Archives for category: Social controls

Notions of right and wrong, variously derived and changing with every change in social arrangements and activities, form an assemblage which we may conclude is even now in large measure chaotic. . . .

Originally, ethics has no existence apart from religion, which holds it in solution. Religion itself, in its earliest form, is undistinguished from ancestor worship. And the propitiations of ancestral ghosts, made for the purpose of avoiding the evils they may inflict and gaining the benefits they may confer, are prompted by prudential considerations like those which guide the ordinary actions of life.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 1, “The Confusion of Ethical Thought.”

If, instead of asking for men’s nominal code of right and wrong, we seek for their real code, we find that in most minds the virtues of the warrior take the first place. Concerning an officer killed in a nefarious war, you may hear the remark — “He died the death of a gentleman.” And among civilians, as among soldiers, there is tacit approval of the political brigandage going on in various quarters of the globe; while there are no protests against the massacres euphemistically called “punishments.”

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 1, “The Confusion of Ethical Thought.”

As the ethics of enmity and the ethics of amity, thus arising in each society in response to external and internal conditions respectively, have to be simultaneously entertained, there is formed an assemblage of utterly inconsistent sentiments and ideas. Its components can by no possibility be harmonized, and yet they have to be all accepted and acted upon. Every day exemplifies the resulting contradictions, and also exemplifies men’s contentment under them.

When, after prayers asking for divine guidance, nearly all the bishops approve an unwarranted invasion, like that of Afghanistan, the incident passes without any expression of surprise; while, conversely, when the Bishop of Durham takes the chair at a peace meeting, his act is commented upon as remarkable. When, at a Diocesan Conference, a peer (Lord Cranbook), opposing international arbitration, says he is “not quite sure that a state of peace might not be a more dangerous thing for a nation than war,” the assembled priests of the religion of love make no protest; nor does any general reprobation, clerical or lay, arise when a ruler in the Church, Dr. Moorhouse, advocating a physical and moral discipline fitting the English for war, expresses the wish “to make them so that they would, in fact, like the fox when fastened by the dogs, die biting,” and says that “these were moral qualities to be encouraged and increased among our people, and he believed that nothing could suffice for this but the grace of God operating in their hearts.” How completely in harmony with the popular feeling in a land covered with Christian churches and chapels, is this exhortation of the Bishop of Manchester, we see in such facts as that people eagerly read accounts of football matches in which there is an average of a death per week; that they rush in crowds to buy newspapers which give detailed reports of a brutal prizefight, but which pass over in a few lines the proceedings of a peace congress; and that they are lavish patrons of illustrated papers, half the woodcuts in which have for their subjects the destruction of life or the agencies for its destruction.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 1, “The Confusion of Ethical Thought.”

But side by side with the ethical conceptions . . . originating in one or other way and having one or other sanction, there has been slowly evolving a different conception — a conception derived wholly from recognition of naturally produced consequences. This gradual rise of a utilitarian ethics has, indeed, been inevitable; since the reasons which led to commands and interdicts by a ruler, living or apotheosized, have habitually been reasons of expediency more or less visible to all. Though, when once established, such commands and interdicts have been conformed to mainly because obedience to the authority imposing them was a duty, yet there has been very generally some accompanying perception of their fitness.

Even among the uncivilized, or but slightly civilized, we find a nascent utilitarianism. 

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 1, “The Confusion of Ethical Thought.”

Habits of conformity to rules of conduct have generated sentiments adjusted to such rules. The discipline of social life has produced in men conceptions and emotions which, irrespective of supposed divine commands, and irrespective of observed consequences, issue in certain degrees of liking for conduct favoring social welfare and aversion to conduct at variance with it. Manifestly such a molding of human nature has been furthered by survival of the fittest; since groups of men having feelings least adapted to social requirements must, other things equal, have tended to disappear before groups of men having feelings most adapted to them.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 1, “The Confusion of Ethical Thought.”

Survival of the fittest insures that the faculties of every species of creature tend to adapt themselves to its mode of life. It must be so with man. From the earliest times groups of men whose feelings and conceptions were congruous with the conditions they lived under, must, other things equal, have spread and replaced those whose feelings and conceptions were incongruous with their conditions.

Recognizing a few exceptions, which special circumstances have made possible, it holds, both of rude tribes and of civilized societies, that they have had continually to carry on external self-defense and internal cooperation–external antagonism and internal friendship. Hence their members have required two different sets of sentiments and ideas, adjusted to these two kinds of activity.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 1, “The Confusion of Ethical Thought.”

“[F]urther confusions . . . arise, not from the conflict of codes, but from the conflict of sanctions.”

Among uncivilized and semicivilized peoples, the obligations imposed by custom are peremptory. The universal belief that such things ought to be done, is not usually made manifest by the visiting of punishment or reprobation on those who do not conform, because nonconformity is scarcely heard of. How intolerable to the general mind is breach of usages, is shown occasionally when a ruler is deposed and even killed for disregard of them: a sufficient proof that his act is held wrong. And we sometimes find distinct expressions of moral sentiment on behalf of customs having nothing which we should call moral authority, and even on behalf of customs which we should call profoundly immoral.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 2, “What Ideas and Sentiments Are Ethical?”

Everywhere during social progress custom passes into law. Practically speaking, custom is law in undeveloped societies.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 2, “What Ideas and Sentiments Are Ethical?”

[I]f ideas of duty and feelings of obligation cluster round customs, they cluster round the derived laws. The sentiment of “ought” comes to be associated with a legal injunction, as with an injunction traced to the general authority of ancestors or the special authority of a deified ancestor. And not only does there hence arise a consciousness that obedience to each particular law is right and disobedience to it wrong, but eventually there arises a consciousness that obedience to law in general is right and disobedience to it wrong.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 2, “What Ideas and Sentiments Are Ethical?”

A trait common to all forms of sentiments and ideas to be classed as ethical, is the consciousness of authority. The nature of the authority is inconstant. It may be that of an apotheosized ruler or other deity supposed to give commands. It may be that of ancestors who have bequeathed usages, with or without injunctions to follow them. It may be that of a living ruler who makes laws, or a military commander who issues orders. It may be that of an aggregate public opinion, either expressed through a government or otherwise expressed. It may be that of an imagined utility which every one is bound to further. Or it may be that of an internal monitor distinguished as conscience.

Along with the element of authority at once intellectually recognized and emotionally responded to, there goes the element, more or less definite, of coercion. The consciousness of ought which the recognition of authority implies, is joined with the consciousness of must, which the recognition of force implies. Be it the power of a god, of a king, of a chief soldier, of a popular government, of an inherited custom, of an unorganized social feeling, there is always present the conception of a power. Even when the injunction is that of an internal monitor, the conception of a power is not absent; since the expectation of the penalty of self-reproach, which disobedience may entail, is vaguely recognized as coercive.

A further component of the ethical consciousness, and often the largest component, is the represented opinion of other individuals, who also, in one sense, constitute an authority and exercise a coercion. This, either as actually implied in others’ behavior, or as imagined if they are not present, commonly serves more than anything else to restrain or impel.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 2, “What Ideas and Sentiments Are Ethical?”

[E]thical sentiment and idea properly so called, are independent of the ideas and sentiments above described as derived from external authorities, and coercions, and approbations — religious, political, or social. The true moral consciousness which we name conscience, does not refer to those extrinsic results of conduct which take the shape of praise or blame, reward or punishment, externally awarded; but it refers to the intrinsic results of conduct which, in part and by some intellectually perceived, are mainly and by most, intuitively felt. The moral consciousness proper does not contemplate obligations as artificially imposed by an external power; nor is it chiefly occupied with estimates of the amounts of pleasure and pain which given actions may produce, though these may be clearly or dimly perceived; but it is chiefly occupied with recognition of, and regard for, those conditions by fulfillment of which happiness is achieved or misery avoided. The sentiment enlisted on behalf of these conditions is often in harmony with the proethical sentiment compounded as above described, though from time to time in conflict with it; but whether in harmony or in conflict, it is vaguely or distinctly recognized as the rightful ruler: responding, as it does, to consequences which are not artificial and variable, but to consequences which are natural and permanent.

It should be remarked that along with established supremacy of this ethical sentiment proper, the feeling of obligation, though continuing to exist in the background of consciousness, ceases to occupy its foreground; since the right actions are habitually performed spontaneously or from liking.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 2, “What Ideas and Sentiments Are Ethical?”

The prevailing ethical sentiment in England is such that a man who should allow himself to be taken possession of and made an unresisting slave, would be regarded with scorn; but the people of Drekete, a slave-district of Fiji, “said it was their duty to become food and sacrifices for the chiefs,” and “that they were honored by being considered adequate to such a noble task.”

Less extreme, though akin in nature, is the contrast between the feelings which our own history has recorded within these few centuries. In Elizabeth’s time, Sir John Hawkins initiated the slave trade, and in commemoration of the achievement was allowed to put in his coat of arms “a demimoor proper bound with a cord”: the honorableness of his action being thus assumed by himself and recognized by Queen and public. But in our days, the making slaves of men, called by Wesley “the sum of all villainies,” is regarded with detestation; and for many years we maintained a fleet to suppress the slave trade.

Peoples who have emerged from the primitive family-and-clan organization, hold that one who is guilty of a crime must himself bear the punishment, and it is thought extreme injustice that the punishment should fall upon anyone else; but our remote ancestors thought and felt differently as do still the Australians, whose “first great principle with regard to punishment is, that all the relatives of a culprit, in the event of his not being found, are implicated in his guilt”: “the brothers of the criminal conceive themselves to be quite as guilty as he is.”

By the civilized, the individualities of women are so far recognized that the life and liberty of a wife are not supposed to be bound up with those of her husband; and she now having obtained a right to exclusive possession of property contends for complete independence, domestic and political. But it is, or was, otherwise in Fiji. The wives of the Fijian chiefs consider it a sacred duty to suffer strangulation on the deaths of their husbands. A woman who had been rescued by Williams “escaped during the night, and, swimming across the river, and presenting herself to her own people, insisted on the completion of the sacrifice which she had in a moment of weakness reluctantly consented to forgo”; and Wilkes tells of another who loaded her rescuer “with abuse, and ever afterward manifested the most deadly hatred towards him.”

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 14, “Summary of Inductions.”

Among men at large, lifelong convictions are not to be destroyed either by conclusive arguments or by multitudinous facts.

Only to those who are not by creed or cherished theory committed to the hypothesis of a supernaturally created humanity will the evidence prove that the human mind has no originally implanted conscience. Though, as shown in my first work, Social Statics, I once espoused the doctrine of the intuitive moralists (at the outset in full, and in later chapters with some implied qualifications), yet it has gradually become clear to me that the qualifications required practically obliterate the doctrine as enunciated by them. It has become clear to me that if, among ourselves, the current belief is that a man who robs and does not repent will be eternally damned, while an accepted proverb among the Bilochs is that “God will not favor a man who does not steal and rob,” it is impossible to hold that men have in common an innate perception of right and wrong.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 14, “Summary of Inductions.”

“[T]he sentiments and ideas current in each society become adjusted to the kinds of activity predominating in it”

Where the predominant social cooperations take the form of constant fighting with adjacent peoples, there grows up a pride in aggression and robbery, revenge becomes an imperative duty, skilful lying is creditable, and (save in small tribes which do not develop) obedience to despotic leaders and rulers is the greatest virtue; at the same time there is a contempt for industry and only such small regard for justice within the society as is required to maintain its existence. On the other hand, where the predominant social cooperations have internal sustentation for their end, while cooperations against external enemies have either greatly diminished or disappeared, unprovoked aggression brings but partial applause or none at all; robbery, even of enemies, ceases to be creditable; revenge is no longer thought a necessity; lying is universally reprobated; justice in the transactions of citizens with one another is insisted upon; political obedience is so far qualified that submission to a despot is held contemptible; and industry, instead of being considered disgraceful, is considered as, in some form or other, imperative on every one.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 14, “Summary of Inductions.”

If any one says that the men who form the land-grabbing nations of Europe, cannot be ruled in their daily lives by an ethical sentiment, but must have it enforced by the fear of damnation, I am not prepared to contradict him. If a writer who, according to those who know represents truly the natures of the gentlemen we send abroad, sympathetically describes one of them as saying to soldiers shooting down tribes fighting for their independence — “Give ’em hell, men”; I think those are possibly right who contend that such natures are to be kept in check only by fear of a God who will “give ’em hell” if they misbehave. It is, I admit, a tenable supposition that belief in a deity who calmly looks on while myriads of his creatures suffer eternal torments, may fitly survive during a state of the world in which naked barbarians and barbarians in skins are being overrun by barbarians in broadcloth.

But to the few who, looking back on the changes which past thousands of years have witnessed, look forward to the kindred changes which future thousands of years may be expected to bring, it will be a satisfaction to contemplate a humanity so adapted to harmonious social life that all needs are spontaneously and pleasurably fulfilled by each without injury to others.

Herbert Spencer, The Inductions of Ethics (1892), Chapter 14, “Summary of Inductions.” [conclusion]

There seems to exist an institutional ban on certain ideas and areas of inquiry. Dominant paradigms — perhaps guarded by folks with ready access to tax dollars as well as established patterns of prestige — do not allow investigation into competing paradigms.

Of course, there is a lot of competition in ideas. Paradigms shift. But only by so much. Outside a prescribed (or intuited) band of acceptable dissent, the paradigm enforcers brook no denials, no expansions of knowledge, no uncomfortable conjectures.

Here we see one. A man gives a talk at a TEDx event. It is filled with scientific findings, and recounts his “pulling at a thread” (as Walter Bosley likes to put it) that unravels from the stories of our past that are approved by academic historians, paleontologists, geologists, et al. It is a fairly popular talk. But the higher-ups at TED flag it as “unscientific.”

Screen capture from YouTube: see, especially, the official “TED” note.

I have watched a lot of goofy TED talks. The idea that this talk is less acceptable than many of the moralistic, inspiring, weird, and downright bizarre talks on the main TED platform is preposterous. 

So. What is wrong with this TEDx talk?

It is too easy to see. It explores the idea of past catastrophes and of lost ancient civilizations. This is verboten in the academic world.

It may be that folks at TED are scared. They need the cooperation of academics, and academic schools of thought are maintained with a chillingly cold grip, strangling dissent within their ranks and consigning to complete and utter disregard those who persist in the shunned speculations and scientific work.

Read the “NOTE FROM TED,” above, an image of the YouTube page that addresses the flagging of the video in question. Read it. But better yet, watch the video:

Is this really beyond the pale?