Evolution of Morality
Hello Kings and Queens, let’s travel back in time!
It’s 3000 BC and you are the leader of the Monke tribe. There is no religion, and hence no God, or there is but you have not discovered it yet. But to manage a tribe of 100 monkeys, you have to create a set of rules. How will you do that?
Here I give you a kingdom to rule and an opportunity to create your own constitution. But before we do that let us understand the fundamental needs of your tribe (or basically any tribe).
The first and foremost thing they need is food to stay alive and pass healthy genes to their offspring. They also need it to stay fit and healthy to take swift action when an outside force threatens the tribe. They need shelter and safety to prevent themselves from getting killed by the forces of nature (a lion, or maybe a hurricane). To balance those who die, they need to reproduce continuously or else the tribe will cease to exist within a matter of time.
The needs of your tribe are very simple: food, safety, and sex. That’s all they need. Now let’s get back to our main constitution question. You are basically designing a legal system for society, and the function of a legal system is to reward socially constructive behavior and punish destructive behavior.
Hence, the core business of designing a perfect constitution for your tribe is to rationally segregate the behavior that you should reward and punish in order to make it function at its optimal level.
Let’s start with food. To ensure that all the monkeys get sufficient food to eat you will encourage and reward the hard work of monkey farmers. To ensure that fat monkeys don’t steal and eat the food of weaker monkeys, you will promote honesty and punish those who steal. Anyone who innovates the traditional methods of monkey farming to make them more efficient will get rewarded. So, you need to allow ideas to flow freely.
To ensure the safety of your citizens you will encourage them to join the army. To achieve maximum participation you will glorify and incentivize the bravery of monkey soldiers.
Now the current generation of monkey farmers and monkey soldiers will get unfit for the job as they grow older, so you also need the citizens to reproduce to sustain your tribe over a long period of time. To ensure that the next generation of monkeys is fit to take up those duties, you will promote parenthood, love, affection, and compassion.
You can see the pattern clearly that morally good behavior of individuals favors the overall utility and prosperity of the Monke tribe, which in turn benefits the individuals. This is why the idea that humans are fundamentally evil is invalid and destructive.
The infamous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment raised a hell of controversies around it for proving that humans are inherently evil. While on the surface it seems to be a valid idea but the research methodologies were flawed. In simple words — it was bad science.
Scientists already had an opinion and they were just trying to prove it right. Here’s an interesting video featuring VSauce, where he talks about the same thing.
The next generations of monkeys will be subjected to the same rules to maximize the utility of their tribe. This loop will continue to happen for the next 5000 years, and these rules will get embedded into the genetic structure of monkeys that evolve into humans. So, to a certain degree, humans are inherently ethical and science suggests that they are even evolved to cooperate. Here’s what Historian Rutger Bregman has to say about it.
But We Still Have Criminals…
Yes, we do, and we always will have, because the thing that initiated morality is also the root cause of all immorality, that is, tribes.
Humans are tribal in nature, and they can get extremely violent for the sake of their tribe. Most wars, riots, and genocides are the result of this factor.
The word tribe is very subjective. Individuals are a part of multiple tribes at a single point in time. They have blood relatives, then they have cousins, then they have their religion, ethnicity, etc., then nationality and humanity. The more significant role you play in a tribe the more attached you are to that tribe.
Hence, it is fair to conclude that the more people feel belonged to a tribe the more ethically they behave within the boundaries of that tribe.
Now I know, this essay, to a certain degree, oversimplifies the complex nature of morality, which is why I expect that you might have some contradiction to my arguments. I encourage you to be (politely) vocal about them in the comment section. Let’s discuss.
I appreciate your patience and dedication to read this overwhelming essay. I am glad you made it through the end. I hope I gave you a new tool to help you live a more morally stable life.
The essay was originally published in my substack newsletter. If you like what you just read, then, by all means, subscribe.