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Ethical systems: Guardian, Commercial, Idealist

from the keeping-track-of-our-biases dept.
Senior Associate PatGratton writes "On a sociological/ethical note… Around the time of the Fall Foresight Gathering, I was reading Jane Jacobs' Systems of Survival and came up with some interesting applications of her ideas to people interested in transformational technologies….When I tried to apply Jacobs' categories to the attendees of the Foresight Gathering, I quickly reached two conclusions: 1) there are virtually no Guardians present within the Foresight membership, and 2) Jacobs missed a syndrome….I contend that the Foresight community is split between Idealists and Traders, and that this leads to a certain amount of unavoidable conflict….Because Guardians are underrepresented within Foresight, Foresight discussions are likely to strongly biased towards Commercial and Idealist views and solutions. More importantly, we're likely to fail to address or to take seriously concerns that would come naturally to a Guardian. This in turn implies that we're likely be underprepared when we take our ideas/solutions to the general public…" Read More for Pat's full post. Senior Associate PatGratton writes "Systems of Survival by Jane Jacobs
On a sociological/ethical note… Around the time of the Fall Foresight Gathering, I was reading Jane Jacobs' Systems of Survival and came up with some interesting applications of her ideas to people interested in transformational technologies.

If you're not familiar with "Systems of Survival", then you can find brief summaries here and here Briefly, Jacobs argues that there are two different, equally valid/successful systems (or rather 'syndromes') of ethics: Guardian Syndrome which is concerned with taking and/or protecting limited resources and Commercial Syndrome, which is concerned with creating and trading produced (and thus non-limited) goods. Military, police, civil servants and environmentalists are Guardians, while merchants, workers, etc. are Traders (Commercial Syndrome followers).

Implications for Foresight (and Like-minded People/Groups)
When I tried to apply Jacobs' categories to the attendees of the Foresight Gathering, I quickly reached two conclusions: 1) there are virtually no Guardians present within the Foresight membership, and 2) Jacobs missed a syndrome.

My name for the missing syndrome is "Idealist" because of its primary virtue of "Dedication to the Ideal". One of its notable virtues is "Shun Trading". For more information on the Idealist Syndrome, see here.

I contend that the Foresight community is split between Idealists and Traders, and that this leads to a certain amount of unavoidable conflict. For example, Traders (for the most part) want to see IP protected (though probably with some rationalization of laws in order to improve trade), while (Knowledge) Idealists want information to be freely available. Another example: Traders want to make some serious cash off the nanotechnology, while Idealists look forward to a post-scarcity economy. (Note: conflict can also exist between different types of idealists, e.g., between Privacy and Openness Idealists – however, this does not seem to be the dominant source of conflict in the Foresight community.)

Implications

  • Because Guardians are underrepresented within Foresight, Foresight discussions are likely to strongly biased towards Commercial and Idealist views and solutions. More importantly, we're likely to fail to address or to take seriously concerns that would come naturally to a Guardian. This in turn implies that we're likely be underprepared when we take our ideas/solutions to the general public.
  • The Foresight community itself will continue to experience internal conflicts over various issues.

Suggestions

  • Recruit more Guardians into Foresight. Alternatively or additionally, make an extra effort to predict Guardian concerns and address them when developing solutions and positions.
  • Recognize your own ethical syndrome and the syndromes of others. In discussions, there are some points that you're just not going to be able to convince your opponent of — not because he can't understand your argument, but because his fundamental values are different from yours. At which point, you either agree to disagree or compromise — or go to war if it's an important enough point."

14 Responses to “Ethical systems: Guardian, Commercial, Idealist”

  1. redbird Says:

    As seen on nanodot

    This is definately true of discussions on nanodot. I would put myself in the idealist category, and have and will come into conflict with the traders (or is the traitors… ;-) ) here on nanodot. Several times I've gotten into arguments with people of the other type and, after five or six exchanges, just had to let it go to because we weren't getting anywhere.

    I think there are some gardians on nanodot and presumable also in Foresight, since I've come into conflict with them, too. Much less often, but it does happen. Also, gardians are the people I go to class with everyday, so I know first hand how (un)receptive they are to nanotech.

    Finally, although this can be a useful tool for gaining a better understanding of ourselves and others, remember that this is just a tool, and nothing more. I may consider myself an idealist, but that doesn't mean that is who I am. I never know; those traders may share some of my ideas. ;-)

  2. BillSpence Says:

    Not enough Guardian types

    These labels are a bit contrasty, however in an effort to bring harmony to all peoples I may have a solution:

    Problems from not enough Guardian types in the S.A.?

    As a top trait of the 'Guardian type' -Shun(s) Trading-, all Guardians are hereby granted their own high ethical standards and banned from grocery stores and their trade products.

    Dilemma solved.

    Nanotechnology should be about empowerment, but forget nanotechnology — the -majority- of traits listed for Guardian are straight out of past futile systems, and I should wish to discover the motivation of an espouser.

  3. PatGratton Says:

    Re: Not enough Guardian types

    I too was dubious when I began reading Systems of Survival. But Jacobs makes a good case for the sensibility of Guardian virtues for professions like the military, police, etc..

    For instance, for Shun Trading, she discusses the need for economic self-sufficiency in case of military attack, but then goes on to another theory…

    I propose the taboo originated as a different type of military safeguard. Defense against treachery. Look at it this way. The hidden tunnel into the fortifications; the plan for the coming attack; information on a surprise tactic; the place hostages are hidden; discontents an enemy might cunningly cultivate if he knew of them;… Warriors possess valuable military knowledge. Always have, still do. Even a corporal, or nowadays a cable clerk, can possess valuable secrets, but the higher a person's military rank, the more valuable can be his potentially damaging stock-in-trade, as a rule.

    So here is my first point. Trading secrets to the enemy is fundamentally like any trading. Both parties strike a bargain voluntarily for mutual benefit.

    Now here is my second point. In view of the danger, the personal disgrace of trading could not have been drummed in too thoroughly and early in the moral upbringing of children destined for military life…."

    I cannot do justice to Jacobs' arguments in a few brief paragraphs. And I doubt that her arguments will convince a dedicated libertarian (Trader), nor a dedicated totalitarian (Guardian), but for many of us, her ideas will at least provide a new view of an old debate, and likley will inspire some new respect and understanding. I urge you to give her book a try. It's fairly short, and very readable – not dry at all. (It's presented a series of dinner conversation between a mystery novelist, a scientist, an ecological activist, a publisher, and a lawyer.)

  4. bacteriophage Says:

    I don't believe in "Idealist" syndrome as seperate

    Dichotomies usually work best with two and only two set divisions…in fact, that is the only time they ever work! The "Idealist" syndrome really is merely a permutation of the two originally proposed syndromes. The author did mention the existence of many of these spinoffs, logically an indeterminable number of them. These, and this is also mentioned, will inevitably cause conflict. The Idealist syndrome is no exception. Also, for the record, I hold the disparate syndromes to be more theory than fact. I don't thnik anyone fits perfectly into one of the two rigid categories.

  5. PatGratton Says:

    Re:I don't believe in "Idealist" syndrome as seper

    Even More Ethical Syndromes?
    Only a Dualist would reject this theory because it doesn't fit the Ideal of "Two"! ;-)

    Both Jacobs and I deny that additional syndromes exist (though, of course, we disagree on the number of syndromes). Perhaps by "spinoffs", you're thinking of my statement that there are different type of Idealists. However, different idealists differ only in the ideal, not in the syndrome itself, e.g., a Mathematical Idealist has the same ethical syndrome as a Art Idealist.

    Categorizing People
    Several people have made the point that people shouldn't/can't be stuffed into a single category.

    One of Jacobs major points is that these ethical syndromes are like driving down the road – you can drive on the left side or you can drive on the right side – but you need to deploy the correct mode for the circumstances (i.e., England vs. United States), and whatever you do, you should not drive down the middle! Remember, Jacobs isn't claiming that you can't mix the syndromes, she's claiming that you can't successfully mix the syndromes. So a Trader can wear a Guardian hat occasionally (and vice versa), but if he wants to do it successfully, then he'll need to switch to the Guardian syndrome for the duration.

    My experience so far is that people do tend to fit fairly strongly into one of these categories (assuming that they follow an ethical code at work). I'm not saying that they necessarily fit the paradigm perfectly, but they do fit it quite closely – i.e., there are few people for whom I'm unsure which group to assign them to.

  6. ChrisPhoenix Says:

    Idealists don't make a living?

    I haven't yet read the book, but I think your criticism (the third category of idealist) ignores an intentional limitation of the scope of the book. To quote from a review at "First Things: Books In Review", "But the discussion leader, a publisher named Armbruster, requests that the group concentrate on economic and political life. They agree to leave to one side those moral systems that are about making a life, as distinct from making a living."

    Until recently, and with the notable exception of patronage of artists (which was not always idealistic–look at the rivalry between DaVinci and Michelangelo, and the ever-present need to please the patron), people could not make a living being Idealists. It's only recently that certain aspects of the computer revolution have gotten "too cheap to meter", allowing Open Source to exist.

    Some people think that nanotech promises a similar development in some physical products. They actually hope to "make a living" being Idealists. I'm not saying they are wrong, just that until now it has not been possible to wear an Idealist hat to work. In fact, as far as I can see, it still won't be possible. If the "abundance" of nanotech is real, we will be either retired or unemployed.

    There is much room for investigation. Can Idealists actually produce enough value to sustain themselves, or do we still need the engine of trade? If trade is unnecessary, do we still need Guardians? Can Idealists and their works be included in economics at all? These questions are outside the scope of the book–and not because the author missed a category.

    However, such questions are crucial to understanding the possible nanotech futures that Foresight is trying to understand, and your identification of Idealists as an important force in Foresight points to the larger question of how significant Idealists can be in a nanotech system.

    Chris

  7. ChrisPhoenix Says:

    Check out Keirsey Temperament theory…

    It's either memetic contagion or parallel evolution… Keirsey, building on Meyers-Briggs personality typing, has developed a classification of people into one of four major types: Guardian, Artisan, Idealist, and Rational. Sound familiar? The Guardians are almost a perfect fit. But there are intriguing differences: Kiersy's Idealists are largely into teaching, and Pat's Idealists seem to be at least part Artisan (though hackers [original sense] are probably all Rationals), and the Trader ethics seems to share elements from Artisan and Rational. Interestingly, I didn't see a Keirsey type or subtype that seemed ideal for commerce (perhaps because commerce requires several types working together).

    For another view (that seems to be based on Meyers-Briggs), check out this list of career suggestions. It's not well laid out for Keirsey. Here's the system: if it has an xSxJ, it's Guardian; xSxP is Artisan; xNTx is Rational; xNFx is Idealist.

    I've emailed Keirsey and Jacobs to ask what they think about each other's work, and about Pat's Idealist type. Anyone else want to attempt a synthesis?

    Chris

  8. AndreasLigtvoet Says:

    Different types, same answer

    Whether you call people Artisans, Traders, Idealists or Guardians is not the point here. There are many ways of categorising groups of people (or any other groups).

    The implication of Pat's analysis is, however, that because of the lack of a certain group of people in the nano-scene views are biased towards a certain group. Now, in itself this is no problem, but if you want to inform and convince people it is good to know that there is a bias.

    Nanotechers do tend to be 'idealistic' and/or 'commercial', in a let's-go-and-do-it kind of way. People who show their doubts (let us take Bill Joy as an example) are sometimes ridiculed, as 'you can't stop the development of technology'.

  9. PatGratton Says:

    Clarifications

    Ethics vs. Personality Type
    Let's distinguish between ethical systems and personality types. Jacobs and I are talking about ethical systems, while Keirsey is concerned with personality types.

    Clearly it's useful to understand both ethical system and personality type in a discussion. Perhaps the personality type tells you which argument a person will find most emotionally appealing, while the ethical system tells you which argument a personal will find most rationally appealing.

    Idealists may have been around for a long time as a personality type, but only recently as an followers of an explicit ethical system. I alluded to this in my Idealist paper by noting that the Idealist Syndrome requires a high level of cultural development. (OTOH, monasteries have existed for a long time, and it seems that many of them might have embodied the Idealist Syndrome.)

    Idealist Syndrome Outside of Jacobs Scope?
    Systems of Survival, p21, Armbruster says, I propose our first report should simply aim at identifying our system or systems of moral behavior concerned with work.

    There's a bit of ambiguity in this proposition, since idealism is generally not successful economically. However, the activity that artists, scientists, etc. engage in is clearly "work", thus the Idealist Syndrome is definitely the sort of thing that Jacobs was looking for. However, it's true that the focus of the Idealist is not survival ñ which only means that this conclusion of Jacobs is incorrect (i.e., it's not true that all ethical systems for work focus on survival), which in turn means that she picked the wrong title for her book!

    Or maybe not… While the idealist syndrome doesn't generally pay off for the idealist, it does pay off for the culture (so long as not too many people are engaged in idealistic pursuits). The histories of science are filled with stories of scientists who died impoverished, but contributed great scientific or mathematical advances which eventually generated great commercial benefit. Journalism is generally a poorly paid profession, but the openness that it brings is also of great benefit to our culture. So, there's a good argument that idealism is a survival system – for the culture.

    Idealists can be Bastards
    It's not surprising that an idealist can engage in bitter personal animosity or even violent warfare. An idealist might be dedicated to "pro-life" or "pro-choice", freedom for all men or states rights. Even idealists who support the same ideal may well engage in bitter personal rancor – indeed, the histories of science, art and academia are filled with such feuds. So long as this behavior does not conflict with pursuit of the ideal, it is tolerated. (Actually, given the drive for prestige and the commandment to "Be Passionate", such behavior is almost mandatory).

    Ethical Syndromes and Abundance
    I have mentioned this connection previously in my Transtech Map. The major point is that manufacturing and service abundance may weaken or even destroy the commercial syndrome, but would support both the idealist syndrome (Gift Economy) and the guardian syndrome (Guardian Economy). Actually, service abundance might weaken even the idealist syndrome – if tame AIs can produce art and conduct scientific research better than human artists and scientists, then guardians no longer have any use for idealist humans.

  10. ChrisPhoenix Says:

    Implications of hybrids

    Thought 1: Beware of creating a monstrous hybrid! Monstrous hybrids are discussed in this article on the Reason magazine site. Pat advised attempting to recruit more Guardians into Foresight. I think that for what Foresight does, attempting to mix in Guardian ethics would be quite bad. On the other hand, attempting to understand them is quite necessary.

    Thought 2: Perhaps some hybrids are not monstrous. It is true that Idealist shares some ethics with both Guardian and Trader. This does not mean it's not a separate syndrome! As another example of a hybrid, consider large Japanese businesses. They are heavily influenced by martial/Samurai culture, as typified by the Book of Five Rings. Most of us get uneasy thinking about them, because they do have different ethics than we do, but they don't seem to be monstrous in the same sense that the Nazis were.

    Thought 3: It may be incredibly important to look at conflicts, detentes, and synergies between systems. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans have had only Guardian ethics–in Western Europe, all the way up through Feudalism. Then Traders became important. Perhaps a student of history can discuss the early accommodations between Traders and government–the Crusades may be quite relevant. But the two systems have had centuries to rub off the rough edges and negotiate institutions like taxation and patents.

    Now we have a new system, Idealists, becoming important. (They've been around a lot longer–good point about monestaries, Pat–but they weren't directly influential.) Idealists have had very little chance to work out rules of engagement with the other prevailing systems. Initially there was some hostility from Idealist to Trader (e.g Stallman's hard-line position), but now they seem to be getting along just fine (Open Source). But…! Idealist vs. Guardian produces fiascos like Napster&Gnutella vs. Big Five music producers, and Internet vs. Great Firewall of China.

    Thought 4: What other systems of ethics might be viable and non-monstrous? Now that we have the lists of ethical choices, could we invent new systems? Will it happen spontaneously? The Net brought forth Idealists; will Nanotech continue to support Idealism, or will it strengthen yet another system? And how will that system interact with the other existing ones?

    Thought 5: Are these ideas as important as I think they are? For example, would Slashdot like to hear about the Idealist-vs-Guardian interpretation of Napster-vs-Big Five? Is this a good topic for a white paper? A book? Chris

  11. PatGratton Says:

    Re:Implications of hybrids

    I think that you're misunderstanding Jacobs on several crucial points (detailed below). The brief summary of her ideas that I gave earlier really does not do them justice. If you have a chance to read the book, please give it a shot.

    Monstrous Hybrids
    While mixing ethical syndromes is bad, it's okay (even desirable) for a single person to act in both Guardian and Trader modes – so long as he keeps the modes distinct. I.e., so long as he acts consistently as a Guardian in one context, and consistently as a Trader in another context. Jacobs states that lawyers and journalists engage in exactly this sort of mode switching.

    The article from Reason looks like a correct application of Jacobs' ideas – however, it should be noted that Jacobs' does approve of governmental regulation of industry – in some cases. For example on p175, she applauds the Clean Air Act as the proper way for Guardians to regulate Traders.

    Japanese Ethical Systems
    Japanese commercial work ethics and general culture definitely has a stronger Guardian flavor than ours. (Relatively recent feudal background, intensely hierarchical society, protectionist government, intense ties of loyalty between employees and company, popular view of business as "war".) Jacobs' theory would predict consequent problems with their economy – which I would say is accurate.

    History of Commercial Systems
    The commercial syndrome is not a recent invention – Jacobs takes the history of commercial ethical systems back to at least the advent of agriculture. Moreover, it's not true that Commercial and Guardian ethics are innately antagonistic – in fact, Commercial and Guardian ethics have co-existed in all successful cultures.

    OTOH, an inherent problem with a two system society is maintaining the proper relationship (separate, but symbiotic) between the two systems. See SoS, Chapter 11 for a discussion of this.

    Detentes Between Systems
    I think that you're simplifying the relationships between the three syndromes…

    For example, Open Source is an excellent effort at detente between Idealist and Trader systems – and perhaps an understanding of the ethical syndromes will help maintain that relationship. However, the solution is not without tension – Stallman is still around and the conflict between Free Software and Open Source is still a problem in this community – and probably always will be.

    Nor are Idealists and Guardians incapable of detente – to give just two examples: the foundation of the United States was clearly a combination of Idealist and Guardian principles – as was the foundation of the Soviet Union.

    Other (Workplace) Ethical Systems?
    I did play around with other possibilities for successful workplace ethical systems, but didn't find any that stood up to the tests. So, I don't think that there are any other systems – but I'd be happy to entertain concrete suggestions.

    Paper/Book?
    Systems of Survival is moderately well known and apparently well respected by those who are familiar with it (Postrell's reaction is perhaps typical). I personally would be interested in expanding the Idealist paper further – though I'd like some more expert feedback on the Ethical Syndrome.

    These ideas relevant to the open-source discussion and I have forwarded it to Eric Raymond, who found it interesting and promised to add it to his resources page.

    In considering broader publication, one of my concerns is that the right background knowledge be present. In particular, it's easy to misunderstand Jacobs' ideas if you haven't read Systems of Survival.

    Hmmm… And I would have thought that Napster vs. Big Five is an excellent case of Idealist vs. Trader, not Idealist vs. Guardian!

  12. TomMcKendree Says:

    "Idealist" = "Academic"?

    Going over the description of the "Idealist Syndrome," it strikes me that this is really quite similar to the values in an academic environment. This is to a large extent how Professors live, and are evaluated. This is most obvious in "Be Original" and "Respect Authorship," but seems to run up and down the list of "idealist syndrome" characteristics. The formal argument for tenure, in fact, is to allow Professor's to insulate the content and conclusions of their work performance from economic concerns ("Shun Trading").

    It may well be that this point of view has been propagated a lot over recent decades, because of the huge increase in the proportion of people who go through the university experience.

  13. TomMcKendree Says:

    Re:Implications of hybrids

    Japanese Ethical Systems
    Japanese commercial work ethics and general culture definitely has a stronger Guardian flavor than ours. … Jacobs' theory would predict consequent problems with their economy – which I would say is accurate.

    There is no doubt that Japan has had a rough economic decade. It is not entirely clear, however, that the real problems they are having are tied to their more "Guardian" economy. After all, they had four very good previous economic decades.

    History of Commercial Systems
    … in fact, Commercial and Guardian ethics have co-existed in all successful cultures.

    My memory is that the "Commercial Syndrome" is vastly superior for generating adequate resources, and using them efficiently, but that to succeed it requires stopping theft, extortion, invasion, etc., and that this is vastly more successful when done by people following the "Guardian Syndrome." How societies deal with this potential conflict is critical to their success.

    Detentes Between Systems
    Nor are Idealists and Guardians incapable of detente – to give just two examples: the foundation of the United States was clearly a combination of Idealist and Guardian principles – as was the foundation of the Soviet Union.

    I would argue that a major component of founding the United States was clearly to make it safe for the Commercial Moral Syndrome. Also, when you look at the Bolsheviks in detail (e.g., Lenin's long use of very militaristic language, a disciplined party can launch a successful revolution, etc), it seems clear that while many may have been "idealistic" in the traditional sense, that they were intensely following the Guardian Moral Syndrome, not the Idealist Moral Syndrome we are discussing here. (It might be true, however, that many of their supporters in the West were following the "Idealist Moral Syndrome.")

    Hmmm… And I would have thought that Napster vs. Big Five is an excellent case of Idealist vs. Trader, not Idealist vs. Guardian!

    I'm not sure. The core concern of Guardians is taking things (and preventing others from taking things). I certainly think that Jesse Walker's article, "Music For Nothing," is a review of the Napster vs. Big Five issue from the Trader perspective that is favorable to Napster.

    In trying to divide the "Traders" from the "Guardians" in the economy, I suggest the following Rorschach test. Consider the "Pointy-Haired Boss" type of person in the real world, personified and satirized by Dilbert. Is this person a "Guardian," a "Trader," and "Idealist," or what sort of "Monstrous Hybrid?"

  14. ChrisPhoenix Says:

    Re:Implications of hybrids

    Well, I've read half the book, including the Monstrous Hybrids and Castes chapters. I still think I wasn't too far off.

    Monstrous Hybrids: I'm aware that a person can wear multiple hats at different times. I'd think it would be a lot harder for a whole organization to wear different hats at different times (though apparently the Hebrew tribes made an attempt to do so). And harder still for an organization to maintain both Guardian and Commercial aspects simultaneously without going monstrous. If Foresight recruits too many Guardians, we'd first have internal conflicts; then policies that were inconsistent; then if we survived that, we'd probably turn into the Nanotech Gang, stifling innovation and communication, and dispensing the results as largesse–but not doing it well. Better to have a few Guardians whose brains we can pick, and work with fully Guardian organizations (e.g. the US DOD and Greenpeace) to get the Guardian stuff done.

    Japan: As for Japanese commercial systems, we can see some areas where their hybrid hasn't worked out well–for example, in banking decisions, and the increasing debt burden on families. But in other areas, such as manufacturing quality, they've been exemplary, and this may be enough to make them successful overall. Note that Jacobs (writing in ~1992) suggests that Japan is ripe for scientific advance precisely because of their flourishing commercial system (p. 44).

    History: You are right that commercial systems have existed for a long time. But my main point (which I'm less sure about than I was) was that they have become much more important recently. With only one exception, two countries with McDonalds have never gone to war against each other. It used to be that trade was just one more activity to be regulated, albeit trade required more regulation than many others. But now, trade is the main activity. If you want a simple measure, look at the relative populations inside and outside of towns/cities. Almost all of the people in cities are there to trade. Also note that trade in Europe did not initially get legal support, so had to create its own institutions which were eventually codified and included in government and religion (Chapter 3).

    Detentes: I was not trying to give a complete exposition! About the founding of the U.S.: did any of the founders espouse "Ignore Ownership"? And for the Soviet Union: "Shun Authority?" Note that "a combination of Idealist and Guardian principles" does not necessarily imply the presence of full-blown Idealist Syndrome, because Idealists and Guardians actually share some principles. In any case, my main point is that Guardian and Commercial have had a lot longer to get used to each other than Idealist and either one. (Note that both of your examples are relatively recent.)

    My other point, that Idealist seems to get along better with Commercial than with Guardian, needs more examples. But it may have something to do with Douglas Reay's identification of risk tolerance (on the other Nanodot thread). Idealists tend to be very sanguine about risks, and Guardians very risk-averse. Commercial people will react if it starts to threaten their bottom line, but they may simply absorb the new ideas (Open Source again). BTW, I stand by what I said about the Big Five being Guardian. The artists, no… but there is a distinct monopoly at the top (and Jacobs does say monopolies can be Guardian) that does things like hitting up businesses for music they might play on their PA systems, keeping most of the money, and distributing the rest to publishers and artists. Sounds Guardian to me!

    Chris

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