a post about morality for insanity


For the most part, people do not recognize that there are consequences for their actions. Instead, most people justify their actions and only alter their behavior when they think it will be beneficial for them to do so. (Insanitybytes22)

What we call ‘Morality’ is often instinctive – it can be an animal reaction with little conscious thought that may once have kept us alive. An eye for an eye is a good example. If someone attacks you, you attack back. A friend once told me that when her young daughter pulls her hair, she pulls it right back, so that the little girl understands the pain she is causing and will stop her behaviour. This struck me as wrong, but I think from the cultural morality point of view – don’t hurt children.

So when my daughter cheekily yanked at my hair the other day, I was surprised to find that my instant reaction was either whack her or pull her hair back. I’m not sure if I can separate the roots of my instinct between upbringing and the animal reaction to bite back – perhaps a combination of the two. Obviously I didn’t strike my daughter or attempt to show her the pain by doing it back to her, because cultural morality tells me hurting children for any reason is wrong. But maybe more importantly, I know that showing a child violence, in any form, only serves to help them understand that violence is acceptable. Even hair-pulling.

I’ve stated on many occasions that morality is learned and it constantly evolves. It evolves because as humans we are constantly learning about ourselves and our environment, and this changes our behaviour. And when our behaviour changes because evidence tells us there is a better, more constructive way of behaving and living, we pass this on to the next generation, and it becomes natural, instinctive for them. We model, they observe it, they imitate it and they live it. They, in turn, will go on in their lives to learn about things that we could have done better, they’ll make the conscious change to the their learned behaviour, and pass it on to their offspring in turn, should they decide it’s morally correct to breed or have an opportunity to become a parent.

This is the bigger movement of human society, this is the idealistic model: it doesn’t magically wing its way round the whole world, and it doesn’t happen to every person in every society. People can go backwards, people can stick to the same rules for generations because there is little room for movement within the rigid cultural framework. People can be brought up in cruel and empathy-lacking environments, with poor role models and little opportunity to sit around philosophising about morality or read about research on more constructive parenting techniques. The two general tools at our disposal to spread the changes that evidence and logic tell us are necessary for a fairer and nicer society, are state education and civil law. Unfortunately, if you think the government is out to get you, this may not be reassuring.