Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - Volume 6, Number 7

© Copyright 2015, The Ultrapolis Project.  All Rights Reserved.

Moral Premises Conceded to the Left Long Ago

Social Conservatives Out-Gunned, Out-Maneuvered, Retreat on Alien Ground


·         Hillary Clinton 2016 Forecast Watch

·         Cartoon Commentaries: Beeler, Margulies, and McCoy on Cake Bakers and Transgender Norms







The Moral Premise


Under the Cover of a Transgender Night

Unmanned Ramparts

Under Siege


In Awe of the Moral Chimp


In an episode of the TED Radio Hour recently re-broadcast on the amiable and well-intentioned left-leaning airwaves of our National Public Radio (NPR), listeners were treated to a fascinating segment on what appears to be the presence of moral behavior among primates (our closest genetic cousins in the Animal Kingdom).  Well, we say ‘moral’ at least as apparently understood by the kindly, boyish Guy Raz, who is the host of the show (and one of many high-pitched, raspy voices featured on NPR – it’s like it’s a new job requirement there to be allowed on the air).  And ‘moral’ as understood by his erudite and gentlemanly guest for the segment, Dr. Frans de Waal, a biologist and primatologist known for his work on the behavior and social intelligence of primates.


In the segment Dr. de Waal described animal behavior that could be described as altruistic, and in some cases empathic.  One example was that of a monkey rejecting a favored fruit unless their monkey partner also got one.  In another, younger chimpanzees regularly aid an elderly chimpanzee, even though she is unlikely to ever again offer anything in return.


Mr. Raz in awe says,


It's incredible because we think of like our primal instincts as things that need to be tamed. And then centuries of civilization and religion have tamed those instincts to result in morality. But actually, the morality comes from our primal instincts.


Dr. de Waal replies,


Well, the traditional view is, of course, that morality comes either from God or it comes from philosophers. Our basic instincts are all bad. And then civilization manages to make it good. We have a good side, which is cultural and religious, and a bad side, which is biological.


But that is not exactly what religion says about morality.  Even if it is half right, it is critically half wrong.


Impostor Morality


The misunderstanding underlying this view regarding ‘morality’ in animals is the idea that morality is defined by the mere presence of a biologically evolved emotion, in this case empathy.  This is a common view among those suspicious of religion or traditional views of morality, and who favor a scientific explanation for what is ‘good’.  But, why is empathy moral and anger not?  If we do something for someone because it makes us feel good, most religions would see that as a moral wash.  Likewise, if we act in anger, it is moral or not, depending on the motivation.   Both emotions have equal claim to biological evolution.


If a monkey refuses a grape for a fellow monkey in one setting, and attacks another monkey for gain in a different situation, the monkey is not acting morally or immorally, it is acting entirely on emotion.  The Bible says even sinners love those who love them.  By all accounts Hitler was kind to his dog (not to mention Eva Braun) and was an animal lover.  Some drug kingpins are known for the altruistic kindness they extend to those they care about.  These acts of kindness are enacted purely by desire.  They are not moral because they are not motivated by a concern for morality.


Therefore, morality is not the presence of the emotion of empathy, nor is it simply acting on one’s emotion – the easiest thing one can do.  Morality is the determination of what ought to be, independent of what benefits or pleases the self, and certainly independent of what one feels.  Desires and emotions may or may not align with what is moral (what ought to be), but their mere presence cannot be said to advise us on the matter.  Even most modern intellectual atheists from Sartre to Nietzsche have argued that biological nature offers no clue to any objective moral truth.  More specifically, they say it cannot.


Thus, the premise that seems so self-evident to Mr. Raz and his guest, and no doubt to many who would like to see science overrule religion, actually makes no sense on its face.


Morality Trumps Empathy


So, yes, to borrow Mr. Raz’s incredulous words, but with the opposite intent, “our primal instincts [are] things that need to be tamed. And [] centuries of civilization and religion have tamed those instincts to result in morality.”  It is how and why we tame and channel emotions from empathy to envy, and choose which to carefully cultivate and which to constrain.  And, it is how we define one action as ‘good’ and another ‘bad’ – regardless of the combination of emotions that may have played a part.  Again, going by their definition and without using circular reasoning, what makes one biologically evolved feeling (empathy), anymore moral than another biologically evolved emotion (jealous rage)?


Morality only has meaning when one reasons against one’s own emotional (primal) desires, regardless of whether the feeling of empathy is present, for a cause other than self-benefit.  In fact, the highest morality is the one enacted in the absence of emotional empathy; that is, acting on behalf of another even when one does NOT feel empathy, or even sympathy, but in pursuit of a value that accepts that what ‘ought to be’ is something higher than anything one might want.  In other words, morality is to act rightly towards one’s enemies even though they may yet persecute you; to not take what rightly belongs to others, even if this will gain you more power and chances of survival; and crucially, it means to not engage in actions that can propagate one’s own kind without the trappings of commitment and responsibility that will protect the innocent and helpless young, even if it means denial of one’s pleasures and the limitation of one’s chances to pass on one’s genetic code.  In all of this, morality is nothing if not entirely against the rule by biologically evolved primal instinct.


Yet, as fundamental and plain as this should seem, it is not so in our society.   This is largely because as we often point out in these pages, Western religious institutions are completely out-gunned in the battle of social ideas, and it is typical in history to find dominant moral philosophies growing soft and shallow precisely because of their dominance.  Once a notion becomes almost universally accepted, people forget its original reason for being.  So the TED Radio Hour passes off to millions of listeners – without any counter-argument – the notion that we do not need God or philosophy to explain what is good, only scientific experiments (the study practically says so!).


See next column >



Ultrapolis World Forecast & Review

Ultrapolis Project – ultrapolisproject.com



Editor: Marco Antonio Roberts

Copy Editor: Michael Alberts

Contributing Editors:

Mark Eastman

Mark Steele






Our forecast record cannot be beat.  One can follow the herd chasing the latest hyperbolic, melodramatic, and soon-forgotten micro-trend, or one can be wisely and judiciously in front of it with UWFR. 


The Moral Animal: What do displays of animal altruism and empathy tell us about what is moral and what is not?





< From column 1


The Morally Mute


If it is true that the dominant far-left liberal progressives of today have deliberately not only abandoned the old codes of virtue and self-sacrifice, but are outright in offense against them, it is also true that todays’ religious and social conservatives are practically catatonic in response.


And so, just as this false premise of how we define morality is everywhere in our social discourse, and underlies just about every argument about morality and sexuality in the Western society today (e.g., “I’m born this way,” ergo, everything that comes from my mere existence is good), so is the failure of the social conservatives to understand and intelligently articulate their own philosophies and beliefs, often finding refuge in the emotion of prejudice (and in more rare cases, the emotion of bigotry).  Social conservatives have no leaders to guide them to defensible positions and this is at the core of what we now see as a wholesale collapse of socially conservative positions across almost the entire front of the cultural wars as they relate to issues of human sexuality, family, and marriage.


Yes, it is true that the social conservatives and the religious institutions they rely on are out-gunned, as we said earlier.  From TV sitcoms to cable dramas; from movies and plays to music videos and comic books; from elementary schools to universities; and from news rooms to corporate boardrooms, the social and religious conservative point of view is almost totally absent, except when it is presented in a negative way.   The few exceptions include Fox News and talk radio, which are often crude, largely aimed mostly at their own choir, and also often concede the left’s premises.  It is interesting to note that even as liberal-progressives have enjoyed for over forty years a near total dominance in the presentation of their ideas in our pop culture and academia, certain traditional social norms and ideas have still nonetheless stubbornly persisted up until recently. 


The Moral Conservatives’ Abandoned Dam


Massive dams, without maintenance over decades, can hold back incredibly huge amounts of water.  But, they do need attention and maintenance, and without it, they will eventually fail.  And when they fail, they do so in a very sudden way.  That’s why we say here that at the core of the social conservatives’ retreat is not the very real attack on their moral values, but the social conservatives’ failure in maintaining the philosophical arguments that underpin their beliefs.  This care and maintenance means not only understanding the foundational moral logic upon which the entire moral structure sits, but also adapting the structure itself to account for the changing and growing current of human knowledge.


Now the radical progressive left has launched a new offensive under the cover of transgender rights, and the crumbling barricades of the moral conservatives look to be manned only by the most hyperbolic, emotional, and ineffective of the right’s rank and file, and seem bereft of the intellectual leadership required to marshal forces under ideological attack. Its erstwhile generals and commandants, and past centrist allies, like the numerous Iraqis in the face of a much smaller, but more determined ISIS force, appear to be scattering in confusion or in anticipation of defeat.


GOP Ideological Incompetence


The most spectacular, and most overlooked example of this has been the very public embarrassing retreats everywhere on the issue of the freedom of conscience, as reflected in the right to refuse to participate in gay weddings.  We say overlooked because the implications have not been discussed at all anywhere in the media, liberal or conservative.


Starting with Arizona, then followed up with Indiana, Arkansas, then less visibly with Louisiana, Republican attempts to protect religious conservatives from being forced to participate in gay weddings by virtue of just having a business, failed miserably in these red states.  All their efforts at passing what are called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) backfired or have been withdrawn, undermining the social conservatives’ position even more than if they had done nothing.  If one thing was clear from the series of retreats, it was that the political leaders spearheading this RFRA effort across several states were totally unprepared for the counter-attack, and could not offer a coherent defense for what they were attempting to do.  Witness powerful Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s presidential prospects disappear in what had to be one of the worst TV performances by any politician since Sarah Palin spoke with Katie Couric in 2008. 


Conservative Lemmings &

Republican Deaf Ears


Worse, the social conservatives learned absolutely nothing from each political disaster, with each red state following the next like lemmings over the cliff.   Governor Pence, his advisers, and the entire Indiana legislature had a year to study what happened in Arizona.  Worst of all, we strongly believe here that this was a fight they actually could have won with public opinion, and should have won for the sake of Americans of all beliefs.  While (strangely) we could not find a national scientific poll* on the actual question of whether a baker should be forced to make a gay wedding cake, we found many non-social conservative, pro-gay rights venues expressing support for the Christian bakers’ rights to refuse, from the nominally leftist Atlantic to the libertarian Reason .


In our own anecdotal experience, when we have presented the actual texts of the laws to liberal progressives and explained their logic, over half changed their mind to at least no longer oppose them, and every pro-gay rights libertarian supported them already.  Moreover, RFRAs laws are actually arguably too narrow a protection for the individual freedom of speech, focusing on religious freedom, when in fact the Civil Rights Act of 1964, upon which all non-discrimination laws are patterned, actually outlines a much more limited notion of what constitutes a public accommodation, and thus, a more limited restriction on how people may conduct their businesses.  That is, in America, business owners have a broader freedom of conscience in running their businesses than just a religious one, and atheists have that freedom too.  Never before had most Americans thought of a wedding as a public accommodation, yet we saw not a single refutation on this score from the Republicans supposedly looking out for their social conservative constituents, even as plenty of non-Republicans actually hostile to social conservatives tried to helpfully point this out.


*Polls on RFRA laws mask the issue, and we consider them biased because most respondents have only heard descriptions of those laws that are designed to promote opposition to them.  Therefore, we are looking for polls that ask a specific scenario question.


Continued column 3 >

< From column 2


Liberals Toss Intellectual Lifelines - to No Avail


It is actually falling to liberals and liberal progressives like Jonathan Chait, Kirstin Powers, and Michael Kingsley – and even gay rights activists like Andrew Sullivan, to come to the defense of social conservative free speech - usually grudgingly, but all with a deep concern for the consequences to liberalism itself if social and religious conservatives are silenced this way.  However, those voices are few, and in a new twist of the Salem Witch Trials syndrome, they are now themselves under fire from the left.  If none of this shows the social and religious conservatives that there is nobody at the helm crafting a sustainable and broad defense, let alone an offense, for their views and values, then what hope do they have?


GBLT ‘Studies Show’


In a somewhat related story, last Sunday a Wall Street Journal editorial described a scientific fraud that is part of a “bias [that] contaminates inquiries across the social sciences, which often seem to exist so liberals can claim that ‘studies show’ some political assertion to be empirical.”  In another somewhat related note, last week we saw in the print edition of USA Today an interesting statistic published without comment: 25% of Americans say they know or work with a transgender (transsexual) person.  Setting aside the false premise the published statistic is attempting to advance, we find this statistic remarkable, and suspect.  We personally know nearly 1,000 people in the GBLT community - except that we only know folks in the G, B, and L components.  Not a single T. Most numbers available for the incidence of transsexuality put it at between 10,000 to 20,000 to 1, so how is this statistic even possible?  The source of the stat?  The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a leftist GBLT (or LGBT) organization heavily involved in the promotion of transsexual rights (as they define them) as pre-emptive of all other rights of free speech and freedom of conscience, and any conservative notions of heterosexual modesty.


In Awe of the Moral Kardashian


Thus is the entire moral cultural front, which is now currently being fought most intensely on the transsexual/transgender front, collapsing rapidly.  This swift collapse comes as the premises underlying the logic of how we understand what is moral and what is not, on how we distinguish between what is selfless courage and what is self-indulgence pictured on the cover of Vanity Fair, were conceded long ago without a fight.  Since then all the fighting has been taking place on the challengers’ terms, and the defenders have not even noticed.  Even many Christians and Jews, rather than seeking understanding through the moral leadership of those that bring to them their traditions’ accumulated wisdom gathered over 5,000 years of human study of philosophy, look instead to comedy news and the Kardashians for instruction on what ought to be.


They think it makes them advanced and progressive.


Long ago we in these and other pages sought to advance the reform of our moral framework to account for the changing and growing current of human knowledge, and we can say we were once at the forefront to effect that change.  Now we look behind us to see that framework being taken completely apart, and foresee repercussions that will ultimately be felt most painfully by many of those taking an ax to it.  Perhaps we should not be surprised.  It is the long-running tale of human history.


Morality, says the dictionary, is the set of “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.”  That is a simple definition for a very complex question.  How do we know when accountability should be tempered by compassion, and when compassion is being coldly and selfishly used as a cover to avoid accountability?  How do we know if a given action is right or wrong in any way that transcends the individual ideas and desires of two separate human beings?  If one says that empathy is good, and the other says it is the pleasure of power over others, what science can resolve that question without employing circular reasoning, or accepting a premise on faith?  How do we ultimately know what ‘ought to be’?


To sincerely answer any one of those questions with what a ‘study shows’ is to have misunderstood the question. 


To counter that answer on its own terms is to prepare for defeat.



Clinton 2016 Presidential

Prospects Watch

Follow Up on Our Forecast


In a follow up to our forecasts dating from March 2013, on former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s less than surfire 2016 election prospects, we bring your attention to the latest polls.


In separate polls by  the Washington Post-ABC News and by CNN/ORC, Secretary Clinton’s approval numbers have ‘taken a hit’.  The headline in Politico says “ Hillary Clinton unfavorable numbers highest in 14 years”.


To make matters worse, President Obama’s own approval numbers are cratering, now falling below those of George W. Bush (see CNN report), which suggests Obama’s coattails may be very short, if present at all.


Of course, there is plenty of time for these numbers to change, and they will.  But we have said all along for the last two years that Clinton’s prospects are not as pre-ordained as everyone said they were, and that the Clinton ‘baggage would once again saddle the Clintons’.  From our May 28, 2013, UWFR issue:


As popular as Hillary Clinton is today among Americans, people forget that not long ago she was a polarizing figure disliked by even many Democrats - a politician with very high negatives…What will happen if the curtain is pulled just a bit, and people get a clear glimpse of what’s really behind this political wizard that has for the last twenty years managed to overcome every political scandal, debacle, and charge (“box cars of [incriminating] baggage” as someone put it in 2008)?   It depends on how long that glimpse lasts. 


We are getting the glimpse. 


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Transgender Norms (1of 3)

Indiana Bakers (2 of 3)


Obama Bakery (3 of 3)





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