Saturday, July 5, 2014

A New Morality

When someone says "that's messed up," the mean it is broken, wrong, not the way it should be. Some think we live in a world that's messed up.

Large problems may seem overwhelming, but broken down into components that are more manageable, we can more easily begin to make progress. Many of the world's present problems are created by humans. Individually most people would like to see things put right. But collectively we seem to loose our way. For example, when Hitler was rising to power people let it happen. Why?

Everyday life in the antique cultures was profoundly different than it is today. Without modern transportation or communications or printed information, most people lived out their lives in one place with little knowledge of anything outside their community. Apparently the need for emotional relationships drives human behavior.

The hierarchy of needs is one of the best-known theories of motivation. Created by psychologist Abraham Maslow, the hierarchy is often displayed as a pyramid, with the most basic needs at the bottom and more complex needs at the peak. Morality is apparently less important than social acceptance. Conformity is a type of social influence involving a change in belief or behavior in order to fit in with a group – where a person publicly accepts the views of a group even when they privately reject them. This partly explains the persistence of  customs and beliefs that may be defective.

The most vulnerable people are always the most superstitious. The antique moralities were typically based on a system of religious prohibitions. A taboo is a vehement prohibition of an action based on the belief that such behavior is either too sacred or too accursed for ordinary individuals to undertake, under threat of supernatural punishment. Such prohibitions are present in virtually all societies. In many mythological, folklore and religious traditions  hell is a place of eternal torment in an afterlife, often after resurrection. It is viewed by most Abrahamic traditions as a place of punishment. Religions with a linear divine history often depict hells as eternal destinations in which the dead continue to exist in a nether realm of the devil and the demons in which the damned suffer everlasting punishment. We are quick to judge, fear and even hate the unknown. We may not admit it, but we are all plagued with xenophobic tendencies.

Before there was science or medicine, people didn't live very long. By studying Egyptian mummies we know that some of the most powerful men who ever lived died from a simple tooth ache that would be cured easily today. In the old days illness or injury was very often fatal. Beyond a relatively few herbal remedies, one could only resort to magic or religion.

So antique morality was primarily concerned with fearful religious prohibitions. A dystopia is a community or society that is in some important way undesirable or frightening. It is the opposite of a utopia. Such societies appear in many artistic works, particularly in stories set in a future. Much of present day entertainment is dystopian.  Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society.

An interlocutor is someone who informally explains the views of a government and also can relay messages back to a government. In religion, a prophet is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and to speak for them, serving as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this new found knowledge from the supernatural entity to the people. The message that the prophet conveys is called a prophecy.

Claims of prophethood have existed in many cultures through history, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, in Ancient Greece, Zoroastrianism, and many others. Traditionally, prophets are regarded as having a role in society that promotes change due to their messages and actions. About 2000 years ago morality became centered around religious figures such as Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed. Each man's deeds and words have attracted admirers and followers who have extended the impact of such beliefs over many continents and through many centuries.

These beliefs were essentially lists of prohibitions -"Thou shalt not." These prophets all preached against the corruption of religion. They all were so gripped by personal convictions that they tried to transmit to others what they believed to be true, even though attempting this often aroused opposition and caused them to suffer. Desires to fulfill self-interest can culminate in cult feelings of aggression, hostility, and confrontation. When the idea is to save the soul even at the expense of the mortal body, the focus is on the afterlife. And morality based on revelations from authority is reduced to obedience - a tyranny of guilt and fear which is essentially more political than religious.

"Thou shalt not kill," was typically the prime directive, but there was an exception, which essentially was an extension of the idea of saving the soul - preserving the church. Man's inhumanity to man invariably came under the guise of religious bigotry. Possibly 300 million people have died from secular regimes and wars. The God of Heaven was thought to be in perpetual conflict with the Devil of Hell. The theme here or central issue was a war between good and evil. Politically this translated into "us against them." The roots of this polarity run deep and are devastating.

plunder (verb) 1. to rob of goods or valuables by open force, as in war, hostile raids, brigandage, etc.: to plunder a town. rob, despoil, or fleece: to plunder the public treasury. 3. to take wrongfully, as by pillage, robbery, or fraud: to plunder a piece of property.

The problem with “us against them” leadership is that it contains within it the seeds for its own destruction. Ethnocentrism is the tendency to partition the human world into in-groups and out-groups. Once the battle lines have been drawn, it isn't  long before the other side recognizes the situation and responds accordingly. Once that happens, it’s going to be downhill from there. Furthermore, it is an addictive response. Once you begin to see things as “us against them,” everyone fits into one of those categories, and the criteria to be “us” gets more and more stringent. Not only that, but the creativity of the people in your group can become severely restricted because they become afraid of saying anything, doing anything, or even thinking anything that can be perceived as disqualifying them from being on the “us” team. In spite of the immediate appeal of it, this is a paradigm where everyone loses. (Remember Hitler.) Those opposed to the dominant regime are apt to be labeled as dissidents,  insurgents, or even terrorists.

Antique morality often not only set man against man but man against the environment. The alienation of nature is the result of objectifying nature in just such a way. This is potentially the most dangerous mistake ever made by humans.

 In the development of transcendent monotheism culture dulled its connection to the natural world and placed the sacred in a place separate from nature. By removing the sacred from nature, culture objectified nature and no longer saw itself as a product of nature but rather a product of the supernatural. Transcendent monotheism made nature a cultural afterthought, lost in this process was the fact culture evolved from nature and therefore culture exists within the natural system. In transcendent monotheism the culture-nature system is not recognized. Culture is directly tied to the supernatural and therefore does not need to consult natural systems. But as science has shown, humanity and culture evolved from nature. So transcendent monotheism conceived of humanity as a project of the supernatural and nature as an object as something separate from culture. The Book of Genesis recommends believers to “fill the earth and subdue it” as if the earth were a separate object from human development, as if we did not evolve from the earth. The assumption here is the natural world is to be exploited. This philosophy is deeply problematic if you believe humanity is part of the natural world rather than something separate from it. It is particularly problematic now as environmental problems become more and more daunting.

What has happened is that many people threw out the baby with the bath by abandoning the ancient wisdom traditions entirely, as if they could not be overhauled or updated. Scientism claims that science alone can render truth about the world and reality. The biggest failure of materialist science is its spiritual emptiness. It does nothing to answer the only meaningful questions in the universe (and instead regulates these questions to the realm of philosophy). Objectification means treating a person as a thing, without regard to their dignity or self-determination. The most constructive product of science has been technology. But technology is also the most destructive product of science. Scientism embraces only empiricism and reason to explain everything.

We develop increasingly powerful systems that effect an increasingly broad array of subsystems until we end up with out of control feedback loops (nuclear meltdowns and global warming are examples of this). Technology has reached a point where it is self-proliferating. It begins to seem that we couldn't stop its progress if we wanted to. It is as if we no longer program computers - they program us. We build a computer and then the limitations of the machine (automation) frames how we think about subsequent problems. Technology is in control.

It is interesting that the least technologically endowed societies report the highest degrees of subjective satisfaction. Science as a formal methodology has been robbing us of our humanity and our individual freedom to make moral and spiritual choices, and brings us to the brink of self-destruction. The essence of technological development is conformism mediated by efficiency - the Borg.  Are we the Borg?

What we have trouble understanding is that our tools determine our frame of reference and worldview. Criticisms of  Science, Logic, or Efficiency,  is seen as profane. Industrial Society and Its Future begins with Ted Kaczynski's assertion that "the Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race."
The moral code of our society is so demanding that no one can think, feel and act in a completely moral way. [...] Some people are so highly socialized that the attempt to think, feel and act morally imposes a severe burden on them. In order to avoid feelings of guilt, they continually have to deceive themselves about their own motives and find moral explanations for feelings and actions that in reality have a non-moral origin. We use the term "oversocialized" to describe such people.
According to Joseph Campbell the old morality of the Book People was severe - lots of rules with little forgiveness. And in Chinese common law, it was even more oppressive (steal an orange, lose a hand). Hopefully a new morality will be more interested in a "win-win" philosophy. The greening of this new morality embraces another consideration -  is it good for the environment? We are beginning to understand that cold logic will not always render what is the highest and best course of action when intuition is excluded. Selfishness can seem logical but any parent knows better.

 Bill Joy suggested assessing technologies to gauge their implicit dangers, as well as having scientists refuse to work on technologies that have the potential to cause harm. 20th century technologies of destruction, such as the nuclear bomb, were limited to large governments, due to the complexity and cost of such devices, as well as the difficulty in acquiring the required materials. "Our most powerful 21st-century technologies — robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech — are threatening to make humans an endangered species." - Bill Joy

The trouble with most of us isn’t active or deliberate wickedness; it’s lethargy, absence of caring, lack of involvement in life. The new morality is simply a unification of what we have learned. It is not any sort of a continuation of the schism between science and religion. Science has already shown, humanity and culture evolved from nature. If you are religious, you may want to spell Nature with a capital "N." NonDuality is the idea that God is not separate from creation, but IS all creation. In any case, whether you are religious or not, it is time to accept the fact that continuing the destruction of nature is not sane, or sustainable.

Astronomers and physicists are confident that the Big Bang happened. But there are still many questions that remain unanswered – for example, questions about the existence and nature of Dark Matter.  More is unknown than is known. We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the Universe's expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery and it is an important mystery. It turns out that roughly 68% of the Universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest - everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter - adds up to less than 5% of the Universe.

From this we might begin to realize that our concept of reality is primitive - even our idea of God is collapsed into the horizontal dimension. Many people think that science and faith tell conflicting stories about how the universe began. But they might not be as different as you think. Scientists speak of a definite moment of creation in a vast cosmic explosion (the ‘Big Bang’), which had to be carefully adjusted for human life to be possible. Far from conflicting, the scientific picture may point us towards something supernatural that we simply do not understand. There may even  be countless universes that come into being in a way that is beyond our understanding. Our hubris in the wholesale destruction of nature makes it clear that we have little appreciation of true reality.    

  • “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” -- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
  • “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” -- W.B. Yeats
  • “How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.” -- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
  • “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” -- Albert Einstein
  • “Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” -- Immanuel Kant
  • Forty-six percent of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question.