Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The religious rejection of the moral being

It appears that, despite what I thought, I am not quite done on the topic of moral development. I talked to Sean of Black Sun Journal, and he has a somewhat different perspective on the issue. He talks to a lot of Buddhists and New Age people who claim that their moral ideology of cultivating compassion above all else is the best path for mankind. In fact, all religions make this kind of exclusive claim - that only one specific part of human nature is good, and that the rest must be subjected or rejected.

Following my model of moral development applied to the Freudian model, I would say that there are three general kinds of religious exclusivities :

* id - instincts and emotions. This is the Satanist model, of feeding one's lusts as much as possible and without restraint. We're not talking about rational lusts heer but rather the impulses of the lizard such as xenophobia and spirituality.
Belief examples : Racism, nationalism, religious beliefs in general.
Moral stage : Natural stage.

* the ego - moral maturation. This is the Buddhist model, privileging self-sacrifice in order to "relate" to the rest of existence. The desires for compassion and socialization, when isolated from the restraints of our more realistic lusts and discipline, are misdirected towards irrational ideals. Like religion, its epistemology is strongly inter-subjective.
Belief examples : Eastern religions in general, New Age beliefs, Greenie beliefs, post-modernism.
Moral stage : Natural stage.

* the superego - the authoritarian stage. This is the model of Christianity and other monotheistic religions, as well as political ideologies, which demand mental obedience and submission to the belief system above all else. In doing so, all individuality that is not necessary for the perpetuation of the belief system is sacrificed.
Belief examples : Western monotheism, political collectivism (socialism, communism, fascism).
Moral stage : Authoritarian stage.

So Sean's question was "who's right ?". I would argue that this is a bad question, and that the real question is "why privilege one over another ?". It makes no sense to repress any part of human nature, and the tension that ensues is bad for the individual, and bad for society by extension. I have already discussed how Christianity creates such tension, and we can apply this general reasoning to the two other extremes as well.

This is a good general scheme to classify ideologies on a moral level, but many ideologies do not fall solely in one category. I would think that the most dangerous ideologies would be ones that adopt precepts from the authoritarian stage that aim to channel violent impulses towards others. The doctrines of Islam would be perfect examples of this. It is not a coincidence that Islam is both the most destructive ideology and the most dysfunctional.

Christianity, on the other hand, channels sacrificial instincts towards the self first and then against others. So there is the ideal of "Jesus", the sacrificial lamb that turns into a wolf, sacrificing himself first, then returning to slaughter mankind.

These extremes are all a rejection of the moral being. The "moral being" is simply the set of influences and tensions that makes a human being, from the first parental directions to the most recent spark of understanding. None of these influences can be eradicted, not even by brainwashing, and they do not dissapear with age. We learn to cope with them, of course.

And that's where rationality comes in, as well as the answer to our question. When we make our moral premises explicit, rational thought becomes the arbiter and director of our decisions. We can decide when to follow this or that moral tendancy, and the time at which it is appropriate to do so. So it seems that the answer to our question is that no specific part of the moral being is privileged, but rather that rational thought can help us decide which to fulfill and when, based on our values and their possibilities of expression at a given context.

I don't think it's necessarily a question of moderation. Aristotle thought that the virtues were the result of moderation between extremes, a Golden Mean - such as courage being between cowardice and rashness, temperance between insensibility and self-indulgence, and so on. This works if we look at morality from an impersonal perspective, but there's no such thing as an impersonal perspective in morality. So what we're talking about here is really a fantasy, just like the Christian concept of action is a fantasy. If we look at specific contexts, we find that we are looking not at a mean, but rather at a variety of contexts which, depending on one's values, may demand insensibility, self-indulgence, or a balance of both. There is no Golden Mean in reality, only the manifold interactions between the individual and his context.

But one fact remains. For these manifold interactions to actually be meaningful, there is need not only for political freedom, but also for social freedom, and most importantly freedom of thought. If all of these freedoms are not present, then the arbitration of our moral being is frustrated. And the fact remains that even with the tremendous gains in freedom that Western civilization has bestowed upon us, human beings are still repressed and bound. In an ideal society, where there is so much freedom and technological progress that any tendancy of the moral being can be expressed safely, there should be a minimum of crime, suicide, rape, psychological repression, and resentment, but also complete value expression. This, however, will probably remain a dream of science-fiction for a long time.

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At 3/02/2006 1:46 AM, Blogger BlackSun declaimed...

My point about "who's right?" really had to do with sorting out evolutionary influences. Which parts of human nature should we be evolving away from? Which should we be emphasizing as we move toward the future?

Depending on your persuasion, you can use "human nature" to argue for the morality of any type of behavior.

If I like monogamy, I can argue that it's "natural" for humans because that's how most societies are organized. Conversely, if I like polyamory, I can point to Bonobos, who seem to get along just fine that way, and argue that humans should evolve toward multipartner bonding. I can also point to human societies where polyandry and polygyny have been effectively practiced.

If I like deception, I can say that our brains evolved for deception. If I don't want to be lied to, I can argue that using the brain to deceive for advantage is immoral.

In terms of evolutionary utility, someone could mount an argument to justify murder, rape, even religion, based on the fact that they are all "human universals." And at some point, they conveyed advantage onto the perpetrators.

So I understand your various points about morality. But I think from an evolutionary standpoint, the question I raised still remains as relevant as ever: How do we make a moral argument for an evolutionary direction? What evidence can be brought to bear to support a particular trait being supported or discouraged?

This is especially important when discussing memetics, which is now the dominant force in evolution. Ideas about what are good and bad behaviors can actually change the level of acceptance of those behaviors.

This is not about a utilitarian standard of "goodness" or anything like that. It's about advocating for individuals to advance to higher levels of personality development so they can get the most out of their lives. Which direction should they move?

The answer will be different for everyone. Sure we need to take all influences into consideration and hold the tension between them. Sure we need to be free to apply our rational mind to make individual decisions. But we are not really free to do this. We are all affected by social norms.

To challenge those norms, we need to be able to justify our position based on what is the "true" or "authentic" or "preferred" human nature. Not in a religious sense, but in a sense that supports the individual. And true human nature takes many conflicting forms.

I don't have the solution, but I think it's an important discussion to have.


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