Restrictions during the pandemic have tested people’s obedience and resolve. It has resulted when groups with opposing value systems have clashed. When people are forced to adopt values against their beliefs, they feel dishonest and fearful, especially when their views are ignored.
Individuals relate their views to others’. Those who believe in a religion have often have a ready-made morality but there has been a decline in divine faith. With belief in the rational laws of physics growing, the philosopher Kant was torn between religion and rationality. He compromised, wanted people to do only what they would allow others to do, calling it the ‘categorical imperative’. The philosopher John Stuart Mill wanted personal liberty to be constrained by laws that had been agreed.. Rousseau propagated a social contract of liberte’, egalite’ and fratenite’ to control individual behaviour. All this made ‘the right thing’ harder for individuals to do.
Doing the right thing and benefitting others does not come to animals naturally. Charles Darwin had individuals seeking to survive in nature, helping kin sometimes, by selfish actions and by exploiting others. In evolution theory, altruism with individuals sacrificing their genetic inheritance to benefit others’ genes and volunteering to make sacrifices for others’ benefit, was confined to group selection, or kin. Our concern here is with ‘doing the right thing’ by strangers.
Humans have used politics to compromise and reconcile differences with strangers. Where one group is requested to help another, some individuals in both groups may regard the help proffered as a social control, causing frustration, passive resistance, protests, anger, civil disobedience and even insurrection. Venting does little to appease differences in core beliefs and rebels may strive to overthrow the system by force.
Large groups of humans exhibit The Matthew Effect, with individuals trying to join the most numerous groups. When a herd is spooked, it may be intolerant of those who don’t do what to them is the right thing. There is a sizeable industry of media trying to instigate groups to lemming-like rushes, inevitably towards cliffs with unpleasant outcomes.
A difficulty is to distinguish the voices of reason from false prophecy. There may be differences of principle that can only be solved by debating. Instead of productive discourse, the sides may engage in identity politics, which increases hostility. Some groups may think they know best and if they can get the upper hand, they will impose their solution on everyone. It could be that those people who extol the virtue of ‘doing the right thing’, without saying what it is, nor why everyone has to do it, are the problem.
I have applied the above in adopting a moral position on climate science in my satirical novel Animal Farm 2