Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Human Singularity - Part III

In The Genealogy of Morals, the German Lone Wolf Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:   
The guidepost which first put me on the right track was this question:  what is the true etymological significance of the various symbols for the idea  of “good” which have been coined in the various languages?  I then found that they all led back to the same evolution of the same idea - that everywhere “aristocrat,” “noble,”(in the social sense) is the root idea, out of which has necessarily developed “good” - a development which invariably runs parallel with other evolution by which “vulgar,” “plebian,” “low,” are made to change finally into “bad.”

According to Nietzsche, the “flowering, rich and effervescing healthiness of aristocratic values" are polluted and poisoned by the ideas of human equality.

The ‘masters’ have been done away with; the morality of the vulgar man has triumphed.  This triumph may also be called blood poisoning.  (it has mutually fused the races) - I do not dispute it.                                                                           

 Natural superiority is only diluted and weakened by rules of equality.  Why should physical and racial superiority bow before equality?  I immediately recognized where Ayn Rand got her inspiration for her twentieth century tirades against altruism, although she wisely abandoned Nietzsche’s theme of race.   

More than a hundred years later we recognize the  absurdity of notions about race purity, and we also have a much deeper picture of human origins.  I can understand why Nietzsche would only go back a few thousand years, based on the rudimentary archeological, and anthropological knowledge of the late nineteenth century.  

The usual modern philosophical  treatment of the  origin of morality doesn’t go back farther than a few tens of thousands of years, to sometime after the development of language in homo sapiens.  In contrast, I think we need to look back much further,  two million years ago, long before homo sapiens and language, to the time of homo erectus, the first hominin to control fire and to walk out of Africa.

Apes have alpha male hierarchies, these are naturally evolved, self-organizing systems of hierarchical dominance.  Humans have dominance hierarchies, but leadership is often collectively determined and the role is elected, appointed, or assigned.  Even hereditary kingship, requires justification through a story of the monarch’s exploits and achievements, the story of his family history,  and a theory of divine right. It is not at all self-organized.  

As the Primatologist Frans de Waal points out, with humans sexual dominance has split off from other forms of competition so that humans can independently excel at different abilities and cooperation can be strongly enhanced in human communities.

A group with an alpha male and a harem of adult females can only be so big and must exclude other adult males.  Intra-group cooperation is rudimentary and Inter-group cooperation non-existent. (because of the presence of competing alpha males.)  

This problem was solved by the institution of monogamy.  Allow and support every adult male to be an alpha with his mate and offspring, but with no others, the cost being that everyone participates in suppressing alpha dominance outside the family, keeping the group’s ability to cooperate and make collective decisions intact.

Out of this comes morality:  a system of collective judgement and expectations that regulates  behaviour in all human societies. The benefit  is the enhanced ability to cohere and cooperate in larger groups leading to homo erectus’s control of fire and  ability to colonize other parts of the world two million years ago; to the establishment of rules and universal adherence to them, and ultimately to homo sapiens development of  language.

It is my thesis that  two of the most important building blocks of human civilization- reason and morality -  both radically predate the development of language. One of the interesting consequences of this is that, if it is true, it puts into question most of what we would call analytic philosophy, because this type of philosophy is premised on the belief that a better understanding of language  is the key to all philosophical problems.  

So how does morality develop so suddenly in humans?  What evidence do we have, if any?  Archeological evidence shows us an origin for the first shaped stone tools of approximately two million years.  We see over and over again in history, how the development of new technologies leads to both positive and negative social transformation.  Karl Marx based much of his work on this fact.  

The first stone tools made sharing meat more practical but it’s more radical function, from our perspective, was the instability it created by making the violent replacement of the alpha male too easy.  The most common reason for murder in iKung bushman groups in Africa is a conflict over a woman.  It’s a fact that all moral codes prohibit murder.  It’s unchecked existence can lead to a vicious cycle of revenge and counter-violence.  

In apes, the presence of a physically larger and a stronger alpha male functions to stabilize intra-group violence, but stone technology radically weakened the hold of the alpha male, by making his position too precarious.  

Although we live in hierarchies, these are subject to cultural influences, and they co-exist with notions of fairness, and expectations of our having equal rights and responsibilities.  These expectations, which Nietzsche termed “slave morality”  are actually evidence of the genealogy of morals in collective agreements.  

A self organizing system runs on positive feedback.  It works because behaviour is reinforced by individuals pursuing their own self-interests.  A moral system, replaces this natural reinforcement with the expectation of universal adherence to moral rules.  We expect that rules will fall on all of us equally, and we expect everyone in the group to adhere to the rules.  Plus we expect that those who violate the rules will all get the same punishment.      

The more we see people adhering to rules the more we adhere, the more we see people violate the rules, the more likely we will violate them too.  The ability to prevent breakdown is deliberative.  We cooperate by detecting and punishing rule-breakers in order to keep expectations of adherence high.   

Monogamy is eminently simple, but from it springs most of  the complexities of human existence. In the book of Genesis, the story of Noah and his ark illustrates the centrality of monogamy.  Noah is commanded to build an ark.   All the animals on the earth come to the ark in pairs,  reflecting God’s original creation and the human institution of monogamy.   All wait together  and cooperate to get on the ark, reflecting the rule-governed order of human society. Once all the animal pairs are on the ark, along with members of Noah’s family, God causes a great flood, killing all life on land.  All the pairs of animals, including the humans become a new creation, recolonizing the land after the waters subside.  This is as close as you can get to a myth illustrating that the civilizing influence of human nature is born out of our original agreement to institute monogamy.

What is it about the singularity that led to our being human?  It was the collective nature of our action.  The first humans wanted to have stable pair-bonding, but the only way to get it was to collectively agree to honour monogamy and suppress the alpha male.  Other than walking, and the development of stone technology which preceded the singularity, everything that is specifically human has followed this first collective decision. morality, adherence to rules, language, music, games, religion, science….   all made possible by the public suppression of alpha bullying.  

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