Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

77. Resolution

Note: This post is the seventy-seventh in a series about government and commercial ethics. Click here for the full listing of the series. The first post in the series has more detail on the book 'Systems of Survival' by Jane Jacobs which inspired this series.

I suppose that the start of a year is always a good time to stop and assess your current status. Up until now in this series, I've mostly just been fishing around, following links, trying to get my head around various concepts and so on.

In 'Systems of Survival' there's a point where one of the characters in the book has finished explaining about how she discovered the two systems when another character goes to his bookshelf, pulls down Plato's 'Republic' and explains how Plato was covering much the same ground 2,000 years ago. Reading between the lines, it seems that Jacobs was well into her work when she came across the Plato reference and felt silly that she hadn't looked there in the first place for inspiration. So what I've been trying to do here is to make sure I'm at least faintly familiar with what various people have had to say on this topic over the years, before revealing my ignorance in too much detail.

This next year will see more posts along this same theme, covering off different books and concepts, but I do find that I'm starting to see fewer new ideas and more repeats in what I encounter. As the series moves along, the time will come for more posts that attempt to try and pull some of the various threads together.

In order to make progress analyzing the syndromes identified by Jane Jacobs, I suspect that it will become necessary to try and formalize some of the precepts that make up the syndromes. For example, how can we define what it it means to 'Be Exclusive'? Based on what I've encountered in the series so far, it seems like game theory may well be the best medium in which to try and more precisely pin down the meaning of some of these precepts, although I'm certainly far from optimistic about how successful my attempt will be.

Maybe 'being exclusive' means simply placing no value on someone else's preferences, if they don't happen to be part of your 'in' group – or maybe it means reversing the sign on the preferences so that what is bad for someone outside the group is good in your mind. We shall see.

A final step, which I may or may not get to, would be to follow in the footsteps of people such as Brian Skyrms and Robert Axelrod and actually try and build a simulated environment in which agents possessing various ethical values interact and evolve over time. This environment might then provide clues as to how and why certain precepts or ethical values function and evolve over time.

But that's just a faint gleam in a far-off corner of the sky at this point; To be honest, I'm not really sure how the series will continue to play out this year. Most of the main concepts have (I think) been introduced by now, but there remain many interesting economic/political/philosophical books and viewpoints to consider and I'm not sure I've really made much actual progress in understanding how and why the syndromes work. But it's been an interesting (for me, anyways!) path so far, so I plan to continue onwards.

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