|"OMG! I have the|
same emotions as you"
Our human ability to feel anger or grief or thoughtfulness when seeing an unfairness perpetrated against others or personally against us isn't just a very human ability at all. And these emotions that make us feel upset or wish to take action when an apparent injustice has been predicated on an individual or community is well documented in many mammal species and not just the higher primates.
The response that comes from seeing unfairness or actual injustice - be it social, political, economic or inter-personal - usually is a triggered when the individual is acted upon to feel deprived or when they empathically wish to see others made whole. Especially when an unfairness or injustice is brought to a friend, a family member or even to complete strangers. Clearly we are ready to fight back and stand in harms way to protect someone close to us, as equally as we are to seek civil and human rights justice for those prosecuted for blasphemy or murdered by religious terrorists in foreign lands.
As seen in Paul Bloom’s research work with babies, human empathy is observed as instinctual and thus genetically written into our genome via our DNA. Such evidence immediately disproves the need for religious doctrine or faith-based enculturation to instill either morality or ethics. Religious ethics based on scripture are an unneeded layer with sometime disastrous impacts and outcomes. These include personal guilt (born into sin), the alienation of others (the LGBTQ community), the subjugation and violence against women (too many examples) and the murder or kidnapping of adults and children (the latest incarnation of this is ISIS).
Optimistically however there is large and growing evidence to show we can be good without religious faith. Whole nations where populations are completely secular (Denmark, Sweden, Norway) are typically the healthiest in all categories of the social contract. And outside of these nations, non-religious empathy and caring is provided by many activists who are either secular or do not hold a religious or faith-based ideology and who actively work to help others in need at home and around the globe.
We may be blank slates in many ways when we are born but how families or communities grow children into adults through the transfer of culture and language subjugates each of us and adds layers to the original hard wiring in our brains which then creates our identity, preferences, beliefs and actions.
What is commonly referred to as the Golden Rule, the one that states that we should treat others in the exact fashion we wish to treated, is also a fairly well known and well-documented evolutionary adaptation. This urge for fairness and justice plays out within us as part of the original software we are shipped with when we’re booted-up after leaving the placenta. And the sole purpose for this hard wired empathy is for the successful reproduction and continuation of our species.
It’s clear then that aside from our personal biases there is nothing really that special about human empathy or the wish to be treated fairly. There are numerous primate studies and field observations that conclusively show our cousins the great apes, specifically chimpanzees and gorillas but also other primates, can and do advocate for themselves or care for others within their band. At times they even become caretakers to orphaned members of their group or even adopt and care for an orphan from another species. And sometimes they do this at their own potential expense.
And still nature reveals even more about empathy and altruism in other non-primate species. Here and here.
In all of these examples the empathy behavior doesn't really make the individual animal a hero the way we humans define such action or actor. It just makes them part of nature just as we are part of nature. In fact, aside from the complex constructs of human culture, there may be very little difference between our primate relatives or other animals when they instinctually help themselves or others and the human first responders and bystanders who help those in need or danger.
And we don’t even need to use the great apes to show how unfairness is recognized in other primate species. Here’s a great (and very funny) clip from a TED talk with primatologist Frans deWaal about how researchers deliberately gave some monkeys better treats for correctly doing the same task and how the monkeys who received the poorer treat reacted to the “injustice”:
So what does this mean in the end for our own survival? Well, from a humanist perspective it shows that we can be good without the presupposition of god belief or organized religion. It also shows the bias of those with faith who demand or expect us to accept their broken view of humans is actually itself a broken and impure philosophy or set of assumptions no matter the complexity of their argument.
For those who truly believe that humans are unable to be good or empathic without the acceptance of faith, do such assumptions make you a better and kinder individual or one that based on such faith pretext immediately exclude you to enjoin with a common humanity based on the acceptance of others?
This is why non-belief and the philosophy of humanism is the best way forward. Judging others not by which sect they belong or which deity they pray or religious doctrine they follow is clearly a more honest and more connected way to be in this world. If you are religious you may disagree but with the growing number of church closings as the rise of worldwide secularism continues, such proof in numbers suggests a rejection of faith traditions in favor of science, modernity and reason.