Monthly Archives: September 2007
A class I took a few years ago called “Art in the 21st Century” is what led me to first attend a dumbo arts festival. In class, we spent several weeks discussing how art had arrived in the new era, relying heavily on ideas expressed by the artists themselves in the awesome lessons offered by the PBS site Art21. Naturally I responded more to the art of Kara Walker, Shazia Sikander, Eleanor Antin and Walton Ford when I heard those artists explain the incredible thinking that informs their work.
So the same can be said for visiting the artists at dumbo. Nothing I have found in New York will help you appreciate new art the way you can when you have an opportunity to speak with the artist and let them give you a better idea of what they are about and what context they place their work in.
It may take awhile, since I have family members who refuse to read the NYTimes, but once a version of a new theory on our moral choices being linked to evolution circulates, it’s sure to drive my already polarized liberal and conservative relatives farther apart.
That’s a shame, since a main point by U-Virginia’s moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt (author of “The Happiness Hypothesis”) seems to be that we need each other if we’re to be a thriving family.
Everyone, he argues, operates on two sets of moral guidelines: the kind we developed before language to avoid ugly things that would cause us harm, and a second set that allows us to apply reason to those reflexive reactions (for example, we react with strong disgust to a grisly murder, but then apply reason by trying to understand what happened and what the motivation was, yet sometimes we’re left baffled by a killer’s actions.)
It’s our disgust reactions that got Haidt’s attention. He thinks we’ve translated reflexive reactions like that into our ideas of what’s sacred, how to define justice, give people rights and enforce laws. Out of those values come religion, and religion binds groups together, which ensures their survival.
For those as intrigued as I was, there are ways to explore more. Haidt and his colleagues operate a website, where you can offer yourself up for psych surveys that may tell you something about your moral responses, but certainly help them with data collection. I tried the “Big 5 Personality Inventory“, which measures things like how open I am to new experiences (very!) and how extroverted I am (not so much-but I’ll blog nonetheless!).
Other surveys explore questions like “What would you do for a million dollars?” and “Do you forgive easily and often?”.
In my family, we probably don’t need a survey to help each of us see what side of the political fence we sit on, but according to Haidt, it’s a good thing we’re varied. Liberals, he maintains, tend to foster more creativity and sap resources, while conservatives safeguard stores and keep us decent.
What a dilemma! How do I go to my uncle suggesting it’s ok if we’re wired to disagree, but perhaps God didn’t make me bad and him good, we just evolved differently?!
Who doesn’t start messing around with a new camera by shooting random things in their own home? Well, maybe not everyone, but I started by taking an upclose look at my microcosm.
Then I ventured outdoors and soon found myself on Broadway in upper Manhattan. On a nice weekend, the street becomes a bustling marketplace indoors and out.