Alan Cottey – abstracts, March 2013


Moral Equivalents of Greed

Abstract: The author considers James’ (1910) essay The Moral Equivalent of War and applies some of its ideas to another pressing problem of our times, which for short is called greed, but can be described more precisely as the working out of the possessive market society under the conditions of neoliberalism and great technological power. James considered that pacifists had the best arguments, but failed to persuade mainstream society. The same can be said today of the critics of neoliberalism.

There is need for radical change away from an unjust and dysfunctional economic system, but mainstream society is unwilling to try new ideas. The present author adapts James’ idea and considers benign and malign forms of greed. What we all desire, more than huge monetary assets, is self-respect and social respect. There are already many rewards that are not primarily monetary. In a radically different culture, which rejected the principles of unlimited accumulation and almost unlimited convertibility, benign rewards would motivate constructive activity. The moral equivalents of greed briefly discussed here are—Honours and prizes for merit (administered justly); Celebrity (important in society); Luck (gambling, with certain constraints, could be benign); Power (rewarding in itself, so large monetary gain need not go with it); Services (people making important contributions to society could concentrate their commitment); Temporary custody of public treasures (a privilege prized by some). The essay ends by linking James’ idea, the Faustian bargain myth, and the necessity of hope.


Don’t worry, Cynthia; no one’s in charge

In this contribution to the Session The Roles and Responsibilities of Scientists and Engineers in Achieving a Just and Sustainable World at the SWIIS (Supplementary Ways of Improving International Stability) 2012 conference International Stability and Systems Engineering, the author argues that the possessive market society (Macpherson’s concept, here explained briefly) is unreformable and that radical changes in the future are inevitable, mainly for ecological reasons. Some historical cases and current progress are discussed and. two principles proposed – (i) the basic needs of all humans (food, clean water, energy, shelter, healthcare, education, dignity) come first, before inessential property accumulation; (ii) control, leadership, management, hierarchy have carefully constrained instrumental places in society whereas autonomy, liberty, freedom are the default as long as all enjoy these benefits. – as the foundation on which further research is built.

Another issue: Can our dysfunctional human culture be rendered just and sustainable?

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