The Moral Sense, a biologic structure wired somewhere in the brain and passed on through DNA, evolved for a group’s survival. Whether we are on The Right or The Left, we each come with the Moral Sense. Alfred Russell Wallace suggested man was “social and sympathetic” by nature: “Early in the development of human societies the capacity for cooperation and sympathy left all to assist each other,” benefiting each community and was therefore favored by natural selection. David Hume noted that the “social virtues” are part of our instinctive makeup, evolved to foster group solidarity and cooperation.” Darwin observed, “The social instincts possess greater strength, or have, through long habit, acquired greater strength than the instinct of self-preservation, hunger, lust, vengeance, etc.” Allegiance to the group, expressed as the social instincts, made for survival.
Can these great minds – Wallace, Hume, Darwin – help us make sense out of Republicans and the Tea Baggers? Yes and no. They help us understand the fierce solidarity of folks on The Right, their voting en bloc, but make no mention of their dealings with outside groups. Sure, group members may be social and sympathetic with each other, but it’s another matter when dealing with “aliens,” that is, members of other tribes. For Tea Baggers and company, that’s an enemy called “The Gov’ment.” And like ancient Carthage, it must be destroyed. 144 Republicans, the other week, voted to continue the shut down of the government, effectively destroying it. In fact,they openly acknowledge that that’s why they came to Washington, to destroy this enemy group. Referring to these Congressmen as “political terrorists”is not over the top.”Take that, you Kenyan, socialist, Marxist Obama and the donkey that brought you here!”
Steven Pinker describes the consequences of this parochialism: “The most obvious human tragedy comes from the difference between our feelings toward kin and our feelings toward non-kin, one of the deepest divides in the living world.” Winston Churchill wrote, “The story of the human race is war. Except for brief and precarious interludes there has never been peace in the world; and long before history began murderous strife was universal and unending.”
The Right is vulnerable to fashioning a politics shaped by the Moral Sense, which means interacting with reality from the top down. (I’ll investigate that vulnerability by and by.) The Tea Party is exhibit A. The Moral Sense pits one good group, the Tea Party, against a bad group, The Gov’ment, with whom there can be no compromise. Minimizing a view from the bottom up tosses objectivity out the window. The facts of Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, observable in their actual implementation, don’t come into the story. The commonsense world, one registering on the five senses, disappears. A manufactured moral system eclipses reality – spending is bad, taxes are bad, regulations are bad. Bad! Bad! Bad! The real world – hungry children, sick patients, unemployed millions – simply disappears in a Stygian blackout.
The Tea Party is a living fossil, living in a political world shaped by the Moral Sense. No different from the violent world inhabited by Homo erectus.