A Theory on the Causation of Moral Social Advancement

Part of an ongoing conversation:

“Basically, the state of mankind is advanced by the natural inclination of people to combine, trade, and cooperate to achieve greater and more difficult ends than they would be able to achieve separately… The failure or retardation of moral social advancement, therefore, can be attributed to an inability to perceive potential benefits.”

A peculiar and droll theory, but I know of no evidence to support it. The theory I hold has the advantage of being supported by common experience and the tears, sweat, and bruises, physical and emotional, of everyone who has ever had to deal with any human beings outside his immediate circle (if he is very lucky) of kith and kin — and that is that Man is a Fallen being, depraved from his birth, who thinks on evil continuously, and who will not often do what is good and right even when it is obvious and advantageous.

The idea that man is evil because he has not yet evolved sufficiently from his brutal ape ancestors has two strange drawnbacks. First, historically speaking, men are more brutal than apes, not less, (and less brutal, not more, than the Morlocks Nietzsche, the Nazis, and HG Wells speculates we will evolve to become). Second, conceptually speaking, if we were not yet come to understand goodness we would not be haunted by guilty consciences, and a sense of alienation from life and nature, any more than crying infants know their cries keep their loving mothers awake at night. Children do evil innocently, not anticipating why wrong should be wrong: grown men, even savages, know better.

On the other hand, if we once knew goodness and have now, through some cosmic disaster lost it, it would explain this sense of haunting familiarity that comes whenever we see what is good and shining and beautiful and right, and instead decide to slink away, get drunk, get stoned, whore around, gamble the money we said we’d spend on charity, and not phone mother on her birthday.

Is the retardation of civility due to a lack of perception? Really? I think a much clearer explanation of the horrors of Aztec mass sacrifice is that the Mesoamericans knew very well how horrific and ugly their acts were (for they reared ghastly and troll like idols to glorify those acts, and their portrayal of the human form was not exactly Greco-Roman in its delicacy and beauty) and that they wallowed in evil precisely because they thought the devils who ruled the blind and hideous universe would destroy them if they showed any weakness, or any loyalty to any form of goodness higher than the blood-drinking devils.

It was not due to a lack of knowledge on their part. They were a civilized and advanced society — a corrupt one, and the murderers, pirates and warriors who stalk the nomadic wilderness in shabby hide tents are paragons of purity compared to that.