We are right to insist that emotional ties, social interaction, and the communal transmission of norms are essential in forming people for a decent life, and that habit, perception, and instinct form a large part of a person’s character. But there is moral and intellectual laziness in our sentimental devaluation of conscious reasoning, which is what we have to rely on when our emotions or our inherited norms give unclear or poorly grounded instructions.
Some groups are far better than others at indoctrinating functional norms and social skills. Children from disorganized, unstable communities have a much harder time acquiring the discipline to succeed in life. And a famous experiment conducted around 1970 demonstrated that the ability of four-year-olds to postpone gratification by leaving a marshmallow uneaten for a time as a condition of receiving a second marshmallow was a very good predictor of success in life.
The kids who could wait a full 15 minutes had, 13 years later, SAT scores that were 210 points higher than the kids who could wait only 30 seconds. Twenty years later, they had much higher college-completion rates, and 30 years later, they had much higher incomes. The kids who could not wait at all had much higher incarceration rates. They much more likely were to suffer from drug- and alcohol-addiction problems.”