Re: [Bulk] Re: [Bulk] Re: Objective morality?

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat Aug 26 2006 - 14:48:07 MDT

At 01:31 PM 8/26/2006 -0400, you wrote:
>Both memetic and genetic natural selection are inextricably interrelated.

You're talking to the guy who was writing about this since the mid 1980s.

>The homo-sapien cognitive architecture substrate results from the genetic
>natural selection of all human ancestry. This architecture defined the
>original social organization (mortality) of our primate forbears. Memetic
>natural selection comes into play and dominates the evolutionary
>replication process with the arrival of language (especially written

It's a bit hard to figure out how far back language came into play, though
genetic clocks on the area of the critical genes might give us a rough
date. But certainly written language came too late to have had a lot of
influence on hunter gatherer selected "morality" mechanism genes. Possibly
even spoken language came too late.

>However memes cannot remain successful replicators if they do not aid in
>the survival of the host's genes.

True. Consider Shakers and Mormons.

>For this reason memetic fitness is mostly a function of societies and not
>persons. A memetically fit cultural ethos is an ethos that can efficiently
>organize a society so that it can successfully compete against other
>societies for resources. With out a memetically fit ethos (morality) a
>society/culture degenerates and sufferers form being either absorbed by a
>more memetically fit culture or that society/culture will suffer from

I wish you would provide some examples where this happened. I just can't
get a grip on what you are saying without examples. Perhaps from "Guns,
Germs and Steel"?

>In the past more monolithic cultures would label any behaviour that does
>not conform to that cultures ethos as "immoral". And in many cases such
>persons would be put to death for their crimes.

Most of our evolution took place before agriculture when "culture"
circulated in the hunger gather band or at most a bunch of related
bands. If the few remaining examples of hunter gatherer life can be
extrapolated to the bulk of human evolution, then while violent death was
common, putting a band member to death for "crime" was rare. I would say
the very concept of crime comes way too late to have had much influence on
human evolution.

>These facts might lead one to the conclusion that morality both arises
>from, and acts upon, genetic evolution. Additionally one might conclude
>that "morality" is in a state of evolution -constantly changing as
>certain memes become more or less fit according to the pressures of
>natural selection.

If you used the term "political correctness" instead of "morality" I would
be more likely to agree with you.

I think the mental mechanisms that underlie our (flexible) sense of what is
moral are the result of stone age selection and are not going to be changed

The flexible part comes from environmental conditions. It is not
considered moral to steal or murder, but as we saw about a year ago, it
only takes a few days before people get hungry enough to steal and not much
more before murder would become common.

Keith Henson


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