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Hybriduality and Geoethics (part 1)

Contrary to what we’ve been taught, and contrary to what we fervently believe to be true, there is not just one I. We are not individuals; we are hybriduals. Each of us is a compound, collective, hybrid being.

Part of us is the body we see and feel and the personality we know (“Me of I”). Part of us are the many different models of us which occupy mental space in the minds of all those with whom we have interacted (“We of I”). Part of each of us is an energy-consciousness pattern arising from our body’s biochemical interactions, somehow intersecting with the physical universe (“Qi of I”).  Every individual is part of the physical universe (“Gi of I”); and part of each of us is a series of moments in time that live forever (“Ti of I”).

It can be frightening to think of ourselves as five dimensional beings – almost like we have a kind of multiple personality disorder. But looked at appropriately, it really should be much more comforting to see ourselves this way. It means that we are never alone in life, because we are always part of a collective of human souls.

It means that we are never really going to die because we are part and parcel of a universe that will last longer than we can imagine. It means that we are so much more than our flesh and bones, because we are truly creatures of spirit, and this spirit is not limited to our body. As five dimensional creatures we can really understand that when our bodies give out, our Qi spirit is free to intersect with a physical universe in which consciousness controls what really happens and doesn’t happen. And, finally, as five dimensional beings we can appreciate that every moment we have lived really, really counts – because it lasts forever.

Bursting the fiction of individuality also has important implications for ethics and morality.

Individual morality is anchored in the golden rule: do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Immanuel Kant, a world-renowned 18th century philosopher from Kalingrad, on the coast of the Baltic Sea, phrased this concept as a Categorical Imperative:  act as you would if you could make your action a universal law [1]. Individual morality urges us to empathize with those who will feel the brunt of our actions. Hybridual morality goes one step further – it tells us that we are others. Just as the foot cannot move without the permission of the brain, nor can a person eat well without the cooperation of the hands, hybridual morality teaches that we cannot impinge upon others without their actual consent. The difference between hybridual morality and the golden rule systems of Kant and Christianity, is that hybridual morality requires proof (through consent) that one’s actions are acceptable to those who feel their impact.

Geoethics is built upon the collectivist ethics theories of 20th century philosophers like Jurgen Habermas [2], Ulrich Beck [3] and John Rawls. Habermas distinguished himself from John Rawls, author of A Theory of Justice, by noting that it was unnecessary to resort to Rawls’ use of hypothetical individuals agreeing upon the rules of a society in which such individuals might occupy any possible role or status. While this would ordinarily obtain a fair result (since the individuals wouldn’t want to bear the brunt of any unfair rules) Habermas considered this but an expansion of Kant’s Categorical Imperative. As a result, unfair outcomes could result either from poor empathization skills, or because one was willing to risk he would end up in a better-treated group rather than an oppressed group under a discriminatory set of rules. Instead, Habermas says something is morally valid if those who are impacted by it agree to it based on a full-fledged discussion. More generally, Ulrich Beck considers actions that impact others without their consent to be a kind of pollution. Since we shouldn’t pollute another’s space without their permission, we shouldn’t impact others without their permission.

A weakness of ethical systems based upon individual morality is that different people empathize differently, and some do so very poorly, if at all. The strength of an ethical system based upon hybridual morality is that the guesswork is much reduced; if our actions are going to affect another, we must first obtain the consent of the other. It may be argued that this is not always practical, but such an argument is not relevant to the many instances where consent is possible. Generally, if I have time to affect you, I have time to ask you if you accept the effect. This is well-demonstrated in the “Antioch Code” for sexual behavior. At each state of progression from kissing to intercourse, explicit consent is required. This Code precludes the possibility of “date rape”, whereas under the Golden Rule or Kant a person might well say “I would have wanted that kiss, so they should want it to.”

The ethics of hybridual morality may be called “geoethics,” meaning that it takes into account the whole. Geoethics considers the whole directly via communication rather than focusing only upon the atomistic part, and imaging the whole indirectly, via empathization. Geoethics is empowered by an information-intensive society because it becomes practical to seek and document the consent of others readily and frequently. Under the geoethics of hybridualism, it is wrong to impact someone without first asking their consent, whether or not that impact is believed to be harmful by you or someone else.

As noted above, contemporary philosophers like Jurgen Habermas and Rudolph Beck have paved the way for geoethics. Habermas uses the term “participatory discourse” to encompass the way he subsumes Kant’s Categorical Imperative within a collective process [5]. Put simply, Habermas asks “why imagine how others would feel if I act thusly; I can just ask them and obtain their consent.”  Beck notes that in modern times, the imposition of risk of harm on unseen, usually geographically distant others is the palliative consequence of economic development for a fortunate minority [6]. He discovered that the new social struggle worth fighting is between those who create risks and those who involuntarily bear the brunt of them. This struggle over risk has rendered obsolete the old battle lines between workers and managers, and among nationalities and ideologies. When one suffers from technology-engendered cancers, it doesn’t matter if you live in India or in Pakistan. You are united in your opposition to the imposition of cancer risks upon you without your consent. When one suffers from fear of unsafe food, it doesn’t matter if you are the wife of a CEO or the husband of a factory laborer.

You are united in your opposition to the imposition of food risks upon you without your consent.

 Hybridual morality is based upon three geoethical principles: First, there is a Principle of Consent which requires that any action reasonably likely to affect one or more others cannot be undertaken without the prior consent of those likely to be affected. If many are likely to be affected, then prior consent may be achieved via a representative democratic process. If there is doubt as to whether or not others will be affected, then an expert group should provide an opinion regarding that likelihood.  If the likelihood turns out to be too small to bother obtaining consent, but the adverse consequence nevertheless occurs, one is geoethically clean.

 Second, there is a Principle of Equilibria that requires any action reasonably likely to affect others to be structured so as to minimize harm and preferably to increase the satisfaction level of all affected parties.

Remembering that we are hybriduals, not individuals, it is crucial that actions contribute to a stronger We rather than to tensions within We borne of dissention over inequality. Actions which harm come parties unleash unstable forces in human society and such forces end up inuring to everyone’s harm. It is frequently not possible to know the consequences that one is consenting to. By requiring those actions that affect others to also benefit others, there is at least a partial safety net in place to better ensure that our actions are helping We, and not just Me. Beneficent actions move society to a stronger and more stable equilibrium.

Finally, the conditions of any consent to an action should be independently monitored and enforced, wherever possible. This third principle of Geoethics is called the Principle of Assurance. It ensures moral solutions are enduring in reality rather than chimerical and rhetorical.  In other words, the Principle of Assurance involves Ti and Gi in an agreement amongst Me and We. The ethical benefits of consent and equilibria are only as real as they are assured of implementation.

Taken together, the three principles of geoethics implement a morality of hybridualism which is (i) cognizant of the multiple selves each of us comprise, and (ii) takes advantage of new tools of communications, while still being (iii) consistent with the moralities of the great religions. In essence, geoethics and the morality of hybridualism simply extend the Golden Rule of religion, and the Categorical Imperative of modern philosophy, into the newly recognized realm of hybridual beings and the newly emerged capabilities of cybernetic communication systems.

This essay is Part 1 of a three-part series. Part 2 and Part 3 will be presented next Tuesday and the Tuesday after that, January 31 and February 7

 

Footnotes


[1] Kant, I. (1979), Lectures on Ethics, Infield, L., tr., Hackett:  Indianapolis.
[2] Habermas, J. (1990), Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, Lenhardt, C. & Nicholsen, S., tr., MIT Press:  Cambridge, Mass.
[3] Beck, U. (1992), Risk Society:  Towards a New Modernity, Sage:  London
[4] Rawls, J. (1971), A Theory of Justice, Harvard University Press:  Cambridge, Mass.
[5] Habermas, J. (1996), Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, Rehg,W. tr., MIT Press: Cambridge, Mass.
[6] Beck, U. (1992), Risk Society:  Toward a New Modernity, Sage: London

 

Martine Rothblatt is an IEET Fellow and is author of several books on satellite communications technology, gender freedom, genomics, and xenotransplantation.



COMMENTS

Interesting article and I look forward to the next two parts. I would like to have the movement from being a community in ourselves to requiring consent explained a little more explicitly. I like the idea of consent, but I don’t follow the leap of logic that being Hybrids we automatically move to a position of needing consent.

On the whole I enjoyed this article.  I can certainly get behind the idea of humans as collective, aggregate beings considering what neuroscience tells us about how our brains are constructed and the work already laid down by people like Hume and Buddha.  Incidentally, I’m surprised Derek Parfit didn’t warn’t a mention.  Seems like a perfect fit.  That being said I had some questions I hope you can clear up.

I was a little confused as to how you define a person in this “geoethics”.  It seems to switch from “every other person is a part of, though separate from, myself” and “everyone exists as the same individual being”.  If the latter the question is why do we need to seek someone’s consent to perform an action?  Wouldn’t it be implied that only our consent (since we are them) is required?

If we take the former then I wonder how useful consent is as a means of ensuring people get what they want given this hybrid view.  I don’t think it will be argued that as aggregates we as individuals rarely if ever believe something (i.e. give our consent) with the entirety of our being.  In other words different parts of our selves can believe that different actions are correct.  When I stand at my pantry deciding what to eat 40% of me (to use a completely arbitrary number) may want to eat a whole box of cookies but the other 60% thinks better of it.

If we accept a hybrid view of ourselves that would seem to imply that the opinions of other people, being a part of us, now play a role in our own decision making.  The opinions of others therefore are factored into total parts of me that believe in taking one action over another.  As such we could reach a state where although we the “I” may not want to perform a certain action we the “We” may want to.  This seems to me to present the possibility of collective wants overriding individual consent, since the collective consent of may override that of the individual of which they are a part.

This may be true even on the most fundamental biological level. As I recall, some scientists say our mitochondrial DNA was originally a separate organism that gradually merged with our own ancestors. I believe the term is the “endosymbiotic theory.”

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