Lets first ask ourselves:
"Would we prefer to live according to `The Law of the Jungle' or the
laws of a civilized society?" I truly hope that the answer to this
question is obvious: the only choice is to move as far away from "The
Law of the Jungle" as is possible. This illustrates our most basic
principle: things are "good" for us as civilized human beings in
relation to how far away they are from forcing us to live in accordance
with "The Law of the Jungle."
Mankind began as a jungle beast. That quality which distinguishes mankind from the jungle beasts from which we evolved is the capacity of mankind to voluntarily choose to live in accordance with a set of laws derived by mankind for its own good, as opposed to being forced to live in accordance with "The Law of the Jungle." Of course, mankind still retains the option, at all times and in all places, to return to "The Law of the Jungle." Periodically, we see entire nations choose this route, as they go to war for the purpose of conquering their neighbor. The 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is merely a most obvious case. But we see such acts as morally abhorrent, and we personally desire to have everyone choose to solve their problems in some way other than by "The Law of the Jungle."
Given that mankind has voluntarily chosen to abandon the ways of the beasts, then what is the law which should replace "The Law of the Jungle?" Mankind has considered that question for thousands of years, and there is one answer which is common to many Cultures and many Civilizations: it is the Golden Rule, sometimes expressed as "do as you would be done by" or "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
However, you cannot grasp the full power of the Golden Rule until you cultivate the ability to truly envision yourself in the place of the person whose life you are about to affect in some way. As a judge in a criminal case, you would envision yourself in the place of the convicted criminal. Would you cry out for mercy? Probably. Would you be deserving of mercy? That is a much more difficult question, and one which would drive many honest people to strong disagreements. But fallible mankind is faced each day with all sorts of decisions which will affect one or more of the other people in our society. A decision is required from each of us with respect to each of our activities each day. We either choose to follow the selfishness of "The Law of the Jungle" or we choose to follow the Golden Rule, and at the same time seek to force others to make that same choice.
At its base, the Golden Rule is nothing more than a requirement that you should treat all other people fairly; thus, the Golden rule is a principle of fairness in the conduct of the affairs of mankind. We all want to be treated fairly by the individuals and entities who have some sort of power to decide our fate in some way; accordingly, we agree as part of our common bond that we will treat those with whom we deal fairly, also.
There are those who divide rules for behavior into "selfishness" and "altruistic," and assert that only selfish choices are "rational." I believe that it is in the selfish interest of all of mankind to choose to live in accordance with the Golden Rule.
The selfishness of "The Law of the Jungle" cannot result in any significant accumulation of well being unless you are the meanest S. O. B. around.9 Furthermore, as you accumulate wealth and power, by being the "meanest," you create resentment that leads to, if not your death or overthrow in some way, at least retribution against the weaker members of your family, if their safety ever comes under the control of your enemies. A shorthand way of summarizing what "The Law of the Jungle" leads to is to state that it leads to animal-like behavior in mankind! Basically, we cannot enjoy large accumulations of wealth and power unless we all agree to cooperate with one another and live in accordance with some set of civilized rules. And millennia of human experience has shown us that the only good choice for a supreme rule of human conduct is for each of us to choose to abide by the Golden Rule.
The beginnings of the Golden Rule are found in the bond we feel for members of our own family. Even those who might prefer to live in accordance with "The Law of the Jungle" will usually have this sort of bond with members of their own family.
And all of our Culture, and all of our Civilization, is nothing more nor less than a common bond which we should feel with each person who is part of the sum-total of our fellow mankind. We are all related to each other to some degree,10 and that relationship gives a true reality to the expression: "the family of man." It must be truly shocking to some of the most bigoted among us to find out that the metaphoric brotherhood of popular culture is, in fact, a scientifically real "brotherhood of man."
Mankind is the first animal to develop a real sense of time. Thus, mankind does not follow some deeply rooted instinct in seeking to build wealth and comfort for the future. Most of humanity seeks the most basic sort of goal: a better life for our children than for ourselves. We seek to build our wealth over a period of generations. The only way that such a goal can have any real chance of success is for us to either be the ancestor of a race of super-men (who could easily defend the accumulated wealth and power in accordance with "The Law of the Jungle"), or else to be the ancestor of a race of humans which agrees to live in accordance with the civilized rules of mankind, beginning with the Golden Rule.
And in fact, when we seek to train our children to behave morally, we are seeking to be such an ancestor of our descendants. It seems so obvious to me: this is the force which lies within all mankind, compelling him to form Culture after Culture, Nation after Nation, and Civilization after Civilization, all the time seeking that one perfect answer for how to ensure that his children will live in an era of increased peace and prosperity!
9 One expression of this thought is the gag sign: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I am the meanest S. O. B in the valley."
10 In an earlier chapter, I cited the scientific studies which tended to show that all men alive today are each descended from one man who lived roughly 150,000 to 250,000 years ago, while other studies have tended to show that all women alive today are likewise descended from a single woman who lived roughly that same amount of time in our past. To the extent which this is later proven to be explicitly true, then it is obvious that we are all cousins of each other, with the only open question being the degree of the relationship.
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