Accepting that we have no guarantee of security is very difficult for most people. It’s easy to tell a kid who has their parents taking care of them “nothing ventured nothing gained,” but as we grow older, we realize all of our decisions take on much more gravity because we are responsible for ourselves. We grow to be aware of other people outside of our family and as the country continues to divvy up into tribes, we feel its necessary to group with others of similar identities.
As I outlined previously, humans both want to ‘be themselves’ while at the same time fitting into a group for meaning and to increase their survival security.
While different groups tend to have different codes of ethics, I’ve also broken down how ethics within members of a group vary from person to person because we are all individuals with our own perceptions.
Throughout this series we’ve learned we’re born knowing nothing, we never know anything, we all have different perceptions and as such perceive different realities, and there’s no way of predicting all the variables that will affect our survival.
“When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.” -Mark Twain
If then ethics is something personal yet we long to live in unity, we must openly acknowledge that reason is imperfect, or as Hannah Montana said “everybody makes mistakes,” and dedicate ourselves to voluntary reciprocal altruism—actions which are directed towards group survival.
Note that because humans are social creatures, it is in our interest to voluntarily choose to be a part of a group. The best group is one which recognizes the individuality of its members but works together towards a common goal—survival. Because differences between members cause conflict, we must establish ethical attitudes (not legalism) that will promote our survival which I’ll get to later. Reciprocal altruism, however, puts us in the practice of helping others, breaking down cultural barriers and making it easier to tolerate our differences.
The concept of altruism has been criticized harshly by philosophers, especially Nietzsche who detested the example set by Jesus Christ, dubbing it the slave morality. On the contrary, he advocated for the master morality, advocating for pride and envy to be your motivation. The problem with this is that when everyone is constantly in a state of trying to assert their dominance over each other, conflicts can never be peacefully resolved, leading to hot-headed destruction instead of peace.
“History calls those men the greatest who have ennobled themselves by working for the common good; experience acclaims as happiest the man who has made the greatest number of people happy.”—Karl Marx
While Marx acknowledged the benefits of altruism for the individual, removing our freedom of choice naturally puts members of society on the offensive, violating the sacred right of every human to pursue their own happiness. Moreover, this results in an inefficient waste of government that you can read more on here. While Marx’s statist altruism has been historically proven a failure, Adam Smith conceptualized altruism in a different way.
“Individual ambition serves the common good”—Adam Smith
“By pursuing his own interest (the individual) frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”—Adam Smith
Through a voluntary reciprocal approach, a Libertarian government such as our own can thrive. Prior to the modern decline of faith, Christianity naturally complemented this system of government by respecting property rights and offering security through the vicissitudes of life with a belief in God and the afterlife. Christian politicians have resounded the phrase “We worship God, not government,” to promote the idea that our security comes from God, not the government. For those of faith, they are the hands and feet of God on Earth, taking care of each other, following Christ’s example.
“We can’t help everybody, but everybody can help somebody”—Ronald Reagan
“Pray like it all depends on God, work like it all depends on you”—Saint Augustine
Post-modernist theory is the idea that everyone has their own perceptions and that they are choosing the ones which will most assist in the acquisition of power. In the short term, that means whatever will benefit them then. Those who wisely think in the long-term recognize that for themselves to live in a society, they must be thinking about group survival, not just their own.
“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” -Adam Smith
While I recognize the validity of Post-modernist theory as I’ve explored through this series, many people think that this invalidates all faiths, leading to nihilism, or the belief that there will never be any meaning. For those stuck in this state, I recommend a great talk by Alan Watts directly confronting this problem and another on how to reverse your thinking.
Post-modernist theory is the code to deconstructing everything you believe. This can be very useful for people who are stuck in cults like Scientology that are hurting them and humanity instead of promoting our collective survival through reason and peace. In another way, it begins to show us that we are all our own people and that in reality, we are acting only on what limited knowledge we have to define God at the time.
For example, a three-year-old child will know much less how to live in a community than an elder who is responsible for directing the actions of the young ones. This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist, but that we all have a personal relationship with God and because none of us are omniscient we can never choose the “right” faith.
“But at any rate, the point is that God is what nobody admits to being, and everybody really is.”—Alan Watts
As I’ve written before, once you realize reason is not infallible for determining whether or not an idea can come to fruition, it should only be used to reason whether an idea is beneficial for survival. Further in this article, I’ll break down exactly what I mean about how reason complements faith. This is similarly the way that the Catholic Church works, revising stances while the Pope, or philosopher king (as Plato would call it) works with the best minds in philosophy and theology to figure out how to tackle the problems of the world.
A more complex issue with altruism which was identified by Ayn Rand is that it made the claim that any action, provided that it was not done for yourself, was good. Good intent, however, could prove disastrous without taking into consideration how your actions could affect group survival.
“Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience.”—Adam Smith
Voluntary reciprocal altruism, however, allows us to develop a personal system of ethics aimed towards our individual fulfillment along with group survival. I’ve said before that the best criterion for which we can base our decisions in an uncertain world is the Nonaggression Principle or N.A.P. However, deciding not to be aggressive is merely the foundation for how we develop our personal ethical codes. The next step is further developing our principles by delineating positive and negative actions. The problem is that this would be impossible because we can never predict how the events in our lives would motivate us to act in an infinite number of different ways. We can, however, determine which motivations are positive and negative.
Nearly all world religions advocate resistance to negative motivations or vices while celebrating positive motivations or virtues. In Christianity, these vices are called the seven deadly sins contrasted with the seven heavenly virtues. While Christians are commanded to avoid these vices, recognizing practical reasons for how these motivations could hurt them and the group makes virtue much easier to practice.
In the following chart, I’ve laid out how a vice could negatively affect you and your group while a virtue could positively affect you and your group, and how other members of our group could try to take advantage of your virtue.
NOTE: If you’re reading this on a mobile device you might not see the entire chart with 4 columns.
|Individual Vice||Individual Virtue||How Others Could Enjoy||How Others Could Abuse|
|Hubris (Pride): A proud person is someone who would rather go on believing something that isn’t true, thus hurting themselves, rather than admitting they are wrong.||Humility: A humble person is someone who will accept criticisms from others for their self-improvement, thus improving the group.||Other members of a group would enjoy a humble person over an arrogant person.||When other members of a group attack a humble person, they are hurting them instead of helping them. Kindly giving feedback would be much better received.|
|Greed: A greedy person is someone who would deliberately hold an excess of value instead of giving to someone who could use the help. This hurt the greedy person by isolating them from forming relationships.||Charity: A charitable person is someone who willingly gives to causes that they feel deserve support, thus helping the group and allowing them to forge relationships with grateful recipients.||Other members of a group would enjoy a scholarship for hardworking students that come from low-income families through no fault of their own.||When other members of a group become greedy themselves, however, they become spoiled and entitled, demanding aid instead of remembering that they have no right to something they didn’t earn.|
|Lust: A lustful person deliberately pursues some kind of sexual activity because of its taboo nature. A man who lusts after a friend’s wife would ruin their relationship thus hurting the group and his relationship with his friend.||Chastity: A chaste person would recognize that lust is an evil motivation. This isn’t to say that sex is evil, but violating the sacred union of marriage would result in harm to all parties.||Other members of a group would enjoy a chaste person for taking their feelings into consideration and find him honorable.||When other members of a group deliberately shame those who have had sex, however, it alienates them when their choice may not have caused any harm to the group at large.|
|Envy: An envious person is someone who puts themselves down and has low self-esteem because they think they don’t have what someone else has.||Admiration: Someone who admires things that they like instead of negatively envying them would instead be driven to cultivate what they admire with themselves.||Others would enjoy a society where members are cultivating the best values with themselves.||When other members of a group deliberately put someone down for not having something of value, they are fostering envy in that person thus hurting themselves.|
|Gluttony: A glutton is someone who lacks self-restraint over the pleasures of life, devaluing their goodness and hurting themselves in the process i.e. eating too much food.||Temperance: Someone who practices temperance will enjoy something that they don’t have often instead of getting sick of eating the same thing every day.||Others would enjoy resources which were not wasted on someone who was overindulging.||When other members of a group deliberately shame a temperate into enjoying less than they have earned then they open themselves up to the same shame.|
|Wrath: A wrathful person is someone who would seek vengeance for a wrong that was done to them, i.e. going to war. This, however, perpetuates a cycle of hate between two people which ultimately results in destruction and loss.||Forgiveness: A forgiving person ends the cycle of tragedy and can begin to cultivate a new relationship based off of peace, love, and positivity.||Others would enjoy the mercy of someone who is willing to forgive them, promoting peace, love, and positivity, thus advancing the survival of the group.||When members of a group continue to deliberately harm someone after being forgiven, they are abusing the mercy of that person and must be subjected to wrath to learn their lesson.|
|Sloth (laziness): A lazy person is someone who cannot enjoy the full scope and depth that life has to offer.||Diligence (industriousness): An industrious person is someone who would be able to fully realize their potential instead of letting themselves waste away.||Other members of a group would enjoy a diligent person who creates value for all to enjoy.||When other members of a group demand more than what someone is willing to offer, they forget that they are not entitled to anyone else’s labor.|
In some situations, we may not be able to predict how our actions would affect the group and this calls for the principle of peaceful nonaction, or simply doing nothing. While this is not the definitive list of virtue, considering how your perceptions both affect you and others provide a framework from which to judge new perceptions.
As for Christianity, I chose to believe in Christ’s sacrifice because I wanted to take seriously all of my mistakes. Living in a community of people who acknowledge their sins and forgive one another allow you to reflect and grow together, promoting peace with all. Acknowledging this through the lens of Post-modernist theory, allows us to live with other groups who are similarly working towards peace, but under a different vision. When all groups recognize this, we will live in peace.