Monday, January 5, 2009

Gaia Shibboleth 1: The Golden Rule

Karen Armstrong's TED lecture

The theme of this blog, which will extend to a series of articles, was generated by a TED lecture by Karen Armstrong, entitled Charter for Compassion, in which she made a plea for understanding between the three great religions of montheism - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - along with all ethical traditions, on the basis that the uniting core of all spiritual paths is the so-called "Golden Rule", otherwise known as the Ethic of Reciprocity.

The series will look at the ways in which religions violate the Golden Rule in strategies of dominance, while at the same time espousing it to their followers, and how, to live in the closing circle of a single planet, we now have to come to terms with a new deeper ethic of diversity in coexistence, in applying the Gaia principle, as a 'Grim-Reaper' shibboleth, to resolve intractable apocalyptic divisions and avoid triage of our living futures.

In presenting her charter of compassion, Karen firstly enunciated the statement of Confucius:

Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.

She then recounted the anecdote of the Jewish sage Hillel:

A certain heathen came to Shammai and said to him,
"Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah in the time I can stand on one foot."
Thereupon he repulsed him with the rod which was in his hand.

When he went to Hillel, Hillel said to him, 'What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor:
that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn. (Talmud, Shabbat 31a)

The tomb of Hillel

Of course Christian readers will be more familiar with Yeshua's affirmative restatement of Hillel:

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you,
do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets (Matt 7:12).

However this affirmative statement didn't begin with Jesus, as noted in another Gospel:

"What is written in the law? how readest thou?"
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,
and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength,
and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself" (Luke 10:25).

This passage shows the deep association between the central command of monotheism - to love God unconditionally - and the ethic of reciprocity, as noted in the principal two commandments above, which source in the Old Testament from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 respectively. Of course loving thy neighbour and thou shalt not kill applied only to other Jews and not to the Caananites, who were ostensibly slaughtered to a person by God's command at Jericho and Hazor.

Ironically, the Golden Rule is omitted from the Qur'an, although Muhammad, having fomented the holy war of jihad, and then embraced the peace of sakina, only to exercise the deception of takiya, abrogating the peace treaty on a pretext and advancing on Mecca by force of numbers, only in his final sermon declared a firmly non-violent form of the rule:
"Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you."

Jeffrey Wattles (The Golden Rule New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, Questia, 4, 191-192, 24 July 2007) claims the following two Qur'anic passages, as well as a few hadith, also imply forms of the ethic of reciprocity:

Woe to those who give short weight!
Who when they measure against others take full measure;
but when they measure to them or weigh to them, diminish! (83.1)

And those who made their abode in the city and in the faith before them
love those who have fled to them, and do not find in their hearts a need of
what they are given, and prefer (them) before themselves though poverty may
afflict them, and whoever is preserved from the niggardliness of his soul,
these it is that are the successful ones (59.9).

However, the Golden Rule is by no means confined to monotheism, but is a common moral ethic shared in some form in almost all cultures, spanning the Greek philosophers, to Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu teachings:

Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others. (Isocrates)
Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him. (Pittacus)

One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other
beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter (Buddhism)

One should never do that to another
which one regards as injurious to one’s own self.
This, in brief, is the rule of dharma (Hindu - Mahabarata).

"Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain,
and your neighbor's loss as your own loss."
Taoist - T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien).

Moreover, the ethic of reciprocity has a much wider and deeper basis than religion, in evolutionary biology itself. It is the basis of mutuality and reciprocal altruism, as elaborated by Robert Trivers. Reciprocal altruism shows how mutuality or even fully reciprocated exchanges between non-related individuals.

Animals can thus extend their social strategies of survival beyond strict genetic selection and the first step away from it, kin altruism, also common to human families and tribes, where individuals, such as siblings and offspring, have a genetic investment in caring for one-another, at least to the extent of their proportionate common genetic endowment.

Grooming is a type of altruistic behaviour that can extend to unrelated individuals when
behaviour is reciprocal and the giver’s costs are smaller than the recipient’s benefits.

The evolution of mammalian emotions is centrally a way of making sociobiological dynamics more diversely adapable than instinctual genetic reactions, transcending strict genetic boundaries to form dynamically modulated social responses, from love bonding, through jealousy, fear and anger, to hate, which transcend strict genetic considerations and enable forms of affirmative and warning communication which facilitate social versatility and resilience.

In "The Biology of Morality" Richard Alexander, who had been contemplating the dark prospects of nuclear mutually assured destruction, proposed that morality has an evolutionary basis in societies agreeing to forgo intra-social opportunities for defection against neighbours, to strengthen themselves so that they can be more resilient and dominant in the face of inter-social competition from other societies.

This leads us to the arena of the Prisoners' Dilemma and strategic game theory, where David Axelrod in a series of real world competitions, demonstrated that in a game of defection or cooperation, tit-for-tat - doing to the other player what they did to you last time, was extremely robust in the face of both outright cooperators and outright defectors. Pavlov or simpleton - win stay lose shift - also had a relative degree of success. The strength of tit-for-tat is that it punishes defectors but cooperates with cooperators, instilling a cooperative regime without becoming a sucker to defectors. Its one drawback is cycles of retaliation to other tit-for-tatters.

Evolving forms of the Prisoners' Dilemma game can be played as cellular automata, which develop complex equilibria between defectors (black), cooperators (red), tit-for-tatters (purple), 'simpletons' using win-stay lose-shift (green) and random strategies (cyan).

The phrase "an eye for an eye", (Hebrew: עין תחת עין, ayin tahat ayin; Arabic: العين بالعين‎, al'ain bil'ain) is not a recipe for retaliation as it is sometimes portrayed, but rather a judgment applied to a person who has taken another's eye in a fight, that they should give their own eye in compensation:

And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (Exodus 21:23).

The negative form of the Golden Rule is in the context of elementary game theory basically saying "don't preemptively defect". This makes absolute sense and doesn't rule out tit-for-tat, as long as two tit-for-tatters don't get caught in a cycle of retaliation. One way around this is firm-but-fair, a strategy that intermittently turns the other cheek, to break a cycle of retaliation. In real life terms, of course, the law, including Biblical law, served to punish criminal defectors, thus removing the direct necessity for settling scores by retaliation, because punishment was up to a third party arbitrator - the Judge.

One can afford to be kind and turn the other cheek out of tit-for-tat a quarter of the time and survive under a spread of payoffs. Defectors (black), cooperators (red), tit-for-tatters (purple), 'simpletons' using win-stay lose-shift (green) and firm-but-fair tit for tat with 25% cooperation (cyan). Depending on the payoffs for CC, CD, DC and DD, under a regime of noise and some mutation, the images go 3 0 4 1, 3 0 5 1 (standard payoffs), 3 0 6 1. Each is viewed at the 25th 5-game tournament round.

The affirmative Golden Rule of Jesus is very different, and in simple game theoretic terms of simultaneous play, equivalent to a suckers strategy of always cooperate. One has to bear in mind of course that simple games of strategy do not allow for the full diplomatic force of a declared moral position, so we can see in Yeshua's exhortations an ethical demand to go further than loving one's neighbour to embrace a new age of the cosmology of love in its entirety, in turning the other cheek to all:

But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again (Luke 6:27).

He clearly intends this to be an extension of the Golden Rule, because he immediately follows with it:

And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

He then elaborates that even sinners apply the Golden Rule, so that to be like God, we have to give and forgive regardless of the cost:

For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. ... But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

This is all very well, because the Golden Rule is not a sin but an ethic, and for mortal players of the Prisoners' Dilemma game, the end result of turning the other cheek may be to invite potentially lethal exploitation, rather than for everyone to become inspired. After all the lesson of the Prisoners' Dilemma game is a form of Machiavellian intelligence - fill the field with outright cooperators and you provide a field day for a generation of outright defectors, as is clear in the first waves of the first Prisoners' Dilemma evolution figure!

It is thus more likely that one meets a martyr's fate, just as Yeshua did, sacrificed to his own mission, than the Kingdom coming by turning of the cheek. Furthermore this is setting a dangerous precedent, because it is Yeshua's crucifixion which becomes the prophetic basis for endless rounds of violent martyrdom in the Muslim tradition. It is NOT applying the test of survival of the generations, because the messiah is destroyed, and with him countless martyrs and further victims of violent martyrdom.

Not only is martyrdom central to Muslim thinking but also mortal sacrifice of others - of brothers, sisters, children and loved ones alike - for the cause of jihad:

"We are ready to sacrifice our souls,
our brothers and sisters,
our children, our loved ones
for what we believe in"
Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader

In an inauguration article in the Washington Post, Eli Saslow declares that Barack Obama is a bearer of the Golden Rule: "He has devoted himself to what he considers God's truth and thereby internalized the golden rule." Despite having "a father who transitioned from Muslim to atheist as he became increasingly disillusioned with his place in the world" and "a mother who found solace in spirituality and good deeds but never showed interest in her family's Christian roots, Obama, although not a regular church attender speaks to religious leaders daily ... for the President-elect, "religion has always been less about theology than the power God inspires in communities that worship Him".

Critics of the Golden Rule highlight in various ways a fundamental problem that will lead us to the Gaia Shibboleth - the necessity of social diversity.

George Bernard Shaw, having said:

The golden rule is that there are no golden rules

went on to make his own rule:

Do not do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you.
Their tastes may not be the same.

or in other words:

The golden rule is a good standard which is further improved
by doing unto others, wherever possible, as they want to be done by."
(Karl Popper The Open Society and Its Enemies, V 2)

recently called The Platinum Rule, as illustrated below:

Do unto others as they would have you do unto them (

Kant, Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell, have also objected to the rule. How does one know how others want to be treated particularly if there has been no opportunity to discuss a mutually beneficial arrangement? If your values are not shared with others, the way you want to be treated will not be the way they want to be treated. For example, a masochist who follows the golden rule could act as a sadist. A seducer might suggest he should kiss a woman because he wants her to kiss him. Similar objections also apply to the Platinum Rule. If a seducer wants an unwilling woman to kiss him, it follows that she should kiss him against her will although he should refrain. Clearly a paradoxical impasse from its literal interpretation. Kant famously criticized the Golden Rule for not being sensitive to manifest differences of situation, for example between, criminal, victim, judge and executioner.

Apologists for the rule endeavour to justify it on the grounds that it is better viewed as a general in-principle guide rather than a strict rule, and that if we apply feedback in applying relatively in terms of each person's wishes, then we wouldn't want the Golden Rule applied to us in an oppressive way, so would compensate naturally since it is not of the character of the rule to oppress either us or them in a way either didn't want. This is unconvincing because conservative moral and religious traditions are notorious for literal, restrictive and punitive application of the moral ethic.

However, more fundamentally, the issue of social diversity is where we come face to face with the closing circle of ecosystemic survival. Religions and competing societies as well, as institutions, such as the capitalist free market and secular democracy, have to now learn how to coexist with one another in the closing circle of one planet and we have ultimately to come to terms with the grim-reaper test of our own viability to continue to exist. If we seriously compromise the viability of the environment, or commit a long-term genocide of our own living resources we will face our own triage.

Thus the Golden Rule has to be extended to what I will hereon call the Gaia Shibboleth, to able to deal fluently with espousing and protecting individual differences, to foster and ensure ecosystemic diversity, or we will inevitably face a situation of utopian dominance and oppression from one social, political, religious belief system or another, to the ultimate detriment of the biosphere and our natural viability and survival.

Conventional morality and particularly moral deities and religions are NOT effective at resolving the standoff of mutual dominance because they present a perpetual conflict between cooperation (with God or society) and defection (to the Devil or to expedience) that leads to apocalyptic conflict and the Day of Judgment. The reason is that morality and the Golden Rule is just an extension of Robert Trivers' reciprocal altruism, which is only one higher level phenomenon, in a diverse ecosystem, that applies only to reducing intra-social strife, to enable inter-social dominance, and it doesn't take account of ecological diversity.

How does an animal apply the Golden Rule to a plant? How does a lion apply it to a lamb? Lie down with it as Isaiah suggested?

the calf and the young lion and the fatling together. (Isaiah 11:6)

This is an unsustainable ecological nonsense - predators help keep the ecosystem sustainable by preventing the sheep eating all the grass and causing an ecological catastrophe for the sheep, grass and the lions, so animals and predators are part of the complexity and chaos of real diversity - leading to a climax paradox.

However the Prisoners' Dilemma game in its various forms DOES model the transition from war to ecosystemic climax, because, as it evolves it enables all sorts of different strategies, like tit-for-tat, win-stay–lose-shift , firm-but-fair, etc. to coexist with outright defection and cooperation, forming a fractal tactical dynamic that is a primitive model ecosystem.

Furthermore climax ecosystem IS a prime manifestation of the Prisoners' Dilemma run to its ultimate fractal complexity, so the way war can become peace is that an increasing number of niches emerge in the Prisoners' Dilemma game, which carry the dynamic, from intractable conflict to sustainable ecosystemic ecology. Thus we find noxious weeds over a long time span become climax jungle with a very large number of species distributed over any given region.

Titan's lakes: If we don't apply the Gaia shibboleth
to our intractable apocalyptic divisions in short shrift,
the universe may have to look elsewhere for the ongoing continuity of life.

We thus need to apply the Gaia Shibboleth of 'feedback to sustainable viability' to the Golden Rule to religions and societies vying for utopian dominance, and to each of the strategies we find in the Prisoners' Dilemma game of social survival.

A shibboleth (שיבולת) which means 'an ear of grain', 'stream', or 'torrent' is an acid test indicative of one's social or regional origin, originally the pronunciation used when the inhabitants of Gilead inflicted a military defeat upon the tribe of Ephraim:

Gilead then cut Ephraim off from the fords of the Jordan, and whenever Ephraimite fugitives said, 'Let me cross,' the men of Gilead would ask, 'Are you an Ephraimite?' If he said, 'No,' they then said, 'Very well, say Shibboleth.' If anyone said, 'Sibboleth', because he could not pronounce it, then they would seize him and kill him by the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites fell on this occasion (Judges 12:5-6)

Thus the theme of this series is to apply the Gaia Shibboleth - the 'pronunciation' that will lead to us all forgoing the distinction that enables us to annihilate the other, or for the in-group to dissemble the outsider - in using the closing circle as the acid test of all situations of intractable conflict, tragedy of the commons, or rape of the planet in its various forms, from economic crisis, through intractable apocalyptic divisions, such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, the War on Terror, nuclear Mutually Assured Destruction, to habitat destruction and climate change.

The ultimate difficulty with Karen Armstrong's appeal that the Golden Rule should suffice to bring all the warring factions of monotheism, or the wider religious communities of the planet together is that religions exist and continue to exist as social processes because they have become next to invincible games of dominant social strategy that do not depend on cooperation, or reciprocity alone, but also have manifest characteristics of oppression and punishment of defectors and free-loaders, which are as central to the brutal fact of their long-term survival as the ethic of reciprocity.

The very reason Islam, Christianity and Judaism do not get along as the bosom buddies they profess to be, in the professed Abrahamic tradition of the one true God, is that each has an agenda of apocalyptic domination, Judaism as the elect priesthood of God, and Christianity and Islam as apocalyptic newcomers, each staking a utopian claim to the end-of-days culmination. It is thus as essential for dominant religions to strive against one another as it is for them to encourage those within their borders to apply the Golden Rule to one another.

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