Saturday, November 06, 2010


Is there good reason to be optimistic about moral progress? In Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond retells his conversation with a Guinean native who actually began life in the Stone Age. His companion tells Diamond that if he encountered anyone not from his tribe, the first decision he would have to make was whether to try and kill the stranger or not. Has tribalism receded in our day?

We are now in Germany and in this lifetime, it was policy to murder me an many like me for tribal reasons. Germany has seemingly changed (and to be fair, Germans, unlike many others, acknowledge their crimes). I mentioned Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands in my Oct 27 post. Bryan Caplan quotes one of many chilling passages from the book that shows how easily tribalism can trump normal civility. This echoes Daniel Goldhagen's work. Snyder recounts mass murder orchestrated by Stalin as well as by Hitler.

Snyder shows how class warfare as well as race warfare each provided a banner for under which mass murder could occur. While not in the same league, U.S. elites still toy with too much of each. I think that each is poison.

So is there moral progress? I do not know. I enjoyed Robert Wright's The Evolution of God. Kwame Anthony Appiah's The Honor Code is next on my list. It will take quite a bit to get over Bloodlands.