Re: virus: Morality

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. (
Sat, 02 Mar 1996 09:25:23 -0700 (MST)

On Wed, 28 Feb 1996, Andy Cheyne Service-LL wrote:

> I'll certainly grant that the meme-complexes that have grown up around
> religion extend far beyond the simple mechanism for justifying moral
> codes that I sketched out. There are few places where an individual can
> seek spiritual fulfilment, and the ways that religions tend to operate in
> the spiritual area can appear very attractive. However, I was (somewhat
> clumsily) trying to talk about why-religions-in-the-first-place rather
> than what-purpose-do-religions-serve-now. My idea - and again I'll stress
> that I'm being simplistic - was that the ORIGINAL reason that religions
> were formed was to provide a reason for people to adhere to a common set
> of morals which may not have benefitted the individual but provided a
> framework of some sort for society. A close offshoot of this, it seems to
> me, is the way that religions tend to uphold the social order. which
> brings us to...

Moral codification as the genesis of religion is an intriguing thought.
Myself, I would guess that factors such as a need to explain the unknown
and an attempt to make death less frightening also played into forming
religious thought.

I do, however, tend to think of religion as an inevitable by-product of
the human psyche. As a species, we seem to be as "hardwired" to seek some
sort of spiritual fulfillment as we are "hardwired" to socialize with
each other.

> >Again, religion is, IMHO, far more than a system a rewards and
> >punishments. Besides, I think that most societies are able to enforce
> >their standards of behavior through means that aren't entirely religious
> >-- taxation seems to be an effective way for a lot of societies to deal
> >with enforcing a sort of altruism.
> Again, I agree up to a point. But how about concepts such as honesty?
> Charity? How do you "ensure" that the process of law works? By making
> people swear on holy scripture that their testimony is the truth! I
> suspect that most regimes would, if circumstances were extreme enough,
> use some flavour of religion to bolster their causes. And some - notably
> the US - are pretty blatant about it without the circumstances needing to
> be particularly extreme.

Hmmm... I would have to say that while I agree religion _can_ bolster the
causes of the state, I think that the state is capable of carrying out
its will in a purely secular manner. Atheistic totalitarian governments
are nothing new to the 20th century.

On the other hand, perhaps it is worth noting that even ostensibly
athiestic regimes often resort to religious-esque imagery in their
propoganda -- huge murals and statues of a leader, for instance.

> >You seem to imply that moral codes are things which, ideally, all human
> >beings should have and adhere to. Why?
> Gosh, good question. You're absolutely right to highlight something of
> an unthinking assumption on my part! My pat answer would be - what's the
> alternative right now? But on analysis, I think the reasons for my
> statement are probably pretty selfish.
> Being something of a misanthropist, I don't trust people to behave in
> ways which enable me to continue in my relatively pleasant, stable,
> semi-intellectual mode of existence without their being constrained to do
> so. That apart, though, I think a society with some measure of order
> provides the best chance for intellectual endeavour to flourish, and I
> think that measure of order is best ensured by a the people within it
> generally agreeing on the moral parameters.

This is a good point. However, I like to think that order could also be
enforced by non-moralistic means -- imagine a society which is able to
determine exactly which set of behaviors is objectively benificial and
which set of behavoirs is objectively damaging and then proceeds to
enforce these behaviors through education, reward, and punishment. Of
course such a simple model is unrealistic and perhaps undesirable.

Nevertheless, my "ideal state" would _never_ make legislative decisions
based soley upon morality. IMHO, this opens the door to such ridiculous
measures as legislating, say, privately-conducted sexual behavior between
consenting adults or continually enforcing, at great expense, ineffective
anti-drug laws.

> (This begs the question, I
> know, of whether intellectual activity and progress generally are Good
> Things - and it's getting a little late in the day here in England for me
> to start wrangling with myself over such matters!)

I would define intellectual activity and "progress" as desirable -- to me,
at least. No argument there!