[ED: (Oct, 6/2020) I wrote the following passage when I was in grade 12. I was sitting in Religion class (which I missed more than 50% of), and struggling to balance Grade 12 History, Philosophy, Music, and Religion. There was an enormous amount of cognitive dissonance rattling around my brain as I listened to the teacher tell us about how to live as good Catholics, and I wrote the following…
I meant to return to this theory at some point, but as of now, I haven’t. so here it is as I wrote it nine years ago. Forgive the grammar if you will.]
Life is driven by the desire for life itself. For centuries the human race has been evolving and changing. The common man though does NOT seek out death. Death is something that should not come as a result of an action that that man makes. This is an instinct as much as a want. As our race evolved physically it also evolved in a more refined way. Over time, the common man DID discover that, although the place in which he lived was riddled in death, he rather enjoyed living and since he enjoyed it he would not want it to end. It was for this reason, among others, that some of the first laws were formed in Mesopotamia. Those laws prevented stealing and killing through the now-archaic principle of retribution.
Death has been used as a deterrent, a threat, a terrible thing all across the world. Even those who believe in a life after death fear the act of dying. Being killed is the true bane of existence. It is something that is avoided at all costs by the vast majority of people. It would seem that our moral conscience is derived from this evolved instinct; the fear of death. If we accept evolution, then, at one time in the far past we were not so dissimilar from chimpanzees. Chimps are violent creatures. They are undomesticated primates and a very roughly hewn version of ourselves. Assuming that we had, at one time, the same animal instincts that these chimps do, then, we can also assume that at our base we are a violent and rash people. Some of the most influential laws that have come from history as we evolved our collective intellect had to deal with the oppression of these violent tendencies. The oldest laws known to man all have a major rule about being accepting, or at least tolerant, of other humans, to value their right to live as well as one’s own, but why? If we truly were violent at heart why would we not accept that? How is it that anyone started rebelling against that feeling/instinct that Homo-sapiens are ‘born’ with? The fear of death or the desire for life.
Here’s a thought; let’s assume for a moment that there are no laws or rulers to guide us in ‘moral’ choices, and there are no legal repercussions for anything you do. Society runs the same as it does today. People live relatively normal lives, raise families, go to work and so on. One day the woman in the cubicle next to you at work gets promoted and you do not, even though you’ve been doing better work. In this hypothetical society, however, instead of complaining or working harder you decide to take your co-worker out of the equation. You do, and she ends up dying in the hospital. You get promoted and your personal goals continue to gain momentum. However, now her husband is literally on the warpath. He finds you at work and returns the favour. You are dead. For what? An impulse that over took you? Now assume you are back at the beginning. The woman gets promoted and you do not. Except this time you take into account that there will be some sort of retribution if you take violent action and because of your other instinct, the one of self-preservation and the desire to live, you simply work harder and once more pursue your goal.
Laws and rules were written for this very reason. As any rational person would notice the situation described in this example would most likely lead to a very feudal society, one where crime would run rampant and people would fight for whatever rights they could. This is where the first rulers of humanity found themselves. They had to devise a series of rules and laws. King Hammurabi was famous for his set of laws, the Code of Hammurabi, which is one of the earliest sets of laws and one of the best examples of this from ancient Mesopotamia. He codified over 200 laws. He also developed the theory of retribution. ‘Eye for an eye’ laws still exist today. The reason they work is because of the ever-present passion that people have to keep themselves or close others alive. If by killing your co-worker it would put you at risk of also losing your life you would be even less likely to consider it in the first place.
The same theory applies to stealing. Really anything that might bring harm to the self is considered ‘bad’ by the subconscious and we are drawn away from that choice because we want to bring as little harm to the self as possible.