|Tube socks, because: optimistic|
Turns out, we all have some crossed wiring when it comes to making moral judgments for purely subjective reactions. You may not like gory movies, cilantro, or sagging. A restaurant may be too loud for you, a band may play music you think is grating. But whether you consider these issues to be your problem (for you to manage) or the world's problem (a wrong that needs to be set right) depends on how clear you are about where you stop and the world begins. If you have solipsistic tendencies, then what's wrong for you is wrong for everyone.
I don't think people have a lot of control over this, the broadness of their moral intuitions. People who are very black-and-white don't choose to be that way, it's more a matter of temperament. It can be changed, but only with great effort. First you have to recognize you have this temperament; then you have to see how it can be problematic; then you have to mindfully work on retraining your brain. You have to catch yourself making moral judgments, then ask yourself, "Is this really wrong, or is it just my problem?" The results can be life-altering.
The reason it's so hard to disentangle the two goes beyond temperament. We have good evolutionary reasons to confuse "yuck" with "evil." Imagine a tribe of ancient humans comes across a poisonous plant. A few people eat it, some die; the survivors learn to hate the taste. "This is bad," they tell their children, and in the word "bad" you can see the birth of the association between "yucky" and "evil." In such ways are taboos born: think about incest taboos. Incest provokes a strong "yuck" reaction from almost all humans, and accordingly many consider it sinful or evil. You can see where this would be necessary, to avoid three-eyed children and the like. Associating "yuck" with "sin" is, in some cases, evolutionarily advantageous.
|One man's yuck is another man's yum|
Of course there is a difference between disgust and dislike, but they're often on the same sliding scale. To pronounce something "disgusting" is to say you dislike it a whole lot. In the same way the "yuck" reaction muddles our moral intuitions, mere dislike can lead us astray as well. Those who are especially susceptible to disgust have some things in common, besides the moralizing aspect: they're black-and-white thinkers, they "go with their guts," they're intuitive more than rational, they form snap judgments, they aren't especially deliberative, and they tend to be politically and religiously conservative. Exceptions abound: the liberal who's a black-and-white thinker, the moralistic person who's rational and deliberative. I'm sure everyone can call to mind half a dozen counter-examples. But a number of solid social-science studies have shown that, exceptions aside, those correlations I listed do hold up.
We can thank our cautious ancestors who engaged in just enough snap judgments and moralistic reactions to icky things to keep us alive. We wouldn't be here without them. We just need to watch out for the downsides. Our moral judgments should have to do with human well-being writ large, not with one individual's likes or dislikes. Anthony Kiedis harmed no one with his birthday half-suit, and if you liked that Bud commercial, you are no less moral than I am.
|4 out of 5 babies polled agree: lemons are a sin|
Further reading (and watching):
It's Hard to Gross Out a Libertarian, from Reason.com
Disgust and Morality, from Psychology Today
Fart Spray (And Disgust) Make Moral Intuitions More Severe, from ScienceBlogs (gotta love that headline)
The Strange Politics of Disgust, A TED talk by psychologist David Pizarro
What We're Disgusted By Shapes Our Morality, by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt