Ideas in this column are inspired by Robert Wright's The Moral Animals, Peter Singer's Animal Liberation and Brené Brown's Words, Actions, Dehumnization and Accountability Podcast.
Prejudice from An Evolutionary Perspective.
Not everyone who rejects the principle of 'equality' has bad intentions. So many factors intertwine to shape a person's biases and prejudices.
One theory that explains why society (i.e Victorian society and many others today) values modesty over promiscuity in women is because of the favor towards the enforcement of monogamy throughout human history. From an evolutionary perspective*, monogamy is a good deal; a couple devoted to each other are more likely to raise their children together which increases the survival likelihood of their children. *Remember: the sole purpose of natural selection is to pass on your genes to your offsprings.
Make no mistake; just because something is a good deal from an evolutionary perspective, absolutely doesn’t mean it’s right. Natural selection doesn’t care about right or wrong; all it cares about is genes proliferation 🤧 [ikr!].
Modesty as a value evolved not without wisdom. It's dubbed a virtue for a reason. These values run deep in our blood (literally, in our genes); not to mention other forces at play such as culture, tradition, education etc. This is why some people feel strongly justified in slut-shaming—completely unaware that the forces that underlie their charged passion to discriminate women are nothing more than an outdated programming that no longer fit in with the modern era.
Once you see the forces that govern behavior, it’s harder to blame the behaver.
However, the purpose of this column isn't to defend those who reject the principle of equality. Because the consequences of rejecting equality can lead to atrocity regardless of whether or not one means to. There is a saying that goes 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions' and I absolutely love that quote because it reveals that regardless of intention; what's done is done.
The purpose of this column is to highlight the various ways in which our efforts to change existing prejudicial perceptions may be ineffective. We have the tendency to react to cruelty and violence by framing the offenders as being 'less than humans' i.e. what a monster!, etc. This act of dehumanization is not the answer to developing interventions to change perceptions about prejudices. On the other hand, by recognizing the 'animal' in us—that none of us is above cruelty, would we begin to see clearly the issues at hand. Moral progress requires that we first look at violence, cruelty or any wrongdoings in the eye and admit that these acts are 'human acts' and hold these act accountable, would we then make way for change.
Often when debating against people who uphold prejudices, it is as though the two camps are debating in different languages. Not only do we lack understanding of the other side, we also lack understanding of ourselves. But one thing is certain, in order to sway the opposition party to empathize with our stance, we must first empathize with theirs.
Evolutionary psychology exposes an aspect of the human psyche few would like to admit.
Humans aren’t calculating machines; they’re animals, guided somewhat by conscious reason but also by various other forces. Long-term happiness, however appealing they may find it, is not really what they’re designed to maximize. Yet, we are designed by a calculating machine, a highly rational and Cooly detached process (to maximize total genetic proliferation, inclusive fitness). The designs don’t always work for various reasons and that’s why evolution happens...The design was done in a social environment quite different from the current environment. We live in cities and suburbs and watch tv & drink beer, all the while being pushed and pulled by feelings designed to propagate our genes in a small hunter-gather population. It’s no wonder that people often seem not to be pursing any particular goal—happiness, inclusive fitness, whatever—very successfully.
It's no wonder we have so many issues and this brings me to my last point.
Equality & Its Misconceptions.
The lack of clarity surrounding 'Equality' is what allows the murky water to diffuse and pollute the entire ocean. The misconception lies in the fact that we push for equal treatments citing that everyone is equal. This opens the door to all forms of attacks that we can't fend off because the fact is we are not equal.
Like it or not we must face the fact that humans come in different shapes and sizes; they come with different moral capacities, different intellectual abilities, different amounts of benevolent feeling and sensitivity to the needs of others, different abilities to communicate effectively, and different capacities to experience pleasure and pain. In short, if the demand for equality were based on the actual equality of all human beings, we would have to stop demanding equality.
Thankfully, Singer introduces the Principle of 'equal consideration' to rescue us from this abyss.
The basic principle of equality does not require equal or identical treatment; it requires equal consideration. Equal consideration for different beings may lead to different treatment and different rights.
The notion of 'Equal Consideration' reminds me of the notion of 'Equity'. Unlike Equality where everyone benefits from the same supports, Equity is about ensuring that everyone gets the supports they need; while Justice removes systemic barriers which renders the need for support obsolete.
It is also based on the Principle of Equal Consideration of Interests (ECOI) that Peter Singer uses to make the case for Animal Rights.
Many feminists hold that women have the right to an abortion on request. It does not follow that since these same feminists are campaigning for equality between men and women they must support the right of men to have abortions too. Since a man cannot have an abortion, it is meaningless to talk of his right to have one. Since dogs can’t vote, it is meaningless to talk of their right to vote. There is no reason why either Women’s Liberation or Animal Liberation should get involved in such nonsense. “ The extension of the basic principle of equality from one group to another does not imply that we must treat both groups in exactly the same way, or grant exactly the same rights to both groups. Whether we should do so will depend on the nature of the members of the two groups. The basic principle of equality does not require equal or identical treatment; it requires equal consideration. Equal consideration for different beings may lead to different treatment and different rights.
This principle urgently calls for our reassessment of the living conditions of farm animals raised for our use and consumption. It may look like a life with adequate freedom that addresses their needs—the freedom for movement, to roam around, to stretch, to mate; all of which are prohibited in factory farms.
Final Thoughts & Further Reading.
The ideas in this column are inspired by the book—The Moral Animal by Robert Wright, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer and Brené Brown's podcast: Words, Actions, Dehumanization, and Accountability.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Wright and Singer are frequent collaborators; it's no wonder I found the two books absolutely thought provoking; complimentary and supplementary to each other. I highly recommend these books.
Ethics and philosophy hold the answers to some of our most pressing questions that will shape our policies and legislations. Nothing is ever black or white and the realm of morality is no exception to that. A lot of discernment is needed to separate and isolate all the nuances and it can only be done through confronting the difficult.