“We started out with moral sentiments and intuitions, which is also where we find the greatest continuity in primates. Rather than having developed morality from scratch through rational reflection, we received a huge push in the rear from our background as social animals.” (p. 17)
Our innate sense of kindness is not always indiscriminate, however. As de Waal states,
“All of nature is build around the distinction between in-group and out-group, kin and non-kin, friend and foe. Even plants recognize genetic kinship, growing a more competitive root system if potted together with a stranger rather than a sibling. There is absolutely no precedent in nature of individuals that indiscriminatingly strive for overall well-being.” (p. 183)
We already have a limbic-brain predisposition toward kindness and compassion -- at least toward those we recognize as “kin.” Our challenge, indeed our hope of survival, lies in expanding that recognition to the whole global community.
Again, de Waal’s research with primates shines hope on extending kindness to all our “kin” on the planet:
“But even if there can be little doubt that morality evolved for within-group reasons, without much consideration for humanity at large, this is not necessarily how it needs to be. … The more we expand morality’s reach, the more we need to rely on our intellect, because even though I believe that morality is firmly rooted in the emotions, biology has barely prepared us for rights and obligations on the scale of the modern world. We evolved as group animals, not global citizens. Nevertheless, we are well underway to reflect on these issues, such as universal human rights … [W]e humans have a long history of building new structures on top of old foundations.” (p. 235)
What can you do today to contribute to universal kindness through global kinship? I welcome your comments.