Ugliness & Moral Perception

Ephialtes the traitor to Sparta in the movie adaptation of 300. The Persians were a flowering, fairly tolerant, empire that was angelic compared to the sadistic and horrid Spartans yet by making Leonidas totally ripped and the traitor ugly, they made a moral argument not based on morality but on the shallowest of aesthetics.

                Long in the history of our culture have our monsters been ugly and the heroes who slay them been handsome. While it is a cliched point of ethics that one’s character is mostly separate from one’s exterior, the great question remains to what extent does the average cognitive bias judge, not social acceptability, but moral uprightness based on relatively superficial traits? Probably a lot more than most people would imagine. I don’t have much faith in the human capacity for anything moral but specifically in moral perception. The determinants of which victims are worthy of affection and which are not has almost nothing to do with anything but the whims of the neurochemicals riding the torrents of their neural and sanguine pathways. There are countless examples to deploy that would illustrate the sad fact that one’s soul is weighed by the aggregates of the flesh so I’m not going to expend text to that end.

                Rather, I will try to examine why, scientifically, that what should be the amoral factors in choosing a romantic partner become the metrics by which our society and the members therein determine the moral fiber of people. Evolutionarily, physical attractiveness was supposed to express the health and fitness of people so that the healthiest offspring could be produced. The idea that our ancestors on the savannahs of Africa’s psychologies would have that also apply to who we think is a good person, morally, would seem to make little sense. Attractiveness is not merely a measure of the health of people we would like to procreate with but also the health of people we must share resources with. The cruelties of society can largely be traced to instinctive Malthusian fears.

A famous example of this is in the Universe 25 experiment with mice, where the scientific result demonstrated that a species that had been evolutionarily acclimated to life in the wild associated high concentrations of individuals with resource scarcity whether or not actual scarcity was present because, in the wild, if ever abundance was present, it would be temporary and fleeting. The person who conducted the experiment came to the rather stupid and grandiose conclusion that he was some sort of prophet whose experiment foretold the end of days and an inevitable societal collapse. It didn’t prove that and all it really said is that animals evolved to be Malthusians and in our society that has many effects. Like with the mice, it creates an aversion to density and therefore NIMBY movements. It also helps to create the social rules that banish and oppress who society deems undesirable because on the savannahs of Africa those who didn’t get along socially threatened the ability to hunt and gather and the physically unhealthy were a drain on resources.

The stereotype that heroes are pretty and villains are ugly derives from the fact that our tribes needed a pretext to expunge whomever was a burden on resources. It is from that same source our society is so cruel to the people who offend them. Something as blatantly irrational as honor killings of rape victims in underdeveloped countries or someone’s whole career ending over an unpatriotic remark would seem to not have an evolutionary basis yet group cohesion was needed for survival so whatever irrational rules society has made, neurologically, it is hard-wired to enforce. As mentioned in earlier articles, one of the main chemicals involved in this is oxytocin which induces hatred for outgroup members and fidelity toward ingroup members. To do this, it creates a moral world where ethics are based on what benefits the group. The oxytocin induces warm and fuzzy feelings for the cute and the close and resentful and bitter feelings toward the uncute and the outside. That is what teaches right from wrong outside of the context of ethical philosophy, religion, or some other abstract source. It makes people cry for tabloid damsels and complain about supposed welfare cheats in the subsequent sentence. They didn’t evolve from being a good to a crappy person within a paragraph, their morality is only able to love what makes them feel fuzzy.

The neurochemical magic that turns Regina George into a saint. That makes the attractive and sociable not only more successful but, more often than not, seen as morally superior to their less attractive and socially fluent underlings. In some of my earliest blogs, I mentioned how Special Ed was a punitive in-school suspension where we were seen as immoral owing to our differences and not having a medical condition to be regarded outside of the context of morality. The normal kids were the end to which we were supposed to aspire to become like. Behaving in a socially normal manner was not a matter of functionality or a lack of suffering on the part of the student but a moral imperative owing to the righteousness of normal behavior as a normative ideal. Almost explicitly was that an example of this article. Superficial traits were seen as and punished as unethical. There were many reasons but among the most fundamental is that the lizard-brains of the SPED department had subconscious Malthusian fears.

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