I think I’ve finally realised a complete ethical foundation on which I can base all my economic decisions. It’s been a while in the making, and although I like it in its current state, it’s possible it will change in the future. we’ll see.
basically, it consists of two rules (guideline), in order of importance:
1. Do not Waste.
2. Do not Steal.
considering that they are in order of importance, what the second rule really means is “do not Steal unless not to do so would cause Waste”.
I think that covers everything. the rational is below.
I have to admit, the first rule actually comes from a Terry Pratchett novel, written when he was about 25, I think. it’s called “the Dark Side of the Sun” and is probably one of the best science fiction stories you will ever read. really. the exact reference is the One Commandment of the protagonist’s religion, Sadhimism – “thou Shalt not Waste”.
One of Pratchett’s characters describes the religion thus:
“SADHIMISM: the pantheistic/conservation religion founded in cold blood by Arte Sadhim (q.v.), the ruler of Earth from 2001-12. Contemporary documents suggest that he devised the dogmas, beliefs and rituals of Sadhimism in a day and a night, incorporating gobbets wrenched wholoesale from druidism, the marginally-surviving witchcraft practices, voodoo and the Survival Handbook for Spaceship Earth. As a religion it worked well, and achieved it’s purpose, which was solely to impress environmental thinking deeply on human minds, and then developed a life of it’s own and became greater than it’s creator. Sadhim himself was ritually murdered by a breakaway sect called Little Flowers of the Left-hand Path on the eve of Good Friday – the Night of the Long Athames…” (p. 51)
It hasn’t happened yet, but Orwell’s 1984 seems to have been around 20 years late too. you never know.
Of course, being an environmentalist (ie. someone who sees that the destruction of the environment is not good for anyone involved, generally including those doing the destroying), I see waste* as the basic cause of every one of society’s problems. after all isn’t every environmental problem: oil spills, rubbish, paper production (lack of recycling, chemical waste), anthropogenic global warming; nothing more than a matter of waste, and not dealing with it properly?
the second part of the foundation comes from many discussions with friends who steal. usually things like food, but sometimes other things. idealistically, I can’t agree with it. the argument is that it’s stealing from people who have money (perhaps more than they need), and giving to the recipients (my friends), who are poor, on centrelink, and can’t always afford good food. my argument is generally along the lines of “even someone on centrelink is hugely more well-off than the vast majority of people on this planet”, so really, it’s stealing from the rich and giving to the slightly-less-wealthy-rich. not really robinhood stuff when you think about it like that. infact, in essence, although I love my friends a lot, I can’t find a line of argument that makes it any different, except in scale, from what I stuggle against daily – the theft inherent the heart of the current neo-liberal uneven-free-market system in place world wide (struggle against and to not be part of).
the argument still holds though, if someone needs to steal, if they need food or water in order not to die, or some similar situation, I don’t feel I have the power, or the right, to deny that person what they require. but where do I draw the line?
coming back to the issue of waste, it is clear. the line to draw on stealing is the line at which waste is increased. I don’t have a problem with people stealing food or other requirements if they are going to die, or be harmed otherwise. that would be a waste of life. but I do have a problem with people stealing things which they don’t require. that’s immoral, as it’s wasteful. especially as someone else may actually require it.
one of the future paths I can see from here is the exploration of the possible crossovers between stealing and waste. Pratchett, in one of his discworld books, notes that the job of the policeman (person) is ultimately purely as the “theif-taker”. if the worst possible crime is murder, what is that but the theft of a life (obviously the most precious possesion for someone, as without it they can’t have any others). but that discussion is a long one, and I’m going to have it some other time.
* waste of anything. waste of food, waste of resources, waste of effort, waste of time, waste of energy, waste of potential, waste of life. waste, in this sense, it physical inefficiency, although perhaps there’s some spiritual connotation here too.