The Fairness Instinct: The Robin Hood Mentality and Our Biological Nature

The Fairness Instinct: The Robin Hood Mentality and Our Biological Nature

Language: English

Pages: 346

ISBN: 1616148470

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Combining research from the social sciences, hard sciences, and the humanities, this accessible cross-disciplinary book offers fascinating insights into a key component of human nature and society.

    What do the Arab Spring, the Robin Hood legend, Occupy Wall Street, and the American taxpayer reaction to the $182 billion bailout of AIG have in common? All are rooted in a deeply ingrained sense of fairness. But where does this universal instinct come from? This is the driving question at the heart of L. Sun’s The Fairness Instinct.
Thinkers from Aristotle to Kant, from Augustine to John Rawls, and religions from Christianity to Confucianism, have offered great insight into the nature and origins of this basic human desire for fairness. Based on the most recent scientific discoveries in behavioral genetics, neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, economics, and evolution, Sun argues that the origins of the fairness instinct cannot be found exclusively in the philosophical, social, and political perspectives to which we so often turn; rather, they can be traced to something much deeper in our biological makeup. Taking as his starting point Frans De Waal’s seminal study showing that Capuchin monkeys revolt when they are shortchanged by receiving a less valuable reward than their peers receive for the same task, Sun synthesizes a wide range of research to explore the biological roots of the fairness instinct. He shows that fairness is much more than a moral value or ideological construct; fairness is in our DNA.
Combining scientific rigor with accessible and reader-friendly language to relate fascinating stories of animal and human behavior, The Fairness Instinct lays out an evolutionary roadmap for how fairness emerges and thrives under natural selection and how two powerful engines—social living and social hierarchy—have fueled the evolution of this intricate and potent instinct in all of us. Probing into the motives that underlie such phenomena as envy, consumerism, anti-intellectualism, revenge, revolution, terrorism, marriage, democracy, and religion, Sun showcases the power of the fairness instinct to make our history, shape our society, and rule our social lives.


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living brings conflict of interest between peers to the fore, however. If not properly resolved, conflict of interest can be the downfall of any society. It can derail cooperation and dissolve hard-won relationships, as many experience in marriages, friendships, associations, and joint business ventures. For this reason, conflict of interest may be the mother of all moral problems and the hub of the biological quest for morality that Alexander argued for. To enjoy the “sweet spot” of cooperation,

hierarchical society, 47, 267 hierarchy, 14–15, 45–48, 165–66, 175, 221, 237, 238, 270, 273, 275 Hill, Sarah, 85, 88 Hinduism, 149, 259 Hiroshima, 163 Hitler, Adolf, 117, 150–51 Ho, Chi Minh, 171 Hofstadter, Richard, 106–108, 113 Holland, 221 Holt, J. C., 15, 17, 25 Holy Roman Empire, 271 Homer, 130 homosexuality, 213, 264, 273–74 Hong Kong, 131, 223 Hong Xiuquan, 221–223 Honick, Alan, 279 honor killing, 52 hormone, 35, 61 happiness, 43 sex, 61 stress, 43, 146 Hu, Qinghai,

concocted by the party boss. He intended to get me hooked for the time being. The single-person quota eventually went to the son of a higher local party boss. All my lifetime dreams that seemed so close to being realized were now shattered.” “What happened?” “I'd been suspicious about why I had been so ‘unfortunate.’ After the college drama, I figured out why the party boss was so eager to keep me in the commune. In addition to the envy I'd aroused in some members, there was a deeper layer of

interesting question, then, is how Schadenfreude works in the brain. A group of researchers at University College London have found that, at least for men, the brain areas related to pain are activated when seeing a friendly person experiencing pain. However, the brain areas related to reward, which are, interestingly, also linked to the perception of fairness and desire for revenge, light up when seeing a competitor receive the same pain.45 This finding suggests that other people's pain can be

fatwa on February 23, 1998, calling it “the duty of all Muslims to kill US citizens—civilians or military, and their allies everywhere.”25 The same logic was used as justification for the 9/11 attacks: “America had attacked Islam; Americans are responsible for all conflicts involving Muslim. Thus Americans are blamed when Israelis fight with Palestinians, when Russians fight with Chechens, when Indians fight with Kashmiri Muslims, and when the Philippine government fights ethnic Muslims in its

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