Moralization is the original sin of the behavioral sciences. Scientists of human nature – psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, geneticists, neurobiologists – must be committed, as scientists, to describing the world as it is rather than as we wish it to be. But it’s irresistible to read our morals into reality and describe the world as if it strove to implement our values. Nowhere has this fallacy been more damaging than in the attempt to understand violence. The harder-headed the scientist, the more rigorous he or she claims to be, the more likely that the scientist will assume that violence is the result of a defective gene, a damaged brain, a psychopathology, a contagious public health problem, or a societal malfunction.
The book you are now holding presents a rare escape from this conceptual prison. It presents one of those rare hypotheses that is both flagrantly contrary to expert belief (at first sight yet another example of the tedious “everything-you-think-is-wrong” formula) and at the same time very likely to be true. Having myself tried to make sense of 10 thousand years of human violence, I came to a conclusion that is very similar to the one that Alan Fiske and Tage Rai present in this book: most perpetrators of violence are neither pathological nor self-interested but are convinced that what they are doing is in the service of a higher moral good.