1. Systems of Survival
The first few posts will be summaries (not reviews, summaries) of various books I've read that I figure have something relevant to say on the topic. I won't summarize everything in the books, just those elements I found to be relevant. Later on, assuming that my attention span doesn't run out, I might get around to actually trying to pull some of the different threads together and start applying them to various issues that affect us here in Canada. Or not, we'll see how it goes.
To differentiate the posts in this series from the standard 'That Politician Stinks' and 'That Article Was Stupid' posts we do here, I am going to number them , as I have done with this one. They also will get the 'ethics' tag which would be useful if I ever get around to updating my template for tags.
The first book I want to summarize is one I have referenced on the blog in many past occasions, including here, here, here, here, and here. The book is Jane Jacbos' Systems of Survival.
Back in 1992, Jane Jacobs wrote a book called, Systems of Survival in which she built on Plato's Republic to argue that humans have two ways of making a living: our traditional one based on control of territory and taking what we need, and one based on trading for what we need. Humans are set in contrast to other species which only rely on taking what they need and do not make use of organized trading activity to make a living.
Each of the two ways of making a living has it's own set of ethics, with ethical trading relying on shunning the use of force, honesty, competition, openness to novelty, invention, collaboration with strangers and a bunch more.
In contrast, ethical territorial (or 'guardian' as Jacobs calls them) activities (such as government) rely on a different set of values including shunning trading, respect for hierarchy and tradition, loyalty and a bunch more.
In Jacobs' view, unethical behavior inevitably arises when values which are ethical in one way of making a living are used in the other way. i.e. When the two ethical systems are mixed together. An example she gives is organized crime, where the mixture of legitimate commercial activity with activities that normally only a government is allowed to perform (such as use of force) leads to a 'monstrous hybrid' of the two ethical systems.
The two syndromes contain the following sets of ethics:
Commercial Moral Syndrome:
Come to Voluntary Agreements
Colllaborate easily with strangers and aliens
Use Initiative and Enterprise
Be Open to Inventiveness and Novelty
Promote Comfort and Convenience
Dissent for the sake of the task
Invest for Productive Purposes
Guardian Moral Syndrome:
Be Obedient and Disciplined
Adhere to Tradition
Deceive for the sake of the task
Make rich use of leisure
I've covered the main elements of the book, but here are a few other tidbits:
1) Jacobs talks about how historical societies often developed Caste systems which separated the two types of activities. Medieval Europe had feudalism with a guardian class that shunned trade. India still has a caste system with trade and commercial activity belonging to a lower class. Japan had the samurai warrior class with its guardian ethics as a separate class from the commercial class.
By way of contrast, the Bible talks of the Jewish people switching back and forth between the two syndromes as en entire people as necessary during their Exodus.
Although our society does not have a formal caste system, nonetheless many people exhibit certain 'casts of minds' where their thinking hews more to one of the two syndromes.
2)Jacobs identifies Plato's Republic, which was to divided into a guardian class and a commercial class as the original expression of this idea, and suggests that Plato's definition of injustice (one man doing the work of someone from another profession) was meant to reflect the intractable corruption that results when the two syndromes are mixed together.
3) Jacobs identifies two anomalous professions with respect to the ethical syndromes: Law and Agriculture
Law is anomalous because the profession sometimes operates along Guardian lines (courtroom battles) and sometimes operates along Commercial lines (drawing up contracts, wills, etc.). In England, the profession is actually split into Barristers who do the Guardian work and Solicitors, who do the Commercial work.
Agriculture is an anomaly because it is a commercial activity by nature, but because the raw material for agriculture is land, and guardians see guardianship over the land as their primary duty, they have a near irresistible urge to meddle in agriculture that they don't have with respect to other industries.