This is a very interesting article, in that it attempts to intellectualize suffering by saying there is deserved suffering and undeserved suffering. I have to disagree with that very notion. There is only suffering, and whether or not it is caused by humans is where we tend to pass judgment.

But we don’t stop at “there is only suffering”. There are coping skills for suffering. All morality flows from the need for our mutual survival, and that requires skills. How we cope with our suffering is taught through morality, well, it can be.

Why punish someone who won’t clear their plate of food, when we could assess such a person as one who lacks the skills to finish their plate of food or ask for something else? Perhaps that person lacks the skill of anticipating the consequences of not eating, which is hunger at a later time.

Teaching that person the skill of managing appetite and taking advantage of an opportunity to eat is morally superior to punishing that person, for punishment teaches no desirable skills, unless you desire rebellion or obedience. Morality is something we are taught to be sure, but there is still something more.

When a mother hears her baby crying and comforts her, she is responding to a biological morality, that is, morality teaches us how to survive and raise progeny to allow the species to survive. Cooperation is the greatest survival skill of human beings. Compassion is another survival skill, for when we have compassion for others, we are more likely to receive assistance with compassion from others when we are in need.

Morals are objective in the biological sense. Morals require a frame of reference and that frame of reference is something that we cannot escape (though many of us have tried): the will to survive. Survival is easier when we cooperate with others.

Morality is a skill and it is a set of rules based on our mutual will to survive. That can be seen easily and objectively. I can’t think of any other reason to impose morality. All punishment then, is something else. And here I want to make a distinction between punishment and restraint.

Prison should be used for restraint. When someone is violent, we want restrain him for the safety of the group. Prison should be also be used for rehabilitation. People who commit crimes are exhibiting challenging behavior. And people exhibit challenging behavior because they lack the skills to get their needs met. They may not even know what need it is that they need to address. Punishing them doesn’t teach them the skills they need to live in peace in a society. But at least restraint by imprisonment will give the rest of the group some safety.

When people feel an impulse to punish someone, they assume that person lacks a motivation to meet the morality imposed by the culture. I suspect we might have a bit more peace if we just taught the skills required to meet expectations. But we should also recognize that the skills we want to teach to meet those expectations are primarily, cooperative skills.

I will close with one last note. Much of what I state here is inspired by a couple of books written by Dr. Ross W. Greene: Raising Human Beings and The Explosive Child.

Both of those books completely changed my perspective on morality and human behavior in general. I think you might find them of interest in your exploration of morality.

Written by

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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