Thursday, July 19, 2018

One Rule to Uphold Them All

Today I revisit my thoughts on the Platinum Rule as an upgrade to the Golden Rule. In short the often cited Golden Rule (Do Unto Others As You Would Have Done Unto Yourself) seems to me to me proselytizing in the extreme. Why should the rest of the world be treated as if your personal world view was sacrosanct. In the extreme a masochist who enjoys pain might very compassionately believe that inflicting pain on others is a most ethical path.
A logical followup to the Golden Rule is a somewhat improved Platinum Rule (Do Unto Others As They Would Have Done Unto Themselves), which explicitly takes note that every individual has a different take on any situation and we should treat their position with respect.* Thus actions desired by one can be tuned to the others desires, if we assume we understand their wants. Again in the extreme, a masochist may desire pain so even though I disagree with their point of view, I ought to act to deliver the pain they desire, even if the act itself is not my personal wish. 

These odd reflections make it apparent to me no rule can serve in all situations. Still, a primary ethical rule would be an excellent starting place to address life's ethical conundrums. To that end, I feel a significant upgrade to these metallic rules would be Rule One: Do Unto Others As Agreed Upon In Good Faith. (I am tempted to name it the Mithril Rule, but a numeric paradigm hierarchy seems more appropriate)

Rule One derives from humanity's most incredible yet too often unused gift: complex, two-way communication. Our ability to share information back and forth in iterative fashion has the potential to resolve most any human dispute and to at least mitigate those that are especially hard. Why this doesn't happen naturally seems often because we don't communicate with the second party allowing pride, power, privilege, and dogma to derail or avoid outright compassionate discourse. 

Let's look at the components of Rule One in detail:

"Do Unto Others" explicitly indicates taking action of any kind. Actions can occur reflexively, after internal thought, consideration of available evidence, and with reflection in conversation with others. Notably, thoughts and feelings are not actions in and of themselves. Only after we choose to share our ideas into reality do they manifest as actions in the world. 

"As Agreed Upon" emphasizes that a negotiation occurs before all action. Ideally, a compromise solution will come out of a thoughtful conversation between affected parties, though, arguably sometimes with imperfect results. Additionally, if the second party cannot converse (due to unconsciousness or mental inability (i.e toddler, coma patient, non-human animal, or ecosystem), the acting individual is challenged to contemplate meaningfully how their action will affect others and the world around them and adjust accordingly. (Note: The Golden and Platinum Rules are specific cases of Rule One when there is no opportunity to negotiate )

"In Good Faith" importantly underscores that we reflect upon our position, the evidence, and the liberty of the other parties when negotiating and acting. This catch-phrase intention is all too frequently ignored in practice, especially when we apply selective ethics to how we think something should happen regardless of secondary party input. 

In reality, Rule One can serve as a guidepost to encourage the best behavior and best pursuits of thoughtful, compassionate individuals. As a starting point and foundational ethic it sheds light on how to construct compassionate, effective laws, global mores and personal codes of conduct. The results of the actions we take should be continuously examined, reflected upon and tweaked to bring about the best outcomes. 

If all this seems like a lot of work to make decisions on how to act, well, damn it all, decisions should take effort because actions affect others and the world.

Rule One isn't intended to be sacred nor inflexibly dogmatic. By all means contemplate, research and innovate yourself on better ideas that can serve humanity, the planet and its ecosystems. And if you're just in a hurry and don't have the time for adequate contemplation and conversation, in a pinch you can always fall back to an action that reflects Rule Zero: Do No Harm.

* It has been suggested to me that this respectful nuance is implied, even embedded, in the Golden Rule itself. I disagree. Clarity in a guiding principle is paramount. If the intent is to treat each other with respect then there is explicit need to encourage an effective means of determining how others actually feel with regards to their respectful treatment, rather than basing it on ones own thoughts and feelings alone. 

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