Listening to NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” this Saturday put me on to a study that speaks to this blog’s interest in society and ethics. Prof. K.J. Eskine published a paper in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science (May 15, 2012) on findings which suggest that wholesome food can make you, well, kind of a jerk. Study participants were shown pictures of packages of organic food, and then given questionaires, in which they “volunteered significantly less time to help a needy stranger, and they judged moral transgressions significantly harsher than those who viewed nonorganic foods”.

In contrast, those who viewed pictures of comfort foods, such as brownies, displayed far less willingness to judge others harshly – as one of the NPR participants put it, these people “were in their own shame spiral” whereas the guy looking at pictures of “organic kale was, like, let the bastard die”.

While I can’t comment on the methodology of this study, it does seem to reinforce the necessity of ranking humility and charity among the traditional virtues, as, without them, virtuous people tend to be unpleasantly self righteous.

The same segment from the May 27 show also continued the theme of ethics by explaining how the seagoing rule of “women and children first” died after the sinking of the Titanic, and alerted listeners to a revolutionary new catchup technology which may or may not make us feel more virtuous.

0 Responses

  1. Very interesting article, Padre. As for me, I don't know if brownies and cookies cause compassion and humility or are the result of compassion and humility.

    I think it's best not to take chances and just eat 'em.

  2. I agree with you, John, better safe than sorry. And, if someone is compassionate enough to offer one brownies, it would be the right thing to do to accept them.

  3. There is something to be said for the idea that a surfeit of virtue in one aspect of life can lead to a absence in others. I think everyone must know a churchgoer whose faith is less a rod and staff, than a club to beat the less pious. They tend to have drunk deep of the Old Testament and merely sipped of the New.