Winning My Religion

The Golden Rule (or some variation of it) seems to be very widespread among religions.

What if the Golden Rule also made scientific sense?

I had an interesting discussion yesterday with my friend Gina Del Vecchio (sorry, no link at present — will update later if one becomes available) spanning many topics, including e.g. Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful — Economics as if People Mattered”.

The central theme was — somewhat oversimplified — the interplay between individual behavior and social order. I continued to think about the discussion for many hours afterwards, throughout the night and I continue to think about it today. I have come up with a new way of expressing what upon reflection seems to simply be a modern-day variation of the Golden Rule … albeit expressed somewhat negatively:

Your Life is My Problem

I think there are two kinds of people: Those who affirm this as a maxim governing their own behavior, and those who deny this as in any way related to their own way of thinking and/or behaving.

Personally, when I think about my own behavior, I usually feel better about it when I follow this maxim than I do when I neglect it. The only cases where I seem to be conflicted is when my own survival seems to come at the cost of some other being (or vice versa — but that is also true generally, not just with respect to this maxim).

Let me give a simple example of how this maxim seems to make scientific sense.

There has lately been talk about bees. Some people say some species of bees are in danger of going extinct. This is considered dangerous, not only because there are people who like bees themselves, but also because the bees are crucial for the entire global ecosystem: They pollinate many plants — including not only beautiful flowers but also the crops we need for survival of our own species. Therefore, the life of bees is (also) my problem.

So are the piles of trash, nuclear waste, and oil spills. So is global warming, and also the homeless person freezing out in the cold. Whenever I say about any of these things “that’s not my problem”, then I feel worse… — but I don’t like feeling bad.

In order for me to feel good, or at least better than otherwise, I need to keep in mind that your life is my problem after all… — and whenever I do that, I’m winning my religion! :)

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