Inherited MoralityIt is pretty apparent that human behavior is a result of both nature and nurture. Scientific American has a good article this month on several fallacies of the Evolutionary Psychology school, but the basic idea that pyschological/behavioral tendencies can be influenced by genetics and are therefore subject to evolution still remains. So what if one of those genes controls the tendency to moral behavior? Notice how quickly I jump off into wild speculation? I do not know that there is such a gene, or that anything as complex and subtle as "moral behavior" is controllable by a gene or gene complex, but in this age of equality and with the history of how science has been misinterpreted to justify all kinds of repression, I thought it would be worthwhile to open a discussion using this straw man. If the tendency to moral behavior is genetic, it is reasonable to assume that it confers some kind of evolutionary advantage. The advantage may be, like the sickle cell gene, only in certain environments. We may even be able to identify those environments. Or it may have general advantage, like opposable thumbs. The computerized social experimentation of the past few years has failed to prove the benefit of unilateral altruism. Simulations of the prisoners dilemma show the strategy called tit-for-tat as the only long term winner. (There are exceptions for a 'team' of strategic players who cooperate in a master-slave relationship, but that also proves my point.) Perhaps a certain meanness is necessary in the species. I was involved in a murder mystery game written by one of my sons a few months ago. My role sheet said I was the murderer and I was supposed to hide my possible motives as long as possible. During the game another character outed my motive (My son is a good writer, the plot was fairly fiendishly devised to allow this.) I had to make quick calculations about how to handle the situation: deny it, tell enough of the truth to be convincing, or what? I chose to tell just enough of the game truth and couple it with a repentance speech to maximize my chances of not being discovered as the murderer. What surprised me is how smoothly and quickly my mind went through that quite amoral calculation. Ever since, I've been joking about getting in touch with my inner sociopath, but there's an edge to my joke. I saw somewhere that one in twenty people are sociopaths. Most of them are constrained by law and fear of consequence to remaining within social norms. That's good, but it might serve evolutionary purposes to have that 5% minority around in case the universe gets meaner than it has been lately. Amorality is not good. I truly believe there are rights and wrongs. But an argument that we should rid ourselves of any subset of humanity for whatever reason, leads down a dangerous path.
28 Jan 2009
Copyright © 2009 Truck Smith