You may think what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust was awful. But if you were a German during that time or if you’re an anti-Semite, you might well relish it.
You may feel bad for the people in Darfur. But if you’re one of the northern oppressors you could care less and even feel good for the suffering.
If you’re a murderer, you probably don’t feel sorrow for the people you’re killing. If you’re a relative of a murder victim and the murderer is going to the electric chair, you probably don’t feel much remorse for him.
The mere fact that these things that we decry happen in the first place is evidence that it is not natural to decry them.
Upbringing plays a much bigger role in shaping the way we think than we care to think, and I’ve become convinced that we never really shake what we fundamentally are. Any system of morality that is not grounded in real, tangible reasoning is artificial and no one should be surprised when it is broken.
There’s no reason for us to be compassionate; morality tells us to. We play up compassion because people would like us to be compassionate towards them, but if we naturally liked to be compassionate we wouldn’t need to remind people to be compassionate – and there would be a lot more compassion in the world today. So it is with virtually all other moral standards.
Stripped of religious undertones and their imposition by people trying to dictate how they’d like to be treated, there is no reason to care about anyone but oneself. (Don’t add “and one’s family”. That doesn’t explain wife-beating, fracturous marriages, infanticide, and abandoned babies. Don’t then turn that reasoning on me and say suicide. Suicidal people are crazy and think they’re actually helping themselves by getting away from this world.) From that one proposition, all else follows. Even things that seem purely emotional, such as caring for family, ultimately resolve to caring about oneself, about one’s sense of self and their self-esteem.