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Larry Beinhart's Body Politics



Mike Huckabee is my candidate for entertainer of the year.

Folksy, fresh, and funny. It’s like Andy Griffith has come to life. Now that the field is down to him, Ron Paul, and John McCain it means that fully one third of the Republican candidates for president officially don’t believe in evolution.

“Huck” is the favorite of “values” voters. Values is a contraction of “traditional moral values and beliefs” in the way that “ain’t” is a contraction of “are not.”

He’s pro-war and anti-abortion. (Kill the foreigners, save the fetuses.) He’s for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, building the Great Wall of America along the Mexican border, rounding up illegal aliens, and shipping them out.

Someone who is not a “values voter” may wonder how these are “moral” positions. In order to answer that, we have to figure out what morality is.

According to Huck, morality was invented by God. That’s ridiculous on the face of it. Every single society—pagan, pantheist, animist, atheist—has moralities. They had them even before the invention (or revelation) of the Single God.

Also, according to Huck, God’s rules are set in stone. Fixed and unchangeable.

That, too, is false. God’s Word, the Bible, calls for the death penalty for adultery, breaking the Sabbath, and cursing your parents; it implicitly endorses polygamy and slavery; it never explicitly calls for marriage as between one man and one woman; nor does it explicitly take a stand against abortion.

If it’s not set in stone, the fundamentalist argument goes, then all morals are relative, which is just as bad as none at all—and everyone will run down to the nearest gay bathhouse, snort crystal meth, worship idols, murder at will, eat the women, and rape the sheep.

Except that’s not what happens. Indeed, in certain nontheistic cultures, like Japan, the people are much better behaved than in the USA, the most Christian nation in the world.

You can’t build a moral code based on sustainable logic, either. All the name philosophers, from Socrates to Kant to John Rawls, have tried and failed.

Still, it is clear that we have morality. It’s a human universal. We feel its presence and its force. And it has to have come from somewhere.

If looking up doesn’t cut it, and looking around at each other doesn’t quite work, perhaps we should look down. Or, rather, backward, to evolution.

Evolution proceeds blindly.

It doesn’t see a problem and then come up with a solution. A solution appears, and that allows the species to move into a new space that it couldn’t fit into before, in the manner that a river when it’s flooding will cut a new channel, and then water will flow into a new area. The river didn’t “know” it was being held back by its banks or that it wanted to go somewhere new, it simply interacted with it’s environment and a change occurred.

Here’s the problem that morality has solved: Everyone sleeps sometimes.

We start as babies and on our way to being old and feeble we get sick, injured, and weary. If we can live in groups, supportive and sharing groups, we will do better than we will as individuals. So altruism, friendship, kindness, cooperation, and all the rest are survival characteristics.

We also need protection from the other individuals in our group. And they from us. So we get a whole set of restrictions, along with the positive impulses. Morality is a method for living in groups. That’s what it is. It promotes survival over solitary living. To an immeasurable degree.

Evolution has a companion. It is economics. Not dollars, euros, pesos, and banks, but the costs of any activity.
Awareness takes a lot of time and energy and requires lots of brain and neurological space. So awareness has to be rationed.

Here’s how they work together.

Evolution proceeds by taking what’s already there and reworking the bits and pieces until they fit together in a new way. In order to have a brain that is able to consciously process everything that happens inside us, we would need a tractortrailer to tow it along behind. So the old stuff, the tried and true parts that go back hundreds of species, is consigned in ways that we are not conscious of, to self-regulate (can’t change them anyway), and we’re only aware of what’s relatively new and special.

Both cooperative arrangements and restrictions on behavior are very old news. Primates have them. All animals that live in groups have them. Insects, molds, mushrooms, even single-cell creatures, do those things.
Indeed, the different types of cells in our bodies have some sort of arrangement whereby they work together. They also cut deals to restrain their own reproduction. When such contracts are broken and certain cells multiply without restraint, we call it cancer.

All the moral imperatives that show up as human universals—nurturing the young, protecting the group, restriction of sexual access, property rights, hierarchy, obedience, and loyalty, among others—exist in species that came before us. So humans arrived with them. Since they work, we also arrived blind (as an economic measure) to the neurological and psychological structures by which we process them.

Our moral imperatives are forceful. They would be useless if they weren’t.So here’s this powerful thing in us, both intuitively and rationally we understand that the more forceful it is the more valuable it is. Morality, like all other qualities, varies in people. And we see that we can better rely on, and are safer from, people who have the rules more strongly imprinted.

We are very emotional about morals. Because if the rules collapse, the group collapses. And if the group doesn’t function, then our personal survival is at great risk.

Sexual morality was, until very recent times, a vital matter for the group.

Children are our greatest asset, and our most expensive investment. The group doesn’t want to pick up the tab themselves (we each have our own expenses), nor do we want a bunch of feral children running amok. Which is why sexuality is always one of the centerpieces of moral systems.

The underlying rule is that any sexual activity that does not first insure the cost of child care is wrong. It’s not “written” rationally. It was “written” blindly. That’s why it usually proscribes masturbation, gay sex, and bestiality.

Such morality was not only enforced by the group, it was reinforced by reality. If someone had sex outside of marriage and there was a child, there was no one to support it. Now, with education, birth control, widespread affluence, the ability of women to earn a living, and various forms of welfare, it is quite easy to have sex and escape negative consequences.

But the moral impulse remains. Stronger in some people than others. For them, this change is infuriating. They know, deep inside, there should be “consequences” for having sex. But there aren’t, and it’s as if the world is conspiring against them.

Religious and political entrepreneurs sensed that rage and frustration. They came up with products to feed it. And lo and behold, we have the Religious Right, Born Agains taking over the Republican Party, George W. Bush as a two-term president. And Mike Huckabee.

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