Mike also asked:
I have spent most of my working life in the marketing and general management sides of commercial
business. Along with most of my colleagues and competitors I have seen the marketplace as a
battleground, on which you strive your utmost to win business at the expense of your competitors. If a
competitor goes to the wall, or is weak enough to be taken over, so much the better, if the result is
A free market and tough competition stimulates innovation and progress (at least in material terms). It
also fosters unethical behaviour and lack of consideration for one's fellow man, particularly if they
work for the competition. Despite that, man does not yet seem to have come up with a better way of
advancing the (material) well being and freedom of the majority, in any large community.
Is there a fundamentally different and better way for man to move ahead, that will temper his
aggressive, selfish instincts with greater altruism?
It sounds as if you're going through an ethical crisis. Good for you. There are many answers that have
been given to your question... the field of utopian ideas is a moderately large one in philosophy. Plato,
in fact, was one of the first, in the West, to attempt a utopian community. It failed, eventually. It seems
that on a small scale, practically anything can work, for a time. On a large scale, and over long
periods of time, the longest-lasting systems, as far as I am aware, have been those in which nearly
absolute power is concentrated in a small class of people, usually ruler-priests (I'm thinking of Egypt,
China, India, the Mid-East, the Aztecs, the Mayans, Japan, the Catholic Church, for example). The
combination of military and religious power is one that works on multiple levels of the human
condition, as you might imagine. I do not think that capitalism, in your sense of the term, has been
around long enough to test it, really... a couple of hundred years, maybe... not very long compared to
these other systems. Is it better than those? Oh, dear... "better"? Surely you see the problems there?
But let's say, for the sake of argument, that yourcriteria are the correct ones: altruism as opposed to
selfishness; empathy or peacefulness as opposed to aggression; material well-being for the many;
freedom for the many. You realize that it is not universally accepted that all these are "good"... just
because you and I do is not any sort of justification... just because our societies do is not either. But I
will not go into arguments attempting to justify them, I'll just accept them for the purpose of this
discussion. Now, given that, we ask your question above. There are no answers, I'm afraid. Oh,
certainly, if you read Marx, for example, the thrust of his whole system is just exactly to maximize
these values. But Marxism has been attempted several times in the last century, on large scales, with
uniform lack of success. There are many who advocate universal Buddhism... and perhaps they have
the best case; all in all, that is a philosophy which has pretty much stood the test of time; and it does
more-or-less embrace the above values. But it is not, insofar as I am aware, an economic system...
sort of the opposite, in effect; a renunciation of economics and the importance of "material
well-being". I have no idea how it could be worked out as an economic system, and so far as I know it
has never been. But that might be something for you to look into; in all other ways it seems an
admirable life-style, especially, in my opinion, if you do notembrace it's religious/ metaphysical
underpinnings (rebirth, karma, etc.). There are of course the various religious communities... but first,
they are not (with one exception that I know of — Mormonism) well-worked out economic systems,
and second, they are small-scale, and dependent, really, on being embedded in larger societies.
Thus we could mention the idyllic life-styles of monks, of the Amish, and so forth.... The Mormons
seem to be an exception to this. But they are, as far as I can tell, actually a prime example of a social
group similar to the older societies above: the virtually absolute rule of a powerful priesthood, very
much like Muslim societies seem to be, for the most part. And those societies, while they pay lip
service to "the majority", in actuality provide freedom and wealth proportionally to one's status in the
So, where does that leave us? In flux, I'm afraid. You can certainly go to any bookstore and pull down
innumerable books on how best to live, how our society should be shaped, governed... how we
should live as individuals, blah, blah, blah. But one must first justify such conceptions with data and
logic, then test them, then implement them. We have, at this point, still insufficient data on how
human beings function. What data we do have, has not been put together into a coherent system
relating to coordinating human activities: a "society" maximizing the above values. And third, that
putative system, once formulated, must, as with all hypotheses, be tested empirically... at what
human cost, who knows? Then finally, that system, successfully formulated, then tested, must be
implemented. Good luck. History is littered with the failures of such attempts. But... how else can we
Steven Ravett Brown
If you are speaking of the entirely and absolutely "free market", I would say that I have not the
perception that this is "the better way of advancing the (material) well being and freedom of the
majority, in any large community".
>From what I have seen, well being and freedom are more advanced in communities where free
enterprise is tempered by clever (and enforced) regulations and established solidarity.
Concerning the question in your last paragraph, it all depends on what you mean by "moving ahead".