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Human Rights and a Code of Responsibility
Alex McGilvery   Dec 14, 2011   Ethical Technology  

We have become so dependent on the concept of ‘human rights’ that we have become morally lazy. I propose that we need to start thinking more in terms of ‘human responsibility’.

im1 A man and a woman have an argument.

“I have a right to come home to some peace and quiet,” he says.

“I have a right to tell you how I feel,” she replies.

The conversation quickly deteriorates as each lists what they have a right to: to be heard, to have feelings, to be happy, to have a nice house, to be taken care of. The list is endless. The problem is that the man’s rights and the woman’s rights conflict and entangle. They both feel that they are being mistreated and the other should be able to see that truth.

The idea that individuals have basic rights that exist simply because one is a member of the human species is relatively new. We are so used to thinking in terms of global human rights that we have a difficult time imagining a time when they did not exist in the codified form that we have now in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet this Declaration was only ratified by the United Nations in 1949 and there are countries that have yet to agree to follow the rights laid out in the Declaration even in principle.

Sadly it is also true that we have become so dependent on Human Rights and the concept of rights in general that we have become morally lazy. We unconsciously divide rights into two categories; ours and theirs. We will fight to the death for our rights. Our right to free speech, to own property, to own a gun. When it comes to the rights of others we are content to sign a petition or send a few bucks. If it doesn’t effect us directly it isn’t important. What I propose is that we need to start thinking in terms of responsibility. Human Responsibility. I don’t think that our ethical development will move forward without a strong sense of responsibility for ourselves and our world.

The idea that we are responsible is set out explicitly in the Declaration: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1) If we just lived out this one concept then everything else would follow. We don’t. We don’t because the economy that surrounds us is predicated on some people being worth more than others. We don’t because we see the world through our assumptions and beliefs about the world, not through rational and critical thinking. Finally, we don’t because it is easier not to, at least in the short run. Thus we need some further impetus to move us to take up our responsibilities as members of the human race.

I am suggesting the following as a beginning to the discussion on the nature of Human Responsibilities. I might have missed something, you may not agree with them. Let’s talk about it. With your help we can make them clearer and more effective.

1. All human beings should live free with dignity and full recognition of their rights and responsibilities. They should use the reason and conscience with which they are endowed to act with humanity toward human, animal and planet.

2. All humans are responsible for their own decisions and the consequences of those decisions as much as they have the capacity to be.

3. All humans are responsible for learning throughout their lives. Parents are responsible for encouraging and empowering the education of their children. Communities are responsible for creating a safe environment in which learning may take place.

4. All humans have the responsibility to develop healthy relationships appropriate for their age. Parents and the community have the responsibility of protecting children from inappropriate and damaging relationships.

5. All humans have the responsibility to be honest with themselves and with others.

6. All humans have the responsibility to respect themselves and the people around them.

7. All humans have the responsibility for caring for the world in which they live.

8. All humans are responsible for putting the good of the community and the world about the desire for profit.

9. It is the responsibility of every person to contribute to society. It is the responsibility of each person to seek out meaning and purpose.

10. It is everybody’s responsibility to know their rights before the law and avail themselves of those rights.

11. All humans have the responsibility to maintain their relationship with their government and to hold their government accountable for its actions.

12. All humans have the responsibility for the elimination of poverty. Each individual is responsible for ensuring that the people of the world have the necessities of life: food, clean water, shelter and education.

13. All humans are responsible for thinking critically about their assumptions of the world and their place in it.

14. All humans have the responsibility to speak, or otherwise express themselves, thoughtfully, truthfully and in a manner that builds up the community.

15. These responsibilities, like the rights that they balance, are indivisible. To choose to live one responsibility is to choose to attempt them all. To refuse one is to refuse all.

16. The refusal of one person, group or nation to take one their responsibilities does not diminish the responsibility held by the rest of the world.

17. Responsibilities belong to the individual, group, or nation and can’t be transferred or imposed from outside.

Once again, if we just live out the first principle, then everything else will follow. The reality is that we won’t. As a species we are more interested in finding exceptions and excuses than in just following the simple standards that would see us evolve as ethical beings. Even as we discuss the potential for moral enhancement through drugs that would possibly increase our empathy, we are abdicating responsibility for our own choices. If we are going to enhance our morality, then we will need to do it the hard way —  by thinking through our decisions and taking responsibility for both decision and consequence.

im2 Some of the Code is just a corollary of the Declaration. If we have the right to marry and form relationships, we have the responsibility to take those relationships seriously and to aid our children to form good relationships. If we have the right to education, we have the responsibility to learn in whatever manner suits us best.  If all people have the right to the essentials of life, then all people have the responsibility to ensure that the essentials of life are available to everybody.

One corollary is especially important; that is the responsibility to speak thoughtfully, truthfully and in a manner to build up the community. Free speech is probably the most abused right. We lambast each other and claim the right to say what we think. The problem is that much of what we think isn’t worth saying. It might be unsupported opinion, it might be completely wrong, it might be outright lies. That is why I like the idea of responsible speech. We are then trying to think before we talk, to speak only what we know is true and to speak in a way that makes the world a better place.

The other side to responsible speech is the responsibility to think critically about our assumptions. This responsibility may in fact be the most difficult of all of them because it demands that we step outside of ourselves and our comfort zone to check whether we are being reasonable or not. Whenever we have to fall back on ‘common sense’ or ‘everybody knows’ or similar generalized statements we should have an alarm going off in our head warning us that we have stopped thinking critically.

What accepting these, or a similar set, of responsibilities will do is prevent the ‘my rights’ versus ‘your rights’ problem that ethics faces now. These are all our responsibility. We either live them or we don’t. We can’t force them on others; we can only choose to live them out ourselves. Yet if we do take living out our responsibilities seriously it will also challenge others to follow suit. We live in a system and any change in one part of the system will result in changes in all parts.

This article is a synopsis of a book on the Code of Responsibility. Your input whether for or against will become part of that book and help spread the idea. The more we talk about it, here, on Facebook, at the coffee shop or bar, the further the idea will spread. As we at the grassroots level balance our rights with our responsibilities we will be ready to move forward in our evolution as Homo sapiens.

Alex McGilvery is currently living in Flin Flon, Manitoba, Canada. He is an author and serves as the minister of a thriving United Church congregation.


Pastor Alex, well done. But (and there is always a ‘but’), you yourself must cease being so gullible: as long as we are merely animals, the highest apes, we can’t change ourselves much, nor—especially—others.
You have many responsibilities and not much time; however if you would please go outside more to carefully observe how men behave you’ll see you are in fact being gullible. What you are proposing, just to begin with, is for men to stop being men. What we refer to as ‘Real Men’ are supposed to be violent and irresponsible; it has been so for not thousands but millions of years.
And men built this world.
It goes without saying it can’t be changed just like that. No point in going on about this, I wrote a longer diatribe as a comment for Mr. Brin’s article on ‘Pining For Feudalism’.
What it amounts to is that intellectuals (which includes the clergy) have a comprehensive understanding of academic subjects, including stats, yet the outside world, considered dirty—and for good reason, as it is managed barbarism—is not appreciated fully.

@ Intomorrow

I am surprised that you don’t think humanity can change itself. We have been changing ourselves since we came out of the trees. My suggestion is that we start deliberating thinking about the changes we are making and being responsible for those changes. I fear you are the one stuck in the past in which life was immutable.

The comments about being an intellectual would be insulting if they weren’t so funny. I have been a farmer, a factory worker, a warehouse worker, an accountant, a teacher, a waiter, a dump truck driver and I’m sure there are other jobs I’ve missed. Far from being gullible, I have observed humanity at its best and worst and drawn my conclusions from relationships with a wide range of people from all classes and jobs. I spend more time in the community talking with everybody from the Mayor to the people on the street.

The world isn’t dirty. It’s broken, and we are given the task of working to fix it. Nobody else is going to do it. It seems the choice is to take up our responsibility as “thinking human” or let ourselves die out and give the world a break.

What would be useful is discussion on how a Code might work or work better. Throwing our hands in the air and saying it can’t be done is defeatist.

Sure humanity can change itself- however decades from now until we live in what can be called a civilization, today we live in a state of controlled, managed barbarism.
And it is dirty; am surprised you have had so much experience yet don’t know this. Best if Peter Wicks or one of the others would explain it to you, Alex, to describe it I can merely write how we like to think of ourselves as experimenters of a sort observing life as an experiment—when we are the lab specimens being experimented on. Things change not only by dislocating the substrate, but also us, which is the #1 reason why I appreciate religion as an escape—yet nothing more.
However I don’t want to think about the past anymore, and religion is a part of that past. IMO it is irresponsible to promote the delusive memes of religion; the fables of angels and demons, miracles and so forth—such is for Kindergarteners. So before we come up with a Code, we have to dispose of that which must be disposed of otherwise the Code will be filled with bugs.

Such pessimism, not to mention ignorance. Dirty, broken, messy, I don’t care, you are using it as an excuse to refuse action.

I won’t argue semantics with you. If you have a better suggestion, lay it out. If not than go on as you are.

Try to imagine that you aren’t arguing religion with me, since the only mention of religion in the code is a call for tolerance. What EXACTLY is wrong with the idea. I don’t want to hear more nonsense about religion or faith or my faults. That’s a cop out.

If we want to change, we need to change now. Waiting for our kids to deal with the mess won’t cut it. The faith that somehow machine intelligence will rise up and solve the problem is a fantasy.

We have a Declaration of Human Rights and we ignore it except for when we want to preserve our own right to spout nonsense or to say we want to make our own choices. So I am giving you the choice, stay in your dirty Kindergarten, or suck it up and start working to make the world a better place.

@ Alex..

You may be correct that there is perhaps too much emphasis promoting the understanding of Human “rights” without the importance and reflection upon Human “responsibilities”. This has also been highlighted very recently in certain Conservative political circles, including by UK PM Cameron himself, (one of his better days?) Yet once again, his motives are also politically motivated, (towards guiding the acceptance of austerity measures).

Social and ethical and spiritual evolution indeed relies upon the awareness of individual responsibility and the promotion of beneficial “memes”, be they Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon or even non-theist.

An embrace of existentialism is the foundation, which I have also promoted many times here through various comments. So we are on the same page in promoting ethical evolution, humanism and self understanding, (as with many others here at IEET!) Also too, the realisation must be that this “mortal” life is of value, and that moral and ethical evolution, (towards universal values and unity), cannot be achieved wholly through a tenet of “tolerance”, as is promoted by most religious groups and other political tribes, but through the tenet of “acceptance”, which takes only a moment of contemplation and critical thinking to reveal itself?

“We are all an inclusive part of the whole”, and therefore non-exclusive from either the Universe, creation, or each other. Our subjective views and politics are what divides us and creates conflicts, and the “veil of ignorance” and this delusion of separation created by duality gives rise to our confusion and our strive for ontological meaning and individualism?

These views are not of my own making, they are basic Hinduism wisdom 101. Avidya = “the veil of ignorance”, the misunderstanding of subjectivity and duality as confused with individualism, and of the eternal separation from each other, (both physically and intellectually and morally)?

Mindfulness is the key, again be it Christian, theist or non-theist. “Think before you speak, before you act, and take a moment of self-reflection”, as is easily taught to small children and thus promoted and encouraged as habit and way of life. Even for a hyper-active child, or the disgruntled misanthrope, mindfulness is an important and highly under-used tool for supporting critical thinking and open mindedness for both adults and children.

The Buddha professed the eight fold path to promote self control and critical thinking, applying each of the eight motivations with equal importance, and yet “Right, (correct) intention or thoughts” leads to “Right (correct) speech”, leads to “Right (correct) actions”, does it not?

Once again, not exactly rocket science is it?

Most of these ancient philosophies promoted wisdom that was influential across the whole Aryan-Vedic culture, that also influenced the ancient Greeks, including Pythagoras to Plato, and together with ancient Greek belief in an eternal spirit or soul, may have directly influenced Christianity and the Christ himself, (if he indeed existed and was not myth drawn from Jewish fable and Gnostic tradition?)

The reason I am highlighting all of this is to show that humans and their evolved morality is not confined to tribes or religions, but is emergent from humanity and civilization as a “whole”? Existentialism = Humanism?

It matters little, as to where our ethical code derives, the importance must be to reflect, use the best of what we know and have, and guide towards increased critical thinking for the future, which also relies on past reflections and ethical wisdom? The wisdom for both the theist and atheist is to understand they can both co-exist together, because we are all humans, and furthermore that no thing and no entity is exclusive from the “whole”?

You have listed many responsibilities, and it would be handy if you could revise these to just a few for simplification and ease of contemplation and memorising?

Yet you have also overlooked a key area that supports your entire thesis, from birth to death?

“Social contract”

“The Social Contract was a progressive work that helped inspire political reforms or revolutions in Europe, especially in France. The Social Contract argued against the idea that monarchs were divinely empowered to legislate; as Rousseau asserts, only the people, in the form of the sovereign, have that all powerful right.

The heart of the idea of the social contract may be stated simply: Each of us places his person and authority under the supreme direction of the general will, and the group receives each individual as an indivisible part of the whole…”

And lastly to conclude, there is a very poignant statement from this modern day genius and guru, and is often found highlighted in the inspirational IEET comments from the front page..

“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
—Albert Einstein

@ Cygnus

Very interesting comment, and instructive.

I thought about narrowing down the responsibilities, but the more general one gets, the easier it is to not follow. My brother said that it sounds like “love your neighbour”, which is true, but we don’t. Maybe we need that concept broken down a little to say what that would look like. Having said that, which particular responsibilities would you conflate into others? How general is too general? There are 30 articles in the Declaration of Human Rights.

The social contract is important in that it allows our present form of democracy to function (more or less).  I will have to think about a responsibility in terms of the social contract, but my immediate reaction is to suggest that responsibility 11 to maintain and be active in the governance of our countries applies. It isn’t enough to just hand over the reigns of power to the majority, but also to hold them accountable for how they use that power. This is the major failure of our modern democracies.

“If you have a better suggestion”

Alex, one suggestion is to stop hiding so much behind religion: you don’t really believe in Heaven, do you? or that Jesus will return?
I do not reject your faith, but do consider it to be necessary fiction—necessary yet still fiction. A house of worship IMO is a demilitarized zone, when a family attends a church they are in a place wherein love usually does reside. The difficulty isn’t so much with a church, as so many think, it is that when the family or individual leaves the church they are in the world of shall we say creative destruction, a far less ecumenical environment to be in.
It is a cop out to ignore what the outside world is like; it CAN be changed, however conditions which have existed for thousands of years take decades to change.

@ Intomorrow

What is your obsession with my faith? My article has nothing to do with faith, and everything to do with ethics in the broader world. It doesn’t mention religion except tangentially. It doesn’t mention God, heaven, hell or any of the other things that you continue to complain about.

Perhaps it is time that you stop hiding behind religion or the lack of it and address the actual issues I’m talking about.

Yes, change takes time, but it will take more time if no one does anything about it. I’m planning to do something about it. I am challenging others to do something about it. Surprise, surprise, it has NOTHING to do with religion and everything to do with whether we decide to start consciously evolving as a species which is part of what this site is all about. My statement that we need to think is really a statement that we need to become conscious of where we are now before we can move forward. If you want to see if I have a realistic view of the world. Read the draft of my book that this article is taken from.

“Yes, change takes time, but it will take more time if no one does anything about it.”

Do you mean to write no one is doing anything about it? perhaps Canada is different; here, because of our delicate system of checks and balances in America, it is extremely difficult to change anything. Where I live in the Midwest, it is often impossible to get a straight answer from anyone- let alone change anything. It might be you are not gullible concerning Canada, however as regards America you could very well be; to know a country really well one must spend many years in it, decades.
I attempt to change things here, yet the unspoken—but clear—message is:

“this is our country and we will do anything we want, nobody tells is what to do but we can tell others [e.g. we’d rather be the hammer than the nail]; we have standards and traditions we must maintain for form’s sake- and that goddamn pinko commie Obama is regulatin’ [fill in the blank]...”

Am old now, and cannot spend the rest of my life arguing with the contrarians that constitute the majority of the US population. It was set up by the Founders to be this way- and what do you as a Canadian propose to do about that? have been through this countless times: you feel it is your paternalistic duty to guilt-trip on about the responsibilities as a citizen to hash it out in the precious marketplace of ideas until Kingdom Come. Yes sir; but will you as a pastor please deliver the eulogy at my funeral when I die of a heart attack? it would be greatly appreciated.

The Code isn’t about countries or corporations. It is about individuals who decide to take responsibility for their lives. That will work as well in the US as in Canada as in South Sudan. You don’t need to change the whole country, just yourself.

I don’t recall guilt tripping you, simply challenging you to think in other terms than religious/non-religious. I have not told you to do anything. You are free to think or not think, to do or not do, believe or not.

What I ASKED is that you make construction critical comments on what I actually wrote instead of about your assumptions about who I am and what I believe.

“The Code isn’t about countries or corporations…”

Then you don’t know America well enough! geez, were you ever a member of the RCMP?

@ Alex - very well done!

The emphasis on responsibility reminds me of some very successful schools. Children who enroll in them agree to a “Code of Conduct”
- the result is a perception that if they misbehave, they have not simply defied authorities, they have instead betrayed their community, by reneging on their agreement.

There’s also a very good school in Costa Rica, run by Quakers, called the Monteverde Friends School - attendees there also agree in advance to assume the responsibilities of the “Code” - the results are really remarkable.

I think right now that the USA public wants elected politicians to act responsibly - and they certainly don’t want the burden of “acting responsible” dumped solely upon themselves.  They perceive politicians of having broken the Code, by pursuing their own interests, not the interests of the public.

@ Alex..

I couldn’t append or conflate what you have offered already, so I had a quick go myself. And indeed it is difficult to minimise key points without the need for clarity and integrity.

So here’s what I feel would cover the most important concerns and areas.

All human entities have the inalienable rights to life, liberty and freedom of speech, and in so doing, reciprocate and uphold these inalienable rights for others.

All human entities have responsibility to exercise their pursuit in quality of life and beliefs in a way that does not impinge or encroach upon the liberties and inalienable rights of others.

All human entities have responsibility to pursue a livelihood of non harm, and peaceful coexistence towards others.

All human entities have responsibility to uphold the dignity of species and of individuals, within families, society and communities, young and old, home and abroad.

All human entities have responsibility to pursue critical thinking, rationality, and application of mindful contemplation during conscious acts of awareness, as well as the reasonable exercise of emotional restraint under stress, especially where these emotions may affect the relationships with others.

All human entities have responsibility to pursue personal development and education and work, in so far as their personal goals and aspirations dictate.

All human entities have responsibility to uphold the laws of their society, and to question and pursue justice in so far as these laws become questionably redundant.

All human entities have responsibility to participate in the democratic process of societies, and use their individual powers of citizenship and electoral vote to uphold democracy for all.


I like this. It makes a lot of a sense to me.

I’m also interested in benchmarking this against what we were discussing about rule utilitarianism on the other thread. I tend to see “rights” as rules in this context: they are not God-given, absolute, inalienable, or immutable. They are human constructs that, at their best, serve to help us to get along better. At their worst, they lead to the kind of conflicts portrayed in Alex’s article.

My only gripe would be that I don’t really see responsibilities as things one “has”. It’s rather something one decides to take, and I’m wondering what that means in terms of how this Code should be worded. How about “All human beings take responsibility…” Of course it would need to be clarified (in a preamble?) that this is not supposed to be a statement of fact, rather a declaration of intent by those who subscribe to the Code.

But yes, I think ethics, politics and law need to move in this direction. And yes, it’s better than arguing about religion.

Right again, Pete; yet when someone’s handle includes “pastor”, one might possibly be given to a drift towards religious perseveration. Also, an atheist guest at IEET admonished to not “humor” the religious.
He was correct.
Besides, Alex knows Canada, however America has a different way of doing things, a different code. Alex apparently doesn’t quite get it that our perceptions are relative to:

environment (where);
genes (who);
time (when).

As you yourself explained in so many words, Pete, mores and standards are comparable to shoes we wear and then exchange for new footwear later, they are constructs; something difficult to get used to. We don’t like to think of life as something that happens while we make other plans. It takes getting used to.
Even Einstein didn’t like it how God plays dice.
Developing a Code is extremely ambitious, you would have to not only encourage individuals to be responsible, but also have mass meetings to hash it out: transhumanist ethics cotillions, say. A Code is a tall order if ever there was one.

So which should respond to Cygnus with astronomical data? A person’s handle is informative only about who the person is, not about the nature of their argument. The post or article should be taken on its own merit. I don’t expect to be coddled to, but I also don’t expect that everything I say be misinterpreted because it “must be religious” any more than I would assume that you’re wrong just because you’re an atheist.

I would argue that America doesn’t have that much of a different way of doing things. None of the reading on rights and ethics suggests that America is unique in its manner of dealing with rights. The political system is different in process, but it still works through voters who either learn or don’t learn about the candidates and the parties.

You suggest that there is no universality of rights or responsibilities, that people in America, Canada, or Sierra Leone have different rights and thus different responsibilities. This then implies that mass rape on the Ivory Coast is acceptable because it happens in that particular environment, to “those women” who are obviously different than “our women”.

To suggest that our morals are that simply exchanged is outright nonsense. The way we live them might shift, but the foundation of the “rules” won’t change. There is unlikely to be a time when murder is not illegal, when we won’t acknowledge that the abuse of children is wrong. I can just imagine your response if your plumber told you that he has changed his morals and it had decided that it was OK to steal your TV.  Ethics doesn’t shape what happens to us, but rather our response to the events of our lives. Sure we don’t have control over what happens to us, but we do have control over our responses. Whether life has a purpose or is random doesn’t change that reality.

I also note that you still haven’t made any comments about the suggested code itself. Yes it is a big undertaking, but it isn’t political undertaking. It isn’t about politics. There is no immediate need to have public meetings and force everybody to agree. In fact if you read the responsibilities it makes specific note that it is NOT part of our responsibility. 

Responsibilities are individual. That is a basic premise of my article. If you disagree, why? What part of the responsibilities do you think will just not work, why?

Peter, your point about taking up responsibility is well put. I will give it some thought.

Cygnus, I will need to think more about your suggestions. I really think that is is important to have the provision of the necessities of life as part of our essential human responsibility.


Interesting perspective. I wonder what exactly constitutes “humoring” the religious. It surely can’t be that we dismiss good ideas just because they are delivered by someone who styles himself “pastor”. For the atheist guest to be correct, according to my ethical framework, his advice would need to hold up on consequentialist grounds. Stigmatising “the religious” to this extent seems to me somewhat counterproductive. Reminds me somewhat of discussions we’ve had about Moslems and cartoons.

I saw a talk by David Deutsch recently in which he was exploring (as he does in his book Beginning of Infinity) what kind of theories or explanations we can possibly hold on to as the future becomes more and more unpredictable. Another talk I attended on the subject of accelerating technology had simpler advice: “relax and enjoy”. Don’t try to predict,, don’t try to control,  just go with the flow and let it happen. Certainly a zen attitude seems to have a lot going for it as weird future becomes near future. (Already they’re testing direct implantation of skills using MRI technology. I thought that kind of thing was still some way off!)

But we still need guiding principles, surely. And it’s best if we can agree on them collectively. We have a Code already - the universal declaration - and it’s extremely influential. So the innovation is not really to have a Code,, it’s more the shift from rights (with it he associated connotations of justice, victims, litigation, compensation, competition, territory and zero sum) to responsibilities (with the associated connotations of voluntarism, goodwill, sharing, trust, collaboration and increasing the overall good).

Responsibility (perhaps this is already in Alex’s list, if not it should be added) also include the responsibility to defend oneself, to defend what’s right, to take precautions against violence/abuse, and to avoid free rider problems (i.e.corruption) from getting out of hand. The term “coalition of the willing” has unfortunate connotations these days, but surely it’s the right concept. With such a voluntarist approach, unanimity is not required. Those individuals, municipalities, countries and sub- or supranational groupings, not to mention corporations, non-profits, interest groupsor whatever, can sign up to it as they will. They can sign up to slightly different versions of it. Really, I’m struggling to see the downside.

In the mean time, is there ANY WAY we can slow down technological development just a not, just to give ourselves some breathing space, time to iron out these issues and proceed towards the future *mindfully*. Perhaps a Tobin tax on technology? Not very technoprogressive I know, but perhaps this is a good time to indeed curb our enthusiasm?

“It isn’t about politics”

An old jest:
‘everything is not political.’
REPLY: ” ‘everything is not political ’ is in itself political.”
You think I’m an atheist? if only:
Christianity is so lodged in my mind—both conscious and subconscious—it might be permanent.
One recurring difficulty is that words have different meanings to different people. “Responsibility” can be the responsibility of a builder of flamethrowers to responsibly build the product used to set others aflame. Another example is the responsibility of a workman making thermonuclear weapons to be responsible in constructing the WMDs exactly to order. There is too much value-neutrality, so countless lives end up all neutral; containing little or no value.
In economics, what is being produced is not considered very relevant, it is to be productive. And such is general.
So much of what we think and do (perhaps everything) would have to change, it is staggering. You are certainly ambitious, though, Alex.


“So much of what we think and do (perhaps everything) would have to change, it is staggering”

For everyone to live up to the Code in its entirety, sure. But for a critical mass to embrace it and allow it to influence our behaviour and how we interact with each other: why? Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Right as always, Pete. Only real dispute with Alex is his assuming I’m an Atheist; do want to be atheist/agnostic yet the memes are too stuck cathected- plus the outside world reinforces such.. will be having a pleasant conversation with someone and eventually they will say, “have you found Jesus?”, the reply is:

“yes, under a rock in our backyard.”

Pete, we can’t be all things to everyone, we can’t be religious atheist conservative moderate liberal radicals who are diplomatic to everybody at every time. We are not walking public relations firms. America is hard sell when it comes to its religion and politics.
Alex is obviously a decent pastor, however would he make it as an economist? Modern (postmodern) value-neutral economics is heavy on neutrality, light on value; the stereotype is of businessmen as rightwingers/‘conservatives’, when they are more neutral, they as a rule do not care much about source: whether it is the manufacturing, selling, trading involved in food or chemical weapons; medicines or biowarfare devices, they primarily want to make profits. Mobsters—as distinct from gangsters—today are more profit-oriented and less violence-prone, they manage their illicit businesses during the day, then go home to be with their families and watch ‘The Sopranos’ DVDs, or something. Or maybe ‘Desperate Spousewives’.
The pursuit, not attainment, of virtue is necessary for all but confirmed sociopaths and psychopaths, but responsibility? where is the pursuit of responsibility in a world of value-neutrality? at this time it appears we do not have a genuine clue.

Like I say, I’m lucky with my location: people around here don’t tend to suddenly segue from a pleasant discussion into, “Have you found Jesus?” that must be pretty wearing. I think I’d ask such a person what they meant by that. They’d give the usual spiel of course, but then you can start to have a debate with them (as we have been doing with Alex and Christian). Ultimately, belief is always a choice, and it’s always interesting to get to the bottom of why each person has made a particular choice (unless, of course, you’ve got something better to do). When you say you want to be an atheist, what you really mean is that you’d like to be free of these Christian memes. But hey, are heads are full of memes, i.e. thought patterns, not all of which are helpful or welcome. Better just to accept them (as thought, that is, not as “the truth”).

You’re right, we can’t be religious atheist conservative moderate liberal radicals who are diplomatic to everybody at every time. We can choose to be diplomatic to everybody at every time, but that isn’t always going to be the ethical thing to do.

One of the problems with economics is that we tend to conflate economics-as-social-science with economics-as-advocacy. The former must be value-neutral; the latter cannot be. The free market religion that Alex rightly criticises is an example of this. It’s bad science, and it’s also bad policy. I literally had a conversation once with a disciple of this religion who, when I pointed out that people don’t generally behave as rational economic operators, more or less said “Well they should.” and I think this religion is responsible, among other things, for creating the value-neutral *behaviour* - and it’s behaviour that’s the problem, ultimately - to which you describe. How can you take responsibility when everyone around you expects you to behave as homo economus?

But this is changing. On the whole, people want to be happy, not rich. And positive psychology - that is to say empirical science - is telling us that to be happy we need to feel ourselves to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Like you say, for all but confirmed psychopaths the pursuit of virtue is a (psychological) necessity. And how can you possibly be virtuous if you don’t take responsibility.

By the way there’s an answer to the question,, “How can you take responsibility when everyone around you expects to behave as homo economus?” You decide to be different. And manage the consequences, responsibly. You’ll end up making compromises you don’t feel altogether comfortable with, make mistakes, cause collateral damage, perhaps screw up completely…but you’ll be acting responsibly. It’s better than capitulation.


At times you confuse me.  Foremost, you say that it’s alright to be a Christian and yet you throw out so many negative things about religion.  Also you agree that there is some kind of code but seem to have given up on believing in almost anything good/moral/ethical about humanity to the point that you prefer the company of machines than actual people.  It seems to me that you are over analyzing things.  I may be wrong but that’s what it looks like to me.  Also, you are never too old or to young to try to make a difference.  You may not immediately see positive changes in your lifetime but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t happening and it certainly does not mean you should stop trying (the Arab spring is a good example of this).

I’m curious as to know how #12 would apply to those who are already poor. How can someone who is already poor themselves help eliminate poverty?

And #13 would seem to require that everyone be educated in how to think critically. These “How” questions would appear to indicate that education should be one of the paramount responsibilities of human societies. Especially in light of #15—if you’re not educated enough so you flunk one or two, you flunk them ALL, so everyone, even the poor, would have to be educated well, all around the world. That zero tolerance for imperfection sets a VERY high bar indeed. Given the ed requirements it looks like we may need to significantly reduce poverty worldwide to make this work.

Recently UK Prime minister David Cameron, in response to the chaos and carnage caused by the London riots this year, also announced publicly his own views regarding decadence and a loss of social values pertaining to personal responsibility..


“When we see children as young as 12 and 13 looting and laughing, when we see the disgusting sight of an injured young man with people pretending to help him while they are robbing him, it is clear that there are things that are badly wrong with our society.

For me, the root cause of this mindless selfishness is the same thing I have spoken about for years.

It is a complete lack of responsibility in parts of our society, people allowed to feel the world owes them something, that their rights outweigh their responsibilities and their actions do not have consequences.

Well, they do have consequences.

We need to have a clearer code of standards and values that we expect people to live by and stronger penalties if they cross the line.

Restoring a stronger sense of responsibility across our society in every town, in every street, in every estate is something I am determined to do.”

Cameron’s views towards “the Big Society” are also well known. Although I do find questionable his political motives in pursuing his social philosophy, especially where this seems to conflict with his economic policies? His rhetoric in encouragement of democratic process and social responsibility often seems to conflict with the real and present obstacles in modern day democracy, especially as highlighted by international progressive movements such as #Occupy and the demands for socioeconomic change and progress?

Peter answered all the questions satisfactorily. Case closed, IMO.

One approach Alex, to build out your responsibility provision (which is very apropos), would be to revive humanism as a species credo. By this I mean classical or Renaissance humanism, wherein one’s religious beliefs are private, but your public profile and activities as a citizen are not - they are standards-based.

I say “Humanism is an inclusive sensibility for our species, planet and lives.” It follows then that ‘morality’ should center on the environment and our responsibilities to ourselves, all of our companion species and to planet Earth - and not some codified religious prescriptions as commonly forwarded.

My preference would be for a Confucian humanism with the tenets of a Renaissance humanist education ( With that foundation I would be very confident that the resulting humanists would be responsible critics and apologists for mankind.


Good questions.

Someone who is already poor helps eliminate poverty by making the most of the opportunities that are around them. Some of the best remedies for poverty are about creating better local economies rather than just throwing charity money around. See for a great example.

I don’t think critical thinking is necessarily tied to education. There are courses on critical thinking, but they are not necessary at a foundational level. What is needed it a willingness to think. The more one thinks about their decisions the better one will get at the critical thought necessary to live a responsible life.

The idea of #15 is that we can’t pick and choose what responsibilities we will take up. If we just decide that critical thinking is important, but feeding the poor isn’t, then we aren’t truly thinking critically. It isn’t so much a matter of pass/fail as failure as in a structure collapsing. I will need to work on the wording.

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