5.16 Higher Social Levels

Figure 5-4 The Social Environment Model

In Figure 5.4, the vertical ellipsis “other social levels” means a social environment can be inside another, e.g. as many people can form into a company so many companies can form into a stock market. The company is a social group to its members and the stock market is a social group to its members, with both social systems adding synergy. Companies reward employees with pay, and stock markets reward companies with public investment based on their share prices. Equally, both environments place synergy requirements on members: companies ask employees not to steal their product value (stock) and stock markets ask companies not to falsely report profits.

Rule 3 can be universalized to the multi-environment case where S1 contains S2 …:

Rule 3’a: If {{SU1(ai) ≥ SU1(aj) or SU2(ai) ≥ SU2(aj)… } and IU(ai) > IU(aj)} then prefer ai to aj

In words: Choose acts that do not significantly harm higher environments but benefit oneself.

ORRule 3’b: If { IU(ai) ≥ IU(aj) and {S1U(ai) >S1U(aj) or (S2U(ai) > S2U(aj)…}} then prefer ai to aj< >

In words: Choose acts that do not significantly harm oneself but benefit higher environments.

A social dilemma solved for one social level can reappear in a higher one. When the same social dilemmas operate at higher social levels, “new” problems arise; e.g. the Enron debacle, with estimated losses of over $60 billion, occurred when Enron executives cheated the stock market by reporting false profits to raise their stock price. Other companies laid off staff to “compete” with Enron’s imaginary profits of over 80%. Within the stock market social system, Enron defected on the rule by which the stock market creates synergy, as if everyone made false claims, no one would invest. If false reporting had not been illegal before Enron, it would have to have been made so, for the stock market to survive. The stock market, a higher social system, had to act against the Enron cheats or collapse itself. Enron was just cheating on a higher social level.

Greed is not good. In this model, competition is good but not always, e.g. if business did operate by pure competition (Rule 1) then Enron’s innovative methods of obtaining value in the stock market environment would have been a competitive advantage, as would have been their paying zero U.S. tax for seven years. The business maxim “greed is good” does not apply to defecting on a social contract. Cheating one’s colleagues is not a “competitive advantage”, as its bottom line is a loss of value for the whole society.

All higher social defections involve hypocrisy, e.g. Enron bosses hypocritically asked workers to serve the Enron company environment while themselves cheating Enron’s social environment, the stock market. Likewise gangs like the Mafia demand strict loyalty and service while as a group pillaging the community at large. In general, a social rule that does not apply at every level creates an inconsistency that must eventually be resolved, e.g. it is inconsistent for member states that do not give their citizens democratic rights to have democratic rights themselves within the U.N. assembly.

Wildlife conservation in Africa illustrates the importance of acting at the right social level. Poaching is a classic tragedy of the commons case, yet public ownership has generally been a disaster for conservation in third world countries (Ridley, 1996). Under nationalization, the government could not stop locals poaching the large animals that damaged their crops. The trend was only reversed when wild-life titles were “privatized” to local communities, like the Campfire program, where hunters purchase the right to kill game from local villages (Ridley, 1996, p.236). When the village “owned” the wild animals, it looked after its resources, prevented members poaching and wildlife numbers grew. In contrast, whales roam international oceans not owned by any country so we could hunt them to extinction. If a global humanity owned the whales it would be as foolish to hunt them to extinction as for a farmer to kill all the cows in his herd. Perhaps whale killing rights should be “privatized” to nations, who would then physically prevent whale poaching in their zones.

Rule 3 can be generalized to define categorically good acts as those that give value “all the way up”, not just for oneself, but for the community, for humanity, and even the planet we live upon. The principle that there are levels of “good” was made clear in the Nuremburg trials—where the defense “I was following German law” was rejected and they were convicted of “crimes against humanity”, i.e. held to a higher standard of right and wrong. If social environments are within a world environment, is the higher good to serve the world not society? Those who recognize that the disastrous effect of human beings on our rivers, forests, animals and air would agree.

Yet to be the devil’s advocate, if Rule 1 is to meet the world’s requirements is not following it then the higher good? It is not so because the motive is not to help the world but to help ourselves. It is individuals seeking their own gain not that of their environment and if the latter evolves they are unconscious of it. Yet it is true that innumerable animals have lived, fought, reproduced and died with no idea at all that behind it all there was an evolution of life on earth, which after billions of years produced us.

To unconsciously contribute as unknowing grist to a mill is not acting for a higher good. Only to consciously contribute to a higher environment, as Rule 2 proposes, is acting for a higher good. This is why Rule 2 is the ethical rule. We may conclude that the highest good is to recognize the requirements of the highest level environment while still living in lower ones. Thus I can see myself as a citizen of New Zealand, a citizen of Humanity, a citizen of the Earth, or a citizen of the Universe. The ideal is to serve the highest environment one can conceive while surviving the demands of lower environments.