Re: Ethical Brain: Vonnegut's essay
In order to be decent to another person, one must either expect to be treated decently in return, or have an overriding belief in the importance of decency, even toward those who may not reciprocate.
It may be closest to human nature to treat others as they have treated you in the past. But blind tit-for-tat reactions can lead to endless loops of retaliation, so perhaps there's some mechanism to override tit-for-tat when there is greater need (say, to reconcile tribal feuds in order to unite against a common enemy). There's also the problem of people being programmed (by an abusive childhood or some string of misfortunes, say) to expect to be betrayed, and then lashing out pre-emptively. "Do unto others as you expect them to do unto you" is a common attitude in gangs and dysfunctional families. Nations too can fall into that pattern... it can take many difficult acts of trust-building to override that kind of thinking when it becomes widespread.
Most people's behavior will be some combination of the following:
Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.
Steel Rule: Do unto others as they have done unto you in the past.
Iron Rule: Do unto others before they do unto you.
Hot Potato Rule: Do unto the next person what the last person did unto you.
The question is, what mechanisms exist to restore ecological balance to a culture which has adopted strategies that undermine its cohesiveness or ability to adapt?