Moral life … is based on increased love between mothers and daughters
Peter Watson wrote this:
Sam Harris, in The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (2004), mounted a coruscating attack on all religions, stating that both the Bible and the Koran contain “mountains” of life-destroying gibberish; that the “land” most terrorists are fighting over is not to be found in this world; and asking why God would make Shakespeare a better writer than himself. Science, he said, is gradually encompassing life’s deepest questions and we are beginning to understand why humans flourish. We are beginning to understand, for instance, the role of the hormone oxytocin in the brain and its link with human well-being.
Thanks to such discoveries we will eventually be able to say, objectively, that there are right and wrong answers to moral questions, because once we put religion in its place, “[w]ell-being captures all that we can intelligibly value.” Harris argued from the failures of the kibbutzim in Israel that some forms of social life are less moral than others; that conservative societies have higher rates of divorce, teenage pregnancy and pornography; that it is societies whose members are allowed to maximize themselves and others that are the most successful. We are changing morally, and improving, he emphasized—for instance, we are less prepared than we used to be to accept collateral damage in conflict situations. One of his prime conclusions was that “there may be nothing more important than human cooperation.”
This was the conclusion, also, of Matt Ridley, a British polymath who combines being a scientist with a number of other roles, including chairman of a bank. In his book The Origins of Virtue (1996), he argued that “moral sentiments are problem-solving devices to make highly social creatures [us] effective at using social relations to ensure their genes’ long-term survival.” Moral life, he concluded, is based on the fact that “selfish genes make us social, trustworthy and cooperative.” There was morality before the church, trade before the state, exchange before money, social contracts before Hobbes, welfare before the rights of man, culture before Babylon, self-interest before Adam Smith, and greed before capitalism. The main element in cooperation, he said, is trust, “a vital form of social capital.” Where authority replaces reciprocity, the sense of community fades. For trust to grow, we must reduce the power of the state and devolve our lives into parishes, computer networks, clubs and teams, self-help groups and small businesses—“everything small and local.”
In The Rational Optimist (2010), Ridley argues that, in contrast to what many people think, in the last thousand years life expectancy has increased dramatically, indicators show a decrease in violence, and average income has increased exponentially. Humans are the only living beings, he points out, to have been able to continuously increase their quality of life. No other species with a prominent brain, such as dolphins, chimpanzees, octopuses and parakeets, have achieved this, so it cannot be simply a matter of brain size. His answer is trade. It is trade between unrelated parties that has increased our collective intelligence, to the benefit of all. More open trade should be the faith of the future.
Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist, very largely agrees. In The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002), he explores what he thinks are humanity’s greatest fears so far as human nature is concerned—the fear of inequality, the fear of imperfectibility, the fear of determinism and the fear of nihilism. Against this, religions have traditionally provided “comfort, community and moral guidance” to countless people, and according to some biologists the sophisticated deism toward which many religions are evolving “can be made compatible with an evolutionary understanding of mind and nature.”
Furthermore, with increasing knowledge our moral circle has in fact been expanding. Instead of religions focusing on their own kind, greater biological understanding has led to the entities worthy of moral consideration being “poked outward” from the family and the village toward the clan, the tribe, the nation, the race and, most recently (as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), toward all of humanity. Nor will it stop there, as some seek to include within their orbit certain animals, zygotes, fetuses and the brain-dead. The latest cognitive science has agreed upon a list of “core intuitions,” he reports, on which we base our understanding, such as an intuitive physics, intuitive engineering and psychology, spatial and number sense, sense of probability and intuitive economics. We once had an intuitive sense of the soul, which it is no longer possible to reconcile with biology, and that means we now need to reconfigure our moral understanding, which is better understood as a system of trade-offs according to circumstances. This is, in effect, a return to situation ethics.
Pinker himself tends toward a “tragic” intuition of life, rather than a “Utopian” one, which contains these elements at least: the primacy of family ties; the limited scope of sharing and reciprocity which leads to “social loafing”; the universality of dominance, violence and ethnocentrism; the partial heritability of intelligence, conscientiousness and antisocial tendencies; the prevalence of defense mechanisms; biases in the moral sense toward preference of kin and friends; and a tendency to confuse morality with conformity, rank, cleanliness and beauty. In The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined(2011), Pinker identifies six periods in which violence decreased significantly, proving, he argues, that we are getting more moral.
Though Pinker has been widely criticized, as was Ridley, for his Panglossian tendencies, and though Pinker thinks that the advent of a strong state has a lot to do with the decline in violence, he also believes that another major factor has been commerce, “a game which everyone can win.” “As technological progress allows the exchange of goods and ideas over longer distances and among larger groups of trading partners, other people become more valuable alive than dead. They switch from being targets of demonization and dehumanization to potential partners in reciprocal altruism.”
For Harris, Ridley and Pinker, then, moral progress has been and is being made—it has nothing to do with religion and never has. Trade is perhaps not usually pitched against religious values as much as science has been; but the effect is much the same. Trade is a horizontal activity, carried out between people on the same level, and by definition it is a this-worldly activity. Like most other human activities, it has evolved.(Atheism's radical new heroes, Salon.com)
In The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined(2011), Pinker identifies six periods in which violence decreased significantly, proving, he argues, that we are getting more moral.
I'm fairly certain he wasn't the first to argue this, since the "we are getting more moral" part sounds triumphant Victorian.
The part about how we moved towards states and commerce out of whatever we had been part of before, requires explanation. Is it possible the people changed first, became less violent first, and these same more evolved, more empathic, less violent people were attracted to different, unheard of, new-fangled kinds of organizing themselves, new societies? That is, democracy out of totalitarianism, not because "technology had empowered," or "requirements of competition required," or land-locked or small groups empowered, but because people were over generations becoming more loving, thus more moral, thus obviously democratic rather than ants at the feet of a bullying emperor.
Lloyd DeMause is the one who has explored how slowly over time, mothers have been able to provide more love to their infants than they themselves received. These better-loved children are able to tolerate more societal growth, more pleasure, happiness, and have less of a need to project "bad selves" onto other people for violent persecution. Thus America as it is becoming in some parts today -- more tolerant and flexible than it has ever been. Thus the fewer lives lost to battles, wars, per capita, that Steven Pinker -- unaware (?), agreeing with DeMause -- argues has definitely been the story of history.
@Patrick McEvoy-Halston Mass literacy exposed us to stories of people over the horizon who may or may not look like us on the page (and may not even be human people or anything more than abstract characters). This makes it possible for our empathy to extend itself. It also makes prurient sensationalism more of a thing, too, and gives us the opportunity to direct our fear and hate beyond the horizon as well. But as media gets more immersive and more interactive, our knowledge of the events of the world slowly makes the world known and familiar and changes our behavior toward empathetic responses.
So it's not that we're more physically empathetic, we simply have more opportunity to apply our empathy.
Patrick McEvoy-Halston@andyh @Emporium The intention to let yourself know, is not a human given. The person willing to tolerate a media providing a more immersive and more interactive knowledge of the world, is already on a pretty good path -- however much what he or she intakes can take them even further along it.
The problem with this eventually though, is that most of us can end up feeling uneasy once we've broadened ourselves too much. This isn't a matter just of too much adjusting and finding ourselves completely untethered from origins -- thriving New York cosmopolitan from being modest Kansas farmer-born -- but that growth always carries with it our first memories of what growth meant for us -- which is leaving our mothers and fathers to attend to our own concerns solely.
Outside of some of the progressive, both-partners-highly-involved, parents we see these days, who are so interested in their children they spend time with them throughout their lives, and who's interaction involves excellent reads of the children's needs and lends towards complexity and depth, most parents still require their children to satisfy their own unmet needs, and show it; and cannot help but react with some, or some considerable anger when children are understood as refusing them this (just like their own love-starved parents once did).
At an early age, parental denial, fury, is apocalyptic, and our capacity to tolerate growth, not stifle it, in future, will depend almost entirely on the precise measure of how our parents understood us then. In the aggregate, in most modern societies, we tolerate quite a bit, then start feeling abandoned, and then start feeling guilty, punishment-worthy. We follow up by projecting our bad-selves into some other people, and, now parent-loyal, and ourselves good boys and girls devoted to our mother nation, we go to war with them. This is probably the situation in Russia today, which for too long has let itself loose from Communist restraints and allowed themselves some individuality-empowering freedom.