Tuesday, November 17


The above pictures of a neighbour’s mud brick house, a common site where I live here in Eltham, Melbourne, home to mud brick building in Australia. ‘Muddies” as that are called became popular in the mid fifties when Eltham was a remote small community and their champion was Alistair Knox.

"It is axiomatic that mud bricks will be a fundamental element in the alternative social structure today,'' he wrote.

"The material itself is free. It costs a man his physical labour only, which is the same for both rich and poor. "The making can be a wholly natural activity. It has great therapeutic properties. Watching the earth dry and the varying characteristics of its physical structure, immerse us in poetic deliberations that unite our hearts, heads and hands.

Click here to read his story.

Using mud bricks as building materials is relatively straightforward; homes are generally cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Apart from ensuring they have slightly longer eaves, mud brick homes don’t require any special maintenance and will outlast those constructed of more conventional materials.

To day there are small pockets of homes in the older areas where most of the homes are made from mud bricks. If you’re interested in modern designs click here for pictures.

Wednesday, November 11

Where do morals come from?

Possibly Frederick Nietzsche’s most important work was in his “Genealogy of Morals”; where he posited morality stems from the   ascendancy of one will to dominate others. Nietzsche contended this so called “will to power” was analogous to nature’s quest for territory.  His philosophy was life affirmation (as in the will) does gives us the freedom to opt to live our life to the fullest, regardless of suffering or even possibly because of it. His concern was we were descending into  nihilism, as a consequence of a slavish type mentality of weakness, spurred on by religious overtones.
Some would argue his prediction was soon realised not long after his death with the outbreak of hostilities in World War 1.

But casting aside Nietzsche’s philosophy for the time being the question arises from whence do morals came from. Are they connected nature ?  Does evolution in nature exhibit some form of morality ?  What role is there for religious thinking? Are morals innate?Is it virtually impossible to trace their origins?   

Before attempting to answer these questions one needs to acknowledge morals are subjective in nature. What might seem unequivocally immoral to one society, say for instance the death penalty, may in turn be perfectly acceptable to another. For instance the death penalty for desecration or even entry of sacred sites by early tribespeople’s might seem barbaric to us but perfectly moral in the context of that culture then. Nor do I think it is wise to say morals are transcendal. Not that I am against spiritual enlightenment but practicality and merit has always been necessary if we are avoid the pitfalls of adopting abstract values.
Hence the question of a definition of morals is a difficult one but I have opted for one that involves a work in process concerned with evolving principles to signify what is considered right or wrong for various cultures.  
It appears reasonable to me one can answer in the affirmative to the earlier questions – but only to a degree, because the ingredients to morals values are many, not to mention such things as new discoveries, experiences and knowledge. This leads me to confine this paper to some of the more obvious ingredients -with a particular emphasis to the role of social cohesion.
It’s hardly surprising then that most moral philosophers up until fairly recently steer clear of any discussions as to where morals come from. Hence the view expressed in a paper from Stanford University “if a moral philosopher asks “whence morality,” she is more likely to be concerned with the justification of moral principles or the source and nature of obligation.
However the author does make a strong case to answer such questions from the viewpoint of an interdisciplinary inquiry. Still, there are important potential connections between the scientific explanatory issues and philosophical ones, opening the way for profitable interdisciplinary inquiry”.  FitzPatrick, William, "Morality and Evolutionary Biology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2014/entries/morality-biology/>.
Another paper I intend referencing concerns biological altruism -Okasha, Samir, "Biological Altruism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .

Aim of this paper
Hence my aim is to shed some light on these key ingredients that contributed to our morals.What I also hope to achieve along the way is  to determine the consequences for their continuation or otherwise into the future.  
In the beginning
There is no reason for me to dwell on the miraculous events over billions of years for the first evolved multi cell creatures to emerge, except to say these insights into our past are only made possible by the evolution of our self-consciousness.

It is only thought to be only in the more modern era in evolutionary terms – that is within the past few hundred thousand years, we have some evidence of the ingredients which united humanity in the various groups under the principles of societal cohesion. As these ingredients to societal attitudes took hold we see evidence of their influence in the various cultures and how they became enshrined in their tribal laws.     
Instinctive type feelings things are either right or wrong and the possibility of biological altruism.  

Rather obviously behaviours evolved earlier on as instinctive type reactions as evident in the animal kingdom, primarily driven by a will to preserve the species. Over time our adaption meant a connection of such feelings to be associated with emotional values.  Psychological traits evident in loyalty to the immediate family became associated with positivism thereafter leading to hierarchical positions of tribal authority, deference to elders and so forth. But that is not suggest we have little control over these so called repertories to feel what is right and wrong, that arise more or less instinctively. Such feelings are not hostage to our future actions which can be subject to change from the jolt of psychological or environmental factors of one kind or another.   

Sober takes this argument a step further to argue there is no particular reason to think that evolution would have made humans into egoists rather than psychological altruists (see also Schulz 2011). On the contrary, it is quite possible that natural selection would have favoured humans who genuinely do care about helping others, i.e., who are capable of ‘real’ or psychological altruism. Therefore, evolution may well lead ‘real’ or psychological altruism to evolve. Contrary to what is often thought, an evolutionary approach to human behaviour does not imply that humans are likely to be motivated by self-interest alone.
The Stanford article on morality and Evolutionary Biology contends “very little in the study of human life has been left untouched by developments in evolutionary biologyand inquiry into the nature of morality is no exception.” 

The authors list is extensive, from appetites for food or sex, fear responses, patterns of aggression, parental care and bonding, of patterns of cooperation and retribution, to posit patterns of behaviours are often best explained as biological adaptations, i.e., traits that evolved through natural selection due to their adaptive effect. 
As various instinctive type reactions underpinned enhanced survival, psychological traits became aligned to this social cohesion principle and which was reinforced by evolving beliefs. Hence what emerges to sustain tribal cohesion and existential order is the requirement to adopt principals of fairness to ensure optimum survival outcomes.    

An example of how the ingredients for social cohesion enhanced existence and fairness in an evolving culture.  
The Australian aboriginal, as the longest known uninterrupted culture on the globe offers some clues and valuable insights of how social cohesion, reinforced by evolving beliefs may have influenced materially their society.

From what has been uncovered it is clear their existence was supported and reinforced by ideas closely aligned with nature, underpinned by the ideas on the dreamtime, a period considered outside of time when creation was thought to have occurred. In this respect reverence is demonstrated to be shown in practices that point to a type of communal existence co-dependent with nature together on what was regarded as sacred land.   
The underpinnings for these came from the dreamtime which posited a first Creator  appeared in the physical world to bring forth natural children and plants under the control of a mother earth, from thence came animals but lastly humankind.
Dreamtime stories were instrumental in defining their tribal values and which led to an elaborate system of rules under the common law, such as initiation into adulthood. This law covered ritualistic ceremonies such as the processes for corroborees when the tribes met to resolve matters such as arranged marriages, to plan for trade between the nations, to celebrate and so forth.
However one should not imagine there existed some form of utopian existence, as some evidence exists for severe skirmishes between tribes and a high level of violence as scores were settled brutally by means of “payback”. Penalties were quite severe and death prescribed for unauthorised entry into sacred sites.
But what was remarkable was their existence for such a long period without denuding the landscape, although changes due to the operation of fire stick farming may have led to the extinction of some species. 
Physical evidence of evolved changes in the brain supportive of enhanced moral reasoning.   
We also have physical evidence of the changes to structure of modern day brains and that of the more highly developed animals. There is clear evidence of the older repositories housing the more emotive instinctive responses, which combine in the extensive circuitry to the more newly evolved frontal lobes regions. Hence our brains bear evidence of the evolutionary journey with older instinctive regions designed to signal the emotive survival issues such as danger and the newly formed areas enabling more complexity types of  abstract thinking. 
There is no reason to feel one region, due to its more recent development, is superior to the other, since each is co dependant on the other. What I think we can say about the development of the frontal lobes is they played a key role in terms of awareness. From an evolutionary perspective it appears this development occurred relatively late in the evolutionary journey, in what would be regarded as modern, in the long journey of humanity.
Spirituality is also an ingredient, as I have attempted to illustrate in the previous section and in most cultures and has gravitated around the idea fairness.  In many other respects, it facilitates judgments, unclouded by what might be purely emotional reactions. 
A possible return to the moral value of fairness.
What is clear is our earliest codes of accepted behaviours was to put sharing ahead of individualism, so that loyalty to the group underwrote enhanced chances of survival. The success of the human species adapting to the enhanced dynamics of the group has been extraordinary but many would argue to excess. One could argue we are have become consumers and not sharers in nature’s bounty.   

Possibly the early roots for this twist in the evolutionary road from sharers to consumers may be linked to the idea we have dominion or superiority over nature, which is to be tamed and brought under human control. Such a view, combined with our extraordinary inventive improvements and adaptions in modernity has prospered humanity, but often this is at the expense of all of the other species. This in turn has the capacity to change our ideas on what are our underlying values ; to engender the need for a revision in our thinking to return to the way we viewed the lands when once we were more reliant to respond to the changing seasons for our survival.  This is even more relevant today, yet it can be can be hidden in the unrestrained growth of populations represented in urban sprawl and in modernity so that it not as readily discernible.
I think there are grounds to believe there are many ingredients in a universal type of morality entwined in nature, brutal as it may be seem, although of course this cannot be proven and is by no means is easily discernible. What I think this paper does illustrate is the important ingredient of social cohesion which played a key role in in our own early evolutionary journey. But I also think we can take note of Nietzsche’s dissertation on morals in the hope that a more dominant will is to emerge that recognizes the need to be far more attuned to that of nature, from whence we evolved.  In other words the need to show reverence to all of life, upon which we depend, and that which was once clearly recognised in many respects as a moral necessity by our ancient ancestors.