David Brooks must have a homing device for original sin-related stories. This past week, he’s given us two particularly fine additions to the endless stack of evidence. The first one deals with the even distribution of racial prejudice across both political parties in this country, yet another affront to the (absurdly superficial) scapegoat culture in DC that we all find so constructive, ht KW:

Dan Butler and David Broockman of Yale had a very bright idea. They mailed a series of letters to legislators in which a fictional constituent asked for help in registering to vote. Some of the letters were signed with putatively black names (like DeShawn Jackson) and some were signed with putatively white names (like Jake Mueller). The letters from the putatively black constituents received fewer responses from white legislators and received more responses from minority legislators.

The really interesting finding concerns the partisan nature of the responses. There wasn’t one. Whites from both parties exhibited similar levels of discrimination against the putatively black letter-writers. Even when the letters signaled the partisanship of the sender, the results were not significantly different.

I am sometimes at gatherings where everybody but me is a Republican. I am sometimes at gatherings where everybody but me is a Democrat. In my experience people at all Republican gatherings do not make more racist or condescending comments than people at all Democratic gatherings. The frequency of these comments is about the same across the parties.

Then, in his column this past week, “Nice Guys Finish First,” Brooks discusses some recent social science books that argue for a more cooperative, or altruistic understanding of human nature over against the (evolutionary) self-interested/competitor model which has dominated economic and psychological research for years. In a sense, this new scholarship represents a deeper view of the latter model, a self-interest model that accounts for “random acts of kindness” or honest-to-God grace, as the case may be. It certainly seems to be a view more congruent with the traditional Christian teaching of total depravity – not that our nature is pure self-interest, but that there’s no area of our selves that is not touched in some way by self-interest/sin. In other words, sin does not exist in a vacuum – it only has meaning in relation to the created-in-God’s-image aspect it obscures, ht CR:

In his book, “The Righteous Mind,” to be published early next year, Jonathan Haidt joins Edward O. Wilson, David Sloan Wilson, and others who argue that natural selection takes place not only when individuals compete with other individuals, but also when groups compete with other groups. Both competitions are examples of the survival of the fittest, but when groups compete, it’s the cohesive, cooperative, internally altruistic groups that win and pass on their genes. The idea of “group selection” was heresy a few years ago, but there is momentum behind it now.

Human beings, Haidt argues, are “the giraffes of altruism.” Just as giraffes got long necks to help them survive, humans developed moral minds that help them and their groups succeed. Humans build moral communities out of shared norms, habits, emotions and gods, and then will fight and even sometimes die to defend their communities.

Different interpretations of evolution produce different ways of analyzing the world. The selfish-competitor model fostered the utility-maximizing model that is so prevalent in the social sciences, particularly economics. The new, more cooperative view will complicate all that.

But the big upshot is this: For decades, people tried to devise a rigorous “scientific” system to analyze behavior that would be divorced from morality. But if cooperation permeates our nature, then so does morality, and there is no escaping ethics, emotion and religion in our quest to understand who we are and how we got this way.

Love the conclusion. A universal moral faculty is not only thoroughly Pauline, it may even explain the universal response to that Californian stage mother who gave her 8-year-old daughter botox.