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.

The foundation

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:

Equality

Science & openness

Diversity

Pacifism

Evidence-based morality

Sustainability

Try it!

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.