Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Fri Dec 28 22:30:09 2007
Sovereign Ethics

Not actually inspired by Bhutto's recent death, but more on reflections on the end of Tsardom in Russia, statement of a position (that I do hold, not a "feeler")

Value conclusions made on the level of the individual, in particular, notions of a value code we expect people to live by, should be amendable or replacable when considering actions that affect society on a grand scale. Actions that may be inexcusable when some values cannot strongly be involved may be acceptable on such grand scales (although we would also expect some conclusions to be invariant across scale).

These matters of scale most directly affect people who make themselves prominent through action or other position - while rarely such judgement may apply to people who have not done so, people enter the public sphere and are judged/take responsibility in a manner akin to how celebrities and politicians (in the US) give up significant privacy expectations and other rights as they become public figures. There are three broad forms in which this judgement manifests - they are judged to have a higher responsibility to the public good beyond that of a common person (actions society may forgive nonsovereigns often will not be forgiven in them), in following that greater good they are potentially forgiven the sacrifice of lesser goods that could not potentially be balanced by nonpublic figures, and they become particularly vulnerable to actions performed by others operating in the second sphere (with judgement on/defense against said acts being far more likely to be excused than those involving people who have not become active on this level).

Illustration on points:

This does raise the issue of judgement - while it is possible to provide a certain amount of legal framework and value framework that constrain small-scale actions, formalising these actions for the public good is considerably more difficult. It is possible to specify certain values these acts must be justified in terms of and to give invariants that extend across all scales (people may disagree on specifics, but there isn't full consensus on the small-scale norms either), but many of these actions are designed to challenge/replace social and/or legal norms, and so their judgement in light of them is naturally constraining (imagine a corrupt political power body that reviews all legal/structural changes in society - their removal may be illegal but..). The grand scale operates closer to "power politics" than legal/cultural norms does, and in the long term, is best judged by history. In some cases, the existing society/people in the legal system should be prepared to exercise judgement as to how strictly they exercise their rules - people may be asked whether the exception is both worthwhile in itself and worth the cost of making exceptions (doing so too rarely or too often each would have their own kind of cost). Such acts are presumably best done infrequently and in situations where the alternative is markedly worse. It is also worth noting that while "good faith" efforts should be considered largely sufficient for action on small scales and operating within established procedure, when one steps further outside their bounds or highly enough into societal importance, actual results take an increasingly prominent role in judgement - while we may forgive/applaud some complex acts that prove to have been necessary, the same acts having led to disaster are more likely to be viewed as unacceptable.