Khaki is a horizontal state of mind.
The Era of Khaki Ethics is not about a new code of ethics, rather it is about a new position in the ethical debate that is polycentric. Khaki is an honest attitude facing a raw reality. There are no expectations of clear answers. Complexity, diversion and interrelation are the new normal and truth is understood to be a delusion.
Khaki is a full spectrum of ethics.
Applied ethics rely on polar opposition, good and bad, right and wrong, clean and dirty, black and white, weak and strong. The Era of Khaki does not honor extremes because they are simplifications. Khaki is non-polar.
Khaki is a dusty atmosphere.
Khaki is a composite amalgamation of particles. Khaki is a gaseous atmosphere, neither solid nor liquid. Khaki’s logic is that of a cloud: it drops slowly, hydrating our knowledge as it lands. Khaki residue settles everywhere; it is in-between layers of information, images and cultural systems.
Khaki is slow ambition.
The middle is a radical centrism. In the future ‘middle ground’ will not be a compromise. Instead, it will be a brave and active position. Khaki spreads this state of mind without direction. It relies on intermediaries to infiltrate its message. Khaki doesn’t impose itself; Khaki is a choice.
Khaki is intermediary behavior.
The Khaki designer performs an in-between gesture, the one erased by politicians, advertisers and heros. The Khaki designer uses the Khaki method with the intention of re-designing our visual atmospheres and cultural symbols to inspire the Khaki mental-environment.
Khaki is material infiltration.
Materialisation of Khaki is about changing expectations and needs. Khaki makes visible the imperfection and unknowability of everything. It is the matt-ification of an unreachable perfect shine. It occurs in spaces that sparkle with an unfaithful clarity.
Khaki is the texture of hidden-ness.
It is a limbo space. It is a rough surface held in the latent tactility of a veneer. Khaki represents the sandy physicality of revelation.
The Khaki chair is not a chair. The Khaki chair is a stool. The Khaki stool is conceived for a 360 degree vision. It is multi-directional seating optimized for Khaki decisions. The Khaki stool-user stays open to multilateral thoughts.The Khaki stool height varies from 45 to 100 centimeters depending on how far the Khaki stool-user needs to see. This unique Khaki feature enables them to zoom out in the narrowness
of the space.The stool is not a weathervane.
It allows for a Khaki gesture.The seat enables the body in the working process. Its layered cushions embrace the body in a cloudy and weighty sensation.
The Khaki-stool has modest proportions.
We have defined “The Era of Khaki Ethics” as a response to polarizing ethics in modern society. We are entering a time of extremes where the spectrums on which we used to measure right and wrong are no longer linear. In Europe fundamental changes are occurring in the way we consider ethics as part of the marketplace, social sphere and religious realm. In fact, these entities are conflating into a blurry secularism which can be called a default zone. The “Era of Khaki Ethics” primes the public for real ethical secularism by introducing a new average (to replace the default zone) from which to approach ethics where there is no manichaeism.
Where does that leave our social conversation about ethics? We see that brands are typically filling in our decision making/ value-making where religion and politics used to. Or rather brands are adopting the place of identity-makers and image-makers for our generation. Our design crisis is one of cultural symbolism; those who have the most power to define our visual language also use it to shape the essence of ethics.
In an attempt to contextualize and visualize a new kind of conversation about ethics within design - we introduce the coming Era of Khaki Ethics.
02:32 (MC): Oh an actual TIC? Uhh, CBA? Says close…
02:32 (Pilot): CFA is closed..
02:32 (MC): I mean umm..God, I forget all my acronyms…huh
02:32 (Sensor): Should be about 7AM now, CLASSIFIED
02:33 (Sensor): Oh yeah, we got light
02:33 (Pilot): We can do something with that
02:33 (Sensor): So let’s use it. Let’s huh..We can get some colour. Looks like a white pickup, surprise, surprise..
02:33 (Pilot): Don’t know what just happened, but my Pred’s got you turning outbound, so I’ll try and keep it tight and get back in here, sorry about that.
02:33 (Sensor): Gotcha
02:33 (Pilot): Gonna get you out to maybe CLASSIFIED it’s not ideal, but (garbled), you know?
02:33 (MC): These guys got balls if they’re going to attack during the day
02:33 (Pilot): That’s what they like to do, because they know that they’re *expletive* (garbled), you know?
02:33 (Sensor): Maybe white, or silver, grey on the SUVs, huh…
02:33 (Pilot): …technologies at night, I guess, you know?
02:33 (MC): That’s true, yeah
02:33 (Sensor): So huh, full up day TV, sweeten up the picture a bit.. Be a real tight field of view here, but…
02:34 (Sensor): Focus, treat me right…
02:34 (MC): Is he sliding out right there kinda, on that road? He’s kicking up a lot of dirt.
Khaki Decision-making strategy
This conversation is a paradox: it seems precise in its direct military transcription while it is actually just a few blurry seconds of informal exchange. What is happening? Is it the right time? Shall we shoot?
We are reliving the intense process of a group decision within a fragmented understanding of context. The drone view tends to be more mechanized and accurate but still relies on the blurry fallibility of human responsibility.
In this case, we are in the Khaki zone. The reader is experiencing Khaki decision-making intrinsically, this very precise instant where a crucial decision is about to be taken. The context of the decision is physically dusty and conceptually based on murky assumptions. The weight of responsibilities and the height of the drone generates uncertainty, accepted as part of the decision-making process.
Proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem for specific exponents: Example of an equation with three unknowns recently solved after several decades of research.
Khaki research strategy
The CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research) is a circular tunnel of 27 kilometers that contains the LHC (Large Hadron Collider), a particle accelerator considered the most complex machine built by mankind. The LHC process shows how particles interact when there is a collision to provide insight into the fundamental laws of nature. This research drastically modifies our understanding of matter, and therefore changes our relation to the universe as human beings. In a practical terms, the scientists observe phenomena that they cannot yet explain.
Most equations start with one or two unknowns. Physicists working at CERN begin with equations that only contain unknowns. They then choose one variable, temporarily hypothesize its meaning and make it stable. This imaginary stability in one variable allows them to explain other variables in the equation. In this way, the physicists at CERN use their hypothesis to stimulate and drive their research. They compromise with instability, never placing too much weight in the meaning they assign to any given variable.
This type of research fully embraces the unknown of the universe. The Khaki theory finds its strength in instability as operational mode. As the LHC disintegrates matter to reveal the invisible particles to modify our understanding of the universe, the Khaki methodology consists of observing the world as if it was moving in a gaseous state and speculating, from that point, about potential ways to design a new context for ethical change. The Khaki methodology forces the collision of ethics and reality. Khaki is what is left in the wreckage.
Wilson’s and Taaki’s money-laundering app is politically incendiary, but it’s not necessarily illegal, and they argue that the code is protected by First Amendment safeguards on free speech. But Wilson states plainly that he intends Dark Wallet to be used for anonymous online black markets like the Silk Road, the bitcoin-based drug bazaar seized by the FBI in October. “I want a private means for black market transactions,” says Wilson, “whether they’re for non-prescribed medical inhalers, MDMA for drug enthusiasts, or weapons.”
Nor does he deny that Dark Wallet might enable heinous crimes like child pornography, murder-for-hire, and terrorism. “Well, yes, bad things are going to happen on these marketplaces,” Wilson says. “Liberty is a dangerous thing.
Khaki hacking strategy
Dark Wallet was developed by two radical coders that call themselves unSystem. The unSystem collective is no stranger to politically incendiary action. Cody Wilson won notoriety when he created the world’s first 3D printed gun, and Amir Taaki is the developer behind the decentralized online marketplace prototype, Dark Market. The app that unSystem build offers a Khaki take on the concept of liberty. “Liberty is a dangerous thing” claims Wilson, acknowledging that the built environment he wishes to create does not limit its users with conventional jurisdiction. This app provides an interesting example of how designed architectural space (digital architecture) can fundamentally change the program of our lived experience. In this case, Wilson has positioned liberty as an outcome of design - a proverbial tool to cut the barbed wire of the shrinking Wild West of the internet. Here the Khaki moment is about testing our boundaries of freedom and the unlimited. It is a Khaki social contract for the digital age. Do you allow “illegal” activity to thrive so that your online liberty and anonymity can be maintained?”
“There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; ... identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results.”
We are conceived in Khaki. The male and the female represent unmoving norms of most societies but in the womb we are neither. We are as of yet unrealized by society and unformed by extremes. Only at birth and at the marks of adolescence does the rigidity of gender’s prescribed clarity take hold. The doctor says we are ‘boy’ or ‘girl.’
Yet, science and society are increasingly allowing us to take control, to flow slowly into another gender, altering our physical chemistry with hormone therapy and our cultural chemistry through dress, voice and movement.
The only falsity is gender conformity. Both sexes have masculine and feminine biology. Historically we have pushed the boundaries of these distinctions, blurring our social norms of masculine and feminine and also starting to accept those who feel they are both or the opposite gender than they were born. This is the Khaki sex. The Khaki gender. Male and female are extremes, unhelpful in their lack of applicability.
Gender fluidity is about access. All readings of gender have access to same products, space, etc. If we think of our social architecture, public restrooms, department stores as poly gendered and/or genderless, we will fundamentally change the way we interact with those spaces - they will now be defined by need and access, not by gender exclusion.
Until now, discussions on climate change have focused on whether or not it is really happening, and if it is, what we can do to stop, contain, or solve it. But this emphasis on solutions blinds us to the fact that climate change has already altered our “being” in the world—the way we think about the world and engage in politics.
I call it Verwandlung, or, in English, “metamorphosis.” Metamorphosis is not evolution, not reform, not revolution, not transformation, not crisis. It signifies a different mode of change and a different mode of existence. And it calls for a scientific revolution (Thomas Kuhn) from methodological nationalism to methodological cosmopolitanism in the social sciences.
The color of climate change is Khaki. Climate change is humanity’s greatest threat and greatest opportunity. Like Beck suggests, we are caterpillars in a Khaki, foggy cocoon. We do not know what is on the other side but we do know that we will never go back. Our bodies will change, our societies will melt and reform. We will destroy nations and build cities. Our beings are enveloped in risk, perceived and experienced. Modernity is the success of our past and the threat to our future. We are cosmopolitan chaos and parochial surrealism.
The world is shaking. Verwandlung is the only constant. Everything we have known - the seasons, the food, the water - is uncertain. We can come together or fall apart. Our moment is filled with the beautiful possibility of collapse.
Interruption, incoherence, surprise are the ordinary conditions of our life. They have even become real needs for many people, whose minds are no longer fed…by anything but sudden changes and stately renewed stimuli…we can no longer bear anything that lasts. We no longer know how to make boredom bear fruit. So the whole question comes down to this: can the human mind master what the human mind has made?
Zygmunt Bauman offers a new nomenclature for discussions of post-modernism. He asserts that the notion of stability is no longer relevant as stability would suggest the existence of an end goal or ideal state of equilibrium for which we should strive. Instead, he posits that “flexibility has replaced solidity as the ideal condition to be pursued of things and affairs.” To be modern is infinite change - finite states like stability and chaos serve only as trojan horses to our ever-renewing reality. Change used to represent a phase between the past and an ideal future. The manifestation and purpose of change have fundamentally altered. But is avoiding completion and definition a kind of escapism or is it a mental shift in the way we build empires, communities, relationships, identities and trust?
We now introduce post-Liquid Modernity as a gaseous state, a granular state of dust, that we call the Era of Khaki Ethics. However, the potential and actualized liquefaction of the present at any moment can also be negative, mentally stranding us in the fight-or-flight mode that belongs to an ideology of extremes. Khaki Modernity, the Era of Khaki Ethics, refutes
fight-or-flight. It represents the slow infiltration of a new state of mind. While liquid Modernity is an imposition we face, Khaki is a stream of consciousness during liquefaction that we become - a new sensation of comfort with the uncertain, a new compromise in the dust.
khaki: ‘dust colored’
As designers we ask ourselves: What role we can play in changing the fundamental functions of the non-material? What is the scope of a designer’s role beyond serving form and function? Can design influence a collective state of mind? Is design always related to materials? Designers produces culture: a (heavy) material legacy that is transmitted generation after generation. The work of the designer is schizophrenic. It is a paradoxical position: the designer can have a genuine and idealistic goal to improve the physical environment yet his work is only recognized in a consumption based, image-based society that will eventually pervert their contribution (example: greenwashing). Thus, the designer has to take an ethical position. We think this position should be honest.
We ask: Are political parties, extremist groups and corporations fundamentally products of expert design? These institutions produce cultural memes too and use branding to communicate their ideology.
Can we fight back with design? Design is a tool for resistance - but can design be resistance in itself? What would that look like?
Environmentalism and anarchism for instance, are associated with an aesthetic and a shift in the demands of a community. As designers we could employ speculative design to imagine an aesthetic that would generate an era of real honesty starting with new cultural symbols. We should address questions without monolithic answers. Questions that can produce a different experience of the designed environment. We are cultural producers and within this role we have to define material and non-material design in order to generate a context within which we face ethical dilemmas. We need to find new heroes who represent the struggle of our time and who express multiple solutions as a strong ambition.
As designers, we should produce an aesthetic defined by a gaseous state of physicality: a visual and verbal language that embodies ethical complexity. We would stipulate that in matters of real change the designer’s scope is to design how a cultural shift is transposed onto form or program.
E: I guess we need to pick a space that is not only a place of ethical decision making but also a place that lies to its inhabitants. The prison is pretty honest: scratchy sheets, flat cold walls, etc.
G: Yes that’s right. But more than a space should we look at who is the best intermediary or receiver for our Khaki message? Who can activate the khaki shift?
E: What about the Khaki resistance (slow infiltration)? Are we still into the idea that we could persuade a bottom up movement? Take an office space, or a set of off site employees who work from home?
G: I completely agree with the bottom-up movement. But not sure about the resistance as an action - too direct (maybe not). What else could it be? Infiltration somehow relates to something more unconscious and through the power of design and its impact on our behavior/ state of mind, could it work? It’s like a cultural movement I guess, there are both visible and invisible signs of its activation and its impregnation.
E: A persistence movement! No but the slow infiltration
resistance - to resist something can be slow and steady.
I mean the best would be to study the trajectory of a music genre with a social consciousness - it starts with embracing a creative act and then a message.
It’s what we talked about creating a new standard of aesthetics is what we always combine imagery with the news that it came from.
G: Ok, why not? The resistance has also something of a hidden movement to protect its mission in war time for instance.
And resistance, it is also about something that stands against something? An enemy? The occupants? Which we defined as ethical polarity, and extremism of thought that over-simplify ethical conceptions.
But we didn’t define the target. If it’s the middlemen as the designer is, but also the employee of a corporation is, right?
E: Okay, the middlemen are the designers who make the objects of resistance and the resistor himself. The targets are all old organization, also new ones, that we can help toward the Khaki idea.
G: I think the enemy shouldn’t be defined clearly. It is not khaki, right? So I like the idea of a new structure, like start-up as we talked about already, a non-formal organization.
E: Can we have resistance without an enemy? I guess if I think about Occupy Wall street the enemy was never only Wall street.
G: I guess it is just but names. Enemy has something very polar. We decided to accept the gaseous atmosphere in which we are living in and from there we activate the Khaki shift.
E: But we are not against the gaseous state - we praise this way of seeing - in a way we are trying to granulate everything that is solid.
G: yes it is what I meant by the “acceptance” of the gaseous state. We analyzed this moving state as already existing and from that we use it as a tool to relay the Khaki mentality that stands for more honesty and complexity. Being as ethical as possible?
E: I agree there - but we still have to figure out who we are challenging - not as an enemy of Khaki but as a something we want to convert. I mean only then can we develop a way to infiltrate.
G: Basically the way of infiltration is already defined, no? The relay-runner, the intermediaries, the middlemen. Our target is large, it is not one defined thing, persona, institution or structure. The enemy is gaseous and Khaki. We use intermediaries to spread our message in a cascade system of infiltration. We are the middlemen and we keep this intermediary position to whisper subtly but with the persistence our Khaki message.
E: I want to believe you. I want to know if a designer can effect this kind of resistance/‘persistence’ with objects. Do we have a collective visual literacy to understand a state-of-mind movement through new interface design?
Khaki adopts the weaponry of its time to expose the ethical dilemma inherent in them.
Khaki can hijack the weaponry we fear, making it accessible and knowable.
The Khaki view embraces the technology of the drone view.
The drone is more Khaki as a weapon against narrow-sightedness than as a lethal weapon of war.
The drone generates a new type of imagery and with it the possibility of mapping untouched spaces.
It is a source of hidden information, a tool for knowledge against the fragmented view that represents our time,
yet it is only complete in its incompleteness and vagaries.
The drone view is a complex vision that overlaps meanings and signs. It tends to give an expansive and exhaustive analysis of a given context - but only a flat one.
The drone view is real Khaki transparency: it gives a full scale image, a godlike perspective of the world, but one that is slightly myopic - the image is still flat and blurry. This is a valid interpretation of image and sight and the epitome of technological advancement and moral confusion.
The drone projects power at a distance, indiscriminate death from above. It is responsible for data collection - often a privacy infringement - and decision-making.
The drone is a double-edged sword: the drones power comes from its ability to take a broad view however, in its breadth it relies on approximation.
The Khaki desk is non-directional.
The Khaki desk is surfaces.
It is unstable and polymorphic.
It’s an all-over desk-space.
The Khaki desk has weight
and depth of information.
The Khaki desk reacts to friction
and your tactile gesture.
It requires you to write in capital letter
and weight the wording of your message.
The Khaki desk supports your physical initiative in responding to your mental-environment.
The Khaki office is home-office.
The Khaki window is transparent but
has a Khaki layered curtain.
It is called Khaki transparency.
The atmosphere leaks through the curtain
in constant inner and outer exchange.
The curtain defines a soft, dense and gaseous state in the space-user. It is a diffused shadow. It reveals a spectrum of sophisticated and interconnected colors.
It is constant and persistent.
The Khaki shadow slowly moves at the rhythm of decision for the indecisive.
The visualisation of ‘transparency’ also raises questions about identity, representation, and the role of the design discipline(s) itself. The Internet as a superstructure of creation, transmission, and imitation, means designers are not only capable of creating a message but also to play an important role in catalysing political and social change.
Khaki post-internet ethics strategy
Before the digitisation of our personal information, storage and access was in the control of the owner and was largely defined by a kind of secure and reliable physicality. Today the cloud, a term and system that we use with resentment and dependance, has become a source of controversy and anxiety.
The ominous cloud hangs over all of us compromising our feeling of agency within our collective computing networks. It is controlled by corporations and is highly vulnerable to sanctioned and unsanctioned breaches. Yet, in its original construction, data storage/sharing like cloud computing, was aimed at a democratization of access and horizontal networks that allow centralized data storage and online access to computer services or resources. As the cloud is privatized, its structure elevates at one point forming pyramidal, hierarchical constructions that are an illusion of a light cloud masking heavy physical space.
Era of Khaki sees a power in the ideological merits of P2P applications like torrenting that embrace rhizomatic power-structures and embody fragmented micro-physical environments. The foundation of public P2P communities is fair and frequent exchange. It offers a model for a new value system that could play out in the economic and physical structures.
“Mais, traduit en grec courant, « incertitudes » deviendrait presque synonyme d’espérance”.
Translation: Given the current climate in Greece, uncertainty could become synonymous with hope [as opposed to certain false stability].
Khaki political strategy
Greece has just elected Syriza, a new radical left coalition, to replace the current government and offer an alternative to the former corrupt political institutions. This recent election questions Europe as a zone shared by 28 countries cohabiting through compromise. Europe is a unique structure that tends to boil down its initiatives to “middle” actions and to compromise
decision-making in order to answer to this political complexity.
Syriza’s election is a direct response to the bleakness of the Greek citizen after the failure of Europe-enforce austerity measures. Austerity answers a secured logic. It minimizes “unnecessary” actions to get to so-called “stability.” Austerity is driven by fear, paralyzing fear: save the economy or perish. But does stability make sense in our gaseous world? Stability seems to be an illusion.
Uncertainty has to be a new form of hope. This is what Syriza offers. Hope resides in the fight against the despair which feeds political jihadists and nihilist extremists. Hope does not compromise in the middle but at the extremes.
“Human Driver Crashes Google’s Self Driving Car”
Khaki identity strategy
Anonymous vehicles (driver-less cars) are good examples of the fragmentation of responsibility we face in this era of digital autonomy and automation. We now share responsibility (liability) with our devices. As an infant we learn autonomy from our mother’s body and take in distance from the world around us. This autonomy is fading as we keep “phantom” parts of ourselves in digital objects. Many users share the body of a single computer and we are all contained together in the Cloud. The responsibility of an individual over all of their virtual or automated identities is fluid.
Imagine then, how we will claim autonomy in the legal system, how that will continue to expand and contract until we are no longer liable for anything and also liable for everything. The driver-less car brings with it questions of liability: “Who’s liable? The passenger? The software engineer? The computer hardware manufacturer? The state highway department?” - Liability laws showcase our need to play the blame game, to settle wrongs by punishing a perpetrator to serve justice for the victim.The Era of Khaki does not recognize one defendant and one plaintiff because it embraces the fragmented responsibility inherent in this new normal. Who is to blame is unclear and debatable.
With the murder of journalist Kenji Goto, ISIS have again demonstrated their carefully packaged and branded approach to terrorism. From logo to costumes, from the attention-grabbing trailing of their murders to their ‘please share’ death videos, they present perhaps the most compelling integration of marketing and political violence since the Nazis. They are the perfect terrorists from Central Casting.
Khaki structure strategy
ISIS is old world fundamentalism and new world extremism. ISIS terror is grounded in ancient law spread through social media. It is a hazy space with a clear ideology, religious
ethics riding in white Toyota trucks. ISIS’ morals are simple
and radical. They are not Khaki in their need for extreme answers. There is ‘right,’ there is ‘wrong’ and there is only death for anything other than ‘right. ‘
Yet ISIS resides in in-between-ness. The “Islamic State” is geographically fluid.
It is a hybrid – not state, not terror cell.
To be a state, ISIS has to consolidate, withdraw and weaken.
It is a nation that lives as much on twitter as it does on the ground. If you join ISIS you accept that through physical chaos and systematic destruction you reach the substance of an ideological model of life and clean ethics. You have dust
and blood on your Nikes but your conscience is sparkling white.
ISIS exhibits Khaki-ness in its murky structure – its real strength. The message is black and white but its operational mode is Khaki. We cannot predict their next move and that is wherein the threat lies. ISIS is in a constant state of elevation and dissipation. They represent a uniform ideal held by polyform groups.
The secular world is fighting a vague and undefined enemy,
the Khaki enemy. ISIS is men and women, young and old, eastern, western, they convert from other religions, they tweet and they draw followers on Facebook.
Their publicly shared executions go viral. They are the violent meme. The meme state. But they recognize the cloudy state of the secular world, the ever-changing instability of the West and they offer something concrete to grab hold of.
Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.
Secularism is intertwined within the Khaki mentality as it aims to conceptualize ethics outside of the polarities of established religious doctrine. The secular definition of ethics is based on human relativism and therefore deeply changes an individual’s relationship between their political and religious practice. In a secular state there is no divine power above the government that ordains what is good and bad. In the secular scenario, ethics are intrinsically linked to human faculties like reason and moral intuition. Ethics are a messy affair as few matters are black and white. The clarity or religious dogma is traded for the inclusivity of secular morality. This means that every individual can express moral behavior purely through empathy and reciprocity.
At its best, secularism is an attempt for diverse religious and ethnic communities to live together and form common ground from which national values can be practiced and enforced. However, the border between the state’s religious neutrality and ideological exclusion is often very thin. Indeed, the definition of Secularism is clear but its actual application is blurry. It demands a kind of defined separation of personal and public representations of religion. This abstraction, played out in reality, allows for divergent and multiple interpretations. In recent news, Laicite (French Secularism) through its political instrumentalisation has shown its limits and its dysfunction. There is often confusion between visible religious symbols and signs or practices rooted in a culture. Secularism at its worst can devolve into a type of constraining nationalism that ostracize those from religious and spiritual practices outside of the orthodox and largely post-Christian secular community.
Secularism has the potential for a non-polar ideology that is necessary in order to represent all minorities in a given territory. Secularism’s promise resides in a bottom-up ethics grounded in social interaction and individual responsibility. Secular ethics are fundamentally challenged and constantly redefined through public and common discussions. The Khaki mentality could exist in this open ethical debate confronting different ethical perceptions to develop a complex spectrum of ethics. But for Secularism to truly thrive it must embrace its Khaki side and resist the urge to nationalise and sanitise expressions of religious difference that challenge reigning societal norms and customs.
“It wasn’t God who introduced us to morality; rather, it was the other way around. God was put into place to help us live the way we felt we ought to.”
Ethics have always been deeply grounded in religious conception. Here Frans de Waal positions himself against what he calls the veneer theory of thinkers like Thomas Henry Huxley. The veneer theory argues that ethics are “a cultural overlay, a thin veneer hiding an otherwise selfish and brutish nature.” Under this interpretation, humankind had to become moral in order avoid our ‘brutish’ human nature. But this ethical position is largely influenced by a Christian conception of ethics: we are born sinners and we must repent. But what about inherent human morality - does that exist? How would the ethical dialogue change if the veil was lifted and instead of the brutish nature of Hobbes, the original sin of the Bible, or the more benign thinking of Locke and Rousseau, we found a Darwinian morality? How would the dialogue change if we looked less to our moral history and more towards our animal physiology.
Frans de Waal, Dutch primatologist and ethologist, argues that ethics are not a top-down system established by a veneer, God, or any other external power. Instead, ethics are intrinsic in us from day one. de Waal describes this as a bottom-up conception of ethics that stem from human faculties like empathy and reciprocity. In his research, de Waal has been investigating animal ethical behavior, especially primates who share faculties similar behavioral characteristics with humans. He found that a basic knowledge of ethics ( of “right” and “wrong”) innately exist in primates and are actualised through social interactions. This bottom-up morality described by de Waal embraces the idea of human relativity. Ethics become a debate, a compromise, and something that is not perfect but that is as good as possible.