The Sacred Cow and Secular Morality

Killings are nothing new. History is a long story written in blood. Most spilled for causes we do not remember or care for any more.

Humans love, look after, feed, try to protect and occasionally are even ready to die for fellow beings. But sometimes, they can beat, stab, rape, lynch and mercilessly torture other humans. It is a design defect that can be triggered in a variety of settings. It is like the original sin in Christian theology- ordinary people can be tuned to do it. We are enormously tuneable that way.

But why?

Well- humans used to go around in packs of 100 to 200 for about 200’000 years. All kingdoms, cities, and extensive settlements are mostly, less than 10000 years old. It is perhaps inevitable that we have tribal instincts. Our tribe- good. Others- bad. It was always- raid, kill, and loot. Abduct fertile women.

Genocides are nothing new. The Maories of New Zealand, years ago, suddenly stumbled on a nearby island, inhabited by a tribe called Moriories. It was a new discovery. The Moriories were few and Maories were strong.

To cut a long story short, now there are no more Moriories left in the world.

Native American Indians, Australian aboriginals…..Then Hitler, Cambodia, Bosnia. You know- we have powerful ancient evils that rise like serpents buried in the mud of timeless oceans. A tremor, a volcanic eruption- and they surface, fangs bared.

Somewhere along our long history, co-operation emerged with force. Violence abated to an extent.

Look- I am not saying that the world has become completely peaceful. The world wars happened. Hitler rose. Jews were killed by the millions. Stalin and Pol Pot happened. Nuclear weapons were invented.  Terrorists strike now and then. The potential for total annihilation of mankind by weapons became possible.

But even then, if we look over the long term, like in centuries, the rate of people killed and maimed in war and violence has dropped steadily, as a proportion of total population.

Steven Pinker estimates that as hunter gatherer’s chronic raiding and feuding gave way to small chiefdoms, there was a fivefold reduction in rates of death due to violence. Later as empires and later nation states rose and power consolidation and the concept of the rule of law and trade networks strengthened, there was a ten to FIFTY fold reduction in the rates of death due to violence, despite the two world wars, massive genocides etc.

The reasons are many, but for simplicity, let us take two leading causes:

  1. The rise of large central authorities- empires, nation states. The state assumes a monopoly on violence. It punishes those who oppose it.
  2. Trade- is a process that benefits everyone and enables specialization. It is the basis of modern societies. People- who you trade with, though totally different in customs, appearance or even language, can become honorary friends.

The large central states posed a problem. In a tribe, everyone knows each other. Punishments and rewards are easy to give. Rules are implicit by a primitive system of loyalty, family, and reciprocity.

The Religions are nothing but mental frameworks that can manage large groups of people, thousands of them, as in a city or an empire. There are rules and God or gods endorse them. They cannot be questioned.

There are mainly six different types of morality that maintain human societies:

Empathy- protection of the vulnerable.

Fairness- reciprocity. Contracts and doing to others as they do to you.

Liberty- A sense against excessive oppression of the individual.

Loyalty- to our group.

Respect- for customs, king, elders, etc.

Sacredness- The quality of godliness or unquestionability that we give to God, values and the above morals themselves.

A certain empire gives equal importance to all the above. In modern times, Saudi Arabia is an example. And the frame work is religious.

The modern democratic nation state is a recent invention. It is the system designed to minimize excess state power and allow people with differences to co-exist for mutual trade and prosperity.

I am for it. Do you see a better system? There could be, but I don’t see anything else- yet.

In such a system, if people of different types have to co-exist, we have to give excess importance to the “universal morals’- the first three. The morals of empathy, fairness and liberty.

What about the rest? They are conditional morals. One can have loyalty to the local church, community, or the cause of the protection of the cow. Anyone can have respect for Jesus Christ or Muhammed Nabi or Ganesha. You are free to think the cow sacred, or ascribe divinity to the cross, the Quran or the Bhagavad Geetha. But this cannot be applied to everyone.

In a modern democracy, like India, loyalty is only to the country and its constitutional values. Respect is to the rights and civic duties of the individual and sacredness is to the rule of law.

No cow. No Caliphate. No cross.

Humans are swayed by all the moral instincts, and some may not align to that of a modern country. Group morals like the last three are mobilizing forces. They are powerful. They can create vote banks. They can be used to create parallel quasi governmental frame works, and they can dilute democracy and prosperity.

One example is Pakistan.

Dr Jimmy

I am a Doctor, Writer and Science Communicator. I am a member of Info- Clinic, and have written a few books. This site features my blog posts and stories. Thank you for visiting. ഞാൻ എഴുതാൻ ഇഷ്ടമുള്ള ഉള്ള ഒരു ഡോക്ടർ ആണ് . നിങ്ങളുടെ താത്പര്യത്തിന് നന്ദി .