What unites these two, seemingly very different, stories?
Here we are looking at Freedom of Choice in its extreme, hypertrophied form. The heroes of these novels, the captain of a seal-hunting schooner Wolf Larsen and artist Charles Strickland have one thing in common: an all-consuming passion for personal Freedom of Choice.
It is the kind of passion that denies not only the laws and traditions of society but overcomes the main law of nature, the Law of Gene Preservation. One hero never has children of his own and the other abandons his children.
Captain Larsen, whose face gives the impression of a “terrible, overwhelming mental or spiritual force,” believes that only power can rule the world. From early childhood, he forces his way through life ignoring anyone and anything, placing no limits on his Freedom of Choice, to the point of murder, in order to achieve the social position, which he has no doubt he fully deserves.
In contrast, the quiet, unremarkable and mediocre stockbroker Strickland, who has never displayed a rebellious nature, suddenly, at 40 years of age, to the shock of his family, colleagues and friends, abandons his job and his family and decides to become an artist. He leaves first for Paris where he learns the rudiments of being a painter.
Freeing the demon of Freedom of Choice that had lain dormant and repressed for so long, Strickland turns into the same kind of person as Captain Larsen, with no moral limitations. He gets together with the wife of his friend and benefactor, Dirk Stroeve, and exploits her as a free nude model, eventually abandoning her when she has served his purpose.
Like Captain Larsen who goes without sleep and rest in pursuit of seals across the seas and oceans, Strickland knows no rest, furiously painting one picture after the other as if fulfilling some order from “the very top” and instantly losing interest as soon as he has completed each picture. Both Larsen and Strickland pay no attention to the world around them, following a path known only to God and themselves. However, very soon Strickland begins to feel hemmed in and stifled by the limitations of classical painting at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, gives everything up once again and leaves for the island of Tahiti, where nothing prevents him from realising the force within, that tearing at flesh and soul, is bursting to get out.
What kind of people are they, Larsen and Strickland? What drives them in life? Can we judge them harshly? Are there many of their kind among us and why are they needed in life?
What was the driving force for Columbus, who discovered America? Did he feel claustrophobic in just three continents?
What motivated Einstein who discovered the Theory of Relativity? In Einstein’s case, we know that he felt restricted by the limitations of Newtonian mechanics when attempting to explain Michelson-Morley’s experiment.
What motivated the Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, who also felt the limitations of the moral teachings that existed before them offering people a different perspective on themselves, their place in the world and human relationships?
What motivates people, who dissatisfied with the existing level of Freedom of Choice in society, dream of a revolution that would expand it?
What motivates people who spend their entire life following the stars and producing music, books and paintings?
Fame and wealth? Unlikely, since only one in thousands manages to achieve it. The rest tragically end their lives childless and in poverty, like our heroes Larsen and Strickland.
The image of the struggling artist, musician and academic is well-rooted in world literature and cinema. Nonetheless, one generation after another produces individuals who consciously sacrifice their life to this passion, the passion of expanding Freedom of Choice!
Those who are able to expand their personal Freedom of Choice, at least within the field of their craft, expand it as a consequence, for all humanity. In this way, they nudge human society forwards to a new level of civilisation. These are the people who change the world, moving it forward along the Arrow of Time.
Today, perhaps the clearest example of a representative of these sky-storming individuals is Elon Musk. Perhaps he felt stifled in our contemporary cars and on our contemporary roads and so prepared a revolutionary solution to the problems associated with them. Now he feels stifled on the planet Earth itself and is eager to get to Mars.
And how do things lie between fans of Freedom of Choice and the first commandment of The Last Faith, i.e. the Law of Gene Preservation? Mostly, not good. Obsessed with their one and only passion, these individuals often “forget” about family and children. The “Genius” drama series about Albert Einstein is just another reminder of this. But who can judge these individuals, except their own family?
Nevertheless, representatives of this breed are attractive, outstanding individuals. Other people seek their friendship or at least, their attention, but let’s face it, who would want to marry their own daughter or sister to a man like Larsen or Strickland?
So what can be said of the rest of us, 99 percent of the population? We can safely say that we are doing business, building cities, constructing factories, cultivating fields, teaching in schools and universities, playing in orchestras, although we didn’t compose the music, and printing books, although we did not write them; we feed and treat everyone, including the “other 1 percent”. The workings of all social institutions rest on our shoulders. In short, the world needs us too.
When one of my friends was asked why history needed the other 99 percent of humanity if all civilisation was created by less than 1 percent, he replied: “in order to give birth to that 1 percent!”
Karmak Bagisbayev, professor of mathematics, author of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”
This article opens a special cycle called The Last Faith Analysis, dedicated to the analysis of well-known books and movies from the perspective of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”.
We will assume that the content of the books and films discussed is well known to a wide circle of readers, so we won’t retell the whole plot here.
Since the author is unfamiliar with much contemporary literature and cinema, the examples will mainly be taken from works of previous centuries.
So, let us begin…
Film #1: Marriage Italian Style
A famous film by Vittorio De Sica with actors Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in the key roles, set in post-war Italy.
Domenico Soriano, a successful “Romeo” and businessman who values his Freedom of Choice more than anything else in the world, particularly when it comes to the objects of his passion, remains a bachelor up to a mature age.
When he finally resolves to fulfil the Law of Gene Preservation, in other words, to marry and have a child, he learns that his housekeeper and main mistress of many years, Filumena Marturano, has three adult sons, one of which is his own.
This is where it all kicks off. By hook or by crook, Domenico is determined to find out which of the three young men is his son. He dreams of singling him out and giving him a good education, a wealthy, successful future. The Law of Gene Preservation fully at work!
For the mother, all three children are her own genes and so she, naturally, refuses to reveal the secret. Again, the Law of Gene Preservation!
Film #2: My Step Brother Frankenstein
A film by director Valery Todorovsky, Russia. A prosperous Moscow family whose father (Yarmolnik) suddenly discovers that his adult illegitimate son Pavlik (played by Spivakovsky) is living in the same province. His son is left physically and mentally disabled as a result of the Chechen war and is now waiting for surgery in a clinic in Moscow.
After the father takes his son back with him into his Moscow family, a terrible tragedy unfolds, which results from the Law of Gene Preservation. The father is torn between his eldest son and his wife, with whom he has two teenage children. His wife (played by E. Yakovleva) naturally protects her own children (her own genes), and not without reason, fears for them living with a stepbrother with a damaged psyche.
We instantly recall the “wicked stepmother” from countless tales of all the peoples of the world. Today, justice demands, if not rehabilitation, then at least impartial clarification of the stepmother’s behaviour in the light of The Last Faith. Protecting her own children, her own blood and trying to eliminate stepbrothers and stepsisters from their path, the “wicked stepmother” blindly follows the basic law of nature, the Law of Gene Preservation.
Who could blame her? Only a woman with a truly noble soul (possible only with a developed sense of Freedom of Choice), so noble that she would be capable of overcoming this blind instinct and accepting another woman’s children as if they were her own.
Such women are rare, but they have always existed.
From the end of the last century, we have been hearing more and more cases of families (not necessarily childless!) in wealthy Western countries who choose to foster children from the troubled countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America and often these are children with serious health conditions.
What is this if not a reflection of the Law of Humandynamics, according to which the level of Freedom of Choice in the world can only increase over time?
Karmak Bagisbayev, professor of mathematics, author of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”
These two questions, which I have been asked by many readers continually, clearly require a detailed answer, the nature of which had initially seemed to me to be obvious.
Let’s start with the first question: is the phrase “atheist believer” an oxymoron, a metaphor or just a bit of silliness?
Can a person who believes, that all the events occurring in the universe since the Big Bang can be explained on the basis of the laws of Galileo, Newton and Einstein, and that all the events occurring in the living world can be explained by the laws of Darwin and genetics, without involving the concept of God, be conclusively called an atheist?
If such a person does not know what existed before the Big Bang, why the laws of nature exist or why they work so coherently, and if such a person understands that it is impossible to either prove or disprove the existence of God in an attempt to answer these questions, then can such a person be called a believer?
There is a philosophical view referred to as agnosticism, which relates to all this, but that isn’t our main concern here.
The first question, “is the phrase ‘atheist believer’ an oxymoron, a metaphor or just a bit of silliness?”, is best answered when considered in the light of the second, “what is the difference between faith and knowledge?”
Following the examples in the famous Feynman Lectures on Physics on the law of the conservation of energy I would like to offer an analogy in the style of a “child’s example”.
Imagine a child, perhaps “Dennis the Menace,” who has not yet begun to study physics, and who from early days of childhood has observed how objects carelessly dropped always fall downwards. At first it is a cup of tea, a bowl of porridge, a buttered piece of bread that falls on the carpet, seemingly, always butter side down and which leads to a telling off from his mother; then it is his father’s dumbbell, which has to land on his foot, and later, well, an iPhone that just had to fall on the tiled floor. In addition, Dennis notes that all these objects appear to fall at the same rate of acceleration.
Dennis, who has not yet learned Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, independently makes a brilliant, scientific discovery: “any” body released from the hands falls downwards with an equal acceleration.
Is this discovery a matter of scientific knowledge or faith? We will show, that to all intents and purposes it is a matter of faith.
Indeed, Dennis drops a cup, a bowl, a piece of bread, a dumbbell or an iPhone, i.e. the objects of which he has specific knowledge but he hasn’t dropped “any” or “every” object!
In the evening, when Dennis’ father, who is an engineer, returns home from work, Dennis recounts the discovery he has made during the day. The father praises Dennis but then asks if he is confident in using the word “any” in his law. Dennis responds that he believes that to be true. Then the father blows up a balloon and lets it go. The balloon falls to the floor but slowly, at the “wrong” acceleration, or rather, without any acceleration at all. Then the father takes a second balloon, fills it with helium and releases it. Instead of falling downwards, the balloon contradicts the law Dennis has discovered and travels upwards. The third time, the father drops a piece of paper, holding the sheet parallel to the floor and the sheet of paper also turns at the “wrong” acceleration and slowly falls downwards.
Dennis is dismayed to find his law disproved, but the father comforts him, explaining that his initial law has not been completely disproved. Together they have simply revealed the limits of its applicability.
The father tells Dennis about the air that surrounds us, the story of Archimedes buoyancy, the force of air resistance and that in junior school he will study Newton’s Second Law of Motion, which, taking into account all the forces: the force of gravity, Archimedes force and the force of air resistance, will generate a more general law correctly describing how different bodies fall to the ground.
The law you have discovered and assumed to apply to “any” body, the father says, is underpinned by faith, not knowledge. But it remains true, the father clarifies his point further, for relatively small, heavy, streamlined objects.
Once Dennis reaches junior school and has studied the Newton’s laws of motion, he believes that what he knows, finally, is not just based on faith but real knowledge.
Imagine the disappointment when in high school, on studying Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, Dennis realises that his law which ended with the words “equal acceleration” has turned out once again to be based on faith, not knowledge, and that these words have to be discarded or clarified by adding the words “near the surface of the Earth.”
Perhaps now, Dennis can consider that his knowledge is comprehensive and impeccably scientific.
Enrolling at the University’s Physics Department, Dennis discovers something that even their engineer-father does not know. In the proximity of massive stars, Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation does not work, and instead, Einstein’s law of gravity should be applied, derived as a more exact law from Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
Does Einstein’s law of gravity constitute the last and final knowledge?
I would like to believe that it is, but recently, several voices have resounded in the world of astrophysics, asserting that this law cannot be taken as the last word and that discrepancies have been observed which pose the need for a new theory.
So, as I conclude this article, I would like to invite my readers to answer for themselves the two questions with which we began.
Written by Karmak Bagisbayev, an author of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”
Translated from the Russian original by Joanna Dobson.
Towards the end of last year, we published various large-scale and smaller social prognoses on our blog, some of which have already come true, some of which are still in the process of being realised.
In one way or another, all the prognoses we made were based on the Law of Humandynamics which asserts that Freedom of Choice on our planet can only grow and that it is, in fact, increasing exponentially, notwithstanding short-term and local fluctuations.
The Law of Humandynamics represents a consequence of the striving of the majority to expand their personal Freedom of Choice. This striving facilitates the development of communications, which in turn influences the growth of Freedom of Choice. In the twenty-first century, the internet is the key means of communication influencing this trend.
In “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”, we predicted that the internet would reduce the gap in world view between advanced and catching-up social groups and peoples. The internet has particularly affected the younger generation and we see now the emergence of a new internet generation, who since birth have lived in a huge, global, virtual space in which Freedom of Choice is taken for granted, something which their parents could only have dreamed of. Unlike their parents, this new generation knows nothing of the racial, religious and political intolerance characteristic of the older generations.
This influence of the internet has been so fast and furious that even before “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer” was published, extensive research was carried out in the West which we discovered just recently. On 13th of November 2008, The Economist magazine published a review of “The Net Generation. The Kids Are Alright”, written by American researcher Don Tapscott based on studies involving over eight thousand people from twelve different countries born between 1978 and 1994.
Contrary to widespread expectations of the negative impact of the internet on young people, the research results showed the opposite to be true. The internet generation turned out to be smarter, more tolerant of diversity, more well-read, socially aware, optimistic, decent and compassionate to the needs of others than the preceding television generation.
“These empowered young people are beginning to transform every institution of modern life. They care strongly about justice, and are actively trying to improve society,” said Mr Tapscott, who puts it down to the advantages of the net which is interactive and stimulates the brain over one-way broadcasting via television. People who play video games have been found to have more rapid decision-making abilities, are better at multi-tasking and process visual information more quickly.
I must confess, that although I was confident in the great role the internet would play in the coming revolutionary transformation of our world, I didn’t know exactly what form it would take. Now I know.
“The ‘internet generation (Net Geners) values freedom and choice in everything they do. They love to customise and personalise. They scrutinise everything. They demand integrity and openness, including when deciding what to buy and where to work. They want entertainment and play in their work and education, as well as their social life. They love to collaborate. They expect everything to happen fast. And they expect constant innovation.” Tapscott writes.
It’s just exactly as “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer” describes it: Freedom of Choice and the Rights of the Individual.
Now to Russia. Mass participation by students of colleges and universities throughout the country in the 26th March 2017 anti-corruption protest rallies came totally out of the blue. Both the authorities and the opposition were at a loss to explain the new phenomenon. Nobody had noticed the new generation ‘Net Geners’ growing up in Russia with exactly the same social demands as those described in Tapscott’s article.
In another 10-15 years, when Net Geners begin to take up key positions in society, the world will change quite significantly for the better. Once again in history, we shall bear witness to another positive leap forward in levels of Freedom of Choice. The Law of Humandynamics will reveal itself once again, just as it should.
And once again, we see that in accordance with “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”, no people on earth has its own unique historical path. We are all moving in the same direction, in accordance with the Law of Humandynamics, just as we leave some behind, overtake others and push each other aside.
The only real challenge that stands before international organisations and the economic superpowers, as they act on behalf of humanity, is to find a way of reducing (but not eliminating!) the huge 50-100 year gaps that exist between the different peoples taking part in the race.
And the sooner we understand this, the better it will be for all.
The simultaneous existence of such huge gaps in the economic and cultural development of different nations on a backdrop of intense globalisation is impossible and dangerous.
But will we understand?
Written by Karmak Bagisbayev, an author of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”
Translated from the Russian original by Joanna Dobson.
Conversation 24. Jesus and Judas
“Why have You chosen this as the topic of our conversation today?”
“This topic is directly related to The Freedom of Choice. Well, God, a long time ago, back in my student days, when I first read the Gospel, I was left with a strong impression of the ‘theatricality’ of the narrative especially in the ‘Jesus and Judas’ story line.
Judas’ betrayal, his remorse, repentance, and resulting suicide, are written as if in accordance with the banal conventions of ‘poor theatre’ and as a result, the entire Gospel plot is totally unconvincing. At least that was my impression.
I read all four gospels again and again, and following a trail left by the evangelists, perhaps inadvertently, I discovered things in the text that only served to confirm my suspicions. Nothing in the behaviour of Judas, the apostle who was closest to the teacher, sets him apart to be any darker in character than the other apostles, and there is nothing in the text to hint at his future betrayal. Most of all I was troubled by Jesus’ reply ‘You have said so!‘ as described by Matthew, when Judas asks ‘Is it I, Rabbi (Who shall betray You?).‘
Jesus’ answer has been interpreted as prophecy for more than two thousand years and yet in his words I heard something more like a command.
And I even felt that the famous ‘kiss of Judas‘ was more a sign of farewell than treachery. The evangelists’ attempt to portray Judas in a negative light seemed to me quite flimsy: their speculations as to Judas’ greed, such as his objections to precious oil being wasted on the anointing of Jesus’ feet instead of being sold and the money given to the poor, are all quite unfounded. Judas’ objections may equally illustrate that Judas, more than any of the other apostles, had adopted Christ’s teaching of compassion for the poor.
No one can testify that Judas conspired with the chief priests, unlike so many other events that took place in the presence of large numbers of witnesses. What could be the explanation for why Christ sent Judas so persistently to do what he had to do, something about which only the two of them knew?
Why did Christ who feared death like anyone else not make use of the escape routes deliberately left for him in his questioning by Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate?
And finally, would a person capable of committing the most heinous crime in the history of human betrayal really be driven to hang themselves by sudden pangs of conscience? I would hate to think that the attitude towards Judas on behalf of the apostle-evangelists who described these events was simply one of envy and jealousy on account of their Teacher.
I was greatly confused by it all, until one day, I had a wonderful dream. I saw myself in the garden of Gethsemane on the very night the Saviour was arrested and taken to be judged. It was a moonlit night and unseen by anyone I stood beneath the crown of a large olive tree. There I became an involuntary witness to a secret conversation that took place between Jesus and Judas who were standing behind the same tree. Judas was crying, refusing to do what Jesus asked, saying that he and his descendants would be cursed for centuries. Jesus insisted, ardently trying to convince Judas by saying that he could not trust any of the other disciples to carry out the task.
I listened spellbound standing so close to Christ that I could have reached out and touched his garments. Then the pair withdrew, continuing to talk quietly as they walked and I could tell from the way Judas’s back was slightly sunken that he had resigned himself to the deed.
The next morning, I recounted the dream to my university friends. They were surprised by what I told them, but that was all and I soon happily forgot about the dream entirely. Fifteen years later, as fate would have it, I found myself in North Africa, in Algeria. Standing in an olive grove for the very first time I was struck by the aroma emanating from the olive trees, and recognised the same smell that had remained in my memory from the wonderful dream I had once dreamed faraway, in snowy Siberia.
Staggered by the connection I returned to the memory of my dream over and over again until I could remember the conversation I had overheard between Jesus and Judas in minute detail. I was left with no doubt that the details of the dream did indeed describe how everything had taken place in real life.
Jesus wrote the scene of his own tragic death, produced it, and played the main part.
I naturally began to ask myself why Christ had to die in the way he did, and why he needed Judas to betray him. Could he not have continued to go from village to village continuing to preach his ideas as he had already been doing, and not without success? What was this, to put it bluntly, PR stunt for? This is the question I wanted to put to You today God.”
“Alright then, I shall try to answer you. I remember that story well, in which, among other things, they also made reference to me. How many followers had already embraced the teachings of Christ at that time? There were just the twelve apostles, plus a dozen or so idle listeners who tagged along behind. Christ’s sermons, which hardly helped ‘strengthen’ the position either of the local Jewish or the Roman authorities, had firmly caught the interest of the security services. You can imagine how preacher-dissidents like Christ usually ended up. That’s right! They would be taken out by a secret assassin, or worse, discredited in the eyes of the crowd.
In these circumstances could Christ rely on the widespread propaganda of his views and on the immortality of his great ideas which he valued more than his own life? Of course not! Imagine the world without newspapers, television or the internet! What else could he do? Of course, Jesus was an exultant individual but he definitely was not stupid. He understood very well, that sooner or later Caiaphas’ people would have him killed for the sermons he was preaching. It was highly likely that they would kill him secretly, that there would be a ‘mysterious disappearance’ of his person. Jesus understood that only his ‘loud death to the world’ would immortalise his name and ideas; only by ‘overcoming death by death‘, so to speak, could he convey his teaching to the largest number of people. So he decided to write the death scene, which you call ‘poor theatre.’ Try to understand and forgive!”
“I do understand, God! I understand now and I mourn his great death. Before, I saw Christ as nothing more than a victim of some banal betrayal, but now, thanks to your explanation, I realise that Jesus arranged his own death. Like everyone else, he could have got married and had children and like everyone else, lived only for the sake of earthly pleasures, but he made a different choice. The greatest choice in history. For the sake of humanity. His feat is all the greater for that choice.
I mourn the death of Judas too, who took upon himself the most terrible mission of all the apostles: to be cursed for centuries. May their souls rest in peace, God!”
The conversation above is taken from “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”.
Rarely does a question succeed in evoking so much debate as the question concerning the nature and origin of human morality. Immanuel Kant called the moral energy that resides in the human soul an impenetrable mystery.
Those of religious faith believe that our morality is given to us from above, from God. If this is the case, why didn’t God give morality to all people in equal measure so that we could live a peaceable life without being continually plagued by the complex problems of coexistence? Why do the type of people we consider immoral exist? Would these individuals also consider themselves to be immoral and where is the proof that we are right and they not?
Some people believe that the moral principles to which the majority adheres can be instilled in a child via their upbringing. If that is so, why is it that brother and sister who receive the same upbringing and love from their parents often end up supporting completely different moral values in their adult life?
Each one of us can no doubt cite hundreds of examples of this tendency among their friends and relatives. Research shows that upbringing can only assure the passing on of etiquette (how to sit properly at the table and hold one’s knife and fork etc), but not ethics or morals. Naturally, one’s upbringing and education have some effect on the formation of a person’s sense of morality but to a lesser degree than we might think. More often than not, our upbringing teaches us to hide where our morality is lacking.
Totalitarian systems believe that even if the morality they choose to cultivate cannot be instilled naturally, it can be forcefully driven into the minds of the adult population through propaganda and repression. So why is it then, that time passes and the population inevitably rises up in protest against the morality that has been enforced upon them?
Genetics fans who like to explain everything in terms of the gene would say that human morality is unequivocally determined by a person’s genetic makeup. If this the case then why do identical twins experience a different sense of morality?
What ultimately defines our morality as human beings and where does it originate?
In the 17th conversation of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer” which focuses on the topic of Freedom of Choice, we identified the human soul as the ability to choose to act in accordance with or against one’s natural instincts, the most fundamental of which is the gene preservation instinct. The morality of every human being represents the result of how they choose to behave and treat others. This is what accounts for the diversity in our sense of morality as human beings, the difference between one person and another, one group and another.
Let’s take the example of a small group of 2-year-olds playing in a sandpit, who as yet have developed no sense of their own morality. It is not unusual to observe one child, attracted to one of the other children’s brightly-coloured toys, trying to take it from them. At this point, the unfolding scenario becomes potentially diverse and unpredictable because, at this age, children are still unfamiliar with the rules of conduct established by a conventional sense of morality. It would be correct to say, the morality developed and accepted by the majority in society. Here follows one possible scenario for how the children behave next:
- Day one: The ‘child-aggressor’ (more often than not a boy) takes the other child’s toy and walks way happily. The “child-victim” stays put and lets out a loud howl.
- Day two: The ‘child-aggressor’ tries to take the other child’s toy again but the “child-victim” having learned from the experience of the previous day, shows a strong response and fights to stand their ground. The ‘child-aggressor’ is left with a few bruises but no toy.
- Day three: The ‘child-aggressor’ having learned from the previous negative experience, approaches the ‘child-victim’ and offers one of their own toys in exchange for the other child’s toy, thereby initiating a possible satisfactory outcome for both parties and laying the foundation for a more civilised relationship in the future.
There are endless scenarios for the possible outcome of this type of interaction and I am certain that morality among primitive peoples developed in this manner, through trial and error in relationships with others. As a child grows and develops from the moment of birth to adolescence, they walk the path of acquiring a personal sense of morality, just like all humanity has done over the ages, from primitive societies to modern day society.
Of course, for every child, the path is an individual one and its shape will depend on a whole range of conditions: the influence of older siblings, parents, school environment, etc. In the same way, the path is different for each individual nation which explains why their moral codes differ to some extent, albeit not fatally! The difference between nations is often defined by where each nation is positioned on the arrow of time. In society, just as with children and even adults, the development of morality is connected not only to individuality but also to age.
The main conclusion I would like to draw here is that whereas a common morality can be adopted by a majority, there is no such thing as a common morality per se. There is no absolute or universal morality. The commandment “Thou shalt not murder” for example doesn’t work when it comes to street gangs and is quite inappropriate in the context of an army at war.
Moreover, a person’s sense of morality can change not only from one person to another and from one group to another. We all know of examples where the moral principles of an individual or even a whole nation change with changing circumstances. People will very quickly drop a moral code they held previously and just as easily take up a new one if the circumstances call them to do so.
For example, the moral principles that underpin the interaction between a man and a woman can change when circumstances so require. In the 1970s, I ended up at a Soviet youth camp on the Volga River near the city of Kazan, which took up to five hundred young people at any one time from all over the Soviet Union. On the very first evening, there was a disco attended by 500 young people, all furiously driven by the Law of Gene Preservation. The group was made up of young Soviet women; majestic, formidable and all dressed up and very timid-looking, young Soviet mathematics students (mainly men), who were participating in a scientific conference that was being held over a few days at the youth camp. What a shock it was to discover, after no more than half an hour had passed, that the ratio of young men to women in the room, far from being the normal 1:1, turned out to be less than 1:10 i.e. one young man to every 10-11 young women.
So what happened next? I won’t go into details, but a couple of hours later, half the lovely ladies who recognised that their chances were slim and didn’t want to negate the normal model of behaviour, saw no point in staying and left the disco hall. The other half, on the contrary, turned a blind eye to the convention, took the initiative and vied for the attention of the men they invited to dance. The young men, despite their initial shyness, suddenly adopted the role of the “lady” and were blatantly fickle in choosing whose invitation to accept.
The disco continued like any other, the only difference being, that the role of suitor was played by the women and the role of the lady, by the men respectively. I remember this occasion so vividly because it was the first time I had seen so clearly how moral conduct in relations between a man and a woman, which have developed over centuries, if not millennia, can transform in the blink of an eye if the situation requires it.
In conclusion, morality is nothing more than a ‘Pavlov’ conditioned reflex, which is evoked in response to external conditions and stimuli and which disappears the moment those conditions are removed.
If morality is nothing more than a conditioned reflex, why do we attribute such great importance to the teaching and promotion of morality? What is this ‘natural’ morality that society is constantly seeking from its members, and the family from its children?
It’s not actually a difficult question. Compassion or empathy, which lies at the core of the concept of morality, exists to one degree or another only in gregarious, herd-like species, including human beings. Understandably, solitary animals have no need of compassion. Compassion and mutual assistance within the herd are of direct benefit not only to every member of the herd in its task of Gene Preservation but also to the herd as a whole.
In my research, more than anything else, I was astounded by the behaviour of wolves, who brought back food from the hunt for a wolf-invalid. One may confidently claim, that herds of animals which are incapable of empathy are equally incapable of survival.
Recently, scientists discovered the altruism gene, which we more popularly refer to as compassion. So far, the altruism gene has only been found in microbes living in colonies but it is very likely that it will also be located in all gregarious living beings.
The taboo on murder within a herd is dictated by the Gene Preservation Law and again, this law explains the moral of encouraging the murder and destruction of other hostile herds. However, in specific circumstances, the same law may engender the opposite behaviour even within the herd, as for example in the case of lions where the new head of a pride will kill the cubs of the defeated male.
Among our human ancestors, the prohibition of murder was also applied solely within the tribe, although with the development of globalisation, the extent of the prohibition’s reach has expanded its boundaries. The universal prohibition on murder, to which Jesus Christ called man, will clearly only be implemented after the complete globalisation of the planet.
Morality which calls us to respect the Freedom of Choice of others, as a way of guaranteeing respect for our own Freedom of Choice, emerged in human society quite recently and only exists in democratic countries, where human rights as a priority are officially proclaimed. This complex form of morality, which exists only among human beings and which remains a constant focus of both the arts and the sciences, is, of course, a product of Freedom to Choice, which likewise exists solely among the human race.
Recently, a rumour was circulated in the global press that a freedom gene had been discovered, or to put it more clearly, a Free Will gene. Later they started to refute the rumour which may well have been fake news. Other ‘unscientific’ considerations, however, have been raised related to the topic of Freedom of Choice and so we shall comment on them here.
According to science, humankind’s ancestors (Homo habilis) have existed on the planet for about 3-4 million years. Ninety-nine percent of that time, if our ancestors did evolve, then they evolved in the same way as their primate relatives in accordance with Darwin’s theory. If our ancestors used sticks and stones during this time, then it should be pointed out that many other primate species used and use to this day these same implements for hunting and gathering.
And when less than one percent of this time was left i.e. 30-40 thousand years ago, the first signs of human evolution appeared i.e. signs of human activity significantly differentiating the species from other primates. Even in this period, for 30-35 thousand years, humankind was just ‘building up’ to the process, preparing for the great, real, human evolution.
The human evolution of the past 5-10 thousand years has taken place with exponential acceleration leading to what we see of the modern-day world with all its aeroplanes, ships, missiles and preparation for a flight to the planet Mars.
Suspicious? In my opinion, it is more than suspicious.
Perhaps, 30-40 thousand years ago (give or take a few) a Freedom of Choice gene appeared among mankind’s ancestor’s for the first time as a result of a process of natural mutation. This moment can be called the birth of the first Homo sapiens, or Homo eligenti as suggested in “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”. Some might call it the reason genome, but that’s irrelevant and doesn’t change the essence here.
The mutation which allowed people to start choosing their behaviour freely, rather than acting as a response to blind instinct turned out to be extraordinarily helpful and from this point onwards, the carriers of the freedom gene acquired a huge advantage over other humans around them in the struggle for survival.
Over a period of 30-35 thousand years, the gene victoriously expanded across the breadth of the earth and finally, 5-10 thousand years ago, only the descendants of the new gene carriers remained. This most certainly explains the disappearance of the Neanderthals. Those primates who were genetically very similar but didn’t carry the new gene remained primates stuck with their sticks and stones.
(Part 2 of this article which explains why humanity naturally tends to become more tolerant and less violent over time is available here)
Translated from Russian original by Joanna Dobson
This article isn’t intended to give a comprehensive overview of the topic. It is simply an addition to the book’s contribution to the theme of morality already considered at length in “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”.
Dear author, you are wrong about the United States. There is no Freedom of Choice or any real freedoms in the United States. It is impossible to implement any political ideas. All we have is consumerism. People are only free in as much as they buy, sell and consume goods and services.
Let’s start by defining what consumerism is from the point of view of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”.
Consumerism is first and foremost the freedom to choose goods and services! In other words, consumerism is part and parcel of overall Freedom of Choice and therefore, we aren’t talking here about the complete lack of Freedom of Choice that exists or existed in places such as North Korea, Cuba and the Soviet Union
But consumerism is only one aspect of Freedom of Choice and can even be successfully implemented independently of general Freedom of Choice, as it was, for example, in Chile during Pinochet’s dictatorship, in South Korea during the reign of dictator Park Chung Hee, and as it is in modern Communist China.
To claim that there is no Freedom of Choice in the United States is to completely ignore the fact that one half of the American population is locked in “battle” with the other, for and against Trump. If that is not Freedom of Choice to express your opinion about the future running the United States, then what is?
If Trump does finally succeed in crushing the free press and dispersing the independent justice system, I wonder what you would have to say about the United States then?
But that will never happen. The best and most proactive portion of the American population wants to preserve its Freedom of Choice and has absolutely no intention of parting with more than two centuries of democratic history just like that.
I am certain that there is no singular meaning of life that applies equally to everyone. There is a great parable of the six great Jewish prophets which supports my view:
- In answer to the question: ‘where is truth?’, the meaning of life, the first Prophet, Moses, ‘who had revealed’ the one God to the people, pointed a finger up towards the sky;
- the second prophet, Solomon, who was known for his great wisdom, pointed a finger to his head;
- the third prophet, Jesus Christ, who had called the world to compassion placed his hand on his heart;
- the fourth prophet, Karl Marx, who led the class struggle and the battle for survival, stroked his stomach;
- the fifth prophet, Sigmund Freud, with his basic instinct pointed, naturally, a little lower.
- Then came the sixth prophet, Albert Einstein, who declared that the answer to the question was relative and depended on a system of coordinates specific to the person concerned.
The parable above (author remains unknown) was quoted in the third part of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”.
Readers often ask me, “Why The Last Faith?” and I reply, it’s “The Last” because you can’t develop new theories in old age… I’m joking of course. It’s “The Last” because, in accordance with the principle of Occam’s Razor, the behaviour of all living matter can be reduced to two fundamental ‘laws’ of nature beyond which, no further reduction is possible. By “Faith” I mean faith in science based on experiments and the process of extrapolating observable patterns, not religious faith based on dogma.
Why faith and not knowledge? Let me explain: When Newton wrote his second law equation, he started with the experimental data available to him. Neither he nor anyone else checked the truth of F=ma across an infinite variety of experiments and phenomena. Nonetheless, we apply this equation in all areas of our life because we believe it to be valid. It’s a matter of faith, rather than knowledge.
That is probably why the equation was shown to fail at near-light speeds and in microcosms. When this was discovered, our faith was shaken and new knowledge became necessary, specifically, the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. We have faith in this new knowledge and will work with it until the discovery of exceptions to the rule once again dictates the need for developing new theories.
The Galilean principle is another example. Where and when in life have you seen a free body immune to the impact of other forces, moving endlessly at a constant speed and direction?
The answer is, nowhere, because it would be impossible to remove all surrounding disturbances or influences. Yet, still, we believe in the Galilean principle because we get ever closer to it the more we separate ourselves from external influences. So, in this instance, we are even willing to believe in something no-one has ever seen! We don’t worry about it too much though because all our experiments do in fact reflect the principle very nicely.
Even Darwin created his great theory of evolution by natural selection based on a small collection of experimental data relating to turtles and a few bird species inhabiting the Galapagos Islands. And we place our faith in his theory as a universal law because it provides a perfect explanation for the evolution of all living beings, whether Darwin observed their evolution or not.
All theories of natural science are created in the same way: observation, experimentation, regularity and generalisation, and every time an experiment throws up a discrepancy the theory is changed in part or totally re-written.