What do you think is the root cause for humans treating others so badly?  Money, religion, death, imperfect evolution, ...

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When you said "Obeying orders to hurt people is an aspect of evil," it reminded me of The Milgram Obedience Experiment in 1961 where a normal law-abiding person thinks he is delivering a shock to another person.  

http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/a/milgram.htm.  

The instrument they are to use is labeled with voltages from 30 volts to 450 volts and the terms including "slight shock," "moderate shock" and "danger: severe shock." The final two switches were labeled simply with an ominous "XXX."

They would hear the person being shocked plead to be released, bang on the wall, or even complain about a heart condition, and finally be silent.  65% of the participants delivered the maximum shock.  

They usually became very agitated or angry with the "professor" conducting the experiment, but continued anyway.  The "professor" would tell them that it was painful but safe and urge them on.  If they refused, he would finally say "You have no other choice, you must go on."  They obeyed the authority figure.  The fact that the experiment was sponsored by Yale also added to their willingness to continue.

Before participating in the experiment, when people are asked "If a person in a position of authority ordered you to deliver a 400-volt electrical shock to another person, would you follow orders?  Most people answer like I would, with an adamant no!

When asked how many people would deliver the maximum shock, Yale students responded like I would have with 3%.

I'm sure I would not deliver more than 30 volts no matter what the "professor" said to me.  Of course I would never find out because as soon as it was revealed to me that I had to shock someone, I would say no, and leave.  

Not that I'm a big fan of Oprah, but some of you may remember the show she did over a decade ago which questioned why we "crime". Cuz in the end, we all "crime" in some way or another.

She posed the question: If you could kill with thought, and be certain to not be caught, would you use that power.

My personal answer is I most certainly would. Prison life is a major deterrent to me.

The ethical component is do we not do it by morality or by fear of punishment.

Most people think themselves perfect and deserving of adulation by peers. But the reality is only 10% of murderers are ever caught. There is a very significant portion of the population which doesn't give a flying fuck about murdering and actually acts upon that idea, and then there is another component of society like me who only don't do it because of the associated risk.
Add to that all other "big" crimes such as theft, rape, bullying, it's pretty safe to say that morality is all a big lie, imposed upon us by religion.

Moral absolutism (such as presented in the Humanist Manifesto) is my biggest break for not wanting an atheist society at this point. An atheist society that would stick to the present day moral code I would find nearly as undesirable as today's civilisation. A massive waste of time.

I dream of the day when atheists will sufficiently distance ourselves from modern religious moral codes and make up a new code which does not place Human dominion over all and service to husband first. It's not life that is precious, it is quality of life.

Spud, you are a truly civilized person! Although the experiment could not be done today because of ethics laws, I wonder how many would follow orders. We are trained by parents, religion, education and government to obey. WRONG! The goal should be to think critically, draw on moral and ethical principles for guides.  

Fear, whether it be the fear of the unknown the strange or the different and this fear can be used by politicians, religious leaders and rabble-rousers to manipulate the population. I composed a short video with some of these issues in it - http://youtu.be/-gjE41E60_4

One thing's for sure, it's not religion, which comes in a kazillion shapes, sizes and shades.  And religion can be used in a multitude of ways: to control, comfort, blame, inspire, etc.  Are religionists "deluded"?  Sure.  But so is everyone who has bought into the Myth of Progress.  

 
To me, this is the root of evil in the modern world, because it is our addiction to non-stop, expansive growth that's killing us and the planet.  Take, for example, technology.  As media theorist Marshall McLuhan once said, every tool is an extension of the body: the wheel for the foot, the phone for the voice, clothing for the skin, the computer for the brain.  Due to the greed of corporations and stockholders, there is never a time in technological expansion where we say "enough".  We're going to let the earth do that, when climate change and multiple ecological collapses put a damper on unrestrained technological innovation.  
 
Indeed, growth in economics, technology, etc is our secular replacement for religion.  Ironically, religion has a part that encourages the Myth of Progress, and another that fights it.  The Bible has both the command to "have dominion over the earth" and then the book of Ecclesiastes where all human striving for growth is mocked.  That's because the "Bible" is an artificial collection of diverse documents that often contradict each other.  But Ecclesiastes is the closest you get to a skeptical, non-theistic worldview that critiques unceasing "development": "All things are full of weariness beyond uttering. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing." (1:9)  
One form of dissatisfaction is beneficial: it keeps us growing as people, on our journey to enrich our lives, families, & communities.  But the other type, expressed in The Myth of Progress, pressures us to push the planet to its limits until it springs back on us like a rubber band and smacks us in the face.  The Myth of Progress, or TMOP, can be religious, atheistic, whatever.  Same shiest, different pile.  Our challenge is to move beyond it and touch reality.

 Same shiest, different pile.

I agree, high tech and economics, they are but tools that can be used in religious ways. Though I don't think in terms of "good" and "evil", cancerous growth of humanity is as close as it comes for me to "evil". Religion is a human tool of power, written by humans, to control humans. Until our value systems escape from these sorts of writings that have ruled humanity for 5000 years, declaring ourselves "godless" is entirely futile.

The root of all evil is the thought or act that does not promote the flourishing of an individual. 

Competition for food and sex....and natural selection which caused hominid's brain to scheme and plan and think abstractly (as physical prowess and strength retreated) and sexual selection which caused females to adorn themselves and males to degrade their rivals all leading to culture and a concomitant but unfortunate atavism in biology...rrrr whatever man, don't have a cow man.

The most likely reason is that aggressive behavior held, at some early stage in evolution, advantages for reproduction and survival. At a time when food was scarce, and illness ravaging, the more agressive individual may have had a clear survival advantage.

We see in many animal species a hierarchical structure in which the stongest male dominates and holds all the sexual cards until he dies or is displaced by a younger stronger male in a fight for leadership.

This may have been the organization of human societies at an early point when there were only small tribes of hunter-gatherers and agriculture had not yet developed. Only after the development of agriculture was cooperative behavior superior to hierarchy for the group survival.

There has always been cooperation, it is the nature of any social animal. Furthermore, there is no anthropological indication that hunter-gatherer tribes had that sort of male structure (dominates and holds all the sexual cards until he dies or is displaced by a younger). Penis size to body ratio, to the contrary, infers that females of early tribes practised promiscuity. The anthropological most likely scenario is that a small proportion of males and females - alpha males and alpha females - did most of the breeding, the and rest of the tribe had support roles.

There has always been a balance between violence and cooperation, between ingroup and outgroup. But as population sizes increase, the relative amount of resources diminishes, and this pushes the equilibrium, the larger the society the more violence, and the more top down dominance is necessary to maintain "order". That is how religion/patriarchy developed around 5 millennia ago, as a power/control tool. There is no real distinction between patriarchy and religion, one is the left hand, one is the right hand.

Today, as our population continues to increase and the ratio of resource availability continues to decrease, top down controls will continue de become stronger, to attempt to control the increased violence inescapable by overpopulation, and this is biologically true in most species.

Violence is not "evil", it is simply a stress reaction, it is simply the flip side of the coin of cooperation. One without the other is impossible. Only the balance between the two varies.

My point was carelessly worded. I meant to suggest that the balance between hierarchical social structures and cooperative social structures favored the former in pre-literate pre-agricultural tribal societies. Despite the immense variety of social structures in human societies hierarchy and dominance are still strong in most. It is almost irresistable to view social history as a struggle to achieve a balance between cooperation and hierarchy.  

Here is a quote from one paper:

Dominance appears to be written deeply into our physiological, social,
and cognitive functions. It emerges early as a defining trait of individuals
(personality) and hence produces a propensity for human social groups to
organize themselves hierarchically, and for the majority of individuals to
displace responsibility for their actions by obeying authority. So large a
part does it play in our social lives that it also shapes and modifies our
cognitive strategies and physiological responses

http://www.denisecummins.com/uploads/1/1/8/2/11828927/cumminssynthe...

Do you have a reference for this point? I'm interested to read about it.

The anthropological most likely scenario is that a small proportion of males and females - alpha males and alpha females - did most of the breeding, the and rest of the tribe had support roles.

That seems to support the notion that some kind of social dominance hierarchy was the normal mode of organization in early tribal societies. Cooperation would have been present as well, but within a hierarchical structure.

Hunters cooperate.

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