I've linked to this article in the past but I feel it deserves its own thread, discussion. What I love about Pinker (most of the time) is how easy he can explain the wiring for human beings. And I don't mean just physiological wiring--he does that too--but the more of a mind wiring. Here's one piece in which he explains what... well hell, I would say our triggers, what makes us tick. First, he takes you to the shallow side of the pool: We all know what it feels like when the moralization switch flips inside us the righteous glow, the burning dudgeon, the drive to recruit others to the cause. The psychologist Paul Rozin has studied the toggle switch by comparing two kinds of people who engage in the same behavior but with different switch settings. Health vegetarians avoid meat for practical reasons, like lowering cholesterol and avoiding toxins. Moral vegetarians avoid meat for ethical reasons: to avoid complicity in the suffering of animals. By investigating their feelings about meat-eating, Rozin showed that the moral motive sets off a cascade of opinions. Moral vegetarians are more likely to treat meat as a contaminant they refuse, for example, to eat a bowl of soup into which a drop of beef broth has fallen. They are more likely to think that other people ought to be vegetarians, and are more likely to imbue their dietary habits with other virtues, like believing that meat avoidance makes people less aggressive and bestial. Much of our recent social history, including the culture wars between liberals and conservatives, consists of the moralization or amoralization of particular kinds of behavior. Vegans aside, apply that entire explanation for almost every debate that goes on here. Yes, SOME can be swayed about a topic they feel lukewarm about--because in their moral gauge, it's down there with flour for Africa (unless you are passionate about that too!). But then Pinker makes us swim to the deeper end with the following: Rozin notes, for example, that smoking has lately been moralized. Until recently, it was understood that some people didnt enjoy smoking or avoided it because it was hazardous to their health. But with the discovery of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, smoking is now treated as immoral. Smokers are ostracized; images of people smoking are censored; and entities touched by smoke are felt to be contaminated (so hotels have not only nonsmoking rooms but nonsmoking floors). The desire for retribution has been visited on tobacco companies, who have been slapped with staggering punitive damages. At the same time, many behaviors have been amoralized, switched from moral failings to lifestyle choices. They include divorce, illegitimacy, being a working mother, marijuana use and homosexuality. Many afflictions have been reassigned from payback for bad choices to unlucky misfortunes. There used to be people called bums and tramps; today they are homeless. Drug addiction is a disease; syphilis was rebranded from the price of wanton behavior to a sexually transmitted disease and more recently a sexually transmitted infection. Basically, any social construct that we feel deeply about, we will have our own explanation and levels of vehemence. I thought the article was profound and paradoxical in its simplicity. To actually explain human mind on such a basic level is astounding but there it is... in all of its glory. I leave you with this but urge you to read the whole thing: Its not just the content of our moral judgments that is often questionable, but the way we arrive at them. We like to think that when we have a conviction, there are good reasons that drove us to adopt it. That is why an older approach to moral psychology, led by Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg, tried to document the lines of reasoning that guided people to moral conclusions. But consider these situations, originally devised by the psychologist Jonathan Haidt: Julie is traveling in France on summer vacation from college with her brother Mark. One night they decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. Julie was already taking birth-control pills, but Mark uses a condom, too, just to be safe. They both enjoy the sex but decide not to do it again. They keep the night as a special secret, which makes them feel closer to each other. What do you think about that was it O.K. for them to make love? A woman is cleaning out her closet and she finds her old American flag. She doesnt want the flag anymore, so she cuts it up into pieces and uses the rags to clean her bathroom. A familys dog is killed by a car in front of their house. They heard that dog meat was delicious, so they cut up the dogs body and cook it and eat it for dinner.