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ADONAI On March - 3 - 2011

Editor’ note: Look, we all knew this was coming.  Just settle in with a cold drink and let’s enjoy this digestible bit of crazy together.

Each man must grant himself the emotions that he needs and the morality that suits him.
Remy de Gourmont

First, let’s discuss what we mean when we say “morals”.  There are personal morals, what you or your culture believes to be right or wrong, and there are standard morals. What is generally thought to be what most people believe a “moral” person would do in this situation. Our “standard”(fun exercise. make air quotes whenever I use written quotes) of morality.

So what makes up our “moral code”?(are you playing along at home?) Are morals subjective or are there absolute truths that apply to the human species? Is anything really either right or wrong? We’ll get into these topics as well as abstract concepts like moral nihilism and moral relativism. But, let’s begin at the beginning.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth….. Hold on.  Sorry folks. Wrong book.  Moving on, a moral is a lesson that can be learned from a story or event. A moral code is a codification of various moral concepts that eventually from our sense of morality. The perceptions of right and wrong.  One of the oldest and most well  known moral codes is the “Code of Hammurabi”.  Not just a set of laws but a standard of morality for his people. It was fucking crazy.


If anyone ensnares another, putting a ban upon him, but he cannot prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.

If anyone brings an accusation against a man, and the accused goes to the river and leaps into the river, if he sinks in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river proves that the accused is not guilty, and he escapes unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser. (what? Isn’t that how we determined “witch/not a witch”?)

If anyone brings an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if a capital offense is charged, be put to death.

If a son strikes his father, his hands shall be hewn off.

If a man puts out the eye of an equal, his eye shall be put out.(I actually like this one)

And you see where this is going. Even in 2250 B.C. it was super o.k. to kill people as long as the crazy man in charge said it was cool.  And no one cared.  Few questioned it.  It’s not like it’s wrong to kill people…….  Hammurabi loved his own press though. Sure, it’s one of the earliest examples of “presumptive innocence” but it’s still all the crazy whims of a tyrant.  It’s not that it’s wrong to kill people, you are just persuaded to have a decent excuse before they do. Something. Anything. Say he built your house shitty and it fell on your dad.  Seriously.  He’ll totally kill him for that shit and give you his house.  And this was pretty much the norm around the world in historical record. Early human society was rough. Morals only mattered moment to moment. You just had to survive.

Beg me not to kill you. I'm still gonna kill you. Just beg.

And this went on for centuries as people turned to teachers like Plato and Socrates for a sense of moral certitude or maybe an enlightened release from the burden of it. And while they tried, some could really only offer subjective views.  Many of which seem almost hypocritical when viewed in the larger historical context.   Almost as though they had morals that applied to them, and morals that applied to everyone else…….  The teachings of Confucius told people that they should disregard “established morals” (I haven’t forgot about ya!) when judging a person  if their actions brought about a positive outcome. A type of “virtue morality”, which we will get into later. He preached keeping with “proper society” but also that the ends justify the means and when you have to act,you act. He believed a society was best ruled when it was left to the morality of the people. Not the countless arbitrary rules of it’s leaders.

Always look for the peaceful way. But sometimes throats gotta get cut!

In the Middle East, the dawn of Judaism brought the moral code that would spread across the world more than any other. The Ten Commandments(there’s actually over 400) are credited with shaping the law and moral code of the modern Western world. Combined with the later teachings of Jesus, the Holy Bible has changed more cultures than any book ever printed. O.K. let’s go ahead and get this one out of the way. Thou shalt not kill/murder. Which one is it? Well, like most things in this crazy religion, it all depends on the translation. לא תרצח This is the word in the original Hebrew. Originally translated “murder” and adopted by Jewish sects and, later, New protestants. The Catholic Church translated it as thou shalt not kill. Which makes sense. Jesus was not into killing. Period.   More than a few scholars believe it is neither. Kill is too broad and murder is too narrow a definition.  People just pick and choose to suit a certain ideological argument……..

The Crusades: A Certain Ideological Argument

But, most morals are relative. Especially in religion. Thou shalt not steal? Well, what about a hungry man stealing bread? There are actually those who dispute the translation and feel it means you shouldn’t “steal people”. Again, based on the original  Hebrew. Idolatry. I love this one. “Thou shalt make no images of what is of Heaven and of the Earth.” But the Catholic Church,again,goes back to the translation and adds “and bow down to them”. So they fill their cathedrals full of these images and say it’s o.k. because no one worships them. Except the people who also worship images in grilled cheese sandwiches.

It's cool, bros. The Dude totally abiodes.

Now lets move into the more philosophical and scientific concepts of morality, beginning with an explanation of  Realism and Anti-Realism.

From Wikipedia(yes I actually researched this article)

Moral realism is the class of such theories which hold that there are true moral statements that report objective moral facts. For example, while they might concede that forces of social conformity significantly shape individuals’ “moral” decisions, they deny that those cultural norms and customs define morally right behavior.

Basically, an act is morally wrong or right on it’s own. The arbitrary opinions of a particular culture are meaningless, even if they may be factually correct. Morality is objective.

Moral anti-realism, on the other hand, holds that moral statements either fail or do not even attempt to report objective moral facts. Instead, they hold that morality is derived either from an unsupported belief that there are objective moral facts, the speaker’s sentiments, or any of the norms or customs of that particular area.

Basically, there is no “true” definition of right or wrong behavior. Morality is subjective.  Left to the decisions of a particular culture.

There is  a branch of moral anti-realism called moral nihilism which holds that no action is right or wrong at all, no matter the judgment system used to gauge it.  For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is neither inherently right nor inherently wrong. Morality may simply be a kind of make-believe, a complex set of rules and recommendations that represents nothing real and is seen as a human creation.

It is built on something called error theory which dictates thusly:

  1. There are no moral features in this world, nothing is right or wrong.
  2. No moral judgments are true (This is believed because of the first rule; since nothing is moral then there is no way to judge things as it being right or wrong).
  3. Our sincere moral judgments try, and always fail, to describe the moral features of things.
  4. There is no moral knowledge. Knowledge requires truth. If there is no moral truth, there can be no moral knowledge. Thus moral values are make-believe

The very fact that subjective morals exist means that morals are inherently a lie.

Some contend that morals developed on a small level. Person to person.Village to village. Almost purely as a means of survival or “getting pussy”(not surprising). This led to people forming “pre-social” emotions like guilt and empathy in response to these various moral behaviors.  Meaning morality is not absolute and merely a tool to promote human cooperation based on ideological similarities. We curbed our selfishness and “human nature” to survive and grow as a group. A constantly flowing and changing set of ethical values that evolve to fit the times.

So, guys. We gotta talk about Uk-tyuk. He's killing way too many interlopers. I'm pretty sure one of them was my cousin.

Some scientists argue that morality is, in some ways, natural. A social understanding developed among many species of mammals. For example, some vampire bats fail to feed on prey some nights while others manage to consume a surplus. Bats that did eat will then regurgitate part of their blood meal to save a conspecific from starvation. Since these animals live in close-knit groups over many years, an individual can count on other group members to return the favor on nights when it goes hungry.(goddamn socialists)

Recent tests done involving “stimulating” certain parts of the brain with magnetic electricity have been shown to alter people’s views on morality. An act they may have found morally reprehensible suddenly becomes only kinda bad. A fascinating discovery still  being tested. During our evolution, especially since the development of empathy,  certain “moral principles” seem to have been hardwired into our brains. Empathy is what makes  us moral and makes us care. And as proof they point to the fact that loss of empathy is the defining characteristic of psychopathy. From the psychological perspective, it is believed that we make our own morals through our development and pursuit of “self identification”; who I am and what I stand for.  We each go through different stages with different sets of moral values until we decide for ourselves what path to follow.

I'm not a psychopath! I'm just trying to find myself. Hey, where are you going?.... Come back!

Well, we’ve come to the end of this fascinating…. whatever it was. I don’t think I ever really had a point. I’m thinking of  a follow up since there are SO MANY things I left out that make for great discussion. I didn’t even get back into “virtue morality” or intentions vs. actions.   But I feel this will suffice for now.  Hope you had as much fun as I did.  If you’re keeping score at home, you should have 17 air quotes.

Is he gone?..... Good! Let's kill this fucking rabbit!

Written by ADONAI

For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by his sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many.

123 Responses so far.

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  1. whatsthatsound says:

    An excerpt from Wikipedia’s entry on B.F. Skinner’s “Walden Two”
    “In the novel, the author describes an experimental community named Walden Two. The community is located in a rural area and “has nearly a thousand members.” The members are portrayed as happy, productive, and creative. The community encourages its members “to view every habit and custom with an eye to possible improvement” and to have “a constantly experimental attitude toward everything”. When the members find a problem in their community they may design and experimentally test a possible solution, carefully documenting the results of their experiment in accordance with the scientific method. If the results of their testing indicates that the proposed solution would be an improvement over their current cultural practices then they may make that experimentally validated improvement into a component of their community’s culture. This cultural optimization process is called “cultural engineering.”

    • choicelady says:

      It was B.F. Skinner’s experiment at its finest. Gave me the creeps.

      • whatsthatsound says:

        Not me. I think it had some really good ideas in it. And I think the idea that we can do better with society as a conscious attempt, rather than just letting the most ruthless rise unfettered to the top of every hierarchy from government to religion to, of course, organized crime, to even the entertainment industry, is one that has merit. I like Plato’s Republic for the same reason. I’m not sure either would actually work, but then again, do you call THIS working?

  2. KillgoreTrout says:

    I think morality cannot exist without the presence of spirituality. I don’t mean orthodox religion, although religion can be a source for leading one to think of spirituality, as is philosophy.
    I think a basic spirituality is innate among human beings, and we learn to be immoral.
    Morality is spiritual in the sense that recognizing the fact that we are all parts of a greater whole, leads to moral behavior. That which protects, or enriches the greater whole is moral. And that which harms, or takes away from the greater whole is immoral.
    Science contributes to morality by giving us a better understanding of the world around us, and gives us greater means of improving the greater whole.
    But science and technology is a double edged sword and can be used immorally as well. It takes human spirituality to ensure that science is not used for immoral purposes.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      I think it is possible that science could teach morality. In B.F. Skinner’s “Walden 2”, he tried to introduce such a system.
      The reason it won’t, I feel, is that science is being used to maintain the status quo. For example, in the Vietnam War, engineering students from some of the top universities, having received the best scientific training available on the planet, went to work for Dow Chemical to produce napalm, fully aware, or perhaps willfully unaware, that it was being used as a weapon of torture, plain and simple. Nothing in their training prevented this. Wouldn’t do to have our top engineers questioning the war machine.
      I almost completely agree with you on this point. I would only disagree to the extent that I feel that science and spirituality are not separate entities, but are in fact branches of the same tree, and the hope of humanity lies in integrating and balancing them better, not facing them off against each other as some are wont to do.

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        Thanks for your reply wts. I have mixed feeling about technology. As I said, it is very much a double edged sword. The splitting of the atom is a very good example.
        Ultimately, I do not think technology, by it’s self is going to save us. There absolutely has to be some element of human spirituality and morality attached to it.

        • whatsthatsound says:

          Oh, I am totally with you on that, KT. I give technology precisely zero percent chance of saving us from ourselves. I mean, look at the track record. But I was referring to science in the same way that Skinner vouched for it in Walden Two, as a “social engineering” program that could perhaps work in making us better human beings. But it would have to involve mankind’s spiritual side, absolutely. It would have to be a humbler science, not one that refuses to acknowledge concepts like “soul”, “intuition”, etc.

          • KillgoreTrout says:

            wts, that’s why I put great stock in The Tao Te Ching.
            In the western world, there is so much emphasis on objectivism. Things that can be measured and quantified and those things that can’t are disgarded. Taoism recognizes intuition and the harmony inherent in Nature.
            While Eastern thought is rather stagnant in regards to objectivism, the combination of objectivism and subjectivism would be the way to go. To rid ourselves of the total subject/object split and find a balance between the two.

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              Excellent ghsts.

            • ghsts says:

              Douglas Adams would be right there with ya KT. The answer to the ultimate question of life the universe and everything is 42.

              Tao Te Ching -- Lao Tzu -- chapter 42

              The Tao begot one.
              One begot two.
              Two begot three.
              And three begot the ten thousand things.

              The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang.
              They achieve harmony by combining these forces.

              Men hate to be “orphaned,” “widowed,” or “worthless,”
              But this is how kings and lords describe themselves.

              For one gains by losing
              And loses by gaining.

              What others teach, I also teach; that is:
              “A violent man will die a violent death!”
              This will be the essence of my teaching.

            • whatsthatsound says:

              Absotively! Complete agreement. It would be like balancing the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Our current culture goes way too far in emphasizing the left (analytical, verbal) over the right (intuitive, holistic).

    • cyrano1 says:

      KT: I only have my memories as a guide. As a very small child I had a caged hamster which I almost starved to death due to my negligence. I finally “remembered” I had a hamster and rushed to the cage where I found the pet immobile and cold to the touch, I was horrified with remorse, and I put it under a strong light to provide heat. Much to my relief it revived enough to begin eating and drinking again and was soon exercising on its wheel as if nothing had happened. My overwhelming sense of guilt and the realization that I was the sole caretaker of a caged creature caused me to make the moral leap into thereafter taking more responsibility for my own actions. Isn’t this a case of innate morality finally moving into the level of consciousness? And to move it there, in my case, it took the thoughtless act of neglect to awaken it?

      My brother at around age eight, threw a rock at a squirrel and killed it. He was stunned and shocked that his act of “fun” brought a sudden violent end to a life. When we talked about these experiences many years later, his belief that his choice created a life-altering realization mirrored my own. Some acts in our childhoods seem to awaken our own sense of morality through our personal experience in recognizing the consequences of our own thoughtless acts or inaction.

      BUT: We were raised on a farm and were taught how to kill and dress farm animals at a young age. Somehow we got over the “morality” issue (learned to be immoral?), and compartmentalized in order to help with the family business. Mowing hay and bailing it always caught a few skunks in the process, so weeding out and discarding the spoiled bails containing skunk carcasses was also a routine chore.

      Do some of us who grew up at such a basic level of existence have a different take than those who grew up picking out their shrink-wrapped meat at supermarkets?

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        cyrano, thank you for responding.
        “Isn’t this a case of innate morality finally moving into the level of consciousness?”
        Yes, I believe it is. And a good example of what I was talking about.
        The act of killing animals can be moral and can also be immoral. I think killing for trophies and leaving the meat of the animal to go to waste is immoral. But killing for food is a moral act. (if one is not a vegan)
        Nature perpetuates itself by killing. All life depends upon it. It is a cycle of living and killing. Even plants rely on the decay of other plants and animals to thrive. It is simply Nature’s way.
        But killing, just for the sake of killing is very immoral, in my opinion.

      • ghsts says:

        Wonderful assessment and I have to agree, I put down my guns for good along those same lines, “killing” is not immoral by definition but by choice.

  3. cyrano1 says:

    Neuroscience, free will and determinism: ‘I’m just a machine’

    A fascinating article by Tom Chivers: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/8058541/Neuroscience-free-will-and-determinism-Im-just-a-machine.html

    excerpt: “What happens if someone commits a crime, and it turns out that there’s a lesion in that brain area? Is that person responsible? Is the damage to the machine sufficient for us to exempt them from that very basic human idea that we are responsible for our actions? I don’t know.” He refers to a major project in America, where “lawyers, neuroscientists, philosophers and psychiatrists are all trying to work out what impact brain science has on our socio-legal sense of responsibility”.

    The major project mentioned above: The Law & Neuroscience Project; supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. (investigates the diverse and complex issues that neuroscience raises for the criminal justice system in the United States.)


  4. Beachchick says:

    Hello Gang!

    I am just going to close my eyes and take the posting plunge.

    This is an interesting topic. I do think morality has evolved with our evolved ability to reason. Morality is cognitive and a result of the relationship between our ability to reason and society’s rules, or the relationship between reason and socialization. In other words, I think we are taught to use independent moral reasoning or taught to obey without reason.

    The United States was founded on ideas that marked a radical shift in moral thought.

    “A rational being belongs to the kingdom of ends as a member when he legislates in it universal laws while also being himself subject to these laws,” is an idea expressed by Emmanuel Kant. He believed people belong to the universe “as sovereign, when as legislator he is himself subject to the will of no other.”

    Kant advanced the idea of morality as pure reason and that individuals and society must have a relationship of consent. He held that universal laws (morals) were an end in themselves, that some things have intrinsic value. It is what John Lock called unalienable Rights.

    Kant considered motive the most important determinate for evaluating the morality of a person’s actions. Motive is also an idea important in law and the justification for civil disobedience.

    • Haruko Haruhara says:

      Hi, Beachchick!

      ” alt=”Smiley” border=”0″ />

    • KQuark says:

      Welcome beachchick.

      I always thought we could explain the universe with pure reason, meaning that we live in a logical universe.

      But I don’t think of morality as pure reason. That does not mean there is not a strong corollary relationship between reason and morality. Again because a person who consciously seeks to be reasonable analyzes their personal morality and motives much more than people who live off of impulse. Of course that opens another part of the argument to examine if a person needs to think morally in their mind and exhibit moral behavior or just exhibit moral behavior.

      Personally I think humans motives are important when talking about morality.

      • Beachchick says:

        Hello, KQ

        Thanks for the welcome.

        Oh, I don’t think morality is pure reason, but I do think moral reasoning is cognitive. How we think is determined by the learning history our environment provides. The learning process within an environment determines how we regulate our feelings, actions, and thoughts to exercise control of our life.

        Higher levels of moral reasoning are an important part of moral behavior, but I agree with you, morality isn’t defined by behavior. It is the thoughts behind the behavior – the motive that determines the morality of an act.

    • KevenSeven says:

      Beach Chick,

      I’m not entirely sure that morality is perfectly locked to the ability to reason. Morality depends in no small part on empathy, and I believe that empathy is innate in humans; after all, many species of other animals are empathetic, and I don’t know that you can say that they are capable of reason.

      If you want to say that reason is necessary for complex morality, like understanding the difference between murder, manslaughter, self-defense and warfare, then I will certainly grant you that point.

      • Beachchick says:

        Hello, Kevin.

        I agree that moral principles are linked to strong feelings of empathy, but I would argue that empathy is learned, not innate.

    • ADONAI says:

      Hello Beachchick! Good to see you.

      Thank you for the interesting contribution to the conversation.

      I read a lot of material on the very subject you brought up while researching this. Intent vs. action is something I’ll be getting into heavily next time around. I’ll keep Mr. Kant in mind.

      • Beachchick says:

        Hello, Adonai

        You may already be familiar with Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. If not, it is an important theory in moral reasoning.

        • ADONAI says:

          Indeed I am Beachchick. I briefly mentioned his system in the article but failed to mention him by name. I shall fix that next time around.

          And I agree with him on many things. In my opinion,our sense of “morality” changes along with us as we age and become more aware of the world and how it works.

  5. ADONAI says:

    Also, I didn’t intend to link morality and religion. As I said,I didn’t really have any point at all. I want people to draw their own conclusions. Not be led into a certain mode of thinking.

    But for large tracks of human history, religion WAS the moral guidepost.

    Before that, it was a shared sense of survival. Morality was not inherent or something mankind began with. Though, as I said, many scientists believe that our evolution since has hardwired certain “moral beliefs” into our brains. But this is all still very much being debated in academia. I do agree with them that the eventual formation of the emotion of “empathy” went A LONG WAYS toward turning homo-sapiens into moral creatures.

    Of course you don’t have to be religious to be moral. But that doesn’t in any way minimize religion’s impact on “morality”.

    Love the range of replies so far. Exactly what I hoped for. And I will cover a lot of the topics being discussed in the follow up, sometime next week.

  6. Chernynkaya says:

    (Very sorry if this has already been mentioned!) Just some research to consider in this discussion:

    Are humans hard-wired for faith?


    And hundreds more from neuroscientists.

    However, I know several people who want to believe and cannot. Some scholars argue that they’re social constructions, they’re inventions of culture, and that’s why they’re universal. Others argue they’re biological adaptations. They exist because of the selective advantage they gave to our ancestors.

    I have a view which is different from both of those. I think they’re accidents. I think they’re accidental byproducts of cognitive systems that we’ve evolved for different reasons. More specifically, we’ve evolved a highly powerful social cognition. A highly powerful cognitive mechanism for thinking about the mental states of others and evaluating them and judging them. And I think that the system is so powerful that it sometimes leads to certain unpredicted byproducts. Things that we haven’t evolved to do.

    So, for instance, we’re highly animistic. We see consciousness and agency and humanity all over, even when, you know, a scientist would tell us it doesn’t exist. We’re natural creationists. In that when we see structure in the world, like a tree or a tiger, we think somebody must have made that, again, we’re on the look out for design. And I think we’re natural born dualists. And what I mean by that is, that we see our minds as inherently separate from our bodies. And so this makes possible idea that our mind could survive the destruction of our body, or that it could go to another body, as in reincarnation.

    So, I think that these three habits of mind, animisms, creationism, dualism, are present in all of us. They’re not biological adaptations, they’re accidents. But I think they’re what make religious belief attractive and plausible and universal.

    And on another aspect of morality, consider this research:

    Research shows child rearing practices of distant ancestors foster morality, compassion in kids

    ““Our research shows that the roots of moral functioning form early in life, in infancy, and depend on the affective quality of family and community support,” says Narvaez, who specializes in the moral and character development of children.”

    The Moral Life of Babies


    From Sigmund Freud to Jean Piaget to Lawrence Kohlberg, psychologists have long argued that we begin life as amoral animals. A growing body of evidence, though, suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life. With the help of well-designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life. Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bone. Which is not to say that parents are wrong to concern themselves with moral development or that their interactions with their children are a waste of time. Socialization is critically important. But this is not because babies and young children lack a sense of right and wrong; it’s because the sense of right and wrong that they naturally possess diverges in important ways from what we adults would want it to be.


    BTW-- I mention all of this as a person of faith. This research doesn’t change that for me; in fact it strengthens it if anything.

  7. cyrano1 says:

    In Tanzania, witch doctors create “powerful magic potions” from the body parts of Tanzanian Albinos. Are those who only “remove” body parts and leave their victims alive deliberately choosing the more “moral” option over those who choose to kill albinos and then take what they want from the remains? Is annihilation of the “other” driving the real motives behind the practice, made excusable through the guise of religion or superstition?

    I never did take classes in cultural anthropology so am relatively clueless. Morality as practiced in social groups, it seems to me, is a construct full of qualifiers created by a “thinking” species which too often creates self-serving misleading labels. Such as re-branding our own United States war machine as “peace keeping forces”.

  8. PocketWatch says:

    OK…. correct me if I’m wrong (and I’m sure someone will), but it seems to me that the only really common denominator in morality is the Golden Rule (and it’s NOT ‘Do unto others, then run like hell!’ ADONAI…). Every religion and ethics system I can think of or have heard of has this principle at it’s core. Everything else stems from that. It is the very definition and codification of empathy.

    What that says to me is that it has been always recognized that there are people among us that need to have this principle explained to them and that rules and punishments have to be devised to keep these non-empathetic citizens of the tribe/family/city/country from doing deeds that go against their neighbors. Even your examples from Hammurabi have that feel to them… “Better be careful… falsely accusing can get you deaded!” A warning to the sociopaths.

    My question lies along the lines of why some people are sociopaths (Republicans and CEO’s anyone?) and some are not. Are we really two tribes of humanity split along those lines? Is one more selected for in the Darwinian sense than the other? Is THAT why we are seeing more and more of one than the other?

    Pondering… ” alt=”Smiley” border=”0″ />

    • KillgoreTrout says:

      PW, as i believe, we LEARN to be immoral. But morality and immorality depends a great deal on human nature and our primal instincts. Just as we learn immorality, we also need to learn morality.
      I think we are born with some level of innate morality, but our primal, more animalistic instincts must be replaced by some sort of moral education and learning.
      I think this was the basic reason for religion, and philosophy and to some extent, science.
      We learn basic morality from our parents and siblings, if there are siblings. We learn not to be greedy, dishonest and murderous. We learn a certain necessity for over coming our more primal nature. Our animalistic nature. (even though we are animals too)
      I think genuine sociopathy is a mental illness. Something in the brain that makes empathy impossible. But, I too think that greed and avarice are some form of sociopathy.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      I wouldn’t say that sociopathy is selected for in the Darwinian sense. Our current human system is ANTI-Darwinian. We are a species that has fallen out of tune with natural balance, and the entire biosphere is paying a price for that. But I feel that it is VERY possible that sociopathy IS being “selected” for in the dysfunctional world we are living in. Look at the level of violence in our so-called entertainment. Look at Rob Zombie movies and others of their ilk that present sadism almost as a virtue. I feel the existence of such movies is both causative and symptomatic of the wretched state we now occupy as social creatures.

      • ghsts says:

        wts- You make a sound argument. I have studied ancient cultures that have survived and merged with western and global culture, such as China and India. Large expanding populations hindered in growth only by food supplies. They both have systemic “sadism” and embrace devotion to it as virtue in significant proportion as do we. One could select at random infants from 2010 AD and BC and I would assert have an equal chance of getting Hitler or Buddha ie sick vs healthy. No long term shift in genetic predisposition to sociopathy, but like you I believe natural exposure to excessive proportions cause a shift. Not in extinction but in opportunity for extinction. On an individual basis though I would agree that immersing yourself in sadism leads to masochism and by definition SELF destructive.

        Homosexual behavior by definition impedes propagation of the species by Darwinian standards but its NET effect on society and morality promotes population growth because the behavior or morality at its root promotes nurturing, caring, love, social empathy and all the social benifits of mental “wellness”. If there is a gay genetic component its revelation is a reaction to the unhealthy single family unit paradigm. The Darwinian and genetic perspective is USELESS CRAP when addressing social and causal nature of morality.

        • whatsthatsound says:

          that’s an interesting idea -- homosexuality as a corrective adaptation as an antidote to the pathological aspects of nuclear families. I’m not sure if it’s “good science”, but philosophically it makes a lot of sense.

          • ghsts says:

            You can’t get “good science” with out surrendering ethical and moral, which is my point and opinion.

            If I write a thesis I’ll give you more, until then here’s google no 1.


            • whatsthatsound says:

              ghsts, thanks for the link. I read too much into what you were presenting above, I realize.

            • whatsthatsound says:

              I didn’t mean that. I mean that a scientific hypothesis about homosexuality as an adaptative reaction to the pathology of nuclear families would likely fail, because the nuclear family clearly doesn’t interfere with the continuation of the species, and it would be hard to come up with a falsification clause for something like that. So its more philosophy than science, imo.

      • KQuark says:

        Is it really anti-Darwinism or have the goals of natural selection process just changed?

        I’m not so sure the same traits that make a billionaire never have enough money or power 100,000 years ago made Cro Magnon Man beat up his neighbor to take his wife so he could procreate.

        • whatsthatsound says:

          Well, arguing purely in terms of traits being passed on, perhaps I agree. But when Darwinism is meant to infer “fitness” and continuation of the species (or perhaps even the ecosystem, although Darwin never considered that) then we are CLEARLY behaving contrarily to the theory, as we will be erased from the planet in a few hundred years if we continue along our current path.

          • KQuark says:

            I agree with you and I really should have called it Social Darwinism with is quite different from natural selection. Of course the concept of Social Darwinism fits well with nihilism so the billionaire in my example does not care if the planet is here after they die.

            • whatsthatsound says:

              indeed, your hypothetical billionaire doesn’t even care about the suffering that his greed is causing in the present time.

    • ADONAI says:

      Pocket,a brief history of the “Golden Rule”.

      “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”-Ancient Babylon

      “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.”-Ancient Egypt

      “Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.”- Ancient Greece

      Religious forms:

      Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill. -- Buddhist

      Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. -- Christianity

      Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself -Confucianism

      One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires -- Hinduism

      Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you -Islam

      You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. -- Judaism

    • cyrano1 says:

      PW: Great question!! Are we increasingly becoming more Darwinian due to our system of government -- or is it our wiring? We’re seeing more push back lately in the Wisconsin/Indiana/Ohio collective bargaining arguments which seem to have provoked enough thought to trend us back towards the more “moral” position in supporting the majority rather than submit to the powerful -- which seems to indicate some flexibility in our thinking. A sense of community versus a country full of Ayn Rands?

      I will always continue to yield to type A drivers though. Fear of death or expensive car repairs I guess.

    • ghsts says:

      PW- No correction needed, imo Khirad laid it out in the text, written in response to just your question and that doesn’t explain tattoos. We each are split right down the middle metaphorically and literally, social Darwinism has always been a fallacy.

      • Khirad says:

        The Māori use tats as genealogy.

        I actually can understand that. What better way to record it?

        A real living document!

        • ghsts says:

          The world is out to get you, better learn to stand up to it.

          Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru
          This is the fierce, powerful man

          Nāna i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā
          Who caused the sun to shine again for me

          A Upane! Ka Upane!
          Up the ladder, Up the ladder

          Upane Kaupane
          Up to the top

          Whiti te rā,!
          The sun shines!


      • PocketWatch says:

        ghsts -- I’m talkin’ actual genetic differences… There’s gotta be something different about people that have no empathy whatsoever.

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Science has proven that to be the case, PW.

          Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is but one manifestation. Also, several studies of children unattended in Romanian orphanages change brain wiring. And then there’s this:

          Is Bernie Madoff a Sociopath? We asked a psychiatrist


        • ghsts says:

          In healthy humans I don’t think there are any(but will entertain the aliens breeding with monkey theories). Seriously, I wouldn’t be shocked if they discover genetic damage from environmental toxins both physical and psychological. I am skeptical of any anthropological evidence that would try to show that homo sapiens have changed one bit in the past 150,000 years.

          I have wonderful Chilean friend, beautiful warm caring heart that survived torture and rape under Pinochet. I asked her perspective on equality, humanity, “is the ‘world’ any worse or better than it has ever been?” Her answer was “No.”

          • cyrano1 says:

            ghsts: Thanks! You’ve nailed it! Too many of us in our short lives believe that humans in their accumulation of knowledge over thousands of years have “progressed” as a result of it. Rather than understand that each new human brought into existence has to do all of the homework all over again. William Golding’s novel, “Lord of the Flies” delivers that message brilliantly.

            • cyrano1 says:

              ghsts: Check and mate!! And were they all “bad” or immoral?? or just following the (“immoral”?) stronger leaders in reinventing “meaning” for their existence?

              Which was the cause for my Tanzania post above. It appears to many of us that culture defines (or ill defines) “morality”, possibly more than it’s an assumed innate trait we can all tap into.

              Many here define morality as living by the “do no harm” mantra -- until it butts up against the wall of personal threat -- in which case, survival justifies infringing on this “morality”. And “threat” seems to always be continually redefined with our shifting perceived realities.

            • ghsts says:

              Cyrano, funny thing about that book is the bad kids were first indoctrinated by the Church of England.

        • cyrano1 says:

          PW: Gotta agree with that! One of the characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome (a high form of autism) is a lack of empathy. Suspect this is just the tip of a very large iceberg of brain wiring mysteries.

    • Khirad says:

      All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.
      — Matthew 7:1

      Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state.
      — Analects 12:2

      Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
      — Udana-Varga 5,1

      This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you.
      — Mahabharata 5,1517

      Just as pain is not agreeable to you, it is so with others. Knowing this principle of equality treat other with respect and compassion.
      — Suman Suttam , verse 150

      The truly enlightened ones are those who neither incite fear in others nor fear anyone themselves.
      — p.1427, Slok, Guru Granth Sahib

      No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.
      — Sunnah

      And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.
      — Bahá’u’lláh

      What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.
      — Talmud, Shabbat 3id

      Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.
      — T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien

      That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself.
      — Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5

      Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An it harm none do what ye will.

      “What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others.” – Epictetus

      And so on.

      It’s so simple different cultures across the world had the same maxim.

      • choicelady says:

        Nailed it as usual, Khirad. Thank you.

      • Gransview says:

        Thank you for posting those quotes. This is my favorite because is suggests a more inclusive consciousness :

        The Great Law Of Peace: “All Things Are Our Relatives; What We Do To Everything, We Do To Ourselves. All Is Really One.”

        Black Elk

        • choicelady says:

          Beautiful. Confirms my belief that my denominations set out as missionaries NOT because we feared First Nations people (or any non-christian) were wrong but because we were terrified they were RIGHT. Their connection to spirit and universe gave such lie to our cathedrals, rules, books, rituals that were never as connected and deeply spiritual as simple, daily practices of the people we needed to convert.

          BTW -- our missionaries today don’t do that anymore. They come FROM their faith to serve others regardless of faith. We learned. We grew up. Now we quote from all these other sources because they give us such insight into real spirituality.

        • Khirad says:

          No, thank you, I was looking for a Native American one.

  9. KevenSeven says:

    “I don’t think I ever really had a point.”

    Yes, I was beginning to wonder myself. That said, I will express an opinion:

    Religion is surplus to the concept of morality. In other words, Humans are by definition moral, and do not need religion to express that morality. It happens all the time.

    • choicelady says:

      Faith is not precisely the equivalent of religion, and it is, indeed, entirely possible to be moral and just without a shred of theological basis. Michael Harrington, a founder of DSoc was one of the MOSt moral people ever, and an atheist. I adored him because morality is indeed a ‘third way’ -- neither religion nor science will carve that path for you. It’s something entirely different from them both.

      But don’t assume all faith traditions are walking around with blinders and stomping on justice -- many faith traditions are the ones struggling and winning the issues of absolute inclusion, justice, mercy, and holistic empathy. Many atheists are utterly amoral -- e.g., Dick Cheney. Sam Harris himself has supported genocide to rid the world of Islamic extremism.

      To be moral we need discernment and discretion, and that includes listening to people as individuals NOT as stereotypical representatives of some large presence with which you have issues. The world is vastly changing right before our eyes -- it will have global historical significance equal to the Great Schism and Reformation when it’s all said and done. And each person who comes to you in pursuit of justice is someone you should at least hear if not heed. You need all the allies you can find, and some of them emerge from the darnedest places…even from religion.

    • AdLib says:

      I would disagree, there is no evidence that has or could support your proposition that religion is always and wholly disconnected from every single person on Earth’s sense of morality.

      As I’ve proposed below, one accumulates principles through one’s life through exposure and education. One may have a basic sense of morality but have a variety of blindspots. After all, being moral doesn’t mean being omnipotent.

      Thus, some may acquire specific moral principles from religion, from history, from their parents, from personal experience, etc.

      I think it is necessarily lacking to propose that morality appears in people fully formed, unshaped and unaffected by anything else.

      • choicelady says:

        Wow -- what a lovely observation! One may be moral but not omnipotent. HUGE in its sanity! Our inability to forgive other people for imperfections is a real problem. This is such a wonderful wake up call! I’m pretty sure I don’t know anyone who’s perfect, and it’s sooo nice to re-think the fact no one CAN be. Thank you so much, AdLib!

      • KevenSeven says:

        I did not say it was disconnected. I say it is an unnecessary structure created by man that could be supplanted easily by philosophy, and to the better.

        Religion is not needed to achieve a well developed morality. Some consideration of one’s fellow man certainly is, but abasing one’s self before a non-existent god is an inefficient way to get it done.

        • AdLib says:

          I would agree that no external input may be needed for particular individuals to practice morality, limited in its scope as it might be, but I don’t see that as an absolute.

          All people are not the same, some have a greater awareness and understanding of things than others. And none of us can know where our blind spots are.

          As far as one person expressing which sources of enlightenment are or aren’t needed for all, that is a bit of a tall order.

          One can know such things for oneself and declare that someting is unnecessary because it is so to them but does that make it a purely objective fact?

          The old saying goes, “Love is where you find it” and as we are equating love and morality, I’d say, “Morality is where you find it.”

          • KevenSeven says:

            And I would say that anyone who can develop morals (ie not a sociopath or psychopath) can do so without buying into any religious dogma.

            Religion is utterly unnecessary to achieve morality. Morality is utterly achievable without religious dogma. By any person of normal capacity to achieve morality.

            • Khirad says:

              I think it’s not so much superfluous as it is merely a different language.

              Unnecessary it may be (I would agree), but it can also be beautiful.

              I’m an nonbeliever, but even I can respect the elegance of the non-authoritarian type of religious narrative as metaphor and inspiration.

            • choicelady says:

              But Kevin -- religion (or faith) is also no BAR to finding morality that would be exactly as comfortable as that found without faith. No -- atheists and agnostic are often deeply moral people. Belief in God or Science is equally flawed as the “absolute” route to truth. But they are WAYS people get there. Remember 0 it was REV. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. -- his faith was his guide. It is for many of us, and we are perfectly comfortable with however ANYONE finds their way. Do we agree on justice? If so, then does it matter at ALL how we got there especially if we are also committed equally to respecting each other IN the growing and evolving process?

              You are afraid of the wrong people -- the people of faith are not the people of intolerance. Those people are the people of inflexibility, of utter intolerance, of fear and rules to guard them against the fear. They are not even religious so much as they are philosophically devoted to dominance. They are HYPER religious but without any real substance. People of faith tend not to care what you believe so long as you are kind.

              Faith is a route -- one route -- toward making this a better world in which all are equal and welcome. We hope you feel the same?

            • whatsthatsound says:

              K7 and I actually agree on something! That’s neat! :)

          • Gransview says:

            Great post.

            I’m sure someone has said this, too, but I’ve always said “Truth is where you find it!”

  10. KevenSeven says:

    “A moral code is a codification of various moral concepts that eventually from our sense of morality. ”

    Form, not from?

  11. Khirad says:

    A fine Genealogy of Morals, as it were. 😉

    I mostly just read the picture captions, though. [kidding]

  12. Abbyrose86 says:

    Dang A….I don’t have time this morning for a good discussion!

    So on that note, I must post a quick note and run!

    I took an ethics class a few semesters back and much of what you got into we discussed in class.

    It was very interesting how other people in the course defined “morals and ethics”. What I found particularly interesting was how many interpreted LAW to be the moral framework and if something was illegal or legal it defined morality to them.

    It’s an interesting topic and the answers can differ greatly from person to person. WE got into some real heated arguments in class.

    I look forward to returning later and reading everyone’s comments.

    Have a great day everyone!

    • choicelady says:

      Abby -- that may lie at the heart of the right’s fury that the “law” they tried to pass on banning marriage equality has been deemed immoral and illegal? If it’s LAW then it’s MORAL. The fact that slavery and bans on inter-racial marriage once were the law just never seems to raise its head. So that’s kind of scary -- people insisting that the law, as it is, is perfect and moral and ethical.

      You’ve definitely opened a thoughtful line of further discussion. Thank you!

  13. choicelady says:

    Oh fuck. I give up.

  14. KQuark says:

    Great addition AD. I’m somewhere between nihilist and moral certitude.

    I’m always amazed at how closely the idea of morality in the west is tied to intent, especially in our legal system. A split second of intent separates a murderer from someone who commits manslaughter. A mistake that kills hundreds of people is just a mistake or criminal negligence at most. Since you can’t measure a person’s intent to any absolute degree of certainty it leads me to believe morality is a very subjective determination. Just thinking out loud a bit. I guess that means my moral compass is still developing.

    Well if you live your life by the golden rule you can’t do too much wrong IMHO.

    But if you drill down to base morality isn’t our very existence in such a corrupt society immoral. For example if we don’t live 100% sustainable lifestyle aren’t we all part of the blame for destroying the planet for future generations? I betcha they will view us as immoral as we do Americans who lived 100 years ago.

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