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If we could rely on people to be honest, objective, intelligent, and reasonable, would we need any rules at all?

Expanding the idea that we should expect moral individuals to know when to break or expand the rule base, couldn't we also expect people to know what is right and fair based on their own sense of morality. Simply applying the 'golden rule' to know that if we were on the receiving end of our own actions that we would find them unfair, unsafe, or unreasonable. Ignoring whether this is possible or not, would such a hypothetical culture be able to resolve differences based only on the law of reason and fairness?

  • Feb 3 2013: Know what's weird?

    The fact that we might not have a 100% rule-free world or society, but rather
    have one that might have very, very few rules, because they are no longer needed,
    doesn't seem to interest many. Odd, that.

    Why is it necessary to throw out a good idea, or not work towards it, simply because it wouldn't produce
    I have asked many if they are interested, or would be, or do they think the world would be a better place without crime and they say, "yes!"

    But when I suggest ridding ourselves of the major causes of and for crime, they dismiss it almost immediately because they don't believe it would reduce crime to a 100% successful reduction rate.

    It's gotta be 100%, perfection, or nothing, and I can no longer engage with them in discussion about how much better we all would be if crime were reduced by 90% or higher.

    They want all the answers now, all the problems foreseen and solved, before they will take a chance at even thinking about something new, which only serves to keep them in their little coffin box of thought and action, which is always no action, no results except the same 'ole, same 'ole.

    In order for your idea to work, and it can be implemented, we as a species must get rid of the reasons or causes for crime, corruption, unethical behavior and so on. People just refuse to think in that realm.

    "What? Get rid of the causes? How is that gonna help? What a ridiculous idea!"
    Of course, getting rid of the causes also eliminates the behavior and the need for most rules to rule by.

    We, as an animal, do not act badly because it is our nature. We act the way we do because our genes give us choices on how to respond depending upon to what degree our environment is supporting us, can support us or is failing in any area upon which we as said animal, depend.

    We're a higher animal, most will agree, but then we follow like sheeple as TED Lover said, and live like wild animals to survive, never eliminating the causes that push us around.
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      Feb 3 2013: I am confused. Why do you say that people are not interested in making improvements that are unlikely to have a 100% success rate? Isn't change of ANY kind in this category? Or do you mean a particular suggestion doesn't attract a lot of interest?

      Who says or believes that getting rid of or reducing the reasons for crime, corruption, and unethical behavior isn't a pursuit worthy of thought, effort, and action? These issues are discussed all the time here and in arenas of policy action. Or again is it a particular strategy that people don't find as promising as others they consider more seriously?

      Why do you say there is little interest in reducing rules and regulations? Even on TED, ideas along these lines are put forward and discussed by many people regularly and many people's campaign platforms in the US, at least, are based very much on this idea. Ronald Reagan was the first I remember really to emphasize this, but others probably did before him as well.
      • Feb 4 2013: Hi Fritzie
        Well, people I talk to. All kinds of people, mainly westerners, so that is mostly what I hear in return.
        I guess, as usual, I made some of my "blanket statements", from emotions.
        Sorry about that.

        For myself, speaking face-to-face with others, the usual response I get, and it is on a variety of topics such as what is discussed here on ted, is a quick dismissal and then a refusal to discuss further.

        I would like to add to this however, that it seems to me that many seem to forget (based on their comments like, "Let's say I tell you with honesty, intelligence, objectivity, and reasonableness that I am going to scratch your new car because it will relieve the feelings of jealousy and disappointment I have been experiencing since you were promoted instead of me." from Mr. Long, overlooks the idea that by getting rid of causes and reasons, we will get rid of the type of behavior he uses as one example of an argument, that the topic can't work or won't work.

        Training ourselves can help but changing the system we slave around in would do what we really want and need...eliminate what we need to eliminate. There would be no reason for behaving badly towards others, most of the time and in most ways, that we currently have by the ton.
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          Feb 4 2013: I understand now, RC. I have experienced frustration at how a team/community of pretty large size can be working very much as Reef describes- on the basis of honest, commited, and creative dispositions and hard work toward meaningful goals... and then a couple of people move in with their own self-interested agendae and muck up the whole works entirely. It can be somewhere between depressing and traumatic.

          In fact it's maybe the biggest challenge in community building.

          I think in many circumstances, though, the vast majority of people want to live and work in that sort of cohesive, tolerant, and constructive community and it's a few who don't care as much about that as they do in their own power or whatever.
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    Feb 3 2013: In Acting what you described would be called magical 'if'. If such a world existed, there would be no need for rules.
    But, yeah, we live in the real world.
    • Feb 3 2013: Very true, but there are so many questions, in every branch of thought, where the answer to a hypothetical can help shed light on real questions, even when the idea is an impossible ideal.
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    Feb 3 2013: The key here, I think, is what is included in 'reasonable.' There are cases in which what is best for different people taken individually is in conflict, and there are different reasonable ways of making choices in such circumstances, depending on people's values. Also people will weigh the priority on certain values differently, which affects the choices they think are best for the aggregate.

    In another conversation, though I don't remember which, a TEDster raised the idea that people within well connected small communities are able often to live without reference to rules and laws. Many loving families have such a format, for example, and many work places as well.

    There are opposing forces. Some people by personality are quite apparently very ego-bound, whether or not they recognize this in themselves. I am not sure where you see the interface between such a personality attribute one sees in so many and the characteristics you put forward as conditions.
    Your question is important, and many who in various contexts work with or work to build sustainable and vigorous communities consider all the time and seriously how to create and maintain a culture that operates on the basis of attributes such as those you put forward and very few rules. It definitely works in many situations.
    • Feb 3 2013: So then why is it that we can be reasonable with family and loved ones, but not with everyone else? I believe it is for exactly the reasons discussed here: that when honesty and objectivity are allowed to overpower bias based on pride and the need to be right (triumphant), reasonability is possible.
      It's very true, that many choices favor one group or individual over another, but using a utilitarian accounting, even the 'losing' side, although disappointed with the reality, can often accept it as best for all.
      I understand completely that there are many difficult complications, but I think those are the main differences between the family unit and society at large.
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        Feb 3 2013: Some people do better with their famiies and some actually do worst with their families! Some people find it easy to love or feel empathy for or to value those with whom they are not intimately connected and others don't.

        I agree absolutely that people can weigh tradeoffs reasonably, take turns, and so forth if everyone is inclined or commited to functioning that way.

        And then there are people who like to sabotage such situations. I have never understood why. Like most aspects of behavior, the answer likely lies somewhere in the individual's personality and history.
        • Feb 4 2013: I believe the answer is that too frequently people act on their emotions without due thought. I know this idea would be shunned by poets, play-writes, and artists who rely on emotional expression, and I admit that much beauty comes from uncontaminated emotional output. But so does much of the evil and pain we see.
          The point of this thread is that I think if we train ourselves individually and expect each other culturally to take a moment to honestly evaluate our actions before we 'pull the trigger', a great deal of pain can be avoided.
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        Feb 4 2013: Hi, Reef. I agree.
        • Feb 4 2013: Thanks for your helpful insights Fritzie. I'll look forward to more of the same in the future.
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    Feb 3 2013: There are some behaviors missing from your description of citizens in a perfect Anarchy. Let's say I tell you with honesty, intelligence, objectivity, and reasonableness that I am going to scratch your new car because it will relieve the feelings of jealousy and disappointment I have been experiencing since you were promoted instead of me. Then I do it! Without rules I have committed no wrong. I was being honest (I am going to do it), objective (you were promoted because you play golf with the boss), intelligent (such acts of retribution do offer immediate alleviation of angst), and reasonable (though less qualified than me you got the promotion) but I acted only after considering how my deed would affect me. Without compassion, empathy, and social awareness I require rules to delineate what is acceptable behavior.
    • Feb 3 2013: I do like your label of this situation as a perfect anarchy. Possibly taken as disparaging because of the normal perception of anarchy, but apt nonetheless.
      I disagree that you scratching my car could be honestly considered fair if you apply the golden rule though. If you say that you would feel honestly justified in the act, then you must also accept it as fair if you receive the same treatment from someone else. Compassion and empathy are critical elements in honest evaluation of an act if you truly with to avoid hypocrisy (ie honestly apply the golden rule). In honestly visualizing how we would receive the treatment we are considering giving to someone else, compassion and empathy should naturally and automatically come into consideration unless self-deception blocks them.
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        Feb 3 2013: My point is simply to point-out that your list of four behaviors is insufficient to allow a society to thrive with no rules whatsoever. Added to your list must be the characteristic of compassion, empathy, consideration, altruism, kindness, goodness, etc. whatever you choose to call it.
    • Feb 3 2013: In fact, after more thought, I realize that empathy is the foundation on which the golden rule is based. Thanks for the thoughts.
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        Feb 3 2013: Precisely, so add Empathy to your list.
        • Feb 4 2013: I think that empathy, as contained in the golden rule, grows naturally from honest reason. When honestly deciding, we have to choose whether we will act in a way that would be acceptable from both the giving and receiving or not. Most often, as in your example, false justification is created using skewed facts and perspectives as I've described, so that when we tell the story to ourselves or others, we can appear empathetic even when we haven't been. The effort to appear so is made, at least in large part, so that we are not ostracized.
          We could honestly choose to act in a way that we know we would not appreciate receiving, but then reason would warn us that, in a society in which we could honestly get away with such an act, we must expect it ourselves. I don't believe that reasonable people would choose the resulting chaotic culture.
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        Feb 4 2013: All rightey then. With only the four behaviors listed in your headline I must answer "YES" to your question because there would be a need for a rule to control wrongdoing based on failure to consider others. I understand, but disagree with, your belief that selfish behavior is controlled by your four basic behaviors. Empathy is not subsumed in any of your four stated behaviors. Thank you for a provocative contribution. Be well sir!
        • Feb 8 2013: Same to you Edward. Very thought provoking, enjoyable, and hopeful to discuss such things with people like you. (Got this in the wrong place the first time.)
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    Gail .

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    Feb 3 2013: Of course not. But it's not as easy as that - however reasonable Mr. Schwartz's talk was.

    Some years ago, my worldview CRASHED. In the twinkling of an eye, all that I had believed in was seen for the illusion that it was. It was all a lie - truth, justice, equality, freedom, and yes, even God. Not only was I devastated. I was crippled. Not knowing how to survive in the new world that I perceived, I didn't know what to do.

    Should I go to work? Or should I just sit home and starve to death? If I go to work, I will be paying taxes that go to things that are morally abhorrent. Whether I looked at never-ending wars and pseudo wars, pollution & wanton waste of earth's resources, economic policy where I could have abundance, but only if I deprived someone else of it, or if I looked at laws that encouraged discrimination against others while calling it equality, I couldn't find a way to live without harming others, whether directly or indirectly. In essence, that which I had been calling freedom was really slavery, and I had been supporting my own slavery. That which I had been calling logical, WASN'T

    Up to that point, my whole life had been spent suppressing that awareness. My entire culture is based on the people's willingness to hide from horrible truths about themselves and what they are doing to contribute to the horrors. The most successful are those who are most successful at hiding from awareness of consequences of their actions.

    This is the systemic illness that pervades ours lives. So I ask, how does one say, "I will do "this" because it is right, and I will do "that" because even though it is morally repugnant, my survival depends on it. As soon as you are forced, in the name of survival, to make that second choice, one's willingness to look at his/her role is squashed.

    When a society finds itself in that position - laws become necessary - to help people absolve themselves of responsibility for their own behaviors. People become sheeple.
    • Feb 4 2013: All true. My point is that one answer to all of this, that hacks at the root of the problem versus its branches, is self-honesty. We provide all of the self-deceptions you describe so that we can tell ourselves we are acting reasonably (fairly) and we use reality skewing techniques that mainly involve cherry-picking the whole picture to rearrage it in a way that appears to justify what we've done. Honesty and objectivity are the cure for this.
      I disagree that people who do what you describe are the most succesful in the long run. I have no desire to be Donald Trump, no matter how rich that would make me. False lives have to be maintained at great mental and emotional cost. Often, when allowed to see throught the facade of such lives, we can see that they are not at all what they've been made to appear.
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    Feb 3 2013: Yes! Rules are not always about rights and wrong, sometimes it's just about way of handling things or making a system.
    No one can get a yes 100% of people on something, anything.
    There will be always some people that even though they're right, disagree with other people that are right too.
    • Feb 3 2013: I think first you have to differentiate between rules and instructions. Rules are generally prohibitive and mandatory. Instructions, like the notes a musician plays or ways of conducting a project or system, are positive steps leading to a goal. Most of what Mr Schwartz and my question are regarding rules and laws.
      I see your point about 100% agreement being impossible, but most disagreements are usually about different perspectives on a given subject. Those different perspectives normally result from incomplete view of the whole reality surrounding a subject. And those incomplete views normally result from active cherry-picking and ignorance born of a desire to skew reality or just from passive ignorance on the subject.
      My thought was that if we moved away culturally from such directed ignorance, we could move closer to the ideal with the fewest rules possible. I really believe that if we valued finding truth over being right, we would eliminate the bulk of bias and there would be far fewer situations in which people were truly right but still disagreed.
      Thanks for the thoughts.
  • Feb 3 2013: No we wouldn't