Monday, August 29, 2016

Morality is Reality, or, what it is is how it feels

Many parents who grew up playing outdoors with friends, walking alone to the park or to school, and enjoying other moments of independent play are now raising children in a world with very different norms.

In the United States today, leaving children unsupervised is grounds for moral outrage and can lead to criminal charges.

What's changed?

...It's not that risks to children have increased, provoking an increase in moral outrage when children are left unattended. Instead, it could be that moral attitudes toward parenting have changed, such that leaving children unsupervised is now judged morally wrong. And because it's judged morally wrong, people overestimate the risk...

..."When Barbara and I first started talking about this project, the case that really stood out to me was the one about Debra Harrell — the McDonald's worker who let her 9-year-old daughter play in a busy public park for several hours during the day while she (Harrell) was at work. The daughter had a key to her home (which was a six-minute walk away from the park) and a cellphone. But when the girl mentioned to an adult in the park that her mother was at work, the adult called the police, who arrested and jailed Harrell and put the daughter in state custody. I thought, here's a single mother who works for low wages for a corporation that doesn't provide child care, and she was treated as a criminal for letting her daughter do something that is relatively safe. It seemed like people were angry at this woman for not being a full-time mom — for not fulfilling the unrealistic expectation that mothers should be with their children at all times.

Those are moral judgments, but people weren't talking about it in moral terms. Instead, they were using the language of risk and danger — saying that Harrell was criminally negligent because she had left her daughter in a dangerous situation. So we started thinking about how people's estimates of risk might not be about risk at all, but about moral judgment."

..."I think what surprised me most were the results of two modifications we tried. In the first, we asked subjects to make an explicit moral judgment about the parent in addition to a judgment about risk. The idea was that if people had a different way to express their moral disapproval, this might lower the pressure to use risk judgments as a way of condemning the parents. In fact, asking subjects to make a moral judgment about the parents as well made their moral judgments influence their judgments about risk even more, not less. The second modification was to ask subjects to actually list the concrete things they thought might happen while the parent was gone. We expected that forcing subjects to explicitly consider what dangers are faced by the child would reduce the influence of moral judgment on risk judgment. But adding this manipulation did not change anything."

..."Right now, in many situations, if a social worker or police officer thinks the child is in danger, they can intervene and take the child, arrest the parents, etc. But what our data suggest is that when people think they are judging danger to a child, much of what they are actually doing is imposing a moral judgment on the child's parents."


Emphasis mine.


  1. Morality or market rebranding? Why are we concerned about risk and danger to children outside of the fact that we have been told predators are everywhere? Isn't it more a case of, as Mr. Nulan is wont to say, livestock management? Or rather, best practices thereto?

    Let me explain. The Aztecs, I am convinced, were a cannibal culture. There were simply no large food animals available in an extremely dense urban culture to provide protein to the citizenry - save Man. What better way to package the consumption of human flesh than through the morality of sacrifice? If blood and hearts are not given up, the Sun will die. If the Sun dies, we die. Besides, it is a waste to not use all that extra flesh, seeing as the gods only want the hearts, so...

    Cannibalism is more commonplace in human culture than most people are comfortable enough to admit. And, of course, there is metaphorical cannibalism in the form of human commodity for labor and work. If consumable resources are wasted or endangered, it is considered morally repugnant. The fact that the market campaign in the West (no doubt going all the way back to the Enlightenment and the Protestant Reformation) that fetishizes children has resulted in the fetishization of children should not come as a surprise.

    1. Well, there's certainly no agreed upon moral firmament, so morality and market rebranding are synonymous to me.

      It wouldn't shock me if morals developed as in your example, more or less as a way to ensure the long-term survival of the colony over specific individuals. And within that Aztec colony, as in ours, there are different types of ants, with different functions and different moral practices within their society and the larger world.

    2. That's a downright repulsive though quite novel thought, that human neurotypes reflect an evolutionarily stable differentiation required at the group level.

      Fits in very nicely with the accelerated genetic loci information published quite recently, which differentiates us from all other mammals.

    3. Repulsive? Based on all of our organizational models as a species like, ever, I'd say it's obviously true and effective. On a species level, it's incredibly moral to maximize our perpetuation. The problem is when you don't personally identify with the goals of the species. As I've discussed in the past (as have you) individuation is an INCREDIBLY recent phenomenon in humans. Even today in most cultures it's last name first, first name last.

      What's repulsive to our moral sensibilities is the idea that arbitrary characteristics that don't in and of themselves provide any benefit are used to determine the various social castes. Race or education or phrenology or nationality, whatever. This is you logical mind saying that the methodologies used to sort the categories aren't beneficial.

      What I am guessing is that it doesn't matter how you organize the castes, as long as they exist. I'm speaking in regard to the larger society--obviously to the individual (or lower ranking subgroup) it matters quite a lot.

    4. For race relations, I find this encouraging. If the roles are baked in the cake of being human, but the way we assign them is almost entirely arbitrary (across cultures, not within them,) then it's possible to change how these things are assigned. At least theoretically--I don't solve actual problems via the Internet. :)

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    6. My optimism hits a wall for a few reasons here.

      First, the transbiological psychological development redounding back from language IS very recent - at least at a mass scale.

      Second, the roles that language may be helping selected individuals to transcend biology/instinct ARE deeply (atavistically) embedded in most all these tribal human clines.

      Third, I don't think the traditional hive keepers/masters want any kind of mass transbiological development, given how well human instincts have served them traditionally in their capacity as human livestock managers.

    7. It wouldn't shock me if morals developed as in your example, more or less as a way to ensure the long-term survival of the colony over specific individuals. And within that Aztec colony, as in ours, there are different types of ants, with different functions and different moral practices within their society and the larger world.

      If, like hairless moles, we are the only other fundamentally eusocial vertebrates - then our individualized politics and economics are fundamentally at odds with our nature, hence, fundamentally immoral.

  2. What's wild is how the morality controls the perception of risk, not the other way around. This is tribal lines redrawn: if someone is to be left behind in a future resource squeeze, cohesive, bourgeois morals will allow an "us v. them" separation, which is convenient for the rich people when they drop the poor as it becomes too expensive to support them.

  3. Rich vs. poor my ass..., white vs. black since it's already an accepted tenet of American political canon that the negroe is not only morally reprobate, indeed, he/she is not even a conspecific given your neandertal/denisovan mixings and minglings.

    As for the specific case noted above, anyone with an even cursory familiarity with what "state custody" means, would know beyond any shadow of a doubt that the risk/hazard to which this nine year old girl would now be subject - just went through the roof.

    1. Cnu, my takeaway is that what we find immoral, we find dangerous. So if you perceive 'dressing like a thug' as immoral, you have a very strong inclination to see it as a genuine danger to society, and to view the actions of that individual through a threatening lens.

      If you perceive being an adult with "only" a minimum wage job as an indication of some lack of effort, character or intelligence, you will literally perceive that persons behavior as more dangerous than others.

      This wetware error seems to be one of the problems with racial policing writ large.

      Even the language we use conflates morality and actual objective potential outcomes. If you do something "wrong," it may be socially unacceptable, actually dangerous, or both. But we conflate the terms and their meanings in our minds.

    2. I believe you said it all in this post's title. Morality/Reality is "how it feels".

      Human livestock managers have known and exploited this fact in various ways from time immemorial.

      The power of the Big Lie is not predicated on repetition having any impact on logic or ratiocination, rather, it's predicated on the dissociative, hypnotic effect of repetition on the emotions - which, in 99.7% of these humans - are developmentally arrested at around the age of seven.

      To your point re: rich vs. poor, not only does the feeling of trust break along class lines, feelings of empathy and altruism are also distinctive at various socio-economic levels - with the poor being notably more empathetic and altruistic toward one another and with the rich comprising a "breakaway" tribe of their own.

  4. Well, to be puckish comma you find the behavior of that upper caste deeply immoral. So according to this research you should also find it very dangerous. Even if it isn't. I am enjoying this discussion, I should post more!


  5. Replies
    1. I knew you'd find something interesting!