Is Moralism an Evolutionary Maladaption?

Johnnie Moore has been reading Brad Blanton’s Radical Honesty, and applying some of Blanton’s ideas about moralizing to branding, marketing, and improvisation. As usual for Johnnie’s posts, it is well worth a read.

What caught my attention was a quote from Blanton on what he calls the Disease of Moralism:

The passing on of learning from one generation to the next is not a bad design, and as an evolutionary development it seems to have triumphed… The ability to act based on accumulated information, and to pass great quantities of new information on, is the primary survival characteristic of the strongest animal on earth.

But, paradoxically, our survival mechanism has proved to be ultimately suicidal.

So is moralism an evolutionary maladaption? It is an interesting hypothesis, and for all I know, could very well be true, but it seems suspiciously oversimplified to me. [I could also very likely be misrepresenting Blanton’s ideas, as I haven’t actually read the quote in context, so take this all with a grain… no, a bag of salt.]

Given how pervasive moralizing is in western culture, I would guess that it probably has some evolutionary advantage, much like what scientists are uncovering with altruism. In fact, I’d guess that moralizing is an enormously beneficial tool; so beneficial that it is often misapplied in situations where it doesn’t work, leading some observers, like Blanton, to believe it is always harmful.

So how could we test the hypothesis of moralism as a maladaption? There’s something to think about.

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