Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hey, we are better humans than those in the past. Seriously, we are!

It's hard to accept the notion that people in the early 20th century were moral idiots, two standard deviations dumber than us. Their attitudes about race and gender sure seem morally moronic to us today, but does that mean in another half century our descendants will look at us with equal moral dumbfoundedness?
Perhaps you are feeling defensive after having read that.
It is not about you or me.
It is about all of us.
Feeling better?

I think about the old country.  Even my own folks in the past.  Brahmins they were, which means they, for all purposes, were bigots with their Brahmin-supremacy and the awful caste system.  It is strong language, yes, to refer to the past, which includes people like my grandmothers, when we say "moral idiots."  But, compared to them and their practices, aren't we at a much better place now with people treated far less unequally than ever before?

Michael Shermer writes that we are becoming morally smarter, from where I had excerpted those couple of sentences.  He observes, and I agree with him, that:
Since the Enlightenment, humans have demonstrated dramatic moral progress. Almost everyone in the Western world today enjoys rights to life, liberty, property, marriage, reproduction, voting, speech, worship, assembly, protest, autonomy, and the pursuit of happiness. Liberal democracies are now the dominant form of governance, systematically replacing the autocracies and theocracies of centuries past. Slavery and torture are outlawed everywhere in the world (even if occasionally still practiced). The death penalty is on death row and will likely go extinct sometime in the 2020s. Violence and crime are at historic lows, and we have expanded the moral sphere to include more people as members of the human community deserving of rights and respect. Even some animals are now being considered as sentient beings worthy of moral consideration.
It is remarkable that we have reached this stage.  Not merely in the US or India but throughout the world.
Evolution endowed us with a natural tendency to be kind to our genetic relations but to be xenophobic, suspicious, and aggressive toward people in other tribes. As our brains become better equipped to reason abstractly in such tasks as lumping dogs and rabbits together into the category "mammal," so too have we improved in our capacity to lump blacks and whites, men and women, straights and gays into the category "human."
Isn't that a phenomenal development that we should celebrate?

Shermer also makes this claim that will make the two argumentative readers of this blog very happy, if they ever get to reading it!  With literacy and education, people become fans of democracy and freer markets:
Intelligence predicts economic attitudes, most notably abstract concepts such as the way that free trade is a positive-sum game. This runs counter to our folk-economic intuitions that most economic exchanges are zero-sum in a fixed pie of wealth. The economists Bryan Caplan and Stephen Miller culled data from the General Social Survey and published an article in a 2010 issue of the journal Intelligence tellingly titled "Intelligence Makes People Think Like Economists." They found a correlation between intelligence and openness to immigration, free markets, and free trade, and a reluctance to endorse government make- work projects, protectionist policies, and business interventionism.
I better wrap this up before I comment anything about the "comrades" ;)

Shermer notes that when it comes to such abstract problem solving,
"Our improved ability to reason abstractly may also be the result of
the spread of scientific thinking-reason, rationality, empiricism, skepticism"


Anne in Salem said...

"They found a correlation between intelligence and openness to immigration, free markets, and free trade, and a reluctance to endorse government make- work projects, protectionist policies, and business interventionism."

Does this mean most liberals are stupid??? No argument here. You made my night!!! :) :) :))

Sriram Khé said...

hehehe ... if you write that therefore "most liberals are stupid" then I can not even imagine what you would call socialists and communists ;)

I wonder if Ramesh will ever get to this post :(

Anne in Salem said...

I hope he returns soon. The responsibility of being the main arguer weighs heavily. :)

Ramesh said...

I'm back, I'm back :):)

Agree wholeheartedly. Why not ?? We progress on every front, maybe an occasional step backwards, but we have a far greater moral compass than before, a a whole. Its easy to hanker for the good old days and look with rose tinted glasses, but in reality some of the old days where simply awful.

Shermer has certainly made this argumentative reader happy :)

Sriram Khé said...

He is baaaaaaack ;)

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