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.

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.


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