Chapter Seven - Visionary Values
By Michael Albert at Dec 12, 2010
This is a draft - for comment and discussion in the
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This chapter offers a short list of values to guide our efforts to envision core institutions for a future desirable society. We list only seven values - a short list, but sufficient to inform our efforts. The values each correspond to an aspect of life and, quite interestingly, most of the values are quite commonplace and uncontroversial.In addition, however, to setting out the seven values for society most broadly here, to use these values later to guide our search for worthy institutions, we will have to refine and specify them a bit more applying them to the particular spheres of life we are dealing with.
Relations Among People: Solidarity
Societies and each of their four spheres affect how people interrelate. Do institutions cause us to treat each other instrumentally, as means to ends? Do we scramble over and around each other, some winning only when others lose? Do our roles cause us to become isolated, individualistic, and even anti social in the worst sense?
Well, actually, yes. Those debits are normal to contemporary life. But what values would we rather have organize relations among people? What do we value regarding relating to others? Our answer in this book will be that regarding relations among people, we value solidarity.
Other things equal, we want our institutions in all of society’s defining spheres of life to cause us to have shared rather than contending interests. We want our daily activities to make us steadily more and not less concerned with the well being of others. We prefer empathy to antipathy.
We don’t want institutions that cause us to look out only for number one. We do want institutions which cause looking out for ourselves and looking out for others to be almost always the same thing and to be, at least, non conflicting.
I benefit, then others should too. Other benefit, then so should I. None of us should benefit at the expense of others. All of us should benefit to the advantage of others. The society should promote solidarity. The economy should, polity should, kinship should, and culture should. It means basically the same thing in each sphere. Institutions should propel people in ways that give them joint rather than opposed interests so that they benefit from each other’s gains, rather than some gaining as others lose. That’s the value, and it isn’t controversial. One would have to be a psychopath to say that other things equal, one prefers anti sociality to solidarity.
Options for People: Diversity
Our second guiding value is just as uncontroversial as our first. Society and its defining institutions dramatically impact the range of options people have available to choose from. None of us live forever. We can’t enjoying doing every conceivable thing. None of us are omniscient. We can’t always select the best way to proceed.
If everyone does the same things you do - we all act alike, all follow one path, all explore one solution, all implement one approach, - then all other possibilities are simply gone for each if us. There are two very serious problems with trends toward that kind of homogeneity.
With homogeneity, we lose the benefit of vicariously enjoying that which we ourselves can’t or don’t have time or don’t wish to do. We can only vicariously enjoy acts we don’t undertake, or learn their lessons, if other do undertake them. And that requires diversity.
With homogeneity, we also are consigned to suffer more with mistakes. We don’t have a fall back position, other options, also advancing, which we can switch too because when we chose a wrong path, everyone else is on it too.
Our value for options is diversity. It doesn’t mean multiply options without limit just for the sake of a higher tally. But it does mean we studiously avoid narrowing options at the expense of enjoying vicariously and being prepared to correct faults. And it means this same thing in each of our four spheres.
No one who is stable and remotely insightful would say that other things equal they would prefer a society which systematically reduces available options and homogenizes outcomes. Everyone would say other things equal, they prefer a society that systematically diversifies options in the name of plentiful variation and preparedness. Enjoy other peoples’ always contrasting and sometimes clashing choices. Don’t put all eggs in one basket, have back up options. So we have our second uncontroversial value and there is no need for extensive debate about it.
Distribution of Circumstances and Benefits: Justice
Now comes our first value that will be controversial. Society and its defining institutions dramatically impact the distribution of material and situational responsibilities and benefits that people enjoy or suffer in their daily lives.
How much stuff do you get? What is the rationale for it? What circumstances do you find yourself in? What is the rationale for that? Do you get more, or less? Why? In disputes, how is redress of grievances to be assessed? What levels of punishment, when punishment applies, are to be rendered? What level of redress or reward when redress or reward apply, are to be given?
This value is about allocation of responsibility and benefits in all aspects of life. We call distributional outcomes that we like - you get that and I get this - just. We call distributional outcomes that we do not like, unjust. In other words, we all agree to call our distributional value, justice.
We also agree that what makes a particular distribution of benefits and burdens just is that it is fair. This is circular, yet also true and will enrich or clarify the definition for some. We want the amount that each person receives - whether in the form of material reward or circumstances - to be commensurate to one’s efforts in fulfilling responsibilities.
In a very real sense, justice is about each person getting a fair and essentially equal overall mix of benefits minus burdens. If we outlay more from our lives in taking on burdens, we should get back additional benefits to bring us back to an average or fair weight of both combined. People are entitled, by being members of society, to a fair benefit for a fair effort. To get more benefits, we must endure more burdens. To endure fewer burdens, we must receive fewer benefits. Gain and loss should not be by luck. It should not be by taking or being taken. It should not be by advantage.
Society, in essence, has much burden to to endure and much benefit to enjoy. If we endure some of what’s burdensome, we get to enjoy some benefits. The gain weighs against the cost we suffered. If we do more that needs doing, we get more benefit. If we do less, we get less. If, worse still, we violate our responsibilities and in essence not only don’t add to but actually reduce society’s bounty by irresponsible behaviors, then we suffer penalties. This is what we typically mean by justice, fair apportionment of burdens and benefits, and it is the basic norm we shall have in mind and have to apply explicitly, yielding slightly different insights and aims in each case, in each of the four spheres. Though most details will have to wait for institutional discussions still to come, we can elaborate at least a bit more, now, this value being the most technically complicated and variegate of those we will seek to fulfill.
Consider economics. The issue of justice in the economy is about what income and circumstances we enjoy by virtue of fulfilling our economic responsibilities. We will deal with certain critical aspects of circumstances when we discuss economic institutions, but pending those refinements, what is a just result regarding income distribution and circumstances? In essence, the net benefit for each person - subtracting the costs of their time and effort at work from the gains of income, ought to be the same which is to say, equitable or just.
The economy produces lots of stuff. Think of the output as a giant pie. What size piece do we each receive? That’s income distribution. Of course, what we really get is a bunch of goods and services - clothes, housing, food, movies, transport, electricity, whatever - but it won’t have any adverse effects to simplify as if there is just pie, and we each get more or less.
There are five norms of remuneration any economist has ever advocated for what should determine the income (or share of pie) people receive: the amount our property produces, the amount we are strong enough to take, the amount we ourselves produce by our efforts and sacrifices, the scale of our efforts and sacrifices as long as we are producing desired results, and/or our need. There are two primary considerations we have to consider in judging these norms, the morality of a choice for the person receiving the share of pie it implies, and the incentive effects of a choice for the size of the whole pie and thus what anyone can receive.
Which option, or combination of options, is equitable for determining income distribution? It will turn out to be, for us, remuneration for need when one cannot work, and remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor, when one can work - which is to say, from our list above, remuneration for effort and sacrifice at socially useful labor. We will reject remuneration for property, power, and/or output as not yielding fair benefits minus burdens for each person. All this will be investigated and motivated next chapter, as well as addressing additional details regarding clarity regarding equity of circumstance, and addressing the incentive aspect of the various norms.
Regarding kinship and culture, the key justice focus is the apportionment of benefits and responsibilities to people by virtue of their kinship and cultural practices. For kinship, do men and women, children and elderly people, gays and straights, both in the home and in kinship institutions more broadly, as well as the rest of society, have a mix or responsibilities and benefits that equilibrate benefits minus burdens fairly from person to person. For culture, within cultural communities, the same calculus needs to apply, but it also needs to apply between communities so that different communities have the same security and potentials to pursue their cultural practices vis a vis needed resources, space, safety, etc.
Regarding polity, assuming all the above are dealt with, and thus legislation abides just norms, the remaining issue is largely one of justice in the oft used sense of determining just results of conflicts. This is partly about dealing with violations of social laws and norms and partly about resolving disputes with benefits and responsibilities for the contestants. Legal justice means arriving at results that apportion benefits and punishments appropriately given past actions and future situations as well as given agreed norms and laws. Is that vague? Yes - but that is the nature of judicial applications - the range of issue is so broad, what justice means judicially is largely contextual.
To avoid this chapter becoming too long, and the discussions of the details of justice in the four spheres being too distant from their applications to defining institutions in those spheres, each of the four applications of justice will be clarified and enriched when we deal with the key defining features of a worthy vision for each of the four spheres, in coming chapters.
Influence over Decisions: Self Management
What about determining what to do and how to do it? Society and its defining institutions affect the amount of say each person has in determining outcomes. What is our value for decision making?
Many decision making values are propounded - of course one wants good, insightful, caring decisions. Typically one says one wants democracy, which is one person, one vote, majority rules. Others might say, well, yes, but sometimes it is better to have autocracy - an elite, however small, deciding, because they know best. Another stance is that we should all agree - or, even if we don’t precisely all agree, no one should be so distraught that they want to block a choice others agree on - consensus. And then there are combinations and variants - such as needing two thirds, or 60% or three quarters, or whatever. And, as well, variations arise in how long deliberations should last, and who should partake of them, and over representation, concerning efficiency or how to locate and utilize expertise.
Our thinking in this book is a bit different. What do we want vis a vis decisions? What is the aim for how much say people should have? We certainly want good decisions, of course. But we also and relatedly want people to have an appropriate say. Suppose we focus on the latter aim, first.
What is appropriate say?
Again, this is a value - not a factual question. We can agree, hopefully, after considering options and implications but we cannot claim a proof.
Suppose I work with a bunch of others and I want to wear brown socks instead of black, or I want to wear no clothes instead of clothes. Or say I want to put up a picture of my mate on my wall and look at it sometimes, or I want to put a stereo on my shelf and play it - very loud, sometimes. Some decisions are different than others. Almost everyone would say I should get to decide alone about my socks, and about my mate’s picture. No one else should have a say, just me. I do it - like Stalin - dictating the result. Most would say, however, I can’t decide to go nude and dictate that outcome, alone - and certainly can’t decide to listen to loud music alone.
The difference is that some decisions affect just me - or nearly so. Other decisions affect many other people, not just me. About the former type of decision, we tend to say, go for it. About the latter type, we tend to say, hold on, others have to be allowed to influence it too. Why?
Well, the answer that strikes me as the underlying value that most of us most often have is that people should have a say in decisions in proportion to the degree they are affected by them - or as nearly so as we can sensibly manage, in any case. Let’s call that value or norm, self management.
With that norm we will use majority rules, or two thirds, or consensus not as a matter of principal, but because one or the other best approximates self management. Sometimes as with the sock decision, we will opt for a dictatorial approach. Others times we will favor more inclusive modes of arriving at and tallying preferences.
Self management is something we take more or less for granted inside groups of friends and even, to an extent, with peers. Only in particular institutions with particular role structures that apportion influence differently, do we drop our allegiance to self management. Or most of us drop it, anyhow.
Well, is there something wrong with self management? What controversy does it arouse? Should it be dropped?
The rejectionist case is that self management dilutes the quality of decisions. The idea is that some people are better at decisions - the experts - than other people. So to get the best or even just good decisions, we need to give the experts disproportionate say based on their skills at decision making, even when they are not most affected by the decisions.
That is the logic. What are its merits?
We should be careful here. We do prefer good decisions to bad ones. And expertise is important to making good decisions. But what is needed is expert knowledge of implications, often, and once we consult experts and have that information at our disposal, why should the experts be given more say than is warranted by how much they will be affected? This would only make sense if understanding the implications even after they were clearly spelled out, required the expert’s knowledge. And we have to be careful about the word “understanding” here. If the experts say the bridge will collapse if we make decision X, and the bridge will be fine if we make decision Y - we don’t have to be able to replicate or comprehensively reproduce or even fully understand the totality of analysis by which they arrived at that conclusion. We have to be able to judge if they are reliable, and we have to be sure the situation doesn’t give them perverse motives, and if they are reliable and can be trusted, then we have to be able to decide how we feel about the bridge failing as compared to the bridge succeeding.
Notice, if anyone really accepted the logic that says experts need to decide, it would not only rebut the merits of self management, but also the merits of democracy.
There is another hole in this mindset, once one seriously considers it. There is a particular kind of information, very relevant to arriving at good decisions, which not only requires expertise, but for which the only way to account for this knowledge is by allotting influence according to the norms of self management.
That is, while one component of deciding should we or shouldn’t we do X is what will be the implications of doing X, a second component is, how do I, you, and others feel about X’s implications. And, each of us is the world’s foremost expert regarding our own preferences about X, and everything else too. So, it follows that when discussing options and deliberating about them it is very important to consult those with special relevant knowledge so it can be taken into account including often giving them more time and space to explain their insights than many other folks have to offer their comments. But when we are actually tallying opinions to settle on a decision, then paying attention to expertise means we must let each person determine their own preferences and register them. That is the only way to tally preferences accurately.
So, as with all values, it comes down to do we like self management or not, ethically, given its implications for the quality of decisions, the degree of participation, etc. I do. Hopefully as we see its implications unfold, you will decide similarly. But clearly, self management means basically the same thing in each of the four spheres - when economic, kinship, cultural, and political decisions are to be made, methods are employed that give people a say proportionate to the degree they are affected.
Relations to Nature: Stewardship
People and the environment exist entwined. There is us. There are our artifacts. And there is the rest. But, of course, the rest impinges on and helps define us, and we impinge on and help define it - both to such an extent that viewed differently, there is really only one highly entwined whole. Still, regarding what we broadly mean by nature, what is the value we would like to see a new society abide and even foster?
The usual answer from virtually everyone who addresses this issue, is Sustainability. We should behave in ways that allow us to continue behaving. We should not behave in ways whose implications, over time, are to disrupt nature so much that our behaving is no longer possible. Society is unsustainable. I can’t see how anyone in their right mind could question this value other than from the direction of saying it isn’t enough. Sustainability says, taken literally, society should not commit suicide by way of environmental degradation. Well yes, of course.
Can we go beyond this? Yes, though not with great precision. We could say, and I think we ought to say, we want Stewardship. This word implies we are not only relating to the environment with an eye on the effects of our actions on the continuation our own future as compared to obliterating the conditions of our survival, but also with an eye on the effect on the environment insofar as it creates a new context at all. Does a proposed act’s impact on the environment benefit or hurt human growth and development. If it benefits us okay. If it hurts us, then there needs to be larger offsetting benefits or we should desist.
Even more, however, the word Stewardship conveys that humans are taking responsibility for the environment beyond only considering its impact on us. It opens the possibility that we preserve, protect, and even nurture aspects of nature in their own right. What aspects? Well, that’s a future call, perhaps it will be obvious at times. Perhaps it will be contentious at times. Species. Environments. The point of the value is to say of course we recognize that change in the environment due to our actions rebounds on us, and we take that into account. We don’t commit environmental suicide - and, indeed, instead, we try to affect the environment in ways beneficial for the human community. More, however, we also consider environmental and particularly natural forms and conditions themselves. We act on behalf of the environment like acting on behalf of future generations - because neither can speak for themselves, yet.
My guess is that as with Solidarity and Diversity, Stewardship is also an uncontroversial value, save in disputes about specific actual implementations. Other things equal, however, it would be an odd person indeed who said let’s joyously pillage the environment unto either our death or its death.
Relations to Other Countries: Internationalism
Any society exists in the world. In one sense, our value for international relations can be said to be just the other values writ larger. But, to keep our eyes on the issue, we will give this a name and clarify a bit. We can call it Internationalism where by being internationalist we mean that each society should regard the world arena as its social context and should simultaneously wish to be comfortable and benefit by its relations to other societies, but also have other societies do likewise.
What hurts all is for the international arena to yield asymmetries which in turn induce hostilities, whether these are waged by sword or pen. So we need international solidarity. But what constitutes it?
To homogenize the world, would be to rob its richness and risk horrible loss due to a a loss of vicarious experience and learning and a cessation of experiment and exploration of alternatives. We need international diversity. Fairness for anyone requires and implies fairness for everyone, so we also need international justice. Surely people in the world should all have the same norm for degrees of influence over their own and over world affairs - and thus we should favor international self management. The ecology of the planet obviously requires the same attentiveness as the ecology within any one country - so we favor international stewardship.
Put more succinctly, internationalism means each nation respects and seeks to learn from and assist other nations such that there is a steadily diminishing and then no new emergence of significant differences in per capita wealth, influence, or circumstances from nation to nation, yielding a condition of mutual aid and learning - and of peace.
These are familiar aspirations, posed and preached in many versions, that again everyone remotely caring and sensible would align with - other things equal. Of course, other things are typically not equal, and the allegiance to internationalism disappears as if tortured into oblivion the minute the self interested domestic pursuits of any one nation can be advanced by imperial behavior toward others, and vice versa - typically as an outgrowth of their domestic social structures and their implications. So the basis internationalism is ultimately to (a) clean up the domestic front by achieving the values above in each society, (b) establish not only a norm, but also means of fulfilling those values internationally as well. Clearly this entails focusing on the institutional how of internationalism, which applies to all the other values as well. Next step, institutional commitments.
Where We Fit: Participation
When we examine the implications of implementing the above values throughout each of society’s four spheres, we will see that their establishment implies and requires elimination of divisions of people into large opposed sectors along kinship, community, political, or economic lines - thus entailing what we call feminism, intercommunalism, participatory politics, and participatory economics as goals for each sphere to replace sexism, homophobia, racism, ethnocentrism, classism and other forms of cultural, gender, political, and economic oppression with the pursuit and fulfillment of solidarity, diversity, justice, and self management. We will see what this looks like, and institutionally requires, in coming chapters.
How do we arrive at vision for each of the four sphere and our two contexts - ecology and international relations - giving them substance, and thereby establishing a vision for all of society? The task, is to simply respect and apply the values discussed above. In the domain of society and history, if a particular set of institutions violates one’s values in unjustifiable ways, especially if the violation is extreme and intrinsic, than those institutions are not worthy of support. To reject them is morally and logically consistent. Anything less is hypocrisy.
If I say that I value solidarity and I advocate social relations that produce anti sociality - it means I am seriously confused, lying, or delusional. The same applies if I advocate diversity, justice, self management, stewardship, or internationalism, but support institutions that obliterate one or more of these values, not tangentially and correctably, and not simply when there is some absolutely worthy reason why it must temporarily be done, but centrally, perpetually, uncorrectably, and inexorably, with reasons that themselves also violate the values.
If we take this brief chapter seriously, in other words, we are all potential revolutionaries, precisely in that, unless there is no escaping them, we reject the defining institutions of modern societies due to the central uncorrectable and inexorable ways they violate our values whether because a perverse history has imposed such tendencies and outcomes on our institutions or because small sectors vastly benefit and pursue the benefits they get from the violations of our values - or, as is nearly always the case, both, with the former always producing and aggravating the latter, and at times vice versa.