Friday, February 21, 2014

Several weeks ago...

I was really excited when my local library let me know they had received their copy of a new book titled Moral Tribes by Joshua D. Greene. There have been a number of books and studies in recent years coming out of popular academia about "morality". What triggered all this was the success that Daniel Kahneman had in explaining a cognitive basis for lousy human thinking. By success I mean like Nobel Prize. That's like the academic version of an academy award...except much better.

I haven't been much impressed with the whacks that have been taken at by folks like Jonathan Haidt and others. Their writings have simply not resonated with me. Maybe it's my age. I don't really know for sure...I tend to approach any popularization of science by referencing Carl Sagan and his various efforts, including the (well-liked by me) book The Demon Haunted World. The new crop of popularizers seem...I don't know...a little too slick for me...more weighted with style as opposed to genuine substance. To me they're just a little step above such thin beer like that served up by Malcom Gladwell and such. A whiff of hucksterism coupled with slick-shallowness.

Anyway, Moral Tribes is written by a fellow who is described in the book jacket as the director of The Moral Cognition Lab at the prestigious Harvard University. What else could you ask for, at least as far as credentialing goes? And yet.

I've become a serious and persistent skeptic of "science" as currently practiced, especially when it references human behavior and my skepticism has grown out of my adventures in living vegan. Our willful and culturally driven blindness to our living relatives permeates all our activities...sadly...and that includes science.

For me, the first thing I do before jumping into a book on morality is go to the index and see if veganism or vegan or animal rights or anything in that vicinity is listed. If it isn't then I know I'm most probably holding a book written by a person with a major blind spot. Well, first off there's no index entry for animal, much less animal rights. There is an index entry for vegetarian on page 311, no entry for vegan. The index already lets me know that this book is not serious.

Page 311. The author is rambling along about late-term abortions. At one point the asserts that if you're pro-choice but against late-term abortions because of fetal consciousness then you have to be against eating certain animals. He writes:
But this is no easy way out. Consistency requires more than being a moral vegetarian.* It requires being a 'militant' vegetarian. Many vegetarians, including those with moral motivations, choose not to eat meat themselves yet remain "pro-choice" about eating meat. They don't regard their meat-eating friends as murderers, and they don't believe that eating meat should be illegal. (Some do but most don't.)
The asterisk references a brief note at the back of the book..."Many of us would have a hard time killing the animals we eat, but that's probably because we're not used to it. Our ancestors did this for millions of years."

And there you have it. That's about all there is about killing and/or eating and/or imprisoning and/or and/or torturing and/or driving extinct any and all living beings on this planet except the human ones. This...from the "Director of the Moral Cognition Laboratory at Harvard University." He exposes himself as both ill-informed and inaccurately informed...and unaware (apparently) of his deficits. And...we would all get used to killing our fellow animals if we just practiced it a little more. Trivialization of the killing of living the director of a lab for moral cognition? This is unspeakable.

Based on this book and the shallowness and ignorance exhibited, well, we have a long way to go. And we are severely prone to swallow what our culture hands us and to then believe we are grounded in "reality". Even if we are well educated, even if we are accomplished...even if we are "experts" on "morality". A Ph.D. is no guarantee of wisdom, no guarantee of knowledge, no guarantee of perceptiveness. Attending Harvard or Yale or Stanford or any other "esteemed" educational institute is a guarantee of nothing except that you attended classes there. Period. (it does suggest strongly that you came from a wealthy and/or seriously ambitious family...but not much else).

A few weeks ago I put up a post called Teach Your Children. In it I was presenting my impression that we're terribly prone to swallow what we're taught as children even if we're taught to be monstrous and that whatever bent we might have as a species toward behaving well is faint and apparently difficult (if not impossible) for most of us to hear. It may be that we are, in sum, behaving better toward each other (see Steven Pinker's book). Our behavior toward the other living beings on this planet doesn't seem to be better and when the "Director of the Moral Cognition Laboratory" apparently doesn't even know the term vegan, much less what it means, and thinks that most "ethical vegetarians" believe it is ok for others to kill and eat our fellow animals...well...just...groan.

For the record...I firmly believe it should be illegal to exploit and/or harm any animal. Period. And I do not, emphatically not, believe it is acceptable for people to eat animals and I do regard those who do so as participants in murder. And I'm well aware I am not alone in this stance. Sorry Dr. Greene, your comprehension of "morality" is sorely inadequate...along with your fund of information about veganism. You are apparently more interested in chasing a dollar or aggrandizing yourself than you are in presenting complete and accurate information.

Go vegan, you will be living smarter than the director of the Harvard Laboratory for Moral Cognition.


Bea Elliott said...

I'm sorry for your disappointment. But I bet you've lost count at how many times coulda/woulda/shoulda been vegan figures have let you down.

I'm glad I'm not alone though. When I'm introduced to a new writer/thinker the first thing I do is search if they are vegan or not. Yes, it's highly judgmental of me. But knowing if they are or aren't clues me in on how thorough they have done their critical thinking. How believable they are. How trust worthy is their opinion on how we should treat others. If they are vegan I have a confidence that they know what justice is... And how to lead a moral life towards that end. With only one begrudging notation about "militant vegetarians", it's evident that Joshua D. Greene fails the mark - miserably.

Let-downs like this exhaust me... I don't get why can't they see what should be obvious to nearly everybody. Sure, they are very educated... But there must have been some vital kindergarten lessons about fairness that they missed. :(

I support your for-the-record statement with all the conviction of my moral compass. I can think of no greater harm or sin than to use/take the life of another. Simple sandbox smarts.

Christine said...

Thank you for an Interesting post, sad though it is, morality it seems means different things to different people, all a matter of personal perspective. I wholeheartedly agree with you, meat and other animal derivatives should be banned as should all exploitation of all animals. As for meat eating friends, family, neighbours and so on I consider them guilty by complicity, yet consider them ignorant rather than deliberately cruel, though that is no excuse. Sadly so many people have been taught that it is natural to eat meat, that animals are here for our use and so on, and though this has improved in recent decades, so many people fail to see the immorality of murdering the other beings with whom we share this world. Furthermore I often think the more educated a person is the less sensitive they are to the suffering of others, including other animals. Until we stop exploiting animals we will never be truly moral and any author who writes about morality has failed if he does not extend this philosophy to include all animals.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Bea. I don't worry too much about being "judgmental" as long as I don't tump over into only judging from a negative viewpoint. I judge many things as being wonderful and terrific as well as some things as being horrid and odious. Anyone purporting to present information about "morality" who is oblivious to the vegan worldview is obviously someone with some serious deficiencies in their fund of information...hence...they out themselves as being deficient. I really don't have any interest in the notions of someone with such blatantly erroneous thinkings. I've spent too many years wading through books and thoughts to have much use for silliness. :-)

As you say...they exhaust I avoid them. Also as you's a kindergarten thing of fairness. It's shameful that they have been rewarded for ignorance. Sandbox smarts (great phrase) seem to be in short supply.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Christine. As you write: "Until we stop exploiting animals we will never be truly moral...". This author presents a glaring example of such failure.

Have Gone Vegan said...

Good to know I'm not the only one who thumbs the indexes of books to see if the important A and V words are in there! :)

And I'm also not too impressed by science. How can they be so blind to their own biases? Objectivity? Right.

Was watching The Nature of Things the other night about the growing rise of allergies in children, and how they're trying, for example, to sensitize kids who are allergic to cow's milk by exposing them to a little bit more each day. The aim being that one day they can drink milk regularly and be truly healthy.

No asking of course about why humans aren't weaned, about why being allergic to another species' milk is probably actually a healthy immunological response, and no scientific light-bulb moment of, hey, let's just give the kids any one of the many varieties of plant-based milks since cow's milk isn't necessary anyway. So sad.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. I'm also happy to know I'm not the only index stalker. It's a really handy dandy time-saver for me. I was once reading a book about the European human holocaust and did the index thingee...the sanctimonious ass who wrote the book made the statement that nothing "animals" experienced approached what happened to humans harmed by the holocaust. The guy was so speciesist he stunk...spoiled the whole book for it should've.

I confess to remaining more impressed by a scientific approach to information acquisition and comprehension than most other human approaches...that doesn't mean I'm oblivious to the problems associated with unconscious (and conscious) prejudices and assumptions that many possess who do science. Index stalking helps to counter those who speak out their a**es. :-)

If a human being can do it, it can be done stupidly and destructively. That would be a good t-shirt slogan. I wish that were funnier than it actually is. Sad indeed.