In arguing about ethical relativism with Einar I have been saying that
morality is genetically based in human beings. Here is a development of
that idea. Some of the framework is taken from Jonathan Haidt’s work on
the social pschology of morality.
Moral values are not handed down by God and they are not inherent in the
nature of the universe. They are an instinctually based part of human
nature that evolved during our 2 million years in nomadic
hunter-gatherer groups to help us survive.
Morality evolved as a way of maximizing group effectiveness. The more
effective the group, be it baboon troop, human family, or extended clan,
the more it will preserve the life of its members and hence their
ability to reproduce.
Definition of Morality – a set of genetically based values that maximize
the effectiveness of a group’s ability to preserve human life.
The six basic moral values:
1. Honor the group – Patriotism, nationalism, civic pride, team spirit,
2. Keep the group orderly (minimizes disruption) civility, honor,
purity, sacredness ==> virginity, monogamy, no adultery, no promiscuity,
no vulgarity, no out of control rage, no killing within the group.
3. Respect the hierarchy – follow the rules, reverence authority, have
ambition, strive for leadership
4. Divide things evenly (within hierarchical level) – no cheating, no
5. Tell the truth to the group. Don’t lie. The group needs accurate
information to effectively deal with threats and to promote trust.
6. Sacrifice for the group. Risk your life in time of war. Give up
personal pleasure to nurture children and other members of the group.
It is my contention that these 6 rules are part of the instinctive
equipment of all human beings. They are cross culturally valid. Twin
studies that compare fraternal and identical twins should yield some
information on how much genetic determination there is in moral behavior.
Re 1 Honor the Group: We all know that dissidence in a democracy is what
it is all about. We have a duty to criticize what we see as wrong. But
with a war on the love-it-or-leave-it mentality of the Patriotic spirit
overrides good sense, our instinctual nature kicks in and we all sing
God Bless America together.
Re 2 Keep the Group Orderly: The Iraq war may be promoting promiscuity.
Couples may be working overtime to replace the soldiers lost in war.
Re 4 Divide things evenly: Why aren’t people more outraged by the make
the rich richer agenda of the Republican party? Perhaps because there is
a hierarchical stratification to the divide things evenly rule. We
expect the lions to take the lions’ share.
In this scheme our sense of the sacred is part of the keep things
orderly rule. Purification comes before revelation. And revelation says
that there is a divine order and perfection that pervades all things.
Ergo celibacy as a religious commitment. Keep things serene with
emotions under control, that is the way to achieve the revelation of the
divine order of the group.
One way of looking at people is to see what groups they belong to. What
are the norms of these groups and how do those norms compare with the 6
There is a genetic basis for loyalty to the corporation one works for.
It is a major group in one’s life. Dissatisfaction with modern life may
stem in part from the fact that the corporation is not giving adequate
group support. Employees are seen as interchangeable, transitory, and
replaceable. In the modern workplace workers hop from job to job. Temps
are used more and more to do the corporation’s work. Unions have been
pretty much broken and disbanded. Jobs are going overseas, which shows a
lack of corporate commitment to the group. There is crime at the top of
the corporate hierarchy. The bottom line is valued more than people. The
corporation may engage in environmental abuses and human exploitation.
E-mail may be the solution to many of these corporate troubles. A brief
weekly e-mail from the chief executive to all employees of the
corporation demonstrating caring, honoring group moral values, and
discussing the competitive situation could deepen company loyalty, raise
morale, and reduce turnover. Even lay-offs or out-sourcing can be made
acceptable by presenting them within the framework of sacrifice for the