Measured Against Reality

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Evolution, Morality, and War

The other day when I wrote briefly about Evolved Morality, I neglected to mention one very important thing: all of that only applied inside the group. Because groups cooperate internally, they have to compete externally, with other groups. Social animals still have the same negative, “immoral” behaviors that we tend to associate with rampant Darwinism, (rape, murder, theft, etc), but they’re mostly aimed at other groups.

I’ve heard people say that no animals besides humans have wars. This is absolutely false. Other social primates do have wars between groups, and they’re actually quite similar to our wars, but on a smaller scale. The goals are the same: destroy or steal the opponent’s resources, which include food, females, and lives. (If you’re skeptical, see here and here for just two examples.) I’ve also heard people claim that humans living in small tribes don’t have wars, which again is absolutely false. War is just group rivalry realized through violence.

A naïve person might conclude that war is natural, and if they mean that war is natural like cancer is natural then they’re totally correct. But like cancer, war is something to be avoided. If you read the second link above, you might be thinking that we have no hope. If humans have evolved to be such monsters to other humans, how can we get along in the world?

We also evolved big brains. Big brains that are capable of seeing something as wrong, even when it’s perpetrated against an out-group. We’re capable of dehumanizing our enemies to the point of seeing them as nothing at all, but we’re also capable of empathy, perhaps the single most powerful human ability. We can think “What would it feel like if that were me? How would I like it if this was done to me?” We’re capable of discerning if we wouldn’t like, and we’re capable of changing our actions based on this. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and bigotry of all forms can only exist if people listen to their group-based biases rather than their empathy.

Because when it comes down to it, those are the main tools we have to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. One causes war and hatred, the other causes cooperation. I know which one I use, and I sincerely hope you use it too.

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  • War is a natural for all animals. There's no animal on this planet that does not protect it's own territory.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:14 AM, November 22, 2006  

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