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.