By Roland Watson

In the last article, I considered - and refuted - the idea that we can shape our evolution as a species using genetic manipulation. In this article, I will examine our other evolutionary option, which is to change our nature premeditatively through traditional mechanisms, specifically, by altering our behavior using our free will. I might add, this avenue is much more promising.

Our break with the past

For this option, we can start, once again, with where we would like to go. However, in considering this we must begin with the past - evolution is a break with the past - with the conditions and trends to which we have been exposed. And, as we have seen, there are a number of these, including:

The fact that in all species including homo sapiens, evolution is driven by competition: the competitive struggle that all life must face.

Secondly, our movement from freedom to form. Where traditionally we had complete freedom and control over our lives - excluding the effects of chance, we have lost much of this to social institutions and their increasingly subtle, and powerful, influences.

Thirdly, the shift in importance from individual to group, and now, to a degree, back again. Over time individual links with various social groupings became strong, then rigid and inflexible, but now they are starting to break apart.

And fourthly, the development of improved powers of reasoning, leading to a greater understanding of life and the universe. I might add, this is the underlying factor behind modern individualism, and also the means by which we will achieve our freedom from form.

With all of this in mind, how do we want to change our behavior?

The most important question is: can we escape from competition, and by this I mean the need to compete? Indeed, if there were no competition would evolution even continue? The answer to both questions is: Yes! Symbiotic species have proven that evolution can follow a path involving greater and greater cooperation. And humanity, if it chooses to do so with its will, can evolve in this way as well.

As part of this, we must defeat form, to move away from social influences and the restrictions that they impose, and towards personal development and freedom. And for this, we need to achieve a new ethic, including: to accept the consequences of our actions, on ourselves and others; to strive for and celebrate human equality; to achieve peace at all levels, with ourselves, other individuals, and within and between groups; and to strive for and celebrate the equality of all life, including by minimizing, and ultimately eliminating, our need to kill other sentient life for our survival.

One could argue, and many movies, the military, and gun manufacturers would have us believe, that you are not really human, that you are "emasculated," if you haven't killed, and with your own hands, another person, or at a minimum a large mammal. To this I would say: if this is what it takes to be human, then I don't want to be one.

Lastly, and this is not unrelated, we need to undergo spiritual or philosophical evolution. Even though we would appear to be at the epistemological limit - the limit of what it is possible for us to know - we must attempt to go further. We must continue to strive to increase our understanding and grasp of our place in the universe, and what it means to be alive. Indeed, one aspect of this is that all historical gods will be forgotten, or recalled only as quaint artifacts.

Ethical evolution

Regarding behavior and ethics, our goal can be restated as the need to eliminate those actions that keep us tied to the past, but without destroying our zest for life such that we become logic machines. We want to preserve love - and happiness and spontaneity, but eliminate hate; be rid of selfishness and greed, but not kindness and charity. And, we have to evolve our collective behavior as well. In the past, group irrationality and even hysteria has served a purpose. In the future, it cannot be allowed to serve any possible function.

The basic challenge is to use our reason as a guide, since there is no absolute on which we can rely. Also, we should recognize that our faculty of reason will improve - will continue to evolve - with time.

During the span of the human experience, our reason has made great strides. However, it still has a long way to go. Initially, reason developed to assist the problem solving that we required for survival. But in this process, it reinforced selfishness, and it also led to a restrictive interpretation of the word "freedom": as my freedom. As such, at a very early stage, freedom was placed in opposition to the idea of equality.

With a relaxation in survival pressure, reason was directed to new ends. On the one hand, it evolved into curiosity and a sense of wonder. Reason revealed the possibility of, and showed the way to, greater understanding and enjoyment of life. On the other hand, reason gave rise to our conscience, and a sense of personal responsibility. It enabled many new perceptions on social existence, including that cooperation, sharing and equality were viable alternatives to competition, selfishness and unlimited personal freedom; that it was not right to cause unnecessary injury and pain - this also entailed a great expansion in the use of the term "unnecessary"; and finally, that one should have an active motivation to do right, and to rectify the wrongs of others.

Now, at our present stage of development, we can begin to see new signposts along the path that our reason is leading us. We are gaining greater and greater scientific and mathematical understanding of the nature of physical reality. Further, our consciousness also is evolving, possibly towards a greater sense of unity with the universe. And, on the ethics side, there are similar, symmetrical developments, leading us towards the practice of selflessness and the sense that all life is equal.

The stages of development

All of this emphasizes that we need to continue our learning process, of life and of society. I would note, then, that to-date three separate stages of human development can be distinguished. Regarding life, other life, they are as follows:

Stage 1. You kill everything you can, even if you do not want or need it all, and a lot goes to waste.
Stage 2. You kill only what you need, and you realize that nature looks better without human garbage littered on it.
Stage 3. Following a higher ethic, you reduce to the greatest extent possible your need to kill, and in general you seek to minimize your impact on all other life.

For other people and society:

Stage 1. You conquer others, to get as much goods and power as you can.
Stage 2. Recognizing the long-standing traditions of hate that arise from this, and also that you do not want or need this much, you seek to minimize your conflicts and try better to get along.
Stage 3. Following a higher ethic, you confront and seek the end of strong groups and individuals oppressing the weak, and strive to move from a system of competition and selfishness to one of cooperation and selflessness, in recognition of the fact that this will make a greater abundance available to all.

Actually, there are many three-stage processes that can be distinguished. (It seems the prevalence of cycles in the universe is matched by the ubiquity of trinities.) For instance, for behavioral form:

Stage 1. You are oblivious to it.
Stage 2. You consciously try to use form to your own advantage.
Stage 3. You reject it, and the people who use it.

For the fact that actions have consequences:

Stage 1. You are unable to grasp it.
Stage 2. You understand it, but don't care about it. You do not try to fulfill the responsibility that is implicit in how you behave.
Stage 3. You strive to predict the consequences of your actions, before you act, and to minimize the probability that negative outcomes will occur.

For personal selfishness:

Stage 1. You will do anything to win.
Stage 2. You are self-centered.
Stage 3. You are selfless, and actively strive to help others.

More generally, and regarding self-knowledge and one's impact on others, including on other species, the three stages can be presented as follows:

Stage 1. You are ignorant. You do wrong and do not even know that it is wrong. You are oblivious and purely selfish.
Stage 2. You are no longer ignorant. You do wrong and know it is wrong. (In a sense, this is worse than stage one.) You knowingly are selfish, and you regularly take this to extremes.
Stage 3. You do right, since you know the difference - between right and wrong. You have learned this using your reason. And, you seek to prevent others - those people in stage two, and educate others - those people in stage one, so that they do not do wrong, either.

There are also stages regarding one's day-to-day approach to life. For example, for health and fitness:

Stage 1. You are thin, because you do not have enough food.
Stage 2. You are thin, because you are brainwashed. You have succumbed to the social form of idealized appearance, and have an eating disorder. Or, you are overweight, to the point of obesity, because - excluding genetic deficiencies that cannot be overcome by will - you are - in developing societies - now rich enough to afford food, and this is how you distinguish yourself from those people who are not, show that you are better than them; or - in developed societies - you are brainwashed - you don't have a "life," you have "food."
Stage 3. Realizing that to explore all the possibilities of life requires a certain degree of athleticism, you discipline your consumption and exercise habits and get into shape.

Finally, for travel and life:

Stage 1. You stay home. You have no interest in or curiosity about other people and cultures.
Stage 2. You go as a tourist, in a group, with a guide, look at what you are told to look at, and view it as a spectacle.
Stage 3. You travel, alone or with a friend, figure out where you want to go, make your own way, and learn about and experience other people and cultures in the process.

Stage analysis

In conclusion, these types of distinctions can also be used by way of what I call stage analysis. For instance, politicians and corporations are generally stage two for form - they understand it and use it to their own advantage; stage two for actions have consequences - they understand it but don't care about it; and stage one for selfishness - they will do anything to win.

As another example, scientists are often stage three for form - they are intellectually honest and reject it; but stage two for actions have consequences - they see the negative consequences of their technology, but don't care; and stage two - sometimes stage one! - for selfishness.

Also, problems in relationships can reflect stage differences between the partners. First and second stage individuals cannot escape from their personal selfishness enough truly to love another person. Real love is stage three.

Lastly, the number of individuals in the different stages extends through to the general state of society. For example, social stage one is no activists; stage two is the committed few; and stage three is an engaged majority.

Indeed, this is proof that individual development drives not only the evolution of the species, but also the evolution of our social institutions. The problems that we now have with institutions reflect the fact that most people, and almost all institutional leaders, are in stage one or two. When - if - we all get to stage three, these institutional problems will disappear. They are actually symptoms of the deeper problems that we have as individuals.

In the final article in the series, I will consider the future of our species.

© Roland Watson 2015