Universal Ethics > Thought of the Month > July 2022

The next level of human evolution depends on caring, kindness, generosity, knowledge, and perseverance.

Although there is some risk that humans will wipe themselves off the planet by warring or destroying the ecology, the more likely future is very attractive: widespread prosperity and freedom, elimination of human suffering due to war, starvation, and disease, and happier relationships between people.

There is a gradual trend in that direction, beset with periodic setbacks, but the knowledge exists of how to achieve mutual happiness, and more than ever to overcome the challenges that nature presents to us.

At the current level of human evolution, people have developed traits of caring and kindness that brings solidarity to a group. Humans have been able to organize themselves in larger groups than any other animals (more than wolves, cattle, ants, bees...). However, in the past there has always been a limit, beyond which the caring ends and predatory behavior on other people is permitted, or even encouraged.

Tribes or nations historically organized themselves into a hierarchies led by kings. Within a society, killing of other people was a crime of murder, but outside it was a permissible war. Leaders were expected to make war on weaker nations as the only way to create a wider nation where people could travel freely, but in so doing they brought misery upon themselves and the people they attacked.

The history of nations is described as the conquests of leaders such as Alexander the Great, Peter the Great of Russia, or Genghis Khan. Instead of being remembered for their conquests, such leaders should be remembered for the suffering they caused. It is typical that such leaders also had misery in their own lives. When the only method of political change is insurrection or betrayal, they become very fearful, paranoid, and vengeful. For example, Alexander the Great, in a drunken rage killed a friend who had saved his life. Peter the Great had his son Alexei tortured, resulting in his death afterward in prison. Genghis Khan killed his brother, committed many cruel atrocities, and is responsible for about 40 million deaths.

If we wish to honor people who made real advances to benefit people, we might instead honor Louis Pasteur for his discoveries of the cause of disease, and solutions such as vaccination and pasteurization. Or we could honour Thomas Edison whose many inventions brought a better life for many people: most notably, light from the electric lights, and music from the phonograph.

If we ask, "how did these people develop the character and behaviors they were known for?" it wouldn't be a physical difference that one could ascribe to biological evolution. It would be more related to social evolution: to the situation and attitudes around them as they grew up. Among kings and their families there is a lot of vying for power. Their children grow up to see others of their friends or family killed either by treason or as punishment in the suspicion of it. They develop the mentality of a mafia, where their primary goal is to dominate and to cause suffering rather than being the victim of it.

So, if one grows up in a democracy, and better yet if one is surrounded by people whose actions are motivated by caring, kindness, and generosity, their goals in life tend to be much different. If one wants to create a world around them in which they and others can be happy, acting on those motives is a much more effective strategy than conquest.

Some might say that this is naive, because there are still wars occurring in the world, both as civil wars and wars between nations, such as the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia. It may be asserted that those situations cannot be ended by kindness, but only by defeating the enemy or being defeated, or perhaps by stalemate. Unfortunately, that is often an accurate assessment, because after people see the pain and death of friends and family around them, they no longer seek to optimize happiness among all people of the world; rather they seek revenge.

War is like a fire going through a forest, with each tree passing the fire on to the next tree, so that it cannot stop until they are all burnt up. Of course humans are not trees, so it is voluntary for people to spread the fire, but once in this situation it takes an incredible feat of will to do anything but add to the destruction. This is why it perpetuates for months, years, or even across generations, even though people should know better.

People also have a tendency to escalate small problems into big ones. If one goes back in time to examine the cause of today's conflict in Ukraine, it can be traced back to a trade dispute of whether Ukraine should pursue freer trade with Russia or the European Union. Unfortunately, they were not permitted by their neighbors to do both simultaneously. Lacking a firm tradition of democracy, this eventually resulted in outbreaks of fighting within Ukraine and a whole series of events that brought us to where we are today.

In the modern world, conquering is out of fashion, so would-be conquerors need to find excuses for their actions. So they create a pretence that war is needed to address past offences of their opponent, or to protect against the potential of future aggression. They control the media in their own nation to disseminate one sided progaganda aimed at promoting their side (their "tribe") over the other.

This is why widespread and unlimited knowledge is needed in our next step in social evolution. It needs to be based on widespread and freely available sources of information, and an intent desire of all people to see all the evidence--not just the evidence supporting what they want to believe among their tribe.

For wars in progress, there may be no solution but to contain them until the fire burns out. Just like a schoolyard fight, those nearby can try to pull the fighters apart by applying pressure such as sanctions. These methods are imperfect in the modern world, lacking any kind of central authority to judge when they should be applied, and for all nations to apply them consistently.

Nevertheless, the prescription of caring, kindness, generosity, and knowledge can help prevent future wars. It can help the refugees, and help to create a situation where their own offspring don't make the mistakes of their parent's generation.

This is where the last part of the prescription comes in: perseverance.

It is true that wars have occurred through all of history, but it is also true that in many parts of the world there is peace and government that is not only responsive to the wellbeing of their people, but who offer aid to other nations in time of need or natural disasters. That is the hope we have for the future, that such caring shall be expanded without limit, for the benefit of all people now and in the future. It is to replace the "local ethics" of tribal solidarity with universal ethics.

Each person votes with their own actions for the kind of world they want, and cumulatively it determines the future. It may take some generations yet, but caring, kindness, generosity, knowledge, and perseverance can bring people to the next stage of evolution, in which the suffering of people is largely eliminated on earth. It requires people to understand and compensate for their human weaknesses, so that they avoid falling into the traps that have beset the people of the past.

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