4.1  Utopias Versus Realistic Model Institutions                    last revised/edited 5/2014

4.1.1 Utilizing research to analyze and redesign cultural institutions
4.1.2 Individuals’ responsibilities versus cultural institutions
4.1.3 Evolutionary and historical perspectives; considering basic human nature
4.1.4 Modern developments and ethics
4.1.5 Finding common ground, initiating change
4.1.6 Implications concerning artificial intelligence and life-like robots     added 12/2016

4.1.1 Utilizing research to analyze and redesign cultural institutions
Integrating research on human nature and considering scientific-technological accomplishments of modern civilizations, a model frame work of human societies may be conceived which is not merely an improvement or antithesis of a modern Western society, nor tries to copy some peaceful preindustrial culture. Understanding human nature requires us to include relevant data from the fields of the neurosciences, including psychology and psychiatry, and of cultural anthropology, and ethology (research of natural animal and human behaviors). The proposed model framework tries to devise institutions which do not rely on extraordinary, idealistic people but are designed to work with and bring the best out of ordinary persons.
Many “utopias” were described. Some were realized and/or strongly influenced policies. Most failed, at least partly, because they did not adequately consider human instincts and human nature. Many utopias inadequately considered important factors, including
– the strong natural mother-child bond;
– the human propensity towards more or less stable nuclear families and attachments to extended family, clan, and small communities;
– the natural differences between the genders;
– the instinctive nature of claiming and acknowledging property;
– the changes in human interactions caused by the anonymity of large groups;
– the natural human responses to perceived threats to their families and culture;
– the unconscious and unintended effects of folklore, entertainment, material used to teach language, etc., for instance encouraging biases, belief that bad luck and diseases are caused by being “immoral”, loyalty to ancestral cultures with violent traditions, or admiration of unreasonable and dangerous competitiveness;
– the unconscious and unintended ways of passing on damaging aspects of culture, such as misunderstood honor, adversarial thinking and vindictive attitudes, to next generation;
– the influence of learning through more or less unplanned conditioning, particularly through inadvertent incentives to behave unethically;
– the human propensity to abuse and addiction, including consumerism and addiction to material possessions.
Following the short analysis of problems in today’s societies and a review of basic data on human nature, the following chapters attempt to delineate feasible model frameworks for social, political, economic, and legal institutions.

4.1.2 Individuals’ responsibilities versus cultural institutions
It is often argued that individuals, not society’s institutions, are responsible for problems of poverty, crimes, drug abuse, and even the destruction of ecosystems. Middle- and upper-middle-income people often accuse the underprivileged of laziness, and lacking motivation and moral values. Racism and prejudices, although often disguised, continue to be widespread. Arguments focusing on individual responsibilities miss the basic issue: humans, as other animals, never choose to be miserable. If they do poorly, they ended up at that place having always done what, at the time, seemed best and/or felt right or necessary; within their physical-institutional environment, they did not know how to do better. In addition, blaming individuals for the ills of societies is futile because the behaviors and decision-making processes of millions of individuals cannot be directly addressed. We can only work on changing institutional environments that influence the development of individuals. How people think, feel, and act is closely related to the cultural-institutional environment in which they grow up and live; only a small minority of people progress toward a personal culture that broadly differs from their peers’ values and patterns of responding to their environment.
People of all ethnic groups are very similar in hereditary character traits and instincts. When the environment changes, people can adapt quite rapidly to completely different cultural-institutional settings without going through many intermediary steps of development. For instance, when relocating to the USA from an indigenous civilization, people will adapt in many ways. Their descendants will acculturate rapidly and become Americans, if they associate mainly with Americans. Adopting a different religion, philosophy and/or form of spiritual practices can change communities quickly; even a change in the philosophy of a public school’s teaching can have a great influence on the new generation of that community. The rapid changes in cultural-technological environments: printed media, radio, television, electronic games and Internet applications, greatly influence how people perceive, think and interact, and what they want and work for.
Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of Our Nature, 2011, gives many examples of major cultural changes relating to decreased violence, for instance, in Western cultures cruel physical punishments of children were considered normal or necessary until recently; they all but disappeared within a few years and are today recognized as child abuse. However, while much has been improving in modern times, there are developments with significant negative consequences. Many people who are ostensibly doing well have poor life satisfaction.
Cultural, political, legal, and economic institutions are not a reflection of how people are. Influenced by environment and coincidental factors, institutions develop within a people. Then they take on a life of their own, and they shape people’s thinking, belief systems and behaviors.

4.1.3 Evolutionary and historical perspectives; considering basic human nature

Humans are genetically adapted to living as Stone Age gatherers and hunters1 in small groups within tribes of limited size2. As humans started to live in larger groups of herders and farmers, they developed complex cultures. Cultural diversity has much to offer and may be of great value in future developments3. However, cultures in all parts of the world and throughout history developed unethical traditions of tragic proportions. When devising any model society, there must be a continuous focus on ethics and human rights. Formal and informal education, mass media and entertainment greatly influence people of all ages. Cultures must use them to promote broad empathy and ethical decision-making, to help people avoid us-versus-them thinking; and to confront exploitative, abusive, addictive and otherwise harmful thoughts and actions. Freedom of speech or expression must never be interpreted to allow exploiting people’s propensities to unethical behaviors and undermining ethical aspects of human nature.
While in the highly industrialized areas life has become relatively very safe and comfortable, much has been written about stress factors having increased. Much of what has been valuable in older cultures, giving life meaning in spite of severe hardships, has been lost. Measures of happiness and life satisfaction are hardly changing and anxiety and mood disorders are rather increasing. Humans generally live and work for positive goals, largely ignoring pain, deprivation and uncertainties when making decisions, such as pursuing a profession, joining the military, marrying and having children. Generally humans readily adapt to major changes. However, modern humans learned to associate most minor inconveniences and unexpected perceived insults or failures as quasi catastrophic, indicative of being disrespected or mistreated, life being unfair and confirming that things are getting worse. Cultures and education need to teach and implement findings of psychology, particularly happiness research; cultures must create much more positive associations in people’s everyday lives.
Considering human nature, the initial proposed goal is to establish networks of interacting small political units and economic enterprises, which may follow different cultural patterns. Individual communities may combine characteristics of different cultures and allow considerable variations of cultural expression. Small enterprises are adapted to local culture, geography, etc. Relative self-sufficiency of areas and regions is encouraged.
It is particularly important that a proposed frame work model is applicable to societies of various demographics and levels of industrialization, that it encourages further development in accordance with scientific-technological progress, and that it is continuously reassessed in view of societal goals and global or natural ethics. Influential people may help spread a spirit of open-mindedness and empathy, competitiveness in ideas, and cooperation in actions.

There are globally positive trends, towards democratic governance and decreasing interpersonal violence; but at least in the USA, teenagers, girls more than boys, do psychologically poorly with unprecedented rates of suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, self-injurious behaviors, eating disorders and even homicides. Young people often appear broadly confused and disorientated, without sense of meaning, confused about sex and human relationships, rebelling but unable to develop a personal culture. Peer influences tend to be negative but it is not clear how much detrimental patterns result from bad media, games and entertainment, and/or how damaging it is for children to be raised more in commercial day care than with parents. An additional problem is adolescents’ forming their own insular, confined peer groups and subcultures rather than being well integrated in communities of people with a broad range of ages.

4.1.4 Modern developments and ethics
In the late 20th century, rapid socioeconomic and political changes continued: there were major changes in China’s economic policies, the economic development of many Third World countries accelerated to unprecedented rates and the former Soviet Union broke up into capitalist nations. Until recently, few thinkers recognized the significance of people’s ease in reinventing, sometimes copying, but also improving something that is known to be possible, as compared to imagining possibilities, then developing inventions, starting production and seeking acceptance of novel approaches and devices. Until the seventies, pundits mistakenly considered countries like India and Bangladesh as hopeless. Women getting better education, entering the work force in large numbers and delaying marriage was a significant factor in these countries’ recent development. Still, many rural areas and growing slums around megacities hardly show progress.
Development must be expected to accelerate: more knowledge and more educated people result in broader use of current technologies and accelerating numbers of inventions. Labor saving innovations give people more time to make changes and with savings, people are more likely to try new approaches. At least in some technologies, there has been exponential growth over long periods, e.g. as the speed of accomplishing a given task is cut in half every 1-2 years, the task is accomplished 1,000 times faster in 10-20 years (2 in 10th power is 1,024) and 1,000,000 times faster in another 10-20 years.
Through recent millennia, population growth dramatically accelerated: every time the world population doubled the time to double again was about half. However, wherever child mortality dropped to low levels, populations first grew faster, then the number of children dropped abruptly to below three per women average. Recently, child mortality has continued to decrease and the world’s population growth has been fairly steady at around 90 millions annually. As James Martin4 described: if there is a political will to develop most relevant technologies and to help develop the poorest areas of the world, predicted worst case scenarios of wars and starvation will be avoidable, and the world population can stabilize without catastrophic climate changes and destruction of environments.
Technologies in most areas are progressing very rapidly, but there remains a great danger of ecological disasters and most basic ethical-philosophical question are becoming much more relevant. Within decades, computers may be able to imitate virtually all brain functions and become ‘smarter’ than humans. (Projects to copy the human brain with computers imitating the extremely complex functioning of about twenty billion neurons in the cortex alone, may be futile, but the overall and specific goal directed functions of brains can almost certainly be imitated and performed by future computers, generally faster and processing more information.) Yet basic questions seem unanswerable, mainly what leads to basic feelings with conscious awareness; what leads to conscious valuation of feelings, in some way perceiving what is a preferred or good feeling versus ‘to be avoided’ or bad feeling, and highest levels of consciousness, subjectively feeling pleasure or delight versus suffering or agony, either simply having powerful feelings moment to moment or also knowing and being able to reflect on these present, past and anticipated feelings with positive, negative or mixed value? What forms of life are sentient; and which are capable of feeling pleasure and pain? Can machines be sentient? Ethical issues become extremely relevant. Whether the incredible technological possibilities will be used in broadly beneficial ways and whether poor, marginalized people will fully participate in and benefit from human’s accomplishments will largely depend on institutional changes that lead to ethical decision-making by economic leaders, politicians, etc.

4.1.5 Finding common ground, initiating change
In the process of developing model institutions for humane civilizations, many non-governmental organizations, aid groups and grass roots movements must start cooperating more closely and communicate regarding common global goals in which their organizations makes specific contributions. There may initially be little agreement and many differing opinions mostly due to differing personal preferences and priorities rather than substantial disagreements. We consequently must seek scientific and philosophical-ethical common ground or basic “truths.” (“Truths” represent models that are essentially verifiable as valid in many applicable situations, can be tested in many ways and are useful to predict outcomes5.)
We need to recognize scientific data on human behavior and the human mind, particularly how people make decisions in response to situations and specific stimuli; what factors lead to people’s sense of well-being, happiness, and meaning in life; and what factors make life painful, seemingly meaningless, and hard to bear. We need to depart from self-driving institutions, such as unmitigated capitalism with its principle goal of material growth; adversarial, punitive legal systems with their erroneous assumption that they serve justice and effectively deter crimes; and military power meant to protect or further “national interests.” These institutions were not developed to improve the quality of life of people and they cause great suffering; they advance at best limited ethical goals indirectly and inconsistently. While working on changing the economic system and other institutions, some universal agreements should develop.
Much of what was hotly debated and fought over in the past is now considered morally obvious, e.g. that people must not be divided into casts according to ancestry, that slavery is never acceptable, that no religion may claim that ‘nonbelievers’ or ‘infidels’ are inferior, and that women are to be equally valued as men and must never be discriminated against (however, while inherent differences between ethnicities are minimal, women are quite different from men and have somewhat different strengths and needs). Issues that divide some societies today can be clarified by thorough reviews, e.g. since homosexual persons in no way harm or interfere with heterosexual couples and did not choose their predisposition of sexual orientation, they must be accepted and valued as equals.

While girls and women or homosexual people should never be devalued or deprived of options, it is reasonable to consider the detrimental effects of mixing males and females for instance in school settings or in the military, and it makes sense not to include gay adolescents in a program that teaches appropriate expression of male heterosexual behavior including how to show respect for and treat girls they are attracted to, nor should heterosexuals be included in programs that deal specifically with issues of homosexual persons. Members of military- or monetary-like institutions, where individuals have no privacy, become very close and soon feel towards each other like brothers, may understandably want to exclude women and homosexual men; such decisions must never be construed as discrimination.
It has become extremely important that investments and all forms of research and developments serve, or at least do not harm, humankind; research must not primarily serve some presumptuous groups’ passion. For example, trying to contact intelligent beings in distant planets appears odd: if they exist, are superior but have not found us, why should we expose ourselves, why would we assume that they are friendly rather than exploitative? And why do we care about beings that were intelligent in the distant past, having sent signals that take centuries or millennia to reach us?
Basic broad goals include:
– To seek humane conditions for all people and to prevent marginalization of individuals or groups,
– To let go of elusive ideals such as equality and justice and of harmful cultural values,
– To guide people, enterprises and economic systems with goals based on natural ethics, to create decent and safe work places for all people that are able to work, to provide for basic needs of all people, to pursue defined goals peacefully e.g. creating disincentives and incentives through targeted taxes (sales taxes, luxury taxes, dyseconomy taxes) and through loans from local banks, subsidies and grants,
– To create an educational system that incorporating schools, entertainment and cultural events and that promotes principles of natural ethics, particularly broad empathy that overcomes “us-versus-them” thinking. Cultures should also teach and promote a healthy lifestyle and consideration of the environment,
– To create and promote small communities with a physical and social environment that improve the quality of life for individuals and families, and that bring the best human qualities and capacities out of people.
– To give up freedoms and rights which harm others and do not promote high quality of life.

The rapid changes in modern history lead to a widespread breakdown of old cultural traditions and values. There is much confusion regarding priorities, values and political goals. As a result, there is urgency and ­a particular opportunity to reevaluate present institutions and goals of modern societies from the viewpoints of global ethics and the present understanding of human nature.

4.1.6 Implications concerning artificial intelligence and life-like robots     added 12/2016
Many aspects of human intelligence can be imitated by computers: calculating, playing chess, recognizing associations in playing charade, face recognition, accident avoidance when driving, etc. Mammals, including humans do not appear to be built extremely efficiently if compared with birds. Even the brain seems inefficient. Intelligent mammals and human children do poorly with regard to problem solving if compared with some bird species; even with their small brains, birds appear emotional and able to communicate, on an emotional level, with humans. Birds who are able to imitate human language appear to have some sense of words’ meanings, e.g. calling people by name and expressing, with words, what visitors are disliked. Human brains can easily be “fooled” into interpreting perceptions one way or another – this can sometimes be used in pain syndromes of amputees; and in moral reasoning, the mind can be manipulated by “what if” questions that are asked surreptitiously before a critical decision is to be made.
If trying to imitate human brain functions, it is probably achievable with comparatively simple computer models. Mainly, computers would have to imitate
– perceptions and memories of perceptions processing perceptions by comparing them with inherent models and memories, comparable to face recognition software;
– shorthand versions of memories in progressions, as linguistically expressed by spoken stories and in read books, with images reconstituted when triggered;
adaption of such progressions in speculation about the past and the future;
– controlling body’s motoric system that manipulates environment, including preprogrammed movement patterns (motoric instincts);
ability to create models of reality (science and biases, superstitions or religious beliefs);
– valuations with multiple levels, from vague to extreme preferences-dislikes with ability to adapt to what was perceived as aversive becoming almost neutral or even desired if associated with something that is much ore desired, and adaptation to what appeared very desired gradually becomes neutral.
If in a car a read light and a sound signal that the engine is overheating, or when a very primitive animal makes a squealing sound, maybe reacts defensively or seemingly tries to escape, is there a difference – is the animal and/or the car uncomfortable? If we exactly know why sunflowers turn towards the sun, may we still believe that the sunflower ‘likes’ the sun?
A hard to resolve question is whether computers “grasp” the conflict of brains really feeling pain versus mechanisms just “sounding alarm” for self-reservation. And if robots verbally act as if they understand the difference, have they just learned to speak as if they were human are would that confirm that they are sentient.

The human mind feels as if the brain was a complex computer and a soul overlaying it, ‘looking’ at some brain activities, seeing complex beauty in what appear to be detailed three-dimensional, often moving pictures and in very complex man-made, continuously changing sounds (music); other perception can also feel extremely good; in all senses there can also be negative perceptions. We know that “we” – our souls – see very little of what is actually processed in the brain; we may be observing complex conflicts while being unaware of the body and the position of our limbs, but the awareness comes up if touched or when moving; painful conflicts may feel resolved when our awareness is able to focus on right brain functions and going into a meditative, nonjudgmental state; however, the “soul” has hardly an influence on the brain, it seems to simply follow what the brain values. Physical suffering is hard to explain, except that the perceptions are tightly associated with a powerful will that it stop; still, if a specific form of pain is associated with positive feelings, the pain sensation itself may become positive.
No matter what the reality, if dog or human-like robots help people and appear sympathetic, people will have a hard time not treating them as if they were sentient, no matter how simple the computer programs actually are. It will be an ethical question as to how life-like pet or nurses aid robots should be; for demented persons, very lifelike may be appropriate, for others there may be severe reactions of fear and confusion.

1 Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Wider die Misstrauensgesellschaft, Piper 1995, 97, p. 45ff, 50ff
2 Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Die Biologie des Menschlichen Verhaltens, dritte überarbeitete Ausgabe, Piper 1997, p. 149, 410ff, 839ff, 849ff. I. Eibl-Eibesfeldt also compares Old Stone Age social organization with the modern industrialized age, in Wider die Misstrauensgesellschaft, Piper 1995, 97, p. 58
3 Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Wider die Misstrauensgesellschaft, Piper 1995, 97, p. 124f, 126ff
4 James Martin, The Meaning of the 21st Century, A Vital Blueprint for Ensuring Our Future, 2006
5 Scientific models are probably never provable truths. A most important example is Newtonian physics which is valuable and broadly applicable but, more recently, was proven imprecise and basically wrong.

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