thoughtswholesale asked: In regards to a recent post of yours - does morality amount to no more than an evolutionary instinct to promote social cohesion? Or is it rather our ability to use reason, and deny our instincts, that allows us to make moral choices? Looking forward to your response.
Sorry I took so long to answer this. I’ve not been busy or anything, I just didn’t really move for about a fortnight.
Anyway, I think ‘no more than’ is sort of a misnomer in that question, if you like. My point wasn’t that we’re somehow robotic, or that we are so utterly constricted by our genetic blueprinting that we lost the ability to reason and to gain morality through a logical discussion (in fact, that is sort of the opposite of what I was saying).
A good way of describing what I’m really saying is to compare a couple of well-known but not very well liked animals. But first, I should define how I see morality. What’s morality to you? I think morality is “a means to a practical existence” (quoted from my essay), i.e. behaviour (conscious or otherwise), or by any rate that which defines the way we survive, the way we procreate and rare our young, the way we deal with potential dangers and, more to the point in this question, the way in which we react to others of our kind.
You mentioned social cohesion. Honey bees, as you probably well know, rather obviously sort of lack any kind of asserted individuality - each bee in a hive is so devoted to the social cause (protecting the queen) that it sort of becomes one undistinguishable unit in a body of other identical units amounting to a very large body capable of protecting the queen. I’m not a zoologist so I’m no expert, but my understanding is that the protection of the queen ensures, to some degree, the production of offspring and thus the continuation of the hive, species and therefore genome. So, bees have evolved a natural altruism where their primary instinct in the face of danger is self-sacrifice, as this sufficiently ensures offspring.
Cypriot honey bees gather en masse to suffocate an intruding hornet.
On the other end of the spectrum, the male lion relies almost exclusively on the lack of social cohesion. (Again, I’m not a zoologist, so if I’ve got anything catastrophically wrong which is detrimental to the point, let me know). The lion (again, as you well know, I don’t want to sound patronising) essentially, much like a rap artist, “beat the ass of e’ry other mother-f***er and f***s his bitches” - the culture of the lion is one of competition and outright hostility amongst its own kind, meaning only the strongest genes get carried on amongst said bitches.
Genuine image of two Botswanan lions fighting over the pride, and said bitches.
Obviously, there are other examples of each end of the scale (birds or ants on the altruism scale, rams etc. on the other), but I think they suffice. So, to this extent, social behaviour (morality) is sort of, I would say, governed in some way by genetic behavioural predispositions based upon circumstance and natural selection. Where are humans on the scale, though? Sort of in the middle I suppose, otherwise why would we be wrestling within ourselves so much about the ideas of liberalism and conservatism? Surely if we were like the bees there would be no question of lion-mentality and vice versa? This is why we need discussion, and this is why we are sort of built (not that we are built by anyone) to be morally relative, because we are innately in a compromising position between sticking our necks out for our brethren, and looking after ourselves in a sort of cynical, self-serving kind of way.
What do you think?
Thanks for the question, it was interesting. I hope my answer isn’t completely rubbish.