Reporting on the most idiotic study involving babies to date, Mother Jones covers a Yale (that’s right, the Ivy League university) study performed by cognitive scientist Paul Bloom that is focused on answering the question: ” Can the youngest of our species distinguish good from evil practically from birth—or does morality need to be taught?”
Bloom’s thesis, in all its eugenic creepiness:
“I think all babies are created equal in that all normal babies—all babies without brain damage—possess some basic foundational understanding of morality and some foundational moral impulses,” says Bloom on the Inquiring Minds podcast. “They’re equal in the same way that all babies come with a visual system, and the ability to move around, and a propensity to learn language.”
To this end, Bloom showed babies a series of morality puppet plays, one-act jobs where cats either steal or return balls to dogs and babies choose which kitty they like better. They invariably choose the nice kitty. No comment on whether or not these babies prefer the color grey (the evil cat is orange) or the actor handling the grey kitty puppet for any particular reason — because those variables don’t matter in science. Even more stupefying to the scientists, “babies show a preference for characters who reward good and punish evil.” Isn’t it amazing that babies would respond well to rewards? I bet no parent alive ever guessed that one!
So, where’s the socialism come into play? It doesn’t, really, even though they try so hard:
When asked to hand out treats to other people or to stuffed animals, 3- and 4-year-old children will divide resources equally, if at all possible. Even if they know that one person deserves more of a resource than another because she worked harder for it, they will still opt for equal distribution. In a study of 5-to-8-year-olds, when it was impossible to divide resources equally—for example, if the children were given five erasers to distribute to two people—they would even throw the extra eraser in the trash instead of giving more to one person than the other.
The one thing the Yale scientists and Mother Jones fail to explain is that socialism isn’t based in equal distribution, but rather distribution based on work performed or sheer need. A socialist aims for equal means of production. So, if the scientists really wanted to see whether or not these kids were socialists, they’d give each one of them an item and see how they chose to distribute it. Which they did, much to Bloom’s dissatisfaction:
But what happens when the children being studied are themselves the lucky recipient of the extra resources? Well, that changes everything. “So, they’re very egalitarian when it comes to other people,” says Bloom. “When it comes to themselves, they’re not the slightest bit egalitarian. Particularly when dealing with strangers, they want everything.” So while babies do seem to have an innate capacity to separate good from evil, their moral lives are still fairly limited. “Babies are kind of jerks,” Bloom says.
Suddenly the babies being tested are the smartest ones in the room. If those “jerk” babies respond well to reward, why would they be motivated to perform an act of sharing with a total stranger who offers no guarantee of reward? Babies aren’t socialists. They are, in fact, the most innate capitalists of us all.