Morality, a vague concept

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On morality, a vague concept


Morality is a vague but very important concept. Basically it is the codification of what is “right” and what is “wrong” in a particular culture/society. The ethics, the system of values and principles of conduct that are understood and followed within a society define the morality of that society. Cultures vary greatly and concepts of morality also vary greatly. Religion is usually the moral authority in a society, but despite the conviction within every culture that their morality is the “true” morality, morality in humanity is indeterminate.


In my opinion, the universal foundation of morality is compassion. The foundation of compassion is in the behavior that evolved to protect and thereby insure the survival of infants born to vertebrate species that depended on long gestation times and a long period of juvenile development. Behavior that is protective of offspring is quite evident in many vertebrate species of the world today. Without the inherited behavior patterns of successful care and protection of infant progeny many vertebrate species could not survive. The trait of compassion is also reflected in development of strong family ties. As humanity evolved, and life spans increased, and family groups expanded, the instincts and behavior of compassion extended more broadly to members of the tribal social structure. Those early proto human tribes that could express compassion, support, and protection to the extended family group could best survive and grow through filial cooperation. And through cooperation, early Homo sapiens could develop the physical and behavioral traits that enhanced life supporting behaviors and technologies, such as language, child care, food preparation, cooperative hunting, and very important, defense of the tribe; which included the ability to exert warfare against competing tribes. In my view what we call morality is the fulcrum of the seesaw between compassion and aid (love) and, destruction of rivals (war).


There had to have been quite a conflict between the essential emotion of compassion for children and family/tribal members; and the necessity of being able to displace and kill members of other families/tribes that were in competition for the essential resources of food, territory, water, and other requirements for survival. Authority was needed to provide the direction that allowed child care and protection of family members, but also allowed and encouraged. warfare and destruction of competing tribes. Indeed that is the history of the development of humanity.  Those human tribes that survived into the early development of human societies, were the ones that could meld compassion and war into a functional social structure.


But how did the authority for this behavioral dichotomy develop? I think that this capability was found and codified by the concept of direction from a supernatural god(s) as expressed by its/their directions to the tribal leaders. Now, with the authority of a supernatural all powerful being, the people of “God” could exercise the necessary compassion within the tribe to enhance survival of the tribe, often at the destruction of competing tribes, the “others” disowned by the “true God”. This allowed and encouraged direct opposition to inherent compassionate behavior, and also allowed the inherent behaviors of predation and aggression to be directed against others of their species. This enhanced the survival of their tribe at the expense of other tribes. Thus the concept and exercise of what became religion made possible the growth of what we call civilization.


Morality is defined by the survival needs of the tribe, implemented through the window of religion into the structure of government, a window that is opened by the shamans, witchdoctors, priests, clerics, preachers, and pontiffs, the leaders of the tribes. Although morality has its foundation in religion, it finds its force in government. So morality is not an absolute decree by a loving and/or hateful god; it is a pragmatic blending of ancient behavioral traits into societal convictions and conventions that allows a society to do what is deemed necessary by the leaders of the government of that society that allows its leaders to dominate and prosper though supernatural control of the society. (Religions live and die at the hand of man, not God, i.e, Henry VIII and the Church of England).


A simplification?... sure, subject to argument, of course, possibly way off base, perhaps... But still an interesting way to think about the development and purpose of the matters of morality. Of course, many, actually most, of the people that make up the major civilizations on our planet already know absolutely for sure the origin of the absolute code of morality that is the absolute truth. And that is encoded in the structure of the particular religion that their god has given to them. And that, despite what other religions might have to say about morality and what science and reality might have revealed or may yet reveal about humanity and its history, their morality is based on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as found in their religion. And if you don’t agree with them on this, well, in various times and places, past, present, and future, you might not be fit to live upon this earth and take up valuable resources in doing so.


So, is it moral to use reason to deny the existence of God and recognize variability in morality? In my opinion, the answer is of course, it is absurd to deny the application of pure reason in the quest for knowledge, wherever it leads, whatever sacred cow it gores. Dependence upon faith as a moral requirement to provide supernatural enlightenment rather than reason to gain knowledge and solve problems is a pathway to failure. But religion considers human morality as an absolute code delivered by a supernatural being and puts reason in the role of a tool that serves primarily to verify and further the beliefs of that religion. Martin Luther, the champion of the Protestant Reformation expressed his opinion of reason outside of the boundaries of scripture verification in very colorful language.


“Reason is the Devil's greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil's appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom ... Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism... She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.”

Martin Luther, Erlangen Edition v. 16, pp. 142-148


I wonder about the morality, or absence of, in the religious teachings of  Martin Luther. Of course times change for both the religious and the secular and few today (in most cultures) would publically characterize reason as the handmaiden of the Devil. The development of science and technology into the secular cornerstone of modern life has dulled the broadsword of religion in much of the world today. But religion still claims absolute morality based on the ancient scriptures of that particular religion as the moral authority that allows marginalization of the secular, rejection of whatever science and knowledge is contrary to belief and faith, and embracement of ridicule, untruth, and even violence in protection of the faith.


Religion, any and all religions, can provide the moral authority to kill, enslave, marginalize, seize property and territory, pauperize, cull, and terrorize those human beings that openly reject or culturally do not accept and bow to the reigning form of religion within a society. The above sentence is quite true because the word CAN is used; thus indicating that secular societal norms can, and often in our modern world do, deny the imposition of religions to control every aspect of the lives of individuals. This allows for pluralistic societies to exist and prosper; despite the often violent and always repressive aspects of fundamentalist religion to deny freedom of thought and expression to all who would question and especially to all who would deny the supernatural foundation of any particular organized religion. The longest wars and the most violent and verbal conflicts are usually those between religions, even different iterations of the same religion,  and each conflict finds the moral authority for dealing death, taking territory, and imposing slavery within the scriptures that define that religion.


The tenets of organized religion codify the morality that controls behavior within a society. Every religion has its own concept of morality and its own laws of behavior based on the definition of morality supposedly given by the deity that founded that particular religion, thus moral codes are variable and even though each religion considers their interpretation of morality as absolute, human morality is relative and almost universally dependent on the moral laws of the organized religion that controls each particular society.


Moral codes that direct human behavior have been promulgated pretty much ever since humans developed language, and they all provide the basic agreements for group cooperation that foster group survival, including the elimination or control of other groups through aggression and force, behavior considered moral by many even today. Over centuries humanity has struggled to define what constitutes “proper behavior” within a family, tribe, society, religion, state, and nation; and has striven to mold a moral code that all members of the group, large or small, are required by common agreement to honor. “Do not do unto others what you would not want done onto yourself” is usually the basic tenet of these codes and they have been the molding force in creating modern societies. However this basic tenet of morality is generally restricted just to those of the same society and culture, and not to the “others” that compete for resources and lebensraum (living space).


So does morality have an answer to all or some of the questions below (just a few of hundreds that come to mind), and if not, can a moral code be developed that will guide humanity into a future compatible with the resources of our Earth and the instinctive nature of humanity?


It is moral for a society to give everyone the freedom that everyone desires? Despite the beliefs of some cultures that only their culture has a God given right to survive.


Is it moral for everyone of every culture and religion to have the right to reproduce and rear offspring as each individual and/or pair/group deems desirable for themselves?


Is it moral for society to allow human populations to increase to the point where the carrying capacity of the Earth for human civilization collapses?


Is it moral to segregate and relegate a culture considered to be inferior to roles of servants or even slaves?


Is it moral for a religion that is created by “The One True God” to allow the existence of any other religions on the face of the Earth?


Even though consumption of meat powered the evolution of humanity into sentience, is it moral for humans to kill and eat animals?


Is it moral for humans to eat some animals and not others?


It is moral for one to pretend to believe in the God of a specific religion for the purpose of fitting into a community, establishing an economic foundation, finding a spouse, and avoiding death and torture?


Is it moral to preach that God will provide salvation and prosperity in exchange for a donation to a religious organization?


Is it moral for a human society to suffer the existence of any religion that is based on supposition of the existence of a supernatural god (s)?


Is it moral to create terror in other societies through random executions and public beheadings of individuals of other faiths and competing societies because interpretation of scripture or actual text of scriptures says that it is?


As long as we ascribe to and obey the human formulated edicts of a supernatural god the future of humanity will be controlled by those who would use the authority of religion and government to cloak and finance their institutional and personal agendas. Could we, the human we, find a way to incorporate into a universal morality, individual human freedom, compassion, social connections, a contented and a comfortable way  of life; with preservation and conservation of the Earth’s natural resources, pursuit of knowledge, adventure, and respect for all variations of humanity that also respect the basic tenets that allows humanity to survive the excesses inherent in the biological and behavioral baggage that is part and parcel of humanity? Good question... we’ll have to work on that.


Autumn Cote Added Mar 17, 2017 - 3:24am
Please note, the best way to draw more attention to your work is to comment on the work of others.
Lee Webster Added Mar 18, 2017 - 3:33pm
Martin Moe , You certainly made an effort here.  In short, it appears you believe that humans should have a universal morality that all abide by, but have yet to do so.
It also appears there are many generalizations that might be lacking an appropriate measure of individualities among people, their desires, and overall capacity to function when surrounded by people that have dysfunctional behaviors.  
Personal morality, ethics, and liberty might look like it works when societal and social pressures are supremely controlling in the light of day, but behind closed doors the personal realities happen. Logic can not alone resolve this as there are emotions to contend to for liberty.  
Humans after all are dynamic and forever changing in development,  behaviors and the way they think.  Some are severely limited in various ways.  But some might say that is by design.
So by design what are you really saying?
Martin Moe Added Mar 19, 2017 - 12:08pm
Lee, good question, I do tend to wander off into the woods sometimes, OK, I do that a lot. I’ll try to answer your question: “So by design what are you really saying?” as succinctly and directly as I can.
We, human beings, are the current, existing members of a very successful biological species that we have described and named as Homo sapiens. Our species is the result of 450 millions of years of vertebrate evolution and about 200 thousand years of evolution from a primate hominid stock and around 100 to 60 thousand years as atomically modern humans. Our evolution into the present state of our species has been both biological and cultural. There is no scientific evidence that indicates that there was or is any supernatural force or direction that resulted in the “design” of any biological or physical aspect of our world or our species as they were/are throughout the existence of this planet or our species. These forces, cultural and biological (our genes and memes), have greatly interacted to create the various biological and cultural traits that we express in the very different human populations that make up our highly differentiated human populations that exist today.
Morality is the name we give to the various innate behaviors, mostly compassion and aggression, that I think interacted during out evolution as Homo sapiens that allowed our species to merge cooperation and warfare into cultural patterns that allowed survival of the early human tribes that were best able to care for family groups and also kill and destroy competing tribes. The authority that allowed these competing behaviors to exist without fracturing the tribal unity was, in my opinion, the development of religion. Religion explained human and physical existence and provided the authority and the mandate for the annihilation of “the others” that competed for survival, and the protection of family and tribal members. The only design present in this evolutionary scenario is that those tribes that survived were the ones that created the verbal history of their existence.
So what I’m saying is that there is no “design”, at this point, for a morality that will allow humanity to control the growth of the various huge “tribes” that are now in competition for what remains of our Earth. Things aren’t too bad right now, in fact they are pretty good for those of us in the developed and peaceful countries. But there are actual physical limits to population growth and exploitation of the natural resources that support humanity. If we are going to continue to exist over maybe the next 100 years or so, within the confines of the capacity of our Earth to provide for the competing cultural memes of our huge populations... and contrary to what some might say, we have no “design” for this situation.
Hence my closing paragraph in the original post... “As long as we ascribe to and obey the human formulated edicts of a supernatural god the future of humanity will be controlled by those who would use the authority of religion and government to cloak and finance their institutional and personal agendas. Could we, the human we, find a way to incorporate into a universal morality, individual human freedom, compassion, social connections, a contented and a comfortable way  of life; with preservation and conservation of the Earth’s natural resources, pursuit of knowledge, adventure, and respect for all variations of humanity that also respect the basic tenets that allows humanity to survive the excesses inherent in the biological and behavioral baggage that is part and parcel of humanity? Good question... we’ll have to work on that.”
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Mar 19, 2017 - 12:34pm
Welcome here and thanks for that. A lot to digest and a lot to think about...
Dino Manalis Added Mar 19, 2017 - 12:59pm
It's not that vague, morality is something parents have to introduce to their children and teachers need to supplement the teaching of morality.  Morality becomes vague when dealing with complex issues and various people, that's why the Bible is so important, as well as attending religious services to keep our morality strong!
Martin Moe Added Mar 19, 2017 - 2:37pm
Dino, That is exactly the point of all my ramblings. Parents and teachers need, absolutely have to have, an authority that backs up and defines the religious morality that they have learned and lived by, and then they can pass it on to the next generation. And as in the natural world, survival with flexibility is the key to continued existence. The survival and growth of Christianity, with a few hiccups, is testament to the importance of that cultural construct of morality to the survival of the broad complex of Christian “tribes”. It does not have to be true to be effective.
For cultural survival and tolerance of other cultures Christianity is certainly a better choice than most alternatives. And since more than half the population of the world follows some flavor of modern Christianity, it is apparently flexible enough to provide the authority required to allow survival of the basic culture on a broad scale without too much of the typical internecine warfare within a religion. However without realization that unlimited growth is impossible and change to accommodate that fact, both Christianity and Islam may well become a victim of their own success.
Lee Webster Added Mar 19, 2017 - 7:12pm
Martin Moe , A Bulgarian women once imparted to me an idea passed down through the ages that "Too Much Good, Is No Good". That help me to reach a point of thinking about moderation in all things. There can be extremes at many levels that can make what seems good, to become disastrous, even when the original intentions are seemingly good.  Standards for morals and ethics will likely always be challenged, and because of such challenges there are often attempts to appeal to some type of authority or irrefutable controlling power mechanism/structure.
Some of these unresolvable issues seem to have ties to resources and regional differences.  Multiculturalism and monoculturalism does not seem to coexist very well.  Maintaining a separation of cultures in certain parts of the world might be the better way towards peace and towards developing regional moral behaviors.
Tamara Wilhite Added Mar 21, 2017 - 8:05pm
If morality is not divinely inspired, a set of absolutes everyone must obey, then morality is an opinion. Compassion is not enough, because humans aren't capable of endless compassion for everyone.
And today's liberal view that morality is based on feelings means victims of any action you choose deserve it if you say they hurt your feelings, down to the point a liberal mob could beat up a black homeless woman for defending Trump's star on the Hollywood walk and chase a 60-something academic, Charles Murray, assault one of their female professors escorting him, and potentially kill people for daring to challenge their sacred progressive dogma.
And all this is done by liberal bullies in the name of love, peace, tolerance, and everything good, even as they threaten to rape and kill people for daring to be part of the wrong ideological tribe. They deliberately weaponize poverty, costing people their jobs and even threaten and harass family members of the target of today's 2 minute hate for expressing a politically incorrect opinion or sharing "hate facts" that are contrary to liberal mantras. In this regard, social justice warriors are committing great evils in the name of good. 
When the only measure of morality is your ideological tribe's definition of it, you can threat to kill people and assault others in mob violence as occurred at Berkley and it's OK because it is in the name of love.
Martin Moe Added Mar 22, 2017 - 9:54am
Lee, Interesting, “Too much good, is no good”. That’s applicable to both ice cream and politics, and I would add especially in a culture that controls everyone within a strict interpretation of what is “good”, and with awful punishment for those that stray from the “good”.  Cultures like this were very common before the concept of individual freedom changed the world for the better, although many such cultures still exist, and the danger for reemergence is ever present. The base point of my post was that the morality of different cultures, like the cultures themselves, are unique in ways large and small thus each structure of morality is unique. And in looking at the various cultures and their various concepts of morality, it is obvious that morality is constructed from culture. However, if one is convinced that their culture is the True Culture as ascribed by a supernatural entity, then there is only one true morality for them, and that, of course is the culture that drives their life, and their interactions with other cultures. If a culture superior in technology and population needs the territory, natural resources, and even slave labor of another culture, it seems to be “easy” for the superior culture to create the justification for this expansion within the morality of their culture. Thus cultures and the gods of cultures have been in violent contest since the dawn of humanity. It is not unusual for two football teams to appeal to their god before the contest to favor them over their rival. Not a problem, good sportsmanship usually prevails and celebrations and regrets soon pass into history. It is quite different when two armies beseech their god, often the same god,  for victory, and in the end god evidently favors one army over the other. In this case, however, the stakes are very high because history is written and the future is created by the winner, and the morality of the winner prevails. And for the loser, and usually the winner also, this is far "too much good".
Lee Webster Added Mar 22, 2017 - 4:42pm
You gave me a chuckle referring to ice cream and politics, lol.  The phrase "Too much good, is no good" might be similar to the idea  connoted by the word gluttony (a word from antiquity) and insatiability, but maybe not precisely.  The phrase seems superior in advising on moderate behaviors even when the intentions are good.  Most of us have likely heard that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but do we believe that?
There is full agreement here with your latest comment about the issues of societies that are absolute that their culture is the most true regarding morality. 
Jenifer Frost Added Mar 22, 2017 - 6:38pm
First, welcome to Writer’s Beat Martin. You wrote "For cultural survival and tolerance of other cultures Christianity is certainly a better choice than most alternatives." Hmm, must be why Christians have tried to either enslave, murder or convert virtually any and all other cultures encountered, mine included. I like your article, not that particular comment so much based on the real world history of Christianity and my own personal experience with them.
Being moral as a Kemetian actually includes the requirement of accepting other cultures, traditions, and religions, so long as they accept us. What a concept I know. 
Steve Bergeron Added Mar 25, 2017 - 7:10pm
Morality is not that complicated.  In previous generations, most folks knew right from wrong.  They didn't always act right, but they new and acknowledged right from wrong.  
Reason and true faith are never at odds.  True faith is never infra-rational.  We do not believe in credulity.  True faith is supra-rational, i.e., once reason has done all it can, then faith comes in.
So, why the seeming confusion today?  Because of the influence of the children of the Enlightenment movement, begun in France three centuries ago as an attempt to create a society without God.  Three tenets of this movement are truth relativism (which we see in spades in our institutions of "higher" learning), secularism (that there is no God, or if there is, He is totally disinterested in anything happening here on earth), and individualism, that we are not our brother's keeper, except as we consent.  This has undermined morality and the moral order of our society.  We here stupid things like "my truth and your truth."  There are many college professors teach that they absolutely believe that we cannot absolutely believe anything.  Absurdity.  Look at the fruits of it.  
The moral demise of a nation always precedes its ultimate demise.
Martin Moe Added Mar 26, 2017 - 11:26am
Jennifer, very interesting. There are over 5000 religions in the world today and the Kemetian religion, springing out of the religions of early Egypt, is a relatively “new” religion, but based on one of the oldest. It does admirably hold acceptance of diversity and environmental respect as founding tenets. And as Lee observed, belief “Multiculturalism and monoculturalism does not seem to coexist very well. “ I am of the same opinion, it does seem that a plethora of supernatural beings have interactions not unlike the interactions of various human groups, disagreements between themselves, different opinions, strengths and weaknesses, various conjugal relationships, amazing offspring, and even different moralities. And somehow that all lives together in the minds of humans sort of like a long running soap opera. The problems begin when an cultural outsider deity, decides that all them are evil and must be destroyed and replaced in the minds of humans with the “true” god. Sometimes replacement is specious, as with the Catholic saints “replacing” the Voodoo gods brought over to Haiti by the slave trade. Cultures based on the edicts of a single supreme deity seem to be more subject to inducing violent (sometimes subtle, but still culturally violent) religious change in smaller cultures that they encounter. The peace and love that Christianity teaches has been, and occasionally still is, harshly sold to cultures and individuals that “need” to be introduced the one true god. And as Tamara points out, the evils that Christianity argues against are not totally expunged from the modern expressions of Christianity. But again, the wishes and demands of the “one true god” depend completely upon the various interpretations of the scriptures and intent promulgated by that god.
Martin Moe Added Mar 26, 2017 - 11:37am
No, you are wrong, Steve, your concept of morality is based on your “faith”, which is only your faith in things that exist only in your mind. There are similar things that exist in the minds of others that share your opinions, coordinated by the “official” declarations of belief in supernatural beings that were codified many centuries ago. And you are certainly entitled to hold those beliefs, and to live your life according to those tenets. Fortunately, in these days of enlightenment, I am also entitled to reject your beliefs and live my life without prostration before the altar of supernatural god created in the minds of ancient humans trying to make sense of their place in the biological world in which they lived. Now I’m not saying that the morality of your religion is not “good”, it is good in the sense that it is good for the survival and well being of the “group”, usually a relatively small group, to which that flavor of religion is the “glue” that holds it together and supports that society.
But there are other flavors of that same religion, and many, many, more religions that are quite different but that serve the same social function. And these other flavors are also firmly convinced that their religion represents the true expression of how we poor humans must acknowledge and interact with this supreme being(s). For the most part the belief and acceptance of the “true” religion depends solely upon what culture one happens to born into. Most religions, at least the different flavors of Christianity and Islam, believe that the human species will not be “complete” until every knee bows to their particular religious belief, and that their “god” so favors them that they have the god given right to convert all of humanity to their belief, or at least try very hard to do so. In the past, and to a great extent today, that god given right includes the right to subjugate those that worship a “different” god and “restore” their lands and resources to the people of the “true” god.
So in order to be convinced that a particular religion is the “true” religion you have to either be born into that culture; become “convinced” of the truth of that religion and practice its tenets in order to live a life free of prejudice, suppression, marginalization, and even slavery; become convinced of the truth of that religion by accepting the arguments of those that espouse that religion; or actually have a real or imagined supernatural experience that convinces one that a particular supernatural entity, and usually a particular great or narrow interpretation of that entity’s teaching is the ultimate expression of reality. Once that realization is accepted, faith becomes dominant in the thought processes and view of reality that the individual holds, all things can be explained in the light (faith) of that realization. And when a newborn child is saved through an operation that repairs a hole in its heart, it is not the science and the skill of the surgeon that saved the life of the child, it is through the grace of God. The surgeon, yeah, he or she is just a tool of god.
And when you declare, “The moral demise of a nation always precedes its ultimate demise.” what you are actually saying is that when the morality of a nation changes for whatever reason, the culture(s) of the populations that make up that nation have changed, and either peacefully or violently, the culture of that nation changed. That includes things like total culture change, fractionation of the population, formation of new nations, war, and rarely, peaceful adaptation to cultural and moral change. Whether that is good or bad depends on who is writing the history of the change. Outside of the minds of the protagonists, a nonexistent supernatural god has nothing to do with who wins and who loses.
Lee Webster Added Mar 26, 2017 - 11:39am
Steve Bergeron
Ok, you say morals are easy. That can be the case among a single-family unity. But it is not easy once you expand that thought on the ease of morals beyond the family unit towards a single community, and then towards several communities, and then again expanding more to societies/cultures throughout the world.
Morals are imprinted.