Disgust and covert selfishness

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Simon Paynton 2 weeks, 1 day ago.

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  • #29318

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    Here is my theory about how physical disgust moved into the moral domain to give us moral disgust: we think that some behaviour is morally dirty and unclean.

    If people are all living and surviving together, then dirty habits are uncooperative, they are a breach of cooperation at a basic level.  Cooperation is the context within which morality evolved (as an answer to the psychological and cognitive demands of human cooperation).  So, dirty habits can have become associated with morality.  The very interesting point is this:

    Look at the moral compass, which I am still refining.

    There are two main classes of elicitors of moral disgust:  1) out-group members and their strange and unnatural behaviour; 2) covert selfishness.  These all belong to the bottom left hand sector:  “we ≠ me” means “I do not identify with this “we” or group”; “you ≠ me” represents a situation of unfairness.

    We think that free riding, cheating, lying, cowardice are all morally dirty.  All involve a diminishing, or hiding of the self and also selfishness.

    The big question is, if my initial theory is correct, what does covert selfishness have to do with ancestral dirty habits living on the savannah?  Could it have been the hiding of one’s dirt or disease, that made it into the moral domain?

    Out-group members represent a breach of our in-group norms, and therefore a breach of our cooperation.  Their norms do not coordinate with ours.

    Any thoughts?

    #29319

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    I recognise that to breach almost any norm can be seen as morally dirty, especially sexual norms.  Norms are there to guide us in a cooperative direction under potentially competitive circumstances, so this reinforces the idea that moral disgust represents a breach of cooperation.  The stronger the norm, then the more heinous is its breach.

    #29326

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator

    I have some small ideas here.

    1) out-group members and their strange and unnatural behaviour;

    “1) out-group members and their strange racial appearance and unnatural behaviour;”

    “we ≠ me” means “I do not identify with this “we” or group”; “you ≠ me” represents a situation of unfairness

    The ≠ symbol both in ‘we ≠ me’  and ‘you ≠ me’ makes sense, but since their context is slightly different (identity vs fairness), it might help to use ‘<>’ instead, in one of them. (I know, that’s just an arbitrary, visual thing.)

    The big question is, if my initial theory is correct, what does covert selfishness have to do with ancestral dirty habits living on the savannah?  Could it have been the hiding of one’s dirt or disease, that made it into the moral domain?

    I don’t think every detail of the analogies have to make perfect sense, because maybe this theory should be more honestly hypothetical, unless you can back it up with evidence. But imo it is still useful to be illustrative of what’s a possible explanation, and perhaps more importantly (e.g. in what I’m trying to learn about atm) there is a known concept in evolutionary theory having to do with “pre-adaptation” (as Darwin called it) or “exaptation” (which some theorists prefer to the term pre-adaptation because it sounds less like a pre-planned evolutionary process).

    Also, imo, it’s important to realize what “fitness” really means and what can be considered a beneficial exaptive trait, based not just on a savannah evolutionary epoch, but (say) our sedentary/agricultural (vs nomad) epoch, or for that matter pre-human epochs, or even non-primal pack animal epochs. I hope those considerations aren’t too complex to consider and convey to non-schooled readers? I understand how you must “keep it simple” for most people. I still like your theory, albeit tentatively.

    I plan to write more about the pre-adaptation/exaptation paradigms currently being discussed by both genetic and cultural evolution theorists, especially when they can help explain what debunkers call “irreducible complexity”. It is complex, and difficult or lengthy to explain. As noted above, another complication that genetic exaptation may help simplify is that it can work across epochs, or even in combination across different epochs, say millions of years apart.

    Btw, I had a biology professor who liked to use the word “race” when speaking about genotypic and phenotypic variations in a species, even (e.g.) in birds, or plants.

    #29327

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    I should make it clear that it’s hypothetical.  The link between dirty habits and cooperation is that disgust can take cues from the social domain, and both are part of the social domain.  So that makes more sense, which I’ve put into the online version so far.

    This exaptation or co-opting has happened in the case of empathy: what started as a motivation for parents (in birds and mammals) to care for their young is now used by humans to care for strangers.

    fitness

    Both cooperation and dirty habits are relevant to fitness.

    I just can’t quite figure out why a breach of honest trust is so morally disgusting, and how it links to physical disgust.  It’s not the same for bullying and hogging (the other types of immorality, in the top left quadrant of the MC).  Perhaps this is just a heinous breach of honest good will.  In any case, to investigate the answer teaches us a lot about morality in my opinion.

    Bullies and hogs used to run empires: perhaps these have been seen as virtues for a long time.

    #29330

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator

    I just can’t quite figure out why a breach of honest trust is so morally disgusting, and how it links to physical disgust.

    You’ve obviously done more research than me on this, but some emotions like the feeling of betrayal seem to me to be linked to higher cognitive processes, including theory of mind. Feeling betrayed happens after trust is breached, and isn’t trust an expectation or a feeling of understanding of between two beings? I’m also thinking of (say) an owner betraying a pet dog, where (I think) the dog will usually feel bewilderment rather than disgust. And then there’s the higher level, larger context of society (which you mention), where betrayal can happen publicly and everyone can feel which is the good guy and which is the bad guy, or at least commit to memory who did what and reassess their own expectations accordingly… and maybe even have good ideas what everyone else is thinking about it, too.

    #29331

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    You’re right, it can only ever be hypothetical, and I’m going to have to leave it an open question.  But it’s a very fruitful area to think about.

    Bullying and hogging are not circumstances where dirt and disease are a problem for others.  I think the co-opting link is dirt and disease <=> social domain <=> cooperation, and somewhere in there is the idea of selfish lying or self-effacement (in the case of cowardice) as well as someone not being compatible with one’s own norms (which also makes them a potential free rider, as an out-group member).

    Maybe I know what it could be.  If I am sick, then I need to declare it to others.  If I don’t, then I am selfishly grabbing the opportunities of consorting with others, when I ought to be isolated.

    The link is then dirt and disease <=> social domain <=> covert selfishness.

    #29332

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    Well, Robet Sapolsky says that Jonathan Haidt says that bullying is disgusting.  So that kind of ends that debate for me.

    #29343

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator

    I’m not confident that a lot of people would pick up on the visceral to moral disgust connection, but mea culpa for bringing up exaptation. We should still hope that others can get it. I do get your point:

    #29344

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    Robert Sapolsky seems to say that the elicitors of moral disgust are habits that are different from ours.  But the truth is, we feel disgust at any act we see as morally wrong.  So I feel that his model is faulty.

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