I’m just reading a review copy of Steven Pinker’s (excellent) new bookThe Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
This section, on how moral motivation is over-rated as a control on violence, just made me laugh out loud.
The human moral sense can excuse any atrocity in the minds of those who commit them, and it furnishes them with motives for acts of violence that bring them no tangible benefit. The torture of heretics and conversos, the burning of witches, the imprisonment of homosexuals, and the honor killing of unchaste sisters and daughters are just a few examples. The incalculable suffering that has been visited on the world by people motivated by a moral cause is enough to make one sympathize with the comedian George Carlin when he said “I think motivation is overrated. You show me some lazy prick who’s lying around all day watching game shows and stroking his penis and I’ll show you someone who’s not causing any fucking trouble!”
I keep hearing that about him and evolutionary psy-and-bi-ologists, but no one (okay, I'm talking about two or three people I've actually had this out with over beers) has ever come through with specifics.
I've read The Blank Slate a couple of times now, found it fascinating, and found nothing in it whatsoever that even hints at any kind of nostalgia for 1950s gender roles.
I'm neither a philosopher nor a scientist, but I find it impossible to look upon the diversity of civilizations, cultures, and individuals, not just in the present day but over the course of recorded history, and declare there to be a singular thing like "human nature." It has nothing to do with a belief in a soul—I certainly don't believe such a thing exists—and everything to do with an innate suspicion that we are somehow a fixed, singular point.
Pinker, to his credit, doesn't appear to believe that just because something is natural, it's good or right, but certainly many of his followers do. And there's a certain Just So element in all evolutionary psychology that I've seen, which doesn't actually make sense unless you're a determinist.