Posted: Feb 23, 2020 4:30 pm
by archibald
Spearthrower wrote:
Yes, I especially like the studies done on human infants, and on other animals. One human infant study that stuck out for me, which you may know of, was one which suggested that human infants (as young as 9 months) preferred (75% preference) 'punishing' puppets to 'helping' puppets when either (punishing or helping) was done to another puppet that was 'not like me'. This suggests that negative human moral judgements are innately biased against 'others not like me'. Which is a bit chilling:

Basically, it's Punch and Judy.

I guess it is. And although I hate to invoke Godwin's Law, one wonders if the Nazis ever invented a version of the show with a Jewish puppet-character. I would not be surprised.

That's what's so chilling about the infant behaviour, I guess.

But there's a caveat. Sometimes, and probably in the case of the persecution of Jews (or many persecuted groups) there are false beliefs, possibly encouraged by lies and propaganda, which go on to inform the moral attitudes towards them.

This, however, is not always or necessarily the case. It would not have been the case for the infants in that study, for example. The beliefs in that case were accurate (it was established beforehand that the 'not like me' puppet had different food tastes to the infant). Nor is it the case when rules of behaviour are applied differently to 'outsiders' such as 'those whose territory we want to take over' (eg chimps) or 'those who are actually, really, competing with us for resources' (many species), or indeed those we kill to eat.

(Tangentially, it is also worth noting that even one of the most widely-agreed human moral 'facts', that it is wrong to kill for fun, does not extend to situations where 'not like me' is another species. see: gun sports).

So there is often a 'correct', accurate, true reason, in terms of the basic moral rule (existence = good) for the 'moral othering' that seems to turn up innately in infant humans, and possibly other species, the world often being a competitive place in which the rule applies. And for a social species, being 'like me' probably has advantages, in terms of likely reciprocities.

So, false beliefs, lies and propaganda are not strictly necessary for having different moral standards for 'us' and 'them', though they may play a role in some cases.