Our Internal Moral Codes

Because an individual’s moral code is dependent on the unique environment in which they were raised, these internal moral codes are not a useful source of guidelines for laws or policies. Instead, goals must be defined using matchist philosophy, and provisions of The Code identified or created that will guide us toward achieving them, perhaps in spite of our existing moral codes.

If you had been born a million years ago, your moral code would most likely include acceptance of infanticide in times of scarce resources. If an individual was judged by your band to be a danger to them, or even just a major annoyance, murder was the accepted solution. If the problematic individual was a relative of yours, it might even fall to you to commit the act. Although these things may seem abhorrent to us now, they were in fact necessary components of a system that would ensure the survival of the band and therefore the individuals within it because they lacked the technology and resources to handle these issues any other way (e.g., they lacked the resources to build and staff prisons or mental hospitals, and also the technology to treat problematic individuals with drug or behavioral therapy, in these examples “scientific knowledge” being classified as a precursor to and component of technology).

A thousand years ago, your moral code would probably compel you to report neighbors, friends, or relatives who had committed blasphemy against the Church or sedition against the king or emperor of the land you lived in, knowing that this could result in them being tortured, disemboweled and dismembered while still alive, or perhaps burned at the stake. And you might even attend these events as public entertainment! The connection to survival is a little more tenuous in this case, but the argument of the Church would include the possibility that failure to suppress this kind of dissent could cause the “wrath of God” to fall on your people, jeopardizing the survival of your group. The argument from the ruling class might include the same claim since many if not most people believed (or at least professed to believe) that the king/emperor occupied that position by “divine right”. More practically, the breakdown or overthrow of either of these organizations might pose an existential threat because without them incursions from neighboring states would go unanswered and organizing production and living situations would be much more difficult.

A couple of hundred years ago, acceptance of owning, and indeed even abusing, other human beings as slaves and denying women the right to vote and other freedoms would most likely have been a part of your moral code. These practices too would have been endorsed by the Church and the ruling elites as necessary components of maintaining order and economic growth, which although still more tenuous, in some sense a loss of these things still represented a threat to you and your people.

What these examples show is that an individual’s moral code is a product of the environment in which they were raised. This suggests that moral codes are like languages: The human brain comes pre-wired to have one, but the specific language or code one learns comes from the environment and is not a genetically determined characteristic. As such, it means that moral codes, like language, are merely tools and technology and the particular set you happen to end up with does not define your humanity. Unfortunately, unlike languages which can be learned (albeit with much more difficulty) once past the receptive years of childhood, we only have one moral code and it is extremely difficult to change once imprinted, even when it is made clear through rational analysis that the one that has been imprinted is a poor match to our culture and level of technology.

The recent shift in approval for gay marriage is a good example of this: As of 2014 the rate of acceptance in the US is highly dependent on age, with people over 65 almost twice as likely to disapprove as those under 30. Unfortunately this resistance to change is just a necessary feature of a moral code: If it were easy to change one’s moral code, there wouldn’t be much point in having one. The evolutionary purpose of these codes is to improve social cohesion and in doing so enhance the survival rate of bands and the individuals within them. Flexible thinking in the face of moral dilemmas did not improve fitness in the Pleistocene era, so we have been wired to allow moral codes to override reason in nearly all cases, although of course this characteristic is not uniformly distributed among individuals (to spell it out, authoritarians are particularly likely to defer to their internal moral code even when it conflicts with conclusions derived from rational analysis, and indeed their moral code sometimes even seems to have rules in it that prohibit even the attempt to objectively examine their moral codes).

These examples also show is that moral codes have shifted over time as technology and culture have evolved. In the case of gay marriage, a fundamental cause of the shift was the development of technology used to determine that there are anatomical/physiological differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals, which is proof that homosexuality is not a “lifestyle choice” and therefore that it is immoral to discriminate against gays as if it were. The general tendency of this shift is toward greater individual freedom and equality, but of course there have been setbacks. These setbacks also demonstrate a fundamental flaw in using moral codes as a basis for laws and policies, and that is that shrewd leaders can “game the system” by exploiting flaws in the human implementation of moral codes. The biggest of these flaws is the classification system, which only evolved to work in small communities of relatively homogeneous individuals. By classifying people who were not raised in your group as subhuman, the whole system of protection that a moral code should provide to them simply vanishes. Whether it’s because they’re a different race (and so would make appropriate slaves) or a different religion (in which case killing them becomes morally acceptable), this “loophole” can be exploited by any SDAP who could benefit from doing so.

This shift in morality over time also tells us something else: Our current moral codes will be considered barbaric when compared with the moral codes of our descendants. Treatment of homosexuals is only the tip of the iceberg, and while it’s hard to predict exactly what our moral codes will look like a hundred years from now, let alone a thousand, there are two fairly obvious areas where the shifts are occurring fast enough that we can see them and so can make some prediction as to how they will progress: Animal Rights and Abortion.

It is now quite common to hear of people working to stop the harvesting of marine mammals for food on the grounds that they are intelligent creatures and so eligible for the same sorts of protections we humans (typically) afford each other. The same types of arguments are made against the use of primates in medical and psychological experiments. Prohibitions against raising dogs and cats and even horses for food are a common, albeit not universal, feature of moral codes the world over. The conditions farm animals are kept in have become a frequent topic for debate. On the technological front, there have been some successes in growing meat in the laboratory, a technology that once perfected will allow humans to continue to eat meat, which is a valuable source of protein and variety, without having to kill animals to do so. It would therefore seem inevitable that our current methods for providing meat are destined to be replaced by a new technology, at which point our moral codes will be free to evolve to include prohibitions on killing animals for food.

Even if they accept the morality of abortion in principle, there are few individuals living today who would condone performing an abortion of a healthy fetus late in the 9th month of a pregnancy, a point at which a premature infant would most likely survive without the use of modern technology. As technology advances and the age of viability continues to decrease, the point at which it will commonly be held that abortion is a moral act will continue to shift earlier and earlier in the gestational process. We already can save over 50% of infants delivered at 24 weeks (6 months), and can assume that eventually this technology will enable the gestation of a human being even from conception. We must note that the ability to save these infants comes with the obligation to do so. Furthermore, the primary justification for allowing abortion revolves around the rights of the mother, a right that applies not only to the gestational period, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to the freedom from responsibility for the care of the child. If the Match-homing proposal (more on that in the section Children and Families) becomes accepted and institutionalized, it would eliminate this latter concern. Together these things will probably cause a shift in moral codes toward no longer accepting the morality of abortion except in extreme and rare cases such as serious fetal abnormality or when the mental or physical health of the mother would be put at grave risk.

These examples are not intended to provoke changes in anyone’s current beliefs or behavior, but only to provide evidence that hard-wiring our current moral codes into our governing documents would be a mistake unless every aspect of them had been examined in a meta-morality analysis, tweaked as necessary such that they are at or slightly ahead of our the current state of our cultural and technological evolution, and that provisions have been made to allow them to promote rather than retard this evolution. Our internalized moral system evolved to fit a world where a small group of individuals shared the same moral code. Trying to use it in a world where these codes vary wildly between individuals is a recipe for constant strife and frequent violent conflicts.

The requirement that moral codes evolve over time to reflect scientific, cultural, and technological improvements also means that organized religion can only be considered a hindrance to the advancement of civilization. Religion institutionalizes moral codes such that obsolete elements survive when they would naturally die out without this support. Therefore The Church is actually a primary source of immoral behavior, the overwhelming religious endorsement of California’s Proposition 8, which was a deliberate attempt to deprive a minority (gays) of their rights, being but one recent example.

The greatest fear of organized religion is “moral relativism” which holds that moral codes inherently vary with culture and all therefore appear to be equally valid. Matchism represents a much lower level of potential conflict because it is instead based on a theory of “moral progressivism”: Given human nature and a measure at time t of a population’s moral code and their level of technology and knowledge, there is an optimal moral code at time t + 1 that it is obligated to achieve. Although they are based on the same type of appreciation for innate human tendencies, the difference between matchism and the moral codes proposed by religious social engineers (e.g., Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad) is that matchism recognizes that our technology and our understanding of human nature continuously evolves over time. The moral codes of those amateur social engineers, however, are necessarily fixed until a new prophet (or “divine revelation”) comes along.

Matchism also sidesteps the problem of the need for moral axioms and axiomatic enforcement that plague most other political philosophies. For example, preventing rigid enforcement of the Non-aggression principle that is axiomatic to objectivism and libertarianism requires creation of all sorts of hedges and exceptions (hacks and kludges). Same with the rigid rules in utilitarianism which lead to fundamental disagreements over how to solve The Trolley Problem. Matchism sidesteps these issues by making the “right” answer dependent on human nature and level of knowledge and technology available. That is, it eliminates the need for exceptions and other hacks by turning over determination of what the “right” answer is over to The People rather than leaving it to philosophers or ideologues. The burden it imposes in exchange is that of education: Since the “right” answer depends on the level of education of The People, one of The People’s primary responsibilities is to ensure that the general level of education is high and relatively uniform, and access to technology is universal. This is not so much an axiomatic requirement as just competent engineering. The closest thing to an axiomatic component of matchism is the recognition that any implementation of it is incomplete until a full understanding of human nature is achieved, though this too is more like an engineering specification than anything axiomatic of the philosophy itself.

Matchism also gets around the explanatory and prescriptive flaws common in other moral philosophies. Our moral system evolved to solve the relatively simple group-cohesion problems that our distant ancestors faced. Expecting it to be sufficient to uphold any advanced system of morality, as in the moral-caring system proposed by Gilligan and the empathy-based system proposed by Hoffman (e.g., Gilligan 1990Hoffman 2001), is a fundamental misapplication of this very limited system. These are the engineering equivalent of pounding in screws with a hammer. Those philosophies fail dismally as explanations of past and present cultural norms (human sacrifice, slavery, FGM, etc.) and even the wide variety of immoral acts committed by supposedly fully socialized and developed individuals for exactly this reason. Under matchism these things are not only not a mystery, but also not a problem: When a subject is faced with the Trolley Problem in real time, matchism does not require that the ultimate moral decision will be made: If the five people on the siding are a different race from the subject or have recently mistreated him or her, it must be assumed that there will be little or no temptation to pull the switch to save them. That is just how our rapid-response moral system is designed to function, and no amount of education or socialization or conditioning will eliminate these kinds of violations of utilitarian prescription.

Matchism doesn’t even require that most people be able to operate above Kohlbergs’s Stage 4 of moral development, in contrast with religions and philosophies that prescribe (and indeed depend on) “enlightenment” coming to the majority of people, or even a significantly influential minority. “Enlightenment” having little value in the Pleistocene, achieving it all would have to be a clear indication that your system is operating out of spec or perhaps even malfunctioning. Instead of changing the individuals as those philosophies require, The System (described later) will be designed such that they only have to recognize convincing arguments provided by other individuals operating at stages 5 or 6, and vote (or delegate) accordingly. That is, we can’t expect that people will feel their way to high-level moral decisions, neither individually nor collectively, but only that, when presented with the proper kinds of information in an environment that facilitates rational analysis and acceptance of that information, they can collectively act at a higher moral level than their imprinted moral codes would otherwise allow. As generations pass many of these moral code updates will become internalized which will make compliance easier and more automatic on an individual basis. By that time, of course, the t + 1 rule will mean those people will have to deal with their own set of moral code updates.

Next: Some Harder Problems