By Will Baker
The renewed violence in the Middle East has given me pause to consider how we, as citizens of this space ship earth relate to one another. Philosophically speaking, it seems to me that morality, as it relates to the way that we interact with each other has been evolving throughout history. And it continues to evolve and change, even as we go about our daily business.
Before the agrarian revolution, which took place roughly 25,000 years ago, it is believed that we were a solitary race that existed in very small familial groups. But once we learned the techniques of agriculture (and as an interesting aside it is believed that women are responsible for this very important invention), we stopped moving around so much. We learned to settle down, and these above mention familial units began to band together into loosely knit tribes. These folks probably began to realize that there were certain benefits to achieving economies of scale. And tribal morality began to take shape.
And based upon my understanding of the matter, prior to the agrarian revolution, mortal violence was commonly visited upon members outside ones familial group-the limited archeological evidence available supports this assertion. The reason why this is so, interests me. Some folks believe that, since these early familial units were hunter gatherers, and since a great deal of time and effort was required to provide a base-line level of nutrition, and satisfy other needs necessary to sustain life within the group, there was the practical motivation towards keeping members fit. Everyones effort was required to keep the family alive, to work towards this common purpose.
But for folks outside the family, well that was another matter entirely. These people were probably considered to be adversaries, competing for limited resources. Therefore, it was probably quite normal, and perhaps even prudent for folks to kill outside of ones tribe. And then, with the onset of primitive agriculture, tribes made up of families began to arise. And when that happened, a morality shift probably occurred, which, applied the non-killing understanding to the entire tribe. When one imagines the situation, it becomes clear that these various tribes had distinct interests-- acquiring and protecting farmland, water supplies etc. Therefore, it is not hard to understand that these primitive tribes competed with one another, similar to the way the family units did previously.
And the agrarian revolution, which, some believe women are probably responsible for, did more than cause a morality shift to occur. It is believed that the amount of time spent to satisfy the base-line level of needs required for life started to go down. That meant there was now time available to devote to other pursuits. And how did these primitive people use this time? Well, quite simply, they used the time to think. They began to develop language, and primitive philosophy. They began to ask basic questions and to develop myths in explanation of them. Primitive art began, and then the written word. Out of necessity, mathematics and political science came into being. And with all of that, eventually came the historical record.
In this record can be found the Code of Hammurabi --the laws and edicts of King Hammurabi of Babylonia, which date to 1750 BC. This document is a good example of primitive tribal morality. One may not kill within the "tribe." Or engage in any number of behaviors with or against the tribe member. However anyone outside the tribal kingdom was fair game. And when one reads this document it is impossible to overlook the fact that religion had been introduced into the equation--his (Hammurabis) assertion that God gave him the power to rule, and to, when necessary project military power. And then religion as it relates to the state took an interesting twist with the development of Judaism. For the Israelites believed that they were a "chosen people," that theirs was a God for them. But even though for the first time in history the notion of not killing was said to be immoral, an offense against God, their code, their Ten Commandments, relied heavily on previous codes and edicts. Some would argue, perhaps rightly so that religious development was directly responsible for moral advancement-such as the abolishment of slavery, while others would argue that many wars have been fought "in the name of God."
In time tribes (tribal kingdoms) formed confederations with other tribes. And each time this happened, the notion of not killing was extended further, to the newly created larger group. Different systems of government were experimented with. But in every case, these forms of governments sought to provide, to lesser or greater degrees, for the so-called "common good." But of course, as an examination of some of history's most villainous rulers would seem to suggest, providing for the common good can be a very subjective proposition.
Anyway, history continued along this path and brought us to this very day. Which brings us to the point of this essay. Throughout history the notion of not killing changed, it extended further and further out from the family unit. But the reason for not killing changed also. No longer is it accepted that one should not kill for practical reasons. It seems to me that for a significant number of folks, killing is simply wrong in itself.
And this pattern of outward movement, and change in moral thinking makes me optimistic. It seems to me that, as a race, we are headed towards an inevitable globalization of interests. And I believe that, when that occurs, humanity will finally be hitting its stride, and the actualization that may result, staggers my mind.
So what does this all mean? There is violence in the Middle East; in fact there is violence in many places around the globe. With all of this warfare, and violence occurring inside the borders of many countries, most notably ours, what are the prospects for true peace? Well I am not certain, but I do sense a positive progression, as if as a race we are being called forth to be something better than we are, and that is a good thing. You know, it seems to me that most of us are ill equipped to influence global events, and that fact sometimes might make us feel rather impotent. Yet we are certainly able to influence the manner in which, we choose to live our lives. So here is to paying attention to how we conduct ourselves, to the small details in the grand picture, and to the expression of our heart's desires through the representative forms of government that, more and more seem to be appearing around our tiny blue planet. For I believe that if we all do this, and do this well, then the big picture just might take care of itself.