The Bonobo and the Atheist (CHF)

Religion and the History of the United States are completely entwined.  The foundation of America, and American systems, has always been heavily influenced by religion.  In his speech, De Waal mentioned the prevailing moral view of Puritans – the “Top-Down” philosophy.  In this system, morals come from God, and is left to Humans to screw it up.  De Waal’s view, and a view that is gaining traction is that morals come from within; that morals were an essential aspect of evolution.  The logic is that every animal would inevitably require morals to advance past individual survival and into organized collaborative societies.  For the Puritans, morals and discipline are what dictated the way their colonies worked.  While still strictly abiding by their interpretations of the Bible, they left nothing up to “human” morals.  They did not believe that regular women and men were capable of responsibly and morally making decisions.

However, while societies thrive on empathy and collaboration, another moral he found to be evolutionary is fear of the other.  Slaves, while necessary to the economy, were mixed together from different regions to ensure that they couldn’t collaborate.  White slaveowners, even though they viewed themselves as superior to the slaves, were afraid of blacks receiving the opportunity to succeed.  Also, while many religious societies in the US thrived by strength within their own community, many communities were less willing to cooperate with disagreeing groups.  That is part of the reason that the US was founded in the first place – Puritans unhappy with the state of the Church of England decided that they didn’t want to compromise.

The American Dream is seen as somewhat solitary.  Through hard work, one person individually succeeds, and beats out everybody else.  What his research showed is that evolution has given humans the ability to work together in huge numbers, and that is what has separated humans from the rest of the Animal Kingdom.  This directly contrasts this American idea of success.

The way we define our morals dictates the way that we live our lives.  What has produced the success of the US isn’t just many individuals working against each other in competition.  It is many people with a common goal working together in a system to achieve as much as they can together.  That is what has gotten the US to this point, but I don’t think that it is recognized as much as it should be.  We are not a nation of individuals, we are a nation of Americans.


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