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What, ultimately, is the basis for morality? In a comment on a previous post, fellow columnist Fred Reed argued that some things are self-evidently wrong, like torture and murder. No need to invoke the Ten Commandments or any religious tradition. Some things are just wrong. Period.

This is a respectable idea with a long lineage. It’s the argument of Natural Law. All people are born with a natural sense of right and wrong, and it is only later, through vice or degeneration, that some can no longer correctly tell the two apart.

The idea began with the Stoics of Ancient Greece. They believed that the universe is governed by laws and that everyone naturally wishes to live in harmony with them, thanks to the divine spark that exists in all of us. In reply, the Epicureans argued that the laws of the universe are indifferent to humans and their problems. We alone define right and wrong.

The Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) worked out a compromise that divided Natural Law into general precepts and secondary precepts. The former are known to all men but can be hindered “on account of concupiscence or some other passion.” The latter “can be blotted out from the human heart, either by evil persuasions [..] or by vicious customs and corrupt habits, as among some men, theft, and even unnatural vices, as the Apostle states (Rom. i), were not esteemed sinful” (Aquinas, Summa TheologicaI-II, Q. 94, Art. 6).

Aquinas lived at a time when Christian morality had already penetrated deeply into the hearts and minds of Europeans. It was continually being violated, of course, but violators typically knew they had done wrong and they typically tried to justify their wrongdoings on Christian grounds, or seek absolution. Aquinian Natural Law thus closely approximated moral reality, much as Newtonian physics would long remain a good approximation of physical reality.

Things changed from the 16th century on, as Christian Europe spread outward into Africa, Asia, and the Americas. It became evident that notions of right and wrong were not everywhere the same, or even similar. One example was sati, the Indian custom of burning a widow alive on her husband’s funeral pyre. Though supposedly voluntary, it usually involved the tying of her feet or legs to prevent escape. She could also be buried alive, as a 17th century traveler noted:

In most places upon the Coast of Coromandel, the Women are not burnt with their deceas’d Husbands, but they are buried alive with them in holes which the Bramins make a foot deeper than the tallness of the man and woman. Usually they chuse a Sandy place; so that when the man and woman both let down together, all the Company with Baskets of Sand fill up the hole about half a foot higher than the surface of the ground, after which they jump and dance upon it, till they believe the woman to be stiff’d. (Tavernier, 1678, p. 171; see also Sati, 2014)

When the British sought to ban the practice, they appealed to notions of right and wrong, but to no avail. Defenders of sati considered it right and even honorable. The debate was finally resolved by the logic of force, as set forth by the British commander-in-chief:

This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs! (Napier, 1851, p. 35)

Enlightenment thinkers attributed this custom and others like it to degeneration from an original state of goodness. Thus was born the idea of the Noble Savage. Yet this idea, too, came under attack with the realization that even simple “uncorrupted” societies may have very different attitudes toward human life, as seen in the torturing of captives, the abandonment of weak or deformed children, and the killing of old men and women:

The problems posed by limited resources and old peoples’ dependence are sometimes resolved in an extreme way: killing, abandoning, or exposure of the elderly—what anthropologists call gerontocide. Cross-cultural studies show that such treatment is more common than we might suppose. Maxell and Silverman found evidence of gerontocide in a little over 20% of 95 societies in a worldwide sample (Silverman, 1987). Glascock uncovered abandonment of the elderly in 9 of the 41 nonindustrial societies in his sample—and reports of killing old people in 14 of these societies.(Bengtson and Achenbaum, 1993, p. 110)

This kind of thing may seem unfortunate but justifiable among nomads. Sometimes, the elderly just have to be left behind. But we also see elder abandonment in sedentary peoples, like the Hopi of the American southwest:

As long as aged men controlled property rights, held special ceremonial offices, or were powerful medicine men, they were respected. But “the feebler and more useless they become, the more relatives grab what they have, neglect them, and sometimes harshly scold them, even permitting children to play rude jokes on them.” Sons might refuse to support their fathers, telling them, “You had your day, you are going to die pretty soon.” (Bengtson and Achenbaum, 1993, pp. 108-109)

Whenever such accounts come up at anthropological conferences, there is a certain malaise. Some will blame European contact for the devaluing of human life. Others, however, will present similar facts that often predate the coming of traders or missionaries. I remember one speaker who presented evidence of cannibalism at an Inuit site. This wasn’t an isolated case, such as might happen in extreme circumstances of starvation. There seemed to be an accumulation of human bones, of Indian origin, with cut marks on them. The findings were later published:

The remains of at least 35 individuals (women, children, and the elderly) were recovered from the Saunaktuk site (NgTn-1) in the Eskimo Lakes region of the Northwest Territories. Recent interpretations in the Arctic have suggested a mortuary custom resulting in dismemberment, defleshing, chopping, long bone splitting, and scattering of human remains. On the evidence from the Saunaktuk site, we reject this hypothesis. The Saunaktuk remains exhibit five forms of violent trauma indicating torture, mutilation, murder, and cannibalism. Apparently these people were the victims of long-standing animosity between Inuit and Amerindian groups in the Canadian Arctic. (Melbye and Fairgrieve, 1994)

When I talked with the speaker after his presentation, he seemed apprehensive. How would people react?

He needn’t have worried. The noble savage is still alive and well. Strangely enough, this kind of thinking has seeped even into the missionary mindset, as I discovered during my last few years at the United Church of Canada. I was surprised to learn just how little our mission work involved teaching of Christian morality:

“Do you talk to these people about the Christian faith?”
“Not unless they specifically request it.”
“Do you at least have Christian literature on display?”
“No, we’re not allowed to do that.”

Things aren’t much better in the fundamentalist churches. I remember attending a Pentecostal presentation on “the cause of Third World Poverty.” I thought the talk would focus on cultural values. Instead, we were told that the cause is … lack of infrastructure. The Third World is poor because it doesn’t have enough roads, bridges, and buildings.

The modern world has bought so much into the argument of Natural Law that the entire Christian enterprise now looks like a waste of time. There was no need for missionaries to fight barbaric customs, since there were no barbaric customs to be fought. All of that was one big misunderstanding. Christian mission work is now limited to good works, apparently in the belief that all humans share the same moral framework and that it’s enough to set a good example. If you act nice, other people will get the message and likewise act nice.

A hazardous assumption

Christianity has been killed by its success. It has so thoroughly imposed its norms of behavior that we now assume them to be human nature. If some people act contrary to those norms, it’s because they’re “sick” or “deprived.” Or perhaps something is misleading us and they’re really acting just like everyone else.

For two millennia, the Christian faith has profoundly shaped the culture of European peoples, allowing very little to escape its imprint. This is especially so in attitudes toward the taking of life. Beginning in the 11th century, the Church allied itself with the State to punish murder, which previously had been a private matter to be settled through revenge or compensation. At the height of this war on murder, between 0.5 and 1.0 % of all men of each generation were sentenced to death, and a comparable proportion of offenders died at the scene of the crime or in prison while awaiting trial. Meanwhile, homicide rates plummeted from between 20 and 40 per 100,000 in the late Middle Ages to between 0.5 and 1.0 in the mid-20th century (Eisner, 2001). The pool of violent men dried up until most murders occurred under conditions of jealousy, intoxication, or extreme stress. Yes, people got the message to act nice, but the message was not delivered nicely.

By pacifying social relations, Church and State also created a culture that rewarded men who got ahead through trade and hard work, rather than through force and plunder. It became easier to plan for the future and develop what came to be known as middle-class values: thrift, sobriety, and self-control. Popular tastes changed accordingly, as seen in the decline of cock fighting, bear and bull baiting, and other blood sports (Clark, 2007; Clark, 2009a; Clark, 2009b).

Were these changes in behavior purely cultural? Or was there also a steady removal of violent predispositions from the gene pool? It’s only now that a few scholars are beginning to ask such questions, let alone answer them.

Towards a new perspective …

The idea of Natural Law is true up to a point. All humans have to face certain common problems that have to be solved in more or less the same way. Kinship, for instance, matters in all human societies, at least traditional ones. Marriage and family are likewise universal.

But even these “universals” vary a lot. There are many kinds of kinship systems, including some with relatively weak kinship and a correspondingly stronger sense of individualism. Mating systems likewise vary a lot. Monogamy makes sense in non-tropical societies where the mother cannot feed her children by herself, particularly in winter. It makes less sense where the mother can provide for her children with minimal assistance.

Human societies similarly differ in their treatment of murder. There is a general tendency to limit the taking of human life, but the variability is considerable. In some societies, murder is so rare that instances of it are thought to be pathological. The murderer is said to be “sick.” In other societies, every adult male has the right to use violence to settle personal disputes, even to the point of killing. If he abdicates that right, he’s no longer a real man.

The same “problem” will thus be solved in different ways in different places. Over time, each society will develop a “solution” that favors the survival and reproduction of certain people with a certain personality type and certain predispositions. So there is no single human nature, any more than a single Natural Law. Instead, there are many human natures with varying degrees of overlap.

… and the take-home message?

While certain notions of right and wrong can apply to all humans, much of what we call “morality” will always be population-dependent. What is moral in one population may not be in another.

Take public nudity, particularly of the female kind. This is less of a problem in places like Finland where polygyny is rare and sexual rivalry among men less intense. It’s more of a problem where the polygyny rate is higher but men still have to invest a lot in their offspring. In such a setting, men will be more jealous, more fearful of cuckoldry, and more insistent on measures to ensure exclusive sexual access. Such insistence can lead to extreme practices like sati. More generally, it leads to demands for modesty in female dress.

This is not to condone the dress codes that prevail in some countries, but we should try to understand the circumstances that give rise to them. Above all, there are limits to what we can impose on other societies. While sati has no justification anywhere on this planet, there may be practices that are warranted in some societies but not in others.

References

Aquinas, T. (1265-1274). Summa Theologica, Part I-II (Pars Prima Secundae) From the Complete American Edition, Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Project Gutenberg
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/17897/pg17897.html

Bengtson, V.L. and W.A. Achenbaum. (1993).The Changing Contract across Generations, Transaction publ.

Clark, G. (2007). A Farewell to Alms. A Brief Economic History of the World, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Clark, G. (2009a). The indicted and the wealthy: Surnames, reproductive success, genetic selection and social class in pre-industrial England.
http://www.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/gclark/Farewell%20to%20Alms/Clark%20-Surnames.pdf

Clark, G. (2009b). The domestication of man: The social implications of Darwin. ArtefaCTos, 2, 64-80.
http://campus.usal.es/~revistas_trabajo/index.php/artefactos/article/viewFile/5427/5465

Eisner, M. (2001). Modernization, self-control and lethal violence. The long-term dynamics of European homicide rates in theoretical perspective, British Journal of Criminology, 41, 618-638.
http://bjc.oxfordjournals.org/content/41/4/618.short

Melbye, J. and S.I. Fairgrieve. (1994). A massacre and possible cannibalism in the Canadian Arctic: New evidence from the Saunaktuk site (NgTn-1), Arctic Anthropology, 31, 57-77.
http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40316364?uid=3739448&uid=2&uid=3737720&uid=4&sid=21104564497747

Napier, W. (1851). The History of General Sir Charles Napier’s Administration of Scinde: And Campaign in the Cutchee Hills, London: Charles Westerton.

Sati (practice). (2014). Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sati_(practice)

Tavernier, J-B. (1678).The six voyages of John Baptista Tavernier, London: R.L. and M.P.

(Republished from Evo and Proud by permission of author or representative)
 
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  1. What happened to the “empathy” meme discussed in Frost’s “Dear Fred” essay? Is it dismissed as inapplicable? There was a moderate effort in that essay to assign some degree of evolutionary advantage to empathy. All gone?

    • Replies: @Oldeguy
  2. jtgw says:

    I wouldn’t say Christianity has been entirely victorious. While its teachings on violence may be more or less taken for granted today, its teachings on sexual restraint have catastrophically failed to persuade anybody. Obviously, in our modern, technologically advanced culture, certain Christian teachings are better received than others, so we can’t explain current dogmas in social science as simply an artifact of social science’s origins in Christian or post-Christian cultures.

    Also, saying that different cultures have different moral standards does not necessarily tell you that there are different human natures, i.e. different sets of innate moral intuitions; it also supports the mainstream anthropological belief that there is no human nature, i.e. there are no innate moral intuitions, but rather we are born as blank slates and acquire our moral intuitions from the culture we are raised in. I’m surprised that anthropologists seem so shocked to discover facts that support their premises, but perhaps you are right that they still take certain Christian moral precepts too much for granted.

    Finally, none of this disproves natural law, because proponents of that theory point out that, along with our innate moral senses, we have innate sinful passions that work against our moral senses. To couch this in more secular terms, we have instincts to look out for ourselves and instincts to look out for others, but we can’t predict precisely when one instinct will win out over the other in any given situation. The competition between the two sets of intuitions results in behavioral variation both at the individual and group level: one culture may elevate our innate respect for human life to such an extent that abortion is seen as taboo, while other cultures may privilege our more selfish instincts and sanction not only abortion, but infanticide, gerontocide and even genocide against other tribes. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t all born with the same set of both instincts.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  3. jeczaja says: • Website

    Yes, there is a “human nature.” Donald Brown list 200 traits we have in common in Human Universals. Don’t confuse customs with human nature. For example, let’s say admiration for loyalty to loved ones is part of human nature.

    The practice of following a husband into the next world can be interpreted as demonstrating loyalty to loved ones. He’ll be lost in the next world without his wife. I disagree heartily with that interpretation, but the basic idea of loyalty is universal.

    You can look at differences between peoples (like anthropologists tend to do) or look at similarities (like psychologists tend to do) and come up with completely different conclusions. We all have a piece of the puzzle-we will come closer when we combine those pieces.

  4. Fan says:

    Brilliant essay.

  5. JustJeff says:

    Humanity is a social construct.

    • Replies: @Drain52
  6. Morality is ultimately an argument from authority. As the essay shows, it is not valid to argue from the “is” to the “ought.” That is, you cannot derive any conclusions about what people ought to do by observing what they actually do.

    Neither is it logically valid to argue from our wishes to an imperative. Your neighbor is not morally bound to oblige your desires merely because you have desires. Perhaps the lamest argument for morality is the esteemed Dr. Fred’s argument that morality “just is.” Some may call that natural law, but it isn’t law at all since it’s just hanging there as one of the brute facts of the universe which we can ignore if we choose, just as I ignore the asteroid belt.

    Once we recognize that law as law presupposes a moral authority, then we can get on to the next question: Since our most basic human instincts do feature an undeniable moral component, the question is whether this results from a real authority who has built it into human nature, or whether it’s just another genetic happenstance with no significance beyond the temporary arrangement of our genes.

    If it’s the former, then we should dig into that and find out who this moral Author is. If it’s the latter, then there is no such thing as a moral law at all.

    • Replies: @Bill
  7. Sean says:

    “The same “problem” will thus be solved in different ways in different places. Over time, each society will develop a “solution” that favors the survival and reproduction of certain people with a certain personality type and certain predispositions.”

    Liberals’ starting point in reasoning is always predicated on a society with no such particular version of a problem. A morality that is useful for the genetic or other interests of those who promote it has what WEIRD liberal society sees as a fatal flaw, and the earmark of fake morality. Real rational morality is supposed by liberals to be independent of tradition and biology. Conversely, they see opponents as having arbitrarily selected a morality that lets them pursue their own interests.

    The WEIRD see their morality as the only real morality, because they think following it tragically handicaps them in the struggles of life. Moreover, there is a great deal of resistance among intellectuals to the belief that self aware deliberative thought is actually useful in the struggle for life. That is how far they are from accepting Darwin.

  8. Stogumber says:

    Human will is a universal condition. All people understand what it means to act against another person’s will. Insofar everyone understands the difference between benevolence and malevolence.

    If power structures are very stable, people can ignore the will of their underlings. If power structures are indefinite or flexible, people need a kind of agreement; that’s when the Golden Rule was invented – which is not universal, but much more widespread than Christianity.

    There are degressive/pessistimist and progressive/optimist variants of the Golden Rule. The progressive variant formulated in the Gospel (be as nice, as you want the other to be) was not meant as a recipe for worldly success; it was never expected that every other would effectively react nicely.

    Mr. Frost’s idea that Christianity and the State must be combined to a kind of enlightened tyranny is unspeakably ugly and definitely not Christian.

    • Replies: @Oldeguy
  9. Jay says:

    Of course there is a natural law, just look to physics. Whether such applies to human behavior is the question, however, and I am in the camp that believes it does only to the extent of bodily function, birth, death, aging, etc. As for the rest, that which is referred to as morality, well this old topic has engaged philosophers and those with a philosophical bent ever since ever. I suspect “morality” as an intrinsic condition is simply a human construct that is dependent upon time and place and tradition. Cui bono? In the US, the “instructed conscious” benefited an emerging WASP elite in the early days of the Republic, an elite that did not wish to waste what were believed to have been limited natural resources while simultaneously taming the s0-called natural instincts of the un- or under instructed. Some people could not be instructed, however, as they were not fully human in any meaningful way; such was similar to the “barboi” of ancient Greece. I suspect this pattern is repeated throughout the history of the human race, taking into account the uniqueness of any group’s social evolution. So no, there is no universal natural law as applied to human behavior. Thomas Aquinas was simply wrong, as was Aristotle. Education, tradition, and social evolution conspire to create a belief that natural law morality exists, yet this is but a human consensus predicated upon a desire to achieve human perfection in imitation of “the gods.” Old stuff, indeed!

  10. One of the most basic tenets of Christianity is pacifism yet it is probably true to say that more blood has been shed, more wickedness done, in Jesus’ name than any other – and this continues today. So if we talk about the “success” of Christianity we must accept that it could never have happened without the shedding of a whole lot of blood.

    And, if such an overtly pacifist doctrine could become so perverted, what does that say about natural law? Fundamentally we are seeing a playing out of human psychology – of contending egos – and I very much doubt Christianity has done that much to shape the course of history – meaning to say that if Jesus had not been available for his name to be invoked, then some other bloke would have come along instead to do a similar job; with a similar number of dead people.

    • Replies: @pyrrhus
  11. pyrrhus says:
    @Augustus Finkin

    No, pacifism is not a tenet of Christianity, except for a few small sects. And no, only about 6% of wars are religious, so the stuff about shedding more blood in Jesus’s name is not even remotely correct. Wars get fought over real estate, power and loot, for the most part, then and now.

  12. Ed says:

    I agree with Jay. This is one area where St. Thomas Acquinas was simply incorrect. There is no natural law, just societies learning through hard experience that some actions are usually really destructive and how to keep people from doing them.

    The essay at one point positively refers putting “0.5% to 1” of men in each generation (without citing a sources for this, um, fact), but of course punishment is not exempt from the process of experience. Over time societies learn which punishments effectively curb bad behavior and which throw gasoline on the fire. If your objective is to reduce killing, having the government go around killing lots of people is a bad start.

  13. Oldeguy says:
    @Stogumber

    I don’t think that Mr. Frost is trying to promote any form of Christianity, as such, at all. I found it very helpful to read the links provided, particularly “Clark2009b” in order to understand where Mr. Frost is coming from. As I understand him, he is definitely NOT positing an inborn universal moral code throughout all of Mankind but rather a set of traits and inclinations which are the product of an increased rate of Evolution beginning with the Agricultural Revolution ( see Cochran and Hapending’s The 10,000 Year Explosion and Clark’s A Farewell to Alms ). Human Nature is not static- the Nature of some Human Groups has changed.

  14. Kamran says:

    Hello Dr. Frost,

    I am a reader and admirer of your writing from iran, I was wondering if you had any advice on constructing itelligent society and selecting for intelligent population? What kind of incentive must be created?

  15. Since “natural law” of ANY kind is decided by … drum roll … humans and since humans do the darndest things, I’d say run like heck from anybody who’s says that natural law exists and that he/she knows what these natural laws are.

    I guess the founding fathers had the idea of natural rights or laws but they weren’t chiseled into the side of any New England mountain either.

    Human sacrifice could be (actually, has been) proclaimed natural law … and the Muslims are still stoning women to death.

    You can SAY that natural laws exist but WHO DECIDES.

    Are the Bible thumpers big on natural law? If so, we can start citing verses from Leviticus.

  16. Oldeguy says:
    @John Jeremiah Smith

    If I understand your question, I believe the issue is addressed in one of the links provided ( Clark2009b ) and in Mr. Frosts prior response. Empathy tends to discourage individual violence and the Church and State in Europe united about 1,000 years ago in a prolonged effort to inhibit personal violence via generous use of capital punishment. Anything that inhibited acting out in a violent manner ( such as empathy ) would increase the chances of handing down the trait in one’s genes to the descendant’s one was therefore allowed to reproduce as opposed to the empathy lacking hot heads who were hanged. Did I miss something ( always a possibility ) ?

  17. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Folks that are ignorant of and therefore do not adapt physical laws will live impoverished lives. Likewise, to the extant that a culture has discovered and incorporated natural law will determine the ultimate success of that culture.

  18. vinteuil says: • Website

    “…the argument of Natural Law [is that] All people are born with a natural sense of right and wrong, and it is only later, through vice or degeneration, that some can no longer correctly tell the two apart.

    “The idea began with the Stoics of Ancient Greece. They believed that the universe is governed by laws and that everyone naturally wishes to live in harmony with them, thanks to the divine spark that exists in all of us.”

    Hmmm…I always associated “Natural Law” with Aristotle’s “functionalist” argument in Book I Chapter 7 of the Nicomachean Ethics, according to which man, like each type of man & each part of a man, has a natural telos, that the good for man is to fulfill his telos well, that a good man is a man who fulfills his telos well, &c.

    But, looking at the Wikipedia article on “Natural Law,” it seems that Peter Frost is right, and the phrase is more correctly reserved for this comparatively silly doctrine of the stoics.

    Live & learn.

    • Replies: @Bill
  19. Sean says:

    “While certain notions of right and wrong can apply to all humans, much of what we call “morality” will always be population-dependent. What is moral in one population may not be in another..”

    Not if you subtract teleology and traditional hierarchies. Morality since the Enlightenment is surely resting on logic divorced from any considerations that are particularistic (and thus not capable of being universal).

    We moderns can’t justify doing things just because our natural instinct to flourish genetically and socially in a particular society impels us to. Anything moral in the modern west has to be justifiable on a plane of logic that is above and beyond any actual particularisms.

  20. Peter Frost says: • Website

    John,

    When I wrote this essay, I originally intended to add a section on empathy. I changed my mind because:

    – the essay was already too long
    – the idea of empathy is implicit in Christian doctrine, i.e., the Golden Rule
    – many people have trouble understanding the concept.

    A lot of people think empathy means blindly doing good to everybody. It doesn’t. Empathetic people are concerned about what is going on in other people’s minds. If they don’t like what they see and judge that person to be morally worthless, they will try to exclude him or her from the community. The witch hunters of New England were very empathetic.

    Jonathan,

    Most postwar liberals felt that sexual liberalization would produce more stable marriages, i.e., unhappy marriages would be dissolved and replaced by happy marriages. Many are starting to realize that reality isn’t so simple, but it’s not clear to them what the alternative would be. Most of what passes for social conservatism isn’t an alternative. Modern conservatism like modern liberalism has become a sensibility that runs on automatic pilot.

    “This doesn’t mean that we aren’t all born with the same set of both instincts.”

    A lot of people feel the way you do, i.e., we’re all the same and circumstances push us in different directions. This isn’t true for two reasons:
    – variation is substantially heritable for most mental and behavioral traits. We know this from a large number of twin studies
    – these traits vary in their adaptive importance according to the cultural environment, and each cultural environment favors the survival and reproduction of certain people over others.
    – human genetic evolution has been much faster over the past 10,000 years than over the previous 100,000. This was not a time when we were adapting to different physical environments. We were adapting to different cultural environments. If people look different because they have adapted to different climates, they must also be mentally different because they have adapted to different ways of life.

    This is a tough conclusion to digest. I don’t expect you to accept it, at least not easily.

    Jecjaza,

    I’m not sure we disagree. You’re saying different human populations differ in degree and not in kind. That’s my position.

    Fan,

    Thx!

    JustJeff,

    Agreed.

    Sean,

    I think many of the most serious problems of liberalism can be resolved on the basis of liberal principles. The most serious problem is the inversion of the double standard. In the past, liberals had no problem judging other cultures by a higher standard. Now, they tend not only to abolish the double standard but actually to reverse it (in order to make up for past wrongs). That sort of thinking is suicidal. And illiberal.

    Stogumber,

    “Mr. Frost’s idea that Christianity and the State must be combined to a kind of enlightened tyranny is unspeakably ugly and definitely not Christian.”

    Good golly! Did I write that???

    I wish we could go back to the “ugly” Christianity of Thomas Aquinas. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem possible. As for modern Christianity, it’s terminally stupid. I have my own ideas, but they involve gentle persuasion and not tyranny.

    Jay,

    I agree with most of what you say, except for the allusion to physics. The social sciences have been ruined by physics-envy.

    Augustus,

    Neither the Old nor the New Testament says that killing is wrong. (“Thou shalt not kill” is a bad translation. The Hebrew word corresponds more to the idea of unlawful killing). We must be willing to kill to defend ourselves and our loved ones. Anyone who says otherwise is a false Christian.

    Barchester,

    Yes, many “religious wars” had other motives, and it’s naïve to think that a post-religious world will be less bloody.

    Ed,

    About 0.5% to 1% of all men in each generation were being executed by 1500 in England and Flanders, see:
    Savey-Casart, P. (1968). La peine de mort. Geneva: Librairie Droz.
    Taccoen, L. (1982). L’Occident est nu, Paris: Flammarion, p. 52.

    Oldeguy,

    Yes, I’m just trying to describe why we got to where we are today. I doubt we could recreate the conditions described by Gregory Clark in a modern society.

    Nazimyan,

    I’m not familiar with Iran but I think all countries should have some kind of demographic/genetic policy. Russia and Israel are good examples to follow. I would recommend the following points:

    – government policy should provide incentives for births to stable middle-class couples. Conversely, there should be disincentives in cases where there is no father or where the couple is unable or unwilling to plan for the future
    – adoption should be discouraged and international adoption should be prohibited
    – surrogacy should be made available to infertile couples.

    Beyond that, I have serious problems with too much State intervention. For one thing, I don’t trust the State to make the right decisions. For another, most couples are able to make the right decisions.

    Tom,

    Natural Law is a problem for both modern Christians and modern post-Christians. Both tend to believe that everyone is basically the same. Just give people enough love and they’ll turn out all right.

    Oldeguy,

    Yes and no. In the 11th century, the Church came around to the idea that the wicked should be killed so that the good may live in peace. At that time, Christians were motivated by concern for the victims of murderers, who were very numerous. The victims were often defenceless people who were literally killed for fun. That situation reversed itself in the 18th century because the homicide rate had fallen about 40-fold, with the result that most murders took place in extreme circumstances. The murderer on death row became an object of pity, and perhaps rightly so.

    Today, we are moving back to the 11th century, and most of us are clueless about what is going on.

    • Replies: @Southfarthing
  21. Bill says:
    @Bro. Steve

    Morality is ultimately an argument from authority. As the essay shows, it is not valid to argue from the “is” to the “ought.” That is, you cannot derive any conclusions about what people ought to do by observing what they actually do.

    No. The only thing we have to argue from is the “is,” so if it is wrong to argue from the “is” to the “ought,” then it is wrong to argue to the “ought,” period. Just as the claim “no correlation from causation” is a simple denial of the possiblity of science, the claim “no ought from is” is a simple denial of the possibility of morality. In practice, of course, we only use these nonsense phrases to argue against conclusions we don’t like on other grounds, so they are not so much nihilism as shielding skepticism.

  22. Bill says:
    @vinteuil

    Hmmm…I always associated “Natural Law” with Aristotle’s “functionalist” argument in Book I Chapter 7 of the Nicomachean Ethics, according to which man, like each type of man & each part of a man, has a natural telos, that the good for man is to fulfill his telos well, that a good man is a man who fulfills his telos well, &c.

    You, St Thomas Acquinas, and practically every actually existing natural lawyer.

    • Replies: @Bill
  23. Bill says:
    @Bill

    Again, I can’t edit the comment. Obviously, Aquinas doesn’t have a “c.”

  24. iffen says:

    gerontocide Now we have a name for our practice of abandoning our elderly to face the benefits of diversity all by themselves.

  25. Is there any valid law – natural or otherwise – if violations of it are possible?

    If you believe that there are any legitimate instances of law, then neither can this argument be used against natural law.

  26. HA says:

    “[Christianity’s] teachings on sexual restraint have catastrophically failed to persuade anybody.”

    That is a ridiculous exaggeration. The stigma attached to prostitution (especially temple prostitution), concubinage, pederasty, and sex slavery in cultures inhabited or colonized by Christians are widely divergent in comparison with what came before (or what takes place in, say, the Islamic world). Being raised in a monogamous household is seen even by atheists as inversely correlated to future dysfunction. Strippers and prostitutes, even among their enthusiasts, are commonly regarded as products of poor fatherhood. Contraception is widely flouted, obviously, but the consequent reduction in fertility is itself regarded as a kind of pathology in the West, to the extent that conservative evangelical sects which were once carefree about contraception and abortion have in recent years converged to Catholic positions. In some ways, the culture has become far more sexually permissive, but in other ways, things are as puritanical as they ever were (even if only by way of hypocrisy).

  27. jtgw says:

    @Peter Frost:

    Here’s one thing I don’t get. If culture follows from genes, how is it possible for people to switch cultures before their genes have had a chance to change? How did pagan Anglo-Saxons who loved killing each other manage to change their behavior when they became Christian? They must have done so, since, as you argue, the later changes to less violent behavior could only come about as a response to the change in culture, which in turn must have happened while the English were still genetically predisposed to anti-Christian behavior. Clearly they had the potential to become less violent, even if it was more difficult for them at first. And that, I think, is what natural law is really about: it refers to the potential of any human being to act morally. It’s not a statement about how they actually will behave, or even about how difficult it is for them, which may well vary from person to person (and almost certainly does so vary). Being strongly tempted to commit murder is not the same as being unable to stop oneself from doing so, and that I think is the crucial distinction we must make.

  28. Stogumber says:

    By the way, could we please compare England with other countries. For example, people in the Congo seem to be rather prone to kill each other even now. So, did the native kings – or did the Belgian colonial administration – do a bad job, insofar as they executed too little a number of men (in order to eliminate their dangerous genes)?

    But the native kings and the Belgian administration seem to have been rather eager to execute.

    • Replies: @Eric Rasmusen
  29. To be fair to old Thomas, what he meant by “general precepts” was probably less expansive than one might imagine. If you want to know what he meant, you have to roll back from question 94 to question 1-5 of the Second Part, which tried to answer “why do we do what we do?”

    That answer is: Our common human nature is to seek things we have identified as “good”. Things that are “good” complete or prefect us. There is a lot of intervening work trying to determine what completes or perfects us. Thomas based his conclusions on the biology and psychology of his day (questions 22-48). This information is now 700 years out of date. However, it tends to be surprisingly good when one sees what he meant.

    If you continue to question 94 but then stop at article 4, you will note that Thomas stops to answer the question: Does everyone agree on what exactly we should do? The short answer is no. The longer answer is we all agree that we ought to do good and avoid evil, but all the complications in the preceding 93 questions make for a lot of disagreement on practical matters.

  30. Sean says:

    “How did pagan Anglo-Saxons who loved killing each other manage to change their behavior when they became Christian? They must have done so, since, as you argue, the later changes to less violent behavior could only come about as a response to the change in culture, which in turn must have happened while the English were still genetically predisposed to anti-Christian behavior. ”

    If one of their kin was killed, Anglo Saxons had a obligation to avenge their kinsman by killing his killer, whose death would in turn require avenging by his own kin. So people may have wanted to kill but they knew that was very risky. Where your kinsman could get you involved in a vendetta, you didn’t wanted them to start something, and everyone was taught to be polite. Now we have no redress to being insulted.

    “But the native kings and the Belgian administration seem to have been rather eager to execute”

    Well the Norman Conquest was not that different to the what King Leopold did in the Congo. If the Congo had tight local control and punitive measures for law-breakers which lasted hundreds of years, it would surely be a less violent place. (Although political violence is quite a different thing to individual criminal violence.) Native chiefs are likely focused on killing those who are rival alpha male types.

  31. Ed says:

    “About 0.5% to 1% of all men in each generation were being executed by 1500 in England and Flanders, see: Savey-Casart, P. (1968). La peine de mort. Geneva: Librairie Droz.
    Taccoen, L. (1982). L’Occident est nu, Paris: Flammarion, p. 52.”

    Thanks for coming up with the sources. However, Tudor England, using modern terminology, was a police state (the English had also just come through a civil war where being on the losing side at the time generally got you executed). Its not good to extrapolate from there to everywhere in medieval Western Europe. Its sort of looking at 1930s Russia and then drawing conclusions on how industrial societies are run generally.

    The Byzantines, for example, went out of there way to avoid putting people to death. Maybe this isn’t a good example because they weren’t “Western”, but they were definitely Christian.

    • Replies: @Sean
  32. Sean says:
    @Ed

    “The Byzantines, for example, went out of their way to avoid putting people to death.”

    Yes it got so, but there was also an assertion of State authority over that of the Church (ie Byzantine Iconoclasm – “relics thrown into the sea … Monks were apparently forced to parade in the Hippodrome, each hand-in-hand with a woman, in violation of their vows”). Iconoclasm came after major reverses at the hands of Islam.

    It is an open question if the west can see the need for a rethink of morality. All the indications are we will get what George Santayana wrote about in his novel The Last Puritan:- “So America’s contribution to the universal “democratic capitalism” of the future . . . will be just this: cheapness, the cheapest music and the cheapest comic books and the cheapest morality that can be provided. This indeed would be the revolution of revolutions, the Gehenna of universal monotony and mediocrity. This is Cyrus P. Whittle, telling himself that not only is America the biggest thing on earth, but America is soon going to wipe out everything else;…”

  33. Peter Frost says: • Website

    Jonathan,

    There is a co-evolution between culture and genes. Think of it as three stages:

    1) Individuals adhere to a desired behavior through conscious effort, within an envelope of possibilities allowed by their genetic endowment;
    2) These actions create a new cultural environment, which in turn selects for genotypes that more easily produce the desired behavior. A heritable predisposition increasingly takes over from conscious effort;
    3) The result is a shift toward a new mean genotype and a new envelope of possible phenotypes.

    “Clearly they had the potential to become less violent, even if it was more difficult for them at first.”

    Exactly.

    “And that, I think, is what natural law is really about: it refers to the potential of any human being to act morally”

    No, humans can push their envelope of possibilities in many different directions. So your reasoning would lead to many different systems of “natural law”.

    If you had written “Christian law” I would have agreed with you.

    Stogumber,

    You cannot accomplish much genetic change in one generation. In any case, the Congo Free State was indiscriminate in its actions. It was a rogue state.

    Benjamin,

    Yes, Aquinas had a good handle on reality, for his time and for the kind of society he lived in.

    Sean,

    Yes, there was a balance of terror that helped keep violent behavior in check. Its main flaw was that violent males felt no inhibition against assaulting or killing “soft targets”, i.e., men and women of low social status with no powerful kinfolk. This was a big reason why the Church came around to the idea of capital punishment for all acts of murder.

    Ed,

    The best data come from England and Flanders, but the situation was similar throughout Western Europe. With the consolidation of State power in the 11th century, there was a widespread tendency for the State to impose a monopoly on the use of violence … and to execute anyone who defied that monopoly.

    Christianity is not monolithic. The “medieval synthesis” of the late Middle Ages was quite different from the Christianity that came before and the Christianity that came after. As for the Byzantine Empire, there had already been a long process of genetic pacification at work during pre-Christian times. The Byzantines had already inherited a profoundly pacified population, as seen in their reliance on foreign mercenaries.

  34. vinteuil says: • Website

    @Bill – thanks for reassuring me that I more or less knew what I was talking about, all this time, teaching ethical theory at a Jesuit University.

  35. @Peter Frost

    A lot of people think empathy means blindly doing good to everybody. It doesn’t. Empathetic people are concerned about what is going on in other people’s minds. If they don’t like what they see and judge that person to be morally worthless, they will try to exclude him or her from the community. The witch hunters of New England were very empathetic.

    Most sources describe empathy as “putting oneself in others’ shoes” and gaining greater ability to work toward the common good for mutual benefit.

    One of the reasons Christian Europe was able to build the greatest societies is because of its high empathy. Iraq and ISIS are in last place for empathy. Shia and Sunni militants kill each other because they lack the self-awareness to put themselves in each others’ shoes. I’m sure both Shia and Sunni Islam are pretty good.

    Same goes for Brazilian soccer players who behead the referee for a bad call. Was he really evil, or were his actions understandable from his perspective so that he can be reasoned with?

    Russia’s also pretty low in empathy, with ultra-high crime rates and corruption, and their country thus loses many talented sons and daughters to the West.

    (If only we could have high empathy + rational immigration policies…)

  36. @Stogumber

    Eager to execute, maybe, but not effective. That’s the key. The Belgians did kill a lot of people, but you weren’t much safer being innocent than being a murderer– indeed, everyone’s horizon became very short-term.

  37. The post caught my eye because I’m teaching a bit of this in my regulation class today. Here’s a good quote from David Friedman’s law and economics book:

    “As we develop the economic analysis of law we will observe a surprising correspondence between justice and efficiency.justice and efficiency. In many cases, principles we think of as just correspond fairly closely to rules that we discover are efficient. Examples range from “thou shalt not steal” to “the punishment should fit the crime” to the requirement that criminal penalties be imposed only after proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This suggests a radical conjecture—that what we call principles of justice may actually be rules of thumb for producing an efficient outcome, rules we have somehow internalized. Whether that is a sufficient account of justice you will have to decide for yourself.”

    Since even animals have innate motivators, shouldn’t humans? We have God’s special purposes for us, in addition, though you might not grant that. What you *would* grant is that unlike animals, we’re smart enough to rationalize making our self-interest suppress our natural morality. Everyone knows it’s wrong to murder an old lady and steal her money, but if the external penalty is low enough and you can get away with it, it’s worth persuading yourself that you’re a special case. In the case of certain Indian tribes, this became a custom. I bet they still felt guilty— but maybe those extra tent poles were worth a bit of guilt over old Auntie’s premature death, especially if all the others tell you it was an OK thing to do.

    • Replies: @Sean
  38. jtgw says:

    Is there evidence for low empathy among Russians before the Revolution? While genes certainly play a role, don’t forget that culture influences people’s behavior directly, as well as political and social institutions and the economy. There’s lots of good evidence that Communism affected people’s behavior and moral intuitions for the worse, but it didn’t last long enough to change the gene pool significantly; all these other genetic changes mentioned here took about a thousand years to work themselves out.

    And if Russians turn out to have had low empathy even before the Revolution, how do we explain this? They had been Christian for a thousand years, so why didn’t they evolve to be like Englishmen?

    • Replies: @reiner Tor
  39. Sean says:
    @Eric Rasmusen

    It is easy to unmask any traditional morality as self interest, because a morality that was genuinely inefficient would have disappeared with the people who created it. For example, a tribe that was too moral for killing the old or useless would not be as efficient in converting food resources into hunters mothers ( and warriors). So it would inevitably fade away, or be crushed .

    If nothing is totally good but a good will, the good man may not be successful in the world. Once you abandon the idea that the good will be crowned with worldly success, it is easy to have universal morality. And you can unmask all other morality. All you have to do is abandon the telos, and do whatever is right for its own sake.
    ————

    The Stoics believed in natural law, but they also believed :-
    “The standard to which a rightly acting will must conform is that of the law which is embodied in nature itself, of the cosmic order nature itself. Virtue is thus conformity to natural law both in internal disposition and external act. That law is one and the same for all human beings, it has nothing to do with local particularity or circumstance. The good man is a citizen of the universe, his relation to all other collectivities, to city, kingdom or empire is secondary and accidental. Stoicism thus invites us to stand against the world of physical and political circumstance at the same time as it requires us to act in conformity with nature. There are symptoms of paradox here and they are not misleading. For on the one hand virtue finds purpose and point outside itself: to live well is to live the divine life, to live well is to serve not one’s private purposes. Yet in each individual case to do what is right is to act without any eye to any further purpose at all, it is do whatever is right for its own sake.” (After Virtue)

  40. jtgw says:

    I think I would still say natural law exists, but it is obscured by the corruption of the world and the corruption in our own natures. When people deny natural law, however, I fear that they deny the good in people entirely and only see the corruption. Yes, people are different, and some are born worse than others. But just as no one is totally free of corruption, so also no one is totally subject to it. If the pagans had no access to natural law, they could not have been persuaded to become Christian, since it would have been too foreign. Conversion is only possible if there is some grace already present that one can work with. The pagans must have had some inkling that their own system and culture were insufficient and that Christianity offered something better. If natural law did not exist, if the pagans had no instincts, however obscure, that matched what the Church taught more clearly, there is no reason to think they would have saw any benefit in Christianity at all.

  41. There is little doubt that most of what passes as morality is culturally determined. To conclude however that this means that there is no natural law that humanity must abide by is a huge mistake. History is a story of failed societies who made that mistake.

    • Replies: @Sean
  42. Sean says:
    @clearpoint

    WHY White should have failed to notice the formative influence of American religion on the Captain’s mission of fighting evil is an interesting question. Part of the explanation may be the professional deformation of academic philosophy. Especially in America, contemporary philosophy is obsessively secular; showing any unduly sympathetic interest in religion is a quick way of committing career suicide.”

  43. Peter Frost says: • Website

    Eric,

    “Everyone knows it’s wrong to murder an old lady and steal her money”

    False.

    “I bet they still felt guilty— but maybe those extra tent poles were worth a bit of guilt over old Auntie’s premature death, especially if all the others tell you it was an OK thing to do.”

    You’re assuming we all have the same horror of murder, torture, and abandonment, and that it is only through rationalization and denial that some of us overcome such negative feelings.

    You don’t know your fellow man. The capacity for guilt varies even among individuals who belong to the same society. Many healthy people feel no guilt whatsoever when they inflict pain on others. I hope you never encounter one of those types.

    “if Russians turn out to have had low empathy even before the Revolution, how do we explain this? They had been Christian for a thousand years, so why didn’t they evolve to be like Englishmen?”

    Empathy seems to belong to a mental/behavioral complex that varies clinally across Europe, with the highest values being north and west of the Hajnal line (an imaginary line running approximately from Trieste to St. Petersburg). I have argued that this clinal variation has its origins in the Mesolithic, specifically among hunter-fisher-gatherers along the North Sea and Baltic coasts. Unlike other hunter-gatherers, they were able to achieve high population densities because of their access to marine resources. Every summer, they would form large coastal agglomerations where kinship obligations were insufficient as a mechanism to enforce social rules. There was thus strong selection for internal mental mechanisms (guilt, empathy) rather than for external social mechanisms (shame, peer pressure, community surveillance).

    Northwest Europeans were thus pre-adapted for later cultural developments, notably the rise of complex State societies, Christianity, and the market economy. They were better able to exploit these new cultural contexts where kinship was no longer the main organizing principle.

    I’ve written about this in previous posts. see: http://evoandproud.blogspot.ca/2014/08/dear-fred.html

    Jonathan,

    “If the pagans had no access to natural law, they could not have been persuaded to become Christian, since it would have been too foreign”

    Most pagans were “persuaded” by the logic of force. Charlemagne was ruthless in his conversion of the Saxons:

    “The laws were draconian on religious issues; for example, the Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae prescribed death to Saxon pagans who refused to convert to Christianity. This revived a renewal of the old conflict. That year, in autumn, Widukind returned and led a new revolt. In response, at Verden in Lower Saxony, Charlemagne is recorded as having ordered the execution of 4,500 Saxon prisoners, known as the Massacre of Verden (“Verdener Blutgericht”). The killings triggered three years of renewed bloody warfare (783–785). During this war the Frisians were also finally subdued and a large part of their fleet was burned. The war ended with Widukind accepting baptism.”

    Other pagans converted for strategic reasons. The Polish and the Hungarians, for instance, converted in order to deny the Germans an excuse for waging war on them.

    I don’t deny that Christianity is better than paganism, but those benefits are largely evident through hindsight and through the fact that we — you and I — are products of Christian culture. If we were products of another cultural tradition, we might see things differently.

    “To conclude however that this means that there is no natural law that humanity must abide by is a huge mistake”

    It is a worse mistake to believe that notions of right and wrong are natural and, therefore, inevitable.

    Sean,

    I agree. But this process of secularization is taking place within Christian tradition itself. I used to think of Christianity as a kind of subculture that could critique modernity and offer an alternate vision. I was wrong.

    • Replies: @jtgw
  44. Sean says:

    Clarification: I think never abandoning grandparents would lead to a tribe losing out to ruthless rivals, but only in certain unforgiving environments, such as the extreme north. If the tribe was fortunately situated it would not be a problem, maybe beneficial. I saw a documentary about grizzly bears where they were catching samon and only eating the roe, which they squeezed out. Fish, efficiently exploited, could comfortably support a lot of people.

    Peter, the Stoics made much of not being concerned with worldly success, but (according to Nassim Taleb) Zeno was an enthusiastic investor in comercial ventures. Seneca was the richest man in the Roman empire.

  45. jtgw says:
    @Peter Frost

    There’s a difference between saying there is no natural law and saying there is natural law but our knowledge of it is obscured by sin. I think the error you are trying to fight here is not the traditional doctrine of natural law, but the patently false liberal doctrine of human equality, and more importantly the denial of original sin and the concept of the “noble savage”. According to this doctrine, evil only exists because of oppressive institutions or unjust economic structures, and if we only remove these sources of oppression, humanity’s natural goodness will shine forth. I think we both agree this is absolutely false and dangerous.

    The danger of the opposite extreme, however, essentially results in denying the humanity of those from different cultures, which is also incompatible with Christianity. I get the sense that you are basically Christian, but you also talk about different human “natures”, and it’s hard for me to see how this is different than simply denying that some groups of people are truly human. I shouldn’t have to point out the dangers that this kind of thinking can lead to.

    Yes, humans differ in many measurable ways, but there are also universals. As someone pointed out, the Hindus believed it was right to burn widows on their husband’s pyres, but this custom was not wholly alien to us. While cruel, it was an attempt to exalt loyalty, which we all agree is a virtue. So it’s not quite true to say that their sense of morality is utterly different, but rather that it has been perverted.

    I think you’d have a hard time arguing that every instance of conversion was either forced or done out of love for power. The main point is that, despite their different behavioral propensities, these pagans decided to try and change their behavior, which they could only have done if they believed that their current behavior was bad, which in turn they could only have done if their sense of morality is not entirely different from our own. What I see is not different human natures, but variations upon a single underlying nature.

  46. AG says:

    God fearing morality is the same thing as good behavior under tyrany. Therefore, it is not natural behavior without punishment. This is nothing to do with sense of guilt. It is not true morality either.

  47. Sean says:

    ” I get the sense that you are basically Christian, but you also talk about different human “natures”, and it’s hard for me to see how this is different than simply denying that some groups of people are truly human. I shouldn’t have to point out the dangers that this kind of thinking can lead to.”

    I think what Peter is was trying to say is that, though human natures differ, the specific human nature in one group is not any less natural than in the other groups. Failing to fight back will get you killed in some societies. But, turning the other cheek might be simple self preservation in a society where fighting is punished by death.

    An individual can choose to behave as a saint, and get killed for it; that isn’t going to make that behaviour more common. But if the society enforces saintly behavior in the society, then the people who choose not to behave in a saintly way are going to become less common.

    And the danger that ‘that kind on thinking can lead to’ is being called a racist, which is social death; though the person may be equivalent to a saint in a society where only the violent are respected (because he is going against norms that have a hereditary basis).

    • Replies: @jtgw
  48. jtgw says:
    @Sean

    OK, but I think Peter is putting the cart before the horse. He’s saying society bred itself to be non-violent, but why on earth would society do that if it had such radically different moral intuitions than we have today?

  49. Drain52 says:
    @JustJeff

    One constructed by humans, it turns out. Was that a loop?

  50. Sean says:

    Society? Under the Normans killing a deer would get you blinded. Those unable to restrain themselves got killed off very quickly, generation after generation.

  51. @jtgw

    Maybe Eastern Orthodox Christianity was somewhat different from Catholicism (and later Protestantism). It’s also possible that other factors were different, e.g. higher rates of endogamy (cousin marriage etc.), which in turn led to high empathy towards kith and kin but less empathy towards outsiders. I think also there is some evidence that Russians differed from other Europeans even before the Revolution, for example far as I know many travelers described them as being brutish.

    But it’s interesting to note that, while Russian crime rates were astronomical in the 1990s, they quickly dropped since then, for example the murder rate has reportedly dropped to a bit more than a quarter of what it had been in the nineties. It might be that Russians need something of a police state to achieve normal (if somewhat elevated) crime statistics, but probably some of the increase and decrease was due to a change in the economy and the onset and end of anarchy.

  52. panjoomby says:

    Dr. Frost’s articles AND replies are much appreciated – moreover, his comment/summation of co-evolution between culture & genes is the best & most succinct I’ve ever seen:

    “1) Individuals adhere to a desired behavior through conscious effort, within an envelope of possibilities allowed by their genetic endowment;
    2) These actions create a new cultural environment, which in turn selects for genotypes that more easily produce the desired behavior. A heritable predisposition increasingly takes over from conscious effort;
    3) The result is a shift toward a new mean genotype and a new envelope of possible phenotypes.”

  53. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @jtgw

    First of all, language is the most important topic and perception is absolutely EVERYTHING. If we teach children that the color red is the word blue and vice versa, then their perception will be the opposite of the generally accepted view of the truth about those colors and their names. Likewise, if we teach children that the word natural means anything man made and that the word law means choice then they think natural law is a man made choice. The point I am trying to make is that what natural law is to one person may be completely opposite of what it is to someone else. What is moral to you may not be moral to me. What is right to you, I may consider wrong. Whatever we are raised to believe and whatever we choose to keep believing once we reach an age where we can consciously understand it, then to us, that is “natural law”. There is no natural human law. Imo, even the idea of natural law was created as a form of control, just another intrinsic implanted additive to the matrix we were born into. To me the closest thing to natural law is honestly whatever feels right. Right before you act if you get a sense that it is wrong, don’t do it, if you get a sense that what you’re about to do is right, then do it. Maybe we all have our own natural laws constructed for each of our soul’s or for each of our own consciousnesses.

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