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The Evolution of Morality
Sunday November 19, 2006 16:57 by Ezra Niesen
The Study of Things We Take for Granted and Why They Get Us into Trouble
Scientists who study human evolution have discovered the evolutionary origins of morality. The concept of morality exists in every culture on Earth, but the morals themselves are different, which causes a lot of conflict in the world. Now that the Democrats own the U.S. Congress, I’m sure that conflict is about to get very interesting…
Human evolutionary science is a relatively new approach to studying human behavior. Tracing characteristics of humanity down to the origins of our species sheds a lot of light on where ideas that everyone takes for granted came from, and why ideas that people take for granted cause problems no one can figure out how to solve.
One example is morality. Every group of people has a concept of morality, but the morals themselves differ from group to group. Now that the Democrats have won back the Congress here in the USA, I expect everyone is going to hear a lot of people arguing about morals for the next couple of years…
All human behavior revolves around the attempt by the individual to preserve the survival of his or her DNA by the most effective means perceivable to him or her. All human consciousness is the product of an interaction of five mental characteristics of humanity: the instincts for survival and reproduction, and the abilities to imagine, remember, and communicate abstract ideas among members of our species. These characteristics interact with each other in many, many ways on many, many levels.
I know it sounds draconian to a lot of people that a handful of scientists should think they can dictate what people’s brains can and can’t do. So I should probably point out that they aren’t telling people what to think, they’re studying what people DO think and figuring out how those thoughts are being created.
I’ve been invited to give a lecture at Arizona State University in February on human evolutionary science and its uses in human equality, personal empowerment, civil rights, environmental sustainability, and world peace. The following is an excerpt from my free online lecture, which can be found at www.newbookforanewworld.com/lecture.htm.
There’s a funny story about my recent adventures in human evolutionary science after the lecture excerpt…
A lot of Christian fundamentalists like to try to prove that evolution can’t account for every characteristic of humanity by asking, “But where do morals come from?” Well, since this is my lecture, here’s the answer.
Dr. Steven Pinker has a chapter in his book The Blank Slate—The Modern Denial of Human Nature on the evolution of morality. It’s pretty simple.
People inherited their social instincts from their primate ancestors. Every group of primates works together toward their common interests, but they still compete against each other for their individual interests. So even though the group members work together to keep themselves safe from competitors, there is still competition within the group.
All life depends on energy, which means all life depends on the efficient use of energy. People have figured out that everything else being equal, a group of people who cooperate better will have a greater net energy output than will a group of people who don’t cooperate as well. If those two groups compete against each other, then whichever group’s members work together better will win.
Every group of people in the world has discovered that they can get their people to cooperate better by teaching them to feel that acting in ways that advance the interests of the group is better than acting in ways that advance the interests of the individual at the expense of the group. Basically, every group of people in the world has discovered that they can artificially boost people’s social instincts.
People teach their group members that acting in ways that support the interests of the group is good and right, and that acting in ways that harm the interests of the group is bad and wrong. People teach their group members to attach positive emotions to the idea of acting in ways that benefit the group and to attach negative emotions to the idea of acting in ways that harm the group.
Take adultery, for instance. If members of your group run around having extramarital affairs with each other, it will destabilize your group, because it will create conflict within your group when men start fighting other men, women start plotting against other women, and spouses start fighting with each other. All the energy your group members are devoting to fighting each other is energy they could be spending on competing for survival against another group.
Why do soldiers throw themselves down on hand grenades and sacrifice their lives to protect their comrades? There are a number of different reasons they could do it that don’t have anything to do with artificial morals. If they do it because they feel it’s the moral thing to do, they do it because they’ve been taught to attach positive emotions to the idea of protecting their group, and they’ve learned it so well that at least at that moment in time their social instinct exceeds their survival instinct. That is, they’ve been taught to perceive that protecting the survival of the group best benefits the survival of their DNA. That could be true, if sacrificing his life to keep ten other soldiers alive helped win the war and keep his children safe. On the other hand, it might not be true. But either way, the soldier has been taught to feel that it’s true.
Have you ever noticed that when two groups of people get in an argument about morals, they always accuse the other side of being immoral? Everyone always feels that their own side in the argument is moral. That’s because different groups of people who have lived in different conditions at different times have figured out different sets of morals for people to live by in order to make the group function.
Since each group of people is taught to attach positive emotions to certain courses of action and negative emotions to other courses of action, if people in one group act on what they have been taught to feel is right, but people from the second group have been taught to feel that course of action is wrong, then the people in the second group will perceive what the first people are doing to be immoral, even though the people in the first group are acting in whatever way they’ve been taught best benefits the survival of their own group.
Another type of moral dilemma is one in which when people’s living conditions change, and the people have to start doing something to make their group function that previously would’ve harmed their group. That means that first they were taught to attach negative emotions to a certain course of action, but now they have to do that thing in order to protect the interests of the group.
Take soldiers fighting a war, for example. People have been killing each other for all of human evolution. To make civilizations function, people have learned to teach the members of their groups to feel that killing each other is wrong. But then if they join the military and get shipped off to fight a war, suddenly killing people becomes right, because that’s what they have to do to protect the survival of their military unit. A lot of soldiers have serious problems with that.
Or take abortion, for another example. If parents treat their own children’s lives as though they’re disposable, how is that supposed to contribute to a stable society? Especially when other people see Americans coming into their countries and telling them what to do? If Americans treat their own children’s lives as though they’re disposable, why should it come as such a surprise that foreigners don’t trust Americans and perceive that the most effective way to preserve the survival of their DNA is to try to fight the Americans off while they still have the chance?
On the other hand, we’re in a population explosion right now. People require resources to live, and people getting resources has an impact on the environment. If you saw the movie An Inconvenient Truth, you saw how the population of the Earth is going to break 9 billion people around the year 2050, and at about that same time the polar ice caps are going to completely melt in the summer. (And I already learned both of those things elsewhere before I saw the movie.) That is a potential disaster beyond reckoning, because people who live in costal areas are going to be displaced, people who live near mountains and depend on the water runoff from mountain glaciers are going to be displaced, and there’s no telling how the changing weather patterns are going affect farmlands. If all the rain stops falling in places it used to fall and starts falling in places it didn’t used to fall, that means all the rain could start falling in places that doesn’t have good soil for planting crops in. So abortion is one way to help fight overpopulation. If we keep saving lives one individual at a time, we could kill ourselves as a species.
On top of that, consider this: A rapist is a man who forces a woman to reproduce against her will. (A lot of people believe that rape is purely an act of violence and has nothing to do with sex, but that’s total bullshit, and I’ll tell you why when I get to gender differences.) A man who forces a woman to reproduce against her will forces her to reproduce in a way that she doesn’t perceive best preserves the survival of her DNA. If the government forces a woman to reproduce against her will, it forces her to reproduce in a way that she doesn’t perceive best preserves the survival of her DNA. So for all intents and purposes, a woman who is prevented from getting an abortion is getting raped by the government. And that definitely doesn’t contribute to a stable society.
The concept of morality exists in every single culture on Earth, with no exceptions. When a characteristic of humanity exists in every culture in the world with no exceptions, that makes it a direct product of human evolution, because in every place on Earth where human DNA exists, these things also exist.
That’s how morals work in secular terms that are universal to the human race. For most people in the world, the easiest way to teach morals turned out to be by attaching them to religions…
The story of my involvement in human evolutionary science took an unexpected turn this past week.
Human evolutionary science began at a secret meeting in Budapest in the summer of 1987, of scientists from both sides of the Iron Curtain. They were trying to figure out what it is about our species that made our own extinction seem like such a good idea to so many people. Literally, human evolutionary science started as the Science of How to Not Have a War with Each Other. (You can find out more at The Club of Budapest at www.cobusa.org.)
Over the past 20 years, scientists have made monumental discoveries into commonalities people everywhere share by membership in the Homo sapiens species, and how to recognize their differences. That makes it the ultimate weapon for civil rights activists and international peace activists. Basically, human evolutionary science is Sesame Street for adults.
For a year and a half I’ve been trying to tell people about this and not having nearly as much success as I’d expected. When someone says he knows a lot of important things about life that nobody else knows, most people think of Charles Manson, not Charles Darwin.
Well as it turns out, I’ve been an activist movement of one this entire time, without realizing it. Even after 20 years and all the discoveries that have been made in the Science of How to Not Have Wars with Each Other, it’s still so controversial that there is only ONE graduate program in human evolutionary science (properly known as evolutionary psychology) in all of America. It’s at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Officially, the program doesn’t even have a budget. They’ve paid for it by making it an interdisciplinary study of human sciences and humanities, whose departments do have budgets.
After its foundation, the Science of How to Not Have Wars with Each Other became the Science of Solving Social Problems in General. Now, unfortunately, it’s been corrupted into the Science of Making Social Problems Worse. Now it’s become just another resource that a only a few materially wealthy people have access to. This ever-more-refined understanding of how people’s brains work has countless uses in things like Winning Elections for Politicians, Selling Ever More Materialistic Crap to Consumers, Oppressing Minorities, Waging Psychological Warfare Against Armies of Demonstrators at G8 Summits, or… whatever.
Human evolution is not hard to understand, because everyone sees the results of it all around them every minute of their lives. The only reason I don’t have a Ph.D. in human evolutionary science is because it didn’t exist when I was in college. Instead I took the low road, and have been studying human behavior from just about every direction anyone’s ever thought of, from human sciences to theatre, fiction writing, philosophy, and religion. I seem to have made some important contributions to the field that nobody else has thought of yet, because I got such a big head start over everyone else at the interdisciplinary study of human behavior. Between that and my lifetime of adventure, menial jobs, being homeless, belonging to a street gang, being engaged to a political prisoner, getting photographed staring down phalanxes of riot police all by myself, etc., etc., I’ve lived through a lot of human behavior that most ivory tower academics haven’t.
So I wrote to one of the heads of the human evolutionary science department at UCSB. I told her how many people I’ve met who are trying to put the Science of How Not to Have Wars with Each Other to use without even knowing it exists. I said something about how averting global environmental catastrophe depends on radical alteration to society, and radical alteration of society means revolution, because any time anyone tries to make radical alterations to society, lots of people try really hard to stop them. So Plan A: I use what I know to show how the revolution could be carried out peacefully. Plan B: I tell everyone what I know so that whoever does make a revolution succeed, however they do it, will know what they’ll need to do differently in the new society to keep from making the same mistakes. Then I asked her if she’d like me to send her a copy of my book.
She never wrote back.
I wasn’t really surprised. When environments break down and wars break out, college professors aren’t the first ones to die.
Once upon a time, people believed the atom bomb would be the ultimate weapon for ending wars of imperialism. On the contrary, the ultimate weapon for ending imperialism turned out to be the AK47. Millions of peasant rice farmers who were willing to fight as long and as hard as it took to win succeeded where dozens of the world’s greatest scientists failed.
So I guess this makes me the Ho Chi Mihn of science.
You can download my free audio lecture from my website. I also have a free audio book there, and you can order printed copies of my book through my website, and read the entire lecture and the first half of the book there too. Then you can tell other people about it—like, parents, students, activists, teachers, and professors.
(I had a copy of my audio book on a bittorrent briefly, until the group got shut down. My friend who set it up for me doesn’t have time to set it up on another one now, and I don’t know how. If anyone would like to do that, I’d appreciate it. That goes for my lecture too, which I hadn’t recorded at the time. And you’re welcome to post my audio book and my lecture anywhere else for free too. Thanks.)
The only reason a lot of problems in the world aren’t getting solved is because people aren’t learning what they need to know to help solve them. But if students, parents, and teachers learn the right questions to ask and start asking them, what other people do or don’t want the public to learn in school won’t really matter any more, will it?
Considering that the whole point of public education is to teach children things they’re going to need to know as adults, shouldn’t the Science of How to Not Have Wars with Each Other be taught in public school?
And if school administrators don’t want to answer that question, they’re welcome to try to answer this one:
Why the hell did we have to learn this stuff from an Anarchist instead?!?!?!?!
Heh, heh, heh…
Find my website at:
And my free lecture at:
tylermaudib (quit sending me junk mail and get a real job!) yahoo.com
(Free for non-commercial reproduction with author credit.)