Morality through habitual, evolved collaboration
As I have detailed in On Morality, morality is not necessarily sourced from religion, but spread effectively by it. For morality’s source, we must look toward the evolutionary and psychological components that have given rise to its infrastructure. Aside from evolution providing the basis of morality, there are behavioral elements as well that are linked to our innermost psychology. In many ways, the force of habit drives morality, and often what causes its stickiness.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear discusses “the seductive pull of social norms,” and details the pressure that social norms can exert over an individual. He notes that this pressure can cause a person to act against their own perceived best interest for the good of the group. The evidence provided comes from psychologist Solomon Asch’s study about conforming to social norms, where he demonstrated that 75% of participants would forego the correct answer in favor of going along with the crowd. Clear concludes: “most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.”
He goes on to summarize how collaboration arose during evolution: “those who collaborated and bonded with others enjoyed increased safety, mating opportunities, and access to resources.” This means that survival, the strongest instinct of any living thing, came through collaboration, and this collaboration became a norm, a habit. The in-group collaborated, and those who violated the in-group were exiled to the out-group, losing access to the very resources, community, and culture that sustained them. This is tribalism, the earliest form of human society.
The necessity for interpersonal collaboration is discussed in ancient sources, as well:
Man is by nature a social animal… Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.
-Aristotle, the founder of the Peripatetic school, in Politics
Society is the pinnacle of human collaboration. As history unfolds, the functions of the world only become more complex, and the interconnectivity of the world only grows.
From the most local, “independent” farmer to the international supply chain, there is no where one can go that isn’t affected by overlapping structures of collaboration. The sourcing of water, electricity and food, research and technologic advancement, the logistics of moving goods and services from one place to another— all of these hang in the balance of cooperation. There is no such thing as the “self-made person” or life free from the influence of society.
This, then, necessitates continued and evolving collaboration, so much so that it has become an intrinsic feature of humanity. Human nature thrives on collaboration over isolation. It is how we survived and how we survive. It’s the basis for any understanding of morality.
Therefore, it can be said that morality comes from habitual, evolved collaboration. The modern in-group of society is propped up by this collaboration, which connects to our earliest evolutionary instincts. Good and bad are determined by their connection to the same evolutionary instincts.
In its smallest form, this means every moral option can be funneled through the question “will this response/attitude/behavior encourage collaboration?”
If not, then it is not likely to be the moral choice.
Edited by Jeremy Harr and Abigail McKay Cherry