Ethical Guidebook

A discussion of the difference between our personal values and our public ethics, how mature citizens can support both, and why our love for public ethics must trump our love for personal and group values when they conflict in the public space. Ethics offers a guidebook for evaluating public issues and finding multilateral solutions to endless cycles of values centric conflicts and unilateral violence.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ethics of Individual Motivation and Self-Restraint

Many social goods and ills are attributed to individual motivation and self-restraint, without asking to what extent our support for public ethics contributes to those personal effects, alongside our support for personal and group values.

Individual motivation is a lot easier to appeal to, and to achieve, in a secular framework of public ethics and instututions for fairness that go beyond self-interested personal and group values butting heads to get ahead.

Similarly, individual self-restraint is a lot easier to appeal to, and to achieve, in a secular framework of public ethics and institutions for fairness that provide opportunities for civil democracy to establish multilateral arbitration and relatively unbiased enforcement when conflicts occur.

This distinction of appealing to ethical frameworks is profound because without it, we are left asking people to motivate themselves and achieve in a context that often pits powerful group values or 'clubhouse democracies' against minorities, and asking people to show self-restraint in a context of everybody for themselves.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Measuring Ethics

The measure of ethics is the extent to which people believe in externally enforced fairness.

The measure of externally enforced fairness is the extent of instruments of civility in the public space, as defined by providing relatively unbiased means and admittedly less than perfect multilateral institutions for the fair arbitration of differences, the provision and allocation of shared insurance frameworks to deal with disasters and scarcity, a range of opportunities to enjoy plenty, and timely escalation of arbitration and enforcement that mitigates the impact of unavoidable infractions.

The measure of civic maturity is the extent to which people are willing to help support those civil means and institutions in the public space.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ethical AIGnst

The values-based (incentive driven) behavior and it's collapse at AIG was the outcome of an operating environment lacking the buffers and capacitors of public ethics rules and oversight. Self-restraint is not the heart of the problem or a sustainable solution, as much as we might denigrate the participants for lacking it, and blame the problem on it. The fundamental civil problem was that those charged with oversight applied a values-based metric that is the definition of untenable ponzie schemes, basically "as long as somebody is making money and it could be me, it's ok". Higher scores by relaxing rules does not mean a fair game, or a sustainable sport, and in fact quite predictably results in the opposite.

The solution to AIG starts with reapplication of strong public ethics rules and oversight, that will buffer extreme behavior regardless of values-driven motives and self-restraint or lack thereof on the part of individual participants. That solution also provides a framework for civilly satisfying and ethically fair evaluation of infractions and application of penalties for both past practices and current behavior. We can hopefully encourage mature citizens to put their love of public ethics and fair play above their love of personal values and the home team. But we must look to good government oversight and multilaterally arbitrated laws, and better business ethics in business charters and shareholder votes, to get us out of this mess.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The New Agrarian Era

As a farm boy from the 50's, I loved cowboys and their free-wheeling approach to life and conflict. But I also loved agriculture, and the endless cycles and changes and opportunties it presents without destroying the land or fighting with the neighbors, and withoout having to move on. These world views conflicted in endless TV cowboy shows and mafia movies, and defined fundamental differences between Republicans and Democrats on the larger social and economic mileau.

Reagonomics was the latest face of the Cowboy Era, which basically defined 'opportunity' as finding new places not yet exploited and 'initiative' as being willing to unilaterally enforce your values-based self-interested definition of the rules of the game to make sure your team won, whether or not it was sustainable or fair to others with different personal values, or the earth. After all, you could just move on and drill-baby-drill the next place to get rich off risky behavior opportunistically pursuing 'free' stuff. As long as somebody was getting rich, and it could possibly be yourself, and nobody else stood in the way, it must be the right way to do things, and the right folks in charge. A gambling economy that unchecked will feed off and destroy any sustainable infrastructure that initially enables it.

Reagonomics is over because the Cowboy Era is over. Exploitation based self-interest can only go so far before it becomes unsustainable, and the world has run out of frontiers - or more correctly, the 'indiginous' folks around the world, some with cultures far deeper and longer than ours, now have enough clout to keep cowboys from redefining the rules and running them over. The fact that 'civil' societies have even loose holds on the rules of the game and the power of the cowboys speaks to the public ethics of others, and ethics that go beyond self interest, not the basic principles and core values of the cowboys.

So we have arrived as a society and as a world, at the logical point where 'frontiersmen' are eventually replaced by 'settlers' in every arena of life - people who care about coexistance, sustainability, mutually living well and getting richer though productive maintenance and change as teams playing within some imperfect but sufficient framework of multilaterally enforced rules of the commons, at various levels from local to international, rather than one-time exploitation and unilaterally defined solutions to problems, shortages, and riches. In other words, it is the New Agrarian Era.

To a cowboy, publicly arbitrated infrastructure and multilateral processes like taxing, building railroads, and storing grain for the 7 year famine is a waste of time unless they see some short term exploitation opportunity. To a sustainable civil society it is the way things should work. To a cowboy, anything but rugged individualism smacks of 'socialism', unless it's for military force and war because they understand unilateral, values based self-justified force. To a sustainable society, there are many ways to arbitrate differences that are fairer than unilateral force and allocation of resources and justice to maintain a level playing field, that are not extreme socialism. To a cowboy, voting is limited to 'clubhouse' democracy where 51% can redefine even the basic membership and voting rules and remove fundamental rights protecting minorities and their future opportunities for their teams to win. To a 'civil' democracy, voting is a framework for sustaining public ethics and the infrastructure of the game, not just the self-interest of the voter.

While the New Agrarian Era is not based soley on agriculture like the earliest civil societies, it does define an approach to society and economics that is basically driven by mutual sustainability even if new frontiers, foreign wars, and free stuff are not in the equasion. The most sustainable version is civil democracy within a framework of public ethics - like the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. In that framework, public ethics must trump personal values.

It's time to take off the cowboy hats and learn to play, vote, and invest within the frameworks of public ethics and fair rules. Folks can still win, but not exploit 'free stuff' like there's no tomorrow.

Monday, March 02, 2009

A Rush to Demagogery

Never underestimate a demagog or bully, and Rush qualifies as both. His ‘values’ based arguments speak to those who would define a ‘good’ solution to any problem entirely in their own terms and to their own benefit.

What Rush's arguments lack is ‘ethics’, the civil maturity to recognize we cannot always have 'our' way in public matters, and the patriotism to actively support imperfect public institutions for fair arbitration of differences in values, in other words, good government.

So the answer to Rush is to appeal to mature people’s deep love of ethics - essentially loving the sport as much as the home team. The ’sport’ of government is necessary to help provide a level playing field, fair rules of the game, equal opportunities for the underdog, and third party arbitration of conflicts.

It’s not enough just to be a cheerleader for a ‘home team’ to run a government, a country, and a sustainable economy and environment. Love of ‘Values’ alone is not enough, and quite predictably declaring the primacy of ‘my’ values leads to bullying at the least and demagogs at worst, and endless cycles of values based conflicts and unilaterally justified violence. Adding Ethics does not mean people cannot strongly love their personal values and born or chosen home teams, it just means they cannot redefine the rules of the game based on whatever lets their team win. A high score does not mean a fair game, as the economic collapse has demonstrated.