Universal Ethics > Thought of the Month > June 2020

"All for one, and one for all." Raising the average is not good enough!

Un pour tous, tous pour un (One for all, and all for one) was the motto of the heroes of Alexandre Dumas' novel, The Three Musketeers.

"Raising the average" however, is a bit different. It refers to improving the average success of a group.

If the group seeks to maximize overall success, a traditional strategy is to add up the happiness of the members. Lacking any easy way to measure that, some nations simply add up the value of things that are produced by a society--the gross domestic product (GDP). It is assumed that those things contribute to happiness of individuals, so the GDP divided by population is an indicator at how effective the society is at producing happiness for its citizens. Right?

Unfortunately, there is one big flaw in that measurement, which is that it doesn't measure how that wealth is allocated. Nations with extremes of wealth and poverty can plentiful production, in which the privileged wealthy live an easy life, funded by the taxes and rents and profits provided by those who do the work, the latter of which live on the brink of poverty.

If the "All for one, and one for all" motto is adopted, however, no-one would be exempted from the benefits provided from the group effort. When one person is in need of help the group will provide it: all for one. And to make that work, it is necessary that each person contribute their own effort: one for all.

Clearly, an "all for one, and one for all" implementation in a society will produce a much greater level of solidarity among the group members, because nobody is left out of the benefits that their joint effort produces. To use a military analogy, nobody is "left behind" even in a situation of retreat. Each person has the security of knowing that others will help him (or her) when he may need it. That becomes an advantage to the society, as compared to a society that cares only about maximizing wealth without regard to who gets it.

A nation is made of people, and the success of a nation cannot be determined solely by an average such as the GDP. If just one person in that nation is in distress, and if that condition could be cured by the help of others within that society, but they fail to act, that society doesn't score the value of its GDP. A high GDP is a clue that the capacity is there, but that GDP is no longer indicative of success. Instead, we have a significant failure.

As I write this note, protests are occurring in USA and other nations around the world, because one person was treated as if his life didn't matter: on May 25, 2020, a black man, George Floyd, was choked to death by a police officer in response to an allegation that George had made a payment with a counterfeit $20 bill. The officer applied a restraint technique that was both unnecessary and entirely inappropriate even for situations where a suspect needs to be restrained.

What led the officer to behave that way? Racism, apparently, but how does that racism arise? It could be a conclusion arising from this faulty chain or reasoning: among poor people the crime rate is higher, many black people are poor, this person is black, therefore he is a criminal, criminals are dangerous, and therefore he deserves to be treated harshly. This rationale ignores a failure in society arising from history, in which black people were enslaved, and even after generations of freedom their descendants have not all recovered from poverty. It treats one black person as if the stereotype applied to all. And it is a fundamental break from the principle of all-for-one. The black person is a "one" too, and he is also a "one" whom the policeman had a duty to "serve and protect." The officer's rash and cruel action achieved the opposite of his assigned mission.

If this was just one rare case of a rogue police officer, and if everyone expected that the justice system would take action to prevent it from happening again, that would have been the end of the story. But many people believe this is not an isolated case. The result was demonstrations around the world of people expressing their dissatisfaction with the situation.

Most of the demonstrations were peaceful, but some were not. Some demonstrators created their own victims by looting or destroying shops in the areas of the marches. Those shop owners were innocent victims too. It's another failure of "all for one," among those of the protestors who behaved that way.

We need to understand that for the motto to work, each of us must take our role among the "all" to protect every "one." If we each resolve to do that, the result is a society where there is solidarity and strength, and each of us can find maximum security and confidence for our future.

Perhaps not every nation has the capacity to help everyone among them who is in distress, but many do. Fixing their own problems is an essential duty, and spreading the solution to all people of all nations everywhere is the ultimate goal. That's the direction that provides the most security and widest true satisfaction--to pursue a universal solution rather than only a local one.

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