August 28, 2015

"It is striking that our brute instincts, rather than our celebrated higher cognitive faculties, are what lead to such moral acts" as taking down that gunman on the French train.

"But why would anyone ever develop such potentially fatal instincts?"
One possible explanation is that in most everyday situations, helping others pays off in the long run. You buy lunch for a friend or pitch in to help a colleague meet a tight deadline, and you find yourself repaid in kind, or even more, down the road. So it’s beneficial to develop a reflex to help — especially because the cost to you is usually quite small....

58 comments:

clint said...

When did we start calling the instinct to self-sacrificingly protect others brutish?

rhhardin said...

Altruism has survival value for the species, if not the individual. So that characteristic is selected for.

n.n said...

The reductionist perspective is motivated by a belief that it is possible to discern between origin and expression. Another possible explanation is that a moral character is intrinsic to human life, but can be selectively overridden with a conscious choice.

Hey Skipper said...

Another possible explanation is that testosterone matters.

khesanh0802 said...

After all the pschobabble this author gets to a very important point: "While many heroes have no military or other formal training, a sizable proportion do. The military hones soldiers’ cooperative instincts in an environment that has all of the required characteristics: Soldiers occasionally find themselves helping others at enormous personal risk." The military is not the only source of heroism but it teaches a code of duty toward others that lends itself to a willingness to act. I don't think heroes - trained or untrained - fail to think about the consequences of their actions. I do think they dismiss those thoughts quickly because they recognize just as quickly the need to act to fulfill their expectations of themselves. Heroes decide to "Run to the sound of gunfire" regardless of the possible cost.

We have gotten very sloppy with the use of the word hero. It should be reserved for individual actions such as those on the French train, not for that fact that you show up for morning formation.

Achilles said...

Contrary to Nietzsche, there are 3 types of people in the world not 2. There are Sheep, wolves, and wolfhounds. The wolfhounds protect the sheep from the wolves. But they have far more in common with the wolves than they do with the sheep. The sheep always resent the wolfhound even when the wolfhound protects them.

The problem the sheep have is they don't understand the difference between the wolf and the wolfhound.

Anonymous said...

When you don't recognize humans have a soul, our actions often times make no sense.

furious_a said...

"But why would anyone ever develop such potentially fatal instincts?"

Because when a shaheed is chambering a round one doesn't have the luxury of trumping bad ideas with better ideas or the time to find a place to hide. Because sometimes nothing less awful or immediate than violence will serve.

Bay Area Guy said...

It's called "courage" -- an unfamiliar concept to the Beta males at the NYTimes.

Casey Kirk said...

Oh my word, Achilles at 3:51 absolutely NAILS IT. Well done!

Unknown said...

What nonsense. We have an instinct for self-preservation. The courage to defend others is learned. It requires moving forward into the fire, towards the battlefield, rather than away to safety. It is not an instinct. All of our instincts work against it. Courage and bravery need to be celebrated and received with extreme gratitude.

Roughcoat said...

Achilles -

I herd sheep with my border collies and I can tell you that the sheep do indeed know the difference between a wolf and a wolfhound, as it were. Sheep learn to read the dogs herding them and if the dogs are skilled herders the sheep will have confidence in them and move calmly. In the west ranchers who run sheep customarily use border collies for herding and Grand Pyrenees for guarding the flock from predators such as bears, pumas, coyotes, whatever. The sheep love the Pyrenees and the Pyrenees love the sheep. This mutual love is attributable to the method of taking the Pyrenees pup from its litter at a very early age and raising in the barn with the sheep. The Pyrenees are fearless and fierce if needs must and will do anything to protect the sheep with whom they have bonded, even sacrificing their lives, and the sheep know it and are calm and comfortable around them. The sheep are less thrilled with the border collies but that's because the BCs make them move. But, as I said, a skillful border collie will know how to apply just enough pressure on the flock without spooking them. The sheep learn to recognize and trust the BCs who perform thus. It is a thing of beauty, really, to see a border collie move his/her sheep calmly and slowly across open terrain.

campy said...

"Another possible explanation is that testosterone matters."

#MaleHormonesMatter still not trending.

furious_a said...

Passengers on Flight 93 'ran to the sound of guns', too. Talk about a Kobayashi Maru scenario. As Glenn Reynolds and others pointed out, the people on Flight 93 were the only Americans to get inside al Quaeda's OODA loop that awful day.

Air Force, ANG and their buddy (plus the Brit and the off-duty conductor) saved their own lives, too. That doesn't devalue their moxie, but they did have motivations in addition to altruism.

One could argue that the highest moral obligation is to act, to which the "higher cognitive faculties" /cough/rationalizations/cough/ are an impediment.

Grackle said...

It's the fucking New York Times. When shit gets real, those assholes will be huddled in a corner or licking the ass of the people delivering the brutality.

False Grackle

Roughcoat said...

And if wolves appear to stalk the flock the sheep will know from their smell and the way they move (and perhaps some sixth sense) that they are not "their" dogs, i.e. that the wolves are not the border collies that herd them nor the grand Pyrenees that protect them. Also the border collies and Pyrenees will go apeshit berserk, each in their own style, at the wolves or any other predators that intrude upon their idyll.

The Drill SGT said...

""It is striking that our brute instincts, rather than our celebrated higher cognitive faculties, are what lead to such moral acts" as taking down that gunman on the French train."

Cuz Heroes that survive get the babes. Breeding and strategies to breed are at the core of our DNA. Both Male and female. In is built in that females love heroes and want those genes...

Men, all this stuff you hear about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of bullshit. Americans love to fight. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big-league ball players and the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time.

The Godfather said...

The British business man who was also involved in subduing the terrorist was quoted as saying he was going to try to hide until he saw the three buddies go after the terrorist, and then he joined in.

The first guy to act, as I understand it, was the American-French professor, who got the AK-47 away from the terrorist, but was then shot in the back (he didn't know the terrorist had more weapons).

The three buddies, at least according to one of them, figured they would have to take the terrorist down or they would be killed.

I don't think this all fits into some neat psychological theory.

However, I find it hard to believe that anyone other than a psychologist would think that heroism is such a strange characteristic that it requires an explanation.

Henry said...

I realize Yoeli and Rand are picking their adjectives for dramatic effect, but I would have swapped the words "brute" and "higher" and just removed the "celebrated".

One of the more challenging aspects of Buddhist thinking is that keeping your mind in the moment underpins moral action. Three quotes from Zen Master Seung Sahn illustrate this idea:

The sky is blue. The tree is green. A dog is barking, “Woof! Woof!” Sugar is sweet. When you are hungry, what? When you are tired, what? A suffering person comes to you: what can you do? The name for that is wisdom. It is not complicated.

Making a correct life means function. A one-point question demands a one-point answer. That is truth just-like-this.

But if someone is suffering in front of you, how do you take this perception and make it function clearly for them? That is the point of just-like-this.


There is a profound connection to faith in this idea. It is the faith that one can act intuitively for the good, despite the mind's self-doubt and psychological machinations. Yoeli and Rand do hit this mark, in the end.

madAsHell said...

There's a high school nearby named for Todd Beamer the hero of flight 93 on September 11, 2001. Their motto is "Let's Roll".

I suggest that we name the next new high school after Spencer Stone. The motto can be "FUCK THIS SHIT".

.....just kidding!!

Achilles said...

Several years ago before I joined the army I read a story somewhere on the internet. It was about a seemingly innocuous headline about Iraq. The Headline of the story being analyzed was "Two dead 17 wounded in suicide bomber attack." The AP headline included few details and was designed to cause the same old ho hum war sucks reaction. But the reporter for this story did some digging and told the actual story.

A man in Iraq was with his family and leaving a mosque during the early part of the war. He noticed someone dressed as a woman but was walking funny and right towards the large group of people that included his family. He noticed enough to recognize this was a suicide bomber and ran out and tackled the man. The bomb went off. They died and some in the crowd were hurt.

I joined the Army with my wife a few months later.

The person who wrote this story calling it "brute instincts" and most sheep people will never understand this. We understand and usually let it go.

It is when the sheep act like John Kerry and trash us in congressional testimony it gets to us. When Obama releases leaks about how awesome he was catching Osama bin Laden and leaks out sensitive information on underwear bombers or Hillary stands on coffins of dead soldiers after Benghazi and tells lies discontent begins to fester. When people bring up the "No WMD" lie the get it full frontal. People who say that there were no WMD's in Iraq are at this point knowingly lying and are trying to undermine us and our mission. They are on the other side.

It is pretty clear that a lot of people in the US are on the other side. They will be hiding in corners soon just like they always do when freedom is under attack.

Jason said...

They executed the near-ambush battle drill. When you're attacked from within hand grenade range, there is no maneuver. No point in pretending to 'think.' No calculation. There's no time to issue orders. You don't wait for orders. All hands in the kill zone IMMEDIATELY go after the enemy full-tilt with whatever weapon you already have in your hand and you kill him with ridiculously extreme, savage violence. The more brutish you are, the better. Savagery is a feature, not a bug, in that context.

Fuck the chin-stroking shitbirds who think they're above that.

Bobber Fleck said...

Unknown said: "What nonsense. We have an instinct for self-preservation. The courage to defend others is learned. It requires moving forward into the fire, towards the battlefield, rather than away to safety. It is not an instinct. All of our instincts work against it. Courage and bravery need to be celebrated and received with extreme gratitude."

I disagree at least in part. We talk about a "fight or flight response". Our instinct is too make a quick decision about whether to engage a perceived threat or retreat.

Our current liberal American culture is fixated on "flight", thus the inappropriate interpretation by the NYT wimps. Soldiers, police and firefighters (to name a few) have cultivated a "controlled fight response" and run toward perceived danger. NYT writers cower and allow the threat free reign.

PB said...

BS. Absolutely BS. A higher cognitive individual who has physical skills doesn't need to sit around and think for very long before acting and using those physical skills. It's called training. It's what top athletes do when they claim they are acting on instinct. Actually, they are processing information at a high-speed and using a deep database of experience that allows them to perform at a high level.

Lem said...

In praise of male brutish shamanism.

H said...

rhardin above makes the important point -- evolution does not favor selfishness as a trait. Do a search for "selfishness and evolution". http://news.discovery.com/human/psychology/does-evolution-punish-or-favor-the-selfish-130801.htm

Also, thanks to Roughcast for the sheep-dog relationship info. It makes me want a Grand Pyrenees (except I don't have a farm). It is easy to see instinctive behavior in dogs. Some retrieve without being taught. Shepherding dogs instinctively understand the concept of boundaries. I've seen a mastiff go and stand by the only child in a dog park to make sure she was protected.

So (though it is harder to recognize in our human behavior) instinct is a powerful force. And evolution has tended to favor the development of an instinct for what we call heroism.

mikee said...

I was on a national park trail once, walking with my daughter, well ahead of the rest of the family, when two bear cubs tumbled into sight just off the trail. Almost immediately momma bear decided the kids were too close to us humans, and began to charge downhill at us.

My only thought was that I was the only thing between that angry bear and my daughter, and that right between them was where I needed to stay.

Momma bear stopped her charge well before I even had time to wet my pants, fortunately. She collected the two cubs with a rough cough, and they ambled off uphill.

My daughter, aged 11, looked at me and said, "Wow, that was fun!"

JCC said...

I second (or third, or whatever) those opinions that this is typical NYT nonsense, trying to assign valuation to various courses of action when faced with violence. Save the others or save myself? What to do? Let me weigh my options.

This is why some will run into a burning building, or run toward the sound of gunfire, while others flee, why some may choose a career - or to postpone that career for public service first - that is predicated on a reasonable assumption of risk of this happening.

Hopefully, one will take some steps in life to assume an ability to match the grit. Learn to shoot. Work out at a boxing gym. Something.

Big Mike said...

It is striking that our brute instincts, rather than our celebrated higher cognitive faculties, are what lead to such moral acts.

In liberals the "celebrated higher cognitive faculties" in not all that high and merely self-celebrated. The level of cognition for a liberal is actually pretty low when matched against such uncommon virtues as commonsense.

Jupiter said...

H said...
"rhardin above makes the important point -- evolution does not favor selfishness as a trait. Do a search for "selfishness and evolution". http://news.discovery.com/human/psychology/does-evolution-punish-or-favor-the-selfish-130801.htm "

Bilge. Evolution acts at the level of the individual, not the species. Individuals who act to help the species, at the cost of their own reproductive success, are thereby breeding that trait out of the species. They allow those who lack the trait to reproduce, while their own "altruistic" genes are not passed on.

If you want to know why three guys attack one, skinny little jihadi on a train, you might want to consider the fact that they lived to tell about it. If they had sat in their seats and waited for Ahmed to figure out how to operate his AK, they would probably be dead. Violence works. That's why men are violent.

T Rellis said...

I'm not comparing myself to these guys because I've never had to charge a man with a gun.

I've always been a charger though and have acted in times big and small and seen the vast majority of people standing by with mouths agape. When I was younger I was always "what is wrong with those people?" But as I aged I figured out they were normal and I was the one that something was wrong with. I just cannot even fathom sitting by when something needs to be done. Can't wrap my head around passivity.

Achilles said...

Jason said...

"Fuck the chin-stroking shitbirds who think they're above that."

I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

I miss a few things about being in and one of them was being surrounded by people who knew where their balls were and what they were for. I am not having trouble fitting back in. I just can't sit in a restaurant and overhear the whiny shit about first world problems that comes out of the mouths of many people. If it was their kids being sold into sex slavery like the Christians in Iraq they would probably not say some of the things they do.

On a side note our country is heading towards a course correction. The Brutish Unthinking moral actors are unhappy about things and the way we are going and the apparent apathy about it.

mikesixes said...

Duh. It's a survival instinct-fight or flight. In a closed space, flight is not feasible, so your best shot is to try to get him before he can get you.

Michael McClain said...

ALWAYS attack into the ambush. It befuddles the bad guy and allows you to take the initiative. In the end, if they're going to kill you, make it very expensive for them.

H said...

Back to Jupiter: reproductive success is not one-to-one correlated with survival. Start with a population that is 50 heroes and 50 selfish assholes. Expose them to an environmental stress: 20 heroes and 50 selfish assholes. But then expose that remaining population to (evolutionary) female desire: all 20 heroes breed, and only 10 selfish assholes breed. the next generation is 66 heroes and 33 selfish assholes.

John said...

Um I know this is confusing, but they were men, acting as such.

Bob said...

Actually, science fiction titan Robert A. Heinlein explained it perfectly in his 1973 address to the US Naval Academy (his alma mater), "The Pragmatics of Patriotism."

n.n said...

Evolution is a chaotic process. The factor which is interesting to people, is not the physical process, but rather the fitness function that directs it. Human consciousness is a causal force that influences evolution, but is ultimately overwhelmed by other causal forces.

Big Mike said...

@Bob, thanks for the link. I had seen excerpts from that address, but this is the first I read it in full.

Bob said...

@Big Mike: Even that is an excerpt. The full speech can be found in Heinlein's book Expanded Universe. Heinlein supposedly stipulated to his publisher that the book was only to be published in the US, as it aired dirty laundry. It's well worth the purchase price, as it includes stories, polemic writings, essays and even predictions. It's worth the purchase price in hardcover simply for including "The Pragmatics of Patriotism."

Coach B said...

Ann,

This collection of comments is the best I have ever seen. Congratulations on attracting such an erudite following.

kcom said...

"It is striking that our brute instincts, rather than our celebrated higher cognitive faculties, are what lead to such moral acts" as taking down that gunman on the French train.

I wonder what this says about the Iran agreement. I see a parallel, despite the hoity-toity warmonger talk of our erstwhile smartest-man-in-the-room president.

Virgil Hilts said...

The NY times writers are not of our tribe, and so they try to find some evolutionary / biological explanation for heroic action that they cannot comprehend doing themselves.

In the aftermath of Katrina, Bill Whittles explained it pretty well:
http://web.archive.org/web/20050924124503/http://www.ejectejecteject.com/archives/000129.html

Virgil Hilts said...

I meant Bill Whittle.

clint said...

"Jupiter said...

Bilge. Evolution acts at the level of the individual, not the species..."

Nope.

Evolution acts at the level of the gene.

Individuals are just as irrelevant as groups and species.

And under certain circumstances gene-level selection can favor self-sacrificial altruistic behavior at the individual level. All for the benefit of the gene.

Fernandinande said...

"But why would anyone ever develop such potentially fatal instincts?"

Why would the MSM pretend that sociobiology is new and mysterious?

David said...

There is an instinct to protect the tribe-herd-group. That instinct is visible in quite a few animals, especially those which live in socialized groups. Overall that instinct seems to be stronger in the males. Thus we train the males to perfect the instinct and develop the means for its exercise. I'm not sure why one would define this tendency as brutish. It's aggressive, but when used as a protective mechanism it's the opposite of brutish.

This developed and trained tendency is central to the military. It is known that some will die to protect the larger group.

Anonymous said...

It's not particularly striking that you'd need physical instincts in an emergency physical situation. It's only after intelligence has failed that the need for brute heroism activated.

Anonymous said...

If an instinct for self-preservation is "brutish", then it must be controlled and surpressed by civilized rules, right?

When, exactly, did that happen?

What civilized rules have been strong and effective enough to prevail over a mindless impulse to KILL?

Face it" the NYT writer is a complete limp-dicked (and thus ineffective in many contexts ) douchnozzle.

If he were in that railroad car he would have whimpered and cowered under his seat until a bullet managed to find and destroy his tiny brain.


Anonymous said...

This developed and trained tendency is central to the military. It is known that some will die to protect the larger group.

**************

When the "larger group" is a bunch of people you don't know, that claim falls flat on its fucking face.

Altruism doesn't stop with people you know or identify with from common experience.

Explain firefighters.

Achilles said...

Coach B said...
"Ann,

This collection of comments is the best I have ever seen. Congratulations on attracting such an erudite following."

We appreciate this on a group level.

Achilles said...

"But why would anyone ever develop such potentially fatal instincts?"

As a final parting shot at the reporter who wrote this article the most potentially fatal instinct is to cower in your seat and try to hide. You are on a moving train so you aren't going anywhere. You will eventually die.

A central tenant to the military is that winning is the only thing. If you lose a lot of you if not all of you die, so you win. If you try to save yourself and your side loses your chances of dying go way up so you do everything necessary to win.

These retards at the NYT don't get that if the people that charged the gunmen didn't charge they would have died eventually. History is full of these people running away on a variety of scales.

Jim S. said...

I think our brute instinct to flee from danger is more powerful than any drive towards altruism. Altruism is what reigns in our brute instincts. I guess it's "brutish" in the current example only because the altruism that was required involved violence. But to call it brutish for that reason is pretty simplistic.

Bob said...

Kings reign over their countries; horsemen rein in their horses (pull on the reins to slow or stop them.

Bob said...

Damn. It's the tenant/tenet error, too.

Big Mike said...

If he were in that railroad car he would have whimpered and cowered under his seat until a bullet managed to find and destroy his tiny brain.

It would take several rounds; needs a lot of head shots to hit a brain that small.

Achilles said...

Big Mike said...
If he were in that railroad car he would have whimpered and cowered under his seat until a bullet managed to find and destroy his tiny brain.

"It would take several rounds; needs a lot of head shots to hit a brain that small."

Naw. AK47s are big grain bullets going fairly fast and make an awful mess of a head. It would probably take one.

SGT Ted said...

"But why would anyone ever develop such potentially fatal instincts?"

Clueless, personified. I bet the author thinks himself to be educated. Sophisticated too.

This is what kind of human you get when you steep them in a culture of denigrating the military specifically and manliness in general.