More about morality
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08-10-2010, 02:18 AM
 
More about morality
I know we've already discussed issues regarding atheist vs. theist bases for morality, and perhaps this belongs in another thread. But I just finished a very dark novel called "The Book of the Heathen" by Robert Edric. While it's a work of fiction, I suspect it has some basis in fact - various hunter-gatherer tribes are known to have been cannibals and inflicted cruel violence on neighboring tribes (and within their tribes as well). Given our previous discussion about how morality emerges out of survival strategies, it seems that some societies have evolved morality that differs dramatically from our own. The cruelty to people and to animals described in the book are horrifying to me (and to the protagonist in the novel), and it's only possible to see this morality as a survival strategy in a functionally limitless world, where causing harm to your surroundings and those humans around you is not going to make any significant difference in your group survival. I believe that many hunter-gatherer societies (not all) around the world have been discovered to have this cruel side that we would consider immoral.

Perhaps this sort of behavior, when it became known to European colonists - behavior which we might readily label as "savagery" - has influenced religious types to indicate that the behavior of these aboriginals is a direct result of their godlessness. I know that European colonists also inflicted various forms of cruelty on themselves, the aboriginals, and their surroundings, so it seems to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Nevertheless, I wonder if the theists make this argument about morality springing from their chosen deity, in the absence of which all forms of behavior would be given license, because of the history of their encounters with aboriginals.

One final note - I've heard several well-known atheists arguing that the moralities of most human societies are similar, which indicates a universality that supposedly springs from the issues of survival all humans have in common. However, it seems clear to me that some human societies have sanctioned cannibalism, rape, incest, murder, slavery, and so on. Hence, it may be something of an over-generalization to say that humans have some universal core of moral values. I'm increasingly of the opinion that morality is always situational and there likely is no single strategy that would work for everyone for all time. Circumstances change, and clinging to some fixed set of moral values could be very detrimental to survival under changing circumstances. Civilization and culture is a thin veneer on a substrate of "savagery".
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08-10-2010, 08:08 AM
RE: More about morality
Hey, 2buckchuck.

Check this out: Noble savage.

That being said:
Quote:While it's a work of fiction, I suspect it has some basis in fact - various hunter-gatherer tribes are known to have been cannibals and inflicted cruel violence on neighboring tribes (and within their tribes as well).

The idea that aboriginal cultures are machines of violence and cruelty is equally unsupportable.

Humans are capable of the full spectrum of human behaviour. (This is one of the many reasons I don't believe in good and evil, particularly as states of being, but that might be too controversial for this thread.)

The Europeans that encountered aboriginal cultures the world over were cultural absolutists, not cultural relativists. They possessed objective truths. So any behaviour they observed that was an outlawed behaviour in Europe (particularly behaviours that led away from salvation) were "evidence" of their lesser savagery. Obviously they hadn't reached a high enough point of development and needed to be saved (see, cultural genocide, also, prime directive, importance of). The idea that the traditions they encountered worked for those people in those places was simply not an idea that would have entered the mix.

Quote:I'm increasingly of the opinion that morality is always situational and there likely is no single strategy that would work for everyone for all time.

Welcome to the wonderful world of cultural relativism, my friend Big Grin Glad to have you!

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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08-10-2010, 10:16 AM
 
RE: More about morality
Aboriginal or native cultures were often cruel, just as the native cultures of Europe were undoubtedly "cruel" in their infancy. What we must remember is that the morality of many native cultures is as dominated by religious thought as those of the imperialist cultures that later encounter them.

For example, human sacrifice is thought by some researchers to have been a common practice in middle eastern culture, but this wasn't a cultural phenomenon per se. It was predominantly religious, performed as a rite to appease a particular god, such as Molech.

Humans and the great apes all show signs of competition within their species. Humans and chimpanzees both exhibit aggression when confronted with tribes outside of their own. There must be an evolutionary reason for this (a way in which this behavior is advantageous). As the early members of a larger global community (among the first generations to encounter many members of those outside our "tribe" and find that they are much like us), our view of "inter-tribal" relations is growing and evolving. Our morality is evolving.
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10-10-2010, 11:43 AM
RE: More about morality
The cruelty this group shows to that group is in-group/out-group tribalism. We also see it in chimps and wolf packs. It's not contrary to the idea that morality is innate. If so-called "moral" behavior within a group is conducive to the survival of the group, then setting aside the "morality" for outsiders can also serve the same function.

Consider that a group that extends kindness to outsiders may often be caught off-guard and extinguished. At the same time, a group which does not extend kindness to each other will also not long survive. So modern in-group/out-group bias and morality are or may very well be evolutionary vestiges.
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11-10-2010, 02:08 AM
 
RE: More about morality
(10-10-2010 11:43 AM)gamutman Wrote:  The cruelty this group shows to that group is in-group/out-group tribalism. We also see it in chimps and wolf packs. It's not contrary to the idea that morality is innate. If so-called "moral" behavior within a group is conducive to the survival of the group, then setting aside the "morality" for outsiders can also serve the same function.
I agree that "us vs them" is a common way to change the rules regarding behavior - demonize and dehumanize the outsider and then anything goes. But we also see similar behavior that we would call cruel within groups - the upper class vs the lower class, etc. Despite what can be claimed regarding more or less universal moral codes, we seem quite capable of rationalizing why it's convenient to set them aside. Theists and atheists alike.

I also agree that morality evolves in response to changing circumstances.
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11-10-2010, 09:41 AM
RE: More about morality
(11-10-2010 02:08 AM)2buckchuck Wrote:  I agree that "us vs them" is a common way to change the rules regarding behavior - demonize and dehumanize the outsider and then anything goes. But we also see similar behavior that we would call cruel within groups - the upper class vs the lower class, etc. Despite what can be claimed regarding more or less universal moral codes, we seem quite capable of rationalizing why it's convenient to set them aside. Theists and atheists alike.

Yes, but you could consider the upper class to be its own group, and the lower class to be its own group. Then it becomes an "us" vs "them" mentality, even if both groups are within a larger society/group.

That aside, I do believe morality is always shifting to accommodate cultural relativity. For example, it used to be completely moral for a husband to cheat on his wife (but not vice-versa), yet now we would consider that immoral for the most part.

Individual morality helps the individual survive within a group, and thus pass on his/her genes. Inter-group morality means giving up valuable resources to other groups, which hinders the survival of the group, and thus hinders the survival of the individual, who then has a smaller chance of passing on his/her genes.

"Remember, my friend, that knowledge is stronger than memory, and we should not trust the weaker." - Dr. Van Helsing, Dracula
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