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Moved: Animal Morality and "Occupy Wall Street"

These comments have been moved from Frans de Waal's Talk.

  • Apr 14 2012: I don't see how Mr. de Waal can interpret one monkey's anger at another's good fortune as a lack of "fairness." The word "fairness" is a loaded one, and is meaningless in an evolutionary or biological sense when it comes to monkeys. The monkey who was angry because he only received cucumbers instead of tastier grapes may have been exhibiting an emotion akin to envy, but more likely, being a selfish animal, he was simply frustrated he wasn't receiving the higher energy nutrition grapes offer; like the Occupy Wall Street idiots, who are angry they don't have what others have. The "fairness" mantra is used to obscure the purely selfish, entitlement-minded motive behind their actions.
    • Apr 14 2012: Welll, I don't see how it isn't a lack of fairness. Anger at another's good fortune seems to be because of the lack of fairness. I think I just don't like your comment in general. Never mind I just don't like you.
      • Apr 15 2012: call me selfish and unfair but i do not like William Dais either.
        this is not about politics.
        • Apr 15 2012: you made this a political issue when you called people with a different sociopolitical view "idiots" in your 1st comment.
          furthermore I think there is, contrary to what you suggest, a common ground as to what fairness stands for. taking economical value from society in such proportions that encumbers growth andt damages the social fabric is not a part of it.
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      Apr 15 2012: If the cucumber capuchin determined (correctly) that the researcher possessed the ability to give it grapes instead, and did not, and there was no immediately obvious reason why one should get grapes and another cucumber, its frustration more accurately mirrors the Occupy Wall Street protesters. "Why, when handouts are being given, do I receive the lesser of the two? It's not fair."

      One criticism of the OWS movement I hear quite frequently is that the protesters "want handouts." Consider the "other capuchin" in this allegorical scenario: extremely large corporations that really DO receive handouts from the federal government.

      More important, corporations are NOT people, contrary to the Citizens United decision. Corporations should not get a vote, according to our laws prior to that one. This is the root cause of all the protests: it's not cucumbers versus grapes. It's about grapes versus no food at all.

      I assume your point is that "cucumber is just fine; roll with it. After all, you could be starving, you lucky little capuchin." What a fantastic bit of PR work, there.
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        • Apr 15 2012: I do not agree and that is getting a little off topic. I will stick to the main point.

          To expect and participate in a system of mutual responsibilities is reasonable. An expectation of nothing in return for anything is a severe sense morality; more like a delusional, ascetic but conceited sense of superior morality than moral superiority. The religious have often preached this kind of superiority. You might have had a point that those arguing from the religious point of view are being inconsistent. However, that is not what you wrote and I do not think they would have got it anyway.

          Fair is fair and the real test of moral fortitude for the individual to not expect or take more than a fair share even when the person could get away with it.

          The observation, with respect to the monkeys is the same as for humans; that they can be seen to behave in the open with a sense of fairness.
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          Apr 16 2012: @Richard: Mark's comment is not off topic at all, IN FACT it represents why Frans de Waal's presentation receives any interest at all. It denies the story some people are desperate to prove as fact: that grossly selfish agressive (economic) behaviour is the perfectly natural result of an innate human trait...clearly its a fallacy after all. Most of us know that deep down.
        • Apr 16 2012: @ Joanne Donovan,

          I do not think Mark sees a sense of morality as a guide for behaviour but rather as a superficial construct to justify the way we behave (a contrived intellectual exercise, for the lack of a better expression, and deterministic).

          I think a sense of morality can influence behaviour. I would have expected you to I think that was the case too. Actually, I think behaviour and moral thought interact, but not deterministically. Behaviour, especially interactive behaviour, and necessity can educate a sense of morality.

          In any case, if the end result is demonstrably fairer in terms of equalising opportunity and reward then I think it does not matter whether it is deterministic or not. The term morality can be applied. However, as Mark responded, morality is not his thing. I think morality is your thing or am I wrong?

          Neither do I think morality is so arbitrary as some suggest. It is primarily impeded by prejudice.

          By off topic I meant the topic of morality in other animals.
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          Apr 16 2012: Hi Richard, if you want to argue about this word 'morality' I cannot see why the two ideas you present need to be mutually exclusive. In other words a concept of morality is sometimes a guide for behaviour and it is also sometimes a superficial construct used to justify the way we behave .

          The real discussion seems to be about whether or not we have an 'innate' sense of morality. I think we have an 'innate' drive to 'care' or 'love' or 'nurture' and that other strong drives define 'family' 'loved ones' 'community' as the target among. We can put the label 'morality' on that I guess, as it could be defined as a sense of right and wrong.

          Of course a great part of what we would consider our 'morality' is socio cultural and that seems to make for a perenial discussion, what is innate and what is derivative?
        • Apr 16 2012: @ Joanne,

          They aren't mutually exclusive.

          If I interpret Mark correctly, he does not think the idea of morality is even relevant and it was his idea you were defending. He reckons it is just an incidental idea (as per his comment below). Do you think the idea of morality is irrelevant?

          Anyway, I explained why I thought it was getting a little off topic and it seems TED thought so too.
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        • Apr 15 2012: Mark Meijer,

          I sure wouldn't like to be your neighbor.... I wouldn't even like to live in your neighborhood .... your town....

          You should really think twice before making such insidious comments...
        • Apr 15 2012: OK. Morality is my thing and I reckon that the one who always acts with no expectation of getting anything in return, is not morally superior because such an act is unrelated to being fair. If you are going to judge on an hypothetical you still need to comply with precept.

          Immorality comes with morality. While you may not agree I think that morality is a sense of fairness that, while often betrayed, presents a basis for a mutual contract and that is good enough for me.
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        • Apr 15 2012: Mark,

          Of course your right,

          You don't need to have the morality of a snake to have the right to speak freely about it....
          ....or to demonstrate the fact that you don't have any clear meaningful ideas about what morality really is.... do you .. ??
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        • Apr 15 2012: Mark,

          I have written roughly 32 comments on this discussion. All my ideas are there. All that I have written I stand for. If you want to understand my ideas of morality I suggest you go and read some of my other comments because I don't have the time or energy to repeat myself again through all that I've said along the length of this discussion. Not to be unfriendly... I just see from your comments that we are coming from two pretty different perspectives although we could possibly agree on some points.
          I forget what the name of your "guru figure" was, if I remember correctly .... wasn't it Allen Watts who said things so eloquently in your ears?
          My impression of A.W. is that he's way off base... and way out in left field if not completely out of the stadium... Sorry Meijer, I don't have the inner moral strength to straighten out A.W. and eventually your half twisted ideas.
          But please, if you have any comments to what I have already said in the 32 previous comments here, you can feel free to take them up one by one. One at a time please... maybe I can find the time to unscramble some of your misconstrued ideas....
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        • Apr 17 2012: Mark,

          I see we've been "moved" over to OWS debate, so I guess were off topic now..

          After watching the video, out of respect for your honest interest in the subject, I choose to make a quick response to it
          It could be argued that everything Sam Harris is saying is perfectly correct out of his perspective of a purely biological viewpoint of the human being. Without going into detail here about causality, neural weather patterns, intentions mysterious nature, the negation of "self", the MRI's limitation on seeing the underlying causes of the activity of the human brain, the phenomenal glockenspeil, and S.H. ultimate conclusion that all thoughts and emotions simply rise up in the human mind.. "what else could they do?"
          Because science, being true to its self limitations of focusing itself on the purely physical aspects of the human being, it cannot penetrate any deeper than this... that's it... the final conclusion.. man is no more than this "neural weather pattern" an inner storm of unforseen impulses of intentions that there is no explanation for.

          Due to this self imposed limitation of going no deeper into the understanding of the world than the purely physical nature of all causality ... what more can be said than to point at the neural storm going on in our brain and say this is the end, the final cause.

          What I see here is perhaps most quickly demonstrated in the following little picture.

          Have you ever buttoned up your shirt in the morning and started with the bottom button in the number 2 hole...? You don't realize your mistake until you get all the way up to the top and realize that you have one extra button.

          Your initial assumption works perfectly well,... perfectly logical... all the way up to one point...
          Then you realize when you have an extra button that you have to restart from the bottom up and re-evaluate your thinking.
          This is where S.H. is now. He is caught up in a form for "Pinkerism" and has painted himself into a proverbial corner...
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        Apr 16 2012: Occupy Wall Street is NOT asking for a hand out.... Just a level playing field. I also want that level playing field. I am disgusted with corporations violating our laws for financial safety, food safety, and product safety with complete and utter impunity. As examples I offer the recent financial meltdown, the repeated and persistent examples of mass food poisoning in the US, and Toyota's recent sticking accelerator pedal which have each caused the destruction of several hundred (at least) lives. Yet each of the companies involved in these examples are still in business in the US. What we want is the same rules applied to everyone. This is what our Constitution requires.
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        • Apr 17 2012: Mark,

          I think we should round off on this topic here .. at least on this OWS discussion.

          However, I have a lot of arguments against what your saying.. so it's a bit uncomfortable to just let them go. ... Can't you start a discussion of free will and I can jump in. It is a very interesting topic and others have started such discussions before.

          Quickly, in regards to just where "ideas" or "thoughts" come from. As it is in a way at the root of the question... If I said to you that your own thinking is a product of a spiritual activity taking place within you ..... and to just that degree... that you can think freely, is exactly this degree of freedom that you possess,

          From the starting point, I can say that I see the question threefold

          Thinking as most free

          Feeling as less free

          Willing as the least free

          Start a discussion and we can see where it takes us. There might be a lot of interest out there on TED so it would be a good exercise on both our parts to collect our thoughts... if that can be done from your perspective that is.... understanding the fact that they just pop up in your head at random.....
    • Apr 15 2012: Possibly, but then you need to explain two things:

      One is why the frustration was aimed at the person who was giving the the reward.

      Two is that envy is not associated with morality. If it looks like morality you need a better explanation to dismiss it than you do not like the interpretation.

      At the same time you expose your simple attitude about the Occupy Wall Street protesters, which you presume to be irrefutable.
    • Apr 15 2012: William,

      Clearly so, I agree. Had they started with three monkeys. The first two monkeys got grapes and the third monkey got cucumber. Would the two monkeys with the grapes throw their grapes back at the person doing the experiment in order to get her to give the third monkey a grape too..? I doubt it... They would each eat their own grape.. It would be very interesting to get Frans de Waal to tell just how they got the one monkey to deny a grape in order to get his fellow monkey a grape too. Now that would be more interesting than this more simple example. He mentions it briefly on the video at around 15.30 if your interested.
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      Apr 16 2012: This thread has been moved to a new Conversation topic, as it's ventured off-topic to the original Talk content.
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    Apr 16 2012: so good that even the deleted comments were moved :)
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