Re: Ethics and Politics

The Low Golden Willow (
Tue, 16 Sep 1997 16:44:53 -0700 (PDT)

I found Jane Jacobs' take on ethics, presented in _Systems of Survival_
rather interesting. I may have gone on about this before, but the list
archives are stalling on me, so you get to read or delete me again. I
reply to three older posts further down, though.

She argues that if you look around in history you will find two common
sets of ethical systems, both of which have been quite successful at
different times. (Thus the title.) One is "trader" or "producer"
morality, the commerical syndrome: shun force; value honesty, diligence,
dissent for the sake of the task, competition; have an optimistic view
of the future; honor contracts. The other is "raider", "guardian", or
military morality: shun trading; value loyalty, prowess, distribution of
largesse, deceit for the sake of the task; be territorial, be
fatalistic. (This is from memory; her lists were longer.)

The commerical syndrome (a set of concurrent things that usually form an
identifiable pattern) have much history attesting to its superior
productivity. The military syndrome has a lot of history attesting to
its superior survival skill, especially against other militaries.

Jacobs argues that both are necessary, but that they must be kept
separate. If you start mixing and matching items from the lists you get
a self-reinforcing disaster. Traditionally the solution has been caste
or class systems. India is the most famous, but China and Japan had
four strata of occupations; they differed as to whether scholars or
warriors were on top, but merchants were beneath the farmers. Europe
had a three-estate system: priests, nobles, everyone else; nobles do the

This works fine at first, but if society changes the system probably
won't fit. The West is trying separation by individual flexibility:
trusting that people in guardian roles (soldiers, politicians, lawyers
some of the time) will behave according to that role.

My anarchist impulse upon reading the book was to wonder whether private
law systems couldn't subsume guardian functions into producer life. If
guardian functions require guardian morality then that bodes ill for
PPLs; they'll simply turn into the Mob or warlords.

If anyone has heard of the Ik, by the way, she argues that their
collapse was because they were hunters -- raiders -- forced to live as
farmers -- which calls for trader morality, which they didn't have.
Societal collapse promptly followed.

On Sep 14, 3:23pm, Dan Fabulich wrote:
} Subject: Ethics and Politics

} People, as a rule, tend to disagree about ethics. Ancient Greeks were
} contemplating exactly the same ethical problems as we face today.
} Philosophy has been struggling with proposed principles for ethical
} government for thousands of years. Yet we still don't agree on even the
} most basic ethical questions.

Jacobs notes that Plato had something similar to her ideas; no doubt she
took his ideas and ran. The problem of agreement could be related to
there being two correct answers.

} 1) Any political system which maximizes utility is an ethical political
} system.
} 2) Libertarianism maximizes utility.
} 3) Therefore, libertarianism is an ethical political system.

} But even if we grant that utilitarianism is an ethical political
} philosophy, does libertarianism actually maximize utility? Again, I am not

Depends what you mean by libertarianism. Anarchist versions are more or
less untested. Minarchist ones look good -- Hong Kong under the Brits;
the happy days of the Roman Republic and Empire, from what I know.

On Sep 15, 6:43pm, Anton Sherwood wrote:

} But what *experience* cured us of such notions?
} How did slavery change, to persuade us that it's a bad thing?

Perhaps we changed. Jacobs argues that Southern slaveowners fit well
in the guardian/raider mold (I forget if she felt they were contaminated
by some commerical elements.) Slaveowning is dandy there. The North
was presumably moving toward commerical morality; that may have caused
them to start caring more about nearby humanoid beings, even if they
still didn't want blacks to marry their daughters.

On Sep 15, 12:13am, wrote:
} Subject: Re: Re: Evolution in action

} >So maybe we should select on high emotional intelligence also? And improve
} >communicative abilities and such.
} I believe the process of deliberate selection, itself, would be highly
} inimical to a healthy society, regardless of what is selected for.

I agree. Human nature can be a nasty thing. Jacobs argues that the
"shun trading" of raiders (warrior contempt for merchants was common to
Western chivalry and Japanese bushido) was the simplest way to keep your
warriors from considering selling secrets or gatekeys to the enemy for
their own gain. Similarly, the benefits of a straight ban on
non-defensive force may far outweigh the gains of group eugenics, when
the latter could lead to further contempt for individual life or

Selecting for intelligence wouldn't make people any nicer, and there'd
be an open door saying that it was okay to do nasty things to masses of
people for some purposes... so why not others?

This applies to Eliezer's coca virus as well. Releasing viruses to
"solve" the problem of crack neighborhoods -- whose misery is caused
first by socioeconomic factors -- is not a good precedent.

Merry part,
-xx- Damien R. Sullivan X-) <*>

"[Re: extinction of species, and the desperate need to blame someone]

> There are 3,500 species of ant.

Today. To the best of our knowledge. How many were there before the
great Hexapodia Race Wars three thousand years ago, when the Better Red
Than Dead Alliance destroyed the Polka-Dot League, slaughtering thousands
of billions of thinking, feelering individuals in an act of genocide
unmatched since the K-T event when the Brontosaurus' attempt at a space
program using their largest-ever catapult went horribly wrong?"