Link: How Science Explains America’s Great Moral Divide


From a longer interview at Scientific American, Jonathan Haidt offers this explanation of how modern human culture, especially American moral/political culture, is the result of our unique evolutionary path, part bee and part primate:

For the last half of the 20th century, the dominant idea in the social sciences was that people are selfish. Economists thought that people were only out to maximize their self-interest, political scientists believed that people voted entirely for their self-interest, and biologists told us that we were driven by selfish genes, which make us generous only when it will help our kin or our reputations. Self interest is of course a very powerful force, yet it leaves out our deep and passionate desires to be part of a group, to lose ourselves in something larger than ourselves. It leaves out so much of the psychology of religion and self-transcendence.
This is why I say that one of the basic principles of moral psychology is that we are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee. Most of our social nature is like that of other primates – we’re mostly out for ourselves. But because our evolution was shaped by a few hundred thousand years of intense group versus group conflict, we are also very groupish. We are descended from groups that had fine-tuned mental mechanisms and cultural rituals for binding themselves together into communities able to work together, suppress free riders, and achieve common ends. When we do these things we are more analogous to bees than to chimps. But for us, it’s just temporary. We have brief collective moments, and we can do great things together in those moments, but eventually, self-interest returns.

A fine explanation of that conflict that seems to be at the heart of so much political tension: Is this about me, or about us?