March 30, 2015

The tragedy of commonsense morality

Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them

The suggestion by Joshua Green in his book "Moral Tribes" is to put our gut reactions aside, and rely on our utilitarian moral compass for direction. There are two fundamental moral problems. Me versus Us is the basic problem of cooperation. Our brains solve this problem primarily with emotion and thanks to these automatic settings, we succeed in this controversy. However complex moral problems are about the latter, Us versus Them,-between tribes, not within tribes-.

The morality concept:
 Morality is a set of psychological adaptations that allow otherwise selfish individuals to reap the benefits of cooperation
The fact:
Two moral tragedies threaten human well-being. The original tragedy is the Tragedy of the Commons. This is a tragedy of selfishness, a failure of individuals to put Us ahead of Me. Morality is nature’s solution to this problem. The new tragedy, the modern tragedy, is the Tragedy of Commonsense Morality, the problem of life on the new pastures. Here morality is undoubtedly part of the solution, but it’s also part of the problem. In the modern tragedy, the very same moral thinking that enables cooperation within groups undermines cooperation between groups. Within each tribe, the herders of the new pastures are bound together by their moral ideals. But the tribes themselves are divided by their moral ideals. This is unfortunate, but it should come as no surprise, given the conclusion of the last section: Morality did not evolve to promote universal cooperation. On the contrary, it evolved as a device for successful intergroup competition. In other words, morality evolved to avert the Tragedy of the Commons, but it did not evolve to avert the Tragedy of Commonsense Morality.
This is a very interesting and intricate book that requires rereading. There are strong implications for health economics. His recommendations, to be discussed (some day), are the following ones:

The six rules for modern herders:
  • 1. In the face of moral controversy, consult but do not trust, your instincts.
  • 2. Rights are not for making arguments; they are for ending arguments
  • 3. Focus on the facts and make others do the same
  • 4. Beware of biased fairness
  • 5. Use common currency
  • 6. Give

PS. You may apply his arguments to the current political nightmare, and it fits perfectly.