Saturday, May 8, 2010

Thinking about Role Models

Adult morality is basically the ability to choose ones group and abide by the moral standards it sets up. Particularly the standards for role modeling. As we are seeing daily: If your group is sport you expect your sport heroes to be good role models and woe be to the used-to-be hero that falls short in role model behavior. They might redeem their hero status by their talent, but it will always have the asterisk hesh is a great athlete* *but hesh is an asshole.

In politics and religion the role model issues are even more important.

I learned the importance of role modeling early, as one of my favorite musicians was an asshole, and people in my group would judge his music by his behavior. The implicit message was that my society expected every member to be an exemplary role model, and achievements would be judged as much by the role modeling as by the achievement itself. This drastically changes the importance of moral behavior, at least in my society which is self selected to be intelligent, rational, well educated, and achievement oriented. And damn few of us get our moral behavior from God.

If you have interacted with another human favorably in the course of your life, that is made that person's life on this earth a little more comfortable or pleasant, and that person 'Pays it Forward' in Heinlein's words, the ripple is potentially infinite. I would rather bet on that infinity than some God rescuing some part of me to endure in some wonderful place somewhen if I have said the right prayers and chosen the right God.

Jesus while he was human said 'Love your neighbor [the Samaritan] as yourself.' His disciples and perhaps even the scribe that asked the question paid it forward and today one could argue that it makes Jesus immortal whether or not you believe the God myth.

Not all of us can have that big an impact, but if we can make the world just a little better for those around us, I think we have paid our dues for being alive and our importance and value will survive.

Thinking about Morality

While you are equal, the societies to which you belong are different. Abner will judge kodiacman by the standards of the educated atheist society of which he is a part. Kodiacman may very well say that God does not approve of the educated atheist society, or at least the atheist part, and in effect say 'Throw Abner to the wolves.' Abner will probably like Brer Rabbit say 'Don't throw me into that briar patch full of atheist chemists.' And you both will walk away feeling virtuous and filled with righteousness for making the correct moral judgment."

Moral authority is always a segment of the society of which the person is a part. Or depending on your definition of society, it may be the local society, the church, the community, or a self chosen community of peers. None of which have supreme authority, not even the church or God.

By calling another 'evil' a person is basically saying that the behavior is unacceptable for membership in the relevant society. In effect saying that if the behavior continues we, the society, will 'throw you to the wolves' and give no protection or benefits from belonging to the society. The outsider may find a society that tolerates the evil behavior, and may even encourage it, in which case there may be a clash of societies up to and including warfare if the evil is deemed onerous enough. Please note that the 'evil' society probably does not view itself as evil, and may in fact consider all other societies evil. It may even base this on a particular God belief, but even that is not absolute.

As an example many societies consider treating women as property and subjugating them to some relevant male to be evil. There are other societies that say this is requirement of God. I would challenge anyone to show either view is a supreme moral edict.

Substantive lying to anybody is wrong. It injures the other and is a disaster for self image. One can't hurt self or society much more grievously.

Adultery is a different issue. There are many workable forms of parenting. And to a greater extent marriage without the intent of children. Consensual open marriages. Open mistresses and concubines with the knowledge if not the blessing of the wife isn't even a biblical sin. About the only moral issue is the ability and willingness to provide proper support to the mother of any resulting children.

Adultery without spousal consent is certainly a moral issue, but with contraception and STD prevention it is probably one of the most common moral failings around. Religious or secular. And if you factor in serial monogamy as a moral failing, which I do especially with children involved, statistics are ugly for religious and secular alike, something like 30% for religious couples and 20% secular."

Pair bonded parents provide the most stable platform for child raising, particularly when both parents are committed to the child raising process. The dad provider, mom caregiver paradigm is a holdover from the patriarchal religious past, and provides an unbalanced role image for the children. Far better is two parents sharing the providing and the nurturing.

A much more useful way of looking at things is the source of the constraints on behavior that we choose to accept. This assumes that unconstrained choice is the natural state of human cognition, and it is the constraints on acting out the choices which are the important considerations.

This changes the whole picture. Free will is not a gift or an option it is the natural state of the human mind. We can and do think about all sorts of behaviors that might be expressed. However, as a part of being socialized as a child and to a lesser extent as an adult member of a society, and perhaps partly instinctual as a social animal, there are certain behaviors that may not be expressed. Once internalized as a constraint, we have no 'free will' to express the behavior. At the very least our self-image as a moral and ethical member of our society will prevent the expression of the thought as behavior. Of course fear of Hell or jail may reinforce the decision. but ultimately it is the internalization of the constraint which determines the control of the behavior. Free will has nothing at all to do with it.

The problem that is being ignored by all is that morals are neither personal nor universal. Morals are derived from the local society that one considers herm own, and reflect values that benefit that society from the individual working out and therefore from the society back to the individual. If the society is God based then morals will come from God as interpreted by that little tinhorn in the fancy dress in the overdecorated balcony that speaks for God. If the society is not God based, say a typical University community, the morals are no less stringent and are probably more strictly enforced as there is no get out of Hell jail free card, or plagiarism is OK if you don't get caught by the prof card.

Compared to a high level university the typical religion is a group of moral slackers even if they get their morals direct from God. The GOOHF card of the Cross can excuse a lot of sin.

True they abide by the same rules, but the rules are fundamental not God. In other words God has no choice but promote rules that are good for the society of believers, and by and large those rules would be good for any society. Do not lie, cheat, steal, kill, respect authority beginning with parents and going on from there, to God if religious, to other authorities worthy of respect if not."

The big differences of course are in the "control morality." That morality that is use to control the sheeple. Paul found the efficacy of sexual morality for paternalistic control, and Christianity has gone downhill from there. A rational sexual morality is necessarily based on the welfare of the family whatever form that takes. The pair bond seems nearly universal in nature and seems to be the most workable sexual morality in humans. That is morality that strengthens and preserves the pair bond seems best for all social groupings.

Sorry. The dark side, the yang, the masculine, are all socially imposed on the natural instinctual behaviors that must be controlled to fit properly into a specific society. Many societies reinforce natural behaviors in ways that another society might consider dysfunctional, but within the society they are controlled expressions of natural behavior. The difference between a benevolent pastoral leader and an exploiter of herm followers is not that one is responding to a genetic instinct to lead benevolently, and the other to an exploitation gene. The both are responding to a natural genetic drive to alpha status for those who can and follower stats for those who can't. The only difference is that both leaders have different control of their alpha instinctual behavior. Historically this control has been mediated by religious beliefs, a powerful social control force, both for good and for evil, at least by my society's standards, but as Heinlein noted, 'Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes...' and generally not in the eyes of his local society. I am quite sure that Torquemada and his fellow priests were filled with satisfaction for doing God's will indeed they gave themselves the title of 'Protector of the Faith' which has persisted to the present day. One wonders sometimes however, just what faith it is that the protector is protecting?

Good and evil are socially defined concepts. Generally what supports and protects the social unit is good, and that which disturbs it is evil. I find evil much more of a problem than good, as scientific studies of social animals find almost no evidence of willful disturbance of the group. Even among social predators, while the prey may find them evil, within the group they are extremely careful of each other, even the lower status members of the group. The low status members may get the tough and dangerous jobs in the hunt but if they are hurt they will be supported by the group.

As I have mentioned before it takes a religious leader to create the 'us vs. them' that permits evil in a social animal. Other humans learned from the religious leaders, so the evil is spread.

Thinking about Moral Development

A recent study of morality in infants found that for toddlers even something as trivial as T-shirt colors can be a moral issue. The within-group preferences are the basis of morality as in "Our T-shirt colors are good, yours are bad. This observation is an early indication that social groups are the basis of human morality and certainly part of our genetic moral imprinting.

This is why it is so important to pick your culture very carefully: A child will be necessarily be imprinted with the memes of his parents and their Social Support Group (SSG). It is called socialization and is critical if the child is to survive to puberty. This is in fact nature's plan if a cold cruel indifferent universe can have a plan. It probably would be better to say this is the implicit plan of the generations of social animals that preceded us. It in critical for a human to be a part of a tribe. A lone human is a dead human in the natural world. Nature, or more precisely the human genome has provided an escape hatch in the adolescent rebellion phase of any normally intelligent child. And if the child is exposed to other tribes as many modern children are in school, the rebellious child may find a better (or worse) tribe to associate with.

Obviously as a child choosing a culture is a pipe dream, but as an adult anticipating reproducing the SSG that you will provide for your child will determine whether the child is warped into some form of aberration or becomes a useful, productive contributor to the larger society.

Religions can be acceptable SSGs but again it is important to choose, if you can, a religion that is aware of and trying to be a part of the larger society. Many are not, and treat the larger society as hostile and dangerous, even to the point of home schooling or religious schooling to keep the child warped into the aberrant group. These UFSSGs may be more adaptive from an evolutionary perspective, they breed enough, but I certainly hope not.

The society in which I was brought up acceptance and participation in the society was determined not by a belief system, but by how one treated the others who were a part of it. There were many religions represented, mainly Christians, but some Jews and some of no discernible religion. The earliest moral lessons I remember were lessons on stealing and fair value exchange issues. Starting at about 5 or 6. It was not a matter of bad or good, but one of trust. One had to build a trustworthy reputation and it was easy to destroy it. Examples of untrustworthy people were all around and were not considered one of 'us' whoever 'us' was.

It is important that there never was a 'them.' The rest of the world was simply not 'Our kind of people.' The different strokes for different folks was the attitude that was basic to my upbringing. The next door neighbors were Catholic in everything they did. It was clear that they were not one of 'us.' They were good people, nice neighbors, the kids were acceptable playmates, but they didn't share the values that defined 'us.' The first time I heard the second great commandment I knew that Jesus was talking about my next door neighbor.

It would probably be easier not to work on righteousness and nail my shadow to the cross, but that doesn't work for me. Christ has nothing to do with my behavior or my relationships with other people. He is not responsible for any injury I might inflict on them and neither is Adam. The arrow of responsibility is very short and it points right at me. I think all this work makes me a better member of my chosen society both as an actor and as a role model. It is my effect on my society today, in this life that is important to me. No more, and no less.
The UU youth group was an important influence in my moral development. I was a regional officer and went to national conventions where supervision of our moral behavior was strictly peer driven. There were no rules, no belief systems, and yet we had to function as a coherent group in spite of radically different views on everything from God to sexuality. I learned to respect the rules and limits of others without internalizing them. I learned to communicate my rules and limits without projecting them on others. This was fairly easy with respect to God, in spite of my unusual for the time overt atheism, but the sexuality issues as you might expect in a group of horny teens with no rules except respect for your partner made for some interesting times. Further, deponent sayeth not.

My parents' relationship lasted more than half a century, the usual bumps and frictions, but in general I would agree that their relationship was generally good and a stable base for my development as a moral person.

My mother was an intelligent, independent, and strong woman, and the iconic ancestor was similar. Not domineering as many such women can be, but not submissive either. She knew she was equal to anybody else. Not better, but no worse. My older sisters who were important in my early life inherited these traits. One might say I had no experience with other types of women or at least didn't notice other types. My father was an equal partner in my parenting and in his marriage, but traditional gender role models were basically ignored.

I am sure siblings and playmates were caught out and instructed on stealing, but as usual my own burning ears were what made me learn. But relevant to the shadow topic, it was always behavior correction. "We" don't do that kind of thing. Never "That is bad," and absolutely never "You are bad." I don't remember "bad" as part of my parents' vocabulary.

As I remember it sharing was a part of playing with toys. Even my teddy bear which for a while was a constant companion was shared. I vaguely remember a kind of a round dance game where the teddy bear danced with everybody.

The "We" in all of it was what "We" considered to be an elite society. One in which each person was expected to be knowledgeable, thoughtful, responsible, mannerly, fun to be with, and to do their chores diligently and without direction or complaint. There were "Others" some of whom were part of a different elite, and some who were definitely less than elite.

As I grew up I moved in a variety of groups, each with different values and it was important to be aware of those values and at least know why I violated some of them. In general because they conflicted with other values that I considered more important. As an example many of the groups I participated in due to athletics had a rather crude sexual morality. I was brought up to consider sexuality was a relationship first issue. The love 'em and leave 'em of the athletic and cheer leading world was of no interest to me.

But in all cases I was intensely aware of the fact that there was only one person in the world that was responsible for any hurt feelings or worse that I caused, and that was me. No confession booth, no cross to nail things to, just me. I couldn't even blame my parents, they would just laugh at me and say you got yourself into this, lets see how you get yourself out. This does not mean they were not supportive or helpful, but it was my problem not theirs.

In high school and college I played with the big dogs in a bunch of packs, moving smoothly between them as necessary. The mores of each pack were different. The team sports had one, the individual sport group had another. The choral groups another. The science geeks a different one. The UU youth was wildly different. In college the philosophy and religion group yet another but basically a continuation of the UU youth. The social and party group, there was only one I could afford to play with, was again quite different.

This was in no way a multiple role issue. Just like religions all groups had things that contributed to my character development. Those that were useful I adopted, but I never felt the need to "buy into the group package." At my college, the student football cheering section was a mandatory Saturday afternoon social function. I was not particularly interested in spectator sports, and the team sucked. But drinking the frozen orange drink, and socializing with friends, many of which shared my distaste for the game and the team was worth my time and energy. The football enthusiasts who cheered each half way decent play, and booed the refs, were part of the group, but I did not share their enthusiasm, just their company.

In order to work well in all these groups I had to be aware of the mores and how I would respond to them. No subconscious responses allowed, they would bite me on the rear cheek every time. I like to think that I integrated the best of all those groups into a coherent self image. The lessons from all those groups have served me well as a productive adult responsible for my own life. I have totally changed the direction of my life three times, each time moving into a completely different work and life style. It was very useful to be able to join a group as an observer and know how to spot the important things for being a part of the group.

Golf was very instructive for me in the mores department. Very early I was a competent golfer thanks to an ex pro instructor in my father. It is ridiculously easy to cheat in golf. But choosing to do so even in a practice round will very quickly insure that you will never get a money round. There is no way to repair the damage to the reputation of a golfer that cheats. Further it is assumed that a golfer that cheats in golf will cheat whenever hesh thinks hesh can get away with it. Politicians always cheat in golf.

I have no delusions of perfection but I frequently thank those, mostly dead now, that brought me up without a shadow and taught me how not to internalize shadow making criticism. I thank them not for them, but for me. I can still put names to those who taught critical lessons in responsibility. If someone tells me I screwed up, I have two choices, I can say yes, I did, and do what I can to repair the damage, or I can 'consider the source' and say "No it is your problem, I don't need to even consider it, and I certainly don't need to make it my problem."

I actually strive to achieve perfection in my ethical behavior and my moral relationships. It is not really that hard as all moral and ethical behavior is considered, and misjudging another's reaction is technically their problem not mine, although perfection would be taking that into consideration.

Since I have neither a shadow nor a God to blame for any transgressions, and the arrow of responsibility always points back to me, I try not to be willfully wrong in any situation. I do not always succeed sometimes due to a social misunderstanding, sometimes a simple screw up. But in any case I am the damage repair crew. That does make thinking about what one is doing a lot more important.

Others may try to impose a shadow on me but I do not need to accept its existence simply because someone says it is there. Any more than I need to accept the fundie's assertion that I am a sinner because all people are sinners. If the fundie thinks hesh can act out herm uncontrolled basic instincts in a socially dysfunctional manner because everybody is a sinner, and hesh gets to nail herm acting out to the cross and its OK because the cross is available to all sinners, we have total control by the church. Except I am not a sinner, and I can call herm on herm dysfunctional actions with a clear conscience because I control my possibly dysfunctional actions openly and consciously. I don't always succeed, but it isn't because sin made me do it, or my shadow burst out, it was because I failed. No one else. Not mom, not the preacher, not God, not the Devil. It was J'Carlin and no one else. If it needs fixing I fix it."