The International Fellowship of Chivalry-Now

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Scientific Basis for Chivarly-Now

Chivalry is well known for its long and favorable relationship with Christianity.
     But does it bode well with science as well? Can psychology validate the social value of Chivalry-Now as we face a diverse world of many faiths and secular philosophies? With its pre-scientific, medieval roots, can we confidently recognize it as a viable ethic for modern times?
     We can and we must. In the burgeoning science of evolutionary psychology we find growing support for an instinctively magnanimous code of ethics, which just happens to provide chivalry's foundation. There should be nothing surprising about this. The attraction to chivalry has to come from somewhere. Be it from God, evolution or a mixture of both, it's presence and impact are real and examinable.
     To illustrate, let's examine one of the main tenets of chivalry, that of defending those in need. This principle reflects the selfless dimension of our code, which stands in contrast to such vices as greed.
     From an evolutionary standpoint, the warrior risks his life to help or save others in order to preserve human potential for the future. This can be likened to the protection response of parenthood, expanded to include others. Going to war for a just cause, or intervening in the face of criminal violence, and being killed in the process is considered a noble and unselfish act that is not without moral justification. The risk and subsequent consequences, which contradict self-preservation, are accepted in order to save someone else.
     Those who lack the warrior spirit find this incomprehensible. They will turn and run.
     The selfless warrior might not be able to articulate it, but the reason he risks his life has definite evolutionary purposes. On a genetic level, he is trying to preserve the instinctive chivalry inside him—through others.
     We are all mortal. We eventually die. Preserving ourselves from danger only goes so far in preserving the continuation of our own genetic qualities. While the warrior spirit includes self-defense and self-development (both falling under the principle of self-preservation), it will also risk everything to defend others, which differentiates him from those who are less inclined. Here we see chivalry at work as a cultural enhancement of the compassion gene. The action is real. It happens. It reflects a genetic tendency we can identify.
     If he dies in defending someone who does not have this tendency, what we might call the "chivalry gene" (it is not a gene, but a cultural development of other genetic-responses) appears to die with him, which in fact it does. This seems contrary to how evolution works. A dead gene is certainly unable to propagate itself physically. But can it propagate itself for future generations morally? In other words, can its influence not only survive him, but increase in value for future generations?
     It can when the influence is cultural. Culture is capable of modifying genetic logic.
     The man of chivalry risks his life for others because he recognizes a potential inside them that is worth defending, something that will outlive them all if given the chance, and contributes to the future well-being of humanity. While this quality might not be obvious in the person being saved, the selfless act of coming to the rescue might teach it to him, or catalyze its potential, either in that rescued person, or in some witness or later audience. The telling of the story, honoring the hero's memory, might inspire someone else—a common occurrence around campfires for the last million years, helping to define who we are. Here we find the cultural influence we refer to as myth, both similar and common throughout the world. This too is no accident. It comes from human nature.
     When chivalry is expressed and remembered, it propagates itself in those who respond to it. The inclination so many of us feel toward chivalry is real. It's principles have purposes that are vital to our species. And since technology now gives us power capable of planetary consequences, the values we act upon present cosmic consequences as well.
     It may appear self-serving for us to say that chivalry is innate in men, part of our genetic coding, but the fact is that morality is part of who we are.
     At this level, evolutionary motivation is clear. Every time a soldier dies on the battlefield it represents an incalculable human tragedy. But when his sacrifice preserves or inspires qualities that benefit our species, his death is not in vain. It contributes something vital for future generations.
     What remains unclear is how immorality creeps in, producing selfishness that endangers us all for the sake of temporary comfort or convenience. This seems to contradict the genetic impetus of sacrificing oneself for others. The answer is not as contradictory as it seems.
     Our species has been bred for a million generations to defend loved ones against perceivable threats, be they other human beings, predatory beasts or natural disasters. In earlier times, the threats people responded to were visible and immediate, not gradual and subtle, such as global warming, poor diet or pollution.
     There was no need, until modern times, to defend ourselves and others from threats that arise from comfort and plenty. Primitive humans could safely keep warm around a campfire and not worry about ruining the atmosphere so that it jeopardizes all life on earth. Keeping warm and eating fatty foods contributed to survival, and that was that.
     Today we face a serious problem. Our genes still tell us to crank up the heat, burn oil as quickly as possible, and fill our stomachs with unnecessary calories. We scarcely listen when modern science warns that we are hurting ourselves and others. Some of us go so far as to deny the very consequences we see every day. Our minds understand what scientists are saying, but our genetic tendencies have not caught up.
     This is where Chivalry-Now provides valuable guidance. Through moral and cultural inspiration, we can compensate for changes that evolution has yet provided. Call it an intervention of the mind, prospective evolution, or just common sense, an enlightened, motivated populace may be the only avenue that can save us at this point.
     To whatever extent it is possible, our ability to think and influence the course of our lives has an effect upon our evolutionary development. This is plainly seen in regards to the impact of medicine upon those who might not live or reproduce without it. It is also seen in the destructiveness of war, where perfectly fine people, entire families, are decimated due to politics, religion or close proximity to valuable resources. Human intelligence becomes an evolutionary X-factor in deciding who lives and who dies, and therefore which genes and cultural values proliferate. Our beliefs, our principles, our code of behavior, make it possible to influence at least some of the direction of our evolution, and not necessarily in favor of the fittest. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, miracle drugs, economic and military power, religious attitudes toward life, death and reproduction, responses to natural disasters, dietary habits, education and a host of other influences are thrown into the usual mix of random change and adaptation. Nothing is simple anymore. What we do influences our evolution.
     Once morality enters the picture, instinct is modified. Behavioral choices are made for reasons as wide and varied as personal taste, culture, ideology, pride, and familial expectations. One insane or ignorant leader can change the whole course of history in a terrible fashion. Technology can do this as well. Accumulated residual pollution provides a dangerous component to what we might otherwise consider beneficial progress.
     We are at the point in human development when morality has to step more wisely into the mix to prevent the unimaginable from happening—destruction of all life on earth. When religious leaders tell us to disregard environmental devastation, we know for sure that the combination of instinct and moral judgment has taken a dangerous turn. When political leaders fight to lower pollution standards, exact revenge upon one nation for another party's guilt, remove pertinent data from scientific assessments of national and global concern, and the people accept all this without outrage, then our moral standards are actively ruining our chances for survival.
     We need to take personal control over our natural instincts in order to prevent them from destroying us entirely. Our instinct to preserve the species has to supersede our instinct for wealth, comfort and convenience. In effect, we need to delineate a moral code that is appropriate to living in today's world—and that is what Chivalry-Now is trying to provide. Not a cold moral calculus based on social Darwinism, but a warm, enlightened, culturally ingrained set of values that are a natural progression of human instinct, which Darwinian psychology can recognize.
     Chivalry-Now is part of us already. To release its incredible, transformational potential, all we need is to recognize it in our hearts, and respond accordingly.


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