“It’s absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.” -Oscar Wilde

Babies already judge people as “good” or “bad”. In one study, 6-month-olds watched videos of a circle climbing a hill. A square pushed the circle down then a triangle helped it up. Later, almost all the babies preferred a toy that looked like the helpful triangle.

Other studies have found 6-month-olds prefer voices without a foreign accent and 5-year-olds prefer friends that speak without an accent.

As Joshua Greene argues rather convincingly in his book Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them, morality likely evolved to help us solve the tragedy of the commons, or the problem of sharing and trusting each other when it is in each individual’s best interest to take advantage of everyone else.

There is nothing inherently right or wrong about any human action but we feel good about helping members of our in-group and defeating  out-group members because these feelings allowed us to successfully cooperate and accumulate resources.

In fact, research shows morality is based on feelings shared by primates and monkeys, suggesting it started evolving millions of years ago.

So it may be absurd to divide certain people and actions into “good” and “bad” but it’s in our blood.


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