New at Cato Unbound: Robert Wright on the "Clash of Civilizations" as a Malfunction of Moral Imagination

You may know him as the Felix Unger of Bloggingheads TV. Or you may know him as the author of big-think bestsellers like The Moral Animal and Non-Zero. Today Robert Wright’s years-in-the-making The Evolution of God hits the bookstores and the new issue of Cato Unbound offers you a taste with an essay adapted from one of the later chapters of The Evolution of God on the moral imagination. Here’s the summary:


June 8th, 2009

This month’s Cato Unbound features an essay drawn from The Evolution of God, the ambitious new book by Robert Wright, author of Nonzero and The Moral Animal. In this essay, Wright explores the relationship between “moral imagination” and the possibility of religious tolerance and social cooperation. Wright argues that moral imagination is part of our evolved mental machinery. When we see others as potentially cooperative, moral imagination is awakened to better grasp the needs and interests of partners and allies. But when we see ourselves caught in a zero-sum game with others, moral imagination, and thus sympathy and the spirit of toleration, shrinks as we prepare for a fight. Wright argues that the widespread perception that “the West” and “the Muslim world” are playing a zero-sum game is an illusion created by a misfire of moral imagination. The media’s relentless focus on the truculent acts of a small minority of Muslim extremists encourages the sense that the larger, more moderate Muslim world is much more hostile than it really is. But this sense narrows moral imagination, making it harder still to grap the possibility of cooperation and the point of toleration.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

8 thoughts

  1. The zero-sum dynamic is hard to break out of. It makes me think of T. Boone Pickens' commercials. “Every year we send Billions of dollars to them dirty sandkips. And what do we get in return? Nothing! So give ME Billions of dollars so I can put a windmill on your car!

  2. Part of the problem with what Bob Wright is specifically reacting to is that so many people have internalized critiques of political correctness that they assume any argument that takes the form of politically correct arguments has to be wrong. But it's true; there are a billion Muslims in the world. Only some tiny percentage of them engage in violent terrorism. The fact that this is banal doesn't make it unremarkable, and the fact that it echoes politically correct attitudes doesn't mean that people should be distrustful of it.

  3. Very interesting. I can see an undeniable connection between moral imagination and any sort of relationship, religious or otherwise. It is very rare, if impossible, to find someone completely objective and selfless. Naturally if it appears that an individual will be harmed the subjective will react by dropping the empathy and fighting, no holds barred, in order to come out on top.

  4. The problem I have with Robert is that he bends science into some metaphysical bs just so he can tell us how he thinks the world ought to work and he ignores how the world actually is. I mean how does “The Evolution of God” not read as a crackpot book title. Just a new way to reassert a human centric view of reality — using an incredibly shallow interpretation of biology to justify.Ahh yes feels good to rant on a somewhat random blog, and i say “somewhat random” because lets face it — “GO HAWKS!”

  5. This is what your honest response should be, I mean if you are sending your hard earned money, you got to get some sort of return, if not then I don't think it's a great idea to get with it!

  6. I totally agree Rumah! way to go really.

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