The natural balance on this planet requires more than just a system of ensuring reproduction, to perpetuate life. Instinctive controls exist to make sure that members of a species live long enough, in sufficient numbers, to have the opportunity to reproduce. Predators that are indiscriminate as to prey, have to make an exception for their own offspring, otherwise the species would not persist: a female alligator will eat other baby alligators, but not her own. Animals that form groups in order to survive, must cooperate in a variety of ways, or the pack would not hold together. Even with solitary creatures, there are rules of conduct allowing for courtship and mating. Humans call the innate knowledge of these codes of behaviour, morality.
The instinctive moral laws take two forms: the universal codes, which apply to all life; and the social codes, that are specific to gregarious creatures. Universal morality governs interaction between members of the same species. Social morality allows groups of same-species animals to live and interact in close proximity to one another, and to function as a unit: as the sum of the individuals. The instinctive laws are only broken by mentally, or genetically, damaged creatures; and by man.
Natural laws can be determined through logically evaluating a basic principle of existence: life is intended to perpetuate, as a species, while remaining within the ecological balance. Any action contrary to this principle is a violation of natural law. The problem that mankind faces, is that the natural balance depends upon all of the laws being followed, and, since we wish to exist separately from the other animals, man must find ways to compromise within the system. The universal codes are absolutes, and normally do not allow for variation; but we wish to avoid one particular rule of nature: a species that no longer fits within the ecological balance, becomes extinct. Species perpetuation is primarily an internal force: the behaviour that ensures reproduction and genetic quality, is within the species. Remaining within the balance, is mainly an external force: where predators and other control factors set limits on how plentiful a species becomes. Applying this principle to humans, means that changes must come from within mankind, in order to minimize the effect of outside control mechanisms.
Many of the moral guidelines set out by society are based on the innate knowledge of right from wrong. Religions have established laws or commands, from their particular gods, that reflect this knowledge. They are, in a way, correct in interpreting it thus; for universal codes are the laws of nature, and subsequently, part of the universal order. For living things, other than man, there is no right and wrong, no good and evil; they simply follow the laws that nature has set out. From a human perspective, we can say that other creatures do only what is right, because no alternative exists for them. Humans have the capacity to conceive of ways that are contrary to the laws of nature, due to our intelligence, and ability to reason in the abstract; other life cannot: but perhaps that is an example of wisdom.
Society views violations of universal moral laws as wrong, evil, and/or sinful. We must keep in mind that these codes have always been part of human awareness; and knowing right from wrong has always been connected to religion. Primitive man, prior to the development of advanced intelligence, did only what was right (as all fellow animals); knowing no other way. When mankind evolved to the point where it could conceive of ways to question the laws of nature, it had also evolved to a level that permitted humanity to develop spirituality: an ability to question all natural phenomenon, and create mystical answers. Originally, all forms of government/leadership were Theocratic: church and state were the same. Contemporary governments are consequently based upon the foundations laid by their predecessors, including the laws established by theistic leadership. The religious effect upon basic natural laws has been to complicate and mystify them; using symbolism, fear, and mythical rewards in order to enforce compliance. The situation provided the opportunity to introduce other moral codes; some specific to human social order, and others strictly to benefit the elite.
Developing the ability to question natural laws made it necessary to create an abstract moral methodology. Without instinctive restrictions on behaviour, humans were able to adopt a self-serving, rather than species-serving, code of conduct; and a system had to be put in place in order to prevent people from taking this attitude too far. There are individuals today who function, to varying degrees, outside of normal cultural restraints. When taken to an extreme, these people are termed sociopathic. Sociopaths are genetically flawed, and do not experience the social emotions (although they generally simulate them, in order to appear normal). The social emotions are the instinctive codes that allow gregarious creatures to form groups, and raise offspring: the innate tendencies that permit humans to share, feel pity, and to experience regret and shame. A person who lacks these natural feelings is entirely self-serving; and has no compassion for others: the pinnacle of sociopathy, is the serial killer. There is also a cultural element at work here; which accounts for the fact that, although the United States accounts for five percent of the human population, it generates eighty-five percent of the world's serial killers. It is quite unlikely that Americans produce such a disproportionate number of psychotic offspring due to a predominant genetic flaw in the country's general population: it is wiser to assume that American culture provides the environment where sociopaths are more apt to act in an extreme manner.
What makes American society conducive to excesses of unnatural behaviour? A number of factors contribute toward making the United States unique among nations. First and foremost, is the fact that the Western world, and Americans in particular, consume most of the world's resources; while representing a small fraction of the overall population. This signifies that the culture is materialistic: that it demands more resources than it requires (the absurdly high obesity rate is a good example of this). A materialistic attitude is fundamentally, a self-serving disposition; which is placing one's own desires over the needs of the species. To desire a house larger than you require, while others need simple shelter; to desire so much food that it negatively impacts on your health, while others die of starvation; to desire extraneous luxuries, while others lack the basic requirements for survival: all this represents a selfish and materialistic way of life. The "hyper-consumerism" that drives Western society reinforces sociopathic behaviour: the baseline is that much closer to the extreme.
Another contributing factor is the predominance of Christianity in U.S. culture; specifically, two concepts that have developed in the religion: original sin, and absolution. Original sin, or "sins of the father", contends that all humans are inherently guilty of the sins committed by Adam and Eve: in other words, everyone is evil from birth. Some forms of Christianity no longer support this viewpoint; and some others claim that accepting Yeshua Ben Joseph (Jesus) as a god, or god-like entity, will earn you forgiveness for your inborn transgressions. The various books of the Judeo-Christian Bible are contradictory on the subject, which has led to the differences in doctrine. Instilling this concept into children is poor judgment at best; doing this to children with sociopathic tendencies is validating that their antisocial thoughts are a normal human attribute. Absolution, or being forgiven for one's evil actions, is a good concept in principle: it provides the opportunity for people to change their negative behaviour, and receive an ultimate reward for doing so. Unfortunately, some individuals use this concept for self-serving purposes: committing antisocial acts, with the belief that they can be absolved of any responsibility for such behaviour.
People must be accountable for their own actions: instinctive emotions (guilt, etc.) are present to reinforce this accountability. To take complete responsibility for one's mistakes, is to learn from them, and hopefully, not repeat them. Projecting your own shortcomings onto people or events in your past, or onto society in general, is simply avoiding the innate feelings that make you uncomfortable. Ultimately, it is you who performs an evil action; and you who decides whether the evil actions of others are going to control you: the final moral decision is yours, and yours alone.
The universal law that controls human interaction is one that cannot be compromised. Humans are designed to live as gregarious creatures, and must function as a species, in order to survive. The innate emotions that cause mankind to have concerns for things beyond the realm of the individual; such as the environment, Third world hunger, and future generations; demonstrates that people, aside from sociopaths, still retain species awareness. Although the Western world promotes a materialistic and self-serving attitude due to its cultural structure; people who follow this path too closely are still considered insane, and a danger to society. Excessive self-serving behaviour is still considered to be evil, and an enormous set of religious and social structures have been created to control it. The fact that mankind even recognizes the existence of evil, shows it is aware that deeds and thoughts can be outside of normal behaviour. Man is the only living thing capable of evil; but it is distinguished as such, and is to be avoided.
The major problem with human attitudes toward self-serving behaviour, is that most people practice what I term "morality of convenience". Individuals expect others to follow the moral guidelines in respect to human interaction, but are quick to justify their own selfish actions: morality is wonderful, until it somehow restricts your own ability to gain at the expense of others. Until people realize that the universal moral codes apply equally to all members of the species, and not just to people other than themselves, there will not be a lasting solution to mankind's problems.