed substantially, if at all. Rather, we are applying the same sense to more people less similar to ourselves.

[Harry:] Skipper, it's the morality itself, as already explained; but you make a practice of ignoring anything you dislike

Bollocks, Harry. You lie so prolifically that you are incapable of distinguishing your self-fluffing world from reality.

I think the clinical term for that is being delusional. You had best remove the motes in your own eyes before objecting to others'.

(Pro-tip: that's an example of Christian morality.)

erp said...

Harry, you asked and I answered, but instead of replying to what I said, you do what lefties always do -- attack, not the argument, but the arguer.

You didn't ask, but I'll tell you what I think human morality is. It's what allows people to live to together under the rule of law, not the rule of of the strongest capo. A couple of hundred years ago, some very moral and smart people gave us a primer on how diverse people could live together in peace and prosperity. I'm seeing a glimmer of light that it might actually be possible to restore that to We, the People.

The spectacle by your cohorts last weekend must be the coda to our long nightmare. Even the looniest lefty lunatic couldn't top that.

Harry Eagar said...

Another example of a Christian (Cotton Mather) preaching one thing in public and asserting its opposite, simultaneously, in private:

From Perry Miller, "The New England Mind: From Colony to Province":

"In the privacy of his diary, Cotton Mather could simultaneously tell himself, even in 1692, that he had always testified against spectral evidence and that the judges were 'a most charming instance of Prudence and Patience.' "

The background to this is that at the same time he wrote that in his Diary, he was writing, "The Wonders of the Invisible World," which justified spectral evidence.

(I limit myself to examples of professional moralists, who must be assumed to have thought these issues through and not just spouted off casually.)

* * *

'a primer on how diverse white people could live together in peace and prosperity'

Fixed that for you, since those moral and smart people had no intention of seeing black or red people live with them in peace or prosperity.

erp said...

... actually, Harry as I'm sure you know the FF had every intention of that eventuality, but as you also surely know, they, to quote AOG whose comments I miss a lot, they didn't throw out the merely good in a vain search for the perfect (can't remember the actual quote).

... and Cotton Mather???? Where'd that come from?

Bret said...

Harry,

Okay, you found one guy from 1692 that possibly didn't think himself moral? Or something - I'm having a little trouble deciphering your last comment. Nonetheless, I've added "almost" to the following sentence in the post:

"That argument pretty much never convinces anybody because almost everybody thinks they're moral."

Because, yes, there are no doubt some exceptions.

Harry Eagar said...

'... and Cotton Mather???? Where'd that come from?'

He was he outstanding intellectual leader of the colonists in his time, and the reference comes from Perry Miller, the outstanding historian of the intellectual traditions of the colonial period.

You'd know that if you knew anything about American history.

And if you think that the Founding Fathers intended for Indians to eventually enjoy the rights of white men, you should go back and read the Declaration of Independence. I am sure you never have.

Hey Skipper said...

And if you think that the Founding Fathers intended for Indians to eventually enjoy the rights of white men, you should go back and read the Declaration of Independence. I am sure you never have.

Hey, Harry. I have an idea. Instead of making us wade through the DoI, which is obviously way too hard for our little, slow, brains, how about providing to us which part we haven't read?

Clovis e Adri said...

...


He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

...

Bret said...

Huh. I know I read the DoI in high school. Funny that I didn't remember that particular phrase.

erp said...

The "he in the quote is King George????

Clovis e Adri said...

Why, yes, that George.

And the "Indian Savages" are... well, nobody you've ever heard about. Some of their descendants are still giving you trouble around your frontiers, but fear no more, that Wall is coming.

erp said...

No Indian savages at our borders now.

Clovis e Adri said...

Roughly speaking, the Mexican population was calculated to be 65% indigenous, and 35% non-indigenous (European, African, Asian.)

erp said...

Clovis, I don't get where you're going with this? Indian tribes fought amongst themselves. We're far afield from DoI. The FF got the best deal they could at time, not what they might have wanted if they had their druthers. We've gone around this one a few times already. To paraphrase Churchill again, Our form of government is the worst, except for all the others.

Bret said...

Clovis, I'm curious as to what point you're making as well.

Clovis e Adri said...

I am making no point at all. Just taking notice of the same old, same old.

erp said...

Over to you Bret.

Harry Eagar said...

I made the point, which was that, contra erp, the Founders had no intention, ever, of admitting Indians to the so-called liberty of the United States.

It was that conservative hero Burke who observed sourly that the loudest yelps about liberty came out of 'drivers of negroes.'

As Clovis says, same old same old. As for fantasies about getting the best deal they could, erp might want to look up the date of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

I suspect, Bret, that you were presented with a sanitized version of the Declaration. The reason people like erp don't know anything about the real history of the United States is that rightwing patriots would never permit it to be taught.

Bret said...

Harry wrote: "...the Founders had no intention, ever, of admitting Indians to the so-called liberty of the United States."

I'm guessing yes and no. I'm guessing that there were some Indians that went, er, well, "non-native" and lived with settlers and early citizens and probably had some degree of liberty. Certainly there were at least a handful of interracial marriages (think Pocahontas).

Indians as a whole? Do you think they were interested in joining the political structure? I doubt it. And if so, then of course the Founders would correctly have realized it wasn't even a possibility to admit Indians "to the so-called liberty of the United States."

Harry Eagar wrote: "...you were presented with a sanitized version of the Declaration..."

Maybe. It's a fairly short document, the rest of the paragraphs were vaguely familiar, but that one? I don't think I ever saw it before - it's pretty memorable and it seems unlikely that that's the one I completely forgot. On the other hand, it was a long time ago that I read it, so I don't know for sure.

erp said...

... you mean rightwing patriots like the Sisters of Charity 1940-48 and the New York City Public Schools 1948-52 and the City College system after that.

I find it hard to understand how the Chinese Exclusion Act 1882 influenced the DoI signed on July 4, 1776.

Bret is about the age of my kids whose school experience was in the hands of the teachers' unions and bore no resemblance to my own. Why would those who share your world view sanitize the version of the Declaration of Independence presented to students?

At the risk of being repetitious, take a course in Logic. There are probably some good ones on line. It might help clarify reality for you.

Harry Eagar said...

As it happens, I was taught by Sisters of Charity from the age of 4 to 10, then the equally rightwing Grey Nuns from age 11 to 14, then Sisters of Charity (and similar orders) from 15 to 17.

And, yes, all who dealt with the Declaration sanitized it.

Logic, eh? Maybe you are right and the Founders did the best they could in '87, but a hundred years later the US government was still using anti-liberal policies.

Bret, the study of US policy toward the Indians would repay you many times. For example, Skipper goes ballistic at the thought of the Holodomor, but the US used exactly the same policies against the Five Civilized Tribes, for exactly the same reason, yet Skipper has never condemned the Americans.

Recall that the Founders treated tribes as sovereign nations (as we still do, on paper anyway) which implied that American ideas of liberty were not to apply to Indians. Later, there was a policy of assimilation but it could not be called a policy of extending liberty to Indians inasmuch as -- to take one example -- they were not allowed to choose what way they made a living.

Here, for starters is part of the Treaty of Holston (1791): ARTICLE VIII.
If any citizen of the United States, or other person not being an Indian, shall settle on any of the Cherokees’ lands, such person shall forfeit the protection of the United States, and the Cherokees may punish him or not, as they please.

erp said...

... so Harry, in your world the Sisters of Charity who were mostly poor gentle Irish farm girls are rightwingers who would willfully distort history and the mostly aristo Jesuits are selfless workers among the poor, not self-righteous commies. Bizarro.

As for the FF, they were in their time, not yours, and dealt with the political correctness of the then as well as they could. I'm not even going to bother looking up Article VIII, because it must be hateful in that it probably doesn't have codicils describing the correct treatment of the 51 different mix and matches of sexes, tranies, bi's and tri's, not to mention melanin levels, whippings and Republicans who switched parties so many times it's breathtaking.

Kudos - you again topped yourself in silliness.

Harry Eagar said...

The sisters never had a reputation for gentleness. Just the reverse. I was never a student of Jesuits, although I later knew some. They were scarcely 'aristos.'



Hey Skipper said...

[Harry:] And if you think that the Founding Fathers intended for Indians to eventually enjoy the rights of white men, you should go back and read the Declaration of Independence. I am sure you never have.

Thanks, Clovis, for doing what is apparently beyond Harry's blogging skills.

I'm curious, Harry, how you get from

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

to

And if you think that the Founding Fathers intended for Indians to eventually enjoy the rights of white men, you should go back and read the Declaration of Independence.

It is hard to tell which is most crippled here, your reading comprehension, or basic reason.

But why choose?

For example, Skipper goes ballistic at the thought of the Holodomor but the US used exactly the same policies against the Five Civilized Tribes, for exactly the same reason, yet Skipper has never condemned the Americans.

Harry, have I ever had need to? Has it come up in conversation? Has it ever been in a thread to which I provided comments? Did I praise the Americans?

Do you have anything remotely resembling a point here, or are you just blowing it our your hat again?

erp said...

Harry, again "cause and effect"? You are impugning the FF's intentions by citing events and policies over which they had no control. Let's praise them for their outstanding work and not scourge them because they couldn't reverse the ills of the past or control those of the future.

Isn't it enough they gave us a blueprint for a just society of equality under the law. That we weak humans haven't been able to make it work perfectly is no reason to blame the authors.



Harry Eagar said...

'Harry, have I ever had need to?'

Yes

Harry Eagar said...

Gentle Irish farm girls in action:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdalene_asylum

erp said...

Harry, let logic be your friend. My experience with nuns ended in 1948 and I have wonderful memories of those days and I swear, they never made me -- or anyone else to my knowledge -- work in the laundry.

Hey Skipper said...

[Harry:] 'Harry, have I ever had need to?'

Yes


More level zero trolling from Harry.