"B*tch, Be Humble!" : The Cultural Transmission of Value Systems Through Narrative Art

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Year of publication 2019
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description Morality changes. It is not a static system with a fixed and universal set of moral norms that would be stable both across societies and throughout the lifespan of an individual moral agent. It is not that surprising given that we live in a diverse and unstable environment that requires flexible behavioral responses (various foraging strategies, ways of attack and escape, norms governing the social life, etc.) for an animal like us to prosper in it. Crude and inflexible moral intuitions that have been fixed in us by the forces of natural selection need to be supplied with some update based on the local needs and challenges that given habitat presents itself with. The fixed behavioral pattern is abandoned in favor of a more flexible solution in the form of cultural transmission through the means of social learning. In my poster presentation, I will focus on more informal modes of this acquisition of moral norms such as those we can recognize in various forms of narrative art. I will argue that we should pay attention to these for two main reasons. (1) Narrative art (oral traditions, books, movies, TV shows, songs) almost always covers some socio-moral issues, its production and consumption have a fixed developmental trajectory, and people spend an inordinate amount of time enjoying it. And (2) for reasons that have mainly to do with a non-reflective nature of a lot of moral processes, contemporary moral psychology is somewhat skeptical about the possibility of formal moral education to bring about the moral change in its recipient. It rather emphasizes the role of informal approaches (e.g., narratives) set in a specific and emotionally saturated context. On this basis, I will argue that narrative art is an evolutionary adaptation functioning as information storage about local moral norms which coordinate social living, but also as a tool to criticize and transgress them. As a case study, I will focus on moral and religious storytelling contained in contemporary American rap music.
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