February 2014

by Lloyd H. Whitling

Gaian Morality attempts to apply the Gaia Theory to real life endeavors. Lovelock’s  Gaia Theory describes Earth as a self-balancing system using a process his associate, Lynn Margulis, tagged as homeorhesis. Rather than concern ourselves with Green Politics here, we will concentrate on morality as a system derived from all that to assess the nature of intentional human interactions within a community as to their tendencies toward harm, beneficence, or innocuousness. We do so with full awareness that human social interests are political in nature, and so must account for effects far afield from any primary interests.

Aside from any religious input, our social natures force us to feel concern about moral issues—our behavior, our treatment of each other, our intentional actions and their consequences as they accord with a sense of justice. Morality is a name humanity has applied to a process of social interaction wherein the behavior that supports social wellbeing gets approved, and unjust behavior that interferes with social wellbeing gets condemned. Is that because people don’t like unjust behavior?—of course! Is that because people desire justice?—of course! The sense of balanced existence that Lady Justice represents as she holds her scales aloft symbolizes that universal concern.

Our forebears handed this concern to religion by default, as they lacked wisdom on their own and regarded the religious element in their social networks as their highest repository of wisdom, as that was where knowledge accumulated in early times. That may have been wise at the outset among primitive people in tribes and clans widely separated with little interference from each other. Overpopulation and technology in the modern world have shown how badly religions have made a mess of things, and how desperately oblivious humanity remains to a need for science to step in and claim its place by applying Lovelock’s theory, as rendered with Ms. Margulis’s guidance, to human behavioral issues, especially within the legal and educational spheres.

Intentional acts at all levels remain subject to Action and Consequence in a fashion that can be studied and effects cataloged in such a way as to render harm and benefit predictable. The secular process of law has encoded that in modern societies, but poorly, as the processes of science have made too little input and so justice has not always been served. Religion considers morality according to diverse views regarding a human relationship with the religion’s god, and science tends to favor objectivity as related to concrete “things”.

Acts are not “things”, but that does not make them irrelevant, as they are events in processes that affect us. Science deals with such by gathering data and making predictions that can be tested. Justice sets the standard. Actions, still part and parcel of events and processes, and as fully so as “concrete things”, are as real and tangible, and identifiable and measurable, as are objects. Learn to picture existence as events and processes developing over time, if you have a hard time understanding this, and it will become clearer. Picture in your mind all that goes into such simple processes as turning on a light, boiling a pan of water, or cutting a strip of cloth.

Common processes have names so others can recognize them despite their 4-dimensional nature, and despite that processes often require many individual acts to complete them, each also an event recognizable by a name. Human behavior is as easily understood as observable events and processes as is anything else, and as subject to variable conditions that can be (have been) recognized and given data values. Desire, taste, pleasure, pain, stress due to imbalance, and any other sensory or emotion-based perception is as much a part of that as any other kind of stimulus, and all of it is measurable. It is the results and the intentions that make something moral, immoral, accidental, or inconsequential.

Think: Rather than make  contradictory statements and argue, if you cannot show why that one is wrong or another idea is more right, why not accept it, draw some inferences from it, and then find some way to show them true or false? Why do like a dog chasing a rabbit around and around a tree? Stand still, and you will eventually “get it.” Stop, think, and the rabbit will run up your back.

Why is this important? Humanity needs a universal system to guide our actions, if for no better reason, so that we can know with some certainty what will likely be expected of us in unfamiliar circumstances. Our world grows more complex, populated and crowded at an increasing rate, so that we more often brush against conditions that test our levels of tolerance, patience, and abilities to adapt. Reciprocal behavior is often expected in circumstances we don’t understand. We are expected to be responsible for consequences that are often impossible to foresee due to our unschooled ignorance and cultural or moral expectations codified by someone else’s religion. If one of us should accost the other in a painful manner and do harm, we recognize that as intentionally bad and call it an immoral act. Even without a label, never discredit the urge to get even.

As it now stands, the cultural hodgepodge we daily endure hurts people with imposed stress, misunderstandings and the making of bad choices due to misinformation and unjust laws. We hurt each other, and we hurt ourselves when we refrain from beneficial behavior, perform harmful learned behavior, and waste effort on ritualistic acts that fail to accomplish whatever aims were accredited to them. Consequences will accredit or discredit our choices and we should gain moral lessons from that, if we are schooled to do so. That does not make moral choices irrelevant or meaningless or however else we might choose to dismiss it. It simply means that we have not been taught how to recognize the nature of events humans initiate as good, innocuous or bad (to use the simplest terms) by their effects on others and ourselves, especially in the long term. In other words, we must learn to recognize an aspect of them in terms of balanced values: cost (penalty, bad), harmless result (innocuous), or reward (good). Seeing consequences in that way enables us to seek to balance the effects of our actions upon ourselves with their effects upon others, and to consider how harm we now do to ourselves may place an unjust toll onto others in the future.

By Lloyd H. Whitling

It starts in recent times, as human ethical processes go. During the 1970s, James Lovelock posited the idea that Earth seeks to maintain a state of equilibrium in a process called homeostasis. Lynn Margulis joined him in studies about it, and called it ‘homeorhesis’. Other scientists laughed at such nonsense, until the pair learned how to demonstrate powerful predictive powers inherent to their idea. Long before that, school children had been taught about “the balance of Nature” and how the relationships between all the various forms of life were interdependent, studied under the title “Ecology”. Remember ecology? At such a young age, we thought the old people were just trying to get us to keep our stuff picked up.

It reaches back into ancient times to where the roots of our modern western religions sent forth sprouts, and where the beginning stirrings of scientific and philosophical curiosity sprang forth to begin formulation of a method that would eventually change the world in our times, and place dangerous powers into the hands of tyrants and would-be saviors alike, and eventually enable the common person, if born in the right places, to see the other side of Earth from the comfort of his couch. Okay, so by the time we get to be old people, we learn there are people out there who are even worse than we are about cleaning up our messes.

In those ancient days, the roles of pain and pleasure were set forth as an ethical philosophy wherein the two kinds of senses steer human beings toward correct behavior. Aristipus began with pleasure, Epicurus added pain to the mix and espoused moderation and expressed a sense of what he called ‘ataraxia’.  That would have been fine, had the folks of that time known of a natural third component in the mix, that would serve to work against a tendency for overindulgence. They didn’t, of course, and practitioners of early hedonism used it as an excuse for all kinds of excesses. That led to its early condemnation. It would have meant its extinction, had not later folks, who could sense it actually had something right about it, kept dredging it up in attempts to refine it.

It is only now that we can see how the unspoken, heretofore unrealized aim of hedonism is to achieve and maintain balance in as many aspects of existence as possible. It brings natural homeostasis into the external realm wherein we act and then enjoy or suffer the consequences. This aim goes far beyond the human realm to permeate the whole of natural existence. There are those who will quickly say that to state such a claim is to grant to Nature the possession of intentions. That cannot be the case, and such off-the-mark naysaying only serves to avoid any considerations of the implications behind this aim. So, it matters not; the results are the same whether Nature does possess sentience, or whether we acknowledge it as “simply the way things work.”

The various studies about what all goes on inside our bodies, and how our various components and processes affect each other in ongoing fashion, ends up as applications in the medical fields. We find we are not so different from other animals, in whom their organs work to maintain homeostasis even when things start going wrong. It is when some aspect of the state of balance goes out of range that suffering begins and unpleasant events start to happen. Excessive heat leads to sweating or panting as the body struggles to regain its balanced temperature. Excessive stomach acid or pollutants leads to vomiting. Insufficient fuel leads to hunger and the hunt for food. The list goes on and on, and those are only about externally sensed unbalances. The body deals with myriad other forms of disequilibrium in an ongoing basis, instant to instant, day and night, for so long as it remains alive. Bodies that failed in that died off long millenniums ago.

What is true of the interior is as true of the external. We must constantly fend off hunger, pests, the effects of weather, predators, and seek to maintain some state of balance wherein we can feel comfortable until more changes force us into making necessary responses. We also initiate actions that others must accommodate or resist. The results are unexpectedly very similar to the more sensible religious moral edicts with the absence of those that are obviously control and merchant-or-commerce-oriented. Those last are the origins of many of the compunctions we have gained culturally, for which there are no believable ready explanations.

As an animal upon the Earth, we are a component of Nature. We can observe, without much effort, the way that many natural traits are shared among components of Nature that otherwise appear to have little in common. The necessity to maintain a state of equilibrium is one of those traits. Even rocks flying through space risk their own destruction if flying on courses that oppose the general historical trends. We can safely suppose that rocks cannot feel pain. There is enough debris in space so that is likely a good thing, for we can understand how many of them must have wrecked in the ancient past in order to generate the current “created” appearance.

That balanced look, accomplished over the course of billions of years, is what make the universe, and all of its contents, impress so many folks that it had been designed. That’s fine, I think, just don’t look too closely and don’t ask questions about the many flub-ups that prompt the more observant of us to question the designers’ intellect.

What it boils down to for our understanding of how moral issues can find their way to resolution in accordance with Gaian Hedonism, is for humans to look for ways to bring the natural requirement for equilibrium into their quest. Knowing that equilibrium must be a universal requirement, not only for life upon our planet, but for everything across the cosmos to continue its existence, makes for a rule we must go against Nature to violate. As a person who regards Nature (whether or not used as the proper name for a process) to be the final arbiter for determining how things work, I find that easy to comprehend and accept.

For science to look to Nature for right and wrong is doable and requires the hedonic approach. The inclusion of Gaian Hedonism’s recognition of how maintaining balance, if incorporated into all decisions, holds the key to moral behavior is to complete the quest that began with Aristippus 400 years before Xianity claims Jesus lived. We can now see that we must act in ways that will not induce Nature to react against us. We must act in accordance with that, to not predictably induce pain or suffering in others, or at which we will profit at others’ expense, but do that which will maintain the best environmental balance, including our internal and social environments.

At times, that may require us to choose the lesser of two evils. In a too-common situation, where groups of people get involved, as in an example using warfare, war causes pain and suffering, and steals resources away from the future. It would be easy to think that whoever causes a war must be guilty of an immoral act. It seems just as easy to think that whoever pits his army against an aggressor intends to lessen anguish his own people will surely suffer at the aggressor’s hands, and also preserve their way of existence. What if the person acting in defense for his country lied to hide a fraudulent purpose? What if the apparent aggressor merely acted to retaliate against the ones who had secretly assassinated an honored leader in their country?

Long distance assessments of events does not necessarily present one with all the necessary facts. We cannot know from events what served as others’ intentions, hidden agendas, or the hidden forces that drove their responses. To serve the cause of justice is why we have courts to investigate what remains unapparent to casual observers and avoid illicit effects induced by those serving vested interests. Beyond that, where was the Gaian component in any of those questions? Of paramount importance, always, is to maintain our individual balanced relationship with Nature—as individual persons, cities, states, counties, and world.

Long distance assessment involves time as well as place, of course. Ancient edicts claimed to come from gods need constant monitoring to assure justice always gets served, and their origins involved no deception. Science must always have the final word. Politicians untrained in the practices of science must have no word at all.

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