27 November 2009

Shakespeare versus Chekhov: Justice versus Survival

Amos Oz, writing in 1993:
At the end of a Shakespeare tragedy the stage is strewn with dead bodies, and maybe there's some justice hovering high above. A Chekhov tragedy, on the other hand, ends with everybody disillusioned, embittered, heartbroken, disappointed, absolutely shattered, but still alive. And I want a Chekhovian resolution, not a Shakespearean one, for the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy. Source
We might do better to target such a basic goal - human life - than strive for fairness and justice, when it comes to making policy. This certainly applies to the Arab/Israeli conflict (see my essay on applying the Social Policy Bond principle to the Middle East). Justice and fairness can be sought for, but they must overlie the even more fundamental goal of human survival.

The same applies to climate change: arguments about which countries are most responsible for the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may be necessary, but they should not impede the more fundamental goals of reducing the rate of climate change and its impacts. Similarly with other global threats, such as nuclear proliferation. More than all else that we'd wish to see in these policy areas is human survival.

Thankfully, the Social Policy Bond mechanism allows us to fold such desirable goals as justice and fairness into that over-arching objective. Social Policy Bonds targeting world peace, say, would not discourage the pursuit of justice; they would even encourage it when doing so makes human survival more likely. But they could also introduce an element of unfairness, for the sake of the greater good. Holders of bonds targeting peace would have every incentive, for example, to bribe people espousing inflammatory views to keep quiet, or to take an indefinite vacation at the golfing resort of their choice. It might not be fair; it might lead to gaming of the system; but the benefits to everyone else would be huge. We shouldn't forget either that there's plenty of such unfairness in the current system. The difference - and it's crucial - is that currently it just as often acts to worsen the chances of human survival as to enhance them.

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