|picture credits: temptation and Fall of Adam , by Michael Angelo|
Our brain is a learning based system. It assimilates inputs from situations, incidences, lessons and conversations around, generates a pattern output, analyses the output, implements it and generates feedbacks to itself based on results. ‘We’ are ‘what we are’ not because it’s on our socio-economic profile or because of the way ‘we’ are perceived by others or even because we think something about us. Our being is reflected mostly through our reactions, reflex actions and our general outlook towards things. They are so because we have been gradually conditioned over our lives and over generations to respond to any stimulus in the most rational (read comfortable) way. This behavioral trend is persistent. Before even our thought process comes into action, the brain generates responses based on knowledge from previous such instances. These are the foundations of our rationality and civilization. These may be attributed for the higher human survival rate as considered to other species on the planet. For example we do not play with fire, we take precautionary measures, we know not to intake certain things without even much thought and that is why we are less endangered. Through this continuous mental evolution we define our limits, our standards and our morals. Since the biggest input set is society, our morals are the thoughts and habits that result into most comfortable social life. Actually we are gradually trained not to resist but persist and evade. Similar arguments hold true for professional mannerisms, marital vows and other predefined rules that constitutes our basic nature.
This evolutionary conditioning is designed on nature’s basic axiom of “survival of the fittest”. However on a shorter scale (of a human being’s life) it can be divided into two parts:
“Escape from bigger problems”
“Practice facing smaller problems”.
This is how we cultivate different capabilities within ourselves apart from those which have come through genes. Some of them are reflexes (like phobias), conscience (judgments on nature of action) and orientations (political, social or sexual). With these major influences some by-products which are non-generic and extremely relative like intuition (predicting next on basis of the last), presumption (opinionated outlook towards people or things) and calibration (having parameters set for everything) are also introduced into a person. This whole continuously evolving package (like a neural network system) is what we call morals.
This implies that though morals are supposedly personal, they have such an encompassing intersection set that they become a part of the society. And they change with social changes. A famous example is homosexuality. Although it is a personal orientation, still society debates about it and people have opinions about it. In most of the cases, almost without any first-hand experience people have things for it or against it and they attribute it to their moral values. Initially it was just an abnormality, then it was a sin and then it was a crime. Now it is a subject of debate. Soon one opinion will overpower another and that will become the moral of society and most of the individuals in it.
The hostile part of these morals is their inertia and the resistance attached to it. These are so much a part of us in our habits, actions and doctrines that we resist every possible change. And the precarious part is that their epicenter is almost always away from their point of emergence. Morals of a terrorist are direct outcome of the civil war he is a child of. The moral margins between Hindus and Muslims in India can be traced back to Islamic Conquerors and are now being fed by Islamic militia, Hindu right wing and recurrent riots in last 60 years. Another illustrative example is the dietary habit which is majorly influenced by morals. Assuming that initially everyone ate everything edible, these habits have emerged based on two things- religion and availability of food.
Vegetarians despise all kind of meat eaters.
Hindus hate Muslims for eating beef.
Muslims abhor Christians as they eat pork.
Western world mock South East Asians as they eat dog meat.
Everyone calls cannibals uncivilized.
What can be picked from this illustration? Our food habits are not only socially constructed but they also reflect the relationship between two communities. Despise, hatred, abhorrence, mockery and pity are all different feelings between differently interacting communities and they are actually not rooted in our food or our morals but somewhere else.
I have rarely found a Hindu who has criticized Christians or South East Asians or even cannibals who eat beef. There were a lot of funny stories circulated in English media about the food habits of Chinese around Beijing Olympics. The implication is that we express our sentiments through our habits and the weird part is - our opinions are rarely what we choose to have. They are already there. We just present them when asked for (or sometimes without being asked for).
This persistence, calibration of standards and pre-existence of answers not only creates social roadblocks but also hazards personal growth. If observed, one finds out most of the successful people were once termed ‘freak, ‘weirdo’, ‘nerd’ etc. by their peers before they struck gold. Peer jealousy is not the only answer to this intermittent tagging. Another look at them will tell that they were just misfits within the calibrated range of values, way-of-life, attitude and outlook of the majority around them. A person grows up adjusting himself to suit his necessities and develops a unique course of approach towards his state of affairs. Let us call him ‘A’. Automatically his way is best according to him. So if somebody ‘B’ out of reason or chance is on a different course of action then ‘A’ does not find him normal or even smart. And since outputs are mostly in contrary as ‘B’ performs well where he was expected to fail, in a call of self-justification ‘B’ is thought to be ‘over smart’ and is suspected to fall soon. Worse still, since both of these people are doing the best they think so it’s much unexpected that one would agree to the other. Hence the tag- ‘arrogant’. Some of these anomalies/freaks might fail in long run but most of their critics are caught in the unchanging web of mental stagnation and cease to grow, refusing to accept the failure of their rational judgments. And unfortunately they are always in mode of self justification and can never realize that there may be something wrong with what they honestly think. In one perspective they are not wrong, they are just not-right. Gradually they end of being a part of crowd whose morals and opinions are just the reflection of society and nothing of their own.
A virulent cocktail is concocted when the dynamic agents of social changes like politics and religion modulate the morals of society (as they have always been doing). They not only modulate but virtually thrive on modulating the sentiments of people. Patriotism, one of the most celebrated and pious of virtues is just an example of direct interference of these agents. (Chauvinism is just an infamous younger brother). Patriotism is loving one’s land within borders. And due to aforesaid reasons it’s very convoluting to fathom that patriotism and regionalism (read separatism) are two facets of the same coin. Patriotism is the vice of the virtuous and the virtue of the vicious. Patriotism is as vulnerable as any land’s borders. It’s almost normal that in England-Pakistan match majority of Indians support England and majority of Irish support Pakistan. This is how politics and morals create a paradox: while manipulating love they actually sponsor hatred and obsession.
Religion is even bitter soup with which morals are dished out. Historically religion has been the authority over morals. Thus for a common man, most of his values and practices are decided even before he can start thinking. Religion is decided with his birth and a mere coincidence like birth decides the whole thinking direction of a normal person. How Taliban toys with morals is a prominent example. Annals of history are full of church’s atrocities while upholding the imposed morals and combating heresy. Indians are still proud of sati tradition while a moment of free thinking can make it look like stimulated suicide. As politics and religion go together, their illicit relationship produces moral policing, minority segregation or appeasement and unjust legislations e.g. No women ballot before the onset of this century, curbs over artistic expression, talaqs in Muslim law etc. A recent example is the Mangalore attacks on pub going women. Although behind the scenes there are a few who get their megalomania or covetousness satisfied, a substantial mass supports this and actively participate in it conscientiously. While they always think they are rational and their steps are logical, they are actually a figment in the hands of eccentric modulators who are tuning their inbuilt moral frequencies for personal profits. A curious look tells us that we have problems at even nuclear level due to such persistent morals induced by contemporary society and religion. One flagrant example of such moral policing at family level is what we know as “generation gap”.
A humanitarian consequence of this social evolution of mental reactions is charity. Charity is fed by the desire to become the person who actually practices what we believe in. One can call it spiritual ambition. The values set as ideals by the society, get into veins of people and gradually they become the ultimate ethereal purpose of our existence. Nothing wrong about all this, but most of the charitable people or institutions are offshoots of an aspiration for self-glorification or fear infiltrated through religion. It sounds controversial but almost every charity is selfish. Nonetheless, it still serves the humanity well.
As we resist our moral amendment, we also can’t digest the same in others. It’s in our habit to assassinate characters of people who don’t accord to our standards (a small fish chasing a smaller one). If a person known to be immoral and wrong doing surprises the self-christened judges with his sudden conscientious act, we don’t accept it fearing the loss of an easy bully and sometimes due to sheer distrust. In a reflex retaliation we tag him/her “hypocrite” while what he was doing was a deed of accepting the morals we preach. This is one of the reasons why criminals have a bad acceptance ratio and path of wrong seems like a labyrinth where the entrance door has been shut. It is this double standard morality that creates dissatisfaction and erosion in faith, which ultimately creates more anti socials.
The intention of the arguments here is not to murder the moral, stab values, spread agnosticism or justify anti-socials. Morals infuse social responsibility and they are the emblems of civilization. Having confused morals is certainly far better than having none. The intention is to reiterate an old saying in a new way. All that glitters is not gold and all that repulses is not always vitriolic. Leaders and litterateurs should always doubt their opinions as they are the harbingers of future. The answer to every moral question should not come through preliminary impulses and opinionated verdicts; they should be analyzed from a detached view. Does not it create a paradox like Russell’s (If a barber shaves all in the city who don’t know how to shave, then who shaves the barber)? Who will question our brain as brain does all the thinking and when shall we know that it is time to ask a question? Moreover it sounds like a recipe of self doubt and low confidence. I don’t know the fool-proof solution but I know a practice which may enable us evade the predestined answers. It has two prerequisites: readiness for change and promptness to act for it. For some time we need to put ourselves in a situation we were born in…without any recognition of country, religion, family, ambitions, hopes and desire. After creating this simulation we need to try to find out the standalone morals which we think totally pure and not vitiated due to any of the agents mentioned. For me they were tolerance, liberty and equality (in order). For others they may be different. Try to qualify the thoughts on these parameters. After a period revisit the parameters and judge them. Change the things if needed. All these steps seem virtually abstract. But if you have just asked the question you have already got more than half of the answer.