…I mean other than the fact that dogs are awesome and never fail to make you smile.
If you’ve been following my blog the past few months, you’ll recognize my interest in exploring the tribalism that appears to be driving a wedge through society. On the one hand, this could be an online phenomenon. That social media medium amplifies particular voices in such as a way that it makes it appear that it is our differences that define us. Conversely, in the real world, it’s our similarities which in fact define our culture, and ultimately bind us into relationships, be they as intimate as a lover, as structured as a job shared with a colleague, to the unwritten social contract we share with a neighbor.
It’s this final relationship I’d like to explore in more detail. In a world connected by the internet, to some extent, anyone can be your neighbor in some capacity. That leads me to wonder what traits, behaviors, or call them virtues, we’d like the ideal neighbor to exhibit. If you shared a driveway, a wall, or a community with someone, how would you like that person to behave. And by extension, the golden rule, a tenet of essentially all religions, if you do unto others what you would like done unto yourself, these values are the same values which we should strive to embody for ourselves.
In my estimation, I’ll argue that there are five core values that are shared universally, regardless of culture, religion, gender, or race. I’m open to arguments that this isn’t the top five, and religious scholars, anthropologists, or psychologists, can probably provide a better list. But for the sake of starting a discussion, here is my list:
⦁ Honesty: Speak the truth, behave with integrity, do not lie or deceive, show honor, act ethically and openly, be transparent in one’s thoughts and actions
⦁ Thoughtfulness: Demonstrate humility, show gratitude, be merciful to those less fortunate, be kind and compassionate to those in need, love thy enemy, Exhibit agreeability and strive for collaboration, seek mutually beneficial outcomes, attempt to put yourself in others shoes, show empathy, put yourself in the service of others
⦁ Conscientiousness: Be dutiful, dependable, and someone who can be relied upon when the going gets tough. Exhibit industriousness and reliability, work to the best of your ability.
⦁ Justice: Remain objective and unbiased in one’s dealing, remember fairness and strive to be equitable, remain open-minded to a wide range of views and circumstances.
To boil it down further, a good neighbor speaks the truth and does not hide information from you, they put themselves in your shoes before they act, can be depended upon to fix what’s broken, and will treat you fairly.
Regardless of what religion or economic system you believe or don’t believe in, it appears to me that these values are universal. And if these values are universal, then is it not possible to establish a society with laws and economic systems which incentivize individuals to exhibit this type of behavior. Regardless of your apriori beliefs, is it naive to believe that there’s an economic system that currently doesn’t exist, but could be conceived, which neither capitalist nor communist, christian nor atheist, could argue against, knowing that its based on these values.
Yes, it’s true that some of these values are enshrined in our laws. But that only forms the basis of a minimum standard to which we avoid anti-social behavior and chaos. The law doesn’t encourage people to be their best self, it only discourages them from embodying their worst self.
In economics, there’s something called a Pigouvian tax which is used to tax a negative externality. An externality is a cost to a third party who is not a participant in a transaction. Pollution is a negative externality. A tax on carbon emissions would be a Pigouvian tax.
Yet again, discouraging people from embodying bad behaviour is different from encouraging them to demonstrate good ones. There in lies the question of how to nudge people to be their best self.
That’s enough for today’s blog. I’ll leave the question of how you would rebuild an economic system from scratch on this basis to another day. I’m also not addressing the question because frankly, I have no clue. Do any of us? But if we can agree on a set of values to build around, at least we’re one step closer.