( A four-minute Read.)
Whatever Happened to the “Common Good”?
Our politics have become so polarized and increasingly volatile; and our political institutions have lost the public trust.
There is (Almost) No Such Thing as the “Common Good”
We face a choice between a society where people accept modest sacrifices for a common good or a more contentious society where group selfishly protect their own benefits. Our most fundamental social problems grow out of a widespread pursuit of individual interests and greed.
Recommitting ourselves to the general welfare could solve the deepest problems the world now face.
The very idea of a common good is inconsistent with a pluralistic society like ours.
Different people have different ideas about what is worthwhile or what constitutes “the good life for human beings”, differences that have increased during the last few decades as the voices of more and more previously silenced groups, such as women and minorities, have been heard.
Given these differences, some people urge, it will be impossible for us to agree on what particular kind of social systems, institutions, and environments we will all pitch in to support.
It might seem that since all citizens benefit from the common good, we would all willingly respond to urgings that we each cooperate to establish and maintain the common good.
Examples of particular common goods or parts of the common good include an accessible and affordable public health care system, and effective system of public safety and security, peace among the nations of the world, a just legal and political system, and unpolluted natural environment, and a flourishing economic system.
Because such systems, institutions, and environments have such a powerful impact on the well-being of members of a society, it is no surprise that virtually every social problem in one way or another is linked to how well these systems and institutions are functioning.
So why is it that we are unable to act for the Common Good of humanity and the Planet?
Our culture views society as comprised of separate independent individuals who are free to pursue their own individual goals and interests without interference from others.
In this individualistic culture it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to convince people that they should sacrifice some of their freedom, some of their personal goals, and some of their self-interest, for the sake of the “common good”.
This combined with the fact that we have turned everything into a commodity to be bought or make profit on has blurred our values of the common good.
These days one might describe the common good as “certain general conditions that are…equally to everyone’s advantage”.
Even if we agreed upon what we all valued, we would certainly disagree about the relative values things have for us.
Such disagreements are bound to undercut our ability to evoke a sustained and widespread commitment to the common good.
In the face of such pluralism, efforts to bring about the common good can only lead to adopting or promoting the views of some, while excluding others, violating the principle of treating people equally.
Moreover, such efforts would force everyone to support some specific notion of the common good, violating the freedom of those who do not share in that goal, and inevitably leading to paternalism (imposing one group’s preference on others), tyranny, and oppression.
We left with cultural traditions, that in fact, reinforce the individual who thinks that she should not have to contribute to the community’s common good, but should be left free to pursue her own personal ends.
WHERE DOES ANY OF THIS LEAVE US?
A good questions but complicated because complete societies all with different laws, rules, and beliefs,(which we can call ‘polities,’ or ‘countries’) take many forms in different times and places but they always include some kind of rule ordering them to the common good.
This may well be so but the overriding self interest Resulting in a planet of Inequalities, rampant climate change, conflicts, wars, pollution on a massive scale, corruption, and profit at any cost.
Not all people live under a state, but every [complete] human community by definition is a polity.» Polities enable families, local communities (‘villages’), and associations to flourish by realizing many common goods, but polities also allow for the achievement of greater common goods.
The good news is with modern-day technology we are on the threshold of discovering a new way.
- It is possible for acts of individual humans armed with powerful technologies to make decisions that may affect the future survival of the whole human race.
- We can imagine the possibility of extinction (whether by our own efforts or due to some external cause), and we can agree to work together to prevent such an eventuality.
Of course, even while we work on a common goal of preserving the species, we will still all be competing to maintain a larger share of descendants within the future population, and this may still result in technological developments that threaten the extinction of everyone.
Whether one goal (survival of the species) can win out against the other goal (relative reproductive success of the individual) is not a fore-gone conclusion.
For me it consists primarily of having the social systems, institutions, and environments on which we all depend work in a manner that benefits all people.
The internet revolution is transforming the way knowledge is disseminated and how people unite over causes. ( see post: The Beady Eye asks: Are we condemned to reaction politics for the foreseeable future)
This means that our out of date world organisations need to come up to speed.
Establishing a pro active chamber of Governance with non political expert representatives, immune from lobbing, that would be concerned with the long-term view to avoid potential threats or to capitalize on potential opportunities.
This Chamber actions subject to Social Media network electronic voting by the tax paying citizens.
Placing a World Aid Commission of 0.05% ALL HIGH FREQUENCY STOCK EXCHANGE TRANSACTIONS. ON ALL FOREIGN EXCHANGE TRANSACTIONS OVER $20,000. ON ALL SOVEREIGN WEALTH FUNDS ACQUISITIONS . ON ALL NEW DRILL LICENCES.
THIS WOULD CREATE A PERPETUAL FUND FROM PROFIT FOR PROFIT SAKE TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE AND ALL OTHER WORLD PROBLEMS OF INEQUALITY.
WHY SUCH A FUND? Because appeals to the common good are confronted by the problem of an unequal sharing of burdens.
Our desire or desires are personal incapable of being satisfied because of our internal sense of imagination.
If good is the cause of desire, how can it be that people do not want what is good?
Indeed, all sense pleasures seem to be intended by nature to be connected to actions that lead toward the lower and more basic of the honorable goods such as the preservation and reproduction of life.
This is lost in large complex societies.
Is this the reason we are unable to act for the common good.
To define the good as ‘what all want’ is therefore a definition not of an effect by its cause, but just the opposite: a definition of a cause by its effect. The good is a cause. It is the final cause, the end or purpose.
If you get what I mean.
Hunger is the desire for food, but food is not good because there is hunger. Rather, there is hunger because food is good and necessary for the preservation of one’s substance.
The good is desirable as known, and therefore as long as it is unknown it is powerless to cause desire.
Many economists claim that in any free exchange each party must think that they are getting something better out of the deal.
But people are not such fools.
Whoever wins, others must lose.
Therefore, for humanity, there is no “Common Good”.
Other than the continued survival of the human race as a species.
Unless, perhaps, we can avoid the finiteness by expanding into outer space.
Historically, our darkest hours on Earth have given birth to some of our most brilliant moments—our brightest ideas and most illuminating conversations.
The challenges we’re facing can spur us towards brilliance—and prompt a course correction. We must be both far-sighted and courageous in our thinking.
Our house is on fire. What will we save?
Not the redistribution of wealth by governments Tax to create greater equality.
Especially insofar as they are only concern with interior acts power rather than the outward behavior which directly affects other people.
We must also support thinkers and leaders who can help expand our collective understanding of what’s valuable beyond the narrow one-dimensionality of a profit margin.
We may never find a truly satisfying and conclusive answer.
Maybe its the wrong question altogether. You will never really know what it is to be me and I will never really what it is to be like you. And this very unknowability of other humans beings is what is the common good.
The human common good—now understanding that phrase without restriction to the state’s or political community’s good is impossible.
ALL COMMENTS WELCOME.