Einstein wondered whether the universal language of science could be applied to morality. If the yes/no, true /false, adequate/inadequate testing method could build the edifice of our technological world, could we build a morality established on what is and not on imaginary dreams?
Einstein argued that science cannot establish a moral axiom like “Thou shalt not lie”, but suggested that “ethical directives can be made rational and coherent thinking. If we can agree on some fundamental ethical propositions, then other ethical propositions can be derived from them, provided the original premises are stated with sufficient precision” (Einstein, A., Out of My Later Years, Philosophical library, New York, 1950).
The problem that Einstein observed is that “for pure logic all axioms are arbitrary, including the axioms of ethics. But they are by no means arbitrary from a psychological and genetic point of view. They are derived from our inborn tendencies to avoid pain and annihilation and from the accumulated emotional reaction of individuals to the behavior of their neighbors.”
“Truth is what stands the test of experience” said Einstein. Can we derive a truth that will unify our society?
Attempts have been made to learn from the past. Anthologist Joseph Tainter best-known for his “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” pointed out that societies are subject to the law of diminishing returns. Societies grow in response to problem solving and in turn develop a bureaucracy, infrastructure, or social class outside of primary production that require extra energy.
According to Tainter, invasions, crop failures, disease or environmental degradation may be the apparent causes of societal collapse, the ultimate cause is diminishing returns on investments in energy, education and technological innovation. In other words, in better economic times these problems could be handled better.
Similarly, British meta-historian Arnold Toynbee suggested die a form of social suicide when “creative minority” into “a position of inherited privilege which it has ceased to merit” (A Study of History, p23).
Consider Rome. As Roman population grew, agricultural output declined. The solution was conquest of resources however the enlarged social infrastructure required to sustain this became too expensive to maintain and unable to handle crop failures and invasions the society downsized into smaller groups. In other words conquest is subject to the law of diminished returns.
In contrast, Jared Daimond suggests overpopulation relative to the environments carrying capacity is a major cause for social collapse. Diamond associates 8 ecological mismanagement and four modern trends to social collapse.
“It would be absurd to claim that environmental damage must be a major factor in all collapses” writes Diamond but “it’s obviously true that military or economic factors alone may suffice”.
Certainly short term well intentioned gain can lead to ecological disaster. Lucille Brockway (‘Science and Colonial Expansion – The Role of the British Royal Botanical Gardens’) points out that overpopulation in Western China spawned by over farming the potato led to the collapse of Western china and enhanced European expansion.
Man is hindered by the very scientific method used to solve them. Scientific logic requires building on the known. All too often we don’t know enough and our knowledge is faulty.
For example, a 1985 attempt to remove a massive non-native cat population from Macquarie Island, halfway between Australia and caused unforeseen collateral damage.
“The cats were preying on native burrowing birds” wrote The New York Times “with the cats gone, the island’s rabbits (also non-native) began to breed out of control, ravaging native plants and sending ripple effects throughout the ecosystem.”
“”To avoid worsening problems in trying to solve them”, said Erika Zavaleta, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, “researchers need to make planning and monitoring their mantra”.
The same is true of societies. No one country can continue to think it can act in a moral vacuum. Religion, philosophy and some modern gurus have advanced the idea that we share a collective consciousness. On the other hand, Neuropsychology may demonstrate that consciousness is nothing but a neurological trick played in our brain to account for the interplay of my perceived reality and my dynamic environment. A type of neurological computer game where consciousness is a by product.
However, is there potential good in acting as if a collective consciousness exists? If humanities consciousness is a product of our neurogical system, then is it not time to begin to view our world as one collective whole and monitor our input and output?
We need what Harvard business school professor Bill George, called authentic leaders. Leaders who know there passions and have aligned them with their life’s function, who lead by the heart, inspire and encourage decision making in others, build relationships and accept responsibility.
In the age of globalization leaders must look beyond the social Darwinian Petri dish of specialist needs and benefit universal oneness. Don’t vwe need leaders who look beyond their niche?
The morality of leadership changes only under the weight of social pressure.
Yet we expect athletes train their nervous system to respond to circumstances with meticulous discernment. A difference of a few inches can be the difference between a brilliant play or a risky fowl. Yet expect nothing or little of ourselves. If a person fights for a cause we believe in he is a hero, if he makes a fortune he is a role model, wins a gold medal he is success. Expecting ourselves to be accountable is unreasonable.
The change we ask of others often really inflates our own ego. We demand the settlement of refugees or peace settlements but in our rush to salve our consciences allow war criminals to influence terms of peace or steel relief aid. We expect the raped and tortured refugee to return and live among the perpetrators.
“There is no peace without justice” argues UN representative Angelina Jolie who argues and crimes against humanity must be prosecuted. Justice is often a luxury for rich and wealthy nation.
Perpetrators know few nations have the political will for long term reform. Only when society shows that it will demand justice will society force change.
Has society pushed us to the brink where we can no longer justify moral laxity?
History is full of unintended consequences following social reform but can globalized world continue political hit and miss decisions?
Using the scientific yes/no, adequate/inadequate methodology we must constantly learn from experience. This type of positive/negative feedback propels servo-mechanisms to a goal and is used by performance coaches.
Psychologically we are quick to measure others and ourselves by this yes/no, you’re OK/not OK standard. If we are to refine our responses as well as an athlete we must begin to respond and understand the likes and dislikes of a greater portion of our universal brotherhood.
Diamond points out that President Kennedy learned from the Bay of Pigs fiasco. He also ordered his advisors to do the same. He demanded critical thinking, open free-wheeling discussion, and sub groups where he removed his potential influence. Whatever one thinks of the Kennedy legacy he learned from a mistake and changed his approach before the Cuban missile crisis.
This type of preemptive thinking, analyzing potential problems is often discredited by media savvy speakers quick minimize the need of reform.
The decline in USA market share declines future Chinese expansion and ecological challenges give the West great opportunity.
The western economy grew by exploiting satellite economies, much like ancients Rome. Europe was, struggling out of feudalism, Tudor England’s survival depended on Trade and with the development of gun-carrying oceangoing sailing ship was able to maneuver the sea’s and effectively man weapons. The oar powered ships of the east, bottlenecked labor of sailors who could not row and fight at the same time. Necessity was the mother of invention.
But as Tainter pointed out, colonialism is subject to diminishing returns. At its political peak, British per capita income was low. British per capita income grew by investing in the growing US expansion.
Similarly, as USA market share declines future Chinese expansion will give the West great opportunity. Because, China and India’s per capita output is 1/20th and 1/40th of the USA there is great investment opportunity in business and environmental technology. Goldman-Sach expects China’s economy to equal the US c2050 and double by its end, per capita output will still be 40% by 2050 and India 25% By 2100 India is expected to have the same size economy as the USA.
Contrast this with the lack of political will that undermined the societies that invented of the compass, movable type, and gunpowder, had fabulous Indian riches and the world’s largest seaport at Malacca?
China enjoyed a great navigation and trade potential and sent fleets commanded by the Muslim eunuch Cheng Ho to receive tribute from the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, and coastal east Africa. However, top heavy Confucian bureaucracy rejected proto-capitalism, stopped paper money, and relied on resources closer to home. India was divided by kingdom states. Both had well developed self sufficient textile and agriculture and could trade with Indonesia, Arabia and Egypt via Muslim traders discouraging further expansion. The centralized Chinese monarchy and bureaucracy disdained and regulated merchants.
Civilizations die not because they are murdered, but because they commit suicide, said Arnold Toynbee.
Now faced with globalization we are forced to stop relying on the diminished returns of past practices and develop new technologies for the new realities.
Will we chose to grow or live in a state of social mourning at the loss of present choices?
I suggest that our potential for progress is dependent on our ability to collectively measures our life, essence and status. To do this we must respond to our environment. We must measure our own positive and negative feedback and assess the feedback thrown at us by life.
We must demand of our media more than knee jerk responses that incite ill informed action and restore the democratic debate of ideas.
In The Assault on Reason, Al Gore expressed the belief the gut wrenching immediacy of television and internet often triggers an unreasoned responsiveness that encourages an inherent bias. The US constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press was intended to encourage debate. Quick news grabs are not the same as reasoned analysis of an article envisioned by the US founding fathers.
Criticized by David Brooks as a ‘Vulcan Utopia’ with a ‘bizarre view of human nature’ that requires “a technical process that minimizes information flow to the lower brain and maximizes information flow to the higher brain” the idea does appear hard to implement.
Propelled by our natural survival instincts it is difficult for people to look beyond the emotion charged group think. See a picture of a child blown apart and you are rightly indignant. According to media analysts, you then read the headline. Only 20% read any further. Headlines grab attention, can be wrong, and slanted to get attention.
Recently, journalist Peggy Noonan suggested that with the death of the elder statesman of the journalistic world political commentary was becoming increasingly inflammatory.
“Democracy cannot healthily endure without free and unfettered debate” she says and reminds us “knowing where the line is, matters.”
She argues that if 1% of the population of the US were unstable enough to be swayed by some media emotive sensationalists then you could easily have 3 million people harming society.
Reconsider the cycles of history. People turned to each other and community flourished because of economic realities both of the depression and the declining economic wealth of the baby boomer generation following the 1860’s, like today. However, that good desire fed into the hand of some extremists. Fragmented societies were rebuilding following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian and Romanov Empires. Ethnocentric hatreds were fired up by political opportunists. Then, as now, nationalism reared its head and uses religious and secular institutionalism as a cover.
Historically, Nazism grabbed hold of Germany because there was no conservative position in that country. German’s had Nazism or Communism to choose from.
We must ensure our society is not pulled by the media into a similar social polarization. There is always someone wanting to grab the media to blame another scapegoat Nationalistic group think easily arouses passions before the brain sets up shop. Universal values inherent in tradition become distorted by passion.
If we are to equate justice and peace in the ecology of social forces then we need to learn how to carefully monitor our environment and respond judiciously.
Einstein suggested that the development of logical morality was the privilege of mans moral genius. “Ethical axioms are found and tested not very differently from the axioms of science.”
But then Angelina Jolie also reminds us “Without pain, there would be no suffering, without suffering we would never learn from our mistakes. To make it right, pain and suffering is the key to all windows, without it, there is no way of life.”
In other words, its going to be a challenge.