S1E2-C : Implications of using DREMSI.

Having had a sip at the DREMSI bottle in the previous section, I want to address some difficult to accept aspects of it. Since the aim is to change the application of ethics, it requires necessary compromises that might be too uncomfortable for some.

The DREMSI theory reminds me of the first time I tried alcohol, at the beginning, I didn’t really like any type. Be it beer, wine, sake, tequila, vodka, Jägermeister, limoncello or my now favourite JB Whiskey, at first try I really wonder, why should keep I drink this? Of course, once one has drunk a bit more often, one starts developing a taste, one starts knowing when is the best time for a drink, and one starts understandings when it is time to stop. It is only then that one can truly see the value of having a drink when one is familiar with the taste and fully aware of the side effects.

In the same way as alcohol, this thesis has a strong taste at the beginning and one may be resistant to trying it again, hence, in an effort to smoother up the flavour of it I will address the most uncomfortable aspects of using the DREMSI methodology for decision making. As previously shared I am proposing a significant change in the field and application for ethics so I am fully aware of the discomfort it may cause, in this section ill tackle four aspects in particular:

  • The critical influence of Social Expectations.
  • The actual role of Altruism.
  • The removal of Ethics from the “right and wrong”.
  • The ambiguity of the Injury estimation process.

The critical influence of expectations.

I would like to begin by addressing the critical value that social expectation has on the whole process. In both cases, the bridge and the doctor,  the evaluation from an ethical side only happens on the action that carries social expectation. In both cases, lack of social expectations was the critical criterion that led to the decisions. At this point some of you might wonder, is that it? – no expectations, no judgement?

The key to understanding social expectations is to think of humans as a group of roleplaying agents, with individuals playing roles in the pursuit of a certain objective. The message is that One cannot interact with others if one doesn’t have a role. In order to interact as a group, we divide labour, effectively creating roles. it is in these roles that social expectations arise, including ethical ones. As such ethics is bound and limited by roleplaying expectations. In a more provocative way, division of labour rules everything around us:

  • We would lose the game if everyone tries to play striker in a football match.
  • We would never make a decision if everyone is trying to be the boss within the team.
  • And inspired by the beautiful mind film, We would never get the girl if we are all aiming at the same one.

With this said, given that all social reality is experienced playing a role, it proves extremely convenient and necessary to rely on Social Expectations, because of this all ethical dilemmas require us to understand the situation a priori, to clarify the social expectations.

To visualize this point in the context of the classical dilemmas, in the trolley example, imagine that instead of being the conductor you are only a passenger. You see from your window that if the train continues it will kill five, but if it changes it will kill one. Should you go to the main cabin, push the conductor away and change the tracks? – Some of you brave warriors will say yes, but in most cases, the answer will be negative, we all know that you have to let the people in charge take the decision.

Countering lack of accountability with Altruism

At this point comes another issue of social expectations, it feels very uncomfortable to answer, “no I don’t take action because is not my role”. I absolutely detest this kind of mentality and approach to problems, I heard it so many times. That is unfortunately the reason why many issues happen in society, excusing ourselves because is not “our job”. The problem is that reality is housed within a division of labour world, and to keep order in the space, roleplaying expectations and accountabilities are a priori of action. Let me repeat,  Roleplaying expectations and accountabilities are a priori of action. One needs very strong reasons to temporarily override a division of labour, the order of interaction.

In order to compensate for the “I only act if it’s within my role” excuse, I implemented the process of evaluating going beyond expectations. That’s the value that altruism and social change bring to the table. In the large picture, both concepts have the power to make society better. Paraphrasing the words from biologist Edward O. Wilson, “In an evolutionary perspective, group of Altruist agents will beat groups of Selfish agents”. Although not perfect in operation, Altruism and social change complement the role-based reality and are suitable to solve problems in which the role doesn’t provide a satisfactory answer, in which ethics lacks the power to prevent injuries.

Ethics is no longer the answer to right or wrong

In the same line of thought, I have expressed that ethics is trying to cover too much with the ambition of being “the answer of right or wrong”. The biggest problem that arises with this perspective we end up with a massive illusion, “we foolishly believe that one is right by one being ethical, vice versa.”  Ethics is not the answer to all problems and ethics is not the only factor to determine what is the right thing to do. To be more specific:

  • Ethics will never hold the answer to the question: is this right?
  • In a more practical view, ethics might be closer to the answer: is this wrong?
  • But to be specific, ethics gives the answer to «is this causing an injury?».

By removing the illusion of “rightness” we apply to ethics, we remove the illusion that we are good people because we did the right thing. One couldn’t be further from the truth, one can help the whole neighbourhood and still be a bad father just the same as one can score the winning goal and still be a jerk of a teammate. Being right is not being ethical, and vice versa.

In the trolley example, whether is right to kill one or to kill five, doesn’t make any of the actions more ethical as one still causes the loss of a life. So, an action could be right, but still unethical… and as such one has to pay the consequences.

By providing visibility and accepting the injuries of such a decision, we open the conversation for three extra questions. Do I ignore the damage?, Do I ask for forgiveness? Or Do I repay it?. This is a part of the process I call ethical banking, a very important part of ethics that is not well visualized using classical dilemmas and it becomes much more visible in everyday dilemmas. To give you a snapshot, Ethical banking is the idea that we have sort of bank account relationships with people; when we do good actions we have a credit and when we do bad actions we have a debit. Depending on the level of debt we might reach a point of rupture in our relationship, we have done too much damage and we are “no longer friends”,  as such we instinctively learn how to handle our credit scores with our important relationships, this is one of the reasons why we might choose to let our family suffer a little bit as we know we have a big credit with them. I’ll explain further details on this concept and how it influences the process in episode five.

Back to the topic at hand, only if one comes to terms with the separation of Ethics and “the right” one can truly see the value that DREMSI brings to the table. As we focus on injuries instead of being right.

The ambiguity of Quantifying injuries

The last uncomfortable point I want to address is in the shape of the utilitarian, quantitative approach to making decisions. I’m sure the answer to the trolley problem, choosing five lives over one made people feel disgusted about the method. I want to tackle this with two observations

First, specific to the trolley case, it was an isolated example in which the injuries intensities and damages were exactly the same, hence one could take a quantitative approach. In classical dilemmas, we normally discuss life or death examples, very black and white situations where everyone would choose life instead of death. The problem is that real-life dilemmas have more subtle dilemmas, for example, which one is worst, punching someone or humiliating someone? how big is the damage to one’s dignity compared to physical damage? Is it the same damage for a male or a female? For an older or a younger person?

Second, whether we like it or not quantity matters,  in the larger picture of the survival of the species,  quantity has played and will continue to play a role, not entirely determinant but influential so we shouldn’t shy away from having a quantitative approach to decision making we use it all the time and we will continue to use it.

Grading injuries is not easy, context matters but is fundamental for decision making. It is thanks to the exploration to injuries that we understand the impact of discrimination, the importance of privacy, the relevance of respect and the greatness of dignity. I recognize do not have the perfect way to measure intensities, but I acknowledge its value and I insist we have to explore this further. So that we can make better decisions  and ultimately  so that we can achieve all our other objectives  while minimizing injuries to others

With this last statement, I close this second episode and the first phase of this ethical theory. In the next phase I will get into many more details of the methodology and the implications of using complexity lenses to analyse reality, all this in preparation to solve ethical dilemmas in episodes 6, 7 and 8.

NEXT: S1E3 – A: Deep dive into the complexity of Society.

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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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