[extropy-chat] In defense of morality as opposed to self interest

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Thu May 5 00:45:29 UTC 2005

At 02:57 PM 04/05/05 -0500, you wrote:
>Keith Henson says: "... minds, having been built by genes, are biased in 
>very  predictable ways.  "Be nice to relatives more or less in proportion 
>to how
>closely they are related."  "Don't fight with strangers unless they are
>competing for the same short supply resources you need to feed relatives."
>I admit to being puzzled here. Mr. Henson seemed to be talking about the 
>way men
>act when mere natural prudence, but not morality, dictates their actions.

Even worse.  I am saying that our very sense of what is moral is shaped by 
our genes along with the environment of the time.

>moral maxims of the world specifically denounce what Mr. Henson here is 
>is the universal (gene-based) moral maxims. For example, the Buddhist is urged
>by the Enlightened One to renounce all aggression, not merely aggression 
>neighbors. The Stoic holds that all men, not merely one's neighbors, are the
>Sons of Zeus, and contain the Divine Fire that makes them reasonable 
>Jesus ordered his disciples to turn the other cheek when struck; he did 
>not say
>turn the other cheek when a Jew strikes you, but Romans and Sammaritans are
>outsiders: them, you should strike back.

>In trying to make the case for a biological and evolutionary cause for 
>one must be careful to identify what the moral thinkers of the ages 
>actually say.

There are a lot of common threads in morality.  Why?  Why is morality such 
a flexible concept?  What environmental/ecological condition cause what is 
considered moral to shift?  I think I can answer such questions from an 
evolutionary prospective.

>If Mr. Henson is making that point that men often or usually ignore the 
>of morality, and put their selfish desires, or the honor of their community,
>before the common good they may have with others and outsiders, well, that is
>surely true. Prudence often tempts men to look at their self-interest in an
>exaggerated fashion, and passion often tempts men to look at their tribe and
>nation with eyes blinded by love.

Ah . . . right.  Of course we are descended from people who did look after 
the interest of their genes in the stone age.  Or maybe I should say the 
genes shaped people who did.

Could you give me your estimate of how long it would take from a breakdown 
in food shipments into the cities before there were riots?

The memes for what is considered moral behavior and the good teachings that 
have come down to us are memes that do well in good times, that is times of 
low stress on the population because technology has increased the economy 
faster than the population.

I might add that I have taken terrible risks for others, in fact I have 
been driven out of my former country for standing up against a death 
dealing cult and supporting free speech.

I could claim an excessive amount of moral superiority for doing so.  I 
won't though because I suspect the motivation for my "selfless" actions is 
not so pure, and in fact I think it has a genetic base.

Want to know why humans have wars?  Ask me and I will send you a 20 page 
unpublished paper.

Keith Henson

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