Friday, 27 February 2009

I Love the Taste of Love in the Morning

More holistic societies are aware of the connection between morality and the body; of how our emotions and our logic are intertwined. Job speaks of tasting "bitterness of the soul", the Psalmist calls us to "taste and see that the Lord is good". In our society with it's Greek dualistic inheritance, we seek always to divide the sayings, and thus the physical can never have an impact on the spiritual. The best it can get is a symbolic representation, such as baptism and communion in most Protestantism. And this is not even symbolism in it's original sense, participating in the referent, but rather simply an icon- in the sense of those computer images on our screens.

Thus it is encouraging to come across a study indicating that the physical reaction to immorality is very similar to the physical reaction to bad taste. It is what one would expect, if there isn't a neat division between the spiritual and the physical. Our awareness of morality should develop from both our endocrine and our nervous systems. If there is an inherent morality out there, and it isn't merely arbitrary, then it should pervade all of creation, and not only our thought patterns.

But the authors of the study seem to have gone down some odd rabbit trails, in their attempt to argue that morality is not absolute but only defined by the individual or society. Their words use phrases like "the origins of morality", rather than merely the origins of our awareness of morality. Quite obviously, it can not be proved that morality is absolute- or at least, not in the space of a single blog post. But equally, it can not be proved that morality is not. And if so, the assumptions on morality and ethics should be clearly stated by the authors of a study of morality and ethics. This is especially true when such bias is so evident. For there is nothing inherent within the discovery - that our facial reaction to bad taste is eerily similar to our facial reaction to something morally disgusting - to suggest that it was our morality that was evolving, with those that were selected against unable to be aware of the negative consequences of poison, disease, and behavior that we today describe as immoral but previously was simply dangerous. It is equally likely that it was our response to morality that was evolving, as those who were selected against were those who did not realize the negative consequences of immoral behavior.

Indeed, the study authors, in their conclusions, are comparing apples and oranges. For them, poison and disease are all too real, and we develop a response to them. For them, morality is simply something that evolved, without an appeal to Plato's Perfect Forms, and our development was coming up with this marvelously marvel notion of morality.

But if anything, our notion of morality is precisely what did not evolve. Certainly our awareness of it did, but not the morality itself. For we have to only look around our world and quickly discover that it is those who are most unjust who advance. The race in this world is to the strong, the fast, and the lier. He who cheats wins, and seldom gets caught. Various notions of the evolutionary development of altruism are quite true, but they run against the stronger cord that not playing by the rules will more often lead to success. Were morality successful in evolutionary terms, we would not so often forget it, and yet still hold it as a goal. Were it merely an arbitrary idea and not inherent in the very reality of being, we would not so often forget it and yet still believe it should be followed. A couple of years ago we found that our close cousins, the chimpanzee, have gone on hunting parties with fashioned weapons, even killing other primates with them. Their actions are immoral when they attack their own species, if they were human, and had the awareness of good and evil. As it was, their actions were completely amoral (and not immoral)- but also horrifically successful.

To succeed, go out, and sin boldly. But recognize that that nagging feeling in the back of your mind comes from centuries of evolutionary development- the awareness that there is another reality, a moral reality. And when you breach it, it tastes a bit like MSG.

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