From Fairness to God: How the Meek ended up ruling the World
- One can view the history of human civilization as an
endless civil war between fair people and unfair people.
- Fair people believe in treating everybody the way they would want to treat everybody, but this works only if everybody else believes it too.
Their goal is to maximize everybody's well-being. The indirect goal is to create a peaceful society in which life is easier.
- Unfair people, in theory, have an easier life: they don't care about other people and just do what they selfishly want to do. Their goal is to maximize only their personal well-being. Their indirect goals is to create a society in which they are doing better than anyone else.
Unfair people have a simple way to impose their will: violence.
- Fair people, whether they like it or not, have to resort to the same method
in order to keep unfair people in check.
Hence the endless civil war.
- In the long run the fair ones tend to win because unfair people tend to kill
each other rather than join forces (by definition), therefore becoming easy
prey of the fair ones when they get organized.
- Once the fair ones have won, though,
it is not a trivial task to convince the unfair ones to behave fairly. One way is
to use violence (laws, police). But of course the unfair ones will always be on
the lookout for ways to break the law and avoid the police and still get what they unfairly want.
- The ultimate way to keep the unfair ones from breaking the
rules is to create the ultimate punishment, a punishment that is not limited in
time and space, but extends everywhere and forever: eternal damnation.
- The ultimate punishment is the existence of a god who is allied with the fair
ones against the unfair ones. Now the unfair ones are not just trying to outsmart
the fair ones, but they are picking a fight with an omnipotent god who can
punish them beyond imagination.
- The belief in supernatural beings seems to have always existed, but for a long time it was only marginally related to being "nice". Ancient gods were frequently as mean as humans, if not more so. There's a point, however, when god gets hijacked by the fair ones for the purpose of promoting fairness among the members of a society.
- People used to boast of their mass murders, of how they killed, maimed, dismembered their enemies and even ate their brains. The killers and cannibals thought their power came from the gods. To this day many parents feel a sense of pride when their son beats up another child (and the parents of the other child hardly feel proud that their child let himself be beaten up). The shift to believing that violence is evil is not trivial.
- Rooting for the underdog was unusual in antiquity, and certainly not the norm in Rome's brutal games
- Fairness is not a one-zero kind of value. It comes in degrees. Therefore the process continues over the generations between the "more fair ones" and the "less
fair ones". As the more fair ones keep winning, human behavior keeps improving
towards kindness. Actions that used to be ordinary (such as torture and slavery)
become despicable under any circumstance.
- Hence the dogma of good manners: compassion and altruism are good. We are supposed to be nice even to people we don't know.
- This process depends on the belief in divine punishment, which is absolute
(you cannot cheat) and terminal (hell lasts an eternity).
- If punishment were
finite (as it is in human societies), then the question for the unfair ones
would become more prosaic: is my well-being worth breaking the rules and therefore
risking the punishment? In many cases the answer might be "yes", either because
the punishment is not too bad or because the chances of getting caught are low.
- As this kind of religion has spread and conquered more and more power,
the human race has been evolving for millennia towards a highly "fair"
being, whose values are now embedded in the constitutions of most
- However, as the number of people who believe in religion wanes, the divine
punishment will no longer be capable of constraining the unfair ones.