Every man and every woman is a star.  

Aleister Crowley

 

 

A world is in there.  

Renegade Soundwave – “The Phantom”

 

 

who counts as a person?  The short answer is that, within a given culture, a person is someone whom others recognize as a person within the public arena.  

Michael Tomasello “A Natural History of Human Morality”

 

 

Kant’s “ends and means”

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) said that human beings have intrinsic value and should be treated as an end in themselves, not as a means to something else.  

 

In the kingdom of ends everything has either a price or a dignity.  What has a price can be replaced with something else as its equivalent; what ... is raised above all price and therefore admits of no equivalent has a dignity ...

That which constitutes the condition under which something can be an end in itself has not merely a relative value, that is, a price, but an inner value, that is dignity.

Immanuel Kant

 

 

To treat someone with dignity is ... to respect their dignity. ... To respect someone's dignity by treating them with dignity requires that one shows them respect, either positively, by acting towards them in a way that gives expression to one's respect, or at least, negatively, by refraining from behavior that would show disrespect.

Michael Rosen

 

 

We can’t pursue our lives without thinking that our lives matter—though one has to be careful here to distinguish the relevant sense of “matter.”  Simply to take actions on the basis of desires is to act as if your life matters.  It’s inconceivable to pursue a human life without these kinds of presumptions—that your own life matters to some extent.  Clinical depression is when you are convinced that you don’t and will never matter.  That’s a pathological attitude, and it highlights, by its pathology, the way in which the mattering instinct normally functions.  To be a fully functioning, non-depressed person is to live and to act, to take it for granted that you can act on your own behalf, pursue your goals and projects.  And that we have a right to be treated in accord with our own commitment to our lives mattering.  We quite naturally flare up into outrage and indignation when others act in violation of the presumption grounding the pursuance of our lives.  So this is what I mean by the mattering instinct, that commitment to one’s own life that is inseparable from pursuing a coherent human life.  

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

 

Even a spider or a fly matters to itself, which is why they run or fly away when you threaten them.  

 

 

History of the idea of human dignity (Aeon magazine)

 

 

Universal pressure to thrive the Healing Principle

 

What is most dear to you in the world?  Is it your own flourishing?  We all matter to ourselves.  

 

I have through all regions wandered;

Still have I none ever found

Who loved another more than himself.

So is one’s own self dearer than another,

Therefore out of love to one’s own self

Doth no-one injure another.

The Buddha

 

Persons have intrinsic value because each one is a self-generating source of flourishing.

Because of empathy, we respect, in others, their valuing and cherishing of their own flourishing.  

Because of empathy, we respect, in others, their need to thrive.  

This idea is a basis for respecting human rights.  

 

Human rights

We all wish for the right to thrive ethically.  The basis of human rights is the right to be treated with the maximum benefit and minimum harm available to us.  This is what it means to be treated with dignity.  Rights are given by others and asserted by the self.  See also: The Golden Rule, Perfect Compassion

 

 

I just love rock’n’roll!  Is that so wrong?  

Lemmy Kilmister

 

Personhood

Circle of concern

(see also: empathy, targeted helping)

 

A circle of concern includes those to whom we extend empathy and compassion; those whom we are prepared to see as people, on the same footing of equality as ourselves.  We feel the pain of, and help, people whom we approve of.  

We are all at the centre of concentric circles of concern, growing larger outwards from a central point:  

 

Each has a separate morality associated with it, which builds on and incorporates the ones before it.  These separate moralities may sometimes conflict, leading to a moral dilemma.  

 

 

Universal empathy and compassion

 

Every human being is a human being.  

 

The way that has worked best is to point out the similarities between ourselves and those who are suffering—to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Even though I do not look like you or act like you, nonetheless I am like you when it comes to the capacity for suffering, and so I deserve to be treated the same as you. It is precisely our ability to imagine the plight of the nameless and faceless that elicits our empathy and our desire to act.

Denise Cummins PhD, Dr Robert Cummins – “Why Paul Bloom Is Wrong About Empathy and Morality” – Psychology Today   

 

 

Instead of “us and them” – “me and you”  

Humanising people from other groups

 

In this domain of human psychology, there are two opposing forces:

1.  the desire to help any human being in need.  

2.  the fact that we tend to see people from other groups as non-people.  

The archaeological evidence seems to suggest that the demonising of persons from other social groups is a relatively recent phenomenon, since warfare began, historically, with the beginning of settled farming communities, approximately 10,000 years ago.  Before that time, there is more or less no evidence for any kind of organised violence, but, by the time of the Ice Age in Europe, a lot of evidence for long-range communication and trade between people.  

When the human species was small in number, and yet, people needed other people (in personal terms) in order to help them survive, then, when a stranger was encountered, it would have made more sense to welcome them as a potential friend.  

The fact that solidarity would necessarily have been strong, within a small group of ancient pre-Sapiens hunter-gatherers, is not the same as saying there would have been strong competition with other groups.  The archaeological evidence of the beginnings of warfare says that it arises where there is competition for resources.  In terms of cooperation, a small group forms a cooperative unit, and anyone outside of that unit is seen as either: 1) irrelevant; 2) a threat; 3) a potential helper in the future.  

If we can see the humanity in out-group members, if we can be reminded that they are a person, just as we ourselves are a person, then this can break down barriers between people who are different.  

 

 

Interview with Meg De Amasi, by her daughter Ena Miller

BBC World Service – “Focus on Africa”, 17 April 2017

Meg De Amasi is originally from Ghana.  In 1976, after studying in the USA, she arrived in Glasgow to finish her degree in midwifery.  Although she loves Scotland, Meg says that she has felt alienated and homesick.  She wrote this poem to describe her experience.  

 

“At least I'm trying”  

 

I'm trying to understand

even though we don't speak the same language.  

I spent time listening,

trying to interpret your words,

make sense of your beliefs,

encompass my own.  

Our eyes meet,

and I know you are questioning my intelligence.  

Just to let you know,

I'm trying to understand.  

What are you doing to understand me?  

Even though we don't speak the same language.  

 

Meg says, “that in a nutshell was my struggles.”  

 

 

 

People come in all shapes, sizes, and shades of brown.  

 

 

 

Interacting with strangers correlates with prosocial behaviour

 

In a study spanning fifteen societies of pastoralists and horticulturalists, Joseph Henrich and colleagues measured the link between types of religious commitment and prosocial behavior in three well-known economic games.  ...  In the ... Dictator Game, two anonymous players are allotted a sum of real money (a day’s wage in the local culture) in a one-shot interaction.  Player 1 must decide how to divide this sum between herself and Player 2.  Player 2 then receives the allocation from Player 1, and the game ends.  Player 1’s allocation (the offer) to Player 2 provides a measure of generosity or fairness in this context.  The Ultimatum Game is identical to the Dictator Game, except that Player 2 can accept or reject the offer.  If Player 2 specifies that he would accept the amount of the actual offer, then he receives the amount of the offer and Player 1 receives the rest.  If Player 2 specifies that he would reject the amount offered, both players receive zero.  Player 1’s offer measures a combination of intrinsic motivation towards fairness in this context and an assessment of the likelihood of rejection.  

There was wide variability in the degree of prosociality across the different societies.  In some groups, people offered little, and receivers accepted any offers, no matter how puny.  These people acted “rationally,” the way economists say people should.  In other groups, people offered half the allocation, and the receivers rejected anything less than a fair offer.  What explains this variability?  Henrich found that the more people in that group were accustomed to dealing with strangers to make a living, the greater their prosocial tendencies.  The other significant factor was religion: after controlling for various demographic and economic variables, participation in a world religion with a Big God (defined as Christian or Muslim) increased offers in the Dictator Game by 6 and in the Ultimatum Game by 10 percentile points (when the stake was standardized at 100).  

Ara Noyenzaran – “Big Gods – how religion transformed cooperation and conflict”

 

 

 

Judging those who are different from us

Mathematical modelling finds that perspective-taking promotes prosocial behaviour in a culturally mixed society, or towards people whose judgement of what is right differs from our own.  This may be because we sometimes negatively judge the behaviour of someone who is different from us according to our own social norms.  If we were to take their own perspective, we may find that we approve of their behaviour after all.  

Researchers also found in the mathematical simulation that people will copy this perspective-taking behaviour, presumably because it works in promoting cooperation.

Therefore, according to the model, empathy will spread throughout a population under the right circumstances.  See also: perspective taking

Source

 

 

 

Archaeological evidence for sizes of social networks in early humans

Extracts from “How Compassion Made Us Human the evolutionary origins of tenderness, trust and morality” by Penny Spikins

 

p. 113

... it is clear that there was intense evolutionary pressure on brain expansion from around 2 million years ago.  ...

Robin Dunbar from Oxford University has studied the shape of human and other primate brains, and found a relationship between the size of the neocortex, the front part of the brain, and size of the social group that different primates live in [164].  Getting on with lots of individuals is mentally much more taxing than only a few for those primates which develop many complex bonds.  Since our neocortex size has progressively increased in proportion to the rest of the brain throughout human evolution, Dunbar suggests that our move into open grasslands, with all the dangerous predators, meant that we had to live in much larger groups to survive, and that we needed more and more social brain power to get on with everyone and avoid being excluded.  Along with the philosopher Nicolas Humphrey [165], he believes that our big brains, our complicated areas of thought like our consciousness, our ability to think through what other people think about us or how they might react to what we do, even our drive to gossip, read novels or watch Eastenders, were driven by an evolutionary need to get on with other people.  

pp. 142-143

There is no doubt that our social worlds have exploded in size over the last 2 million years.  

One clue to how the size of our social networks has increased comes from the distances over which flint raw materials used to make tools have travelled.  Before 2 million years ago raw materials were never transported much more than 1 km – social worlds were small.  After this time the social landscapes of early humans seem to have expanded somewhat, with most raw materials up until 1.2 million years ago coming from up to 3 km away and some even travelling 15 km.  It was only after 1.2 million years, however, that materials travelled beyond these distances, implying some connections or relationships with neighbouring groups.  Hereafter, maximum transfer distances increase to 100 km – several days’ travel at least – and well into the territories of other groups.  

The big increase in movement of raw material occurs with our own species.  Arriving in Europe around 40,000 years ago, modern humans transferred a whole range of materials great distances, often over 800 km – not only raw materials for things that are needed, but also marine shells or other aesthetic objects which seem to have no functional purpose ... gifts.  

It may have been changes in our emotional minds which allowed our worlds to get larger.  

Jean Decety argues that there must have been changes in the make-up of our brains which allowed us to form bonds with people outside our group whom we perhaps only rarely saw.  One of the mechanisms is likely to have been changes in our hormone responses – a damping down of our threat-based reactions to those we didn’t know well.  An increase in the production of oxytocin, the hormone associated with bonding and trust, would allow us to feel affiliative feelings with people we didn’t usually spend time with.  Without such an oxytocin response, our contacts with strangers or people we didn’t know well might have been limited to our threat responses of attack, flight or freeze.  We could never put a group of chimpanzees who don’t know each other in a cage together, but thanks to our evolved minds [capable of much greater emotional self-regulation] and our far more tolerant responses to strangers, we can navigate trains, buses, concert halls and cities without attacking everyone around us or being frozen in fear.  

p. 161:

Was it a stripping away of natural empathy which led to prehistoric cannibalism?  In the earliest cases, that of the two-million-year-old australopithecine at Sterkfontein or one-million-year-old Homo antecessor family at Atapuerca, it seems doubtful.  At this early stage our social worlds remained small and empathy for others may well have still been limited to those within the group, with no feeling at all for those outside it.  Fight or flight, eat or be eaten, might have been the driving force behind relationships with strangers.  

Original references:  

164.  Dunbar, R I M (2003)  The Social Brain: mind, language and society in an evolutionary perspective.  Annual Review of Anthropology 32: 163-181.  See also: Dunbar, R I M (2009)  The social brain hypothesis and its implications for social evolution.  Annals of human biology 36(5): 562-572.

165.  Humphrey, N (1984)  Consciousness Regained.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.  

 

 

Chimpanzees’ and bonobos’ reactions to strangers (“18”)

Chimpanzees and bonobos are the closest relatives of humans, and our last common ancestor lived around 6-8 million years ago.  

(Male) chimpanzees are murderously hostile towards other groups, patrolling the borders of their territory and killing any strangers they find, but bonobos behave much more peacefully in the same situation.  

 

One highly problematic issue ... is why there is so little competition between groups of bonobos.  Chimpanzee males are known to kill each other over territory, gorilla males occasionally fight to the death over females, and our own species has a long history of battlefields scattered with the bodies of thousands of men.  Bonobos, in contrast, seem merely to “visit” their neighbors, with some hostility and tension, but no murderous intent.  

The first peaceful intergroup mingling was observed in 1979 at Wamba, where two different communities came together and stayed together for a week.  At a recent meeting, [Takayoshi] Kano played a video of such mingling.  First one sees bonobos fiercely chasing each other, screaming and barking, but without physical fighting.  Then, gradually, females of the different groups engage in sexual contact and even groom one another.  In the meantime, their offspring play with those of the other group.  Even a few males of different groups approach one another to engage in a brief scrotal rub.  Those familiar with the brutal encounters between chimpanzee communities, described in gruesome detail by Jane Goodall, can only shake their heads in wonderment at bonobo intercommunity relations.  

[Gen’ichi] Idani, who recorded 32 separate intergroup encounters at Wamba, characterizes the typical interaction between males and females of different groups as sexual and friendly, whereas males are hostile and standoffish towards males of another group.  Copulations between males and females of different groups are common during the first fifteen minutes of an encounter.  Provisioning may be partly responsible for these group mergers, since many occurred at the feeding site.  ...

The extensively overlapping travel ranges of bonobo communities and direct observations of relatively peaceful mixing suggest that bonobo intercommunity relations are strikingly different from those of their closest relatives.  

Frans de Waal and Frans Lanting – “Bonobo – the forgotten ape”

 

 

 

Liz Ridgway – “Seafarer”

 

Each of us cherishes the means we use to thrive and to navigate successfully through life.