S1E0-B: Snapshot to Ethical theory, DREMSI.

A brief explanation of the Ethical Theory presented in season one.

Previous: S1E0-A: H29 and a new ethical theory.

The story of this theory begins with the initial idea of fulfilling the promise of the field of ethics, that ethics provides the answer to right and wrong. A promise that until today, hasn’t been solved by any philosophy, leading us to a sort of relativist landscape where is just a punch word to build controversies.

In this journey, I will address this by removing the illusion of grandiosity of the field. Instead of seeking the ultimate, the supreme answer for all dilemmas, we have to take a more limited, restricted and exclusive approach to ethics. In order to make ethics tangible, to make it sharp like a samurai sword, we have to use one anchor value, one function, one purpose. Among all of the objectives commonly associated with ethics, building trust, survival of the species, reduction of selfishness or enhancing teamwork, the best objective to make ethics sharp is the minimization of injuries during social interaction. All other objectives are not discarded, but instead of being the main goal, they become more side effects, nice to have benefits in the bigger picture.

On one side, by focusing on injuries, we take the core essence of ethics .. addressing the question, why should anyone care about the study of ethics? Why is ethics important? I argue that the most valuable reason to spend time on ethics is because we want to prevent harm to others, we want to avoid discrimination, we want to reduce social harm, and ultimately because doing this indirectly makes the world a better place to be together with others.

On the other side, taking a strong position on only one functional objective makes it easier to take decisions as we don’t try to please too many masters. We can build a whole theory and system according to one solid criterion, as we simply have to focus on injuries, harm, damage…. that’s it!.

To take this idea to the next level we need to make it applicable to real-life situations. We need to build a comprehensive methodology that (1) can be used by individuals, groups, institutions, companies, etc; that (2) can work in harmony with the law and other social norms; and that (3) can be effective within complex everyday challenges.

To achieve this, we have to take a closer look at human interaction and the complexity of real life. We have to be able to decompose situations, review the hiding forces within them and evaluate them as a whole. In more tangible words, we have to be able to evaluate human behaviour in a similar way as we evaluate a physical system. This is precisely the promise of the complexity science field, a field that has recently gotten momentum and is able to provide very rich new perspectives of how to analyze reality.

Just like we can understand the behaviour of the weather system, by studying the interaction of its elements, of temperature, pressure, humidity, wind..etc, We can understand the behaviour of societies by looking at the interaction of individuals, institutions, tools, terrain..etc. Using this perspective, we can build systems of interaction from any group of individuals:

  • The Family is a system of individuals if you think of the interaction of  the father, the son, the grandma, the mother..etc
  • The Company is a system of individuals if you think of the interaction of  the boss, the colleagues, the security guard..etc
  • And we can even go macro level, the economic market is a system of groups if you think of the interaction of  the companies, the regulators, the investors, financial institutions..etc

The idea is to reality is composed of multiple systems, where actors interact with each other.

Going much deeper in this direction, for this multi-system reality to happen we need interactive parties or better said interactive actors that can easily move from system to system…  that can take multiple roles within a given space. Because of this, I conclude that individuals, us humans, are polyfunctional roleplaying actors, changing roles and systems as we live our lives. In the morning a father in the family, in the afternoon an employee in the company, in the evening a basketball player at the local team. All this can be summarized with the idea that we can interpret reality by thinking of a combination of systems where in any given situation, you will find actors interacting with each other, actors playing a role. This is the key we have to use if we want to analyze reality.

I connect this complexity science perspective with ethics by highlighting that every system has its own rules, rituals, and objectives. Every time actors interact in a relational space, be it a family, a company, or a restaurant, we all behave in a certain way and expect others to do so. We all move as a sort of symphony, moving according to others expectations, believing everyone else knows the music we are playing. This tacit agreement on behaviour is pretty much what we know as culture, the values, and ideas of the group on how to behave and interact with each other. Given that ethics is a component of culture in the shape of social expectations we can use the systems approach to understand how culture works and in turn, understand how ethical expectations apply.

Combining everything I have said so far I built the ethical theory DREMSI, In which Ethics are social expectations of behaviour that are connected to the role one plays in a group and that are used to minimize the injuries we cause to others within that space. Hence, in order to judge actions, one has to understand the role the actor is playing. In other words, from an ethical perspective, one can only judge an action based on the role that is taking such action. To visualize it:

  • We judge the father and not the brother of a kid that is misbehaving
  • We judge the organizers and not the singer for ensuring the safety of a concert
  • We judge the striker and not the goalkeeper for scoring goals

Once we look closer at interaction we notice the omnipresence of roleplaying, we do it all the time. Since ethics is a guidance of behaviour, I conclude that ethics are always bounded to roles within a system. To make a more dramatic emphasis, using division of labour as role assignments:

“We can only analyze human interaction, and with this ethics, if we understand a priori the division of labour”.

With this, we have a solid start, but for this method to be used in real life we have to it has to connect with multiple aspects of culture such as taboos, rituals, law and altruism. This interaction will be possible thanks to one of the advantages of using an injury focus approach. The interesting aspect of injuries is that we can use a pseudo quantifiable approach to quantify them and make decisions, a process we already do intuitively. In other words, we all can feel that:

  • Is not the same to steal a piece of bread compared to stealing the whole shop”
  • is not the same to miss a coffee date compared to missing a wedding
  • is not the same to evade paying your mobile bill compared to evading your taxes

Because Injuries come in different intensities we can use this for decision making, just like we already do in real-life situations.

The flexibility in resolution using a quantified approach to injuries, combined with a roleplaying perspective of interaction Is what I called DREMSI, dynamic roleplaying expectations to minimize stakeholder injuries.

Putting this theory into action we get a satisfactory answer when it comes to the resolution of classical trolley-based dilemmas, you know the ones where you are the conductor of a train and you have to choose to kill one life to save five. More importantly, using this method, we get a solid and consistent judgment process to tackle real-life dilemmas. For example:  

  • this theory recognizes the vulnerability of individuals within groups, and hence supports any efforts to reduce discrimination but it doesn’t support something like gender quotas, in which one clearly discriminates against a specific group.
  • In a different perspective, with this method we can argue that a company shouldn’t change salaries in response to the alarming CEO to Employee payment ratio in the country, respecting the space definition of injuries.
  • And in a very uncomfortable take, we can justify why a husband should not tell his wife about his one-night stand, if it was only a one-time accident, removing the selfish virtuoso reason for causing larger damage to the family.

Even if it comes with unpleasant results, the objective is not to satisfy everyone, the objective is to minimize injuries, to reduce damage, to prevent harm and to a large degree this is what happens if we use DREAMS, which is more effective and consistent way compared to other ethical philosophies.

I just speed run a large part of episodes one and two to introduce the main hero of the story but I left out a lot so that the episode still feels valuable to explore. During the whole series:

  • I will explain the reason why altruism shouldn’t be considered ethics, as they are beyond the realm of social expectations
  • I’ll advocate the idea of living comfortably with microaggressions, as they are unavoidable in the pursuit of objectives and are indispensable to communicate information with each other.
  • And I’ll highlight the necessity of an ethical banking approach to relationships, as it is certain we will make mistakes and should be responsible for them.

To give you a glimpse of the journey ahead.

In episode one I provide a much deeper explanation of the foundations of this theory, which I complement in episode two by solving the famous trolley dilemmas,  addressing some uncomfortable but understandable conclusions.

Then from episodes three to five I elaborate further on the method, going deeper into the implications of looking to groups as systems highlighting the unavoidable power tensions that arise during interaction and clarifying many concepts within this theory.

After getting a full view of the method, in episodes six, seven and eight it’s all about solving real-life dilemmas at an individual, corporation, and state levels. Here is when we get to see how this theory works and how one can use it. Everything comes to an end in episodes nine and ten, where I present a framework for living ethically,  a guiding process that can be used by individuals and corporations.

That is pretty much what you can expect of Season one, the idea is to release everything in this blog and complement it with a podcast/youtube series.

The ultimate goal of the H29 project is to help people in power make better decisions so besides ethics, in future seasons I’ll address many other important concepts of life, such as the meaning of life, the value of diversity, the ideal society..etc. I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew, so I’ll start with ethics and see how to proceed once I finish this season

As expressed before, I’m very keen to get feedback or engage in discussion about the details of this theory,  so don’t hesitate to contact me at jaimelugo@h-29.com.

NEXT S1E1-A: Addressing the problems in Ethics.

Pride by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

S1E9 – A: State Dilemmas – Announcement

Hola my dear readers, In episode nine of this series we are meant to analyse the ethical dilemmas that governments face, it has been a long journey and this is one of the last stops in this theory. While individual and business dilemmas were relatively easy to analyse using the DREMSI method, it has taken

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Battle of the Moneybags

S1E8 – D: Extended accountabilities

In this final section of Companies Dilemmas, we handle the controversial topic of Extended Accountabilities, aiming to define how far is a company responsible for the actions of external parties when running a business.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Battle of the Moneybags

S1E8 – C: Companies and the Greater good

In this episode, we handle how companies should consider solving «Greater Good» Dilemmas such as inequality and sustainability. A very common and valid question that doesn’t have an easy answer and even at times relies more on the government and the consumer than the company in itself.

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