Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Moral Individual - i

I'm arguing with Maju whether shame is a social construct or it's an innate trait. My opinion is that the society can not create but only work on emotions those already have their roots in instincts. The social mores that dictate the values to which we should abide otherwise should feel guilty cannot stand on its own if we don't have the innate feeling that drives us to self-correctness.

I think shame can develop instinctively because of interplay between dependent instincts along with the unintended application of one of those instincts.

I will consider lust as the fundamental instinct. Aggression and hunger are subordinate to lust. All these are reward seeking behaviours. We do know that people indulge in sex just for pleasure (rewarding feeling) which is not necessarily very meaningful. This is true for violence and eating too. So important thing is people indulge in sex, violence and gluttony because those are rewarding behaviours.

Among these, I'll concentrate on 'aggression'. Consider the case where two children are fighting. These two children do not have any identity of their own. Without any definite identity they are part of an in-group. During the fight one of them gets hurt and shows the pain. Now, what kind of response that would generate in the second kid?

In my opinion, two emotions come into picture. First one is 'empathy'. This is an innate instinct. However, how do you define empathy? It's an understanding of others' pain. Now, in a fight between two children which is for innocent pleasure, one kid is responsible for the pain and he also understands other kid's pain. This translates into he is responsible for something wrong. Morality by definition is a distinction between right or wrong. So, empathy in this case tells him, he is immoral. Therefore empathy is nothing but our innate moral code. Therefore, the shame that he develops because any transgression to this moral code is also innate. It's more likely that he may not get into that kind of situation.

Why does society need to create moral codes when we have something inherent? I think that's because multiple identities make people part of different groups. Even a family is a group. For Homo Sapiens these identities are social and geographical constructs(thus meaningless and unnatural as all of them are cross cousins). From the look of it, group identities are dangerous as they have killed individual moral man. However, as we know all instincts show a spectrum of intensity. In one of the extreme ends there are people who lack the empathy. If they also happen to be violent pleasure seekers a certain kind of groupism is required to overcome them. But that groupism results in the development of an out-group. It should be noted here that out-group is not necessarily a group of people with their own identity. Out-group is part of the population that is not in-group. Of course, this tells us that hatred against an out-group is not a fundamental idea behind the creation of an in-group. But eventually this results in hatred. However, the pain caused by these group clashes certainly lacks the empathy. As a group there are no inherent traits. All the traits are individualistic. Therefore, a social moral code is required.

But this is no longer true for present times. We have a rule of law that can act without the help of groups. I believe unless we kill all the identities based on religion, language and geography and create an alternate for family we can't establish our individual moral self.

1. Humans crave violence just like sex
2. Empathy partly based on genes, Mouse study says
3.Social exchange and solidarity: in-group love or out-group hate?
Evolution and Human Behavior, Volume 30, Issue 4, Pages 229-237
T. Yamagishi, N. Mifune


Maju said...

I'm arguing with Maju...

We were discussing. I don't think we ever really got into any argument, though maybe this is a misunderstanding of English meanings (would not be the first time).

Whatever the case, I fail to see how this elaboration of yours may support shame as a basic instinct.

I'd say that there are instincts that help to build the group almost naturally. The most important ones are affection and empathy. Affection is the feeling of attachment to whatever we like (we feel good for us), empathy is a more "advanced" emotion proper of intelligent social animals (bonobos, dolphins, elephants... humans) which enables solidarity and compassion, as well as love and even learning from others' experiences. It's not an "understanding" (intellectual, rational) of others pain (or whichever other emotion - empathy is not limited to pain but also applies to joy, etc.) but an extension of that others' emotions into us. We actually "feel" their pain, joy... even if only in imaginary form.

I'd say that empathy could be the most crucial emotion that enables us with what is typically described as a "soul". It would be even behind art, as we can only feel those emotions expressed in dance, theater or whatever other artistic expression because we are innately empathic and hence we automatically "read" and "experience" the artist's emotions in ourselves.

manju said...

Not sure whether that was a discussion as we were always on parallel lanes. However, if I consider the intensity of your arguments at Music 00001, or at your blog or even with Ren in the past, I guess that would qualify as a discussion :-).

Maju said...

Yes, it was a very civilized exchange. :)