Posts Tagged ‘Morality’

The warrior syndrome as a 3rd system of survival

June 4, 2018

guardians&traders

One of the best books of the late, great Jane Jacobs was Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics (1992).

In it she argued that there were two main systems of thought about political and economic ethics—what she called Guardian morality, which she named for Plato’s philosopher-kings and is the morality of those whose income comes from control of territory, and Commercial morality, which I’ll call Trading morality, the morality of those whose income comes from voluntary exchange.

Guardian morality is concerned with obeying rules and pleasing superiors.  Trading morality is concerned with creating value and pleasing a public.   A healthy society, for Jacobs, keeps these two systems of morality—or syndromes, in her terminology—in balance and in their proper place.

Jane Jacobs

A Guardian organization, such as a police department, is corrupted when it follows economic incentives, Jacobs wrote.   A Trading organization, such as a corporation, is corrupted when it seeks monopoly power instead of creating value.

I claim that what Jacobs called Guardian morality is a conflation of two syndromes.   The two are the morality of Plato’s Guardians and the morality of the “spirited” young male warriors that the Guardians used as enforcers.

I’ll call the second syndrome the Warrior syndrome.   The Guardian syndrome is an ethic of virtue, and the Warrior syndrome is an ethic of honor.  This is a deep division.  Neither “Commerce” nor “Trading” is a good word for the third syndrome, because, as I’ll discuss, it is not necessarily about money, but I’ll use it.

The three syndromes roughly correspond to the moral values of the three estates in 18th century France—the feudal lords (warrior), clergy (guardian) and urban merchants (trader).   They correspond to prevailing moralities in 17th century colonial America—Puritan Massachusetts (guardian), aristocratic Tidewater Virginia (warrior) and Dutch New Amsterdam (trader).

If you think in terms of three syndromes instead of two, some things become more clear.   The Bolsheviks were, as Jacobs wrote, a tyrannical would-be priesthood, an example of a Guardian syndrome gone wrong.

But the Mafia was not, as she said, another example of the same thing.  The Mafia is a would-be Warrior aristocracy based on a perverse code of honor.

The problem with certain American police is that they follow a Warrior syndrome when they should be Guardians.   They are more concerned with establishing dominance and punishing insults than with preserving order

Below is my revision of Jane Jacobs’ chart.   Jacobs’ original words are in italic and my substitutions are in bold-face.

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Americans are becoming better-behaved

April 2, 2015

Americans—that is, average Americans, not necessarily Hollywood stars, sports stars and the financial and governmental elite—are becoming better-behaved.

  • Homicide rates are down.
  • Domestic violence is down.
  • Child abuse is down
  • Cocaine use is down (although marijuana use is up)
  • Alcoholism is down
  • Drunk driving is down.
  • Cigarette smoking is down.
  • Illicit drug use by teenagers is down.
  • Alcohol use by teenagers is down.
  • Cigarette smoking by teenagers is down.
  • Teenage pregnancy is down.

The main exception to these trends is that Americans are slower to get married than in the past and quicker to become divorced.  But maybe it is better to be unmarried or divorced than in a bad or abusive marriage.

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Non-moral arguments for humane goals

June 26, 2014

History professor Eric Rauchway pointed out how progressives advocate humane policies based on strictly economic criteria.

Back in the early 1900s, Charles Beard noted that merely to tell Americans that their factories were injuring workers more wantonly than those of any other country would fail to move a nation so fixated on profit.

You had, he said and I’m paraphrasing, because I’m not able to look it up at the moment, to tell the American people that it was inefficient to keep killing workers – that it was a waste of human capital, an unproductive use of resources.

This rhetorical tactic aims at moral ends by appealing to a venal calculus.  Like the commuter who rescued his fellow-citizen from a train track because he didn’t want to be late to work, maybe we will rescue our public goods from disruption – not because it’s the right thing to do, but because we won’t profit if we don’t.

via Crooked Timber.

I hear this kind of rhetoric  liberals today.  They concede the moral high ground to their opponents and then argue that their policies would be a better way of achieving non-liberal goals – for example, that health care reform would be a good way to help balance the federal budget.

One problem is that this type of argument is not always valid.   The larger problem is that when it is, it is not convincing to people committed to the view that the harshest policies are always the most realistic

Bertrand Russell on war for moral principle

September 5, 2013

In 1914, the British government justified its declaration of war on Germany by Germany’s violation of the neutrality of Belgium and by alleged German atrocities, most of which later turned out to be false propaganda.  Bertrand Russell, who opposed the war, wrote early in 1915 about the idea of going to war to punish nations for their crimes.

Moral judgment, as applied to others than one’s self, are a somewhat subtilised police force: they make use of men’s desire for approbation to bring self-interest into harmony with the interest of one’s neighbors.

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell

But when a man is already trying to kill you, you will not feel much additional discomfort in the thought that he has a low opinion of your moral character. For this reason, disapproval of our enemies in wartime is useless, so far as any possible effect upon them is concerned.

It has, however, a certain unconscious purpose, which is, to prevent humane feelings toward the enemy, and to nip in the bud any nascent sympathy for his sufferings.  Under the stress of danger, belief and emotions all become subservient to the one end of self-preservation.

Since it is repugnant to civilized men to kill and maim other just like themselves, it becomes necessary to conquer repugnance by denying the likeness and imputing wickedness to those whom we wish to injure.

And so it comes about that the harshest moral judgments of the enemy are formed by the nations which have the strongest impulses of kindliness to overcome.

==Bertrand Russell, “An Appeal to Intellectuals,” 1915

The psychology of honesty

July 1, 2012

Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics at Duke University, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal about studies he and some other professors did on the subject of honesty.

They found that most people are mostly honest most of the time, but can be tempted to be a little bit dishonest depending on the risks, the rewards and what everybody else is doing.  No surprises there.  What I did find surprising was the following.

We took a group of 450 participants, split them into two groups and set them loose on our usual matrix task.  We asked half of them to recall the Ten Commandments and the other half to recall 10 books that they had read in high school.  Among the group who recalled the 10 books, we saw the typical widespread but moderate cheating.  But in the group that was asked to recall the Ten Commandments, we observed no cheating whatsoever.  We reran the experiment, reminding students of their schools’ honor codes instead of the Ten Commandments, and we got the same result.

We even reran the experiment on a group of self-declared atheists, asking them to swear on a Bible, and got the same no-cheating results yet again.

This experiment has obvious implications for the real world. While ethics lectures and training seem to have little to no effect on people, reminders of morality—right at the point where people are making a decision—appear to have an outsize effect on behavior.

Click on Why People Lie for the whole article.