Discussions of morality, ideology, religion, liberalism, conservatism, etc. miss a very important point that’s hiding in plain sight but that, I suggest, offers common ground: At bottom, we all want exactly the same thing.
This is part one of a two part essay. In this part I offer a science-based summary of morality. In the Part Two I offer a suggestion as to how we can all be more moral, and maybe even agree on a few more things.
In the final analysis morality is experienced and motivated by feelings, flashes of affect, visceral reactions of like or dislike, felt internally by individuals. We may be 10% bee, but we are NOT centrally driven and controlled by a Queen, we are controlled by our individual, internally experience, emotions. Our feelings may often be influenced by our peer group and by feelings of support or defensiveness on behalf of our own moral or ideological or political tribe, but in the end our thoughts and actions are motivated by feelings felt exclusively inside our individual selves.
And what individuals want more than anything, it seems to me, is to feel GOOD about themSELVES. They want to feel gratified, satisfied, content, part of a larger whole. They want to feel that they are contributors, helpers, providers, protectors. A portion of feeling good is feeling RIGHT. We want a sense of well-being, and even of superiority.
Even a passion to help others, or to show compassion and empathy, in the end, is a passion to satiate this deep seated need that is, and can only ever be, a feeling that is internal to our SELVES. The outside the mind part of morality (i.e., political systems and traditions, customs, and institutions) is merely the external social structure that groupish, like-minded, humans consciously and unconsciously put in place to help them feel good about themselves internally.
In this sense, morality itself – feeling good about who and what we are – is common ground that we all share regardless of where we are on the political spectrum.
Liberals and conservatives get the feeling of “goodness” from different things. But in the end, every single person, no matter their political orientation, from the farthest reaches of the most extreme right to the deepest depths of the radical left, is, in the end, trying to satisfy the exact same basic human need to feel good about himself.
I would add that the basis of all ethics and morality is Survival. Even as some religious folk reject Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection, they are affected by it … and come out pretty well. There is a common error in presuming that “survival of the fittest” means the meanest and strongest will win, but in fact cooperation is one of the most powerful mechanisms that has been found to increase the survivability of an individual – and we only need to look at who has prospered to know who natural selection favors.
If you delve into the scriptures of successful religions, you might discover that the authors seem to have been obsessed with survival, not only of individuals but of family lines and of communities. Why do you think the Old Testament has those long lists of “begats”? The successful religion, the “true” religion, is the religion which helps its adherents to both survive and to thrive.
It was a surprise to me when I recognized this. It had always been there, but I had never noticed it – and on the surface the idea was anathema to those who best exemplified it. Once you have seen it, however, it is difficult to unsee it.
A great insight. Thank you.