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Thread: Morality as Performance

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    Deus Meumque Jus
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    Morality as Performance

    Going to throw out some fodder into the morality forum, feel free to reply / disregard / whatever.

    I've been thinking about the etymology of the words 'good' and 'bad' as synonyms for ethical and unethical. It raises the question good at what? I think the implication is that the person who is 'good' is good at following implicit and explicit moral rules. Ok fair enough, but what's interesting to me about it is that it implies that morality is a domain of execution, that one can't really be intrinsically good or bad, but rather one performs in the moral domain. Our character is determined by how successfully we understand and follow moral norms.

    So it frames morality as a kind of biological adjunct, those with a better ability to follow and adhere to norms should be more successful, more often. And we should expect the brunt of most populations to be generally good at adhering to the customs of their social group.

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    Super Moderator Bronzeage's Avatar
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    Morality defines how we are expected to interact with other people in our group. A person is "moral" if they act as expected. If you can't adhere to the morals of your group, you're a hazard to have around.

    I like my bicycle and I expect my neighbor to not steal it. That seems like a fairly well defined expectation. Fortunately for me, my group has people ready and willing to chase him down and make him give back my bike. Me and the rest of my neighbors don't have to drag him out in the street and beat him to death.

    In modern society, we have the luxury of non-conformity. The amazing development of the cash economy allows me to create superficial relationships with thousands of people who will provide for my needs, as long as I give them some money. They don't care if I'm and adulterer or homosexual, or violate any number of archaic social norms. I don't have to rely on the good will of my neighbor to survive. I don't even have to know my neighbor. All I have to do is abide by the actual legal code of my group(county, state, nation, etc) and I'll do just fine.

    Morality and public morals serve to insure the well being and survival of the group. Any group in which most of the people don't adhere to the customs, won't be a group for long. You can't be a group and not follow social norms. That's what defines a group, and who is in the group and who is not.

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    Deus Meumque Jus
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post
    A person is "moral" if they act as expected.
    What's interesting to me about framing it as performance, is that most people think of their moral character as a permanent quality. They'd say things like - I am good, it is incontrovertibly true that I am a good person. When in reality morality is something you do, and a domain where you make decisions with implications all the time.

    That's more or less intuitive, but I think being conscious of this provides opportunity. One stops thinking of themselves as intrinsically good, and instead realizes that they need to be actually good, moment by moment, day after day. Being good comes from concertedly making right decisions, it's not something you just are, all the time.

    Where in practice I think most people interpret their own behavior, good or bad, to fit the narrative they have of themselves.

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    Actually performance can be determined by one or by others. The two lead to different conclusions about what is one's performance. If performance is determined by genetic attributes one could be found to be executing perfectly while destroying everything for instance.

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    Super Moderator Bronzeage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post
    A person is "moral" if they act as expected.
    What's interesting to me about framing it as performance, is that most people think of their moral character as a permanent quality. They'd say things like - I am good, it is incontrovertibly true that I am a good person. When in reality morality is something you do, and a domain where you make decisions with implications all the time.

    That's more or less intuitive, but I think being conscious of this provides opportunity. One stops thinking of themselves as intrinsically good, and instead realizes that they need to be actually good, moment by moment, day after day. Being good comes from concertedly making right decisions, it's not something you just are, all the time.

    Where in practice I think most people interpret their own behavior, good or bad, to fit the narrative they have of themselves.
    I once terribly upset someone by telling them I was as moral as necessary. They didn't like the idea that moral behavior is situational.

    It's not so much about performance and what we do, because often we don't have a lot of good choices. Whether a person can be judged as moral depends more on what they want to do. A moral person values the feelings of others and wants them to think well of him. We call it reputation and this is important enough, people will do very immoral things in order to maintain it. Weird, huh?

    I've made the point before and I'll repeat myself. All cultures and society have the same moral code, which consists of two basic principles. First, don't kill your friends. Second, don't steal your friend's stuff. After that, it's just a matter of defining who is a friend, and what is considered stuff that can be owned. These definitions are critical to determining what is moral and what is not. In previous ages, adultery and rape were considered property crimes. It was theft from the man who owned the woman in question.

    If one reads the Biblical Old Testament, there are plenty of stories of what is basically cold blooded murder by our standard, but the victims were of another tribe, so there was no violation of the "Thy shalt not kill" proscription. Of course, in our enlightened times, we are expected to consider humans to all be one group, so there is no longer someone who lives over in the next valley who is fair game.

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    Bronzeage I believe that morality needs to exceed tribal limits which is especially apparent now during water driven migrations. Even those who aren't suffering pressure to change locations because of water they are suffering pressure from those seeking to relocate there. My choice is to expand the bound of your two principles from friends to others. More difficult - goes against genetic tendencies to mark on difference - but more in line with our developing tendencies to cooperate with others. Now morality takes on a dynamic and useful dimension.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post
    A person is "moral" if they act as expected.
    What's interesting to me about framing it as performance, is that most people think of their moral character as a permanent quality. They'd say things like - I am good, it is incontrovertibly true that I am a good person. When in reality morality is something you do, and a domain where you make decisions with implications all the time.

    That's more or less intuitive, but I think being conscious of this provides opportunity. One stops thinking of themselves as intrinsically good, and instead realizes that they need to be actually good, moment by moment, day after day. Being good comes from concertedly making right decisions, it's not something you just are, all the time.

    Where in practice I think most people interpret their own behavior, good or bad, to fit the narrative they have of themselves.
    I once terribly upset someone by telling them I was as moral as necessary. They didn't like the idea that moral behavior is situational.

    It's not so much about performance and what we do, because often we don't have a lot of good choices. Whether a person can be judged as moral depends more on what they want to do. A moral person values the feelings of others and wants them to think well of him. We call it reputation and this is important enough, people will do very immoral things in order to maintain it. Weird, huh?
    Maybe we only have to be as moral as necessary, but you can take out the world moral and replace it with smart. It doesn't have to be as much about righteousness, and more about reputation, as you say.

    So for example, if we understand that reputation is about performance, and performance is about understanding explicit and implicit rules, then it follows that the more rules we know and follow, the stronger our reputation will be, and the more successful we'll be in our day to day life.

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    Super Moderator ruby sparks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    Going to throw out some fodder into the morality forum, feel free to reply / disregard / whatever.

    I've been thinking about the etymology of the words 'good' and 'bad' as synonyms for ethical and unethical. It raises the question good at what? I think the implication is that the person who is 'good' is good at following implicit and explicit moral rules. Ok fair enough, but what's interesting to me about it is that it implies that morality is a domain of execution, that one can't really be intrinsically good or bad, but rather one performs in the moral domain. Our character is determined by how successfully we understand and follow moral norms.

    So it frames morality as a kind of biological adjunct, those with a better ability to follow and adhere to norms should be more successful, more often. And we should expect the brunt of most populations to be generally good at adhering to the customs of their social group.
    I don't think one can say that morality is just performance. That said, I think you're raised a very interesting aspect of morality, probably one of many, on which much could be said in agreement.

    For example, one often hears it said that there is no such thing as bad people, only people who do bad things, and I do tend to agree with this.

    The reason I say it isn't, imo, just performance, is that there is also an inner, subjective, psychological realm (a personal sense of guilt, for example) even if that has social components.
    Last edited by ruby sparks; 08-31-2020 at 10:21 AM.
    "Let us hope that it is not so. Or if it is, let us pray that the fact does not become generally known."

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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    Going to throw out some fodder into the morality forum, feel free to reply / disregard / whatever.

    I've been thinking about the etymology of the words 'good' and 'bad' as synonyms for ethical and unethical. It raises the question good at what? I think the implication is that the person who is 'good' is good at following implicit and explicit moral rules. Ok fair enough, but what's interesting to me about it is that it implies that morality is a domain of execution, that one can't really be intrinsically good or bad, but rather one performs in the moral domain. Our character is determined by how successfully we understand and follow moral norms.

    So it frames morality as a kind of biological adjunct, those with a better ability to follow and adhere to norms should be more successful, more often. And we should expect the brunt of most populations to be generally good at adhering to the customs of their social group.
    I think you start with a questionable premise that leads you down a wrong path. It does need to be "good at" something. It could just be "good for" something. Good moral behaviors are good for human relationships. In fact, "good" is partly derived from proto Indo-European word "ged" meaning to unite or join. Morality is about how humans related to each other. So, the moral sense of "good" may actually precede the words use to refer to being good at some task that is not about human relations. Also, there is just a general positive valence to the concept of good, as in good-bad are words referring to the approach-avoid behavioral system that direct the behavior of almost everything in the animal kingdom. So, a person acting "good" is someone to be approached, and bad people are to be avoided.

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    Super Moderator Bronzeage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post

    I once terribly upset someone by telling them I was as moral as necessary. They didn't like the idea that moral behavior is situational.

    It's not so much about performance and what we do, because often we don't have a lot of good choices. Whether a person can be judged as moral depends more on what they want to do. A moral person values the feelings of others and wants them to think well of him. We call it reputation and this is important enough, people will do very immoral things in order to maintain it. Weird, huh?
    Maybe we only have to be as moral as necessary, but you can take out the world moral and replace it with smart. It doesn't have to be as much about righteousness, and more about reputation, as you say.

    So for example, if we understand that reputation is about performance, and performance is about understanding explicit and implicit rules, then it follows that the more rules we know and follow, the stronger our reputation will be, and the more successful we'll be in our day to day life.
    I think the problem with coming to grips with the burden of morality is, we only take notice of the obsolescent parts of it. As I said above, a lot of what we consider sexual morality comes from the time when women were property. Morality is seen as social bondage, the leash that prevents us from doing what we desire most. It leads to pointless debates along the lines of "Resolved: Morality is dumb."

    It is smart to be moral and stupid to be immoral. I don't think anyone can make a plausible argument for the reverse.

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