Baby Bigots?

I should have just binge watched Arrow.

Got good reviews, it’s an action show, a big red box of Orville Reddenbacher’s Extra Butter Popcorn sat next to the once white of the  microwave: I was ready to give my memory foam mattress a full on workout, geezer style.

But then I had a wait-wait thought, geezer style. A flash of memory about a video from Yale called “The Good Samaritan Study” that I’d been planning to use in a post but forgotten about, that thought just plain ruined the afternoon.

It’s just a quick jump from Netflix to Google. Bookmark that puppy and come back to hours of  a morally conflicted hero in a kick ass revenge fantasy, complete with costumes and trick arrows. If I have any testosterone left I’m sure it ticked up a notch.

But instead of the grainy, black and white video from a few years ago, The Yale Infant Cognition Lab had enjoyed a more recent bout of media attention, and videos from 60 Minutes and CNN popped up. The study I remembered had a remarkable 100 % result that I wanted to exploit. Clicked on the 60 Minutes video . The clip was thirteen minutes long; I could squeeze that in now, confirm the memory, get back to Arrow .

What was this amazing result that had made such an impression? In the earlier study a group of infants were shown an animated video of geometric shapes in various help/harm scenarios and the researchers claimed that at the age of 6 months old, 100 % of human beings were hard wired to be good!

Yale had changed from cartoons to puppets to test the infants, and they had a much larger sample size in their ongoing research with the vast majority still choosing the “good’ character. But everything takes a sharp turn at the 6:40 mark in the video. As the natural question comes up–if we start out good why is there so much evil in the world–we find Yale doing new experiments with startling results, interpreted as an inborn aversion to “the other”.

What was the experiment that rooted out this deeply buried prejudice? A child is given a choice between a bowl of graham crackers and a bowl of cheerios. Later, the child is shown puppets that are offered the same choice. If the child chose cheerios, he or she rejects puppets that preferred graham crackers, and in fact rewarded puppets that punished graham cracker eaters.

So, asks Leslie Stahl, her face squinched up, we are baby bigots?

Yes, chuckle chuckle, bias is built in, says the killjoy in a smock. Dramatic statements follow, us versus them, dark side, etc., all of which took the punch-and-judy kibosh to the “good from birth” angle. We may be born good, but that innocence doesn’t last. Soon the world of experience seeps in, and moral outcomes can shrink to a coin flip, dependent on a lifetime of arbitrary experience and personal preference.

I was really looking forward to Arrow, but this was a major buzz kill. I wanted, needed, to see a story play out where the good guys win. Where a character is put through a hellish trial and returns against all odds to avenge wrongs and set things right.

But maybe Oliver Queen isn’t a tortured soul, isn’t seeking justice in redemptive violence. Maybe he isn’t a hero. Maybe he’s just a Cheerio’s guy doing what comes naturally to the Graham Crackers in his world.

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