A Proposed Foundation for Human Government


I have an idea for a potentially universal guideline for maturing as a civilization:

Humans should use a combination of reason and compassion to increase the happiness and reduce the suffering of conscious creatures.

This isn’t mine: It’s mostly Russell, with some Harris thrown in. What is mine is proposing that this become the measuring stick for any political ideology. That it become the foundation of any discussion of what’s best for America, or the world, or humanity.

Let’s break it into pieces:

  1. Reason and Compassion: What I mean by this that we should use science to determine what works best for the world. We debate ideas, sure, but we test them through implementation and measurement. We determine what metrics to follow, and we evaluate the results. When they speak, we make adjustments to our perceptions of what is most effective, and we change policy accordingly. This is discussed at length in Sam Harris’s ‘The Moral Landscape’.

  2. Increasing Happiness and Reducing Suffering: This seems obvious, but the key portion is hidden: it’s everyone’s responsibility to do these things for everyone else. Not physically. Not individually. But as a whole. In other words, we’re acknowledging that we’re connected, that we’re one people, and that we have a responsibility to each other.

  3. For Conscious Creatures: This one is straight from Harris, and it is intuitive once you hear it. Basically, entities should be worried about to the extent that they can suffer or be happy. We don’t care about rocks because they can’t feel anything. So we break them into pieces with hammers with no qualms. Dogs less so, and humans not at all. Simple. The crucial bit here is that it equalizes creatures while still acknowledging differences, i.e. we are saying it’s o.k. to care less about how we treat chickens, but it’s not o.k. to not care about how we treat them.

It seems clear to me that this method of building a civilization is superior to anything else we have. The alternatives seem to be:

  • Building our societies based on religious books written centuries ago that openly betray their primitive nature by advocating slavery, mistreatment of women, and show a complete unawareness of science

  • Building our societies based on the pseudo-holy words put down by a particularly successful country’s founders, e.g. the Constitution.

Why is the model above better than these two approaches? First of all, because it’s self-healing. As we learn more about humans and animals–through compassion-guided science–we’ll learn better ways to adjust our civilization to maximize our happiness.

Second, it’s based on evidence and data rather than faith or tradition. I shouldn’t have to say more, but I will anyway. Systems based on faith are not based on evidence, and thus are permanently open to interpretation by all manner of human–good and evil. This is not a positive thing. Systems based on tradition are remarkably similar, as we can see from numerous groups claiming to invoke the founding fathers.

So I think the best possible path forward is to ask when building any government, when establishing any law, and when considering any course of action, whether it is best for improving the happiness and reducing the suffering of conscious creatures. And we should be disciplined in our use of science and evidence to guide those decisions, and not to let our passions take us this way or that.

People love to have one course. People love a foundation. And I believe this to be the best one we have.

Related posts: