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The Globalization of Morality

Robert Wright explores the challenges of terrorism and the evolution of human ethics

An interview with Robert Wright
by Carter Phipps


Nobody likes a know-it-all, the old saying goes. Well, Robert Wright better take heed. Because in this age of intellectual specialization, Wright is one member of the intelligentsia who definitely breaks the mold. After all, how many former journalists can claim to have published a defining book in a new scientific field (evolutionary psychology); been hailed as an important author by no less an authority than the New York Times; provoked the great biologist Stephen Jay Gould into a public debate in the pages of the New Yorker; been given the opportunity to write a prominent political column for Michael Kinsley and his online magazine, Slate; been called a “genius” by former President Bill Clinton; written extensively on the information age and its social ramifications; spent the last couple of years interviewing some of the top scientists in the world for an internet documentary project; and published a highly acclaimed book detailing an original theory of cultural evolution? And as if politics, science, biology, psychology, and technology weren't enough, Wright is now working on a book tentatively titled The Future of Religion. He may not know it all, but I certainly wouldn't want to play high-stakes Jeopardy with him.

Despite his prolific pen and wide-ranging intellectual interests, there are, in fact, some key threads that connect and integrate all the dots in Wright's eclectic world. First, all of his work is concerned with the deeper questions of human motivation—universal questions that get at the core of the human condition, questions that by their very nature are scientific, political, psychological, and religious. And one of those interdisciplinary threads is the highly charged issue of morality, an issue so fundamental to human behavior that it cuts across intellectual boundaries and implicates almost all fields of endeavor. Wright's breakthrough 1997 book on evolutionary psychology was actually called The Moral Animal.

Second, all of Wright's work is motivated by an interest in both biological and cultural evolution. His follow-up to The Moral Animal, called Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, approached the issue of morality by examining the unique ways in which it is interwoven into the very pattern of our evolutionary history. Indeed, it is Wright's unique ability to convey a big-picture, bird's-eye view of human culture that has earned him a place among a small but influential group of new visionaries who are taking a close look at the evolutionary challenge faced by our species at this moment in history, a challenge that could just as well be described as a moral crisis.

So while morality might not be the hippest word right now in the postmodern sensibilities of our cultural intelligentsia, it's heartening to know that there are those who are approaching this ever-thorny subject in innovative ways. Though Wright himself is much more an optimist than a prophet of doom, he does feel strongly that a worldwide moral transformation is an absolute necessity if we are to ensure a vibrant and viable future for human life in the twenty-first century.

–Carter Phipps


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This article is from
Our War vs Peace Issue