Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Jane Jacobs / Systems of Survival
A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics
chapter two

In Chapter 1 Jacobs explores concerns which also surface in her later books Dark Age Ahead and The Nature of Economies. The erosion of the trust and honesty on which so much of our civic life is based, high on her list. In a conversation with a friend in the neighbourhood recently, he was telling me about his aid work in places like Haiti, Kenya, Nigeria and experience in his consulting work with Canadian First Nations. It all comes down to trust, it's all built on trust. It took a long time in Haiti for instance for his group to build trust. After they delivered a couple of hundred houses locals they were working with said, almost surprised, you did what you said you would. They'd seen lots of promises with no results from many others. Here in my small city on the east coast of Vancouver Island there has been an unbroken line of big promises and adrenaline (and testosterone) loaded plans that failed to launch. Trust badly damaged between citizens and their City Hall, by what is widely seen as exclusive secret backroom dealings.  Trust easily broken and extremely difficult to repair.
Characteristically, Jacobs examines deeply and objectively ideas which can be seen as "old fashioned" and have fallen from current favour (more on that later). Ideas like values, ethics, morality that more often than not have been appropriated and manipulated by forces of organized religion, government or by our own unexamined self-government. Without the slightest proselytizing or preaching, she asks with an anthropologist's discipline, how did they come about? What are their origins? How do they contribute to systems that support and moderate human life?
In Chapter 2 Kate delivers her findings. She circulates a mystifying sheet that contains two columns she has titled Moral Syndrome A and B. Under each heading a list of what she calls precepts. Here we get to the heart of it, we begin to see what Jacobs is up to. From the introduction: "This book explores the morals and values that underpin viable working life. Like the other animals, we find and pick up what we can use, and appropriate territories. But unlike the other animals, we also trade and produce for trade. Because we possess these two radically different ways of dealing with our needs, we also have two radically different systems of morals and values—both systems valid and necessary."
From the notes: The precepts are a compilation and refinement of "esteemed behaviour" notes I've made over a period of some fifteen years. Initially I conceived of the two precept groups as embodying "trader" and "raider" morality, and was laggard at recognizing that "raider" precepts are as morally valid as traders', and are grounded in legitimate territorial concerns.
Kate, for the previous four weeks, has been reading broadly and extensively, gathering "three kinds of evidence... behaviour extolled as admirable... behaviour expected or proper... behaviour deemed scandalous, disgraceful or criminal," assigning to each a precept such as "respect contracts" and "exert prowess." These behavioural observations began to be clearly associated one with the other and the two distinct syndromes emerged. Wikipedia notes here.

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