When Emily Daggett Weiss boarded the Twentieth Century Limited in the spring of 1913, bound for a brief sojourn in the West, one or two old biddies gave her the hairy eye. Woman traveling alone. No better than she should be, as her mother used to say about young women of low moral standards. Worse than the biddies, a traveling salesman winked at her. -Irene Fleming, The Brink of Fame
“The control of fire would have been a major turning point in human evolution,” says anthropologist Michael Chazan, co-director of the project and director of University of Toronto’s Archaeology Center. “The impact of cooking food is well documented, but the impact of control over fire would have touched all elements of human society. Socializing around a camp fire might actually be an essential aspect of what makes us human.” -Daily Galaxy
“You are standing behind a very large stranger on a footbridge above the tracks. The only way to save the five people is to heave the stranger over. He will fall to a certain death. But his considerable girth will block the trolley, saving five lives. Should you push him?”
According to Dutton (citing the Harvard psychologist Joshua Greene, who observed psychopaths and normal people dealing with this dilemma), the variation of the trolley problem involves a “personal moral dilemma” that “hammers on the door of the brain’s emotion center, known as the amygdala.” While this dilemma makes normal people “circumspect and jittery,” and 90 percent refuse to push the stranger off the bridge, Dutton writes that psychopaths, “without batting an eye, are perfectly happy to chuck the fat guy over the side, if that’s how the cookie crumbles.” …
The lesson here is not a completely dark one. “I think every society needs particular individuals to do its dirty work for it,” Dutton quotes the evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar as saying. We need doctors who won’t pass out at the sight of blood, for instance. We also need leaders who aren’t afraid to make tough decisions: “If you know where the buttons are and don’t feel the heat when you push them, then chances are you’re going to hit the jackpot,” Dutton writes. Let’s return to the trolley problem again. If utilitarianism is the goal — creating the greatest happiness for the greatest number — there is bound to be some ruthless psychopathy involved in achieving it. “Some group or cause,” Dutton writes, “has to bite the bullet for the greater good.” -Daniel Honan
Consider the custom, in American society, of constantly saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ To do so is often treated as basic morality: we are constantly chiding children for forgetting to do it, just as the moral guardians of our society – teachers and ministers, for instance – do to everybody else. We often assume that the habit is universal, but… it is not. Like so many of our everyday courtesies, it is a kind of democratization of what was once a habit of feudal deference: the insistence on treating absolutely everyone the way that one used only to have to treat a lord or similar hierarchical superior…
All of this is a relatively recent innovation. The habit of always saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ first began to take hold during the commercial revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – among those very middle classes who were largely responsible for it. It is the language of bureaus, shops, and offices, and over the course of the last five hundred years it has spread across the world along with them. It is also merely one token of a much larger philosophy, a set of assumptions of what humans are and what they owe one another, that have by now become so deeply ingrained that we cannot see them. -David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years
On my honor, I will do my best To confound the expectations of society, To observe the super-consciousness in all its workings, To seek independence in body, in intellect, and in spirit. We followed the Wonder Scout Law, too, which we recited at every meeting. A Wonder Scout is curious, adventurous, strong, observant, resourceful, brave, skeptical, thoughtful, and aware. -Will Ludwigsen, We Were Wonder Scouts, Asimov’s Science Fiction Aug 2011
Why are some places more prone to bribery and corruption than others? Part of the answer seems to be the level of collective feeling in a society, according to research by Pankaj Aggarwal, University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) professor of marketing in the Department of Management, and Nina Mazar, University of Toronto professor of marketing.
Aggarwal and Mazar discovered that people in more collectivist cultures — in which individuals see themselves as interdependent and as part of a larger society — are more likely to offer bribes than people from more individualistic cultures. Their work suggests that people in collectivist societies may feel less individually responsible for their actions, and therefore less guilty about offering a bribe…
Adjusted for wealth, the degree of collectivism in a country predicted just how likely a business person was to offer a bribe to a business partner.
It’s not that those business people saw bribes as acceptable — other surveys have shown that bribery is widely seen as morally repugnant across cultures… -Science Daily
Celebration is a mental experience with both conscious and unconscious dimensions. At a conscious level, celebration offers us a way – possibly the only way we know – to hold the moment, to engage in it fully and experience it fully, to experience ourselves and others in that context and feel grounded in the scheme of life and history. At an unconscious level, the celebrated moment imprints itself on us, adding to the hidden store of impressions that shape our thinking and color our view throughout life. In celebration we enrich our lives with the experience of our shared history as well as the shared moment. We may share a moment with others or with the memory of others, with God or simply with our own self. To do this in an ongoing way brings many of these enriched memories together to add depth of feeling and meaning to our daily lives. Our capacity to celebrate enables us to experience the deeper dimensions of any moment – at work, in love, or at play – as part of a human experience greater than ourselves. -Harvey L. Rich, In the Moment: Celebrating the Everyday
…belonging to a group was probably helpful to our ancestors. We have weak claws, little fur, and long childhoods; living in a group helped early humans survive harsh environments. Because of that, being part of a group still helps people feel safe and protected, even when walls and clothing have made it easier for one man to be an island entire of himself.
But acceptance has an evil twin: rejection. Being rejected is bad for your health… They don’t sleep well, their immune systems sputter, and they even tend to die sooner than people who are surrounded by others who care about them.
Being excluded is also associated with poor mental health, and exclusion and mental health problems can join together in a destructive loop. People with depression may face exclusion more often because of the symptoms of their disorder — and being rejected makes them more depressed… People with social anxiety navigate their world constantly worried about being socially rejected. A feeling of exclusion can also contribute to suicide.
Exclusion isn’t just a problem for the person who suffers it, either; it can disrupt society at large… People who have been excluded often lash out against others. In experiments, they give people much more hot sauce than they can stand, blast strangers with intense noise, and give destructive evaluations of prospective job candidates. Rejection can even contribute to violence. An analysis of 15 school shooters found that all but two had been socially rejected. -Science Daily
“Spoilers don’t spoil stories. Contrary to popular wisdom, they actually seem to enhance enjoyment.
“Even ironic-twist and mystery stories — which you’d be forgiven for assuming absolutely depend on suspense or surprise for success — aren’t spoiled by spoilers, according to a study by Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of UC San Diego’s psychology department, to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science…
“Why? The answers go beyond the scope of the study, but one possibility is perhaps the simplest one: that plot is overrated.
“‘Plots are just excuses for great writing. What the plot is is (almost) irrelevant. The pleasure is in the writing,’ said Christenfeld, a UC San Diego professor of social psychology…
“It’s also possible that it’s “easier” to read a spoiled story. Other psychological studies have shown that people have an aesthetic preference for objects that are perceptually easy to process.
“‘So it could be,’ said Leavitt, a psychology doctoral student at UC San Diego, ‘that once you know how it turns out, it’s cognitively easier — you’re more comfortable processing the information — and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story.’
“Stories are a universal element of human culture, the backbone of the billion-dollar entertainment industry, and the medium through which religion and societal values are transmitted,” the researchers write. In other words, narratives are incredibly important. But their success doesn’t seem to hinge on simple suspense. -Science Daily
“People who come from a lower-class background have to depend more on other people. “If you don’t have resources and education, you really adapt to the environment, which is more threatening, by turning to other people,” Keltner says. “People who grow up in lower-class neighborhoods, as I did, will say,’ There’s always someone there who will take you somewhere, or watch your kid. You’ve just got to lean on people.’”
“Wealthier people don’t have to rely on each other as much. This causes differences that show up in psychological studies. People from lower-class backgrounds are better at reading other people’s emotions. They’re more likely to act altruistically. “They give more and help more. If someone’s in need, they’ll respond,” Keltner says. When poor people see someone else suffering, they have a physiological response that is missing in people with more resources. “What I think is really interesting about that is, it kind of shows there’s all this strength to the lower class identity: greater empathy, more altruism, and finer attunement to other people,” he says. Of course, there are also costs to being lower-class. Health studies have found that lower-class people have more anxiety and depression and are less physically healthy.
Upper-class people are different, Keltner says. “What wealth and education and prestige and a higher station in life gives you is the freedom to focus on the self.” In psychology experiments, wealthier people don’t read other people’s emotions as well. They hoard resources and are less generous than they could be.
“One implication of this, Keltner says, is that’s unreasonable to structure a society on the hope that rich people will help those less fortunate. “One clear policy implication is, the idea ofnobless oblige or trickle-down economics, certain versions of it, is bull,” Keltner says. “Our data say you cannot rely on the wealthy to give back. The ‘thousand points of light’ — this rise of compassion in the wealthy to fix all the problems of society — is improbable, psychologically.” -Science Daily
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