Tag Archives: Morality

Our enemies are human: that’s why we want to kill them

BOOK REVIEW

Virtuous Violence, Authors: Alan Fiske and Tage Rai.
Out of Character, Authors: David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdesolo.

By Tage Rai, Piercarlo Valdesolo and Jesse Graham – Ever since Rohingya militants attacked Myanmar police outposts, resulting in a dozen deaths in August 2017, Myanmar security forces have begun a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

This process of dehumanisation has been invoked to explain acts of violence ranging from the Holocaust and the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib to the ethnic violence against the Rohingya people. However, our recent research suggests that this explanation is mistaken.

To understand the active desire to cause pain and suffering in another person, we have to look to a counter-intuitive source: human morality.

We show in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2017, dehumanization allows us to commit instrumental violence, wherein people do not desire to harm victims, but knowingly harm them anyway in order to achieve some other objective. However, dehumanization does not cause us to commit moral violence, where people actively desire to harm victims who deserve it. We find that moral violence emerges only when perpetrators see victims as capable of thinking, experiencing sensations and having moral emotions. In other words, when perpetrators perceive their victims as human.

What we found was that dehumanizing victims predicts support for instrumental violence, but not for moral violence. For example, Americans who saw Iraqi civilians as less human were more likely to support drone strikes in Iraq. In this case, no one wants to kill innocent civilians, but if they die as collateral damage in the pursuit of killing ISIS terrorists, dehumanizing them eases our guilt. Dehumanization might not cause a white supremacist to kill, but it does enable the rest of us to stand aside and do nothing. more>

Moral Life in the Global City

By Ian Klaus – Commerce depends on trust, civility, people doing favors. The bodega on the corner is not just a retail outlet. It’s a place where people in the neighborhood slowly get to know each other.

The ordinary virtues are things like trust, forgiveness, resilience, the basic honesty of ordinary life, a certain basic decency and civility that you see in ordinary life. These are the not-heroic virtues. Courage would be a heroic virtue. Self-sacrifice would be a heroic virtue. In a decent society we shouldn’t ask people to be heroes.

Globalization impacts every second of our daily lives. But the people we justify ourselves to, the people we care about when we exercise these virtues, are very local: Mom, Dad, family, kin, our neighbors, our workmates. When you display the virtues of decency, you’re not displaying an abstract commitment to treat all human beings decently. All you’re doing is treating the human beings you interact with every day decently. The ordinary virtues don’t generalize, they particularize. They don’t universalize. They are all very local. more>

Is taxation theft?

BOOK REVIEW

Anarchy, State and Utopia, Author: Robert Nozick.

By Philip Goff – Outside of academia, almost everyone assumes that the money I get in my pay-packet before the deduction of taxes is, in some morally significant sense, ‘mine’.

This assumption, although almost universal, is demonstrably confused.

There is no serious political theory according to which my pre-tax income is ‘mine’ in any morally significant sense. Moreover, this matters: this confused assumption is a major stumbling block to economic reform, causes low and middle earners to vote against their economic interests, and renders it practically impossible to correct the economic injustices that pervade the modern world.

Your gross, or pre-tax income, is the money the market delivers to you. In what sense might it be thought that you have a moral claim on this money? One answer might be that you deserve it: you have worked hard and have done a good job, and consequently you deserve all your gross income as recompense for your labor. According to this line of reasoning, when the government taxes, it takes the money that you deserve for the work you do.

This is not a plausible view. For it implies that the market distributes to people exactly what they deserve for the work that they do.

But nobody thinks a hedge-fund manager deserves many times more wealth than a scientist working on a cure for cancer, and few would think that current pay ratios in companies reflect what philosophers call desert claims.

Probably you work very hard in your job, and you make an important contribution. But then so do most people, and the market distribution of wealth patently does not reward in proportion to how hard-working people are, or how much of a contribution they make to society. more> https://goo.gl/vTK8Vn

Are corporations becoming the new arbiters of public morality?

After Charlottesville, CEOs have become our public conscience. Here’s what that says about capitalism in America.
By Tara Isabella Burton – The CEOs’ resignations are part of a broader trend of major corporations taking a public stand on issues of social justice. Web hosting site GoDaddy took down neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer after the Charlottesville violence, and Google later declined to host the site.

(It reappeared, briefly, on the dark web, then subsequently with a Russian address.)

Airbnb deleted the accounts of members it deemed to be white supremacists looking for Charlottesville accommodation. GoFundMe took down a crowd-funding campaign to raise money for the legal fees of the white nationalist who killed counterprotester Heather Hayer with his car.

“There is nothing on the internet,” Ridge Montes says, not a forum, a comments section of a news site, or a social media platform used to coordinate political protest events, “that isn’t owned by somebody.” In other words, political discourse and discourse about social goods is shaped at every level, for better or for worse, by companies with a financial interest in that discourse.

We affirm our values — and identity — at the shopping till as much as, or more than, the altar. more> https://goo.gl/kP9BJG

Of money and morals

BOOK REVIEW

You Are Under Arrest For Masterminding the Egyptian Revolution: A Memoir, Authors: Alex Mayyasi and Ahmed Salah.
Debt: The First 5,000 Years
, Author: David Graeber.
Your Money or Your Life: Economy and Religion in the Middle Ages, Author: Jacques Le Goff.
A History of Interest Rates, Authors: Sydney Homer and Richard Sylla.
The Idea of Usury, Author: Benjamin Nelson.
Summa Theologica, Author: Thomas Aquinas.
Politics, Author: Aristotle.

By Alex Myyasi – Hundreds of years ago, when modern finance arose in Europe, moneylenders moderated their behavior in response to debates among the clergy about how to apply the Bible’s teachings to an increasingly complex economy.

Lending money has long been regarded as a moral matter. So just when and how did most bankers stop seeing their work in moral terms?

In the early 1200s, the Church’s position was that extracting a single cent of interest was evil. The roots of this revulsion run deep, and across cultures. Vedic law in Ancient India condemned usury, and rulers routinely capped interest rates from Ancient Mesopotamia to Ancient Greece. In Politics, Aristotle described usury as ‘the birth of money from money’, and claimed it was unnatural because money was sterile and should not ‘breed’.

Judeo-Christian religions cemented the usury taboo.

Throughout early Medieval Europe, the local church or a wealthy family was often the only source of capital, especially outside the major commercial centers. Many peasants bought their land by getting mortgages from a monastery. In a world without credit markets and insurance, then, charging interest felt like extorting a friend or family member.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church played its own part in sowing the seeds of a change of attitude. In the 13th century, it introduced the concept of Purgatory – a place that had no basis in scripture but did offer some reassurance to anyone committing the sin of usury each day.

Eventually kings, politicians, and business people embraced usury wholesale, and the Church looked the other way. more> https://goo.gl/LztiKA

Raising good robots

We already have a way to teach morals to alien intelligences: it’s called parenting. Can we apply the same methods to robots?
By Regina Rini – Philosophers and computer scientists alike tend to focus on the difficulty of implementing subtle human morality in literal-minded machines. But there’s another problem, one that really ought to come first. It’s the question of whether we ought to try to impose our own morality on intelligent machines at all. In fact, I’d argue that doing so is likely to be counterproductive, and even unethical. The real problem of robot morality is not the robots, but us.

Can we handle sharing the world with a new type of moral creature?

We like to imagine that artificial intelligence (AI) will be similar to humans, because we are the only advanced intelligence we know. But we are probably wrong. If and when AI appears, it will probably be quite unlike us. It might not reason the way we do, and we could have difficulty understanding its choices.

Plato’s student Aristotle disagreed. He thought that each sort of thing in the world – squirrels, musical instruments, humans – has a distinct nature, and the best way for each thing to be is a reflection of its own particular nature.

‘Morality’ is a way of describing the best way for humans to be, and it grows out of our human nature. For Aristotle, unlike Plato, morality is something about us, not something outside us to which we must conform. Moral education, then, was about training children to develop abilities already in their nature. more> https://goo.gl/cVSt0W

Related>

What Is the Role of Morality in a Capitalist Economy?

BOOK REVIEW

The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality, Author: Branko Milanovic.
UltraSociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth, Author: Peter Turchin.
Theory of Moral Sentiments, Author: Adam Smith.
The Bounds of Reason, Author: Peter Turchin.
A Cooperative Species, Author: Samuel Bowles.
Individuality and Entanglement, Author: Peter Turchin.
The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good, Author: Robert H. Frank.
What Price the Moral High Ground? Author: Peter Turchin.

By Peter Turchin – I think people who want to understand how human societies and economies really work will find these articles interesting, along with Branko Milanovic’s blog post exploring this issue in greater detail: “Henry and Kant: outsourcing morality.”

I (Branko) actually find myself in sympathy with the operations of Gekko, Skilling etc., not because I like them as individuals but because I see an iron logic in their behavior. Let me explain that iron logic as composed of three elements.

  1. Personal ethics do not exist
  2. Laws exist and they are supposed to embody the general moral rules so that we know what we can do, insuring that the pursuit of our private interest leads to some greater social good
  3. We then just follow our private interests.

In a (less than ideal) metaphor, imagine the rules as fences around a path, like in bobsledding.

Morality is embedded in the fence and I am going to play by the rules (but nothing more) and, even when I consciously do not play by the rules (as for example when I cheat and score a goal by hand), I do not have to feel bad about it. It is the job of the referee to catch me and punish me. In other words, there is no internal ethical mechanism to stop me from scoring a goal by any means I can find.

Blaming the financial crisis on greed is like blaming an airplane crash on gravity (a point made by Judge Richard Posner [2, 3] some years ago).

The financial crisis was not cause be either Greed I or Greed II, but by complex social dynamics outlined years ago by Hyman Minsky (Google it!), involving imperfect financial regulation.

Societies whose business leaders have moral integrity are successful societies.

Of course, it is always good to have some Greed I types around, and it is at any rate impossible to eliminate them. But they are part of a moral mix. more> http://goo.gl/kv8fFX

Society Cannot Function Without Moral Bonds

BOOK REVIEW

Theory of Moral Sentiments, Author: Adam Smith.
Wealth of Nations, Author: Adam Smith.
Descent of Man, Author: Charles Darwin.

By Geoffrey Hodgson – Adam Smith regarded individuals as driven by moral motives as well as self-interest. This is most clear in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, but ideas of justice and morality also pervade his Wealth of Nations.

It took economics a while to get rid of this argument. In two classic works published in 1871, William Stanley Jevons and Carl Menger placed individual self-interest at the foundation of economics. Three years later, Léon Walras built neoclassical general equilibrium analysis upon a similar assumption. For the next 100 years or more, self-interested, utility-maximizing, “economic man” was the centerpiece of mainstream economic theory.

There is now an enormous body of empirical research confirming that humans have cooperative as well as self-interested dispositions.

Morality means “doing the right thing.” It entails notions of justice that can over-ride our preferences or interests. Moral judgments are by their nature inescapable.

Morality differs fundamentally from matters of mere convenience, convention or conformism. Moral feelings are enhanced by learned cultural norms and rules. Morality is a group phenomenon involving deliberative, emotionally-driven and purportedly inescapable rules that apply to a community. more> http://goo.gl/bU8JeX