Evolution of Culture and its Impact on Moral Compass

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A Morel compass is your internal voice telling you what is right and what is wrong.

Notice “Moral” was spelt wrong in the above sentence? We can say that it is Objectively wrong because, we have dictionaries which define the correct way to spell a word.

But how do we define something we do as right and wrong? Is there a rule book that we can refer to?

Certainly. That is what Laws are for. They define, on an overall level: what actions are good and bad based on the Fundamental rights that each of us have. The right to live, To speak freely, To learn etc., as long as we do not impeach on each other’s rights, anything is fair.

Take violence for example: People may practice violence when they want something and physically dominating someone is the only way to get what we want — this is bad right? They get something that they didn’t deserve with malice, but we see violence all the time in Indian cinema — in-fact we love it and glorify it! Why?

Context is important here. we do not cheer if the Antagonist is kicking the hero’s ass. it’s always the other way around.

We love violence when it’s the right kind

We tend to do this because the hero’s intentions and background is made painfully clear while the villain's backstory is… not given much thought. Not all cinema is like this though, Thanos — the villain in the Avengers franchise has clear intentions on why he’s killing half the life on the universe, He justifies it.

See, no one does something bad because they’re bad — that’s a very one dimensional way of looking at things. if you ask any criminal on why they did that crime they’ll more than happily justify them stabbing 5 people to death.

For them, it was the right thing to do, Even if you don’t think so. What is right for you, Might be appallingly bad for someone else. so how does this sense of what is right/wrong develop?


Parents help form our initial sense of what is right and wrong. This happens very early on in childhood, without us even realizing it! Similar to how language is developed, children do what they do best: mimic their parents. if the parents talk with lots of cuss words, which is very common in slum areas: the child grows up thinking that is just how people speak. This might be off-putting to the general population, but the child is indifferent to it.

What the primary caretakers think; is acceptable, the child also follows.


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An individual ant is not very intelligent and not organized enough to survive on its own: It does not have the ability to plan or even observe consequences of its actions. But, an ant colony as a collective plans, sustains itself and collaboratively looks after itself. Here, the Ant colony(not just the individual ant)is also considered an organism — a Superorganism.

Once the child is old enough to go to school and interact with peers of it’s own age, the second stage of moral development begins: the Superego.

The Superego represents the social circle/society as experienced by the individual. The child inherits the moral compass of its peers, who themselves inherit their compass from their parents, who inherit it from their adult circle so on, and so forth.

Superego can also be loosely defined as the Culture that the individual lives in.

Even at a young age, the child is subjected to a lot of varied opinions from its friends and this, forms the second crucial stage of development. Children are mostly aware that they cannot make judgements on their own and they seek validation/approval from their peers/parents. This might be straightforward or can take the shape of sharing what happened on that day.

The feedback they get from these conversations along with their individual experience on that subject will go on to define what the person eventually believes in.

We cannot discuss morality without discussing religion. For some the two are synonymous, their moral system is completely based on their religion.

Religions offer a framework on the values that need to be followed for a “Good life” or a reserved, cozy spot in heaven. usually these come in the form of philosophical bodies of work like the bible, Quran or the Bhagavath Geetha.

Religions has and continues to contribute to a large extent, How people behave and the values they follow. There is a catch though. People who follow these religions do not necessarily follow or even put the effort to understand the sayings.

Individual Experiences

Individual Experiences play a big role in answering why people can have such polarized opinions on certain subjects. Each of them think they are right, and they are from the point of their subjective experiences.

Often times debates get into a everlasting loops of people shouting and repeating their points to no avail, as both of them try to convince the other that they are right. For both of them, have their own unique individual experiences and their own scales (With varying degrees) of right and wrong.

No one is right and no one is wrong, unfortunately reality is not that black and white.

A person’s culture has a deep impact on how these moral scales are developed. Let’s look at how that is:

Culture — What is it?

Culture can mean many things: Scientific, Artistic etc., In this article, we’ll be covering the ideological and behavioral aspects of culture. Things like number of children, Age(or even the concept) of marriage, sexual liberties. Ideologies of what is right and what is the right time and place to do it, transmit naturally from one generation to another. This continuous transmission of behavior can be defined as culture.

Culture is deep-rooted in our everyday lives, and our life as a whole. It provides a framework on how to live our lives. and this framework is dependent on what the instilling authorities were experiencing at that time, the existing policies and the outcome of it. while it may give a broad overview on how to do things, it might not be best suited for everyone.

Take Japan for example: Interpersonal behavior like Punctuality, Respect, Due Diligence are given utmost priority — making the culture work-oriented and very strict. Even their religion Shinto celebrates work ethics and self-fulfillment. But for a person who values Peace of mind and free will over prosperity over Financial stability and a sense of duty, living in a culture that forces you to be someone who you are not can be daunting.

Culture of a country will determine a large part of how an individual lives his/her life. So much for Free Will eh?

Evolution of Culture

Like any evolution, Culture evolves on the basis of trial and error. When an Individual tries something novel that is against the culture and sees a positive outcome, he is likely to preach against the cultural norm and propagate his belief.

This has a catch, though. His individual experience might be the product of his environment and particular timing which might not lend itself to other’s experiences

Usually cultural shifts are seen in timelines of generations — The newer generation does something that seems normal to them but for the older ones: preposterous. There has been a considerable expedition in this phenomena. The culture that newer generations follow seem vastly different from what even their siblings might be used to!

This might be the result of globalization of pop culture. With the internet becoming omnipresent, cultures of different continents start to fuse together and create : the internet subculture.

Mediums of Transmission

Ideas transmit through Conversations, Traditional and Social media, Real life Events etc.,

Conversations have been the major contributor in the transmission of culture as it is a two way street. You provide information which might be up for debate, so you need to be very careful on mixing personal opinions into it.

Media on the other hand, is unregulated. people use media as leisure and mostly, can’t be bothered to fact-check. Mass media need to be as politically correct as possible in order to not paint the wrong picture.

Social media has the tendency to cater to individual beliefs. Pages that are followed reflect what the user believes and will cater content exactly to that, even mocking opposing ideas and opinions. Users will follow content that approve of the things they believe and the content will do just that. This gap where the user does not see outside his circle of knowledge might lead to close-mindedness, and rejection of any opinion that isn’t their own.

And as these platforms cater more and more content that are related to their set of beliefs, the users begin to form polarized beliefs. This in-turn might affect formation of newer, opposing beliefs.

Mass media such as movies and shows that are consumed by a large amount of people

No matter where we consume ideas, we bias towards ideas that are similar to our own, or approved by who we consider a role-model.

We’ll see more about these biases below.

Transmission of ideologies

As we saw above, parents have an important role in shaping a child to fit into the culture that it will live in. They will provide a large contribution to the child’s internal sense of belonging which will translate to the child conforming to peers who share the ideologies of its parents.

However, as children reach puberty and start becoming independent, they start questioning these values taught to them and start forming their own opinions on things.

How these values are imbibed is affected by certain Biases:

Conformist Bias

Novelty Bias

Success Bias

Prestige Bias

Conformist Bias:

Conforming to what the majority of peers think is right to fit-in. To find belonging in places other than home. Even-though they themselves might not support certain views, they at least feign that they do, for acceptance. This is called the Conformist bias — Accepting popular beliefs as their own to fit-in.

The number of people agreeing with a belief alone will support it’s transmission to the next generation, stunting evolution. Which is certainly not a bad thing. Sense of belonging is a basic human need, and we need common ground to co-operate.

Novelty Bias

Seeing what is popular and decidedly going against it.

Being Different just to be different.

Going against the direction of the waves.

.. are a few ways to describe how this bias works. This can be seen in action around puberty. Novel values seem very enticing to a teenager. (Novel when compared to parent’s values, not novel by nature)

Success and Prestige Biases:

These are people you look up-to. Whether you look up-to them because they are famous(Prestige/Privileged) or because they have attained something(Sports celebrities) — You will imbibe their qualities and are more likely to accept a fact/idea if it is from them.

These biases are not mutually-exclusive. Everyone is biased in what idea they choose to believe and the weightage and occurrence of these biases will dictate the opinions formed.

Public figures such as Actors, Sportspeople, Bureaucrats, Celebrities and so on, have a deep impact on how a country’s culture is determined. because they cater to such a large number of people, the ideas they propagate have immense impact and are far more likely to influence other ideas and the transmission of these ideas onto the next generation.

If you’re worried your kid’s following a bad trend, it does not help to tell them that the trend is bad. They’ll not turn an ear to it, as they already have approval from a much larger base of peers. Exposing them to different ideologies that their own age group relate to, might help.

Novel Cultural Ideas

while the above can describe how ideologies spread in a culture, it is also important to know how new practices and ideas are formed.

These are usually in the way of trial and error, where the individual questions the cultural idea in place and decides to go against it. The outcome, depending on the situation will determine if he preaches this novel idea to others or if it dies on the spot.

Newer ideas are also formed when existing ideas happen in a novel order or fashion

Role of Religion

Religions, as mentioned above contribute a lot to how a country’s culture are shaped and therefore values of a country as a whole. Mediums include Religious gatherings and speeches, Religious texts, Religious Ceremonies and the likes.

Main medium of ideas tend to be in the religious canons or literature, like the Quran for the Muslims, The Bible for Christians, Bhagavad Gita for Hindus. One observation I have made is: All religion portray a character as an ideal. be it Krishna or Jesus, then via stories and ethical dilemmas contained within, give us an idea of what is the right thing to do.

Many religions preach Equality, Universality and Humanity. Fairness to all, prevails as the main theme of religions. Though this is not completely followed by its practitioners. People tend to bias towards something they believe( Which was a result of their personal experience ) and selectively follow principles that support their already formed beliefs. I am not saying that this is the absolute truth, It is human nature to seek validation in our beliefs and take with a grain of salt, of the beliefs that contradict our own.

When i started to write this article, I thought it would be a short, relatively uncomplicated subject to write on. The initial idea was to write about Moral compass.. then it Evolution got in.. then religion.. then psychology. Human behaviour is Complicated, and might not be deterministic as i am portraying it to be.

I hope I have, in this article have given you the fundamentals of how Moral compass develops

Thank you for reading.

I read and write about whatever interests me at the time-being.