The Rule of Service
The often diametrically opposed provinces of moral action and economic endeavor in our normal, day-to-day lives are nevertheless entwined in countless ways: the most important of which, their relation to and impact on social status. We struggle each day to do what is good and right, as we simultaneously work to develop our social and economic positions. These perennial human endeavors—doing what is right vs. doing what is best for me—need not be at odds, however; and when performed in concert and with due attention to both, will actually sustain and empower one another to even greater effect than we might currently imagine.
Our daily challenge of simultaneously engaging in practical morality, together with proletarian economic struggles, can be met by one simple word, one simple act: service. Service is the bedrock foundation of the moral and economic aspects of human action. The root of all human moral and economic action is the success or failure of our acts of service to one another. My moral contract with you is one of service to your needs, and yours to mine, within the relationship we share. My business contract with you is one of mutual service, as well, based upon my delivery of goods and services to you, and your established remuneration in return.
The Rule of Service is a binding moral contract we share with one another that has but one dogmatic assertion—one self-evident truth we cannot dismiss, devalue, demean, defy, or discard: We are all in service to one another.
Practically speaking, my service defines my value to society. As I increase my ability to serve others, my value to society increases. As I increase my value to others in society, my social standing rises. As my social standing rises, my economic potential also rises. Through service, we establish and develop our standing in society. Through service, we build our economic potential. Through service, the society in which we serve strengthens…and that benefits everyone, including ourselves.
Our essential, symbiotic relationship of service defines us as social creatures. Without that binding contract amongst us all, we devolve into vicious survivalists, opportunistic schemers, and greedy capitalists seeking only to climb higher upon the backs of others. But through service, we advance, improve, and protect both ourselves and each other. We rise together in harmony with, not in spite of, one another.
Through the constant fulfillment of our binding social contract of service, we grant one another extrinsic value that can be weighed, measured, traded, compensated, and most importantly, appreciated. Moreover, through service, we simultaneously fulfill our moral imperative of helping others. Our economic interests are coupled with our moral interests. When it comes down to it, doing the morally right thing is also doing the economically viable thing, when we do it under the Rule of Service.
The Rule of Service is a binding moral contract we share with one another that has but one dogmatic assertion—one self-evident truth we cannot dismiss, devalue, demean, defy, or discard: We are all in service to one another. Through active employment of the Rule of Service, we fulfill each others’ wants and needs; and we thereby establish the very framework of the society in which we all participate.
The Rules of Service: Establishing Our Moral Framework
While in the spirit of our shared social contract, however, simply being in service to one another is not enough to fully establish a moral dynamic. Service, in itself, is necessary, but not sufficient to establish moral action. We must consider to whom we are in service, and to what ends our service strives.
If I serve a despotic dictator who is bent on social destruction and human suffering, we can hardly say that I am in a moral service relationship, even if my service were impeccable. Service, in and of itself, is morally neutral. It is to whom and to what ends that service strives that defines its moral value. But while our goals, motivations, and actions bear the essential moral weight in and of themselves, they can still be assessed and measured in terms of service.
To the extent that our actions advance and support humanity, we can assess them on their absolute moral value in relation to our core values. Motivations, goals, and actions that advance the health, safety, prosperity, and general success of humanity–or that support certain portions of humanity or individuals who, themselves, seek to advance humanity–carry positive moral weight.
The guiding principle for moral assessment–“does this action make conditions better or worse for humanity?”–sets the heading to our shared moral compass. “Do my actions help or hinder human kind?” “Am I in service to humanity through this action I now perform?” Or, at a more immediate level, “does this service I perform help the person or persons I am in service to at this moment, such that the result will advance or protect humanity?”
Obviously, for us to fully appreciate the moral weight of our actions, we must understand their impact, both immediate and long-term. The more we understand, the more power we have over that impact, and the more moral responsibility we hold for the consequences of our actions. Knowledge is, indeed, power, but it is also responsibility.
“O, what men dare do! What men may do! What men daily do, not knowing what they do!” ~Claudio: Much Ado About Nothing (IV, i, 19-21)
It is therefore incumbent upon each of us to pay attention to our actions, as well as our goals and intentions, to assess their immediate and long-term moral impact. But also incumbent upon us is to pay attention to those whom we serve. To ask that imperative question: “Am I in service to the right master and to the right ends?”
The question of the moral impact of any given action begs discussion of alignment. Is this action in alignment with the greater good? Does my action align with goals, purposes, and motivations that advance humanity? Are the person or persons to whom I am in service also in service to advancing and protecting humanity?
Each given action either is or is not in alignment with the greater good. But we have to start from a foundation that can allow us to move forward together in moral action. We must accept a core set of values that will be taken as given, not to be questioned once we accept them. Such core values must be universal to us as humans, irrespective of any cultural bias. They will form our essential core, from which all moral actions may follow.
Given the moral bedrock principles that each and every human life has value and deserves to continue and flourish to the greatest extent possible; and that society itself exists for the purpose of maximizing the continuation of as many human lives in as high a standard as possible, while minimizing the suffering of those who somehow are not fully protected by that society at any given time; our operational definition of “the greater good” would require that any given action should advance the living standards of as many people as possible while limiting the depth and scope of any damage to the living standards to as small a number of people as possible.
This ideal of “the greatest good for the greatest number” serves well in our model of service. In that spirit, we can assume the following formulation as our core human value (which I freely admit is a variation on Isaac Asimov’s “Zeroeth Law of Robotics,” with a significantly positive difference):
A human must seek to optimize the health, safety, and prosperity of humanity, and may not harm, nor, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
Based upon our core value of advancing and protecting humanity, we can apply the Rule of Service to any given human interaction. My actions are moral if I am in service such that I actively promote, as well as do not harm, nor allow harm to come to, humanity. In a more immediate relation, my actions of service should promote and protect the person or persons I am in service to at the moment, assuming that their goals, motivations, and subsequent actions are ultimately in service to humanity.
I am responsible for my links in the moral chain of actions that span history. Like it or not, the subsequent actions that result from my actions are moral functions of my actions within that chain. While I am not fully responsible for them down the line (there are, after all, moral actors who come after me who bear responsibility for their actions into perpetuity), I am nevertheless responsible for establishing the preceding actions that make those future actions more probable, possible, or certain.
We can never know the full extent of our actions; but it is our moral duty to do what we can to keep our actions in alignment with the greater good of promoting and protecting humanity. That moral compass heading will keep us moving forward toward the dawn and off the rocks and reefs onto which immoral actions might lead us.
~Brian Scott Archibald
Excerpted from In Our Service: Moral Action in an Ends-based Economy