The prime directive of evolution might well be survive and reproduce, but the Golden Rule of Evolution most applicable to human culture for determining what is good and what is bad is something quite different.
Ethical and moral actions can be said to lie on a continuum of more or less ethical and moral when they are compared to some value, criteria or framing. The master universe-scaled space and time (200 billion light years across and 13.7 billion years old,) framing that optimally should be used are the meta-principles and "values" of progressive evolution. This meta-framing is optimal because evolution within the universe is not only universal, --- it is:
a.) "science's greatest discovery,"
b.) the best documented "theory of everything" that currently exists,
c.) the most trial and error tested and eons-of-time proven --- success and sustainability system that has ever existed and that,
d.) its meta-principles of universe evolution are also the best keys to day-to-day sustainable personal success in practical ways. These same science-grounded meta-principles are also capable of dramatically evolving and enhancing the economy, the society, our political systems, the environment and if you are of a spiritual nature, even our current religions.
How the Golden Rule of Evolution works:
If you are not sure if some action is ethical or moral, you can ask yourself the various questions taken from an evolutionary perspective below to help determine the degree or amount to which any action or inaction (omission) moves towards or away from being more or less ethical or moral on a ethical moral continuum.
The Evolutionary Golden Rule:
Within human groups the general human traits that cause groups to function well as units (such as cooperation and fair exchange,) are commonly held to be the definition of moral or ethical good or to be associated with virtue. The human traits that favor individuals at the expense of their groups (such as freeloading, selfishness,) are commonly held to be associated with evil and vice. Not coincidentally the human traits that cause groups to function well as units are clearly found within the meta-principles of progressive evolution and progressive evolution's Universe Principles of Sustainability.
The Golden Rule Of Evolution One Question Version
If you want to apply the Golden Rule of Evolution quickly to find out if what you are doing is good or bad to a greater or lesser degree just ask yourself this one question:
"is what I am doing benefiting me personally at the expense of the overall or critical functionality and/or operational well being of the groups in which I am embedded?"
Basically, if your setting up an "I win" and the groups in which you are intimately embedded lose critical functionality and/or overall wellbeing (an I win/they lose situation,) ---you are being unethical, bad or immoral to a greater or lesser degree on the ethical moral continuum. Here's why...
Evolution slightly favors group functionality, group cooperation and well being over individual functioning and well being because groups that are mostly aligned with progressive evolution principles survive, thrive and reproduce consistently and considerably better and more sustainable than lone individuals. (Cooperation is a hub meta-principle of progressive evolution.) Also, in biological systems, individuals in the higher forms of life are usually more or less dependent upon the group that they are born into for initial care, protection, education, etc for extended periods of time.
This implies the slight weighting toward the functionality and well being of the group is evolutionarily wise because it acts to preserve the best options for the species' ability to survive and reproduce as a whole. But, this does not mean that in a successful human system aligned to the meta-principles of progressive evolution --- the functioning and well being of the individual part is ignored.
Evolution has also learned that in order to have the most successfully functioning groups the individual parts of the group/whole must also function well. Evolution has painstakingly learned that the individual parts of a grouping can not be starved of energy or resources and that they too must be given the highest possible levels of creativity, autonomy and self-organization options possible for the grouping to function optimally. (Creativity, autonomy and self-organization are just a few among the many other evolutionary values to be cultivated in individual parts within the core value interests of progressive evolution.)
This very simple one-question evolutionary golden rule helps to determine the good or evil (ethical or unethical moral or immoral,) qualities of the interactions between individuals or, interactions between individuals and the groups or areas (ecosystems,) in which they happen to be located. Evolution through this golden rule not only solves the moral and ethical problem of defining good and evil it also directly confronts the primary conflict and tension in the universe at the level of the individual self-interests (the part,) often in conflict with the overall well being of the group functioning as a unit (the whole.)
Evolution's Definition of Good and Evil:
What is amazing about evolution's wisdom here is that evolution has resolved the definition and question of what is good and evil at the widest of all possible scales --- namely the ultimate scale of the universe-wide evolution for the whole system --- which includes all of the physical, biological and even cultural sub-systems of the universe. (Cultural subsystems are groupings like family clubs, businesses, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, political system, etc.)
Evolution knows that all things in the universe are interconnected and to greater or lesser degrees inter-dependent. The Golden Rule of Evolution recognizes this deeper interconnected/interdependent subsystem and part embeddedness and provides a core question to ask yourself that covers everything from person to person relationships, to person to group relationships and even person or group to greater group relationships and/or to the even larger ecosystems/groups in which they are embedded.
The Golden Rule Of Evolution Question At A Deeper Level: (For Intermediate and advanced students only.)
Another deeper and more nuanced way for advanced Evolution 2.0 students to ask and apply this Golden Rule of Evolution question is to ask:
"is this act in alignment with and/or forwarding the universe's overall progressive evolutionary directionality for life, evolution and the universe.?"
Here one asks if some action "comprehensively aligns with the Universe Principles of Sustainability applied in a balanced way" --- particularly, the fair and appropriate energy exchange promandment?" (Fair and appropriate energy exchange between parts and wholes is a central evolutionary principle which creates success and sustainability. Freeloading, theft and unfair exchange are examples of inappropriate energy exchanges between individuals and the groups they are embedded within. The same applies to inappropriate energy exchanges between groups and individuals or groups and their ecosystems. (For a full understanding of exactly what a comprehensive alignment with progressive evolution would look like click this Universe Principles of Sustainability link.)
Within Evolution 2.0 based on the meta-principles of progressive evolution (and Religion 2.0 if you are of a spiritual nature,) the fully expanded definition for ethical or good behavior now becomes:
"those behaviors that enhance the progressive directionality of evolution and the critical functionality and/or overall wellbeing of the whole (organization, community, nation, planet, universe,) in which one or one's group is embedded that also simultaneously forwards and balances the functionality, well being and self-interests of the individual part wherever and when ever that is possible. (I.e. when it does not critically endanger the the overall functionality and wellbeing of the whole.")
If you are still not sure if some act is following the Golden Rule of Evolution after using the meta-principles of progressive evolution as a review standard it might also help to ask the following additional qualifying questions:
1.) Is the act something that a community member would do or not do to other similar community members? (This is a traditional variation on the "do on to others" rule.) And, finally at a slightly less evolutionary more virtue level,
2.) “Is the act life-affirming?” This means more specifically "is this act sustaining or increasing truth, beauty and goodness and/or the positive awareness of individual human dignity, group functionality and wellbeing, the physical biosphere and/or if you are of a spiritual nature, Ultimate Reality in the world? If the act isn’t and it is reducing or degrading the truth, beauty and goodness and/or the positive awareness of individual human dignity and/or Ultimate Reality in the world, consider carefully if you really want to proceed with such action.
3.) Is the act supporting or forwarding creating a sustainable prosperity for all?
If your act of commission or omission fits within the above simple or deeper new "Golden Rule of Evolution" general main criteria, there should most likely be no problem with it. But, be patient. It takes a bit of study and practice using this new Golden Rule of Evolution before it becomes second nature and habit.
"Ethical, moral and good behavior is at the minimum, behavior that enhances the functionality of the group as a unit, the progressive evolutionary directionality of life and the universe and, the evolve-ability of the universe. Evolution does it smart striving to first hold the functionality and wellbeing of the group/whole in a tensional and essential balance with the functionality and well being of the individual part. To be otherwise would be contrary to the very flow and nature of evolving life in the universe and for those of a spiritual nature, contrary to the observable physical universe purposes, nature and destiny of an Ultimate Reality that is by the Religion 2.0 definition --- the mysterious originating source of the universe." Lawrence Wollersheim
The Natural Exception to the Golden Rule of Evolution
If you belong to a group or whole which should not continue because of some inherent inability to truly forward the functionality or well being of the whole or, it has come to the end of its natural life cycle or it is so contrary to the Universe Principles of Sustainability that it will not be sustainable or, it will critically harm the overall sustainability of other wholes, the Golden Rule of Evolution in this case shifts its balance back to the interests of the individual or relevant part of the whole system. This shift in balance back to the individuals or other relevant parts allows the individuals and parts to preserve their vital self-interests until they find new more progressive evolution aligned groups or wholes to join.
The Golden Rule of Evolution and Holonic Embeddedness
The fact that parts are embedded within larger wholes in holonic relationships and that they themselves are often wholes to other parts (at another layer of holonic embeddedness,) adds another significant aspect to evaluating the goodness or badness of ethical and moral issues. In general, removing or critically damaging the parts of more fundamental holons (part's) of which larger holons (wholes,) are dependent for their very existence would have to be considered bad or unethical. Try to imagine some examples of this happening in our bio-systems or even at chemical, molecular or atomic levels.
Click here to learn more about holons and their relationship from a philosophical perspective.