Thursday, August 15, 2013

Notes on the Reciprocity Test

In my essay, 'The Reciprocity Test: Pros and Cons’, eight propositions are formulated on the basis of the Golden Rule of Reciprocity. The extent to which people agree/disagree with each of them would define their Pro or Con position in relation to the ethos of reciprocity and exhibit their underlying political differences. I have added further notes below to explain what each may entail.

• As we would want others not to act in a prejudiced way against us (because of our ethnicity, sex, religion, etc), we should avoid acting with prejudice towards others.
[One key issue concerning prejudiced behaviour is the validity of assuming that a particular negative quality applies to all, or most, members of a given group. There are cases where such an assumption would be valid if part of the definition of membership requires the individuals concerned to possess certain negative quality. For example, it is reasonable to be suspicious of a member of the Mafia that he may harm an innocent person. But it would be unreasonable to treat someone as a member of the Mafia just on account of him being an Italian-American]

• As we would not want any punitive sanction directed at us without due process, we should not impose any arbitrary sanctions on others.
[‘Due process’ is itself a complex concept. In general, however, people would be alarmed that they could be punished just because an unknown accuser claims they have done something wrong without needing to produce any reliable evidence. Some of the people who vocally support ‘fast track’ prosecution against suspects may think twice if they realise it can be applied to them.]

• As we would want to be protected from the dangers posed by transgressors and high-risk activities, we should back the protection of others from similar dangers.
[Transgressors may not just be criminals or enemy countries in a state of war, but individuals or organisations who use their power to promote harmful addictions or destroy the environment.]

• As we would want others to help us in desperate times, we should ensure others are helped in desperate times.
[There may be different interpretations of what constitutes ‘desperate’, but few would dispute that when there are far fewer jobs than the number of applicants, when many of the jobs don’t pay enough, when families are left cold and hungry, and at risk of becoming or have already become homeless, people desperately need help.]

• As we would want others to support collective action where it can improve our common wellbeing, we should be prepared to contribute to such collective action.
[A reliable transportation system, decent standards for sanitation, secure water and energy supply, support for health improvement are all examples of where the pooling of some of our resources can collectively deliver much greater improvement to our wellbeing than can ever be achieved with fragmented actions, which would inevitably be undermined by free-riders who want to take advantage of others’ hard work without contributing themselves.]

• As we would not want anyone to amass such wealth and power that would leave us at their mercy, we should not allow anyone to have so much wealth and power that would put others at their mercy.
[Both the ancient Roman Republic and the early American republic were acutely aware of the need to prevent any individual from amassing so much wealth and power that others would have to bow down to their might. But they both became complacent about the need to prevent power inequalities from widening across society. The Roman Republic fell to the autocratic rule of the Caesars. America is in danger of being overtaken completely by plutocratic rule.]

• As we would not accept any claims put forward by others without the backing of adequate evidence and coherent arguments, we should not expect others to accept unjustifiable claims.
[This is most notable when religious authorities insist they have a uniquely infallible position that others must not challenge. But by the same token, conflicting religious claims made by other faith organisations cannot be challenged either. The only viable option is for all sides to rely on objective forms of evidence and argument to settle disputes, or else, there would be perpetual deadlock]

• As we would want to have a say about any important decision that can affect us, we should not make key decisions affecting others without giving them a say.
[Democratic procedures can take many forms, and not all may be sufficiently inclusive or effective to give a meaningful say to those concerned, but at least there should be a recognition that to give those affected by a decision no say at all is an affront that people would not in general welcome themselves. Some decisions, because of the expertise involved or the emergency situation, may have to be entrusted to a few to take, but there would still be issues regarding how they account for their decisions, how their judgement and integrity are kept under review, and what those affected by their decisions can do to avoid any mistake or impropriety from being repeated in the future.]