Hard wired 21: Emotion and morality

In the previous post I made the claim that emotions drive our behaviour and that morality is in fact much more self-serving than most of us would like to admit. I gave an illustration of this in an earlier post (part 15 of the series) when we discussed loyalty. This human drive which links both to emotionality and to morality is actually one of the basest of our inbuilt behaviours, born as it is out of xenophobia and paranoia. It is useful only in so far as it allows us to feel good about doing bad things.

The fact that loyalty feels moral is precisely the point. It’s the psychological rule of thumb (be loyal) that gives rise to emotions (guilt, anxiety) whenever we consider being disloyal. Those irrational emotions allow us to behave badly to those outside our own group with a clear conscience. We are convinced by the emotions we feel that loyalty is good, even though the behaviours that loyalty prompts are inherently unfair and even cruel.

It would be bad enough if it was only loyalty that so confused our moral sense – our notions of right and wrong. However, as shall see, loyalty is but one example of a much more widespread psychological problem. The reality is that human beings are not only irrational – we are essentially hypocritical, self-serving, cruel and gratuitously vindictive. What’s worse, most of the time we don’t even know it.

That’s another purpose of the unthinking mental short-cut, the heuristic we discussed earlier. It hides our true motives not only from others but from ourselves as well. Indeed – self-deception is a recurring and extremely important part of our evolved survival strategies. If we actually knew what we were doing we’d find it much harder to convince others that our intentions were pure. By deceiving ourselves about our true motives we become much better at deceiving others who, like us, are evolved organisms with a particularly sophisticated system for spotting liars and cheats. So we fool ourselves in order to fool others into trusting us as we lie and cheat our way through life.

Morality signpostThat’s precisely why the main drivers of behaviour are emotions rather than thoughts. Thinking things through makes it harder for us to deceive ourselves and that makes our attempts to deceive others easier to spot. We’re not rational creatures at all. We’re emotional animals with a peculiar knack for fooling ourselves into believing in the illusion of rationality. Such is the subtle deception that natural selection favoured so completely.

The best liars convince themselves. Through self-deception they don’t just act sincere – they ARE sincere. This makes them easy to trust which gives them a reproductive advantage in terms not only of sexual activity but also in status and longevity. Consequently their DNA is more likely to make it through the generations at the expense of genes providing greater insight whose living, biological vehicles (apes and humans alike) just couldn’t compete in the mutually exploitative arenas of primate society and selective sexuality.

Remember that the ‘aim’ of natural selection (so far as unthinking processes can have an aim – and, of course they can’t) is never to raise self-awareness – it’s just to raise genetic/reproductive fitness and replicate genetic material. That’s it. As Dawkins put it in The Greatest Show On Earth: The evidence for evolution’, we really are nothing more than elaborate DNA replicating machines. Everything we do and everything we feel has evolved to increase our prospects of transferring our DNA into the next generation.

More bigotry from UKIP candidates

Meet Harry Perry

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This is the UKIP MEP candidate for Stockport who thinks Pakistan should be nuked, homosexuality is ‘evil’ & thinks the EDL would be worth voting for if they entered politics.

Basically he’s just another UKIP bigot who thinks he can win votes through discrimination and scapegoating minorities.

With views like this it’s hardly surprising that he wants the UK out of Europe. How else could UKIP’s bigotry get a foothold in UK?
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If you hate fairness, human rights, workers’ rights and Johnny foreigner then vote UKIP. If you believe in fairness, equality, rights and a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work then don’t.

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Safeguarding 9: Discrimination

As most people are aware many forms of discrimination are unlawful in British society as they are throughout much of the rest of the world. However the nature of discrimination (what it actually means) isn’t always so clearly understood. The confusion about what is and is not discrimination isn’t helped by the way that certain individuals or groups claim ‘discrimination’ when really they are simply failing to get their own way.

A recent example of this involves the Bristol ‘Healing On The Streets’ (HOTS) team. This faith-based group published materials claiming that any and all ailments from mental disorders to cancer would be cured by the power of prayer. They did not state this as mere opinion but rather they presented it as fact without any reasonable evidence to support the claim. This would be a problem in any organisation, not just a religious ministry.

Hayley Stevens is a paranormal investigator who was ‘leafleted’ by a member of the HOTS team. She was concerned that the published material may offer ‘false hope’ to desperate and vulnerable people. She was also concerned that it might discourage people from seeking medical care and so she contacted the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) who upheld her complaint and ordered the group to remove such claims from its publications. The HOTS team subsequently issued a statement claiming that Hayley represented a group, generally opposed to Christianity. They have since removed that statement from their website.

Criticising fraudsters for false advertising is fair comment. The reason for criticism of the HOTS team is not their religion, it is their unethical behaviour in making false claims that would be a problem whoever produced the publicity.

We can see then that what does or does not constitute discrimination depends upon relevance. It would be discriminatory to say that all religious people are liars but it is not discriminatory to ask all people, religious or not, for evidence to back up claims of miracle treatments and to expect them to abide by the law and by accepted advertising standards when they cannot.

It is when we make unreasonable distinctions between people that we are guilty of discrimination. For example when we make assumptions about someone based upon characteristics that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. This sort of discrimination, based upon irrelevancies, is what happens when people make judgements based upon skin colour, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, disability, profession or sexual preference. Skin colour for example has nothing to do with trustworthiness and disability does not invalidate a person’s right to be treated with respect. In both cases, colour and disability, the ‘condition’ is irrelevant to the point under consideration.

However the fact that an individual belongs to a group that is regularly discriminated against does not mean that they can do no wrong. A gay man who assaults his neighbour in a dispute about a garden fence will still be prosecuted. But he will be prosecuted because of the assault. His sexuality is irrelevant. He may claim discrimination on the grounds of his sexuality but his claim will not be taken seriously by the courts because his sexuality is not relevant to the case at hand.

On the other hand a gay couple refused accommodation in a hotel or guest house would be supported under anti-discrimination legislation for exactly the same reason. Their sexuality is not relevant to their right to use services.

Similairly if the manager of a residential drug rehabilitation unit were to evict an Asian man because of his use of illicit substances on the premises he could not then claim racial discrimination. The eviction would be because of the rules of the service which are applied equally to all service-users regardless of skin colour or racial type. Colour is simply irrelevant and therefore the decision to evict is not discriminatory – it is simply an appropriate response.

The basic ‘rule of thumb’ then is to ask if the alleged discrimination is relevant. Is your action the result of the individual’s need or behaviour or is it motivated by the fact that they belong to a particular group.

If it’s because of individual circumstances and would be the same whatever subgroup the person belonged to then it’s probably not discrimination. I say probably not because there is the additional aspect of institutional discrimination that we will consider in a later post. If it’s because of the subgroup they belong to (eg religion, LGBT, disabled, Asian etc) then there’s a good chance you really are discriminating.

As ever ‘relevance’ is the key when deciding whether or not you’re being discriminatory.

About the Safeguarding series

This blog series first appeared on Stuart’s personal blog early in 2010. It has been reposted here as part of a process of ‘rationalisation’ in which work from several blogs has been removed and reposted on only two.

The Convention 18: The right to freedom from discrimination

ARTICLE 14
The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

As most people are aware many forms of discrimination are unlawful in British society as they are throughout much of the rest of the world. However the nature of discrimination (what it actually means) isn’t always so clearly understood. The confusion about what is and is not discrimination isn’t helped by the way that certain individuals or groups claim ‘discrimination’ when really they are simply failing to get their own way. A recent example of this involves Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Pope Benedict’s personal preacher who likened the current criticism of the Roman Catholic church to anti-semitism. Cantalamessa claimed that the current outrage at the Catholic church’s failure to protect children from paedophile priests is anti-catholic discrimination.

In fact nothing could be further from the truth.

Raniero Cantalamessa

Raniero Cantalamessa

What we see is arguably pro-Catholic discrimination in that the leaders of the church appear to be receiving preferential treatment. If the management of any other organisation had protected paedophiles from the law and knowingly continued to place them in positions of trust with vulnerable children they would be prosecuted. The ‘blind eye’ that the current Pope himself turned in the past would, according to UK law at least, result in prosecution and very probably a lengthy prison sentence. If there is any discrimination at all it is not anti-Catholic. It is pro Catholic.

The desire to protect children from abuse is not discrimination and such claims are merely an attempt to distract attention from the real issue – the repeated abuse of children by paedophile priests in the full knowledge of a hierarchy that was more interested in secrecy than in upholding the law. This would be a problem in any organisation, not just a Catholic one.

Criticising criminals for their abuse is fair comment. The reason for criticism of the church hierarchy is not their Catholicism, it is their criminal behaviour in shielding abusers from justice and continuing, consistently to place paedophiles in positions where they can repeat their abuses of vulnerable children.

We can see then that what does or does not constitute discrimination depends upon relevance.

It would be discriminatory to treat all Catholics, or even all Catholic clergymen as though they were child abusers. This is because Catholicism is not relevant to paedophilia per se. Not all Catholics are paedophiles and not all paedophiles are Catholic.
It is when we make unreasonable distinctions between people that we are guilty of discrimination. For example when we make assumptions about someone based upon characteristics that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. This sort of discrimination, based upon irrelevancies, is what happens when people make judgements based upon skin colour, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, disability, profession or sexual preference.

Skin colour for example has nothing to do with trustworthiness and disability does not invalidate a person’s right to be treated with respect. In both cases, colour and disability, the ‘condition’ is irrelevant to the point under consideration.

However the fact that an individual belongs to a group that is regularly discriminated against does not mean that they can do no wrong. A gay man who assaults his neighbour in a dispute about a garden fence will still be prosecuted. But he will be prosecuted because of the assault. His sexuality is irrelevant. He may claim discrimination on the grounds of his sexuality but his claim will not be taken seriously by the courts because his sexuality is not relevant to the case at hand.

On the other hand a gay couple refused accommodation in a hotel or guest house would be supported under anti-discrimination legislation for exactly the same reason. Their sexuality is not relevant to their right to use services.

Similairly if I, when I was manager of a residential drug rehabilitation unit had to evicted an Asian man because of his use of illicit substances on the premises he could not then have claimed racial discrimination. Actually, anyone who knows me would understand how ludicrous such a claim against me would be but that’s not the point. The eviction would be because of the rules of the service which are applied equally to all service-users regardless of skin colour or racial type. Colour is simply irrelevant and therefore the decision to evict is not discriminatory – it is simply an appropriate response.

The basic ‘rule of thumb’ then for front line workers is to ask if the alleged discrimination is relevant. Is your action the result of the individual’s need or behaviour or is it motivated by the fact that they belong to a particular group.

If it’s because of individual circumstances and would be the same whatever subgroup the person belonged to then it’s probably not discrimination. I say probably not because there is the additional aspect of institutional discrimination that we will consider in a later post. If it’s because of the subgroup they belong to (eg Catholic, gay, disabled, Asian etc) then there’s a good chance you really are discriminating.

As ever ‘relevance’ is the key when deciding whether or not you’re being discriminatory.

The Human Rights Council recently expressed grave concern at discrimination & violence based on sexual orientation
Their concerns are mirrored by the Crown Prosecution Service here in UK who reported on prosecution rates for ‘hate crimes’ here.

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here: http://stuartsorensen.wordpress.com/amj-freebies-downloads-and-services/

The Convention 16: The right to marriage

Are you married?
If not, do you plan to marry one day?
If so would you like to be free to marry the person of your choice?
What if you fell foul of the UK’s racial purity laws?
What if you fell in love with someone from a different ethnic group?
How does the prospect of imprisonment ‘grab you’?

Of course there are no ‘racial purity’ laws in UK. You are free to marry whomever you wish, regardless of their race, creed or colour. That’s good isn’t it?

Things weren’t always this way in Europe. During the Nazi occupation marriage was strictly managed according to racial values and characteristics. The German state took it upon itself to interfere in the reproductive rights of citizens in a number of ways based upon the prejudices of Nazism and the myth of Aryan superiority. That’s why article 12, ‘the right to marry’ (along with article 14 ‘freedom from discrimination’) are so important.

ARTICLE 12

Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right. Nobody can interfere with this right, especially if their objection is based upon arbitrary or prejudicial grounds.

Sacked: Registrar Ladell

Sacked: Registrar Ladell

Consider the case of Ms Ladell, the Christian registrar who refused to officiate in a civil partnership between two gay men. Ms Ladell was denying the men their legal right to engage in a civil partnership because her religion (qualified right) told her that homosexuality is ‘an abomination’. Therefore marriage before God is neither consistent with Christianity nor indeed possible within the Christian sense of the word. However this was not a marriage ‘before God’. It was a civil partnership before the state – a very different proposition.

In fact the term ‘civil partnership’ itself only came about so that a distinction could be made between religious marriage and state institution. The newspapers may talk about ‘gay marriage’ but the law does not.

Remember what we said about religious freedom – it’s a right so long as its expression does not interfere with the lawful rights of others. In this case Ms Ladell’s actions very definitely impeded the rights of others and also constituted discrimination on grounds of sexuality. That’s why she was sacked and why she lost her appeal. This may seem harsh but to restrict gay relationships on religious grounds is no more reasonable than to restrict inter-racial marriage on ideological grounds.

Mormon missionaries don't always know about the racist beginnings of their church

Mormon missionaries don’t always know about the racist beginnings of their church

Indeed some religions have done just that. The Church of Jesus Christ and Latterday Saints (Mormons) prohibited marriage between lack and white citizens until the late 1970s. This may be religious doctrine but it does not have any basis in law. The right to religious expression does not equate to the right to discriminate against other people and their right to marry.

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here: http://stuartsorensen.wordpress.com/amj-freebies-downloads-and-services/

We Have More to Worry About with UKIP than Bongo-Bongo Land

Stuart Sorensen:

I’ve been meaning to write something like this for ages. Now I don’t need to. This is much better than anything I had planned.

Originally posted on Scriptonite Daily:

26.11.12 Martin Rowson on the Ukip parent fostering row

In perhaps the most unsurprising ‘reveal’ in human history, a UKIP MEP was filmed using racist language to court  votes.  Serial offender Godfrey Bloom, in a criticism of foreign aid (which deserves criticism but for wholly opposite reasons to those expressed by Bloom) referred to states receiving such aid, presumably on the African continent as ‘bongo bongo land’.  Bloom has defended himself claiming he doesn’t ‘do political correctness’. Unfortunately, he and his party don’t do human decency either. In short, we have more to worry about with UKIP than bongo-bongo land.

Breaking Ranks on all the Wrong Issues

UKIP2

Bloom and UKIP brand themselves as an alternative to the mainstream political parties.  However, instead of distinguishing themselves with a searing critique of the economic policy, exciting new ideas about localism, or in fact any distinctive and fresh ideas – they make themselves distinct by being plainly spoken and unrepentant about…

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OK – last UKIP/Racism post of the day. The Ugly face of UKIP

Last January Farage promised to oust racists & homophobes from UKIP. Oh really? It seems to me that if he did that there’d be no UKIP members left for pathetic ‘little Englanders’ to vote for!

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