Home Articles Gaia Minute Poetry


Dynamics of Ethical Survival

Notes on some terms used:

In the following discussion some commonly used terms such as survival, morals, ethics, etc. have been used in a very special sense. Readers are requested to understand the meanings of these terms in the context of the present discussion only and not to confuse them with their popular meanings.

The Basic Motive

If we observe the natural processes, we notice a striking basic similarity in all of them. Starting from the macro-cosmos down to the sub-atomic particles, all natural objects seem to be guided by one basic motive - the motive to survive. This motive to survive does not appear to be limited to so-called living organisms only. It appears that - be it a celestial body or electrons - all are trying to survive.


In fact, a close analysis of even the natural calamities appears to bear out the fact that these happenings have a direct relationship with the process of survival. Take the example of an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. It appears that the celestial body - earth - is adjusting its internal balances for the sake of survival, almost as humans sometimes suffer from vomiting tendencies in the case of abdominal disorders.


To this extent, it might be hypothesized that localized subsystem destruction (or non-survivals), when viewed from a macro perspective might be an attempt at survival of a bigger system.


Many more examples may be cited in support of the survival-motive theory. The fact that this universe exists, the heavenly bodies do not collide with each other, and the complexity of the gravitational forces (fields) which provide a basic framework for the heavenly bodies cannot be ascribed to chance occurrence. They rather point to the fact that the basic survival-motive is active.


Radioactivity - or rather the lack of it - is another example. Not every element is radioactive. The stability of the atomic/molecular structure of elements and compounds is also a pointer in the direction of survival motive.


Astronomical laws, chemical equilibrium, ecological balance, immunity system of a living organism, photosynthesis, various states of matter (solid, liquid, gas), the list is endless. If we keep in mind the concept of basic survival motive, all the natural processes put together seem to reveal a grand master plan of survival.

The Basic Foundation

If survival is accepted as the basic motive, the foundation upon which its laws are to be built must logically be very simple so that these laws could be automated into a self-sustaining system even at the most primitive level.


They need to be simple because they have to be built into the entire system of nature, which includes both non-intelligent (and inanimate) as well as intelligent entities. By intelligence it is meant the ability to make a conscious choice between alternatives. We do not normally assign intelligence to most of the natural objects/processes. So the survival motive needs to be programmed into such non-intelligent entities in such a way that it can be automated. If the foundation were complex, the survival laws would be enormously complex and difficult to automate. It is therefore presumed that the basic foundation is simple and the guiding concepts are few in numbers.


For the purpose of our discussion, it is proposed to name these simple and few guiding principles as the "basic values for survival" or, in brief, simply - values.


Let us not confuse the term "values" used in this discussion with the popular concept of values. For our discussion, values would mean those very simple and few guiding concepts, which lay a foundation for the laws of survival.


It may be very difficult to name these very few "values" which are the fundamental invariant upon which the survival of the entire universe rests. Any example cited at the level of "intelligence" might lead to never-ending arguments. The reason being the fact that our own human brains - a supreme problem solving entity - is normally not trained to think in a simple way. Only a "return to innocence" might help us to emotionally experience these very fundamental values. Unlearning is a lifelong process and "understanding" is very much different from "experiencing". The philosophical question here is "who is looking at the universe"?


Our perceptions are subjective and have psychological twists and turns based on a variety of factors over which we, as individuals, have little control. These psychological processes normally create barriers to think in a "simple" way using a beginner's mind.


Realization of these simple values is further complicated by the fact that, at the individual level, our own survival dynamics are highly complex and demand many complex decisions. By definition, higher the level of intelligence, greater is the ability to make choices from more number of perceived alternatives. This is why our brain is trained to think in a complex way.


I am tempted to quote from a Zen story where the Japanese Zen master Nan-in was approached by a university professor who wanted to know about Zen. Nan-in served tea to the professor and kept on pouring tea in his cup even after the cup was full. The professor noticed that tea was overflowing the cup and pointed out this fact to Nan-in. immediately Nan-in said, "Yes, just like this cup, your mind is also full of your own ideas and opinions. How can I give you Zen unless you empty your cup?"


It is therefore presumed that a rare breed of humans, having gone through the process of unlearning and self-realization, may "experience" these very simple "values".

From Concepts to Principles

It is now time for us to look at humanity and its survival dynamics in relation to the universal survival dynamics. We have observed how universal survival is based on few fundamental concepts, which we have termed as "values". We have also discussed the difficulty in experiencing these values at the human intelligence level.


Experiencing the values, however, is not necessary for survival. All we need is a set of principles, derived out of sound basic concepts of survival values. Such principles would, by nature, be easily understood, could be intuitively followed, and be universal in nature so as to be applicable across the entire human race (and maybe - beyond).


For the purpose of our discussion, it is proposed to name these principles as "Ethical principles" or, in brief, simply "ethics".

Once again, we must not confuse the term "ethics" used here with the classical meaning attached to it. The Random House dictionary defines ethics as "a system of moral principles". However, in the context of the present discussion, "ethics" would mean a set of principles, derived from the basic values, which elaborate the meaning of these values so that they could be easily understood. These ethical principles:

  • Would be universal in nature
  • Would be applicable to the entire humanity irrespective of cast, creed, religion, geographical location, or any other discriminatory considerations
  • Would be relatively larger in number than their originating sources (the values)
  • Could be intuitively understood
  • Would be basically invariant (unless the survival value system itself changes)
  • Would be an elaboration, in the form of principles, of the fundamental concepts of values.

It is thus evident that any unethical behavior would violate the basic survival strategy and to that extent would reduce the long-term survival value.


Ample evidence may be found in the history of humanity, which prove the pro-survival value of these ethical principles. If one peruses the basic messages of the various religions, one would find a surprising uniformity at the basic ethical level. "Be honest" or "Love thy neighbor" types of messages are universal and do not vary from one religion to another.


Again, any unethical act can be immediately identified irrespective of the community to which one belongs. It is some sort of a "universal code of conduct" which these ethical principles point to.


Thus, we have some tangible and understandable principles of survival, which can be followed by humanity.


Unfortunately, there is one problem. There is no punishment if one violates a principle. Punishments can only be attached to laws. From the preceding discussion we see that the ethical principles are merely an elaboration of the survival values and therefore unethical behavior does not attract punishments.

From Principles to Laws

The uniform set of principles (called ethics in this discussion) is a guideline for survival. We have noticed that these principles are global in nature, but no punishment is attached to their violations.


To ensure survival, one needs to implement these principles with sufficient firmness. To do so, mankind formulates "laws" and attaches punishments to the violations.


At this stage, a variety of other factors need to be considered. The climatic condition, for example, is a major factor to be negotiated for survival (giving rise to the dress code, which is different for different community). The natural environment factor is another example (probably dictating food habits). Thus we get multiplicity and diversity in the laws of survival.


For the purpose of our discussion, it is proposed to name these as "Moral laws" or, in brief, simply "morals".


Needless to repeat, the basic context in which the term "morals" is used here, is not the same as the common meaning of the term. For the sake of the present discussion moral laws (or morals):

  • Are large in number
  • Are diverse in nature
  • Depend upon various local factors such as natural environment, climate etc.
  • Have a system of punishment attached to their violations
  • Are quite rigidly defined
  • Are not necessarily intuitive to understand
  • Are based on survival principles (ethics) and hence may not violate any such principle
  • May, at the face value, look contradictory when evaluated across different communities.
  • It is therefore not surprising that something "immoral" in a particular community may be perfectly "moral" in another.


Since the moral laws are basically "implementations" of the ethical principles, they may not violate any of the fundamental principles of survival. However, since local factors play a significant role in the formulation of these laws, it is expected that, in case these influencing factors change, the moral laws would be amended/changed within the ethical framework to re-align the survival strategies.


However, this re-alignment seldom takes place in reality, and this leads to degeneration and ultimate non-survival. Later in this discussion we shall see how this process occurs.


Let us remember that at the stage of formulation of these moral laws, mankind is fully aware of the logic and reasoning behind each one of them. At this stage, it is very much possible for everyone to relate each law with its survival value and ethical principle. The rationality behind the morals is very much known and understood by each and every individual belonging to the community.

And thus, we get a group of people, committed to follow a set of morals, with the basic objective of survival.

From Laws to Culture

When this group of committed individuals, who have complete understanding of the rationale behind following a set of morals, stay together (survive together) for a reasonable period of time, they give birth to what may be called " a culture ". All cultures, social, institutional, or organizational, are created by a set of individuals who have stayed together for a period of time, and have followed same set of moral laws (within the structure of the society/institution/organization). Therefore, a culture will be created:

  • If a number of individuals combine to form a group
  • If all individuals in the group know and understand the survival value of the moral laws followed within the group
  • If all individuals in the group follow the moral laws and violations are punished
  • If sufficient time is allowed for the group to stay together and the group is able to survive for this length of time.

This is how we get "family culture", "organizational culture", "social culture", and so on.


The Beginning of the End

As time passes, the definitions become rigid and attitudes harden. It is only logical to assume that with passage of time (perhaps generations); some of the rationale behind the survival dynamics is forgotten or distorted. Some acts are now performed without any conscious knowledge of the reasons behind them.


These acts then become "traditional behaviors", or simply "traditions". In the context of the present discussion, traditions are considered to be such acts/thoughts/processes, which are performed without understanding their reasons. A traditional behavior pattern does not worry about the survival motive.


It is not that all traditional behaviors are anti-survival, but the loss of logic as to why and how these acts contribute towards the survival dynamics makes them vulnerable. The risk at this stage arises from the fact that re-alignment of the moral laws to accommodate changed local conditions is resisted in the name of tradition and culture.

In the End

With further passage of time, almost all reasoning behind the acts are forgotten. Acts are performed and processes are initiated with no explainable causes. In the context of our present discussion, we term such acts as "rituals". Logic is replaced by "dogmas" and no reference is made to the ethical principles. Since we have defined intelligence as the ability to make conscious choice between alternatives, it may be assumed that, at this stage, intelligence is replaced by "superstitions".


But, on the other hand, survival needs dynamic adaptation and change (of course, within the framework of the invariant values and their elaboration in the form of ethical principles). When dogmas and superstitions replace intelligence, choices get limited, resulting in narrower visions, which are anti-survival.

The Emergence of a New Order

History has witnessed the rise and fall of many great civilizations. Many corporate giants have emerged and vanished. Social orders have changed, major wars have been fought, natural calamities and epidemics have claimed innumerable lives, but - surprisingly - humanity has survived.


The fundamental question is - how?


It appears that at the instinctive level, probably even "intelligence" is also programmed and automated, just like all other objects of nature, to follow the very few basic "values" which are fundamentals of survival dynamics. Given total freedom, without the basic control of the survival program built into the bio-computer, it would be difficult to visualize what might have happened.


In fact, whenever humanity (or a subset of it) is faced with a major crisis, history has observed the emergence of a fundamental thinker/leader who has contributed to the re-alignment of the moral laws without violating the basic ethical principles. Jesus Christ, Gautam Buddha, Mohammed, Aristotle, Vivekanada, Gandhi, Newton, Einstein...... the list is very long.


It may not be possible, at the present stage, to visualize whether "intelligence" will ever be able be able to develop a complete self-sustaining survival system by choice which would never degenerate into rituals and dogmas. However, it is logical to assume that, till such time that it happens, a new order will always emerge out of the relics of the degenerate past, simply because the basic survival values appear to be programmed even into intelligent entities.


After all the intelligent entities are also a part of the same universe, which survives on the basis of these fundamental values and, therefore, inherit the basic properties and characteristics from it.



bottom menu