You’re a sheep: Herd mentality and the evolution of morality

Have you ever considered how much do other people affect your decisions?

You probably think that your ideas are independent from your surroundings, your parents simply told you what was right and you didn’t blindly believe it, of course, your rational human mind understood their logical arguments and it was only then that you accepted it. Just like those 5 year old kids who go to church on sundays and sometimes swear they saw god by their side, totally rational.

Well the truth is, no matter how atheist, rational and logical-minded you think you are, in the end most of your beliefs about the world have an entirely emotional and dogmatic origin, and maybe its time to change that.

Religion and morality: Two shades of the same coin

Are you religious? Are you moral? You might not be religious but it’s extremely likely that you’re moral, you believe that there’s some concept of “good” and “bad” and that we should aim to be as good as we can, yet somehow you rationalise not spending your whole life trying to be good as hard as you can.

At first, in the paleolithic, people were good because it was the optimal social strategy, if you tried to harm other people the tribe will know and quickly punish you, if you tried to help others they became your friends and helped you back. This was further reinforced by cultural norms that were quickly internalized (mostly during their infancy), so people from 10 thousand years ago had some primitive morality.

Later people discovered a great incentive to act morally (both through helping others and through helping their god): Religion. First there were some superstitions caused by false correlations and people with too much imagination, but as those superstitions became organized religious people found themselves with more and more incentives to act morally. In the case of christianism it would be the concept of heaven and hell, act morally you get an eternity of pleasure, act immorally you get an eternity of hell.

Morality: A mere remain of a religious culture

After the advent of modern science religion started decaying, yet, even without the religion, atheists still clung to morality since science simply disproved progressively more and more religious concepts (when science advances religion retreats) without really saying anything about whether morality was meaningful or not.

Morality used to be entirely emotional and entirely social, however as societies outgrew dunbar’s number they stopped feeling empathy for society as a whole and started treating other people of their own society (except those close to them) as strangers, as foreigners, as members of another tribe, and thus potentially hostile and certainly not to care about.

Religion took the place of that empathy turning morality into a duty so that coexistence was possible, not only through fear of the established order (e.g. a monarchy) but also through fear of their god and the promise of heaven (or the equivalent for their religion). Yet even those who left religion still follow that moral “duty”, going beyond helping their loved ones and friends but actively trying to help everyone everywhere, that’s why NGOs exist, as a side-effect of religious morality.

Why should you act morally?

Try to ask yourself why should you act morally, if your answer is “because otherwise god will punish me” then this post isn’t for you (not this blog in general though), but if your answer is something like “because I must be good”, “because I feel like doing good things” or some other circular or emotion-based argument, then wanna know the right, complete and incredibly satisfying answer?

You don’t need to.

As I’ve explained, morality as an emotion, as in helping those around you, isn’t morality at all, is simply acting nice to feel good, and it shouldn’t be confused with being moral. However morality as a duty, as an auto-imposed limitation on your actions, has simply no basis other than the internalization of the morality of other people (due to social pressure mostly during your infancy and teen years).

Getting over morality

There’s a reason it’s so incredibly hard to get two humans to agree in something, basically its because they use logic but they don’t really follow it, “logic” is simply the way they justify their irrational beliefs. So a religious or moral person, no matter how many good arguments you use disproving their belief in the supernatural or in their moral duty, will always rationalise their belief through some pseudological argument.

Consequently, there’s probably nothing I can do about this right now, but if you consider yourself a rational human being and you feel like everything must have a logical justification (what is logical obviously), then keep reading.

First isolate your emotions when you think about morality, if you feel a tiny rush with the idea of being a good person and a tiny (bad) rush with the idea of being a bad person, try to at least notice those and don’t let’em influence what you think.

Now just look for a logical justification as for why should you act morally, don’t let your emotions control you, simply keep thinking and remember that every time you think you’ve reached a logical proof for morality, you’ve made at some point a fallacious or simply circular argument. Once you get tired of being unable to find any argument that you can’t disprove, just give up, just because you feel that there must be a logical justification for morality it doesn’t mean that there is.

It’s like an astronomer who keeps telling you that the Earth is the center of the universe, but that he still has to discover how is that possible, petitio principii if you prefer.

Living without morality

Here, done, no morality to worry about anymore right? Wrong, 99.99% of you are still are moral as you were at first and you do really need to read this post again. But in case you’re curious of what happens next, here it is.

What means for you not to be moral? Basically it means that now you can do whatever you want, what essentially means doing the same that you’re doing right now, my mum apparently thinks that being amoral means being out there killing people, it couldn’t be more inaccurate.

Without morality to live with you’re free to do what you consider most important, and that is happiness (I’ll explain this in another post). The short explanation is simple: Everything you do is because it makes you feel good or because you would feel worse not doing it, consequently you might as well follow your instincts and try to be as happy as you can.

And this is all, I’ve explained the evolutive and religious origins of morality, tried to disprove it, successfully explained why you didn’t believe me (logic isn’t about beliefs but about understanding) and given you a big picture about how is living without morality (and a clear goal): The same as before but happiness is now an objective rather than a nice-to-have and other people matter in direct proportion to how much do you care about them (just like in the paleolithic).

Good luck, and for the 0.001% who learned something from this post, remember that just because you have no moral restraints, you can still go to jail and people can still get mad at you.

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