A little munchkin
came to his father and asked,
‘What is good and what is bad?’
I heard on the news recently that American human rights organisations are accusing Donald Trump of inciting racism, xenophobia and discrimination in his speeches, and that Trump is strongly denying these accusations.
Then I began to wonder… why is Trump justifying himself? Why does not he openly declare that he supports such views? For America is a free country, where every individual has the right to hold their own opinion.
- Why do politicians always defend themselves with claims that they have been misunderstood whenever they begin to reveal their unorthodox beliefs? Why did Hitler and Stalin initially present themselves as peace lovers? Then, only once they neared the peak of power in their countries, openly declare that certain people have the right to enact violence against others, from Aryan to non-Aryan in the former, and Communist to non-Communist in the latter?
- When and why did widely (though not universally) accepted notions of Good and Evil emerge on Earth?
- Why is it good to feed the hungry, save the drowning and protect the downtrodden, but evil to steal, rape and kill?
These are serious questions. It is no secret that members of the criminal world choose the opposite morality. Moreover, a small criminal world is nothing in light of the fact that almost entire nations could easily switch their beliefs to those of a criminal nature and devastate the lives of tens of millions, as we saw in the Communist Soviet Union and China as well as in Nazi Germany.
- Could we see a repeat of Communism or Nazism in the world?
- Why is it that people in ancient societies allowed cannibalism and human sacrifice to flourish, yet in today’s society we worry about the imminent disappearance of some rare animal?
In this article, we show that the advancement of human society towards humanism was brought about not by the mysterious forces within us (as Immanuel Kant would have us believe), nor by the influence of some divine being from above (take any religion), but on account of two very clear, simple reasons:
- The expectation of an evil response to a show of evil.
- In the long term, there is an obvious benefit to humanistic rather than aggressive relationships between individuals and human societies.
Unfortunately, this benefit only becomes obvious to the majority of people after the next man-made humanitarian crisis. In other words, the humanistic ethic always makes a positive step forward a posteriori.
We will also show that the driving force behind both these reasons is the Law of Gene Preservation, Freedom of Choice and Humandynamics (see “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer“). We will demonstrate this using numerous examples.
For almost three million years, 99% of the duration of its existence, human life differed little from the life of other living creatures on Earth. That is, just like animals, humans lived motivated only by the Law of Gene Preservation. There is no need to speak of humanity having any kind of morality during this period.
But relatively recently, just a few tens of thousands of years ago, the first signs appeared that humankind had something resembling the expansion of the freedom of choice. Humanity began to domesticate useful wild animals and cultivate nutritional wild plants.
The nature of community life and shared livelihood must have facilitated the origin of the rudiments of morality. Yet it is unlikely that at that time this looked anything like what we call humanist ethics today.
It is hard to imagine a primitive father wearing a mammoth skin instructing his offspring, also in mammoth skins: “Do not hit the boy from the next-door cave. Don’t take his sweet bone from him! It’s bad, it’s not humanist.” Even these words are unlikely to have existed then.
I imagine the lesson of such a father to be more like this: “If you want to take something from another boy, then choose someone weaker than yourself. A stronger one will beat you. And don’t forget to look carefully to check that the boy’s father is not around and won’t come running up to you screaming and rip your head off. “
If this were to happen today, people would accuse the father of providing his son with an immoral upbringing. Yet how else could the father have acted, if for millions of years the human being was just a link in the natural food chain, and not even at the top of the chain? Humans hunted animals weaker than themselves and were in turn hunted by those stronger than themselves.
The father taught his child to behave as adults behaved. And if the father did ever teach his son to restrain his aggression, then it would only be for the purpose of protecting the child from retaliatory aggression. In the end, this would be because he was striving to preserve his genes in the best way possible.
Naturally, tribal chiefs and later czars and kings, along with the aristocracy, enjoyed enormous privileges. This gave them incomparable advantages (material and otherwise) in the task of preserving their own genes in comparison with the rest of the population mass.
It is totally understandable that they should have educated the tribes and peoples subordinate to them in a morality that enshrined those privileges, and that they should create and instil myths about the divine right of kings calling others to serve their interests without a murmur of objection.
This kind of hierarchical community has reached the present day with similar myths enshrined in the constitutions of some countries. Even in the recent past, advantages in the matter of gene preservation existed in the “right of the first night” in feudal societies and may still very likely exist in isolated primitive tribes in the jungles of the Amazon.
The existing right of polygamy among wealthy citizens in Muslim countries also secures this advantage.
It seems to me that if it were not for the problem of the human resource, tribal chiefs in ancient times would have ensured themselves the sole right of reproduction, as dominant males do in the animal world.
- Why is it that today we increasingly hear calls for tolerance towards all society’s minority groups, at least towards those that are not a threat to others?
- Why are all these changes taking place in human society moving in one and the same direction? From a racial society to a non-racial society, from a class system to a classless system, from gender inequality to gender equality, from intolerance to tolerance?
- What mechanism is the driving force behind these changes and where does this mechanism find its energy?
We all know that primitive tribes still exist, which openly profess the ideology of war. But whereas Sparta, the first fascist state known to us in history, did this openly, the Communist Soviet Union led by Stalin, and Nazi Germany led by Hitler, armed with aggressive ideologies, demagogically presented themselves as peace-loving states and sought far-fetched grounds for their aggressive actions.
And whereas until very recently by historical standards, prior to the onset of the twentieth century, women enjoyed a lower social status than men in the US and the majority of developed European countries, today even Islamic countries are, one by one, legally consolidating gender equality in their constitutions. That said, full gender equality has not yet been achieved in any country in the world.
There were open outbreaks of racism in the United States right up into the 1960s, and yet today, just half a century later, it is the United States that places such high demands on public observance of racial political correctness.
There are fewer and fewer states in the world remaining where class division is legitimate and where kings and aristocrats are endowed with legal privileges.
- So what is happening on the planet? And why is it happening
- Surely men the world over haven’t suddenly become so wise and mellow that they simply decided to give women equal rights
- Could it be that the white people of America and South Africa suddenly became so wise and mellow that they decided to give black citizens equal rights?
- Surely the aristocracy did not voluntarily give up their privileges?
In order to answer these questions, we must return to the example of the stone age father and son mentioned earlier in this article.
In bringing up his son, the father emphasises the fact that any aggression will always be answered by aggression and not only in the case of murder. Any infringement, inflicted pain or insult evoked a thirst for revenge and often turned into a bloody feud that lasted for many generations. All subsequent human history is witness to this fact.
Of course, no one has ever voluntarily renounced their privileges and advantages. And it is only the confidence that resides in every oppressed person that they have been given exactly the same right to Gene Preservation as anyone else, that has lifted up humanity and given the oppressed the strength to engage in the fiercest of struggles for this right and all the natural rights to life that result from it – their own and that of their children; the right to provide them with housing, food and health, together with all the social rights of today’s world.
Any oppression, any infringement of this most natural human right necessarily evokes a reciprocal reaction.
It was not that men gave women equal rights. It was that women fought a long, hard, exhausting battle to win these rights, subjecting themselves to cruel acts of persecution and even imprisonment. The feminist movements and the suffragettes who have shaken the Western world in recent centuries are a perfect illustration of this.
It was not that the metropolises granted independence to the peoples of their colonies in Asia and Africa. It was the insurgent peoples, who won the right to dignified Gene Preservation in the terrible anti-colonial wars of the 20th century, sacrificing at the altar of freedom millions of lives of their best representatives.
Never have the hereditary, ruling, aristocratic classes voluntarily refused their privileged rights to an unequal portion of income generated from labour in society as a whole. The abolition of privilege has always resulted from bloody revolution. World history is witness to this fact.
The abolition of slavery in the USA and the abolition of apartheid in South Africa were no gift from white citizens to their fellow black citizens. Change would have been impossible without the desperate, ferocious, sacrificial struggle of the black population for equal rights.
At some point, the simple truth dawned on Man, that you cannot safely preserve your genes by means of oppressing others. Human beings began to understand that we must look for other ways to preserve our genes, without forcibly denying this opportunity to others.
In this process, the deciding role was played by Freedom of Choice, something endowed exclusively to human beings. It is specifically Freedom of Choice, the force which enabled ancient man to domesticate animals, master agriculture and exchange goods with neighbours, that brought about the understanding that in the long run, the absence of oppression secures a more reliable means of feeding oneself and preserving one’s genes than denying the same to one’s neighbour, and this means is particularly reliable if one’s neighbour understands this also.
Here we turn again to the ancient world. Time passed. The vital necessity, which today we call globalisation, forced people to unite into ever more sizeable communities, motivated by the need for collective hunting methods and collective protection of land boundaries.
With the shared living space of large communities, strict containment of aggression became a requirement and so now parents began to teach their children the skills necessary for this type of cohabitation without referring to the other party’s possible response.
Gradually, the original reasons for the former style of upbringing were forgotten and the teaching of tolerance, at least in relation to members of one’s own tribe, became mandatory.
This is how the first humanist skills were born. Later, this type of education was called humanistic, and those who professed it unconditionally, humanists.
Today, humanism is consolidated in society in the form of Human Rights and countries with governments built on the priority of human rights, are referred to as human rights states. No-one would argue that these countries primarily include Europe and North America, where not only human rights are respected but animal rights as well.
Has it always been this way? No!
In the fifteenth and sixteenth century, Europeans began a series of colonial acquisitions, which in fact began with the crusades of the eleventh to the fifteenth century. These colonial acquisitions were marked by a particular cruelty formerly unknown to Man, and the mass genocide of native peoples which, according to various estimates, led to the annihilation of hundreds of millions of the indigenous peoples of Asia, Africa and America.
It should be noted that these shocking figures had little impact on European consciousness despite, weak, lonely protests from the voices of European humanists.
Only two world wars later, in which the Europeans themselves lost millions of lives, and after the bloody wars of independence waged by the colonial peoples, that the voice of the humanists sounded loud enough to reach the level of national governments and newly formed international organisations.
But it was neither the losses of the anti-colonial wars, nor the massive anti-war protests which undoubtedly raised the bar of humanism to unprecedented heights, that played the decisive role in metropolitan countries freeing their colonies.
The truly decisive role in this process was played by the unprecedented development of technology and resultant, buoyant economic growth brought about in part by the high levels of Freedom of Choice achieved by this time in Western countries.
Finally, Western rulers realised that it was much more beneficial to develop science, technology and competition, thereby supporting advanced economic development, than to constantly deal with problems of uprisings in the colonies, as well as mass anti-war and anti-colonial protests at home.
They realised that it was much more beneficial to produce high-tech goods that could be sold to third world countries, than to live with the constant risks associated with plundering their resources.
Incidentally, as a point in case, the colonies were freed strictly in the order of the level of Freedom of Choice existing in the corresponding metropoles. The French colonies were the first to be liberated, and the last were the Portuguese.
The level of violence in the world has significantly decreased.
When we say, “more beneficial” here, we should clarify that what we mean by this is “more beneficial for the majority”, but not for everyone.
Historically, the majority has always prevailed because, in the end, it was the stronger and not because someone persuaded us that this was ‘fair’.
In the end, the ‘majority principle’ was consolidated in the notion of democracy. But let’s not forget that for all the democratic reforms, there are still segments of the population who are losing their privileges and are therefore worse off as a result of these reforms. This is the essence of democracy.
But life does not stand still. The rapidly growing economic gap between rich countries and their former colonies on the one hand and the inevitable accelerated process of globalisation on the other, is presenting a new challenge for Western society.
The first signal of this challenge can be seen in the huge streams of refugees coming to Europe, the United States and Canada from the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
If in the forthcoming decades, the West together with China, Japan, Australia and South Korea do not take urgent measures to reduce the terrible gap between rich and poor countries, we will soon find that there is no-one for the West to sell their goods to, and the stream of refugees, constantly increasing due to both the internet and the modern transport system will lead to a general economic collapse.
Perhaps now we can explain what is humanism as suggested in the title of this article… Let’s break our explanation into three parts:
- Is there an innate humanistic morality in us?
Sadly, the answer is no! A long history of human beings destroying other human beings is proof enough of this fact. Moreover, as far as modern science can tell, all peoples experienced phases of human sacrifice and even cannibalism in the early stages of development, so what innate humanist ethics can one possibly speak of? In other words, all our humanist traditions are the result of a many-thousand-year long process of evolution, which developed progressively through a process of trial and error.
- Can we hope that the humanist traditions so hard won have become instilled in us and taken root?
Sadly, the answer is again, no! Any tradition, including humanistic traditions, can disappear in the blink of an eye when external factors are intent on destroying them. In the twentieth century, the peoples of Russia, Germany and China, all with a sufficiently developed history of human civilisation easily accepted the destruction of hundreds of millions of people in the world including their own citizens once they came under the influence of the teachings of Communism and Nazism. In addition, we have seen humanitarian disasters in Cambodia and Rwanda, where these countries destroyed between a quarter and a third of their own population. In other words, humanist ethics, like any other set of ethics, is nothing more than a conditioned reflex to external circumstances.
- Does all this mean that there is no hope for a humanistic future?
Fortunately, no! We observe a distinct growth in the number of people with humanist principles who govern human and international relations, despite periodic deviations from these principles.
It appears that Humanism actually serves as a beneficial foundation for a society in which the main human instincts: Gene Preservation and Freedom of Choice can be most effectively realised (see “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer“).
A society that values gender equality turns out to be more beneficial than a society that discriminates against women. It is enough to compare these societies to the Islamic countries, and see the huge streams of refugees, ignoring Islamic principles relating to women, fleeing the Muslim countries of Asia and Africa trying to gain entry to the countries of the Western world! Those who have children dream of bringing them up in a safe, free world. And those who don’t already have children dream of the same being possible in the future. Gender equality came to the Western world not only because women struggled to win equal rights, but because men realised that a society built on the principles of equality would be more stable and prosperous.
America abolished slavery not only because the blacks fought for their rights, but also as a result of the fact that the bulk of white Americans came to realise that a society without racism is more productive and safer for everyone, i.e. more beneficial than a society that practices racial segregation. Of course, change was eventually brought about to some degree by the enlightening speeches and demands of the humanists.
Corruption, that has wholly taken over the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, with a few exceptions, serves the interests of an absolute minority, usually a powerful minority, and is witness to the low level of Freedom of Choice existing in these countries. In democracies with a sufficiently high level of Freedom of Choice, thanks to the free press and the control exerted by civil society, it is possible to keep corruption within rigid limits, despite the natural inclination and willingness of most people to take part in corruption, however sad it might be to acknowledge this fact. And again, this serves the interests of the majority.
In the twentieth century, a number of fundamental reforms were carried out in Western capitalist countries, aimed at significantly raising living standards among hired workers. These included the shortening of the working day, minimum wage guarantees, pensions, all sorts of social security, stimulation of employees ‘interest in the growth of their companies’ profits via share sales and numerous other measures. The laws corresponding to these reforms were adopted not as a result of the humanistic mood of the ruling capitalist class, but as a result of strikes by wage workers, fears of bloody Communist revolutions like those that took place in Russia in 1917, fear of the difficulties of raising children in an unstable country, i.e. fear for Gene Preservation.
But very quickly everyone was convinced that humanistically reformed capitalism was more beneficial for almost all members of society and produced an unprecedented increase in labour productivity, general welfare, and therefore the best conditions for the realisation of Gene Preservation.
World society will continue to become more humanistic in nature as a requirement of the most fundamental human instincts: Gene Preservation and Freedom of Choice (see “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer“).
Since humanism is essentially one of the facets of Freedom of Choice, according to the Law of Humandynamics (see “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer“), it will grow along with it.
Our most important conclusion is that a society structured on humanistic principles is more beneficial for the majority than any other type of society model.
The question arises, “Why should we even consider a society built on the principle of the will of the majority to be fair? After all, the minority loses out, doesn’t it?” Indeed it does! Yet in a democratic society, Human Rights remain unshakable and inviolable. This is the guarantee of stability in a democratic state.
In connection to the question posed above: “When does a nation gain immunity from being susceptible to a totalitarian ideology?”, We can now propose the following answer: “Only when that nation has long-term experience of democracy, lasting at least several generations.”
Russia, China and Germany, who became victims of Communist and Nazi ideologies in the first half of the twentieth century, did not have this experience. German democracy which began with the Weimar Republic lasted for less than one generation, while Russia and China to this day have no true experience of a real democracy. Let’s take Italy as an example of a country that does have this experience. Under Mussolini, fascism became the ruling ideology even earlier than in Germany, although it did not succeed in taking root as a national idea.
There is not a single nation in the world that can guarantee to be exempt from the possibility of a totalitarian ideology being adopted by state power. The possibility of a new communist or fascist regime emerging somewhere in the world still exists and yet the probability of this happening becomes smaller and smaller as time goes by, and the surety of this is the Law of Humandynamics (see “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer“).
Nonetheless, the ‘good’ has to be continually instilled in us as a cultural value and we must recognise that ‘evil’ can spread of its own accord like a garden weed.
As the reality of history shows, humanist ethics can never prevent the occurrence of a social catastrophe. As we have said before, the awareness of these ethics always develops a posteriori.
If this is the case, do we, in fact, need a humanist ethic at all?
Yes! Without a shadow of a doubt!
Humanist ethics save us from repeating the same catastrophes again and again and in this way, we acquire experience. Humanity is, in fact, becoming more humanistic. “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer” cites numerous examples, which we won’t repeat here, of unprecedented expansion of Freedom of Choice particularly around the middle of the previous century, and by connection, a growth in humanism.
Here, in short, we will simply answer the question as to why the public rhetoric of politicians has changed over time. The culture of war, through which all nations have passed from antiquity (remember Sparta!) up until the middle of the last century, is today considered taboo among politicians. At least, they will not admit to supporting the culture of war openly. We no longer hear delusional ideas from the mouths of politicians concerning the superiority of one race over another, or of one class over another, as was the case in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, relatively recently in South Africa, and even earlier in the US before the adoption of desegregation laws. No less delirious ideas that used to divide society on the principle of “blue blood” into patricians and plebeians have long sunk into oblivion. We no longer hear politicians openly expressing sexist views.
Just because we don’t hear them, does not mean that they do not exist. They do still exist and always will do!
We conclude this article with a very recent example of how a new element of humanistic ethics is being created before our very eyes in the form of condemning sexual harassment.
So far, only the USA has been prepared to condemn this phenomenon openly and categorically. In France, a group of actresses led by Catherine Deneuve have expressed their concern that the fight against harassment has been excessive, although from the very beginning it has been quite obvious that what is being addressed is the unacceptable harassment of women by men. Almost immediately after the confident statement of the famous director Andrei Konchalovsky that one would never see a similar reaction to harassment in Russia, three brave Russian journalists began an uncompromising struggle against the harassment of a State Duma deputy.
Given that everything in the twenty-first century is happening at such huge speed, we can confidently say that within just a few years, the Western world will have done with the problem of harassment.
P.S. Those interested in a proof of the conclusions above can refer to an enlightening lecture by Professor Steven Pinker who presents various statistics showing a constant decline in violence and rise in tolerance since the ancient times despite the wide-spread myth that “the world used to be a better place”.
Karmak Bagisbayev, professor of mathematics, author of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”