Why Benevolence is a Survival Mechanism for Humanity
It’s time to examine what good is in the light of our imminent destruction.
I have just written the last sentence for my book on why benevolence is not so much a passport to heaven but a passage to the survival of our species and the preservation of the ecosystem of our world. As someone who has long been passionately involved in understanding systems as well as promoting ethical economic and political systems, I finally touched on a topic that I have avoided for more than thirty five years — religion.
It is ironical that none of the religious texts examine good and evil in any rational way. Nor do they give us an understanding of the difference between a good action and a bad action.
How is it a good action to avoid mixing two different textiles as the Hebrews are instructed to do in Torah? How is it a benevolent undertaking to kill infidels (unbelievers) so that one may attain seventy two virgins? How does the Hindu caste system of classifying people with darker skin color pigment to life-long serving positions demonstrate righteousness? And why would Christianity make women second class citizens by insisting that they submit to their husbands?
None of it is ethical or moral. Certainly, it appears that in the light of today’s increased knowledge, all of these supposedly good behaviors are simply the thoughts of men who had the limited knowledge inherent in more primitive times. Or was it?
Why was Benevolence Considered to be Important?
The old saying is that one man’s meat is another man’s poison. So it is inevitable that there will be clashes between people in communities. When these clashes become intense, they will often impinge on the survival and well-being of the community or village. These disagreements can lead to wars and other destructive actions.
It was, therefore, in the interests of village or tribal leaders to implement rules so that people could live together peacefully. To ensure that these rules had some sort of authority, it would have been easy to insist that they were the commands of some sort of god.
Many of those rules do not make sense today. They seem absolutely crazy. Some of them are downright evil. What military general today would instruct his soldiers to rape the women and put to death the children or give similar instructions? Yet, in those days, it might well have been to ensure the survival of the victors. That way, there were no more enemies that could creep back to them during the night with a counter-attack.
So these rules were held to be good at that time. What made them good was that they enabled the tribe to survive. Those same rules today, for the most part, do nothing of the sort. They are completely out of touch with modern civilization, and more to the point, we still haven’t identified what is good, what is evil, and why they matter.
The Doomsday Clock is a symbol that represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe. Maintained since 1947…
The Clock’s original setting in 1947 was seven minutes to midnight. It has been set backward and forward 24 times since then, the largest-ever number of minutes to midnight being 17 (in 1991), and the smallest 100 seconds (1 minute and 40 seconds) in January 2020. The clock was set at two minutes to midnight in January 2018, and left unchanged in 2019 due to the twin threats of nuclear weapons and the increasing effects of global warming. On January 23, 2020, it was moved forward to 100 seconds (1 minute 40 seconds) before midnight, based on the increased threats to global stability posed by “a nuclear blunder”, exacerbated by the rate of climate change. Source.
Benevolence is a Survival Mechanism.
When we put into context the kind of rules that ancient belief systems considered to be good and what they considered to be evil, it becomes more apparent that good was associated with rules that enabled the well-being and survival of the people. Dark deeds did the opposite.
Would it not then be wise for us to begin the process of establishing what might be considered good deeds and what might be considered bad deeds in our own civilization?
Could we also not reframe the fight against climate change as a benevolent deed? Would this not make a difference to those who gave no thought to it? Most people are concerned with benevolence, whether they believe in a god or not.
Benevolent Ethics Need to be Part of Our Educational System
As it becomes apparent to more and more people than religion is outmoded and out of touch with modern civilization, we have no way of replacing the role that religion played in ensuring benevolent behaviors. If we accept that benevolence started off as a survival mechanism, then it becomes essential that we need to find a medium in which we can teach benevolent principles to humanity.
Of course, there will be a great deal of debate as to what can be considered benevolent and what are simply different perspectives for the same events. Ultimately, the greater good for the greatest number of people for the longest period of time might be guiding principle of what is considered good.
For instance, there can be no good to let our planetary ecosystem die if our lives are dependent on it. Those who would argue that we cannot continue our civilization in its current state if we do not have oil to sustain it might well have a point. The argument would then be which would be the greater good?
These type of discussions would be excellent ways of beginning debates on the role of benevolence in human society in both K-12 and college education systems.
In my opinion, the only way of ensuring that we have sufficient support for making the radical decisions that need to be made to save our civilization is to look at the power of good. To my mind, the original purpose of benevolence was the survival and well-being of our early ancestors, and I believe it should once again be made the foundation stone of our civilization.