We began this week's review of CRN's "Three Systems" by looking at the long-standing Guardian and Commercial systems of action, and their accompanying ethical principles. On Wednesday, we considered the relatively recent rise of a new system of action that we term "Information."
Yesterday, we discussed the fact that the reckless mixing of two systems in one organization can lead to the creation of "monstrous moral hybrids." But applying a consistent system of action to the wrong situation can be just as bad as mixing and matching principles for convenience.
Commerce stagnates if it is centrally regulated; conversely, mercenaries do not make trustworthy or effective soldiers. Information principles, when applied to other people's private property, result in actions that are indistinguishable from theft. Organizations should not try to extend their influence to situations that fall outside their ability to address appropriately. The table below (click to enlarge) gives some indication of which kinds of issues are best addressed by which systems.
A corollary of the dictum that systems of action must not be mixed is that no single organization should be expected to solve all problems. We should not expect a government to give non-citizens the same privileges as citizens. A corporation should not be expected to do business with people who have no money. Information creators should not be expected to decide whether or how to restrict their work or the information they produce.
This is probably unwelcome news; it is strongly tempting to make any powerful organization responsible for anything it touches. However, to do this would create unhealthy, inefficient, or even tragic situations: e.g., a state forced to violate its own security; a corporation forced to waste money; a creator prevented from creating. To force an organization to adopt alien principles (or to solve alien problems) is to force it to act unethically. Unfortunately, this means that many organizations will create problems that they are not equipped to solve, and almost all organizations will confront problems that they cannot address.
Since any single organization can only deal with a fraction of the possible problems, the solution is to have organizations of each type working together, keeping each other in check, and letting solutions to problems emerge from their interaction. Governments and commercial entities have had many centuries to learn how to work together. Information principles are somewhat newer, since they only became widespread with the availability of cheap computers and the Internet.
The Open Source movement illustrates the potential for all three systems to work together productively. Open Source was inspired by the Free Software movement, which is militantly dedicated to purely Information principles. Open Source, by contrast, welcomes the collaboration of Commercial (non-free) software manufacturers. Some companies, such as Red Hat, make money by selling and supporting Open Source software. Open Source licenses, which keep the software from being hijacked by commercial interests, make use of copyright law, so that Open Source and Free Software rely on our Guardian legal system for protection just as much as any Commercial entity does.
Fourth generation nanotechnology—molecular manufacturing—will make it possible to make or copy physical objects almost as easily and cheaply as data is produced and copied now. This will provide a broader domain for the advantages of unlimited-sum transactions, but will also pose additional problems and tangible dangers. An understanding of all three Systems of Action will help in policy-making, administering the new technologies to maximize the benefits while minimizing the problems.