Friday, February 25, 2011

More on Sacred Values

After my post on Bentham and sacred values on Tuesday I happened to come across this interesting video by the evolutionary biologist Tiger, which addresses a whole host of issues, many of which I have started to think seriously about of late.

Firstly, I found it interesting that Tiger mentions (at the 5:20 mark), after outlining the evolutionary function of religion, that utilitarianism was a failed attempt to replace religion with a secular moral ethic. It failed, he argues, "because it didn't have have any good music [that was before my Bentham music video below!], it had really poor costumes, and no great architecture." He makes a very good point, and I agree with him that there is a poverty of intergenerational institutions that could do for humans what religions does. Though I would want to perhaps add the proviso that the problem is no secular institutions have (as of yet) been able to provide the positive benefits that religion can confer (while avoiding the bad consequences religion also confers).

I think the positive psychology movement, for example, could help fill this gap. And it might be much more successful than Bentham's hedonism. More specifically, I think a society that aspires to capitalise on what I have called the "play dividend" could deliver on these things. So if we could replace the preoccupation with religion with a preoccupation for play (social, physical, imaginative, etc.) I think things could get very exciting.

Secondly, I was fascinated by Tiger's insights into male behaviour. It just so happens that I am reading this book at the moment, and have this book sitting on my shelf as my next read.

My interest in the life history of males was spurred on by my interest in the evolution of patriarchy (in addition to being a father to three boys). I actually planned to post some thoughts on these issues later. So I will save that for another time.

Anyways, Tiger's talk is well worth listening to. He will no doubt challenge your understanding of the world in many respects. But I think the perspective he adopts, namely the lens of evolutionary biology, is one of the most valuable perspectives we can adopt to make sense of religion, morality, patriarchy, aging, war, etc.