The Tribes and Us
It is a peaceful Saturday evening. Th sun sets, I listen to music, drink coffee and think about what to write in this post. I'd like to finish my saga about fictional tribes, and in a way I feel that at the same time I'd like to summarize all of my previous ponderings on morals and group behaviour. But that is a vast topic, so I'm afraid this might be one of the long posts =) Oh well, I'll try to stay focused, I'll try to keep my writing clear and readable. And, it is very likely that the coming weeks I'll return back to more common-place diary-like entries of my personal life. So, let's rock some philosophy;
What is morality?
In our daily lives we can discuss time with ease. At the moment of writing this the local time is 4 minutes past 6 pm. I remember what I did yesterday (I even posted a picture about it), and I have some plans for tomorrow. Sounds self evident and boring, yes? My point is, that we can use concepts like '6 pm', 'yesterday' and 'tomorrow', assuming that everybody has about the same basic understanding what these words mean. But if any of us gets asked 'what is time?', there doesn't seem to be a clear answer. Is the time same for everyone, can we travel back of worth in time, how do I know that yesterday existed or is it a mere illusion of memory, is time a fundamental property of reality in itself or is it a mere construct of human mind? Questions like these are very likely to remain unanswered. Yet, that doesn't affect our daily use of words like '6pm', 'yesterday' or 'tomorrow'. On the level or practical daily life we can understand these words, and they are useful for organizing our lives, so why bother with deep philosophy?
Well, but what about concepts like 'good' and 'evil', 'right' and 'wrong'? There's been a lot of philosophy about these concepts, but is that necessary? Don't we all have an intuitive understanding of what these concepts mean? Despite there being some disagreements on details of what is 'right' and what is 'wrong', there still is a general agreement that 'right' is something one ought to do, and 'wrong' is something one should not do, yes? No?
Actually, I think before asking 'is thing X right or wrong?', we'd better spent a little more time asking ourselves 'what does right and wrong mean in the first place?'. Let me guess. If we did a variety of interviews, if we asked a lot of people to introspect on their own beliefs, and if we sampled all this data together, we'd get something like this;
- If a person does something wrong, (s)he deserves to be punished. The more severe the wrongdoing, the more severe the punishment.
- If a person is doing something wrong, others should stop him/her.
- If a person does right things, others should not stop him/her.
- If a person does something very good, (s)he deserves to be rewarded. The more heroic the good deed, the more hefty the reward.
To generalize one step further; to me it seems that morality is essentially about regulating the relations of individual behaviour and group response. The existence of moral rights and wrongs presupposes the existence of moral community which can interfere with the actions of the members of said community. Sounds self evident? Yet I'm surprised how often moral rights are discussed in abstract level, as if they were some sort of universal truths, existing independent of human preferences, out there to be found out with rational reasoning - and once found, they'd somehow magically apply everywhere. And then the debate is only about 'whose reasoning about the universal morals is the correct one'. Which, to me, seems about as wise thing to do as trying to drive a 5-gear car using only gears 1 and 5. I think it might be wiser to think a bit more in detail.
So, instead of rushing headlong into abstract discussion on moral rights and wrongs, let's take a more detailed closer look on how morality actually works in real world.
Morality as local adaptations
My idea of telling fictional stories of fictional tribes was a lot based on Joshua Greene's book "Moral Tribes : Emotion, Reason, and the Gap between Us and Them". Greene starts with a story about four different tribes of sheep herders, each having different ideas of how common pastures should be allocated to members of the tribe. In Greene's story all is mostly well as long as the tribes are physically isolated, each tribe managing their own pastures according to their own traditions. In Greene's story the tribes are kept separated by forestland, but one day a natural fire burns down the forest, and after that the area turns to new pastures - and all the tribes move on to utilize the new pastures. Which, naturally, leads to new kinds of questions; how to allocate the new pastures, as now there are different tribes with different ideas; some saying that the most industrious families should get more land, while others saying that those with bigger families should get more, as they need more resources to sustain their families.
Well, in Greene's story all the tribes are sheep herders, and they have developed local traditions just seemingly randomly, based on different preferences on how to best balance private and common good. This is what Greene calls the question of 'me vs. us' - the first born sphere of morality. Greene uses several pages with good examples to demonstrating how unregulated pursuit of private gains is not a good survival strategy (for example, if you kill someone and steal his belongings, it is very likely that the remaining relatives and friends of that person are going to retaliate, and your short-term huge gains lead to a quick death. And as we all are descendants of those early humans who survived, it is very likely that we all have some sort of basic decency, ie. we intuitively feel that murdering fellow human beings is wrong.) Greene extends his evolutionary view-point, assuming that for hundreds of thousands of years we have been packs of hunter-gatherers, often competing over resources against rival packs. Looking from this angle, Greene examines in detail how our traditional moral intuitions are designed to promote the survival of ones own group. That is, while our moral intuitions make us respectable and decent members of us, they also tend to make us biased, reserved or sometimes outright aggressive towards them, the members of rival groups.
Greene is not only a philosopher sitting in an armchair, but he draws heavily on empirical research. Greene goes into whole lot of details of experiments including brain scans or countless repetitions in laboratory settings, to demonstrate how most of us, most of the time, without thinking too much, tend to favour our own group. Even in such experiments, where people previously unknown to each other are randomly divided into two groups, they are explicitly told that the groups are purely random - and then they are given some money and a task of donating portions of that free money to other persons participating the experiment. The average result is that people tend to donate more to the members of their own group, and less to the members of the other group - even when they know that this group membership is purely random and not based on anything like race, religion or ideology. (Why I tell this is to emphasize a subtle contradiction which often passes unrecognized; while we tend to think that 'moral rights and wrongs' are universal, we also tend to think that it is good to favour ones own group and care less about members of other groups. To me it seems like there is a built-in double standard here; we tend to assume that 'universal' means 'members of our group', and that there are different standards for how to treat 'them'. Take, for example, Aristotle who is often portrayed as an early advocate of democracy. Yes, the democracy of educated men, while at the same time Aristotle thought that barbarians make natural slaves, as members of barbarian tribes have less of rationality, and rationality is what makes us human, so if a member of barbarian tribe is enslaved and made to comply to the orders of a rational educated member of Our Tribe, that actually makes the barbarian more human, which is good. Very clever reasoning, isn't it?)
For my own fictional tribes I also took a lot of influence from studies suggesting that our moral beliefs are shaped by our cultural and economical background. Among other things, the study linked explores how 'individualism vs. collectivism' divide seems to be a lot related to things like if the predominant crop is wheat or rice. Cultivating rice requires a far more co-operation than cultivating wheat, and in many areas we see rice cultivating people being more collectivists that their wheat cultivating fellows. For example, even though the traditional culture of Japan tends to be rather collectivist and group-orientated, the culture is different on the northern island of Hokkaido. And that might be because in the mid-19th century the government of Japan decided to boost the population of Hokkaido, and sent pioneers to settle the island. Contemporary population of Hokkaido are descendants of those pioneers, and "[t]hey are more individualistic, prouder of success, more ambitious for personal growth, and less connected to the people around them. In fact, when comparing countries, this ‘cognitive profile’ is closer to America than the rest of Japan." (The article has a lot of other interesting stuff, too. It examines how our cultural background affects a whole lot of our other cognitive traits, like perception and reasoning. And why a lot of empirical studies in psychology are biased because of that - experiments made with American college students might not reveal universal truths, as youngsters of different cultural background are likely to react differently. Again, we see this question of what is 'universal' - even the professional scientists have been biased to make universal claims based on their local observations of the members of their own cultural group.)
All right, so far it seems that while we tend to speak of 'moral rights and wrongs' as if they were something universal and abstract, we also tend to think that what is 'universal' is actually 'us but not them'. That makes sense and is beneficial for the survival of a member of a hunter-gatherer tribe competing over resources against rival tribes. That is what evolution has prepared us for, and a lot of our psychological functions are developed for that. We probably need to think if this is a viable solution in the modern world, if our stone-age instincts (moral feelings included) really contribute towards survival in the world of modern technology (nuclear warheads included). But before that, let's take a closer look at these 'moral feelings' or 'moral intuitions', to see how they guide our reasoning.
Earlier I used a metaphor of time - we can use words like 'yesterday', 'tomorrow', or 'half past seven pm' (that's the local time now), although we don't have any kind of sound philosophical explanation what time is. And it seems that basically the same goes for morals. When we judge if things X is right or wrong, our judging is mostly based on if X feels right or wrong. (For more on this topic, I do recommend a book by Jonathan Haidt: "The Righteous Mind - Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion". Despite Haidt being an university professor, he writes in a very enjoyable manner, and reading the book doesn't require that much background in philosophical nor psychological studies. Greene's book is a bit heavier, and might be easier to digest if one has read Haidt first, as Greene bases a lot on the ideas so well expressed by Haidt.)
The trick is; when asked to justify our judgement, we often manage to give all sorts of rational arguments to support why thing X is right or wrong. Philosophers and politicians and religious leaders have gone into whole length of theoretical thinking seeking to justify why a certain set of moral beliefs is the right one. Given all these theories, it becomes even easier to believe in the supposed universal truth of moral statements. And easier to think that those who have different moral beliefs have it wrong, that they fail with their reasoning because they are stupid, brainwashed, sub-human, or simply evil. (I'd guess this is why so much of moral and political discussion seems to be about trading barbs, throwing all kinds of clever insults to display how horribly wrong the others got it. Which, to me, seems like just another way of saying 'our tribe is good, your tribe is inferior'. Primitive chest-thumbing which might be very satisfying and rewarding for those who feel empowered by feeling themselves as members of the Good Tribe which is NOT the stupid tribe).
I mean, here we have the double standards again - an unrecognized bias altering our line of thinking. We tend to think that our own moral reasoning is 'rational and non-biased', and if others arrive at different conclusions it is because THEY are biased and non-rational thinkers. But, if you ask me, there's a lot of biased reasoning around. And most of the time any moral reasoning is just an abstract formulation of ones emotional reactions. Emotions come first, and that is how human mind works. Abstract cognitive reasoning consumes a lot of time and energy, so in most cases it is more effective to use heuristics - and the evolution has equipped us with a heck lot of good and quick heuristics which often give good enough answers. Also, in our daily lives as we need to make decisions on the fly, it is often better just to rely on gut feeling. And in cases 'the brain' and 'the heart' tell different things, we end up following the heart. There's nothing wrong with it - but I think it is good to be aware that this is how our mind works.
For example, our emotional mind affects how we evaluate laws and politics. There are a lot of studies showing that if person identifies as a supporter of a party A, and is then presented with a policy proposal made by party A, and asked if (s)he agrees with the proposal, the answer if often 'yes'. Not a surprise, eh? But the trick is that in empirical experiments these policy proposals have sometimes been systematically faked, taking the text of a policy proposal made by party B, but telling that it was made by party A. Now, presented with this proposal, supporters of party A say that they agree with the proposal, while supporters of B say that they disagree - even though the content of the proposal is aligned with the ideas of party B. These studies suggest that most of the time, when most of the people are forming an opinion about a proposed law, they don't ask 'what does the proposal mean?', but they ask 'is the proposal made by Us or by Them?'. These results are visible even in Denmark, which has a genuine multi-party system. There are studies suggesting that the partisan bias is even stronger in countries like USA which has developed to be a highly polarized and antagonistic two-party system. (The study I chose to link highlights how this partisan bias is stronger in those individuals who display physiologically measurable affective response to the party they identify with. This is a further proof that if we have strong emotions for a thing X, those emotions guide our reasoning.)
Remember how, in the beginning of this blog post, we seemingly innocently assumed that 'morals' is a group phenomenon, it helps the members of a tribe to stay together and to prosper, helping them to collaborate when needed. I suspect that this also means that moral beliefs often become like tribal badges. Since primitive times tribes have developed symbols, colours, flags, patterns, clothing, anthems and all kinds of cues to announce their tribal identity, and to distinguish 'Us' from 'Them'. Gods and religious beliefs seem to be in the centre of these tribal badges. And, traditionally, moral beliefs go together with religion. Even in secularized cultures, moral statements often seem to be religion-like central values which define the tribal identity. Now, there are some brain scan studies suggesting that if central beliefs are questioned, the brain reacts as if there was a physical existential threat. It makes sense from the evolutionary point of view - if you see a rival tribe stomping over the holy symbols of your tribe, you feel insulted and rally your tribe to defend the honour of your tribe. 'We will throw those intruders the hell out of here!'. Which means, again, that it might be somewhat hard to think critically about ones own central beliefs, moral feelings included.
Us and Them
What does all this mean? The evolution has equipped us with an array of moral feelings which guide our behaviour, making us decent members of our own tribe - and ready to defend our tribe when threatened by rival tribes. And that all kind of things, like economical and cultural and geographical background, has shaped our moral feelings, so that each tribe might have different kind of feelings. (Or, similar feelings attached to different symbols.) And moral feelings are hard to discuss, because a lot of people tend to feel insulted if their strong deep emotions are questioned, and a lot of people feel justified to launch a counter-attack when threatened. Which, quickly, leads to petty quarrel, a childish pissing competition, an endless trading of barbs and mockery. (Let me say again that I don't see this behaviour as specific to any certain group or ideology. I've seen many people doing this - be it politics, or preferences over operating systems, or a review of Unreal World. Or, what comes to politics, I've seen conservatives and progressives, left and right, authoritarian and egalitarian, anarchists and statists, and supporters of thisism and thatism doing the same - insulting others to prove that We good - them bad. That being said, let me stress that I don't say that everyone is like that. That is another feature of our tribal minds - if a member of group X is insulted, all members of X tend to feel offended and rush to defend themselves. This is a very hard concept to grasp - in the vast yards of Internet I've seen strong individualists doing this. Say, there are some people who identify with philosophy IX: First they state that there is no such things as group blame, and that every individual should be judged merely based on individual actions - no individual should be treated differently because of some group membership. And the next thing happens is that someone questions the reasoning of one of these IX-people. And another IX-people feel insulted, they react as if whole IX-philosophy was attacked, they feel collective anger and they launch a counter-attack. Although, to me all of that seems to run contrary to the explicit beliefs they say that they believe in. Such is the power of tribal emotions the evolution equipped us with.)
OK, so should we accept that this is how our mind works? That the natural order of human society is isolated tribes each minding their own lives? That trouble arises when one tribe tries to force their traditions down the throats of another tribes? Does it mean that we'd better steer away from all kinds of central governments, and regain the power of local communities? Any guesses what would be my personal answer on this question?
You guessed it right. My answer is a philosophical question; "what is a local community in the first place?". In my fictional stories I purposefully portrayed the Rabbit Catchers and Mammoth Hunters as cleanly separated, isolated groups, each living rather smoothly according to their own local traditions. There was no central government trying to rule over both of the tribes, as they both were free to decide for themselves. This, I think, is a mythical image many of us feel emotionally easy to understand. But when was the last time we really had anything like this in the real world? To me it seems that at least for few thousand years the actual situation of mankind has been rival tribes conquering territory, building empires, and local communities being influenced by all kinds of cultural streams. Somehow, I believe that there is no going back to a romantic state of isolated tribes. We are anyway faced with the question of how to organize interaction between 'Us' and 'Them', as that interaction takes place all the time.
Moreover, it should be said that there hardly are so very homogeneous local communities. I'd guess almost every community always has a smaller or bigger portion of individuals who feel their local traditions as restrictive and yearn for freedom. People who feel condemned by their local community, and dream about being accepted the way they are. In other words, I think that the question of 'Us vs. Them' scales down and takes place inside local communities. Actually, I think it is the very nature of classical morality which ensures this - as we saw in the beginning the morality is based on community monitoring the behaviour of its members, rewarding and punishing. And punishments need not be violent beatings, they also come in forms of mockery, condemnation and blaming. I'd guess this is often taken as acceptable, because if people do bad things they deserve to be punished. But, I think in real world all of the mockery and blaming is not based on verified bad deeds. And, a lot of times it might also be that some individuals don't agree with all of the social norms of their local community, thus facing mockery for doing nothing but being a little different. If there is a community with a traditional habit of everyone wearing brown and green clothes only, then the one person wearing black clothes will be mocked and condemned. I don't know but I'd guess that person wearing black will feel that the others are trying to force their values and traditions down her throat.
What is going on here? Earlier I said that (based on empirical scientific research) I think that evolution has equipped us with moral feelings which promote in-group collaboration and make us inclined to favour Us over Them. And now I am saying that those very same moral feelings are very likely to lead to some members of a group to feel unfairly condemned and not welcome in their own group. Is there a contradiction? Why would evolution make that? Hehe, actually, that might well serve an evolutionary purpose, as some of those non-welcome oddballs might have wandered off seeking for a new tribe to join (or starting a small posse of their own), thus leading to inter-marriages and a healthy widening of genetic pool. To avoid ill effects of inbreeding any healthy tribe needs to have some immigrants and emigrants.
Oh well. But, with our contemporary level of technology we have a lot of global interaction, yet we can't emigrate from Earth. So, we are together on this planet, and more or less forced to have interaction with others. Other individuals, be them members of our own group, or members of some other group. And, the way I see it, many of our moral feelings are like 'low and high gears' of an old-fashioned car. Using that 'low and high' -scheme, 'either / or', 'good or bad', 'us vs. them' sharp distinctions was a good enough heuristics to navigate human lives in the stone age. But some of these emotional schemes might need a little updating, to make them better suit the modern world.
A shift in consciousness
There was a time when no human could read now write, and any advanced mathematics was unknown. For such primitive ancestors things like calculating the new price of a product after 32% discount, or reading a blog over internet, mediated by satellites on the orbit - all these would appear as incomprehensible magic. If asked, several thousands of years ago, primitive Europeans would've said 'such things are impossible and will not ever happen!'. Same, probably, goes for us. Especially when it comes to cognitive, emotional and spiritual things. We imagine boundaries of possibility, and comfort ourselves inside the sphere of what we are familiar with. Yet, I think that to navigate ourselves through all the contemporary challenges, we are going to need some sort of shift in consciousness. A shift many people would think is impossible. A shift which is very easy and happens naturally. A shift which might be hard and difficult. A shift which is happy and elevating, a shift which might fail miserably. A shift which has started already, hundreds or two thousands of years ago. There is no stopping evolution. Be it biological, technological or cultural evolution. (What doesn't work in the long term won't survive in the long term. Simple as that.)
Hehe, I remember when reading William James, I was struck with his early 1900's sense of optimism. Darwin's theory of biological evolution had been a major breakthrough in science, and there was this overall sense of progress. That scientific and cultural progress will make things better for mankind, that we are entering a new era of peace and prosperity. That a shift in consciousness is taking place. And what happened then? The World War. And then another. Well, the new era of peace and prosperity was, obviously, postponed. But the optimism has refused to die. These things take time, we need to stumble and to fall. But every time we rise back on our feet, there is a new possibility, new hope. So, let's take a look at few aspects of that possible shift in consciousness;
Global citizenship - I mean, who is 'Them' anyway? Evolution equipped us to identify with a local band of 100 - 200 individuals, living as a separate clearly identifiable group. But we are not hard-wired to that kind of small group identification. It is rather possible for a human being to feel like a global citizen. Some people might just grow up with this kind of identity with no special effort. For some it is a profound spiritual experience to discover a global togetherness - for example, I remember some Cold War era astronauts telling how seeing The Earth from space gave a strong sense of the planet being our common home, that all national borders are a mere illusion, and that all the petty political rivalry is utter nonsense - something which they wanted to tell their political leaders, but there is no taking this personal experience in a jar and giving it to another person. Each person has to discover it in the depths of ones own soul. Brainwashing nor forcing values down the throats won't work. And some people find this kind of global citizenship through secular humanist studies. And for some it is rooted in their own spiritual or religious tradition. After all, Jesus said: "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them [...]". This Golden Rule is found as different variants in all the great spiritual traditions of the world. Note that the rule doesn't differentiate between 'us' and 'them', but it just treats fellow human beings as equally worthy as one treats oneself. Simple as that, yet is has taken us 2000 years and we are still struggling to comprehend this wisdom in the depths of our hearts. (Or, on a more practical level; there had been a territorial dispute building up in the South China Sea. It has all the potential to trigger a yet another major war. Why? Over ownership of local natural resources. Oh my - why the heck we need to compete over which tribe gets to gain more profit? As the planet is our only home, so the natural resources don't belong to any single individual, nor to any single group of individuals. The resources are no-one's and everyone's. If we learnt to share the resources in a just manner without warfare, we could dramatically cut down national armies. A lot of money would be saved, or better used for things like education and health-care.)
Beauty - in lack of better word =) I mean, so far the dominant discourse has been characterized by ideas of competition and economical growth. Many people speak as if these were unquestionable self-evident laws of nature. That life is about a struggle for survival, and the better we do the more we amass wealth. And if we don't fight for it, we will find ourselves on the losing side. But, a competition against who? 'Against Them, The Enemy' - that has been the traditional answer. To me that seems like a sure recipe for global trouble and strife. But if economic growth doesn't provide a secular meaning of life, then what does? Going back to old religions, believing that no matter what are our economical gains in this life, there will be some sort of consequences in after-life, depending on how we have treated our fellow beings? I mean, if there is no afterlife, then what else is there to do that to amass wealth or party on not caring about the future of the planet or such? Well, yes, I know there is no rational answer to this question. And that is fine, as the question isn't rational either =) I mean, the question is emotional, or spiritual. It begs the meaning of life. And for me, it has been those same deep spiritual experiences which gave me the sense of meaning. Personally, i don't care if there is afterlife or not. For me, the point and the meaning lies in each and every moment at hand. As the world, the very fabric of existence is Beauty. Just look at all the curves and shapes of constellations, mountains, rivers, molecules, crystals, the dancing trajectories of sub-atomic particles. The world is not a mechanical machine composed of isolated parts. The world is an interconnected living organism, all made of this stuff which is Dance, Beauty, Love. It is awesome, and it is beyond words, yet it is self-evident and in front of our very eyes all the time. For me, this is not a doctrine to believe in. This is pure, immediate experience. Just like we experience our daily waking consciousness, and we don't need a theory to justify that our mind exists. So as I see and experience the world, I experience it as deeply meaningful, beautiful place. To participate in that beauty, to align my soul with the age-old dance of existence, to let the beauty and harmony radiate in my thoughts, feelings and deeds - sometimes I stumble, most of the time I'm still in very early stages of learning, yet the sense of meaning is there, and has carried me through years of severe depression. - But this is my personal story. Other people might have other ways of finding and experiencing this kind of themes. Again, for some it is secular education which gives rise to same kind of silent basic attitude towards life. For some it is music or other arts. For some it is psychoactive substances. For some it is their own religious or spiritual tradition. Some just grow to this kind of consciousness without any special effort. Or, which ever way. I see no point in arguing over which way is the best, as each individual has their own way. And I feel that there is no stopping evolution, it just takes place.
Enlightenment - in Western thought the golden age of Enlightenment is often said to be 18th century. Central to the ideas of Enlightenment are critical thinking and reason - not to take tradition for granted, but to test beliefs and verify them against empirical evidence, logical reasoning and philosophical inquiry. In a bit broader perspective, the movement of Western Enlightenment can be seen as working towards political and social realization of the Golden Rule. I mean, prior to Enlightenment the European culture and society was a lot based on authority, the ruling elite enjoying privileges over the ordinary folks. To the extent that slavery was commonplace, you could buy, own and sell slaves like cattle. If tradition says that this is okay, then the non-critical mind goes with it, as questioning the tradition equals to betraying ones own tribe... But Enlightenment says that tradition needs to be questioned. If there is no rational justification to treat other people like cattle, then we should quit doing so. Or, if you ask me, if there is no rational justification of treating Them inferior to Us, then we'd better quit doing so. Indeed, if there is no 'Them', then we are all just sisters and brothers, of equal worth in our basic humanity. But Enlightenment, it is not an off/on thing, it seems more like a long process, and it is not yet nearly complete. Also, it must be noted that Enlightenment never was a homogenous movement - some of the central philosophers failed to critically review certain aspects of the society they were born into - for example, John Locke was a share-holder in a slaving company, and Immanuel Kant believed in European supremacy. Indeed, the classical Enlightenment seems to come with a sense of unquestioned universalism, backing the all too familiar ways of colonialism and 'forcing down the throat' -mentality. But that is just a part of Enlightenment - there also was Radical Enlightenment - a less known sub-current of thought, which questioned slavery and colonialism. In a way, I think Joshua Greene continues the tradition of Radical Enlightenment - as he proposes that no matter what our primitive moral feelings say, on some questions we'd better just set the emotions aside for a while, and think calmly, in a distanced, rational manner. Greene suggests that as a way to solve disputes of 'Us' and 'Them'. Heated debates like abortion and euthanasia, or taxation and health care; Greene suggests that instead of fighting whose emotions are used to justify legislation, we'd better just think practically and ask 'what would be the real-life consequences of this or that solution, and then let's go for the one which provides maximum happiness for maximum amount of people, without hurting the human rights'. Oh well. I have nothing particular against Greene's approach. I only want to add that to me it seems that in a certain way, the Western Enlightenment starts to converge with Eastern Enlightenment; if empirical research says that we are a lot guided by our emotions, then to change human behavior for better we probably need to find a change in deep emotions. And that is something which can't be forced, can't be learned from a book, can't be brought about by blaming or praising - emotional change takes place via common-place, spiritual, artistic, meditative, therapeutic, silly, funny, unexpected experiences, sometimes quick and awesome, sometimes slow and subtle. What I mean is that, as we question everything and think rationally and critically, we finally end up embracing the role of emotion, we learn to appreciate a healthy relationship with subconscious workings of human mind. (And, personally, for me it was my late teenage philosophical ponderings which momentarily transferred me to a state of mind when I experienced my consciousness just blending with the universal total existence of everything. Somehow, I fail to see a profound contradiction between ' the brain' and 'the heart' - to me it seems natural that both Reason and Feeling agree on this cosmic beauty of existence.)
Tranquility - one of the good things of not identifying strongly with these or those tribal badges is that one doesn't feel so easily offended. Hehe, traditionally the alternative to group identity has been egoistic individualism - which often leaves one with ones private pride to defend. And in the culture of pride it is a sign of weakness if you don't get quickly offended when insulted. Personally, I see all of that as non-fruitful waste of energy. Identifying oneself as an inseparable part of Great Cosmos leaves very little room for egoism; neither for individual nor group egoism. Finding ones emotional peace in the ever-present age-old Beauty of The Dance of Cosmos makes it easier to face provocations without getting provocated. And not getting easily agitated makes it easier to think clearly, to discuss peacefully with people of varying opinions. Generally speaking, it makes easier to get along with the world and all the strange things in it. (To take this one step deeper; I think the very distinction of 'good / bad' is based on primitive schemas of 'to approach / to avoid'. Even single-cell life forms are capable of evaluating their surroundings to decide if they'd better to approach or to avoid. I mean, these basic motives are so ancient and so deeply rooted in our biology that they often feel like unquestionable universal attributes of the world itself. But the way I see it, they speak of the relation between an organism and the context - ultimately, seen from the cosmic perspective, nothing is good nor bad. Everything just is, and that is beautiful =) There's something soothing and calming in it, there goes the existential angst, as The Cosmos washes away your individual preferences of good and bad, and replaces them with omnipresent universal acceptance of the very beauty of all that is. Now, of course, the rational mind says that if you drop the notions of 'to approach' and 'to avoid', you lose your compass and become passive as nothing makes a difference any more. But that is just shallow rationality speaking, based on what it has learned of centuries of cultural conditioning. As, The Cosmos hardly is passive. There is this dance, this flow, this constant ebb and flow of myriad forms of existence - and then you just surf the tide. It is neither good nor bad. It is merely mysterious, as the very existence is. Yes yes, very obscure, I know. But what I mean is that there are ways to remain emotionally, logically and physically active, while adopting a mellow attitude of inner tranquil which is not easy to offend.)
So what am I saying? My aim is not to judge if Socialism is better than Capitalism, or if Individualism vs. Collectivism is the defining factor of all politics. My aim is not to prove this or that set of beliefs wrong. My aim is not to force my views down anyone's throat. The heck, I'm not trying to convince the reader to adopt my views. I don't even think that it would be possible. For the very reason that ultimately, everyone has to think for themselves, and you simply can't have views of another person - if you try to do so, you end up crafting your own version of what someone else said. So, what I hope is that my lengthy writing offers kind of a catalyst for the individual thought of those who had the stamina to read to this point =) I mean, feel free to disagree, feel free to carve your own space of thought and emotion.
So, we still don't know what time actually is. But, the way I see it, we now have a hunch that morality is a lot about deep emotions, shaped by evolution, by cultural, economical and geographical background, tuned by personal thought and experience. We might begin to suspect that there is no final way to rationally justify this or that set of moral beliefs. And as morality is less based on logical thinking and more based on emotions, then moral shifts and changes also take place mostly on the level of emotions. Practically speaking, this means that if you'd like to see other people adopt a moral attitude X, it hardly is a good tactic to mock and insult other people until they adopt X. But that was what our primitive in-group morality told us; if people do wrong, they need to be mocked or punished some other way. That kind of morality was based on having a sufficiently powerful majority who can force their views and values down the throats of others - or see others migrating to another tribe with another values. But at the moment we can't migrate away from this planet. We need to find ways to get along with others.
So let me suggest taking it a bit easier, having a little less mockery and insults, and some more honest discussions where different people seek to understand each other. I mean, discussion as different from debate and argument, which is about finding out who is wrong and who to blame - I think we have had enough of that already in this world. So what about trying to see other human beings, behind their funny habits and strange views - to respect each other as fellow human beings, to accept that none of us is a flawless saint in position to eternally condemn others. What about starting with seeking to better understand others, then to see if there are compromises to be found, or maybe these discussions provide new insights and make both parties change some of their views - hehe, we don't need to agree on everything, but sure it helps if we have such an understanding that instead of hating we could accept and to get along with different kind of people. At the same time, this is a very very simple and basic thing, almost natural, any toddler is capable of this. And yet it has taken us two thousand years and we are still learning what all this means. But that is how human history is. Evolution takes place, there is no stopping it.
Woah. Now the local time is 20 minutes to midnight. It took me almost six hours to write this text. I hope it is quicker to read =) Also, I feel that there were many things I kind of a wanted to mention, but left out in order to keep the text somewhat focused and readable. I hope this doesn't sound too much like a sermon, but more like a strange forest hermit mumbling partly to himself, partly to anyone who came to listen =)