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October 14, 2009

Comments

Brad

May I suggest an old, simple and effective motto? "Do unto others as you would like others to do unto you".

gregorylent

china is a more dramatic situation than many ...

but this dynamic is global ... india, south america, north america ...

6.5 billion battles ... and that is what earth is, a school for souls to grow ... and graduate ... the school remains

Dror Poleg

Spot on. The idea that moral values and a certain level of cultural development are not new, but seemed to slip out of public consciousness with the rise of postmodernism and moral relativism. Max Webber saw the Protestant Work Ethic as the basis for America's industrial rise more than 100 years ago, and, more recently, Gregory Clark reached similar conclusion concerning culture and economic development in Farewell to Alms.

The problem is that individuals today are taught to rely on government in order to save all their problems and guide their actions. This breeds irresponsible, morally bankrupt individuals.

Left to their own devices, human societies either develop the required moral and social laws that help them prosper, or they cease to exist. A wonderful example of this is orthodox Jews, who lived without government welfare (or recognition) for centuries. They developed their own social institutions and took care of each others welfare and education much more efficiently than modern government ever managed to do.

twitter.com/pdenlinger

But isn't the search for Law of Rules a search for what worked in the past as a reference? Just because something worked for a few thousand years in the past is no guarantee that that is what will work in the near future.

Looking to the near future, all I see is a growing rich/poor gap, resource wars, accelerated global warming, and major die-offs of humans. Fareed Zakaria implies that the institutions of government and society will somehow change to adapt in a new world.

I don't think so.

I believe that multiple societies will head to major successive breakdowns on multiple levels until a majority of the human population dies off, and our successors rebuild their way out, assuming that they they do indeed exist. They may or may not use old institutions repackaged in new forms.

China will accelerate this trend because in the race to become developed before it becomes old, it will literally destroy huge portions of the earth, leading to multiple resource disputes and resource crashes.

Now what was that you said about Law of Rules?

Got to head off to my beautiful new beachfront home in the Yukon...Seeya!

David

Brad, the Golden Rule is a good start, but by itself is insufficient. Aphorisms are useful mnemonic devices that allow us to more easily absorb a Law of Rules, but by themselves they are insufficient. There is a reason, after all, that Proverbs is but one book of scripture, rather than the entirety.

History demonstrates that the problem with the Golden Rule is that it leads to a kind of moral minimalism that obscures the greater truth behind it. Unless you understand the WHY behind the rule, either via elaboration or exegesis, you wind up with masochists who find it perfectly moral to inflict pain on others. And worse.

All of which is fine for those of us brought up with a tradition that incorporates such teachings. But for those who have not, it is but a fair start.

David


Paul, while I think empiricism has its uses, I think you overstate by suggesting that a Law of Rules - or a normative approach to any subject - is based purely on experience. Experience has a vote in morality, but not a veto. Because the problem then becomes which experiences you choose to learn from, and what lessons you learn as a result. It also fails to take into account new situations, as you correctly point out.

As I noted above, a good Law of Rules must be timeless, strong enough to stand despite the moral relativism that comes with social change.

To your larger point, though, throughout history there have been futurists and pundits who have looked ahead and seen only disaster, and as such have developed a personal philosophy and moral code that takes such events as givens. You are one of those, and I must admit to finding your thinking interesting and provocative.

Leaving aside moral judgments for a moment, both your arguments and those Dr. Zakaria makes suffer from the same weakness: determinism. Zakaria believes government and institutions will adapt and save the day. You believe they cannot and will not. You are both wrong.

What you both miss is the fundamental nature of choice. Our future is neither guaranteed nor doomed. The answer is "we choose," and we make that choice in every act, in every word, in each moment. Fareed has not yet proven to me that our institutions will save us. Even your most colorful prognostications have failed to prove to me that we cannot yet save ourselves. Indeed, by your ability to see the darkness below you cause us all to strive all the more for the light. Take that, O Prophet.

You, Zakaria, Richard Dawkins, and I will likely never quite agree. I prefer to act on the premise that neither entropy nor Darwinism, whatever their scientific merits, can be applied to human behavior or even the fate of the race.

Our fate is in our own hands. We must only ask how we will be guided. And that is the question that provoked my post.

stuart

"We must only ask how we will be guided."

I think guidance that could reasonably be described as 'moral' depends upon the choices you mentioned. Surely we need to see all sides of an argument before we execute those choices with any degree of moral judgement. Sadly, for a country that is currently entrenched in a 'the ends justify the means' approach to economic success (both nationally and individually), China displays little inclination to raise the level of ethical debate.

You spoke a couple of posts ago about America in Afghanistan. This is an issue discussed on a daily basis in the States - the pros and cons are weighed, the loss of life and the suffering documented and debated. Should they stay or should they go? The impact of America's foreign policy comes under open, critical analysis.

Not so China's foreign policy and resource grabs, which are protected from debate by the tiresome mantra 'non-interference, peaceful rise'. Where do we tune in to hear the debate about the moral questions surrounding China in Africa? Where is China's choice? Where is the moral guidance that will lead them to that choice?

"We must only ask how we will be guided."

In China's case people need to start questioning how they ARE being guided. Right now the Chinese people are being led down a path; and it's not a moral one.

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