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Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them | [Joshua Greene]

Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them

A pathbreaking neuroscientist reveals how our social instincts turn Me into Us, but turn Us against Them - and what we can do about it. The great dilemma of our shrinking world is simple: never before have those we disagree with been so present in our lives. The more globalization dissolves national borders, the more clearly we see that human beings are deeply divided on moral lines - about everything from tax codes to sexual practices to energy consumption - and that, when we really disagree, our emotions turn positively tribal.
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Publisher's Summary

Our brains were designed for tribal life, for getting along with a select group of others (Us) and for fighting off everyone else (Them). But modern times have forced the world’s tribes into a shared space, resulting in epic clashes of values along with unprecedented opportunities. As the world shrinks, the moral lines that divide us become more salient and more puzzling. We fight over everything from tax codes to gay marriage to global warming, and we wonder where, if at all, we can find our common ground.

A grand synthesis of neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy, Moral Tribes reveals the underlying causes of modern conflict and lights the way forward. Greene compares the human brain to a dual-mode camera, with point-and-shoot automatic settings (“portrait,” “landscape”) as well as a manual mode. Our point-and-shoot settings are our emotions—efficient, automated programs honed by evolution, culture, and personal experience. The brain’s manual mode is its capacity for deliberate reasoning, which makes our thinking flexible. Point-and-shoot emotions make us social animals, turning Me into Us. But they also make us tribal animals, turning Us against Them. Our tribal emotions make us fight—sometimes with bombs, sometimes with words—often with life-and-death stakes.

An award-winning teacher and scientist, Greene directs Harvard University’s Moral Cognition Lab, which uses cutting-edge neuroscience and cognitive techniques to understand how people really make moral decisions. Combining insights from the lab with lessons from decades of social science and centuries of philosophy, the great question of Moral Tribes is this: How can we get along with Them when what they want feels so wrong to Us?

Ultimately, Greene offers a set of maxims for navigating the modern moral terrain, a practical road map for solving problems and living better lives. Moral Tribes shows us when to trust our instincts, when to reason, and how the right kind of reasoning can move us forward.

A major achievement from a rising star in a new scientific field, Moral Tribes will refashion your deepest beliefs about how moral thinking works and how it can work better.

©2013 Joshua D. Greene (P)2013 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved. Excerpt from “My Favorite Things,” music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. © 1959 by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Copyright renewed. Williamson Music owner of publication and allied rights throughout the world. International copyright secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

What the Critics Say

“Moral Tribes is a masterpiece—a landmark work brimming with originality and insight that also happens to be wickedly fun to read. The only disappointing thing about this book is that it ends.” -Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology, Harvard University; author of the international bestseller Stumbling on Happiness

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  •  
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 01-29-14
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 01-29-14 Member Since 2008

    College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.

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    "An Exceedingly Interesting..."

    study in the grounds--both reasonable and unreasonable, beneficial and destructive--that we have for gathering together into groups...which seem to end up somehow inevitably pitted against some "other." Cliques, clubs, organizations, political parties, cults, class-systems, and...teams. I have a story that relates very well to this book. I live near Seattle. "WE" (the Seahawks--I don't play, mind you, and I don't even watch, though I find myself included somehow) are playing the Broncos (hereafter "THEM") in the Superbowl next week. Some years ago, I bought a Broncos hat to wear to the barn when I interact with my horse--I hate football, and I bought the hat because it has a horse on it. (Witness my avatar photo above.) I have grown attached to the hat. I have also been threatened and taunted by Seahawks fan-atic-s for wearing it in public, and greeted heartily by strangers in stores from Denver who mistake me for a fellow Colorado "WE..." At present, I continue to wear the hat to the barn, but not if I need to run into the store afterward. And, if the Seahawks win on Sunday, I think maybe I will be able to wear it publicly in say, a year or so...if the Broncos win...I will never be safe wearing it again. (I had a student once actually physically assaulted for wearing a NY Yankees cap into a Seattle bar.) All this has made me aware of one thing: Nazi Germany is easy to understand once you get this element of human nature: we too often need someone to hate in order to feel decently about ourselves. The Nazis had the same mentality as football fanatics--or any other group fanatic. They just had a lot more freedom to persecute the "THEM."

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Highland Park, IL, United States 11-16-13
    David Highland Park, IL, United States 11-16-13 Member Since 2010
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    "Fascinating, Provocative, Timely"

    Moral conflict and ideological division may be one of the most serious problems facing the world today. Joshua Greene, renowned philosopher and neuroscientist, doesn't present any magic bullets to address this problem, but he does offer what may be the only solution, something he calls "deep pragmatism." Deep pragmatism is essentially utilitarianism dressed up in fashionable clothing, but Greene makes a compelling case that this way of thinking may be the only "common currency" that can be used between competing moral tribes in the modern world. Greene peers under the hood to reveal how our evolved mental machinery guides our moral judgments, and the picture he presents is not flattering. Our moral cognitive mechanisms are "gadgets" honed by natural selection. Their function is not to glimpse an eternal "moral truth," but rather to propagate the genetic material that constructed them. These gadgets come pre-installed with glitches and shortcomings, and one thing is certain: they were not built to handle complex modern dilemmas like global warming, effective governance, and criminal justice. Thus, Greene argues, if we want to transcend the boundaries of our moral tribes, we must learn to transcend this "automatic" moral machinery and shift to "manual mode," the parts of our brain that can set goals, evaluate evidence, and think rationally. It's not easy to look with suspicion at our deep seated moral intuitions, but Greene makes a convincing case that we should. We must construct our political and moral worldviews not on gut feelings but on reason and evidence. Packed with fascinating facts from psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology, you'll learn all the cutting-edge information from the emerging field of moral cognitive science. And your vision of morality might get turned upside down.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Aufklärer Europe 05-25-14
    Aufklärer Europe 05-25-14 Member Since 2002
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    "A supremely enlightening view of moral philosophy"
    What did you love best about Moral Tribes?

    I have read tens of philosophy books, but this is the one that made me feel the most enlightened after reading it. It helped clear away the cosy rationalizations of tribal moralities that I self-righteously indulge in, like every one else, and it does not claim to replace those by another absolute moral truth. At the same time, after demonstrating the hopeless relativity of moral emotions, Joshua Greene does fully acknowledge their worth as an "automatic mode".


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    A scientific understanding of the dual processes at work in moral decision-making leads to a reappraisal of the much-maligned utilitatrian viewpoint as the only realistic inter-tribal "moral common currency"


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The little fable told at the beginning is nice, but you definitely shoul reread it after completing the book.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    This is a book you have to think over, I read it twice and will certainly read it again.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    peter Houten, Netherlands 12-14-13
    peter Houten, Netherlands 12-14-13 Member Since 2005
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    "A lot of fallacies"

    This is a interesting subject but unfortunately the author is really tied up in many collectivist fallacies. He states that if humans follow their self interest they would all die pretty quickly (tragedy of the commons is mentioned a lot). So I have to conclude he thinks it is in human's self interest to die quickly. Of course what he does is narrow the concept of 'self interest' to 'grab all you can', which is setting up a straw man. Later in the book he kind of goes back on this statement by showing cooperation is in human's self interest and is therefor baked into the cake.
    He also stated that when two troops of monkeys meet one another and one is stronger than the other, naturally the stronger will kill the weaker, since they would not like to take chances. This is not the case in reality however, so he might want to check his facts. He touches on that when he later mentions that committing aggression involves risks.
    What most annoyed me is the notion about the idea that cooperation equates handing over resources to government. He begins with northern herders and southern herders and different mentalities and cultural norms about individualism and cooperation. He does not realize that the government is not a pit in which you throw money if you want to cooperate, but it is a special group of people for who inverted moral rules apply (murder for money gives you a medal, theft is taxation and is good) without any physical difference to back this up. Trade = cooperation, the government however is force. It is a group of people in society that claims a monopoly on violence. In his words: government is just another group of herders, just a group that is more violent and has the right to subjugate in the eyes of the subjugated. When he says cooperation is good, he does not mean voluntary trade is good for the participants in the trade. He means: handing over resources to the group of herders who claim to represent the invisible state, equals cooperation. But the government is just a group of herders engaging in robbery. Cooperation is when people get together to voluntary cooperate, government is an elite who exploits the masses through taxation and threat of imprisonment and death.


    10 of 24 people found this review helpful
  •  
    E. Kahn North Carolina 01-01-14
    E. Kahn North Carolina 01-01-14
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    "Not a good book for listening"
    What disappointed you about Moral Tribes?

    The systematic analytical style may be fine for in depth reading but is extremely tedious to listen to. There's no way to skip the repetition either by skimming.


    What three words best describe Mel Foster’s voice?

    Pompous narrator.


    2 of 7 people found this review helpful
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  • Annika
    Sweden
    1/18/14
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    "A landmark"

    This is a book that was waiting to be written! A superb discussion of the last 2,500 years of moral theory fused with the recent findings in evolutionary psychology. The ultimate moral stance of the thinking Last Man, and a must listen for all utilitarians! Extraordinary, and beats Haidt, Sam Harris and others by miles.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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