Evolutionary Ethics — The Origins of our Moral Foundations
Jonathan Haidt found in his research that liberals and conservatives have different moral foundations, with liberals caring mostly about fairness and harm and conservatives additionally about authority, sanctity (purity) and ingroup loyalty.
He later added liberty to the liberal foundation. Haidt’s research makes it seem that conservatives are more moral than liberals. However, that is misleading. I will argue that liberalism has its origin in hunter-gatherer evolved minds whereas conservatism has its origin in evolved farmer adaptations.
Michelle Gelfand has found that cultures tend to be tight when they have a long history of farming, especially irrigation farming, whereas hunter-gatherer cultures are generally loose with a lot of personal liberty. In between foragers and farmers, there are pastoralists, who are generally egalitarian within their group but tend to feel superior to other groups (social dominance orientation). We get the following evolutionary profiles (with MBTI types):
I have assigned one HEXACO value to each profile (e.g. openness to the male hunter profile) as each profile likely represents an evolutionary maximum on this value. The female (caregiving) farmer profile therefore would be the most agreeable one, the male (provisioning) farmer profile the most conscientious (industrious, etc.) one.
If we plot these profiles onto Solomon Schwartz’s map of values, we get a good match with values that would have been adaptive for the respective modes of subsistence, e.g. novelty-seeking for semi-nomadic pastoralists and security, conformity and tradition for sedentary farmers.
Research by Cultural Dynamic calls farmer space the “morality area” and (hunter-)gatherer space the “ethics area’’. Indeed, gatherer types are called “idealists” in Myers-Briggs.
What we get from combining all this is that farmer types like many rules whereas hunter-gather types like freedom and ethics and will therefore try to reduce the number of rules to few or even one principle. This principle has various versions, like the Golden Rule. It’s the ethics of fairness or reciprocity. Its evolutionary basis is reciprocal altruism. Gatherer types only make up about 15% of the general population and that is why many evolutionary psychologists (typically hunter types) doubt reciprocal altruism is a real biological adaptation. “Scratch an altruist and watch a hypocrite bleed,” wrote Michael Ghiselin. Of course, complete altruism without any selfishness is a biological impossibility. However, many evolutionary psychologists are wrong in assuming that altruists are hypocrites. What is true, altruists struggle with living in a non-altruistic world and remaining authentic to themselves.
Gatherer types have the highest rates of suicide. This fact can be seen in the high suicide rates (especially among women) of forager populations, e.g. among the Inuit who have the highest suicide rates in the world.
Gatherer types were also typically prophets and founders of religion in history. Jesus is a typical example of a hunter-gatherer religious revolutionary. His god is 180 degrees from the god of the old testament:
The rules are reduced to the principle: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (altruism). It’s a strong version of the golden rule, which is usually about fairness (negative formulation: don’t do unto others…).
Hunter-gatherer type people can typically be recognized by this approach to morality.
Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative and Maria Montessori’s approach to education (few rules, but respect for others is one rule that has the highest priority).
Check out my latest book for more background information on mapping human nature:
Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on January 4, 2022.