Commitments 2.3 - Societal Morals
From page 112
Simple consent between individuals seldom, if ever, successfully sustains cooperation among large numbers of people over long periods of time. Displays of commitment to supernatural agents signal sincere willingness to cooperate with the community of believers. Supernatural agents thus also function as moral Big Brothers who keep constant vigil to dissuade would-be cheaters and free riders. To ensure moral authority survives without the need for brute force and the constant threat of rebellion, all concerned - whether master or slave - must truly believe that the gods are always watching even when no other person could possible be looking. Once these sacred relations become a society's moral constitution, as in our "One Nation Under God," they cannot be undone without risking collapse of the public order that secures personal welfare. This is one way that the conceptual ridge of our evolutionary landscape connects with the ridge of social interaction.
According to this chapter, supernatural entities function as big brothers because of our awareness and sensitivities concerning false belief. Abstract thinking gives us the ability to assign intention to seemingly non-random events. Thus supernatural beings arise as plausible explanations for some of the doors abstract thinking opens. Our heuristics for false belief detection, make us conscious about our actions, or at least the way they may be perceived. This combination explains why we believe God is always watching. It also explains why people may be so concerned about the consequences of eliminating the unifying effect of religion in our society.
We can only operate in large groups if we believe other people are generally acting on a set of accepting laws and behaviours. While exceptions will always occur, society is glued together because it is accepted that these individuals will be punished, eliminating the benefits that one could get as a rogue. Once people stop playing by these rules, society can't help but collapse. The evolutionary cognitive arms race has selected for people who have no trust with strangers. After all, strangers may or may not play by accepted rules.
Can an open society ever create a strong enough sense of nationalism or strong enough cannon of accepted social guidelines to replace an evolutionary programmed Big Brother?