October's theme is good and evil. Our authors attempt to explain why we are the way we are: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Is there really such a thing as good and evil? What part of our behavior are "hard-wired" and what is our choice? Human nature may not be pretty, but it does make sense if you have the right instructors. These two heavy-hitters certainly qualify.
You need only read one book to come to the meetup, but reading both is encouraged. Feel free to bring drinks (beer, wine, etc) or food. We try to dedicate an hour to each selection with ten minute break between.
Below are descriptions of the selections. Enjoy!
1. Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind by David Berreby (2005, 384 pages)
This groundbreaking and eloquently written book explains how and why people are wedded to the notion that they belong to differing human kinds-tribe-type categories like races, ethnic groups, nations, religions, castes, street gangs, sports fandom, and high school cliques. Why do we see these divisions? Why do we care about them so much? Why do we kill and die for them? This is the stuff of news headlines. How has a nation gone from peaceful coexistence to genocide? How does social status affect your health? Why are teenagers willing to kill themselves in hazing rituals in order to belong to a fraternity or social group? How do terrorists learn not to care about the lives of those they attack? US AND THEM gets at the heart of these profound questions by looking at their common root in human nature. Politics, culture, and economics play their parts, but it's the human mind that makes them possible, and that's the focus of US AND THEM. We're not born with a map of human kinds; each person makes his own and learns to fight for it. This is a crucial subject that touches all of our lives in ways both large and small, obvious and subtle. Human-kind thinking-whether beneficial or destructive-is part of human nature, as David Berreby's brilliant book reveals.
2. The Science of Good & Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share and Follow the Golden Rule by Michael Shermer (2004, 368 pages)
A century and a half after Darwin first proposed an "evolutionary ethics," science has begun to tackle the roots of morality. Just as evolutionary biologists study why we are hungry (to motivate us to eat) or why sex is enjoyable (to motivate us to procreate), they are now searching for the very nature of humanity.
In The Science of Good and Evil, science historian Michael Shermer explores how humans evolved from social primates to moral primates; how and why morality motivates the human animal; and how the foundation of moral principles can be built upon empirical evidence.
Along the way he explains the implications of scientific findings for fate and free will, the existence of pure good and pure evil, and the development of early moral sentiments among the first humans. As he closes the divide between science and morality, Shermer draws on stories from the Yanamamö, infamously known as the "fierce people" of the tropical rain forest, to the Stanford studies on jailers' behavior in prisons. The Science of Good and Evil is ultimately a profound look at the moral animal, belief, and the scientific pursuit of truth.