David Brooks has another of his patented “science explains social things but I won’t tell you how or cite any actual articles” pieces today. This one is about the “science of morality.” It’s hard for me to read neocons talk about morality without thinking about torture. Brooks:
Many of our moral emotions and intuitions reflect that history. We don’t just care about our individual rights, or even the rights of other individuals. We also care about loyalty, respect, traditions, religions. We are all the descendents of successful cooperators.
The first nice thing about this evolutionary approach to morality is that it emphasizes the social nature of moral intuition. People are not discrete units coolly formulating moral arguments. They link themselves together into communities and networks of mutual influence.[….]
It challenges the new atheists, who see themselves involved in a war of reason against faith and who have an unwarranted faith in the power of pure reason and in the purity of their own reasoning.
When George W. Bush was running for President, Christians hoped that having a devout man in the White House would lead to more a more moral government.. traditions and religions![….]
But Bush wasn’t the most interesting test of the theory. Though his faith was important to him, it never had nearly the depth of another member of the team — John Ashcroft…[….]
In Never Again, his book about his years as Attorney General, Ashcroft doesn’t mention torture or “enhanced interrogation” at all. He doesn’t ackowledge wrestling with the ethical issues, even by way of justifying the decisions. The closest he comes is a phrase defending the right to “ask probing questions” of suspected terrorist detainees.
On one of the greatest moral questions of the administration — and arguably one of the greatest challenges to Christian ethics of the last decade — he has nothing to say.
And thank God for cooperation as well.
Medical personnel were deeply involved in the abusive interrogation of terrorist suspects held overseas by the Central Intelligence Agency, including torture, and their participation was a “gross breach of medical ethics,” a long-secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded.
I hope I don’t sound hysterical here, but hearing a war-supporter who has been silent about torture tell the world it’s wonder how morality works is just a bit too much for me this morning.
Update. It took me a while to understand what Brooks was driving at here, but I think I get it now: it’s a defense of doing as you’re told, of not questioning things, of living the life of the “Organization Kid“, to use of his own phrases. It’s a message that runs through all his works from the “shut up and drive your Audi” message of “Bobos in Paradise” to the “shut up and eat at Applebee’s” message of “On Paradise Drive.”
When I lived in Athens, Georgia, the excellent free weekly The Flagpole did an article contrasting the Brooks “Organization Kid” piece with some book that had a title like “How To Get Through College”, which gave advice on things like how to avoid doing laundry, how to show up for class hung-over, and so on. I still remember how it closed: “The student who has read `How To Get Through College’ may stagger when he walks, but at least he doesn’t goosestep.”