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Some Thoughts On Constructing Morality Without God


SairB
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I have had what I think might be a bit of an insight into why religious adherents - Christians, and Catholics in particular - have such a hard time believing that it's possible to base morality on anything other than God's commandments, and Jesus' teachings.

 

Any practical morality must be based upon experience of the world, and the recognition that other humans are like you - that they have the same basic needs for food, shelter, companionship, compassion, etc. A basic notion of morality is that we are on some level obliged to treat other people in a manner consistent with how we would like to be treated. The ability to recognise our own species and to think that their needs are similar to our own is something that has developed over millennia of living in social groups.

 

Humans are to some extent different from the rest of the animal kingdom in the possession of imagination - the ability to think beyond the immediate perceptions of our senses. The ability to put ourselves in the place of another person is a result of this imaginative faculty. Thus, it is possible for us to assume that others experience not only the same basic physical needs as ourselves, but also the same basic emotional needs.

 

It is from this recognition that morality has grown and evolved - at least I believe it is so.

 

The pursuit of pleasure, and by extension happiness, has been conceived by philosophers to be an ultimate purpose of life. The definition of happiness varies, but the assumption that all humans wish to achieve happiness is one that I believe few would dispute. Happiness, of course, may not always be consistent with the immediate gratification of desire, so we have developed checks on our actions that are consistent with the achievement of overall happiness. Such restraints on behaviour provide the roots of a system of ethics.

 

Where Christians have difficulties with this, I think, is that they construct happiness in ways that are not necessarily consistent with physical pleasure and contentment. Indeed, much to the contrary, many Christians throughout history have decided that gratification of physical needs and pleasures is actually wrong - it is indulging the flesh at the expense of the spirit. In general, a Christian worldview values suffering as a way of growing closer to God.

 

Consequently, I think, Christians find it very difficult to construct morality on the basis of minimising suffering and maximising happiness. They tend to think that atheism, or a lack of adherence to a religious worldview, automatically results in people committing heinous acts - violence, murder, rape, coercion, fornication, masturbation, etc etc... Little do they realise that most atheists and agnostics are still endowed with a basic sense of fellow-feeling that allows them to perceive that others have similar needs to their own, and that it is an act of goodness - a moral act - to treat other people with the same respect you would like them to show to you. I'm pretty sure Jesus didn't invent the Golden Rule, and I'm absolutely convinced that Christians have never had the monopoly on it...

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Thank you SairB for your thought-provoking post.

 

Consequently, I think, Christians find it very difficult to construct morality on the basis of minimising suffering and maximising happiness. They tend to think that atheism, or a lack of adherence to a religious worldview, automatically results in people committing heinous acts - violence, murder, rape, coercion, fornication, masturbation, etc etc... Little do they realise that most atheists and agnostics are still endowed with a basic sense of fellow-feeling that allows them to perceive that others have similar needs to their own, and that it is an act of goodness - a moral act - to treat other people with the same respect you would like them to show to you. I'm pretty sure Jesus didn't invent the Golden Rule, and I'm absolutely convinced that Christians have never had the monopoly on it...

 

When I was a christian, I thought these same thoughts. Not so much in the aspect of glorifying suffering, but in the arbitrariness of any moral system that was not based on an absolute rule maker. My thinking was, "Why choose a system based on maximizing happiness and minimizing suffering, when "might makes right" is just as good in a world without God?" The actual truth is that the Church engaged in might makes right for centuries. We have to either make a world where morality is based on empathy (which is easy to sell) , make some other world or let the world rot. It is humanity's call.

 

. . . I'm absolutely convinced that Christians have never had the monopoly on it...

In fact, the obsessive bible-quoting and treating the bible like a rule-book in the football game of life strikes me as a killer of empathy. How can you engage your brain in empathy when you're scanning your mental database of bible scriptures for the rule someone is violating? I think different, contradictory sections of the brain are being accessed.

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I have had what I think might be a bit of an insight into why religious adherents - Christians, and Catholics in particular - have such a hard time believing that it's possible to base morality on anything other than God's commandments, and Jesus' teachings.

 

Any practical morality must be based upon experience of the world, and the recognition that other humans are like you - that they have the same basic needs for food, shelter, companionship, compassion, etc. A basic notion of morality is that we are on some level obliged to treat other people in a manner consistent with how we would like to be treated. The ability to recognise our own species and to think that their needs are similar to our own is something that has developed over millennia of living in social groups.

 

Humans are to some extent different from the rest of the animal kingdom in the possession of imagination - the ability to think beyond the immediate perceptions of our senses. The ability to put ourselves in the place of another person is a result of this imaginative faculty. Thus, it is possible for us to assume that others experience not only the same basic physical needs as ourselves, but also the same basic emotional needs.

 

It is from this recognition that morality has grown and evolved - at least I believe it is so.

 

The pursuit of pleasure, and by extension happiness, has been conceived by philosophers to be an ultimate purpose of life. The definition of happiness varies, but the assumption that all humans wish to achieve happiness is one that I believe few would dispute. Happiness, of course, may not always be consistent with the immediate gratification of desire, so we have developed checks on our actions that are consistent with the achievement of overall happiness. Such restraints on behaviour provide the roots of a system of ethics.

 

Where Christians have difficulties with this, I think, is that they construct happiness in ways that are not necessarily consistent with physical pleasure and contentment. Indeed, much to the contrary, many Christians throughout history have decided that gratification of physical needs and pleasures is actually wrong - it is indulging the flesh at the expense of the spirit. In general, a Christian worldview values suffering as a way of growing closer to God.

 

Consequently, I think, Christians find it very difficult to construct morality on the basis of minimising suffering and maximising happiness. They tend to think that atheism, or a lack of adherence to a religious worldview, automatically results in people committing heinous acts - violence, murder, rape, coercion, fornication, masturbation, etc etc... Little do they realise that most atheists and agnostics are still endowed with a basic sense of fellow-feeling that allows them to perceive that others have similar needs to their own, and that it is an act of goodness - a moral act - to treat other people with the same respect you would like them to show to you. I'm pretty sure Jesus didn't invent the Golden Rule, and I'm absolutely convinced that Christians have never had the monopoly on it...

 

Your presumptions about humanity are certainly widely held, although you presume too much.

 

Pursuit of pleasure doesn't explain very much and neither does happiness. Survival is the motivation for human behavior... just as in animals and plants. The reason people often suggest one can not a sense of morality without some sense of "higher purpose" than survival is because otherwise we are talking about instincts. Instinct is neither moral nor immoral.

 

you can talk about getting along with others, community or whatever, but without some sense of "purpose" it is all instinct.

 

As far as recognition of treating "others" as we would like to be treated... where do you see that in "civilized" society? ONLY within one's social groups; certainly not between cultures or societies.

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I'm pretty sure Jesus didn't invent the Golden Rule, and I'm absolutely convinced that Christians have never had the monopoly on it...

 

He didn't .

The Ethic of Reciprocity has been around a long time.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethic_of_reciprocity

 

 

As far as recognition of treating "others" as we would like to be treated... where do you see that in "civilized" society? ONLY within one's social groups; certainly not between cultures or societies.

 

Kcdad, you fail to account for history. In terms of human history, any sense of moral obligation extending beyond one's own cultural group (or even the borders of one's own country) is an extremely recent development. It has absolutely nothing to do with the development of general morality...but is merely an extention of it.

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I have had what I think might be a bit of an insight into why religious adherents - Christians, and Catholics in particular - have such a hard time believing that it's possible to base morality on anything other than God's commandments, and Jesus' teachings.

 

Any practical morality must be based upon experience of the world, and the recognition that other humans are like you - that they have the same basic needs for food, shelter, companionship, compassion, etc. A basic notion of morality is that we are on some level obliged to treat other people in a manner consistent with how we would like to be treated. The ability to recognise our own species and to think that their needs are similar to our own is something that has developed over millennia of living in social groups.

 

Humans are to some extent different from the rest of the animal kingdom in the possession of imagination - the ability to think beyond the immediate perceptions of our senses. The ability to put ourselves in the place of another person is a result of this imaginative faculty. Thus, it is possible for us to assume that others experience not only the same basic physical needs as ourselves, but also the same basic emotional needs.

 

It is from this recognition that morality has grown and evolved - at least I believe it is so.

 

The pursuit of pleasure, and by extension happiness, has been conceived by philosophers to be an ultimate purpose of life. The definition of happiness varies, but the assumption that all humans wish to achieve happiness is one that I believe few would dispute. Happiness, of course, may not always be consistent with the immediate gratification of desire, so we have developed checks on our actions that are consistent with the achievement of overall happiness. Such restraints on behaviour provide the roots of a system of ethics.

 

Where Christians have difficulties with this, I think, is that they construct happiness in ways that are not necessarily consistent with physical pleasure and contentment. Indeed, much to the contrary, many Christians throughout history have decided that gratification of physical needs and pleasures is actually wrong - it is indulging the flesh at the expense of the spirit. In general, a Christian worldview values suffering as a way of growing closer to God.

 

Consequently, I think, Christians find it very difficult to construct morality on the basis of minimising suffering and maximising happiness. They tend to think that atheism, or a lack of adherence to a religious worldview, automatically results in people committing heinous acts - violence, murder, rape, coercion, fornication, masturbation, etc etc... Little do they realise that most atheists and agnostics are still endowed with a basic sense of fellow-feeling that allows them to perceive that others have similar needs to their own, and that it is an act of goodness - a moral act - to treat other people with the same respect you would like them to show to you. I'm pretty sure Jesus didn't invent the Golden Rule, and I'm absolutely convinced that Christians have never had the monopoly on it...

 

There's an intuition about moral action. All human beings sort of sense that certain actions are wrong while other actions are right. These intuitions aren't perfect, but for the most part they provide good guides about right action and wrong action. We also have the secular law and other customs to guide us. I don't think it's terribly difficult to construct morality without God.

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He didn't .

The Ethic of Reciprocity has been around a long time.

 

You are assuming that Jesus was not before he was in bodily form?

 

Kcdad, you fail to account for history. In terms of human history, any sense of moral obligation extending beyond one's own cultural group (or even the borders of one's own country) is an extremely recent development. It has absolutely nothing to do with the development of general morality...but is merely an extention of it.

 

Seems like it has to do with population. I am inspired to get along with my neighbor. But how is this not consistant the big picture the Bible presents?

Multiply, and develop a love for your neighbor...and it would be His choosing when the clock runs out on bad behavior. Pretty straightforward.....but it must be another coincedence....

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He didn't .

The Ethic of Reciprocity has been around a long time.

 

You are assuming that Jesus was not before he was in bodily form?

No, no, you're assuming that Jesus wasn't a reincarnation of Buddha.

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He didn't .

The Ethic of Reciprocity has been around a long time.

 

You are assuming that Jesus was not before he was in bodily form?

No, no, you're assuming that Jesus wasn't a reincarnation of Buddha.

 

"You sir, are correct".....Ed McMahon?

 

 

...you never answered my triple point, cellulose, laminin question.... you were feeling graceful?

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...you never answered my triple point, cellulose, laminin question.... you were feeling graceful?

Eh, what? I don't remember any triple point, cellulose, laminin(?) question???

 

Jesus was Buddha. And Socrates sacrificed himself for the cause. Glory be to the holy trinity of Beer, Chips and Bratwurst.

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I'm pretty sure Jesus didn't invent the Golden Rule, and I'm absolutely convinced that Christians have never had the monopoly on it...

 

He didn't .

The Ethic of Reciprocity has been around a long time.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethic_of_reciprocity

 

 

As far as recognition of treating "others" as we would like to be treated... where do you see that in "civilized" society? ONLY within one's social groups; certainly not between cultures or societies.

 

Kcdad, you fail to account for history. In terms of human history, any sense of moral obligation extending beyond one's own cultural group (or even the borders of one's own country) is an extremely recent development. It has absolutely nothing to do with the development of general morality...but is merely an extention of it.

 

Which is where the teaching of Jesus differ, I guess. His version of the ethic of reciprocity (which neither he nor anyone else ever claimed was original) is immediately followed by someone asking him, yeah, but what is The Law? And Jesus says Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself... and goes on to tell the story of the Good Samaritan... when asked "Who is my neighbor?" THAT is the teaching of Jesus, not "do unto others...", but do the right thing no matter who or what it is.

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There's an intuition about moral action. All human beings sort of sense that certain actions are wrong while other actions are right. These intuitions aren't perfect, but for the most part they provide good guides about right action and wrong action. We also have the secular law and other customs to guide us. I don't think it's terribly difficult to construct morality without God.

 

You wish and hope so...

 

Morality is learned or not. Simple as that.

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He didn't .

The Ethic of Reciprocity has been around a long time.

 

You are assuming that Jesus was not before he was in bodily form?

No, no, you're assuming that Jesus wasn't a reincarnation of Buddha.

 

"You sir, are correct".....Ed McMahon?

 

 

...you never answered my triple point, cellulose, laminin question.... you were feeling graceful?

 

He wants to know is before Jesus was Jesus, was he someone else?

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...you never answered my triple point, cellulose, laminin question.... you were feeling graceful?

Eh, what? I don't remember any triple point, cellulose, laminin(?) question???

 

Jesus was Buddha. And Socrates sacrificed himself for the cause. Glory be to the holy trinity of Beer, Chips and Bratwurst.

 

Back in the Swim's hell thread....towards the end of my trauma...

 

He wasn't Buddha....Buddha was perhaps a part of Him, but anyone can see by the pictures that Jesus was skinny... :P

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...you never answered my triple point, cellulose, laminin question.... you were feeling graceful?

Eh, what? I don't remember any triple point, cellulose, laminin(?) question???

 

Jesus was Buddha. And Socrates sacrificed himself for the cause. Glory be to the holy trinity of Beer, Chips and Bratwurst.

 

Back in the Swim's hell thread....towards the end of my trauma...

 

He wasn't Buddha....Buddha was perhaps a part of Him, but anyone can see by the pictures that Jesus was skinny... :P

 

Then Jesus would have had to have been a part of The Buddha.

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He wasn't Buddha....Buddha was perhaps a part of Him, but anyone can see by the pictures that Jesus was skinny... :P

OH, you're lack of knowledge is revealed, young padawan.

 

There are skinny Buddhas. The Starving Buddha is the depiction of the skinny Buddha. (The statues look ugly though, but I'm not making it up.)

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Morality is learned or not. Simple as that.

I have to disagree, from what I've learned, it actually seems to be both.

 

There is a center in the brain that rewards us when we do good deeds of certain kinds. Like giving something to someone. I'm not going to bother to look for the article right now, but it was quite recently they found the part in the amygdala which does this.

 

Most of our understanding of morality is learned though, and constructed. But I can't remember which philosopher who showed that there must be a basic language where we start from, where we begin to express the basic foundation for both language and morality. And that would be the inherited ability of lets say empathy. We do feel for other people around us, and that feeling can emphasized (or minimized) through learning, but the ability to feel and enjoy doing good, we can't learn that. I mean, the "feel good" function itself isn't something you train for. What causes you to feel this good might be something you learn, but we can't learn how to make certain proteins unless the body already have the code for it in the DNA.

 

I thought you were teaching Psychology? When I read it, I learned the nature-v-nurture debate is buried, and now they look from biological, and psychological, and sociological at the same time. And we become who we are through all those three sides interacting.

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'HanSolo' date='Feb 7 2009,

 

I have to disagree, from what I've learned, it actually seems to be both.

 

There is a center in the brain that rewards us when we do good deeds of certain kinds

.

 

Absolutely. It is the same reward center that responds when we allow ourselves to physically exploited if we are masochists (or hurt ourselves, like cutters), or when we hurt other people if we are sadists. There is no objective, "good or bad" behavior except we as associate that behavior with some expectation of reward and or punishment.

 

Most of our understanding of morality is learned though, and constructed. But I can't remember which philosopher who showed that there must be a basic language where we start from, where we begin to express the basic foundation for both language and morality. And that would be the inherited ability of lets say empathy. We do feel for other people around us, and that feeling can emphasized (or minimized) through learning, but the ability to feel and enjoy doing good, we can't learn that. I mean, the "feel good" function itself isn't something you train for. What causes you to feel this good might be something you learn, but we can't learn how to make certain proteins unless the body already have the code for it in the DNA.

 

But we only feel empathy for those whom we see "like ourselves". If we happen to believe all living things are "like us" then we feel differently than if we think only white guys are "like us". (or just Christians, just god-fearers, Catholics, WASPs, Americans... whatever)

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Absolutely. It is the same reward center that responds when we allow ourselves to physically exploited if we are masochists (or hurt ourselves, like cutters), or when we hurt other people if we are sadists. There is no objective, "good or bad" behavior except we as associate that behavior with some expectation of reward and or punishment.

Yes, I think we are on similar track.

 

We have the ability to "reward" ourselves for doing good things, but it takes a learning to get that reward for the "right" things. Those "right" acts are constructed in society and we inherit it from our family and culture.

 

But we only feel empathy for those whom we see "like ourselves". If we happen to believe all living things are "like us" then we feel differently than if we think only white guys are "like us". (or just Christians, just god-fearers, Catholics, WASPs, Americans... whatever)

Right. The scheme is inherited from our "tribe," with the in-group being our parents, family, neighbors, country, etc, depending on how the current teaching is made up.

 

But we wouldn't care, unless our brain had a form of "feel-good" when we adjust to the tribal rules, and "feel-bad" when we don't. I guess it's about attachment, approbation, and to remove the feeling of isolation? We want to fit in, because if we don't, we feel alone and unappreciated. That would explain why we feel most about those in our immediate surroundings, because we learn the response of approval etc is immediate. If I help my neighbor, I can see his face approving my help, and I get help back another day, so the effects are more direct. While helping a starving child in Africa is so remote and you won't learn the same response from your actions. You can only know or hope that your money actually did help some anonymous starving child.

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'HanSolo' date='Feb 7 2009, 09:40 AM'

I thought you were teaching Psychology? When I read it, I learned the nature-v-nurture debate is buried, and now they look from biological, and psychological, and sociological at the same time. And we become who we are through all those three sides interacting.

 

The debate may never be buried, but yes, I think the trend in Psychology is towards Social Psychology built upon a biological foundation of brain chemistry.

 

If you are three foot tall, you will not become a GREAT professional basketball player... sorry, it ain't in the cards. There are certain physical exceptions and exclusions to "normal" human psychological behavior as well. Based upon one's biology and chemistry, the field of Social Psychology explains how mental development and socialization occur. Neither Behaviorism, Cognitive Psychology, Humanism, Evolutionary Psychology nor any of the other disciplines quite take as comprehensive view of human behavior as Social Psychology does.

 

Actually, Sociology is my bailiwick, I do teach 2 Psych classes, but only during the fall semester. I guess that betrays my bias.

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Actually, Sociology is my bailiwick, I do teach 2 Psych classes, but only during the fall semester. I guess that betrays my bias.

Yes it does. :HaHa: (I could actually tell early on)

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But we wouldn't care, unless our brain had a form of "feel-good" when we adjust to the tribal rules, and "feel-bad" when we don't. I guess it's about attachment, approbation, and to remove the feeling of isolation? We want to fit in, because if we don't, we feel alone and unappreciated. That would explain why we feel most about those in our immediate surroundings, because we learn the response of approval etc is immediate. If I help my neighbor, I can see his face approving my help, and I get help back another day, so the effects are more direct. While helping a starving child in Africa is so remote and you won't learn the same response from your actions. You can only know or hope that your money actually did help some anonymous starving child.

 

 

Ah, I see where you are coming from... the endorphin releasing mechanism pre- exists, and we learn to manipulate it. Our "social" needs being the motivation for stimulating our endorphin release... we feel good when we are a part of something bigger than ourselves... INTERESTING. There is an argument to be made that this sense of belonging is so innate, that we conflict ourselves over the creation of a self identity. This may be the ultimate source of non-organically derived dysfunctional psychological behavior: Do we become an individual and separate from the herd, or do we suppress the self and remain safe within the herd?

 

BTW.. there is no feel bad mechanism that I am aware of... the "feeling bad" is an absence of feeling good.

 

PSBTW... I am not happy with the use of "suppress" in my closing sentence.

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Ah, I see where you are coming from... the endorphin releasing mechanism pre- exists, and we learn to manipulate it. Our "social" needs being the motivation for stimulating our endorphin release... we feel good when we are a part of something bigger than ourselves... INTERESTING. There is an argument to be made that this sense of belonging is so innate, that we conflict ourselves over the creation of a self identity. This may be the ultimate source of non-organically derived dysfunctional psychological behavior: Do we become an individual and separate from the herd, or do we suppress the self and remain safe within the herd?

Yes! I like this view, it makes a lot of sense.

 

As individuals we have to satisfy our own needs, and through evolution we got this "pleasure" to fit in and please others around us, since it's more likely we can survive in numbers than alone. But as you say, we also have a personal self-interest within the group to satisfy other needs and pleasures, like getting ahead of the others, get better or more food, or whatever we need for our personal fulfillment, which means we might be doing things contrary to the groups best interests, because now suddenly it's the individual fighting within the group to fill other pleasures. So in the end, we feel torn between the emotions. Would that be a fairly right way of putting it?

 

BTW.. there is no feel bad mechanism that I am aware of... the "feeling bad" is an absence of feeling good.

Very true. I did put them in quotes though, to signify the sort-of when I used the terms.

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Ah, I see where you are coming from... the endorphin releasing mechanism pre- exists, and we learn to manipulate it. Our "social" needs being the motivation for stimulating our endorphin release... we feel good when we are a part of something bigger than ourselves... INTERESTING. There is an argument to be made that this sense of belonging is so innate, that we conflict ourselves over the creation of a self identity. This may be the ultimate source of non-organically derived dysfunctional psychological behavior: Do we become an individual and separate from the herd, or do we suppress the self and remain safe within the herd?

Yes! I like this view, it makes a lot of sense.

 

As individuals we have to satisfy our own needs, and through evolution we got this "pleasure" to fit in and please others around us, since it's more likely we can survive in numbers than alone. But as you say, we also have a personal self-interest within the group to satisfy other needs and pleasures, like getting ahead of the others, get better or more food, or whatever we need for our personal fulfillment, which means we might be doing things contrary to the groups best interests, because now suddenly it's the individual fighting within the group to fill other pleasures. So in the end, we feel torn between the emotions. Would that be a fairly right way of putting it?

 

BTW.. there is no feel bad mechanism that I am aware of... the "feeling bad" is an absence of feeling good.

Very true. I did put them in quotes though, to signify the sort-of when I used the terms.

 

I think so. You don't see "the me mentality" in other herd creatures... a school herring when threatened by an Orca don't split up and and flee, they form a "cyclone" in the water and as a group provide a too large of target for the whale to single out victims. The victims are then "randomly" chosen to die. Humans would split, figuring, I don't need to swim faster than the Orcas, I only need to swim faster than the next guy.

 

Thus making every individual member of the species more vulnerable to attack.

 

Hell is freezing over again...

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