The Soldier’s Dilemma; Determinism and Morality

(I am publishing this in a semi-raw state. Please tell me what you think and let me know if anything is unclear)

The Soldier’s Dilemma

In my previous article, Psychology from the Evolutionary Perspective, I’ve began the discussion of evolutionary psychology – the only valid approach to the subject of psychology, in my belief. I would like to give one example of how this comes into play by discussing the psychology of soldiers committed to risking their lives, on the battlefield, when society asks it of them. Or demands.

You will find that many of the issues I address here are parallel to what i discuss in my other articles, specifically the ones concerning social evolution, only I’m approaching the subject from a different perspective. Of course, the 2 are connected: society is driven by our psychology, with all its facets.

I view society as the general case of the story of the Gun Wars: as the British brought their guns to New Guinea, in the 19th century, a race began between the local tribes to obtain guns for themselves. Then they began fighting among themselves, with the tribes that possessed guns wiping out or subjugating the ones that didn’t. Civilization is the guns, in this parable. We ‘created’ civilization as a war machine, and using it we wiped out or assimilated all those who didn’t, or who were not as successful as we were in organizing their societies.

The instrument that facilitated the social change – or, evolution – which created this weapon was memes – religions, ideologies, mythologies (which are part of both). You could say that memes are the link between social evolution – and society, in general – and our psychology. Memes define our attitude towards reality (of which society is a big part) and our behavior in most situations and are, therefore, in close interaction with our emotions, with our psychology.

Consider the peculiar situation in which warriors and soldier have found themselves, throughout history:

First, you want to be part of the large, successful society in your region. Or in any decent society. You need to be part of a group in order to succeed in your goals (procreation and survival, to which I will refer to as survival, for brevity, from now on). Lonely individuals, small, powerless, groups – primitive compared to the prevailing social order – will be either wiped out or assimilated by the larger, more powerful, ones, usually receiving worse conditions than the older members of that group (becoming a lower class, or, even slaves).

In order to maintain your position in society you need to do what society expects of you. If you’re a male of military age, you need to serve in your nation’s army. You need to agree to risk your life for ideals such as country and fatherland, and a sacred way of life; you need to accept the idea you might die for them, and you need to coat it in nice ideological colors, prominent among which is the notion of an afterlife.

Behind these beliefs, these adjustments and this great risk a person is assuming when becoming a soldier, there is a cold mathematical calculation: his chances of survival will simply be better after he does it. More importantly, his genes will benefit from it, even if he does not survive.

Assuming there are several copies of the same allele (a version of a particular gene) in several individuals, an allele’s behavior is defined by the following calculation: if I risk my life, how much will my social status increase as a result, how much this will improve my chances of spreading my genes, and what are the chances that I actually survive? If we have a 50% chance of losing the original copy and a 50% chance of keeping it and making 2 more copies, this gives us 0.5 * 1 + 0.5 * 2, which equals 1.5. So, assuming we are not gambling with our last copy, we might as well. Indeed, some warrior societies have succeeded, throughout history, to gain improved social status from themselves – the Arians in India, the Norsemen in Normandy, The Hurrians in Middle-Bronze Canaan, to name but a few.

So, genetically, those are very useful ideologies, and, evolutionarily speaking, those who do not adopt the winning ones will be eaten by those that do – like in our example from the Gun Wars.

But even before the ideologies step in, we need to remember the social ostracism and the punishments (often – execution or jail) a person would face if they refused to ‘do their duty’. Ideologies are essential, but so is coercion.

This simplifies our math, in many ways. But there are other things to consider, in addition to personal risk and the chances to procreate. Most soldiers have families. Members of those families carry genes which are ‘related’ – similar alleles – to the ones the soldier is carrying. From the point of view of the gene, it is a sound strategy to sacrifice (or risk the sacrifice) or one copy in order to help the others do better at their tasks (assuming that one’s service improves the social status of one’s relatives, which is not always equally true).

But, from the Individual point of view all these calculations are meaningless. The ‘Self’ only wants to live on, that’s all. It wants to have sex and not die. To assuage this tendency social programming is used. Of course, this is not done consciously – these ideas evolve naturally, without conscious planning. A soldier is made to believe that he himself will benefit from his sacrifice. Valhalla, the various ideas, in different cultures, about a heaven reserved for warriors that died in battle; the notion held by European noblemen in the Middle Ages, when it was almost considered shameful to die of old age, and not in battle; the Bushido, with it’s opening phrase, which states that when faced with a choice between life and death, a samurai must always choose death. All these are ideologies created to make it possible for soldiers and for warriors to deal with the emotional conundrum involved with risking their lives on the field of battle.


Determinism and Morality

Morality is a central part of the ideological adjustment society must undergo to meet its evolutionary needs. The social structure represents, just like organic structures do, a solution to a set of survival problems accumulated over a long history of minor adjustments, not quite conscious, to the demands of the environment.

Evolution of ideas, of memes – memetic evolution – is an evolution of the second order, since it is completely dependent on the survival of the genes and the robots that carry them – us. The ideas are the super-program (central algorithm) that operates us.

Of course, they can never be viewed as such. We must believe in our memes, else they will not be able to do their job. Hence, morality, an ad-hoc, ever changing, ever evolving, solution, must be sanctified, in every generation or in every stage of its evolution, as being absolute, universal, infinitely just and never changing.

It must make us believe that it is absolute, in order for it to be accepted in our minds, which are always after justice for themselves. Unless they can get a better deal.

To a determinist, good and evil have no meaning unless used subjectively:

Good is what helps me survive, evil is what stands in my way, or is trying to eat me or enslave me. I view them as universal principles, I believe in them fervently, I love good and I hate evil (and always interpret events to place myself on the side of good), so that I can act determinedly on the questions that concern my survival.

I assume the beliefs, passions and convictions of the group of people I am part of because, in order to survive I need to be part of a group, and I have been brainwashed to believe in the memes of the group because the group needs me to be a passionately cooperating, useful, member.

The idea of a common good is not meaningless, of course, contributing to the society you are part of, as opposed to seeking out only your own interests, or those of your subgroup – your class, within it. But it will have to be balanced, inside your head, in your own private ideology, or in the ideology of your subgroup, with your interests and those of your subgroup within society. Thus, every social class, every interest group, has its own version of the common moral code and, each individual has yet another version, a private one, tailored specifically to his own needs, often at least partially hidden, private.

Of course, as a determinist, I do not reject the moral code, or laws, or the idea of punishment for crime, or religion, for that matter, as foolish and unnecessary. The faith, the memes, are needed as programming, society needs to program its members to abide by its rules. It would not work, otherwise. It is pretty obvious why rules are needed – if I can’t trust the social order I will not participate in it, and there will be no social order. Or rather, our failed order will be consumed by a successful one and, those who join later, especially by conquest, usually occupy a rather low echelon of their new society.

You could argue that no person really ever makes any decisions, that people do not control their impulses, none of us, and, on the grand scale of things, it is true. But let’s consider social programming again, and the social pressure that effects our decisions. If you know that people who steal get to spend some time in jail (or executed, until fairly recently: people have always been wild) – a considerable deterrent – you will feel you have protection against anyone who tries to break the rules and take from you whatever you have earned, playing by the rules, yourself. Faith in the social order is essential for maintaining this order, but punishment for crimes is just as essential – As civilized as we may have become, and whatever we may think it means about our nature, we are still animals driven by urges.

Repress these urges all you like, yet they will always find a way to express themselves. I’ve described the brain as an impulse processing mechanism, in Life, Evolution & Consciousness. What this means is that repressed impulses – urges, drives we could not act upon at the time they were invoked – will accumulate within the brain as a form of pressure, and when this pressure reaches a high enough point we will feel distress and it will interfere with our ‘normal’ behavior. We will adjust our personal beliefs accordingly, justifying to ourselves the pure survivalist need to use anything we can to get out of a disadvantageous situation – which is what our urges are telling us to do.

Despair, competition and a certain cultural background that evolves in every society, or is merely a vestige of our past, adjusted to more modern times, or just a survival strategy that fits certain social classes – one that breeds disrespect for the law and for certain common moral principles – makes it necessary, for every kind of government, to be able to use force on the members of its society.

Just like everything else, society is a compromise between various principles which I like to brand ‘dualistic’, for the time being, and until I discover they are not. In this case, I’m referring to competition vs. cooperation. We create society together, we fight, together, against other societies (tribes, countries, blocks of countries), for resources, and then the members of this society fight each other for a share of these resources.

These sub-societies adjust their moral codes to fit their relative position in the greater society, to justify the often predatory practices they employ towards other members. Memes are always a result of necessity, just like genes are. Necessity + prior evolution will define who becomes a criminal, who a hard working farmer, who a trader and who will be a lord – a bit of a criminal, if not a lot, just to show you how relative a concept ‘crime’ is.

As social stratification increases – as society grows and becomes more globalized – so does the pressure of competition inside it increases. When no external enemies are left, when no more expansion of the market is possible, aggression turns inward…. even more so than before.

So, genes are adjustment on the large scale, memes – the fine tuning. Morality, always adjusted to the local conditions, yet, always deeming itself universal, is an essential bit of programming that makes society possible; it’s the set of rules by which we live, it comes before laws, it justifies them, and often, overrides them – when the few believe they are being abused by the many, a belief that needs only one reality behind it: the need to do what needs to be done, to improve ones survival, and to justify it so that one can feel good about it.

Peace out.


(Next: The Second Brain; Previous: Psychology from the Evolutionary Perspective)

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