Moral (7): Morally responsible?

Tumor passion

Am I personally responsible for a morality that society would find inappropriate? This question, which attacks that of free will head-on, has no simple answer. Let’s look at the case of an American who, in 2000, suddenly became a sexual aggressor. Married and without history until then, he is unexpectedly passionate about prostitution, child pornography, makes advances to his daughter-in-law. The mother denounces him and he receives an obligation of care. Instead of making amends, he harasses the women of the center where he is cared for.

A new judgment will send him to prison. A few hours before, he made a check-up in the hospital because of recently aggravated migraines. He was diagnosed with a benign but massive brain tumor. His behavior returns to normal after ablation. 6 months later: relapse of his deviance. A check shows that a piece of the tumor, forgotten, has grown back. The 2nd operation cures him definitively.

Neuroscience of morality

This story of an amoralizing tumor takes us down a slippery slope. Why not blame badly screwed neural bonds of all our moral deviations? It’s still easier to repair with a biological soldering iron than to type these countless dissertations of trolleyologists!

The right temporo-parietal junction is considered the crossroads of altruism. This network signals a conflict between material and moral values. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex integrates morality and emotions. Its targeted inhibition makes the guinea pig’s ethos more utilitarian. We can finally push the obese without a state of mind.

Am I responsible for whether or not these connections are in my brain? If society says that such a configuration would improve my moral behavior, can it impose it on me on the pretext that I am unable to realize it, being only the result of said configuration? When will the moral dispensaries, where we would be properly rewired? Brrr…

Do we choose or suffer amorality?

Suddenly pathological behavior is easy to spot, as in the previous case of giant tumor. But what if the changes are insidious? How can we be sure, in the face of a deviance, that links have not been altered by a more innocuous incident, recent or old? How many offenders have gone to prison because a tiny clot or gas bubble has suboxygenated a few neurons and broken part of the local dendritic network?

We will never know. To limit errors, the courts are tending an empirical net. They more easily release an accused with a blank background. Or, on the contrary, send him without discussion to the asylum when his case is declared psychiatric. In between, we are responsible for our neural incidents. As our obese is responsible for his weight. He has to be really very, really big to be declared irresponsible and the health system has to reimburse him for his sleeve-gastrectomy. This is an additional complication for our dilemma. Before throwing him on the path, was he considered responsible for his condition? Is he unhappy about it? If you talked to the obese just before the crazy wagon burst in, will you kill a blessed as easily as a depressive?

Tyranny of social consciousness

This reduction of morality to a matter of neural connections seems to strip our judgment of any… moral quality. To save it we need the double look. Thanks to it, let us note that it is only the downward look that makes a judgment, and that pushes it lower and lower in the organization of behavior. Philosophical, psychological, neural organization, inscribed in genetics… It is the highest abstraction of this pyramid, the hierarchically dominant social consciousness, which enjoins the underlying cogs to conform to its higher ideal. If they don’t, they are found guilty.

A gene can end up in court in this way. A movement of eugenics has gripped psychiatry in the last century. Its objective is to eliminate genes frequently implicated in mental pathologies. It does not matter that they are not systematically involved. An unfavourable statistic is enough to trigger the precautionary principle. For the idealized perspectives of eugenic psychiatrists, this radical way is most effective in eliminating mental illness. Fanaticism of the downward look.

Pushing the reasoning to its conclusion, the eradication of the Y chromosome makes sense. It leads to the male phenotype, responsible for an increase in aggressiveness and 90% of crimes. The complete feminization of the human species is therefore desirable, with artificial procreation to overcome the main disadvantage. Note that ironically this also makes disappear the eugenic psychiatrists at the origin of the measure, all male. Coincidence?

In upward direction, a system that is self-organizing

The attribution of moral responsibility is the characteristic of the downward look. For the upward this responsibility does not exist. Genes spread, associate, produce an organism, which survives or not depending on the context. The mind refines behavior, gives rise to surprising effects, possibly reprehensible from a collective point of view. But it’s in his nature to diversify, to try.

Some psychological cogs lead to disadvantages that are significantly less than the benefits. What happens when emotions, so criticized by Kant, are absent? We have a psychopath, the most dangerous version of the human in society.

The fundamental upward vision is that of a system that self-organizes itself physically and then mentally to best adapt to an environment. If the organism had been placed in a different context, certainly its behaviour would have been different.

Responsibility at the crossroads of conflict

No moral responsibility in the upward direction of the look, endless responsibility in the downward direction—one could trace it back to previous generations, who spread their deleterious genes. It is a conflict analogous to that of the Humian sense versus the Kantian sense of morality. So is it possible to dissolve the controversy as easily as for Hume and Kant in the previous article?

I extinguished the disagreement by showing that they are both right, from their point of view, neither being reducible to the other. But where can their opposing directions come together? Kant needs a responsibility, otherwise reason cannot judge anyone. Yet society needs it to function. Evolution itself softens this necessity, since it has selected us to recognize the intention in living beings, its unpredictability, and therefore its free will.

Hume needs an acquittal, since we could not function without our instincts and they implicitly direct us. Impossible to label them ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They have biological, ancient, evolutionary goals. ‘What labels’ is very recent. Maybe that’s what’s wrong? ‘What labels’ does not provide the means to choose your label. The child is not responsible for the environment in which he is born, where he grows up. How to decide?

Where to meet the two eyes?

Surimposium leads the way. The transition between genes and social consciousness is not a continuity. These are successive organizations surimposing themselves on the previous ones. Thickness of increasing complexity. At what height do we want to be met with both looks? That is the real decision to be made.

If a disorder of the social order was entirely attributable to a gene, it would have to be eradicated. And we would call on the doctors. But this is never the case when it comes to social consciousness. Even for physical diseases it is rare. There is already a noticeable surimposition between genes and symptoms experienced.

If the disorder was entirely the fault of a bad social system, it would have to be changed. And we would appeal to politicians. But there is no ideal system. They presuppose identical citizens while they are unique, host a personal version of social consciousness. The system does not exist elsewhere than in their heads. It is up to them to constantly rebuild it from simple rules, we have seen previously.

Where to situate the rehabilitation of the individual?

If the disorder is the result of a deficient psychology in the individual, it is necessary to distinguish the various responsibles. He is supposed to receive: fair conditions (from society), empathy and protection (from parents), education (from school). And he himself is supposed to take advantage of these positive influences. Mud pit? Judges and psychologists try to see more clearly, but customization is expensive and limited. It is impossible to put on file all these layers of maturation, from the first innocent cry to the last villainous stupidity.

Society does not have the means to situate the level of responsibility of each of its members? The only solution is they do it themselves. How? By claiming this responsibility. The method currently in place is of a rudeness hardly believable for the degree of sophistication achieved by modern society. It is reduced to arbitrarily giving the age of majority to individuals reaching the age of 18.

The aberration of the civil majority

Responsibility falls on our heads from one hour to the next. Is there any preparation for this deafening event? None. Every teenager is supposed to know what the majority means and what to expect next. Parents sometimes go with their old speech: “You will soon be of age and you should…”. At 18, some teens have already been able to exercise their responsibility for a long time, others not at all. The majority is not a legion of honor, it is an absurd resignation from society.

Primitive tribes, with fewer to manage, were more concerned with these transitions. They understood very early on the interest of successive initiatory stages. Responsibility came to the individual in slices, which were easier to digest. Today, in a vast imbecile egalitarianism drowning both individuals and their ages, these stages are abolished.

An astrological responsibility

There is no commitment to be made to access the majority. You don’t claim it, society doesn’t award it to you, it’s the calendar that does everything. The most important of the psychological stages of our lives is not anchored in any humanist symbol. It comes because the planet has circled the sun 18 times after we opened our eyes to its light. You blink them once again and your adult responsibility is there. Magic.

Society is the Goddess of Stinginess. It gives free of charge a majority that we do not think of claiming; on the other hand, having the right to drive, to own your house, to exercise the job of your dreams, is another story. Sometimes these rights are never granted. On the one hand, almost insurmountable barriers to fulfilling our desires, on the other, automatic responsibility for incidents that may occur. Is living in society today really a protection, or a more dangerous jungle than when every adult in the tribe protected their offspring at all costs?

Driver’s license

A driver’s licence is obtained when you have demonstrated your ability to drive. Why not do the same for the most important “self-drive license”? Passing this permit in successive stages, as we have appropriated the elements of consciousness necessary for social life. Each of these initiatory steps is not obligatory. They should be the subject of a request, a commitment. To deserve the rights that attach to it. Build your responsibility, brick by brick.

Our poor judges, completely overwhelmed, could finally take a vacation. They would have before them only owners of rights. Volunteers. So easy to declare responsible. And who could fill in the content of the judgment themselves, before signing it. Aaah… don’t say anything. Let me enjoy my utopia.


A causal role for right temporo-parietal junction in signaling moral conflict, Obeso & al
tDCS Over DLPFC Leads to Less Utilitarian Response in Moral-Personal Judgment, Zheng & al

Continue with The Fundamental Flaw of Utilitarianism
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