For some people, it is important to have an explicit moral compass and have a set of heuristics that can guide you through life. They want to do things that are good and that have meaning. Thinking is hard work and the need for each person to finds their own meaning in life is not practical and can lead to outcomes that are not morally optimal. I hope that publishing my moral compass and thought processes can help in this regard.
My definition of being content
That you are satisfied with your own life. That you are satisfied enough that you want to continue to live. Your life is net positive. You rather would be alive than dead. Your life is good enough. You yourself decide if you are contentful not someone else.
Maximize the number of people
10 billion content people are better than 1 billion. A trillion people living contentful lives is morally much better than 10 billion.
Grounded in evolution
My moral compass is built on my knowledge of biological evolution. Even though there are open questions in science we answered the most important one by discovering the method of creating life. Even if there is a “designer” of the universe it is clear he just created the basic rules and let the system play out.
Evolution does not care about morality only about the survival of genes by adapting to the environment. Genes will prioritize useful adaptations for their own survival. Often what feels good or what will make you happy is for the survival of your genes. Helping other people survive and reproduce should feel good as long as it does not hurt your own survival and reproduction.
Current moral mismatch of maximizing the number of people
Many people believe that the world would be better if there were fewer people and many fertile couples decide to stay child-free. Statistics show the fertility rate in all western countries is below 2 children per woman on average. The fertility rate should be slightly above 2 to have a stable population. The global fertility rate is just below 2.5 children (mainly due to Africa) and 50 years ago it was around 5 children per woman.
Even if you decide to stay child-free you should feel bad about these statistics. You should be happy when you see a lot of children play in your neighborhood. Having a declining fertility rate will put extra pressure on the generation that is being born. At a minimum, we should aim to have a fertility rate of just above 2 children born per woman.
With our stunning technological progress in the last decades, we could easily support 10 times the current population. Furthermore, it is clear we are nowhere near the end of technological innovation. Yet, all evidence points out that we will have a population peak soon. Whatever the reasons for this is we essentially are robbing more than 60 billion people of having contentful lives.
Growing, delivering, and raising children is not an easy task. The arguments for having as few children as possible are often valid from a personal level. However, parental happiness can be influenced by policies. We can adjust society to make it more attractive to have children or/and less attractive to not have children and this will result in a higher fertility rate.
Current moral mismatch of maximizing selfishness versus being content
With the individualization of society, there is a lot of social pressure to get as much out of life as you can and that this is your own individual responsibility. The main ideological idea behind this is that it is okay to be selfish because others will benefit if you are as productive as possible.
Yet, it is very difficult to be truly selfish (defined as being good for yourself). When people fail to be selfish they no longer feel content. We should tone down the expectations for individual responsibility. Yes, it is great if you can do it on your own but there should be easily accessible help available if you need it and this should be encouraged. We should arrange our society to help the individual be selfish and thus to feel content.
Focus on efficiency
To be able to grow the population we need to become more efficient e.g. doing more with less. No one will say they are against efficiency but in reality, there are a lot of counterforces. In general, people do not like changes when it affects their personal way of life.
We need bold people to push against these counterforces to increase mobility and systems in the economy that make it more efficient. Also having good safety policies like a universal basic income will help in reducing the counterforce in creating more efficient economies.
Long term considerations
Space colonization is a must to grow the population past a certain point. In this moral view when taking a long-term view, working on the first steps to space colonization could be one of the most moral enterprises out there. At least we know there are enough stars and planets out there to expand humanity into with little competition from the aliens. Therefore, most of us admire Elon Musk for good moral reasons.
There is a lot of philosophical talk and hope for general artificial intelligence and the essence of consciousness. My view is that even though it seems scientifically possible there is often too much optimism in how soon it is when we can create human-like intelligence by an algorithm. Even if we will make a superintelligence being it can still serve the purpose of making more people content. For now, we have an easy way available for creating more intelligence in the universe by proven methods almost available for everyone.
What about religion and free will?
In general, do ideas that have proven to be scientifically inaccurate have a place in society? I believe so. In the form of metaphorical truths. One example is that by far the most successful way to beat an alcohol addiction is to join Alcoholics Anonymous where basically the steps are to render you powerless and turn your life to god, make amends and try to live a better life. The result of this program by helping people stop drinking alcohol and better their lives and to be more content is a good moral result.
Similarly when trying to be productive a belief in free will is essential. Believing that you can control and are responsible for all aspects of success will lead you to do more self-analysis and take control of more areas which will improve your productive results over time. When you did reach success however it is better to go back to reality and examine the other factors that were out of your control that caused you to be successful and to be more grateful.
Therefore, when metaphorical truths, like religion and free will, are applied to specific situations they are clearly making people more content or making the economy more efficient and therefore are moral. Combative agents against metaphorical truths can therefore do moral damage.
Faireness and justice
A fair and just society seems to be important for people to feel content. The evidence is clear that a more equal society results in more overall happiness. However, for increasing efficiency, it is important that we focus on equality of opportunity and not on outcome.
Hierarchies in companies should be formed based on competence but the outcomes should make a net positive contribution to the common good (e.g. more content people). Society can reward companies that make good contributions and disincentives those that do not contribute based on the output of the company.
Recap and final thoughts
This article is dense on purpose to be useful for some people. I am not a philosopher and the primary audience for the article is myself, i.e. an engineer that likes to think about society and morality.
I do believe global warming is real and that sustainability is important but it should not be the main concern for morality. These are just minor roadblocks that humanity can solve without too much of a problem. More people can solve problems quickly when being utilized in efficient hierarchies.
It seems the democratic capitalistic system can be transformed to be optimized for more moral outcomes. However, it will take more than this article to do it. Thank you for reading and please share or discuss it. If you want to support the blog you can buy me a coffee.