Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 3)

How do you see morality and societal norms changing over the next 100+ years?

Some of my predictions:

-As land and resources become increasingly scarce, as human impacts on wild animal populations become more and more detrimental, and as society becomes more and more concerned with animal welfare and the reduction of animal suffering, we will eventually utilize technologies to actively reduce wild animal populations without killing them or wiping them out completely (primarily through genetic engineering techniques similar to what we’re doing with mosquitos right now).

-The idea of having something as important and as crucial to your sense of identity as your name chosen for you with no input from yourself whatsoever (and having that name for your entire life) will seem incredibly outdated. As a result, it will become far easier and far more socially acceptable for anyone to change their name to one they prefer–even as children–and for someone to keep the name they were given at birth will become the exception rather than the norm.

-Not only will interracial relationships no longer be taboo, eventually the pendulum will swing in the other direction as interracial relationships will be seen as preferable in the eyes of society at large, as the practice of only dating others within one’s own race will become completely outdated (refusing to date anyone of your own race, of course, will not be regarded as being any better).

-At some point a global pandemic will cause a significant loss of the world’s population. In response, societal attitudes towards disease transmission will change dramatically, with some societies even criminalizing the act of knowingly exposing others to illness.

-As a huge college football fan it pains me to write this, but eventually high-level competitive and professional sports will fade away, as society comes to realize how much they fan the flames of humanity’s deepest tribalistic tendencies, how few benefits they provide to society, and how much of a net drain they are on society’ resources (as popular as it is to bash reality TV or otherwise “vapid” shows for having little to no intellectual or cultural value, I’ve always found it ironic that even the greatest sporting events have basically no intellectual value whatsoever, yet you will virtually never hear any such criticism regarding sports).

Part 1: Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 1)

Part 2: Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 2)

Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 2)

How do you see morality and societal norms changing over the next 100+ years?

Some of my predictions:

-The accumulation of ridiculously enormous personal wealth and possessions will be looked upon in the way that “hoarders” are today. For anyone with more wealth than they could reasonably spend in their entire lifetime (or even multiple lifetimes), there will be tremendous social pressure for them to donate their extraneous wealth to charity, or in some way put it to use in a way that will benefit society more than it would just sitting in a bank or an investment fund.

-As more people realize and understand that physical attractiveness has no relationship to the quality of an individual as a person, prejudice towards those who don’t fit society’s standards of physical beauty will become as socially unacceptable as sexism and racism are today. Depictions of “villains” in works of fiction will no longer overwhelmingly consist of people that society considers to be physically “ugly” (nor will they be chronically afflicted with dermatological issues) and the disproportionate use of “ugly” actors in comedic relief roles will become rightly regarded as prejudicial, much in the way that ethnic stereotyping in casting is seen today.

-As minors become vastly more intelligent, educated, and worldly than in generations prior, they will eventually be granted greater rights and political power at increasingly younger ages, with minors having fractional votes as they approach adulthood (for example, 1/4 vote at age 12, 1/2 vote at 14, 3/4 vote at 16, 1 vote at 18+).

-As written forms of electronic communication become more prevalent in our lives, we will see a corresponding shift in attitudes towards the inherent advantages of written communication. Eventually, the notion that face-to-face communication is the “best” or “most efficient” form of communication will seem completely outdated.

-Similarly, society will eventually reach a state of total “agnosticism” with regard to various forms of written communication, in the sense that none will necessarily be seen as being inherently more or less “formal”, or more or less inherently appropriate for any particular message to be conveyed. And the notion that online communication is somehow “less real” or inherently less meaningful simply by virtue of being electronic in nature will disappear.

Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 1)

Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 3)

Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 1)

How do you see morality and societal norms changing over the next 100+ years?

Some of my predictions:

-The phenomenon of “word inflation” will become so extreme that hyperbolic language and superlatives will lose virtually all of their impact, yet paradoxically will result in their greater use (since use of non-hyperbolic language will seem so weak by comparison). This will create a “downward spiral” whereby the more weakened hyperbolic language becomes, the more people will struggle convey what used to be achievable through “normal” language, which will result in people using even more increasingly hyperbolic language out of necessity (think about how much rhetorical value some words have already lost through rampant over/misuse, e.g. “fraud”, “scam”, “racket”, “cult”, “treason”, and “literally“). Eventually this will reach a breaking point when it becomes such a hindrance on basic day-to-day communication that there will be a huge backlash, and eventually the use of hyperbole and exaggeration in everyday language will become taboo in the way that outright lying is today.

-Lying will become vastly more rare and vastly more socially unacceptable, in large part because technology will make it far harder to lie and get away with it (thereby dramatically increasing the social consequences for lying while dramatically reducing the potential benefits). This will happen primarily in two ways:

Pervasive electronic recording and documentation will make it far easier to verify what someone said or did. Even today, home surveillance systems which record everything in their vicinity (audio and video) and store everything instantly to the cloud are commonplace, as are in-car dash cameras which record everything said inside the car at all times. And even now the ability to continuously record audio everywhere you go is cheap and readily available. Eventually it will become trivial to record (both audio and video) every waking moment of your life, and to instantly recall any moment on demand (imagine an inconspicuous Google Glass-type device with virtually unlimited storage capacity, GPS, and real-time voice recognition/commands, and so cheap that virtually everyone–even children–wears one around at all times).

Fact-checking of potential lies will also become vastly easier, even automatic and instantaneous. Imagine that the aforementioned device is also an always-on cloud-based voice recognition assistant, which constantly analyzes everything you hear and alerts you instantly if you hear something which is verifiably untrue (something which is already entirely possible with today’s technology).

Widespread use of the above technologies could create a “virtuous cycle” whereby the more ineffective lying becomes, the more rare it will become, which will lead to it becoming even less socially unacceptable, thereby making it even more rare (ad infinitum).

The effect on “white lies” would be similar as well; the more socially acceptable it becomes to forego a white lie in favor of the truth, the less offensive doing so will become, thereby encouraging more people to do so and making it more socially acceptable.

Eventually, society will become something like this.

Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 2)

Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 3)

Why, When it Comes to Religion, the Ends ALWAYS Justify the Means

morality

One of the great philosophical debates (and the first thing you learn in any Intro to Philosophy class) is about deontological vs. utilitarian morality: Are “right” and “wrong” a result of certain actions being inherently right or wrong (killing and stealing are wrong in principle) or is it determined based on the consequences of those actions (killing and stealing are wrong because of the harm they do to others)? Or, in even more simplified form, when it comes to “right” and “wrong” do the ends justify the means?

Traditionally, these two approaches to morality seem to line up pretty closely with debates surrounding religious vs. secular morality. Either we should obey the commandments because God commands us to, since through his divine authority he has determined what is “right” or “wrong” via cosmic fiat, and going against those divine dictates is, quite simply, wrong (Euthyphro’s Dilemma be damned), or we should follow secular/humanistic ethics, which generally consider right/wrong to be based on the real-world consequences of our actions, meaning in some cases it may be permissible–even morally obligatory–to perform acts which may otherwise be considered “immoral” (a parent stealing medicine to save the life of his child, for example).

Traditionally, this leads to the notion that secular/humanistic/utilitarian ethics means that the ends justify the means, and as long as the final outcome is beneficial the methods you use to get there are ultimately irrelevant (think Watchmen’s Ozymandias).

But it seems to me that in a way, this dichotomy is precisely backwards, and not only do the “ends justify the means” when it comes to traditional religious morality, but they do so to a literally infinite degree, and that’s for one reason: Because the traditional concepts of “Heaven” and “Hell” introduce the element of infinity to the equation, with notions of everlasting infinite torment or everlasting infinite bliss; and when you perform the cost/benefit analysis on anything involving infinity, the answer is always similarly infinite (math nerds like me might point out exceptions like series of infinite sums which converge on finite numbers, but obviously that doesn’t apply in this case).

So what does that mean? It means that any amount of harm you do to anyone—lying, killing, even torture or mass murder—pales in comparison to the harm you can inflict on someone by causing them to go to hell. Infinitely so. Even increasing the odds of someone going to Hell by a miniscule fraction of a percent is still a transgression of infinite harm, since even .00001% of infinity is still infinity.

And the same goes for heaven; no matter how much good you may do in the world, it will be infinitely trivial compared to even one act which increases the odds of someone reaching Heaven.

Even more disturbingly, the flipside is also true: any action, no matter how abhorrent, is perfectly acceptable in the Heaven/Hell equation, and the ends ALWAYS justify the means provided that the end goal is helping others reach heaven or avoid hell since that end goal is literally a positive of infinite value.

Of course thankfully, with the exception of religious extremists, nobody really applies this logic to their day to day lives, or actually considers these implications and takes their beliefs to the logical extreme.

And we all should hope it remains that way.

Follow-up: Sacrificing One’s Soul

My Take on “Humanism 101”

A few high school students from a local Christian Academy reached out to me recently, asking if I could answer some questions for them about Humanism for an apologetics class where their assignment was to interview people from different faith (or non-faith) backgrounds.

Here was my response, and basically my personal take on a “Humanism 101”.

As it’s geared more towards someone who may have had no prior exposure to Humanism it’s probably a bit basic for most readers of this blog, but hopefully a good primer/refresher on some of the basic principles of Humanism and secular morality.

1. What is the origin of the universe and man?

While there are still many unanswered questions about the origin of our universe, our current state of scientific understanding is that the universe began as a single point of nearly infinite energy about 13.8 billion years ago, which expanded rapidly in an incredibly short period of time and formed the early universe, which over time has become the universe as we know it today. While this process is now known as “the Big Bang“, that name is somewhat misleading since it was not actually an explosion, but rather an incredibly rapid expansion of space itself (and the energy within that space), kind of like blowing up a balloon. We also now know that the universe is continuing to expand, and will continue to expand indefinitely until–many billions of years from now–all of the energy within the universe has been expended.

Here is a good video of a talk by Physicist/Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss about what we know about the origins of the universe, and how it is possible that our universe could have come “from nothing”:

As for the origin of man, all of the evidence in the biological sciences (biology, zoology, botany, anatomy, biochemistry, genetics, paleontology, etc) indicate that all humans today are descendants of a common ancestor which existed approximately six million years ago. This ancestor was a primate species which is now extinct, but from which we inherited many of the attributes that modern humans share today.

2. What is the purpose of mankind?

Humanists believe that a person’s purpose in life is what he or she chooses to make of it. Without a divine being to make that decision for us, we believe that we are free to pursue the things we find meaningful, and free to determine what gives each of us the greatest sense of purpose.

Here is a good (and short) video by humanist Neil DeGrasse Tyson on how he finds meaning in life.

3. What is satisfaction and how do I obtain it?

Much like #2, satisfaction is up to the individual to determine what provides the most satisfaction in their own life, based on their own personal desires and circumstances. However, I would also add that studies have consistently shown that almost all humans share in common certain things which provide us with the most satisfaction. These include:

-Being a part of a social and active community.
-Having meaningful relationships with others.
-Showing compassion for others and helping others in need.

All of the above are key parts of Humanism, much as they are for other religious communities such as churches. In those aspects, Humanist organizations are similar to religious churches, with key differences being that we do not have any rituals, holy texts, dogmas, or belief in the supernatural. Instead, we believe in an entirely reality-based worldview in which our actions are not driven by supernatural reward/punishment, but the desire to do good for the sake of making the world a better place.

4. What has gone wrong with the world? Why is there evil in the world and why do bad things happen to good people?

It’s a common belief that things have “gone wrong” with the world, and that things are worse now than they were in the past. Yet the opposite is true in pretty much every way imaginable. Crime levels have plummeted dramatically, both in the U.S. and worldwide, over the past 50 years. The number of people dying in wars (as a percentage of the population) has dropped to their lowest levels in recorded history (and probably all of history). Economic equality, poverty reduction, education, and civil rights have seen (and are continuing to see) enormous strides. And despite the popular notion that our society is getting “dumber”, average IQ levels have increased dramatically throughout the 20th century all over the world, and are continuing to increase. And, of course, the number of deaths due to natural causes (particularly infectious diseases and famine) have dropped enormously even while the total world population has skyrocketed.

Of course, most people seem to be under the impression that things have “gone wrong” with the world, and wish we could return to how things “used to be”. One reason for this misconception is that we are now so much more connected to the outside world than ever before, with constant exposure to news media. And for a variety of reasons, news media tend to focus on negative news such as crimes, disasters, and tragedies, even when those things are actually relatively rare.

And, of course, the popularity of apocalyptic end-times theology, particularly in Christianity, plays a big role in this misconception as well.

To be clear, there are many things in this world which are extremely tragic, and many horrible things that we should be doing everything in our power to prevent. We certainly still have a lot of room to improve as a civilization. But the reality is that with rare exceptions (most significantly, environmental issues) the world is now better than it has been in just about every way, and continuing to get better all the time.

As for the question of why bad things happen to good people, the simplest answer is that we live in a world where people have the capability to commit evil acts, and according to Humanism there is no supernatural overseer (such as God) or supernatural entities (such as angels) to prevent them from doing so. Which is why it is especially crucial that we do whatever we can to help each other and try to make the world better, because if we (i.e. humanity) don’t, then nobody else will.

5. What is right and wrong? Is moral truth absolute or relative?

Simply put, the Humanist view of “right and wrong” is that it is wrong for someone to cause undue harm towards others (whether through action or inaction, or though the prevention of progress), and that we should strive to reduce the overall level of suffering in the world while increasing the overall level of happiness and prosperity. While this may seem rather obvious, Humanism differs from some of the more traditional worldviews in that we do not believe in moral restrictions against behaviors and practices which do not actually cause any harm in the real world (for example, homosexuality and same-sex marriage), or practices which may actually prevent harm (for example, birth control technologies).

Also, the Humanist view of morality is that our understanding of the world is constantly improving as we continue to learn new things about science, about society, about ourselves, and about ethics overall. As a result, the Humanist understanding of “right and wrong” is also something which improves over time, as our knowledge and understanding improve. In that sense we do not necessarily view moral truth as “absolute”, because we do not see morality as “fixed in place” and never-changing; instead, we look at morality as something which is ever-improving.

At the same time, that is not to say that humanists believe in cultural or moral relativism. So for example, we would not say that all perspectives and moral systems are equally valid, or that certain behaviors are unethical in certain cultures while ethical in others. Rather, Humanism sees morality is a human principle, and because all of us are human it applies to all of humanity equally.

And finally, another way Humanism differs from some of the more traditional worldviews is in the motivating factors which drive Humanist morality. We do not believe in being good because we’ve been commanded to, or in order to please a divine creator, or in order to obtain supernatural reward (or avoid supernatural punishment). Humanism is the belief in being good for the sake of being good (and for whatever intrinsic rewards may come about as a result), and the desire to live in the best society that we possibly can.

6. Is there a universal moral law? Does everyone know the difference between right and wrong?

With very rare exceptions (basically people who have neurological disorders of the brain), all of us naturally have a sense of right and wrong, and an innate sense of empathy that enables us to feel for others and desire to be good towards others. Studies of human babies, for example, have shown that these tendencies start being displayed at an extremely young age, before being taught right from wrong. And even several animal species show these behaviors as well. And all of this makes perfect sense in light of evolutionary theory: Humans managed to survive throughout the centuries and become the most dominant species on Earth not only because of our intelligence, but because of our innate desire to work together with others and establish cooperative societies, and that increases the odds of everyone surviving and passing on those qualities to the next generation.

7. What happens at death? (Where are we going when we die- How do we know and what does it look like, and if it is heaven- then how do we get there)

The Humanist view of death was probably best summarized by Mark Twain: “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

While most humanists would love for there to be some way for us to continue existing after we die, we realize that there is no credible evidence that the afterlife exists. Most likely, being dead is simply going back to the same state as before you were born.

And because humanists believe that one life is all we get, we believe that every moment of life is precious and we should do everything we can to make a positive impact during the limited time that we have. And if there is any kind of “immortality”, it exists in the continuing influence of the things we did while we were alive and by our ideas (hopefully) continuing to positively affect those in future generations.

Further Reading:

Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe by Greg Epstein

Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism by Richard Carrier

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker