First, where did a “Compassionate Theory of Everything” come from?
My mom searched frantically for me when I ran away from home at age 3. She found me at a bus stop. The bus was idling.
“Lady, the kid told me his mom was ignorant so he needed to go to the museum.” The driver explained.
I had questions about the world. Encyclopedias weren’t enough. I wanted to know what was true, and also what people believed. I suspected there was a difference between the two, but at that age I still assumed well-reasoned arguments grounded in science would clear up the confusion.
It wasn’t long after those runaway trips that the Jehovah’s Witnesses learned to skip our particular door.
What I wanted was for the world to make sense to me in ways that helped me love all the people in it. But at that time, I thought I could find “Truth” with a big “T.”
I wondered a lot about division, and if the things we thought made some people different and “bad” were true or not.
When I was young and attending an Indianapolis school, our teacher had us crawl under our desks and cover our heads to protect against nuclear attacks from “Russkies.” Many people said we had to get them before “they” got “us.” Attacking another country was supposedly justified because “they” were Communists, and not really human like “us.” I wondered if “communists” might still be people regardless of their beliefs.
When I went to buy bubblegum at the corner store, I was often attacked by a group of kids who claimed I was something bad because my skin color was different from theirs. I wondered if they might be mistaking me for “something bad” based on their ideas. This mistake had to be based on “their ideas about my skin color” as opposed to the reality of my “skin color.” None of my friends in the neighborhood had the same skin color as my own, so the violence was based on ideas about reality and not reality itself.
I developed a burning curiosity to know how and why human beings come up with ideas of “us” vs “them.” I wanted to know why these ideas could shape our reasoning process and justify attack. Over decades I began to see patterns in common between racism, nationalism/war, and ALL forms of prejudice.
A cohesive, harmonious “wholeness” took decades to form. Eventually I would discover the transcendent or spiritual perspectives of Alan Watts, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell. Each of them presented rather elegant and complete theories of the universe and our relationship with it as humans. But I still needed those to relate and form a cohesive whole with the physical ontologies implied by Charles Darwin, B.F. Skinner, and Yuval Noah Harari. What brings the world of mind, spirit, soul and matter together?
Perhaps a shared origin in our conceptualizations of them.
Looking back over my life I must say that a wholeness, a conceptual “intimacy with reality” that nurtures compassion for the sparkling galaxies of human belief growing in this universe – has been my life’s work.
The following is an attempt to boil 100,000 words down into 1,135.
Brief Summary of the CTOE using some technical terms from psychology: Human beings are born with the capacity to see people as part of an “in-group” or “out-group.” Empathy and compassion are innate parts of the human experience occurring naturally for our in-group, yet these are applied ONLY to those we PERCEIVE as part of our in-group. The in-group is formed through a perception of “who is similar to us,” and who we conceptualize as having physical or mental traits in common with us. All forms of “moral” or “immoral” behavior can be explained by an individual’s conception of their in-group.
An in-group can be conceptualized by the individual as including only the individual (in remorseless criminals who will harm others for personal gain/pleasure,) our own nuclear family (in the CEO who sells carcinogenic products to the public to buy his children a mansion,) expanded to those who share our religion (Crusades, etc,) our nation (war,) our race (racism,) our gender (patriarchy,) or all people (as in the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights.) This perception and conceptualization of in-group is often learned from culture and upbringing, but this learning can be modified through conscious effort. We can make a deliberate effort to EXPAND our conception of an in-group, by seeing their desires and mental activities as similar to our own. This conception can include all people who are human beings.
Application of the CTOE: Widespread and cross-cultural understanding of this basic process will reverse the global trend toward extremism and fragmentation of societies.
This extremism has grown as our ideological differences (dissimilarity in conceptualizations) have been highlighted and advertised through tweets and modern communication technologies. The natural result of this has been in-group bonding through shared outrage at the conceptualization and behavior of others and out-group attack of those who see reality differently.
An awareness and understanding of our OWN in-group formation process is vital to the survival of our species, or at least human political and social systems. Without it we continue to create a world full of groups all viewing themselves as “moral and good” as they attack other groups.
Research supporting the CTOE:
Psychology – Pre-verbal infant behavior indicates in-group bias –
Yale Infant Morality Researcher Paul Bloom: “We are predisposed to break the world up into different human groups based on the most subtle and seemingly irrelevant cues, and that, to some extent, is the dark side of morality… We have an initial moral sense that is in some ways very impressive, and in some ways, really depressing — that we see some of the worst biases in adults reflected in the minds and in the behaviors of young babies…a bias to favor the self, where the self could be people who look like me, people who act like me, people who have the same taste as me, is a very strong human bias. It’s what one would expect from a creature like us who evolved from natural selection, but it has terrible consequences.”
Endocrinology – The one hormone we think of as the “love hormone” motivates both in-group favoritism and out-group antagonism
“Results show that oxytocin creates intergroup bias because oxytocin motivates in-group favoritism and, to a lesser extent, out-group derogation. These findings call into question the view of oxytocin as an indiscriminate “love drug” or “cuddle chemical” and suggest that oxytocin has a role in the emergence of intergroup conflict and violence.”
History – Individual conceptions of in-groups can be expanded by cultural conceptions, when legislation grants “personhood” –
In 1879 the Native American Chief Standing Bear’s family was being removed from their land by the US Government. He brought suit against the Army general charged with removing him.
The Ponca chief spoke before the court: “That hand is not the color of yours, but if I prick it, the blood will flow, and I shall feel pain,” said Standing Bear. “The blood is of the same color as yours. God made me, and I am a man.”
Judge Elmer S. Dundy ruled on May 12th, 1879 that “an Indian is a person.”
Most of the US population now sees Native Americans as “human beings,” which was not the case in the 1800s. Those whose skin “looks different” than “ours” can be seen as fully and completely human, and legislative changes promote cultural changes which promote individual changes in conceptualization.
In Canada, On Oct. 18, 1929, women were declared “persons” under the law. Women were granted the right to vote in 1940, and all women regardless of race were granted the right to vote in 1950.
Those whose “gender is different” than “ours” can be seen as fully and completely human. We would prefer this process to happen “on its own,” but cultures and individuals must instead “learn” to see those who look or think differently as fully and completely human. There are evolutionary reasons human beings have twin capacities to “recognize humanity” and “reject it,” and those will be covered elsewhere.
Summary: Although we continue to see horrific violations of human rights around the world – human cultures and civilizations have been moving in the general direction of “expanding our in-groups” for hundreds of years. The UN Declaration of Human Rights was a milestone in the 20th century impossible in the century before. That declaration was likely a result of awareness – many people could see the danger to all humanity posed by a world of fragmented in-groups each possessing nuclear arms.
Cultures provide answers to our individual questions, and these answers in general have become more and more inclusive as evidenced through advances in “personhood” and suffrage. But sub-cultures often still teach us that “we the people” are different and better than “they” the not-quite people.
We, as individuals, can nurture the process of compassion in ourselves by recognizing that all people have certain questions in common – regardless of the various foreign “realities” their answers may bring them. Having questions in common aids us in experiencing empathy and compassion.
We can nurture the progress of this compassionate process in society through our daily interactions with others, and find our own ways to communicate and share “how the process works.”
The “2 Universal Questions” are the simplest and most direct communication I could come up with, after working at unifying evolutionary and psychological perspectives, and attempting to boil them down to a process as simple and cross-culturally recognizable as possible:
“What is best for my loved ones?” (my family and those I see as similar to me in some way)
“Who are my loved ones?” (who, specifically, has something in common with my conception of myself and can be embraced as my in-group?)
Whatever your sub-culture, be it an academic or political or spiritual, there is some way of communicating this same basic process to others.
Please find it and spread it, because it will help human civilization continue to grow in compassion.
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