I am always thinking about good general rules for making the world a better place, but it's extremely difficult to succinctly communicate them to anyone.
This is the story of how my friends and I created and agreed on a statement of values.
A couple of months ago, I was in an IRC chat room with some friends of mine (do people actually still use IRC? tell me in the comments), and @0atman aired an idea for a charitable project. We all thought it was a good one, and long a discussion ensued about the best way to run the project.
We all felt that it should be run democratically to some extent - that is, largely owned by its members - but we were worried about the project being hijacked and becoming something that none of us wanted it to be.
A potential solution, we felt, was to first create a foundation with exclusive membership and a solid stated set of values. That way, the project could be started by the foundation, but not inherently attached to it, meaning that if the project took a different direction, the foundation would remain intact. This would allow us to either create a fork of the project, bringing it back in line with our values, or start a completely new one, while allowing the existing project to continue in its new direction with our blessing.
Thus was formed the Blackgate Foundation.
(Nothing has come of the project idea yet. I hope it may in the future.)
Arguments over values
Since we formed the foundation specifically to be a solid moral centre for our future projects, the values of the foundation were paramount, so we started debating them in ernest.
Politically and morally we have a lot of things in common, but it was surprising how much we found to argue about. We disagreed about the necessity for punishment, whether there's ever a case to go to war, whether utilitarianism was a term we could or should associate ourselves with, whether we agreed with the values of humanism, our opinions on religion.
We discussed it for days, on IRC and in comments and edits on a Google Document (I don't want to advertise Google particularly, but Google Documents really are an amazingly effective way to collaborate with people). It got kinda heated at times. But eventually we came out with a largely agreed upon statement of values, and I think our individual values all changed a little along the way.
The statement of values
I am proud of what we produced, and I had a lot of fun doing it. I think it sums up my values rather well. I think it's firm and clear without being offensive or inflamatory. I'd love to know what you think of it - please let me know in the comments.
It can be seen on the blackgate foundation website or in our GitHub repositority, but I'm also reproducing it here in its current form (we may decide to change it in the future):
Statement of values
We, the members of the Blackgate Foundation, value:
- Humanity should strive to treat and provide for all people equally regardless of appearance, sexuality, gender, beliefs, ability or actions.
- All people should be equally represented and no person fundamentally deserves to be better off than any other.
Science & openness
- The pursuit of knowledge is a human instinct and a universal force for good.
- There is value in sceptical, evidence-based and objective reasoning in the persuit of knowledge.
- Knowledge should be made available to all of humanity. We should strive to build on existing work rather than doing work from scratch.
- There is value in open processes and collective decision making - many eyes guard against injustices and inefficiencies.
- Diversity is important in all things. Many opinions and diverse practices prevent stagnation, create risilience through redundancy and speed evolution and learning.
- Centres of control should be diverse and small and subservient and answerable to all over whom they hold influence. Any decisions by such centres should be evidence based and open to discussion.
- The interests of humanity should always come before those of any individual or group, particularly applies to corporate protectionism and nationalism.
- Violence in all its forms is divisive and inflammatory and therefore always undesirable.
- We renounce the glorification of violence and the use of violence to solve disputes.
- It is in the interest of humanity to seek to understand and help those who act violently.
- Morality is not absolute. Moral guidelines should be formed through evidence-based reasoning.
- There exist solid evidence-based arguments for the most universally accepted moral tenets.
- "Bad" and "evil" are counter-productive concepts. Humanity should strive to avoid ultimately judging any person as either.
- All human activity should continually strive to be sustainable. Notable examples are human impact on the environment and the global economy.
Why don't you try writing down your morals and values in a similar form? Or do it with some friends? I really enjoyed it and couldn't recommend it more.