Tag Archives: Morality

Human Morality and the Moral Molecule

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I’VE recently been immersed in an era where mechanical augmentations are used to replace body parts; where humankind starts to become more machine than biological squishyness. This is not reality – not yet, at least – but is a video game called Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which depicts a portrayal of what the world might be like in 20 years time.

Darth Vader (image: giving.typepad.com)The biggest appeal of this popular title is that it raises significant questions concerning human morality. What makes us human? What makes people good or evil? These questions have been a part of philosophy and the human imagination for millennia and have now entered the realm of crime and punishment, with a new field of investigation called Neurolaw. In a nutshell, those accused of capital crimes can now appeal to have their mental states assessed by a neurologist during trial.

What we can be sure of is that it is not in our nature to take the life of another. We all share a moral instinct to protect life – specifically the lives of those we care about. When this moral instinct is suppressed, and people are forced to kill others, they can lose all respect for life and be filled with hatred, fear and confusion. This accounts for the high number of suicides during and after the war in Vietnam.

This is of course, unless one is psychotic. The majority of serial killers throughout history – the Ted Bundys and Jack the Rippers – were found to be psychotic. They lacked the human emotion that the rest of us share – specifically empathy, which made their killing sprees seem as regular as watering the roses.

The Moral Molecule and Warrior Gene

Luke Skywalker (image: tatooine.fortunecity.com)Neuroscientists have determined that psychopathy is mostly genetic, but also depends on brain structure and a chemical called oxytocin, which has become known as the “moral molecule.” Neuroscience has also isolated a gene which has become known as the “warrior gene.” Whether this nasty gene is triggered or not depends on upbringing and environment. An abusive childhood is the most common trigger to unleash the warrior within.

If a psychopath has a pleasant childhood on the other hand, the outcome can be vastly different. It has been discovered that the “successful psychopaths” are largely to be found in big business or powerful positions in society – almost four times as many as in the general population in the U.S. Psychologists suggest that corporate culture is the ideal environment for someone with such a disposition, where the lust for thrill-seeking can be sated.

Characteristics of the Psychopath

The correct brain structure and a lack of the moral chemical, oxytocin, can make for the most charismatic leaders. Although lacking profoundly in empathy and being supremely egotistical and shallow, psychopaths have at their disposal a large repertoire of human behaviors and emotions which can be easily mimicked. Psychopaths can put themselves in the skin of others intellectually, read their body language and use this to charm, intimidate or manipulate others.

Morality Test

So how can we tell whether or not someone might be a psychopath at an early age? One ‘morality test’ that has been done with babies is to put on a puppet show to do with sharing. A central doll plays with a ball before passing it to another doll to play with, which soon passes it back. The ball is then passed to a third doll which promptly runs off with the ball. The baby subjects are then encouraged to choose between the ‘good’ puppet and the ‘bad’ puppet. Experimenting with hundreds of babies revealed that 70% of them choose the ‘morally good’ doll and indicates that from an early age we are drawn towards kindness. In such experiments it is hoped that the remaining 30% perhaps fell asleep during the show.

So if you have any little ones in your life, go now and shower them with hugs and kisses and tell them how much they are loved, no matter how much they might protest.

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Dear World Leaders

OPEN LETTER: When human soldiers kill for you

Dear World Leaders,

Could you ever take the life of another human being? What would it take for you to kill someone?

Assuming that most people are morally good, asking this of anyone seems to me morally wrong. Yet this is exactly what soldiers are asked to do when trained and sent to fight wars in foreign lands in the name of “national security.”

We would all like to believe that soldiers are no longer trained to kill by dehumanising the ‘enemy’ – by characterising them as sub-human and less deserving of living a human existence. We are made to believe that soldiers are now trained to kill “only when necessary”, but this isn’t quite the case, is it?

It is not in our nature to kill. Unless one is psychotic, the psychological trauma that comes with killing another human being, even in the name of defence, can have irreparable effects on both the soldier and society.

Instances of girlfriend and wife abuse may increase and traumatised soldiers may become plagued by fear and hatred. Equipping soldiers with expensive machinery – which we all have to pay for – and asking them to “fight for their country” is a burden on us all.

No man or woman should ever be asked to kill a fellow human being for any cause other than their own self-defence. To do this is to suppress a part of their humanity and to lose a part of yours as well.


“You don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around – and why the parents will always wave back” – Bill Tammeus