Morality: The Engine of Civilisation

Nigel Cohen
5 min readFeb 16, 2024


The essence of morality in an increasingly immoral world

Photo Art: Nigel Cohen

Morality is at the core of our humanity. So if we want to preserve and nourish our humanity, it helps to understand it better.

A child can never play the game ‘hop-skip and jump’ until s/he knows how to hop. In the same way, a person will never behave morally without understanding why we need it.

‘Morality’ is a work of art that expresses the fundamentals of what morality is. It uses symbolism to convey both the essence of morality and what it achieves.

The Purpose of Morality

The way we teach Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution gets it half right, half wrong.

Our teaching focuses almost entirely on his concept of Survival of the Fittest. The weakest baby elephant becomes prey to hyenas, leaving just the stronger elephants to grow into reproductive adults. This natural process weeds out the weaker members of the species, resulting in a species of stronger members. This is the half right part.

The part that is half wrong is the part we do not generally talk about. But it is every bit as significant in the evolution of species, especially when it comes to the human species.

When elephants stop running from hyenas and turn as one to face them, the small hyenas do not stand a chance. This process of enfusion, of cooperating to create a more powerful unit, is arguably far more significant in the success of the human species than any physical adaptation.

Some of the many key elements in the success of Homo Sapiens include hunting as a pack, developing advanced language to communicate about safety and strategy and the ability to teach to others what we have learned, particularly to our children. Improved practices spread throughout communities, to new communities and to new generations with our ability to share ideas and record them for posterity.

These attributes of success all have one thing in common. They empower us to live and work together in communities to strengthen our security, improve our health, grow the food we need to survive and adapt to a wide variety of environments, without having to wait for nature to weed out the weak. It turns out that the weakness of humanity is not individuals who are weaker than others but communities that are less able to live and work together for mutual benefit than others.

This is the vital part morality plays in the success of humanity. We are endowed by nature with the skills and attributes to understand how to interact with others to accommodate our own needs and theirs appropriately, which empowers us to enfuse effectively.

What is Morality?

Different people see morality in different ways. There is no single ‘right’ way. My definition below is designed to help unpick its essence.

Morality is a combination of threads of emotional or spiritual connections that are woven into the social fabric. The fabric protects and holds us together. It is woven by the actions and interactions of kindness and compassion motivated by the golden values of morality, which are trust, mutuality and coordination.

The essence of social fabric is the personal connection we have with others. The connections we develop are built on emotional responses. Whenever we find someone attractive or appealing or fun, our bodies send us chemical signals that our brains love to feel. This is why we describe a blossoming, passionate attraction as ‘chemistry’. Our brains have evolved to crave these positive emotions. It drives us to develop relationships with people we feel attracted to. Human connection is the emotional pull we feel towards others.

Positive connections can be passionate, romantic, friendly or professional. Repelling connections can be abusive, controlling or intimidating. A positive relationship motivates us to work together for mutual benefit. A repelling one makes us forever wary and distrustful.

Morality refers to the nature of the connections we develop. It is where we choose actions and interactions that benefit both people in a relationship. A romantic relationship will never succeed when one person is abusive towards the other. This is what makes it immoral. Morality also refers to actions that benefit others in society who may not necessarily be involved directly in relationships. This is what makes sewage companies dumping untreated sewage into rivers immoral.

The big question for morality is how to create positive threads of connection and how to weave them into a social fabric of deeper, mutually supportive relationships.

Darwin’s ‘Survival of the Fittest’ has bestowed humans with values such as respect, togetherness and joy. As many as one hundred different values drive our thinking and behaviour. The answer to the question lies in three values in particular. The golden values of morality are trust, mutuality and coordination. They drive our ability to develop successful relationships, to work together in a coordinated and intelligent way, and to achieve outcomes together that we cannot achieve alone. One hundred people will fail to move a tree fallen across the road when they push one at a time. When they coordinate their efforts, pushing together in the same direction, the tree moves, opening the road for everyone to use.

The Artwork

The artwork encapsulates the core elements of morality.

Its initial impression is its ordinariness. Nothing dramatic is happening. It conveys a morality that has become a normalised pattern of behaviour.

Trust is represented by the two people at the bottom. They are holding a safety net to catch the two people above if they fall. The people high above stand on a precarious platform. They are holding each other up.

Coordination is represented by the two below. If either fails to pull at the same time as the other, the safety net fails. One person from above looks to one person below to assess their readiness to catch them before they take the risk of their creation.

Mutuality is represented through the golden light of opportunity, wisdom and hope. It shines over everyone. The two people at the top are risking their lives to create this light with the support of the people below and for the benefit of them all.

The safety net and the light are both created from the silvery golden threads of their connections. Thus morality is represented through the positive connections woven into a silvery golden fabric for the greater good.

Further Reading

If you enjoyed this article, you may enjoy my Animating Vision website at It brings to life a vision of the people we live with and the world we live in.

To see more of my Photo Art, check out the Photo Art gallery at

And if you are an artist seeking to influence the world, you may want to explore whether to incorporate the emerging genre of Morally-Explicit Art as part of your artistic expression at