November 3, 2000 (Ira Pilgrim)

Morals and Ethics

Ethics, too, are nothing but reverence for life. That is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil.

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965)

No, you are not reading the wrong column. This is not the Clergy Corner and I will not be preaching to you. What I want to talk about is a universal morality that transcends and cuts across all religions and ethical concepts that not only exists among people, but exists in most animals. The more intelligent the animal, the more highly developed that morality is.

Fundamental to morality is care of the young, without which no sentient species can survive. In contrast to most organisms, the young of mammals and birds are dependent upon care by their parents, since they cannot survive without that care. This has persisted and developed over eons by the very simple device which has been formalized by the term "natural selection," which states simply that those species with the greatest ability to survive and reproduce are the ones that persist. The very existence of a next generation depends on the survival of the young who go on to produce subsequent generations.

It is also obvious that the welfare of the parent that cares for the young, usually the female, is essential to the next generation. Those species have done best where both parents contribute to the welfare of the young. Still better have fared those species and cultures where the whole community has contributed to the welfare of the young.

Since all individuals die, the only thing that goes on to survive is the genetic material. This principle has been formalized as "The continuity of the germ plasm." In birds and mammals the survival of the genes depends on the survival of the parent or parents until the young are completely on their own. Despite what you may have read, an animal is not aware that it is doing this. People are also animals, and most are also not aware of what they are doing.

A person who does not consider children as an extension of themselves automatically becomes an evolutionary dead end. Further, a society that does not place the welfare of children at the top of its priority list is doomed to eventual extinction. It will eventually be replaced by a society that does. A prime example is the British royal class, whose values are being replaced by those of the middle class, which gives children its highest priority. The royal class used middle class nannies to care for its children. As a consequence, subsequent generations had middle class values. It will not be too long before royalty ceases to exist. This is true of the American "Me generation." The members who will survive into subsequent generations are those to whom their children are considered as an integral part of "Me."

Cultures which are concerned solely with their own survival, and perhaps pleasure, are doomed to extinction.

While the principles of natural selection and evolution are very simple, what actually occurs is very complex. It is so complex that it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict what will come to pass in the future based on what is happening today. It is much easier to see which species will fail if they do not change, than it is to predict which species will be successful.

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