The Moral Argument.
Since I am a nerd, I often listen to debates on Youtube with one ear bud while I continue to grind to level 30 on LoL. In the past week, I have heard the argument that morality can only have originated from God repeated dozens of times. I dislike this argument, more so because I have read a book that indirectly speaks to this issue quite well. So here is something for my fellow members of the godless horde to toss in your debate “kit bag” as we surge ever forth to fulfill Glen Beck’s paranoid prophecy to destroy grandma, America, and apple pie.
So if you want a good case study in how our morals evolved in respect to homicide those morals are expressed in humans before cultural militaristic / violent societal indoctrination, I present On Killing by LTC Dave Grossman.
On killing is the story of how western governments first recognized an apparent instinctual avoidance of inflicting fatal wounds during battle which was expressed by around 80% of Soldiers. The author goes on to discuss how governments have learned to retrain humans to improve their likelihood of killing in combat with an in-depth discussion on how the United States mastery of Pavlovian training has assisted in the military’s dominance on the planet. In the modern American Military, 9 out of 10 Soldiers will shoot center mass if presented with a situation where he or she deems deadly force is required.
A thesis emerges from On Killing, barring Sociopaths (at least 10% of us), human beings will go through elaborate measures to avoid killing; even doing things that increase the likelihood that the person themselves will kill, such as purposely shooting over an enemy’s head or using melee weapons in the least lethal techniques. Interestingly, these methods of avoiding killing blows are employed by the majority of un-trained Soldiers around the world with absolutely no formal instructions on being less lethal, according to Grossman.
Before firearms, when armies joined in swirling melees it was most common to slash at your opponent. Even though every professional Soldier and leader knew that a stab was far more likely to result in a kill. It was simply hard to produce this behavior in most Soldiers in battle. Soldiers would stab away at a hay target but, would not replicate the action on the battlefield. Few armies were able to foster this combat behavior in Soldiers with any great success. Grossman supposes that the slash was meant to be more of a psychological blow to a foe than anything else. He supposed that the early Soldier didn’t really want to kill his opponent; he wanted to bloody him up and scare him enough to cause him and his buddies to route. And remember, that routes saw the majority of the actual killing before the invention of firearms. The professional Soldier would be mounted or dismounted, with a substantial number of them in reserve watching the initial clash of forces. While the untrained rabble slashed away before them, attempting to push the collective psyche of the other force enough towards terror for the enemy army to say “Screw it” and run away.
The professional Soldier, which in early history would be some approximation your “Knight” archetype, on the other hand had trained since childhood to suppress his altruistic instincts. He was proficient in his warrior tasks and drills, he knew to stab. So when the enemy routed, he and his buddies would sweep in and mow down as many as they could before disengaging.
As a person who accepts the theory of evolution, I interpret the above situation in a certain way. Grossman leads me to believe that the majority of individuals are endowed by their ancestry with a imbued, instinctual prohibition against killing people. This seems to be a logical consequence of our species growing up in small kin-groups. Everyone you were likely to meet was related to you, so it’s most likely in a person’s best interest to avoid killing members of one’s tribe during conflicts as it would lessen the overall survivability of the group. The majority of people solved conflicts then as they still do today, through the establishment of dominance.
Caveman Assassin Actual wants to take control of the Rod of Power from Caveman JT. Caveman Assassin Actual decides to paint his face up, wake up Caveman JT in the middle of the night and beat the shit out of him rather than kill him. Hopefully Caveman me has shamed JT enough to relinquish the Rod and refrain from planning future challenges to my Rod-ness.
Now, occasionally this pre-civilization kin-group is going to run into a rival group comprised against people they don’t know. This is where I see the sociopath coming into the equation. My tribe needs a guy who doesn’t give two shits about murdering to protect me from this alien tribe, if only to protect his own power base. Caveman me gladly cheers on Caveman Skullcrusher and tosses him the Rod of Power if/when he kills the other tribe’s sociopath and a good portion of other tribe. All Caveman me has to do is show up, stand behind Skullcrusher, and look mean. Having Skullcrusher around increases the survivability of my group, no matter that the same psychology that makes Skullcrusher such a good skull-crusher also makes him a calculating bastard who will play the tribe against each other in order to gain power. I don’t care about that, plus he is bigger than me.
It’s interesting to note that aside from the sociopath we all know, Grossman believes there is a psychologically similar individual. Someone that we would call a hero, a person who has the same lack of inhibitions to conduct violence on his fellow human but, applies that violence in a “just” manner.
In On Killing the author recounts an interview with one such person. That person describes how he views the majority of people as sheep and the traditional sociopath as wolves. However, the interviewee chooses to describe himself as a sheepdog but, concedes that in his life he has always been outnumbered by the wolves.
Now, if morality is imbued by God then why does that morality appear to be applied to our species in a shotgun pattern and not equally (if we are all hand crafted by God as Rick Warren argues), especially when it comes to doing a little good old fashion murder on each other? Most of us are nice enough people with a strong instinctual aversion to killing, some of us are willing to do it a drop of a hat if they can get away with it, and fewer still will murder only to protect the larger group. And even the morality of that third group is completely depended on his cultural zeitgeist. The distribution of these persons furthermore appears to be in line with genetic markers rather than the belief in any particular faith.
Why would God, if he is the source of morality, leave the actual conduct of the morality as a hodgepodge of interactions between genetics, cultural influences, and matters of station as observational evidence indicates? Now the argument I get back on this is always the same, because we sin. I don’t buy it, if morality was imbued into us by God, I would think it would be an equal distribution of morality since we are all God’s creation. We would have the same base level of morality at birth and free will would then have us all deviate from a level starting point. Reality shows us that this is not the case.
What history does show is that the primary force that can override a “sheeple’s” aversion to killing is culture. Remember the hypothetical battle above where the sheeple slashed at each other while the sheepdogs and wolves looked on, waiting for the conditions to be set for their employment. Enter into that battle a new foe, enter the Romans. The Roman’s figured out that relying on wolves and sheepdogs would be insufficient to maintain a big empire. There just are not enough sheepdogs and wolves to cover the ground required. The Romans needed to turn the sheeple into meat eaters and they succeeded. Think about how watching Gladiators fight in arenas around the Empire must have changed the Roman people. Often the people in the ring would not even be slaves, they would be politicians or military leaders who sought to gain power through the public defeat and murder of a fellow human. That demonstrates the power of culture to mold people’s instincts to reflect the qualities most needed by societies. Grossman argues that most people would inherently be against killing, yet there are historical accounts how the systematic glorification of death via combat contributed in part to the greater killing potential of a Roman Soldier.
Centurions were employed to stand behind the ranks of Soldiers and their main function was to repeal instruct Soldiers to utilize their specially crafted weapon (The Gladius) the correct way, they screamed at the Soldiers, who were trained to follow commands above instinct, too stab and the Soldiers did. Murder became mechanical. How can one see the hand of God in this? Yet it is events like this that are the PRIME mover for the great cultures of history, including the United States, that pushes nations to greatness and power.
So the next time someone asserts that you got your morals from God, no matter you believe in him/her/it or not, ask them if culture is a gift from god. Then ask them why they think that the greatest force to advance the killing ability of our species (culture) is a gift from god. And how in the name of the flying spaghetti monster is this divinely moral?