Thoughts on Morality (origins) and non-PC statements.

This is my first post here, which is perhaps a bit risky. I like to write about my thoughts in a near-essay format every so often but I am aware that they are not perhaps the most insightful or intelligent and have never really put them up for proper criticism in a place where the potential audience is more intelligent than I am.

However, taking risks is half the fun! And so here is an essay I wrote tonight which details some of my thoughts on firstly a hypocritical press situation and secondly the origin of morals and certain “taboo” (well, not so much today) social tendencies.

I have recently, internally, been going through some sort of moral and philosophical dilemma. It has lead to a redefining of some of my morals and a clearer defining of others. But – I have to restate it, I must say it – the morals of a western society are at core contradictory, hypocritical and hideously capitalist.

I was originally simply going to lay the blame straight on the head of our capitalist society; but I have recently been coming to terms with the fact that most people seem to find me intelligent, and if they are right I would gain so much more if I were to use my intelligence to exploit a capitalist society.

No reputable publication would ever allow me to say it as a journalist (which I am not: I am merely making a point about hypocrisy relating to free speech), but some things that are in the mass media disgust me. The most recent and most poignant example is the Madeline McCann story. I find many parts of this story stressing. For a start, there are many missing people in the world; some of them have been missing for much longer and have far more hope and are probably also more likely to be useful to the world as Madeline’s parents are clearly inept human beings.

I cannot believe I am saying this on the internet, where it is open to criticism from all, and I will more than likely be flamed by people I do not know. But it is sadly true. Madeline’s parents left their three year old alone and it got kidnapped. They started getting media attention; this would not have been possible on such a large scale had their daughter not been the supposed image of a cute, innocent little girl. This is something that I thought could only happen in America’s tabloid news (and tabloid television). Alas I was wrong and am disappointed, but in either case, moving on, they proceeded to accept donations. To hell with their donations. I haven’t been told by any newspaper to donate the parents of the majority of other missing children. The Portuguese police have a fund of their own – come on; we aren’t talking about the American government here. I think they are more than capable of carrying out a decent criminal investigation without donations on a worldwide scale.

I should probably move on from that subject. Moving onto a somewhat deeper subject I have been considering the source of morals. I was introduced by a friend to the idea of Autonomous versus Heteronymous morals. Basically it was explained to me that some people believe morals are autonomous in that they exist without outside influence, whilst others believe morals are heteronymous as they are subject to outside influence.

I feel like stating my opinion: I would say that morals are indeed Autonomous (hence disagreeing with the friend who introduced me to the topic, for the record). The reason behind this decision is simple, or at least I find it to be. I believe that all morals are descendant from human nature, or rather, animal nature – rule of the wild. Murder is morally wrong and hence illegal, I believe, due to the fact that at first, killing a person who is a part of a tribe you belong to would be seen as an attack against your entire group. This would make you angry as an animal and force revenge. It may also be remotely based on our fear of blood being spilled – to a basic human this would represent pain and therefore be an angry and also painful thought.

Today, this is absolutely in place on a larger scale – although instead of brutally, tribally killing them we cut them off from contact by putting them in jail (in this country at least). It is debatable whether or not that is more or less cruel than killing them as psychologists would agree cutting a person off from people is mental torture. In either case the point stands – I believe our morals are derived from our nature.

I also believe that most modern behavior which is attributed to nurture is also probably derived from nature. An example would be homosexuality – a hot topic. I had a discussion with a person who is open on their homosexuality about this and they say that my points were suitable against their own points easily, and so I trust my own views on this due to trusting the person themselves.

I would suggest that homosexuality is possibly a slight glitch in the way society affects morals. (Not the sort of outside influence referenced by the ‘theory’ of heteronymous morals, I believe.) As humans it is statistically proven that most people really do experiment with sexuality to find what they are. The number of people who claim to have “engaged in homosexual acts in their teenage years” (basically, experimented with same-sex relations) dropped in the UK in the 1970s due to children’s TV starting to broadcast the message of AIDS and HIV. Before that it was possibly (I have no reference but what I see as common sense) normal enough for teenagers to be naked together at some point and want to experiment.

Of course, a person may decide that he or she prefer such an experience to their first straight experience. I don’t see how that is not natural as some people claim. As any person should be able to work out there are plenty of reasons that could happen. Obviously it would be a situation like that which would determine a person’s sexuality.

Another possibility is that a person may also unconsciously decide they are going to be homosexual; even though they cannot effect the decision it is one that is made. An example I thought of on the fly during my aforementioned discussion with a homosexual (sounds dramatic, doesn’t it?) is a person may have a subconscious desire to rebel against society due to an event in upbringing; they will end up looking like something viewed as taboo by the generic public.

I have considered more issues and more examples, but I believe I have written enough to suffice for this one essay. In stating the conclusions I have come to I do not really intend to make people think of repartees to my points; I simply would like to offer insight into a potential viewpoint that I see as plausible and shape some people’s believes. I would hope this has been possible, and appreciate all replies.


I think just using capital letters, punctuation and paragraphs reduces the risk to you.

Seems to me that the McCann parents are quite reasonably taking advantage of the popularity of mass outpourings of grief, as seen with/since Princess Di’s death. The tabloids in Britain at least like nothing more that to tug at the heart-strings of their readership - combine this with a manhunt (Run, Murat, run!) and you’ve got sales gold. You can’t blame the parents for harnessing the hype to help find their daughter.

Either that, or Mr McCann killed Madeleine while ‘checking’ on the apartment, and this is the most audacious attempt at a decoy ever attempted…

I have no particular thoughts on homosexuality today.

And I’m not particularly friendly, but welcome, Etod.

Still, I’m the sort of person who’d assume that if a family were to do that when their daughter went missing, it’d be more of a “missing children awareness” thing rather than a “my missing child awareness” thing.

It’s like when children die of rare diseases and parents start charities to help find cures - I don’t see why they can’t harness the hype in that way.


“morals are descendant from human nature, or rather, animal nature – rule of the wild.”

Animals kill each other frequently even eat their own offspring. The “rule of the wild” is order of dominance. The biggest and meanest get the most to eat and the sex.

As for homosexuality, no one chooses to be a homosexual. I think the stigma inherent in homosexuality goes way, way back to survival the ‘tribe’ or what have you. If men could get sex without congress with women then there’s a problem with the continuation of the community.

Hey, welcome! :slight_smile:

Sounds like fun. Or excruciating pain. :smiley: Or both.

Whoa, whoa… which particular morals of which particular Western society? If you lump together all of “Western civilization”, this is going to be a very, very broad and general discussion… is that what you want?

I don’t understand this paragraph.

I agree with you in that missing people aren’t really that significant in the grand scheme of things, but this isn’t necessarily hypocrisy. In a society where you can say just about anything you want, some people simply choose to say things that will garner public interest and make them money over things that are serious and potentially enlightening. A cute kid, especially “Little Jenny from three blocks down, who was loved at the playground” has a wide appeal, and “Yet Another Starving African” or “Random Missing Teacher from Country I’ve Never Heard Of” doesn’t. This isn’t so much a Free Speech issue as much as an “Entertainment as News” issue.

Solution? Become a journalist, or a politician, or a media mogul, or a big business owner that has money to throw around… and change it. Give people what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear. And even more difficult than that, convince people that they should want to hear what they need to hear.

Or before that, just for your own sake… where do you get your news? If the mass media in its current state isn’t serious enough for you – and it probably isn’t, since it’s targeted towards the mass audience, most of whom isn’t interested in the serious stuff – you might want to get information from more academic or more serious sources.

That isn’t sad. You should be proud of speaking your mind. Not everyone does that. And the Internet isn’t that bad. Especially not this board.

Before you jump to the conclusion that our morals necessarily arose out of our natural behaviors, have you adequately studied the natural behaviors of our species? Even career sociologists, psychologists, historians, scientists and others lack all the answers… heck, put the sum of human knowledge together and we still lack many answers. To be able to say, definitively, that our morals are a direct result of our “nature” – biological, societal, or otherwise – requires a definitive understanding of that nature, and I don’t think human knowledge, collectively, is quite at that point yet.

In the meantime, I’d like to say that the “tribe” isn’t a simple enough unit of social interaction. You’re saying “To find the best morals, we should go back as far as possible, to as simple a state as possible, and look at our nature”, right? If so, shouldn’t we look at the kind of morality that existed before tribes came to be? And that will depend on what you believe the history of mankind to be.

If, for example, Man and Woman first came into existence as Adam and Eve, then they were born with an innate morality (the Christian way) long before tribes came to be. And thus murder is wrong because God says it is, not because tribes didn’t like it.

Or if we arose evolutionarily, go back far enough and we were just monkeys. Did our primate ancestors murder their ancestors? Maybe, maybe not. Did they compete for food? Probably. Did a monkey ever kill, hit, or otherwise another monkey not out of malicious intent but because it was starving and needed food? Potentially. Suddenly, “murder is bad” becomes a lot more gray. And go back further than that, to when we were presumably extremely simple single-celled creatures who just floated around hoping to catch energy somehow. At that point, what’s morality? Whichever cell is… luckiest?

We put people in jail, or kill them, or do a lot of other things, for a lot of reasons. Morality is not always the cause. Sometimes it’s just one factor out of many, other times it’s completely ignored. The fact that we imprison people instead of killing them does’t prove that morals are derived from nature, although it might fall in line with the less universal belief that “the tribe should look out for the good of the other members of the tribe”. But even that is usually qualified with an un unwritten “unless your own needs are more pressing” rule.

Nurture may be derived from nature, but after a while, especially in humans, nurture can do things that nature otherwise cannot. What I mean is… they may start out from the same source but still end up in two different places later on. Example: Nature might make mothers love their children. Nature and a little bit of nurture might make the mother feed her child food to make sure it survives. Then nurture, after enough seperation from nature and enough accumulation of knowledge, makes the mother feed the child less food so it doesn’t die of obesity-related diseases. On the other hand, the nature of that mother and child was created – if you believe in surival of the fittest – in a situation that dicated “eat as much as you can, as often as you can, because there won’t always be enough food to find later on”, a nature which is no longer useful, and often even detrimental, in the food-rich Western societies of today. And only nurture can compensate for that.

My point? Even if morality started out natural, it does not (and maybe even SHOULD not) stay simply natural. Morality has to change with society, as nurture changes with society, in order to stay relevant and useful to society. An animal-like anarchist way of living may be fine and dandy if we were still in the stone ages, but a person who runs around killing competitors for their food today will simply end up locked up or dead for acting “according to their nature”. Such a morality will only harm that particular member (he’ll end up jailed or dead) and it will harm society as a whole because that member will never get a chance to have his basic essential needs fulfilled and grow up into a more productive member of society that can contribute more than the amount of food and nurture it takes in.

Okay, so let’s assume that it’s “normal enough for teenagers to want to experiment”. How is this a slight glitch in the way society affects morals?

This isn’t necessarily true. It is possible that sexuality is determined genetically – or at least in part. A combination of genetics and societal influences – both nature and nurture – may determine a person’s sexual orientation. Do we know enough right now to say for sure?

And does it matter? If, for example, we could convert homosexual people to be straight – against their nature – and still be happy, the same way society converts people to eat less – against their nature – and still be happy, should we do this? After all, homosexual members of society do not produce babies, and that is a nature that works against the continuation of the species, which is a goal many species and societies pursue.

Yeah, exactly. It’s hard to make blanket statements because a human life has so many variables and it’s nigh impossible to perfectly control them in a laboratory setting. We can only make laws, rules, and morals based on the limited information we have, and the limited information we have makes me believe that we should thus make morals that reflect the reality that we live in a world affected by both nature and nurture. Any set of moral codes that ignore one or the other is doomed to fail, IMO.

Discussions are what this board is all about! Look around and you’ll find a lot of interesting things going on. Once again, welcome, and next time feel free to separate your thoughts into separate threads so there can be many discussions about them all :slight_smile:

Welcome, Etod!

The Straight Dope is one of the best places for posting controversial opinions. Some of us are real nitpickers about facts so you may want to doublecheck things before posting. Don’t take corrections personally. It’s all about “fighting ignorance” – a phrase you will hear frequently here. (And all of us are ignorant about many things.

So, with that in mind, be aware that I think that the following statement from your commentary is in error:

If that change in behavior occured, it was more likely to have begun in the 1980s than in the 1970s when AIDS was largely unknown. That doesn’t change the premise of your ideas however.

The theory I have about homosexuality is that it forms during the complex sequence of the development of a fetus’s brain during gestation. Same as left-handedness.

As for whatever Etod’s on about, I couldn’t make head or tail of it. A one-paragraph summary would help.

My opinion is that guilt is a vestige of evolution. My opinion is that capitalism and personal gains is the evolution of physical evolution. The only way to be your best is to be selfish and have no guilt.

Morality should be based on achievement … period.

That is one end of the spectrum.

The other is that of a community doing what is best for it, and if you have more than the next guy you should feel guilty.