Moral Tribes

  • by Joshua Greene
  • Narrated by Mel Foster
  • 14 hrs and 53 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Our brains were designed for tribal life, for getting along with a select group of others (Us) and for fighting off everyone else (Them). But modern times have forced the world's tribes into a shared space, resulting in epic clashes of values along with unprecedented opportunities. As the world shrinks, the moral lines that divide us become more salient and more puzzling. We fight over everything from tax codes to gay marriage to global warming, and we wonder where, if at all, we can find our common ground.
A grand synthesis of neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy, Moral Tribes reveals the underlying causes of modern conflict and lights the way forward. Greene compares the human brain to a dual-mode camera, with point-and-shoot automatic settings ("portrait," "landscape") as well as a manual mode. Our point-and-shoot settings are our emotions-efficient, automated programs honed by evolution, culture, and personal experience. The brain's manual mode is its capacity for deliberate reasoning, which makes our thinking flexible. Point-and-shoot emotions make us social animals, turning Me into Us. But they also make us tribal animals, turning Us against Them. Our tribal emotions make us fight-sometimes with bombs, sometimes with words-often with life-and-death stakes.
An award-winning teacher and scientist, Greene directs Harvard University's Moral Cognition Lab, which uses cutting-edge neuroscience and cognitive techniques to understand how people really make moral decisions. Combining insights from the lab with lessons from decades of social science and centuries of philosophy, the great question of Moral Tribes is this: How can we get along with Them when what they want feels so wrong to Us?
Ultimately, Greene offers a set of maxims for navigating the modern moral terrain, a practical road map for solving problems and living better lives. Moral Tribes shows us when to trust our instincts, when to reason, and how the right kind of reasoning can move us forward.
A major achievement from a rising star in a new scientific field, Moral Tribes will refashion your deepest beliefs about how moral thinking works and how it can work better.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A tough long listen. Like chewing on gristle.

Would you try another book written by Joshua Greene or narrated by Mel Foster?

I don't think I could stomach another Mel Foster narration. His diction was clear and he had a constant intonation that was not monotone but ultimately it was dead. I empathise with Joshua Greene's viewpoints as they are finally revealed but I doubt I would try anything else by him.


What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

It was pretty dull all the way through.


What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

The diction was clear and consistent but there was no passion for the content. Very occasionally the intonation or rhythm betrayed the fact that this was being professionally recorded.


Was Moral Tribes worth the listening time?

God no. It was like pulling teeth.


Any additional comments?

It felt like Mr Greene was trying to appeal to right wing republicans with his use of their intellectually derelict catch phrases. Speaking of the low paid, poor, sick and disabled as 'the foolish and lazy' without qualification until very near the end.

The conclusions - particularly in reference to rights - were inconsistent with the actual point of the 14 hour diatribe of rationalist moralisation. Many sweeping statements such as 'nobody wants to suffer' are not backed up with hard evidence. What about the Buddhist monk who sits in extreme cold, religious zealots who fast, walk in bare feet, crawl on hands and knees around mountains, blow themselves up, flog themselves. How about the native american sun dance festival? Many hedonistic activities lead to suffering too. I can think of countless examples where people cause themselves suffering deliberately or otherwise.

Many of these people are not trying to achieve 'happiness' but something more - usually a shift in consciousness that changes perception and experience. People who chase happiness invariably bring suffering upon themselves in one form or another. Yes, this may mean an experience with a higher quality but happiness is the wrong term. Any passing understanding of Buddhism or even Catholicism could illustrate this.

The book misses this point entirely. It was like watching a fly with no wings dancing in circles. This sort of approach to trying to resolve the tribal clashes we currently see being enacted will do absolutely nothing to help. The ultimate message was 'let's put our differences aside and just get along', '...lets all just be utilitarian and pragmatic.' It is both patronising and stale. Mr Greene is clearly an intelligent man but I felt his application of the disaster of common sense completely misses the mark on what the real issues are. Man cannot live by bread alone.

It is illogical to spend so much time analysing and rationalising over imaginary scenarios and yet to say we don't need to try and properly understand and define happiness because we all know what it means and we all know that we all know what it means.A more in depth anthropological investigation may reveal to Mr Greene that some cultures do not operate on the same conscious level as western democracy and that the assumption that western democracy is the pinnacle of human development is not only wrong but the very reason the world is becoming more dangerous.

These assumptions create the us and them. I seriously wonder how much time Mr Greene has really spent immersed in other cultures and countries. Mr Greene also marginalises and berates viewpoints that differ from his own on several occasions. While I agree with his opinion he is not using a pragmatic non tribalist approach. He is in fact very tribal and aggressive with his language against those he fundamentally disagrees with.The point that some people earn 100 times plus more than others and that nobody can possibly believe that they work 100 times harder than someone else is an important one. This is what the book should have been about.

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- Musical Truth

A landmark

This is a book that was waiting to be written! A superb discussion of the last 2,500 years of moral theory fused with the recent findings in evolutionary psychology. The ultimate moral stance of the thinking Last Man, and a must listen for all utilitarians! Extraordinary, and beats Haidt, Sam Harris and others by miles.
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- Annika

Book Details

  • Release Date: 31-10-2013
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio