5.17 The Golden Rule

The synergies of civilization can be linked to the golden rule:

Do unto others as you would they do unto you

This rule has been expressed in many different cultural contexts:

1.   Rabbi Hillel’s sum of all rules: “If you don’t like it done to you, don’t do it to others”.

2.   Kant’s proposal: “Act only on that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law”, i.e. if everyone does it, is it still successful?

3.   Pareto’s optimality principle: “Good actions benefit at least one other and do no harm.

4.   Rawl’s “veil of ignorance” requires state laws to be “blind” to individual needs.

5.   Harsanyi’s utilitarianism that what makes a positive contribution is moral (Harsanyi, 1988).

  All of the above oppose social defections, i.e. anti-social acts. Conversely anti-social acts fail all the above tests; e.g. Hillel rejects stealing as one does not wish to be stolen from, Kant finds it wrong because it does not work if everyone does it, and Pareto rejects it because it harms another. Laws that operate from behind Rawlsveil of ignorance cannot enable stealing because they don’t know who is who, and finally Harsanyi finds stealing an immoral act because it is overall not a positive contribution. The Golden Rule has in our past taken many forms.

  The golden rule sits above the individual economics of game theory. Kant distinguished categorical imperatives from hypothetical ones, i.e. the rule is not Do unto others so they will do likewise unto you because such “deals” are merely instruments to individual benefit. Kant’s imperative is to do what is categorically the right thing to do, regardless of the outcome for oneself. He advocates operating on a higher level than one’s small self. The golden rule asks free people to act beyond their own interests, hypothetically to flip every social interaction equation to see if it still works the other way, to stand in the shoes of others and to think of the society as a whole. They suggest a solid universal social principle that is equally applicable to information technology (Siponen & Vartiainen, 2002).

  The social environment model frames this call as not just to “goodness” but also to productivity. The ethic of serving a community is logical because Rule 2 is just Rule 1 applied to the social instead of the individual unit. Higher social levels are more productive because synergy works. Ethics is just pragmatics at a higher level. Rule 3 rejects stealing because overall it is a loss to the social group, e.g. when a wallet is stolen there is not just the money lost but also losses like the cost of replacing credit cards. Based on the golden rules, the ship of human society has navigated a middle way between the evolutionary dead-ends of endless tribal conflict and mindless social conformity. The struggle began thousands of years ago, at the dawn of the agricultural revolution, when “civilized” farmers cultivating the land battled “barbarian” hunter-gatherers, whose essential code was:

Take what you can and give nothing back.

This was a recipe for smallness. Perhaps reason pulled us out of the dark ages but reason was too fragile to get us across this original zero-sum barrier (Whitworth, Van de Walle, & Turoff, 2000). It needed faith and religion. The first religion, over seven thousand years ago, seems to have been from the Persian Zoroaster, who called upon his “people of the flock” to listen to the “immortal shining ones” and do right not wrong. As he put it:

  He who abhors and shuns the light of the Sun,
  He who refuses to behold with respect the living creation of God,
  He who leads the good to wickedness,
  He who makes the meadows waterless and the pastures desolate,
  He who lets fly his weapon against the innocent,
  An enemy of my faith, a destroyer of Thy principles is he, O Lord! (Ahunuvaiti Gatha; Yasna 32, 10).

Indeed in the beginning, religion was about pulling humanity out of the slavery of desire into making free choices.