May 24, 2012
Have you ever heard arguments, by Christians primarily, that there is no morality without God? Without the divine guidelines found in their holy books, we humans are supposedly left with nothing but struggle and toil, a ruthless no-holds barred competition for who can acquire the most.
There are also others who, after studying a little bit of biology, think that just because we evolved by natural selection, there’s some sort of biological justification for unfettered capitalism. Like that’s the ideal which is most natural.
I’d recommend you watch an old documentary Richard Dawkins made many years back called Nice Guys Finish First. I posted it below, as the entire film is available on Youtube. In it, he tackles problems of morality, altruism, cooperation, and selfishness.
It’s interesting that if you use game theory to carefully analyze various problems of morality, a sort of “ideal” set of rules emerges. These rules are as follows:
1. Unless provoked, you should cooperate with the people around you.
2. If provoked, you should retaliate.
3. You should be quick to forgive.
What’s fascinating to me is that Christian morality is not ideal. Jesus taught to turn the other cheek, pray for your enemies, and to always forgive. It can easily be shown that this form of morality does not lead to a good society. In fact, it leads to slavery. There’s no virtue in passively sitting by as evil people walk all over you and destroy everything you hold dear.
Though this isn’t discussed in the documentary, I sometimes find myself reflecting on how media sources manipulate our moral senses. A lot of work goes into controlling what provokes us and what we overlook. Who we forgive and who is beyond redemption.
There’s also a lot of distractions, which allows people to get away with terrible things without invoking social retaliation. As we speak, bankers are wrecking everything in their casino. Billions of dollars just disappeared from J.P. Morgan as they gambled it away in the derivatives market. Everyday people’s money is being risked in shady speculations. Reckless behavior could well throw us all over the edge again. So what are we doing? Let’s talk about the time Mitt Romney strapped his dog to the hood of his car and how he bullied some kids in school. We focus on everything that doesn’t matter. All of our frustration is wasted on tangential things while the real problems are never addressed. They’ll be bankrupting the entire country with wars, Wall Street schemes, and trillions in secret bailouts, all while people fight back and forth about birth control, religion, and abortion.
There’s always forces at work on your sense of justice. If you’re not distracted, someone is trying to get you to overlook injustices, or make you angry at selected enemies. For example, as the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer, they’ll convince you that that’s freedom, or at least a necessary requirement of freedom. No matter how bad things get, the invisible hand can do no wrong. Or more often, if we only had a real invisible hand, then things would be wonderful. Moral leaders throughout the ages have told us that the measure of a civilization is how well it treats its weakest members, but somehow everyone is always convinced otherwise.
I’m not an expert in propaganda, but I’ve been wanting to seriously study it. Even with my rudimentary knowledge of how this stuff works, I see it everywhere. Take the liberal progressive Huffington Post. There’s no consistent moral standards. I always find myself wondering why they love Jay-Z. He was a drug dealer from the ghetto, but every other day you’ll see some link along the side saying, “Jay-Z, ideal father. Here’s 10 reasons why he’s the greatest man who’s ever lived.” When he buys Beyonce an island, he’s an American success story. When a banker from Goldman Sachs does the same, it’s time for outrage! The gap between rich and poor has never been greater! Then they post of clip of Bernie Sanders quoting statistics on wealth inequality.
Anyways, I find this sort of thing fascinating, though moreso just sad and depressing.