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Is altruism the illusion faith seeks?

Sunday, 3 June 2007 — by

It’s a Sunday, and what better day to openly question organized religion. There’s a certain inequity to religion that has always given me good reason to question the motives of those behind the steering wheel.

I’m not in the mood to tap out my near-thesis-sized thoughts on religion and the ills contained therein. Instead, I’ll just allude to the utter contempt and disgust I feel towards all religion while nibbling at the edges of this towering, manipulative social contraption.

A problem shared is a problem halved, right?

There’s this quality, this unfathomable amalgam of emotions, that for whatever reason establishes a truly ancient link between all mammals.

It’s something I’ve been puzzling over for a long time, and I think I’m getting closer to an understanding.

Altruism is to what we call humanity what spirituality is to those who follow one faith or another.

The only thing separating the two is that one is verifiably real – albeit yet to be more fully understood – while the other is merely an ideal, not often put to good use.

You see, many mammals display altruistic characteristics which seem to contradict their ‘natural’ desires. A recent case in point being the leopard that saved a baby baboon after killing its mother.

If my thinking is correct, this doesn’t constitute a contradiction in the nature of the leopard, but actually points to a higher – or maybe deeper – instinct being invoked.

Let’s call the forces of evolution Mother Nature, let’s also assume that Mother Nature has a soft spot for mammals, and she has set aside some very different rules for this particular order of animals.

She learned the hard way with the dinosaurs. They were all but wiped out relatively suddenly, and there was little that could have been done to save them.

So this time, she planned ahead.

Maybe within the very fabric of our genes, something lurks. A silent, beneficent agent that ties all mammals together.

A fail-safe, if you like. A mechanism specifically for the prevention of the extinction of all mammals.

When we look at the young of a cat, a dog, a cow, or a monkey, how do we know that’s the young of another species? I’ve actually tested this with my nephews and nieces when they were very young.

I showed them pictures of the young of other creatures and they identified them as being very young without having seen what they looked like as adults.

The recognition was instant, and I believe this received wisdom is shared by all mammals.

I think that we share a cooperative instinct that on occasion compels us to help our fellow mammals. An emotion that’s so powerful, it totally overrides the desire to kill for food, which is the most powerful instinct any animal possesses.

To kill is to live. And the desire to live is more powerful than love, loss or the pursuit of leisure.

Yet a genetic mechanism seems even more powerful. So powerful that only extreme circumstances seem able to summon it into action.

This altruistic desire is also about life, but it’s not there for the preservation of the life of the individual, but for the preservation of the lives of the whole order of mammals.

Where the dinosaurs failed, we maybe destined to succeed because as mammals, we maybe hard-wired to help one another when times are bad.

This thinking can be summarized thus: “I as an individual or even we as a species might not succeed. But we as an order will.”

Religion often speaks of Good & Evil, but in nature, and in the eyes of Mother Nature, neither Good or Evil have any value, purpose or place…

“For there is nothing either good or bad, thinking makes it so.”
~ William Shakespeare 1564-1616, Hamlet, II.ii

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