Thursday, October 18, 2012

Natural Law remedy for systemic flaw: Civilization can be made sustainable and equitable

An unsustainable civilization is a consequence of a systemic flaw -- Natural law points to a solution.

If we look at basic human rights as reflecting underlying laws of social interaction, we may notice some important facts about these basic rights that could help us meet the greatest challenges of our time.

Human rights are a kind of natural law. We can recognize fundamental claims that citizens might make, such as a claim of a right to be left to do as we choose in our private spaces; a claim to a right to move about freely in the public space; a claim of a right to share in deciding limits to pollution and limits to rates of taking of natural resources by industries... We can understand these claims and rights as natural phenomena or natural law. We might recognize that, for the healthy functioning of society, citizens must assert these claims to natural rights, and we must create and maintain systems of governance that assure these rights are respected in practice. Presently, our systems of government do not function in a way that manifests respect for these rights in reality. Our society does not reflect an equal sharing of natural wealth, which can be understood as commons or public property. This is wealth that is created through processes independent of human effort--wealth to which we all can assert a moral claim.

This systemic flaw allows harm to be done to the environment without any direct and proportional economic cost being incurred by those who do the harm. This means that prices of things do not reflect environmental impacts such as pollution, resource depletion and habitat destruction. With prices skewed in a way that obscures environmental costs, consumers don't fully register these costs when they weigh the pros and cons of this or that purchase of a product or service. These hidden costs mean that our economy does more harm to the environment than what would be the case if environmental impacts were reflected in prices.

Natural science and direct experience tell us that living systems, including human society, are delicate, intricate phenomena. It is always easier to tear down and destroy than it is to build and create. This fact reflects the nature of the enabling conditions that underlie any complex phenomenon. We need order, structure and process rather than random chaos. This is true whether we are talking about creating a tower of blocks or a work of art, raising a child or building a civilization. Our civilization is stronger and more resilient when almost everyone believes that we will all be better off by working to improve on what we have made. We cannot have many people wanting to destroy this nascent global society to see what else might take its place. For the benefit of all, there must be very few of us who believe that the world we have created is ugly, unjust, hurtful or evil. We need a society that all can believe in and want to be a part of. Among other things, this means that we must have a system that recognizes the people as the rightful owners of natural resource wealth, so that the world we create together will not be a world that has more paving or pollution or noise or extraction of limited resources than what most people would say is acceptable. We need a political system that matches reality to what people want, in terms of appropriate limits on environmental impacts. Then we will have a true democracy.

The idea that natural wealth ought to be shared equally is reflected in the writings of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Paine, Adam Smith and others.

If we discourage excessive taking of resources or putting of pollution by charging a fee to polluting industries, then the fee proceeds (a monetary representation of that which we all own in common) could be shared equally among all the world's people. By assuring a substantial level of economic security for every person, we ensure that poverty and disparity issues are no longer an existential threat to the system. We will have a more stable and equitable society. No one would live in abject poverty.


Equal sharing of natural wealth cures the defect that we see in the thriving and collapse of civilization. It also makes the boom and bust business 'cycle' into a less wildly gyrating phenomenon.

Biological Model for Politics and Economics: Human Society as Neural Network

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