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[xmca] Fwd: The Privilege of Absurdity

I have a suspicion that cultural mediation may play a role here. What do
you think?

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Scott Atran <satran@umich.edu>
Date: Tue, May 22, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Subject: The Privilege of Absurdity
To: COG-SCI-REL-L@jiscmail.ac.uk

Science and Religion Today


Humans define the groups to which they belong in abstract terms. Often they
strive for lasting intellectual and emotional bonding with anonymous
others, and make their greatest exertions in killing and dying not to
preserve their own lives or to defend their families and friends, but for
the sake of an idea—the transcendent moral conception they form of
themselves, of “who we are.” This is the “the privilege of absurdity; to
which no living creature is subject, but man only’” of which Hobbes wrote
in *Leviathan*. In*The Descent of Man*, Darwin cast it as the virtue of
“morality … the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and
sympathy” with which winning groups are better endowed in history’s
spiraling competition for survival and dominance. Across cultures, primary
group identity is bounded by sacred values, often in the form of religious
beliefs or transcendental ideologies, which lead some groups to triumph
over others because of non-rational commitment from at least some of its
members to actions that drive success independent, or all out of
proportion, from expected rational outcomes.

For Darwin himself, moral virtue was most clearly associated not with
intuitions, beliefs, and behaviors about fairness and reciprocity,
emotionally supported by empathy and consolation—which constitute nearly
the entire subject matter of recent work in the philosophy, psychology, and
neuroscience of morality—but with a propensity to what we nowadays call
“parochial altruism”: especially extreme self-sacrifice in war and other
intense forms of human conflict, where likely prospects for individual and
even group survival had very low initial probability. Heroism, martyrdom,
and other forms of self-sacrifice for the group appear to go beyond the
mutualistic principles of fairness and reciprocity....

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