The Highest Morality?

I really enjoy science fiction. When I was a teenager, I read hundreds of sci-fi novels, including every Robert A. Heinlein novel I could get my hands on. But there were some things about RAH that bothered me. One of them was what he said when he gave the commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

He talked about monkeys that stand guard, watching out for predators, while the rest of the monkeys are eating. He compared the Annapolis graduates to those monkeys, but not in a bad way. He said those monkeys who put their own lives at risk were examples of the highest morality and said the Annapolis graduates belonged in that same category. I disagree.

Don’t get me wrong. I have great admiration for anyone who is willing to put their own life on the line for someone else. I just disagree as to what’s the “highest”.

If you risk your own life to get something for yourself (not for anyone else), people call you greedy and I agree.

If you risk your own life for your family (but not for anyone else’s family), people call you brave. I call that decent.

If you risk your own life for strangers in your own city (like a police officer or a fire fighter), people call that brave or heroic. I agree. But it’s important to note that these brave heroes would risk their lives for a visitor to the city as well, and they would never actively fight against another city. Their job is to protect humans who need protection. I applaud them.

If you risk your own life for your country, people call that brave and heroic. RAH called it the highest morality. But there’s an important distinction here. We are talking about soldiers who fight FOR their own country and AGAINST another country. Yes they are risking their lives but they have drawn a line, essentially pledging to defend and protect everyone on one side of the line at the expense of other people who are on the other side of the line. I admire them for risking their lives, and I put them on a higher level than someone who fights only for their own family, but I don’t call this the highest.

If you risk your life for all of humanity, working to protect and defend all humans everywhere from harm, regardless of what country they come from… well, about half the people I went to high school with would call you a traitor. But I say that’s a higher level of morality than someone who only fights for their own country. A good example would be Doctors Without Borders.

There could be higher levels above that. A person who risks their own life to to defend and protect all life everywhere, not just their own species, would probably be a higher level.

But I understand why RAH said soldiers are the highest level. Because it works. A society which tells its soldiers that they are the highest level of morality, convincing those soldiers to kill other soldiers in the process, is a society which will survive and thrive. It will continue doing what it did in the past. It will continue to teach its citizens to say really nice things about their own soldiers.

But in the end, it’s just another example of selfish behavior. It’s not a selfish individual driven by selfish genes. It’s a selfish country, driven by the same law of natural selection: whatever succeeds continues and whatever fails doesn’t.

We are a social species. We evolved the instincts to take care of each other, which increases our own chances for survival. Solitary humans rarely survive for very long. Our instinct is to defend and protect that which we recognize as being “us” and (when necessary) attack and destroy anything else. I’m proud of people who are able to expand their minds to say that “us” includes more than just their family. I’m disappointed by people who can’t even imagine stretching “us” to include more than just their country. I’m down right insulted by people who say it’s wrong for us to even try.

God bless the whole world, no exceptions.

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