I will try and make a logical argument that morals are an exclusively human invention and therefore less important in the big picture than we may think. A part of the argument is of Machiavellian nature, but without the negative connotation.
A fine conclusion from it is that it is okay to forgive ourselves and others even the most so-called heinous crimes. And let go of pain.
My argument is really simple. I will give you the short version now and then elaborate a bit. It goes as follows:
Morals in the way we know them are exclusive to the human species. God likely does not punish animals for acting in a manner that would be considered immoral from a human perspective, nor is it likely that they feel guilt or shame for such behavior. Also very likely, our soul – the essence of our being – is not human. Therefore, it is unlikely that God favors human souls over animal souls, since the soul in itself is not human and is thus equal to any other soul. Hence, morals are an exclusive human instrument, primarily used for intra-species power plays – be that a good or bad thing, if you get the pun.
Well, that turned out to be not quite as clear as I hoped it would, but it should suffice to give you the gist for now.
So now, let me elaborate a little.
Morals do not apply to animals
This is the most important part of the argument.
It occurred to me that humans do not judge most animals in moral terms. This is not hard to observe, but quite significant and it seems to me to be one of those cases of not seeing the forest for the trees, because it is so obvious.
Just a few examples:
- We see a male lion kill the babies of another male lion. Do we scream at it and call it a bad lion? Nope. We may say that it is terrible or sad, but we do not judge the lion.
- A dog kills some little kid. Do we say that he is a bad dog? Nope. We may say the dog is dangerous, but we generally do not judge the dog morally. We do, however, morally judge the dog’s owner.
- There are frog species where a big group of males rapes a female until the female dies. Then the males extract the eggs from the dead female’s body and fertilize them. Do we say they are bad frogs? Nope. We may find it disgusting or, given the fact that amphibians are very unrelated to us, amusing. We may say Eeeeek, but we do not judge the frogs.
- Do we judge ants for being socialists and ignoring the rights of an individual? Nope. We may say gee, I am glad I am not an ant, but we do not judge the ants.
- A poisonous jellyfish kills a man. Do we say it is a bad jellyfish? Nope. We are sad and shaken by the loss, but we do not judge the jellyfish.
You catch the drift, I think. We may say that animals are dangerous, but we do not say that they are bad. We do not talk to their conscience to make them abide by our rules. We do not argue with animals.
The idea to call an animal bad for behaving the way it does seems so innately absurd to us that we do not even think of it.
Why is that?
I think it is because we instinctively sense that there is simply no point in doing it. Because we subconsciously just know that the animal is not going to be receptive to it.
And this, I think, puts the whole act of appealing to conscience into another perspective.
If we don’t attempt to judge animals or appeal to their conscience because we sense that it is pointless, why do we do it with humans?
Because in a human context, an appeal to conscience is powerful.
An appeal to conscience against a human opponent is a very effective and, to the recipient, painful weapon. And we use it instinctively to support our highest self-interests. Of course, such a highest self-interest may be the wish for a harmonious society, capitalism or whatever – a self-interest nonetheless.
Why do we judge and shame people and call them bad? Because we would be giving up easily available personal power over others. We have this ability and hence we use it, whenever it is feasible.
We can also call somebody good and thus play to his pride.
But the core of my conviction is really: We only judge others because we can. It has a payoff. Or at least, we imagine it to have one, if we are used to that. When we sense that the opponent – for example an animal – is not receptive to moral judgment, we don’t do it. We don’t have to think about whether to do it, whether it is right to judge the animal. It is instinctual. We just don’t. Because we know, deep down, that it makes no sense.
We know, deep down, that animals do not operate in human moral terms. They are independent of them. And we do not blame them for it. Heh.
When a rock from a mountain falls down on a hiking dude, we do not blame the mountain. We blame the government. Why? Because we can. Because we sense that it will improve our safety if we get somebody to do something about it.
And if we sometimes blame God for stuff that happens in our lives, well, then we do that only because we project human emotions on God and imagine him as human.
Surely you have often heard the saying don’t behave like an animal! And yet, curiously, we would not blame an animal for behaving like an animal. At most, we would blame ourselves for not conditioning it to act the way we want it to.
And religious people tend to view the human race as somehow superior to animals. Some say animals are better than humans. I think neither really hits the truth. I think that humans are simply different to most animals. Humans have this moral sense which did lead to our success as a species, in a way or two. It evolved, because those without it did not fare as well as those with it.
Maybe morals made humans so successful because our conscience is that which powers group think. The power of the conscience is so strong that you can make very, very large amounts of people fall into line and obey. And those large groups simply overran all those who were more, well, individualistic.
This also explains why it is useful for the human species to have a small percentage of sociopaths or psychopaths. Since they are themselves free from the influence of the conscience – which does not make them any better or worse in absolute terms – they can skillfully form these groups around themselves. And even if people look through them and see the fraud, if you will, they still can’t help themselves, because their moral fibre is too strong.
Maybe our moral fibre is indeed that thing which makes us most heinous to each other. But that is, of course, just another moral judgment.
There is no human soul
This is the other part of the argument where I assert that animals likely do not suffer for their crimes, if you want to call it that. What use would it be to a bear to feel guilty for catching a fish out of a river?
And indeed, we ourselves rarely judge ourselves for eating animals. Maybe this is also because we sense that they do not have a conscience and no power to blame us. Did you ever see a video of chicken protesting before the slaughterhouse? Putting up signs saying end the inanimality? Me neither. They experience pain for sure, but they do not get attached to it. They don’t run around blaming anybody for it. They would not even know what that means. To them, pain has no judgment. It just is.
There is a good blogger called Xsplat who did a lot of meditating and he wrote a nice little tidbit in an article of his that I want to share here:
This goes far deeper than Machiavellianism, and is even more profound that Psychopathy. I genuinely, under certain contexts, feel exactly what I need to feel in order to get a reaction out of girls. It’s completely honest, and yet when looked at in this light it comes as no surprise that contradictions arise.
I remember the first time as a child becoming aware that I only cried in pain when parents were watching me. At two years old, it was a revelation. “Wait, what? The emotions that I’m genuinely feeling are used to manipulate others?
I do not mean to say we are hypocritical – that would be just another judgment. I just mean to say that our behaviors are there because they – in some way – serve us. And when they don’t, we do not utilize them. We don’t even think of utilizing them.
When we cry out in self-pity at the injustice of the world, why do we do that? Because we expect that somebody will see us, feel bad for us, and take care of us.
Anyway, back to my point.
If there is a heaven, some paradise in which souls live in total bliss, is it likely that it is exclusive to souls that had been human? That does not make any sense to me whatsoever. But have you heard Christianity or Islam ever talk about animals going to heaven or hell? Me neither. And yet, from a grander perspective, it makes no sense whatsoever that animals would not get to experience whatever the concept of heaven stands for.
If animals go neither to heaven nor to hell, well, where do they go? Heh.
Sure, animals could just be considered soulless or whatever. Which is not very logical, though, because we share so much DNA with them. The only perspective from which that would make sense would be if we claimed that our moral sense is the essence of our soul. And that without a moral fibre, there is no soul. Which also leads people to say that psychopaths have no soul. Which is, in my opinion, ridiculous. I consider the soul to be the essence of your consciousness, not the essence of you feeling guilty or ashamed for something you did. Feeling guilty is just that – a feeling. A very compelling one, nonetheless.
Buddhism, of course, takes it a step farther, by suggesting we are reborn, sometimes as animals. That the cockroach on the street may be our deceased grandmother. But even Buddhism, in this regard, is still somehow tainted by our sense of moral sense, in that it says that a human life is on a higher level than an animal. Why would it be?
Yeah, we need to feel we are good. Carnegie also suggests this in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People. He says that even the most vile mafia boss thinks of himself as good. But of course we know he is not, don’t we? He is really a monster, justifying his actions. While we blame him. And yet, it works for him. Why? Because it is a power play. It is not about being truly good- whatever that means. It is about believing you are good. Hence the saying all roads to hell are plastered with good intents. Hence why people go to war with a clear conscience, to rot out the enemies. And when they lose the war and the winning fraction shames them, they suddenly realize that what they did was bad. They are confused and feel like their past zeal was just a bad dream. But was it? Would they have come to the same conclusion if they had won? I doubt it.
This may all also be a reason for why we can never seem to agree about what is truly right and good. Because right and wrong are just words our moral mechanism utilizes to exert power and affect the social life around us.
To what extent would you feel shame and guilt on a lonely island?
And if morals are truly just a power play, would that not explain marvelously why we find it easy to judge people who are below us in the social hierarchy, while not daring to do this upwards, except behind closed doors? Because we feel instinctively that a person above us in the hierarchy has more moral power? Hence why feminists find it easy to shame white men, but difficult to shame a Muslim for basically the same behavior?
The cool conclusion to draw from this is that we can become aware of how our moral component works in us and thus use it more consciously and usefully. For example, we can become aware of how we use the power of blame in situations in which it does not suit us. For instance, when we hold on to pain that has been inflicted on us by someone a long time ago. We hold on to the pain and hatred and anger not because it is right to do so, but because we expect a payoff. Revenge, compensation or avoidance of future pain. But very often, this is more self-destructive than it is useful, because nothing really comes from it.
A good example of this would be growing up in the belief that women just want you to be nice and asexual. When you get rejected many times, your instinctive response is to blame them and shame them and want them to treat you as you expect. When this does not work out, though, it is time to become aware of this mechanism and turn it into something more useful.
Of course, it works for any form of belief system we grow up with that no longer serves us. Instead of insisting on uselessly imposing it on others, we can become aware of our underlying expectations and eventually adapt to a more useful belief system.
Now, another conclusion you could draw would be that we are really fucked up and all that. But what could you possibly achieve with that judgment?
What do you think?