How does Epistolution Explain Morality?

Photo by Filip Gielda on Unsplash

Humans, and other organisms, are sets of rhythmic synchronizers trying to find synchrony with their niches. If intelligence is downward-caused then it follows that learning and embodying knowledge is about making use of parts of that niche. In what way do we utilize the niche as a synchronized being?

Let’s separate the different parts of the niche for a moment. Each object in our space, once we know it and understand it, becomes a tool in our effort to synchronize as a whole and remain alive. Each object becomes a challenge to be dealt with in a way that contributes to our coping with the entire niche. The modern word for this is technology. We have habitual ways of conceiving of objects that allows us to more effectively utilize them in our effort to remain in sync. For example, we discover that a certain size and shape of stick can be used for digging for tubers. We discover that branches can be bent into a small nest to protect us from leopard attacks at night. In these cases, objects are used as a tool that allows us to keep our bodies in sync with our niche, by harvesting food from the environment, or by protecting ourselves from predation. Now other humans, seen in the same way as tools, have properties that are far more profound than sticks or branches. Other humans are perhaps the most useful objects in our niche, so it follows that we have evolved much more sophisticated technologies to deal with and take advantage of them.

These can be thought of as alliances. Morality is a set of alliances. They are hierarchical, beginning with intense alliances with our closest people and continuing to diffuse alliances with all beings on earth. Through progressive new sets of rules and concepts, we build up systems of habitual arrangements with each other that maximizes our synchrony with our niche on the whole. These could be family expectations, kinship groups, clan hierarchies, or other political norms. They also cover all manner of customs that take care of special situations like reproduction and hunting and migration and death. The expectations and communal incentives that we internalize mentally that cover all these social solutions to survival are what we think of as morality.

Morality is the set of all technologies, in other words, considered as a whole. Morality is our overall synchrony with our niche as we understand it. There is nothing universal about it, and this is why morality makes progress over time. Morality changes just as fast as technology changes. That is why familiar behaviors (like patriarchy) are being circumscribed as immoral very quickly in today’s rapidly changing moral climate, and unfamiliar behaviors (like sex-changing) are becoming acceptable. We keep track of morality not only with specific codes and rules but with intuitions which are unspoken, right-brained interpretations of the usefulness of actions seen within the context of the flow of one’s individual life within the niche as whole. That is why systematic moral philosophies have been unsatisfying, and have become obsolete.

We are helpless in the face of our innate organic construction. No organism of any sort can be amoral. We cannot help but accumulate knowledge, express more profound synchrony, and join the collective drift of moral technology into a better world. Being is for knowing.



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Charlie Munford

Charlie Munford is a writer based in New Orleans who explores the meaning of living systems and the boundaries of our ecological knowledge.