Morality - in progress

This is what this book is about. We must understand our moral instincts and moral strategies, so that we can come up with a good moral strategy for the future that will work with our moral instincts. For decades I knew this had to be the final solution to the puzzle of how humans could survive, but I never quite found it. I'm patient and methodical though, so I accumulated information and knowledge for decades working out the patterns in terms of ecology, philosophy, resource strategy and other parts of survival. Then I was comparing a couple religions to see their differences and I saw a moral premise that one had and the other didn't. That was the key to seeing elements of morality.

The thing is, I am used to working for months or longer to solve a problem. I understood that the nature of morality was that it is created by the trial and error process of evolution rather than the logic and reason that are more comfortable ways to solve problems. Logic and reason are fairly recent developments though. With that knowledge I figured I could reason out some more or maybe the rest. No such luck. I have seen though that as I write the essays of this book, certain concepts bubble to the surface. That's what I've been looking for. For various reasons, for now at least, that first moral premise I saw, I'm going to put that at the end. It is probably the most important premise there is for humans to survive into the future, but it's so simple that I want its importance understood by putting it in this context. Well, I hope it all seems like a smart idea. It took a lot of work. Call it the "Biggy" for now, because I need to reference it.

All through human history our search for understanding and order has led us to define "Natural Laws". We have been confident that they were universal and unchanging, probably ordained by God as truths. History has shown them to be human laws and almost universally incorrect. I occasionally wondered if Mr. Darwin's studies might describe a Natural Law, but I never really saw it. I saw a huge misunderstanding, part of which is well known. After reading the Origin of the Species, Herbert Spencer coined the famous phrase "survival of the fittest". A student of ecology is soon taught that it would be more correct to say "survival of the survivors". "Fittest" almost certainly ends up being a human value judgment and so is irrelevant. Interestingly though there is another way to phrase it that carries another shade of meaning. "Survival of the fit" means survival of those that do not have a weakness that Natural Selection normally selects against. Conceptually this is important because in mammals it is very true for females and in a species that is not highly polygamous like such as Elephant Seals, it is also true for the males. Can a Natural Law be derived from the principles of Evolution? I would say that there is, but that like some Natural Laws before it, it is actually a moral principle. That moral principle is that what life is about is survival. It gets a bit complicated after that.

The nature of morality, trial and error instead of logic and reason, means that our most important tools for verifying truth can be hard to use, especially deductive logic. Most elements of morality are true, because they work. (Interestingly I've considered that to be a description of much of Eastern knowledge as opposed to Western Knowledge where science has eclipsed that that method.) It becomes like playing the twenty questions game with a child. A proposition is made and by a parent and the child keeps asking "why" while the parent responds with because "this is why". It's a linear verbal truth table. Usually there is no way for the parent to give twenty logically true answers. In morality though, for any moral proposition, the final reason, whether it is the first answer or the twentieth is "for survival". In the logic of morality, "for survival" is defined as true. Of course that can get very complicated due to unknowns and just what survival means. Clearly survival in biological terms and especially moral terms refers to more than the individual. Survival may mean survival of the family or even nation at the cost of the survival of the individual. The neural structures underlying moral instincts are capable of making pretty highly sophisticated decisions regarding that.

A journalist asked a Palestinian why he supported Yasser Arafat when Mr. Arafat had squirreled away a small fortune and his family lived comfortably in Paris. His reply was "he is our sheik". In simplest terms he was saying "because he is our leader, we must support him". It's pretty easy to understand why in terms of tribal ecology. Very often the success of failure of a tribe would be based on it's leadership. The same thing is true today in politics, business and most human endeavors. It would be no surprise that there is a strong instinctive foundation for this. Many leaders would have been elevated to what we might call Godhood. Since it so strongly relates to survival and because of how it is expressed in the world, this loyalty to a leader would be considered a moral strategy.

In addition to moral instincts are mortal systems. Somewhere in evolution, because of the importance of adaptive behavior, our instincts included learning. It's something of a problem, because moral instincts are so old and powerful, but clearly it is real. People fight to the death over moral systems and beliefs. We are programmed not to question them or even really examine them. Neurons contained programmed behaviors, instincts, to interact with learned strategies as if they were instincts. In a mouse, parenting behavior is programmed into the neurons including grooming, feeding and protecting the young. The behaviors were initiated in the hypothalamus. (Nature - April 11, 2018 - doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0027-0) Not only that, but the neurons and their associated genes were changed by being parents. A moral behavior, parenting behavior, modified or activated the neurons (and their genes) that contained the behaviors for parenting. That is amazing and strongly suggests that learned components of moral systems activate specific neurons for behaviors, moral behaviors. Both morality and immorality (relative terms at times) can be taught at a very deep level. It may be why they are almost impossible to change. (One has to wonder if this pathway includes epigenetic actions.)

In studying the subject of morality, I looked at what philosophers said about it. They seem to be considered the usual experts. What I saw is that they were able to come up with elegant, reasonable systems. They admitted though that when "examined in the real world", they were found to be incorrect, that is they would find exceptions to the moral laws they had hypothesized and constructed using reason. This would be expected if the real world system was created by trial and error more than reason and logic. That is why researching morality I make it clear that I am a biologist. I can then define morality as a survival strategy and I'm not disagreeing with any of the experts on morality, because they are all philosophers. Of course we differ.

* * * Morality in Words * * *

When I first started this sturdy, I had to know the nature and strength of survival instinct. I was good at teasing it out of people. It was certainly strong, overriding religious teaching. Interestingly, it seemed to be consistently expressed as "values" and "creativity". There is certainly going to be cultural bias involved there. I have heard many beliefs about value, but I keep in mind that loyalty to group has been one of the commonest in history and it required commitment of one's life and the life of your children. That puts things into perspective when yous start to wonder about modern values and beliefs.

Our deepest thoughts are not in carried words, they are carried in neurons. Our deepest thoughts are far older than words. Words rarely carry a strong enough meaning to represent what is in our hearts. Sometimes we can give them symbols such as speaking of the "courage of a lion", but words usually just fall short. Between us though, in the society we live in, we mostly communicate in words. If I can use words to make good enough descriptions of moral concepts, then we can communicate about them. We can communicate understandings about them. These will have as much or more power than the laws of science that we have learned and put into words. The problem though as said before is I have very little proof to work with. I have found that if I can get people to ask their moral instincts about whether something is moral or not, they can give an answer. This can be applied to many schools or "libraries of philosophy". The Maxims of Delphi carved into the walls of the Temple of Apollo are good examples. Earlier I mentioned the teachings of Marcus Aurelius. If this is to offer a list of moral strategies that the individual should consider though, it must include the new knowledge given us by biology. (I think I will add those as a separate chapter.) Here I will put the moral propositions I wanted to find that I think only exist presently in our moral instincts. Again, the critical one to civilization I will put last.

We must remember what Truth, Loyalty and Honor mean. We need to understand what they mean now.

I've seen moral terms all my life and sometimes I've had to wonder what they meant. Oh, shallow meanings we are taught as children are easy to come by, but real meanings are harder.

We need to understand deeply in our moral system that civilization is something that is created and is our life support system. As such it has a moral significance very like territory did to the tribes. It's moral importance cannot be over stated.

Morality is a somewhat obscure topic and is primarily husbanded by religions. It's importance is so great though that it is husbanded by pretty much every institution, social club, professional organization. Superficially you don't see it a lot, but consider how many people have gone to church weekly for what amounts to a continuing moral education. Moral education starts very early and in some cultures, it is about the only education a child receives aside from the skills of farming. In terms of morality, a study of religion is a study of morality, whether it looks like it or not.

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I've studied morality for a long time and sometimes wondered where terms like Loyalty, Honor and Honesty fit in. Very often, really smart authors and thinkers have described that they are overwhelmingly important, but not always why. I'll write an essay on honesty at some point, because I think I understand its great importance. I've also read some commentary about honor. Loyalty has been harder to figure out. We are taught about loyalty to country, which is easy enough to understand, but thinking about it I can understand loyalty to tribe better. One is tied far closer to their tribe in terms of survival. Then loyalty is an important moral issue. A tribe is far more of a genetic entity than is a country. The ties that bind a country tend to be more of belief, value and ideology. Where you do see loyalty though is in cases where there is more of "us verses them". Often those may be criminal organizations where loyalty to the gang must be far higher than loyalty to the larger society or the gang is doomed. That is far more like tribal loyalty and it shows the moral nature, that is the survival nature of loyalty. Modern nations try to get along better with less "us verses them", because of the importance of the civilization and the cooperation it requires. In years past, a betrayal of loyalty to a nation could have caused it damage or even destruction.

Because of the fragility of civilization and its importance to survival, loyalty is going to have to be extended to it. Most people instinctively know this, but there are always balances that lead to competing interest. This may be the interests of an individual or family verses the interest of society. That balance is required, but it must be maintained. Too often the interests of the larger group are simply abused in the interest of the smaller group. This is dangerous to the civilization and ultimately to the smaller group. Corruption by a small group that gains power through politics can destroy a nation or even a civilization. We need to teach children that they depend on civilization for survival just as they have been taught loyalty to family, nation and religion. It is an abstract idea, so I am sure they will learn to balance self interest against other "groups", but it needs to be taught. If you think about it, the importance of this loyalty to nation and civilization is illustrated by the moral teachings of almost every institution, social club, professional organization and even religion. Loyalty to civilization is even more important than loyalty to nations.

This is already part of the make up of most people's moral system, though I cannot say how much it is part of moral instinct. Loyalty is certainly part of moral instinct. Loyalty to what is many things and can be different. Loyalty to society though does exist and is strong. In my research I found an important point that illustrates that morality is a very conscious subject and struggle for many people. When studying the subject, you may find many thoughts and opinions, but what seems common is that all individuals and groups naturally are looking for a solution to the moral problems of their society. Over and over I see the same conclusion reached though. There is no solution. Morality, survival, is an ongoing constant struggle by all good men and women. Winning is that the struggle continues. There is no perfect solution (and be suspicious of anyone that claims they have one).

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Perhaps the greatest danger of a military rule is it with the rule of wisdom and can preclude

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Perhaps the greatest danger of a military rule is it with the rule of wisdom and can preclude it when it is needed.

This seems like an odd one, but also very important for a number of reasons. Respect knowledge. One difference between the tribal ecology and the New Ecology is that previously if you were healthy and willing to work hard (moral fortitude), you could survive. In the long or short run, tribal leadership needed to be smart, but the individual less so. In the future, individuals are also going to need to be smart because it is a more complicated world and both to compete with others and to deal with machines. In the West, there is a definite streak of anti-intellectualism. This is probably because of competition from those that rely on aggressive strategies. Yet at the same time, aggressive strategies up to and including war, rely on knowledge and engineering. Still, the more academically inclined have been derided as nerds.

Another aspect of this is I've been trying to figure out how we could respond to automation. It presents a number of problems including economic issues, but that may be the easiest. I have seen that some people point out that many people take their identity from their occupation. What seems even more important is that occupation has a lot to do with status, which is more important and far older. While husbanding genetics will effect what that is about a good deal, our instincts are another thing. Women will marry across race and tribe, but are far less likely to marry down in status. What about when jobs are far less common? In the East is far more of a tradition of status coming from intellectual ability. From the East we are familiar with the term "Guru" which usually refers to a spiritual leader, but also more. That we in the West have had to borrow the term to describe those with technical mastery, shows just how novel the idea is to us. This is just more of transitioning from a tribal society with a greater balance of violence verses a civilization where violence is dangerous to the society and ecology.

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Many moral laws were agreements just like secular laws. A common moral law is that women and children are supposed to be spared during combat. There is a moral law like that, an agreement, that seems to me to be the most important moral law humans have.