I haven't been much impressed with the whacks that have been taken at morality...work 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 beings...by 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.