Only two

I believe in the basic goodness of people, i.e given zero or negative costs of doing the right thing, most people would do the right thing. (By negative cost of doing the right thing, I mean a reward). But that has now led me to conclude that, in essence, there are only two questions that need answering:

  • What is right and wrong?
  • What needs doing?

And looking around me, I see only four existing solutions:

  • It is up to the individual.
  • It is up to another individual (e.g monarchies, parents for young children)
  • It is based on a, sometimes periodically revised, set of rules that are laid out somewhere. (e.g religions, constitutions)
  • It is based on what the stance is of a group, of which, the individual is a member (e.g democracies, juries)

The above is based on other observations though:

  • An individual belongs to several groups the smallest of which is the individual itself and the largest is the group of all individuals. There can be several groups in between that the individual is part of voluntarily or otherwise, only some of which have mutually exclusive membership.

  • An individual is expected to conform to his groups’ answers for the questions posed above, if they exist.

It is obvious that given human nature’s affection for autonomy and freedom, individual happiness is maximized when the answers to both questions are left to the individual. But the worst case scenario for this approach is a total lack of anything being done and/or n different answers for n individuals. So for enterprise, the better approaches are the less attractive ones. In spite of this, most free and ‘developed’ groups restrict themselves to answering only the first question. Most groups also offer some form of reward for conformance and enforce costs for non-conformance. Only some of the rewards and costs are tangible. Others, most notably in religious groups, are ideas. The fundamental human conflicts arise out of having to choose between differing answers provided by groups that individuals are members of and weighing the costs against the benefits.

When it comes to what the stance of a group is, there are several options, some of which are the same as what is available to an individual. But a breakthrough idea here is a new kind of consensus whereby the group’s stance is a function of the group members’ stances. This function is sometimes a vote for majority; sometimes a vote for a supermajority and sometimes a vote for total agreement on what the group’s stance is. The farther away from the first, the exercised method is, the higher the average group member satisfaction usually is, but the nearer to the first the exercised method is, the easier it is to reach consensus. Democracy, a wildly popular counter-intuitive form of Government, is a result of this.

How do individuals end up being group members? Some groups offer membership by virtue of birth (e.g citizenship, default religion). Some groups, individuals voluntarily join (e.g the organizations they work for). Individuals join groups in the hope that group membership will entail rewards that are more beneficial than retaining autonomy when it comes to the answers to the questions. For example, living in a society gives an individual access to resources he would otherwise have to spend a lot more time and effort, to have.

In many cases, there is distinct advantage to be had when an individual does what the group has defined to be wrong. In these cases, individuals weigh the benefit (sometimes emotional) of the act against the cost defined by the group for non-conformance. Most groups cannot guarantee that a non-conformance will be detected by other members and put to task. Some of the reluctance to conform, comes from the knowledge about this non-zero probability that it might go undetected. Corrective systems, like the judiciary, strive to bring this probability to zero.

Life, then, is a sequence of decisions for an individual about how to answer these questions, which ones to conform to and when is the reward greater than the cost.

The cursed ones, though, notice that everything changes with a small shift in perspective.

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2 Responses to “Only two”

  1. awesomeness… simply superb… u earned a fan just now… first time here and now following your blog… 🙂

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