Confusion between social, moral and legal behavior in the U.S.

My comments in gray

Social behavior is defined as interactions among individuals, normally within the same species, that are usually beneficial to one or more of the individuals. It is believed that social behavior evolved because it was beneficial to those who engaged in it, which means that these individuals were more likely to survive and reproduce. Social behavior serves many purposes and is exhibited by an extraordinary wide variety of animals, including invertebrates, fish, birds, and mammals.

Benefits: food acquisition, protection, migration, breeding

The only “judgment” involved in examining social behavior (in animals) is whether or not specific behaviors can be shown to benefit the biological-evolutionary criteria of reproductive success that provides for the continuation of the species. This “externalized” view of behavior falls apart when the study of human social behavior is attempted. Why? Because humans also have significant moral and legal ideas about behavior, which are concerned with “ought and should” prescriptions that vary enormously between individuals, groups and cultures. The “adherence” to moral and legal requirements, moreover, is not guaranteed by biological or evolutionary constraints: moral and legal behavior depend on “controversial” concepts about free will, choice, and individual responsibility. 


We know from experience that the “judgmental and prescriptive function” of moral systems dominates in human societies: there is rarely an objective “take it leave it” attitude on the part of those individuals who are either tasked by society with the “job” of establishing moral codes, and those charged with application and enforcement of those codes in “the real world”. That is, “moral theory” is not what is familiar to the average citizen: codes and rules dominate.  

A sad fact is that the topic of “morality” has all but been abandoned to religious groups in the United States – popular opinion as to what constitutes morality is  limited to interpretation of religious codes; interpretations which are highly selective and subjective; too often these are self-serving attempts at manipulation of socio-economic-political arenas. (Neurotypicals love complications that add nothing to the resolution of these differences, but which elevate the “lack of agreement” into all-out WAR; civil wars, socio-economic wars, culture wars; WARS ON everything imaginable)

But! What has gone unnoticed is the “take over” of the “judgmental and prescriptive function” of defining moral behavior by the Psychology Industry.

This “excursion” into dictating proper behavior under the phony label “normal behavior” removes Psychology (and related social studies) from the realm of science into the category of religion.  The result of this incursion is a sweeping replacement of the specific and traditional culture-based ideas about what constitutes proper human behavior. The “motive” is extermination of behavioral diversity within the U.S. and around the globe – total submission and conversion to a rigid and robotic American style of “morality” – which is merely obedience to a reward-punishment theory of social control for profit. 


Moral behavior: (Adherence to) the customs and common practices that tell a member of society how to act within interpersonal relationships and social circumstances. These practices and customs generally rest upon a theoretical and ideal foundation, sometimes called a worldview, that expresses the internal beliefs and values of the society.

Moral judgments draw upon the mores of a social group to specify proper behavior. Moral norms are based upon the stock of principles and values contained in the worldview that set duties and obligations for human action and behavior. These standards may come to be known by means of external revelation; by referring to the traditions, practices, and behaviors determined by protocol or exemplars in one’s community; by reference to internal emotional sentiments shaped through character development and habituation; or by rational determinations carried out through the agent’s own cognitive capacities.

Legal behavior / Where the rubber meets the road: 

Nadler and Nadler, Northwestern University

Classically, the ambition of legal regulation is to change behaviors. Laws might aim to increase or decrease various activities, such as owning a gun, or taking a work leave to care for a sick family member, or polluting, or hiring a minority job candidate. They might aim to get people or institutions to substitute one activity for another, such as buying diet soda instead of sugared, or using chewing tobacco instead of smoking, or using solar energy instead of conventional sources. Legal regulation can accomplish its goals directly, through fear of sanctions or desire for rewards. But it can also do so indirectly, by changing attitudes about the regulated behaviors. Ironically, this indirect path can be the most efficient one, particularly if the regulation changes attitudes about the underlying morality of the behaviors. This is because if laws change moral attitudes, we reduce—maybe drastically—the need for the state to act on or even monitor regulated players.

Minorities and other “categories” of Americans who experience injustice believe that “new laws” will change socially-entrenched behaviors. Other groups object that courts / judges are overstepping boundaries by usurping the law-making powers of legislators, and by defying popular “moral sentiment and tradition” in their decisions. Both beliefs suffer from a misconception: the “makers of law” are the very people who create and maintain inequality and injustice. 

The legal system and “justice” as the notion of objective outcomes and equality of treatment for all citizens are not even remotely linked to each other.

The legal system is about controlling human behavior; it is not at all “objective” but serves powerful forces and interests in society. It always has. 

What does regulation designed to affect moral attitudes look like? It can be obvious, such as an information campaign. But less obvious (and even unintentional) approaches are more common, and probably more effective. Legal regulation might seek to link a behavior that the public already thinks is bad or objectionable to a behavior it currently finds inoffensive. For instance, regulators might wish to reduce abortions generally by stigmatizing a rarely performed, but particularly distasteful, version of it (“partial birth” abortions), with the idea that highlighting—and outlawing—a repugnant version of the procedure will ineluctably associate it with the more common, and more innocuous one. Or legal regulation might recharacterize behavior generally thought of as harmless, or as harmful only to the one who engages in it, into behavior with costs.

Although the morality of a group or society may derive from its religion, morality and religion are not the same thing, even in that case. Morality is only a guide to conduct, whereas religion is always more than this. For example, religion includes stories about events in the past, usually about supernatural beings, that are used to explain or justify the behavior that it prohibits or requires. Although there is often a considerable overlap in the conduct prohibited or required by religion and that prohibited or required by morality, religions may prohibit or require more than is prohibited or required by guides to behavior that are explicitly labeled as moral guides, and may allow some behavior that is prohibited by morality. Even when morality is not regarded as the code of conduct that is put forward by a formal religion, it is often thought to require some religious explanation and justification. However, just as with law, some religious practices and precepts are criticized on moral grounds, e.g., that the practice or precept involves discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation.





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