[Graph of my feed-reading habits over the last month, courtesy Google Reader.]
OK, maybe less “catching up” and more “declaring newsfeed bankruptcy.” I’ve been a wee bit busy for the past month or two (or three… shush!), and it’s not likely to let up for another month at least. Sorry about the relative radio silence. I still have stories to tell, just no time/energy/brain to tell them.
Why, you may ask? Well, if you don’t know already, prod me in the comments and I might post more detail about my current gut-wrenching life change, er, side project.
Here’s my alternative definition: morality is any system of interlocking values, practices, institutions, and psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible. It turns out that human societies have found several radically different approaches to suppressing selfishness, two of which are most relevant for understanding what Democrats don’t understand about morality.
Certain skills are considered key signs of higher mental abilities: good memory, a grasp of grammar and symbols, self-awareness, understanding others’ motives, imitating others, and being creative. Bit by bit, in ingenious experiments, researchers have documented these talents in other species, gradually chipping away at what we thought made human beings distinctive while offering a glimpse of where our own abilities came from. Scrub jays know that other jays are thieves and that stashed food can spoil; sheep can recognize faces; chimpanzees use a variety of tools to probe termite mounds and even use weapons to hunt small mammals; dolphins can imitate human postures; the archerfish, which stuns insects with a sudden blast of water, can learn how to aim its squirt simply by watching an experienced fish perform the task.
I can say that my sheep definitely recognize me over other people — although I think it’s my voice, more than anything, that gives me away. However, my sheep do look at my face and make eye contact. Anyway, the article is a worthy read.
You read that right. Steven Pinker thinks so and I’m inclined to agree with much of his reasoning. “We’re Getting Nicer Every Day” is an html version of a pdf, so a bit messy, but you can always download it if you prefer…
Those of you with an interest in things Chinese and para-Chinese (I’m looking at you. Ahem.) might be interested in reading the blog that anthropologist David K. Jordan has been maintaining while spending a semester teaching in Asia. It’s chock full of linguistic and religious observations, all with that pleasant snarkiness that DKJ has mastered.