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The ‘universal moral code’ shared by every culture

MICRONESIA has three groups of islands: the Carolines, the Marianas and the Marshalls. As islands leaders would like to say, the ocean does not separate us — it connects us.

Not surprisingly, many islanders across the region share traditional dishes, arts and crafts: weaving baskets, building canoes, chanting and dancing.

In “Modernization in Micronesia,” an unpublished master’s thesis in 1974, KL Gray of Western Michigan University noted that “Micronesia is different from any of the other ‘culture areas’ in the Pacific Basin…. The more peripheral cultures appear at times to have more in common with Polynesia or Melanesia…. [The] forebears of the Micronesians were of Asian origin (as was their inventory of cultivated plants), and the settlement of Micronesia was not the result of a simple one-way movement of a mass of humanity.”

Still, according to award-winning science and technology writer Peter Dockrill, the latest research indicates that “all cultures are actually bound by a common moral code of seven distinct shared rules and behaviors.”

In his article posted last month on Science Alert’s website, “These 7 Rules Could be the Universal Moral Code Shared by Every Culture,” Dockrill said based on analysis of over 600 cultural records from 60 societies around the world, including Chuuk in Micronesia, researchers from the University of Oxford have concluded that “there is empirically much more that unites us than divides us, in terms of moral values.”

Dockrill said the researchers scanned for evidence of seven discrete moral behaviors across over 600,000 words of ethnographic accounts. They found that “cooperative behaviors and rules — the proposed universal moral code — are the following: helping family, helping your group, reciprocating, being brave, deferring to superiors (respect), dividing disputed resources (fairness), and respecting prior possession (property rights).”

The researchers said these seven rules were considered positive and morally good across the different cultures surveyed — and with equal frequency across different regions of the world.

“We conclude that these seven cooperative behaviors are plausible candidates for universal moral rules, and that morality-as-cooperation could provide the unified theory of morality that anthropology has hitherto lacked,” said University of Oxford anthropologist Oliver Scott Curry.