Survival of the Moral-ist

Deontology is just your genetic instincts talking, and the only things your instincts care about are the strategies that caused your ancestors to successfully create you.

Deontology is usually defined as, “It’s moral because I say so!”

Before you laugh, try to explain why you don’t give your children up for adoption to a poor infertile couple that desperately wants children, and then send all of your now freed-up money to poor children in Africa.

“Because they are my children, you fucker,” I hear you thinking.

But wouldn’t net utility be higher, both for the couple (who would no doubt be very loving and kind to your children) and for the children in Africa?

Now you growl and reach for the nearest thing that could conceivably be used as a weapon. “MY CHILDREN.”

Consequentialism was a fairly solid stab at trying to figure out why people hold certain deontologic moral instincts, but being ignorant of genetics (until recently), sometimes turned up funny results that contradicted people’s instincts. Like the idea that you really should send as much money as possible to Africa.

Evolutionary theory provides a framework that makes people’s deontological claims make sense. “Morality” is just a sense we have evolved to help us distinguish between actions that will generally lead to your descendants existing and actions that generally won’t. People whose instincts led them to act contrary to their genetics’ interests just didn’t pass on their ideas about morality.

BIG NOTE: Different environments and tech levels will create different pressures on people that result in different moralities. When people from different cultures act differently, people are tempted to say, “those people are immoral,” but they may just have moral instincts that evolved to maximize survival under a different set of conditions.

For example, polygamy is viewed as morally acceptable in many warm or tropical parts of the world, while monogamy is strongly favored in colder parts. This may be a result of the environment favoring different crop-raising strategies–in the north, farmers had to employ intensive agricultural techniques to produce enough food to keep them alive over the long winters. One woman working alone had little hope of raising enough food to feed her children. By contrast, in places with little to no winter, a single woman could raise most of the food necessary to feed her children. With each woman more or less raising her children independently, one man could “afford” more wives–and so did, if he could. Taken far enough, men and women might not need to marry at all.

It’s a theory; someone could test it pretty easily.

By this conception, neither group is acting more morally–they just have different conditions.

If we apply this concept of morality–that when people say “moral,” they really mean, “in your genes’ interests,” a lot of things people say and do that sound nonsensical or hypocritical suddenly reveal an underlying logic. For example, if someone says, “drugs are immoral,” what they really mean is, “drugs have negative effects on your ability to raise children.” (People generally agree that drug use is fine if it enhances your ability to function, or at least does not impair it.) If someone says, “homosexuality is immoral,” what they really mean is, “gay sex doesn’t produce offspring.”

And you are not going to give up your children for adoption because historically, people who abandoned their children did not become your ancestors, because their children all died, and so you have a very strong instinct that kicks in and says DO NOT DO THIS NO MATTER WHAT.

As I noted earlier, liberals and conservatives (most likely) have a different pattern of genetic relatedness to others, leading to different approaches to morality. Conservative morality tends to benefit one’s immediate family, community, ethnos, nation, etc., in roughly concentric circles of obligation and commitment. Most conservatives have little moral concern for people outside their own group, but would die for the people they love. This is a result of the pressures of the environment conservatives are adapted to/were produced by.

Liberals have a different set of values, again, produced by the environment that produced them. Liberals tend to favor defining morality in terms of utilitarian calculi about the “greatest good,” which aids in the creation of large, economically complex societies where you can basically trust strangers not to fuck you over.

Of course, since liberals reproduce less than conservatives, there’s a good chance their morals will just be replaced by conservative morals–I don’t know how robust viral-meme liberalism will be as mitochondrial-meme liberalism collapses.


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