Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Conflicting Moral Traditions (3)

Morality and Traditions of the Micro Order
Hunter-gatherer societies with their communal moral traditions – altruism, submersion of the self, accepting and working toward communal aims, and acceptance of personal risk for the good of the troop – enabled modern humans to survive and our population to expand to all continents but Antarctica. These instinctive moral traditions, which can be called the behavioral traditions of the micro order (the system of interactions among members of a troop), seem to have been the sole mode of social organization for perhaps 90% of our species’ existence.

But small-group socialism has its drawbacks. Related troops familiar with each other get along as part of a larger “tribe” but an unknown group of people was any troop’s most dangerous enemy. Though an individual would be helpless, a dozen or so adults could deal with almost any predator - big cats, bears, even a pack of wolves – but an unknown troop of humans might have the wherewithal to annihilate the entire troop. Other humans would be as intelligent and as organized as the defenders.

It is likely that xenophobia is instinctive.

Consider: when Europeans finally found the Americas, there were people living at the bottom of South America, Tierra del Fuego, a miserable place to eke out a living, 15,000 miles from where people migrated across the Bering Sea. The Yaghan people evidently made the trip in about 5,000 years. Certainly they didn’t settle there because they liked the view: they moved there to escape attacks by other tribes further north.

Limited Applicability
The instinctive morality of the micro order, the socialism of the isolated troop, depend on all individuals being familiar with each other and each being assured that everyone else in the troop abides by the same morality.

Though necessary for survival in small groups of hunter-gatherers, the instinctive emotions don’t work for an extended range of interactions. We cannot be altruistic towards people we don’t know exist. We cannot unselfishly do things for the benefit of folks we’ve never met. We can’t pursue common ends with distant people without surrendering to a dictatorial power.

Successful interaction for mutual benefit with distant or unknown people (trade) depends on traditions and morality different from those of the micro order.

Trade enabled the feeding of more people. Trade moved useful items – e.g., flints, sinews for bow strings, hides and furs, foodstuffs – moved from places of abundance to people who could not find these things locally. People could spend more time gathering food rather than searching for needed items or travelling to where the items were available. A troop didn’t need to travel many miles to a quarry to get flint for tools and spear points, the flint would come to them.

Trade made fixed settlements possible and enabled the development and spread of agriculture.

Changes to the Old Instinctive Morality

To be widespread and successful, trade needs changes to the instinctive morality and traditions of small-group socialism that had served humans and our predecessors for millions of years.

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