Commercial vs Guardian

Two moral frames works. Commercial and Guardian. From Jane Jacob’s book Systems of Survival.

Moral Syndrome: Commercial

  • Shun force
  • Come to voluntary agreements
  • Be honest
  • Collaborate easily with strangers and aliens
  • Compete
  • Respect contracts
  • Use initiative and enterprise
  • Be open to inventiveness and novelty
  • Be efficient
  • Promote comfort and convenience
  • Dissent for the sake of the task
  • Invest for productive purposes
  • Be industrious
  • Be thrifty
  • Be optimistic

Moral Syndrome: Guardian

  • Shun trading
  • Exert prowess
  • Be obedient and disciplined
  • Adhere to tradition
  • Respect hierarchy
  • Be loyal
  • Take vengeance
  • Deceive for the sake of the task
  • Make rich use of leisure
  • Be ostentatious
  • Dispense largesse
  • Be exclusive
  • Show fortitude
  • Be fatalistic
  • Treasure honor

This dialectic is more prevalent than you’d expect. For example in building web systems I find that the folks attempting to build the business tend to be in the first camp while the people running the data center tend to be in the second camp. Both syndromes have their place. While an individual might prefer one to another it’s valuable to appreciate that there are situations where the other one is more optimal.

Where you get into all kinds of ethical problems is designing custom syndromes consisting of half of one list and half of the other. But then, it is where the interesting work is to be done.

If you look at Verisign’s recent offensive actions thru these lenses it’s hard to see a way that what they did was ethical from the point of view of either syndrome.

This book has grown on me over the years.

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