Grasping the Common Good Pt I


While a worker collective might initially seem like an incredibly cool place to work, sooner or later probationers become aware of what may initially be perceived as a dark undercurrent. Every so often, the members will appear to become disproportionately triggered by someone’s behaviour, and adopting stoney faced Judge Dredd type personas, strut around uttering what can only be termed as ‘immortal speech’. The probationer is feels like they are the only sane person in the room, because they “can see both sides”.

So what the fuck is going on?

Short answer: the actions of the members are being guided a philosophical force field of collective conscience, termed the “common good”.

For absolute avoidance of doubt, the common good is not about putting other people ahead of one’s self, but rather the realisation that self interest is ultimately best served by social cohesion. This is neatly illustrated in the Parable of Two Villages…

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The Parable of Two Villages

Once upon a time there were two villages. The village of Rooin and the village of Juztiss. Bob the arsonist dwelt within the village of Rooin. One day, Nancy the Baker said something that annoyed Bob, so he decided to burn Nancy’s house to the ground. Unfortunately for Bob he was caught red handed. The other villagers initially sided with Nancy… at least until Bob explained that “I only did it because Nancy is evil.”

On hearing this some of the villagers began to have doubts. What if Nancy really was evil? In that case Bob was surely justified in torching her pad? At the very least most people found that they could empathise with Bob’s position to some extent, even though Nancy was the one who had suffered the greater injustice. A few villagers even sided entirely with Bob, and started calling for Nancy to be investigated for witchcraft.

Bob also highlighted how Nancy had in fact been the main beneficiary of the fire he set, because her insurance policy had paid for a new home that was much nicer. To further evidence this, Bob cited how Nancy had immediately forgiven him. The implication being that Nancy had bewitched Bob into starting the fire, in order to benefit from a new house, while Bob was the real victim, as he could have ended up being thrown in jail.

Unsure as to who to believe, the consensus among the villagers was to take no further action. After all this had clearly been a one off dispute between Nancy and Bob, and had no obvious implication for the village of Rooin, since no one else had been affected. Right???

The following week Geoff’s Post Office was mysteriously engulfed by flames. Some of the villagers suspected Bob, so they tracked him down and discovered that he was covered in soot and reeking of smoke and gasoline. Bob explained that he had nothing to do with starting the fire. That he just happened to be passing the Post Office, saw the fire, and attempted to tackle the blaze himself, but had almost been overcome by the smoke, and had set off the raise the alarm. Bob further stated that he suspected Nancy might also responsible this fire, but that he lacked any means of proving that.

A month later Mary’s Chip Shop caught alight. Some of the villagers were aware that Mary had quarrelled with Bob shortly beforehand, but thought it best to keep quiet because they were reluctant to be seen to take sides or upset Bob. Word of this trickled out, but nobody was quite sure who had stared the rumour. There were even those who suspected that Bob had been spreading it himself.

More and more villagers were becoming nervous of upsetting Bob, and because they naively imagined that Bob would refrain from harming those closest to him, they did the “only ‘logical’ thing” and took his side. This growing influx of ‘support’ imbued Bob with substantial force in numbers, and he revelled in the newfound power at his disposal. Bob could now do whatever the fuck he wanted, and the worse he behaved, the more people joined his little army. Within a month Bob had effectively mustered half the village to his ranks.

The rest of the village remained unconvinced however. They had begun to suspect that Bob might actually be an unapologetic arsonist, and a self-serving pathological liar to boot. Truth be told most of Bob’s newfound supporters were more than a little unsure. Cognisant that his power base was under threat, Bob decided to make his old foe Nancy, the scapegoat. Bob explained that he’d seen Nancy riding a broomstick and dropping petrol bombs on the Post Office and the Chip Shop, but had refrained from saying anything at the time, because he didn’t think anyone would believe him. His position was that Nancy had been trying to frame him.

Clearly this was all getting rather messy, so Bob’s supporters advocated that the best way to determine the truth was to adopt a position of objectivity. They suggested tying Nancy up and throwing her into the village pond. If Nancy drowned then she was innocent, and Bob should be put to death. If Nancy floated then she was indeed a witch, and Bob should be made ruler.

Bob was a little nervous of this, after all if Nancy drowned then he’d be executed, but he couldn’t risk alienating his own troops. Instead he waited until the villagers had thrown Nancy into the pond, then using her dying struggles as a distraction, sneaked away, set fire to the remainder of the village, then made good his escape to the neighbouring borough of Juztiss.

On arriving in Juztiss, Bob explained to the inhabitants how he had just come from Rooin, where everyone except he, had fallen under the spell of the local witch named Nancy. As punishment God had set fire to the village and drowned Nancy in the pond. Clearly Bob had endured a terrible ordeal; he was covered in soot, coughing, and reeking of smoke. The people of Juztiss took pity on him and made him welcome in their village.

A week later Raji’s Tandoori caught fire, and Raji apprehended Bob at the scene. The villagers all sided with Raji, but then Bob explained that he had only set fire to the restaurant because he knew that Raji was evil. Furthermore Bob claimed that he could discern who was evil due to his prior experience with Nancy. If the villagers of Rooin has only listened to Bob in the first instance, then God wouldn’t have smited them.

Unfortunately for Bob, Juztiss was an anarchist municipality, and not easily swayed by emotion or appeals to authority. While the villagers could appreciate that there might be two sides to the story, they were also acutely aware of the necessity to safeguard the future of their society, by testing any such issue for conflict with the common good. In order to do this, they each individually undertook the following thought process:

  1. Split the issue into its discrete components.
  2. Test each component for objectivity.
  3. Generalise anything objective.
  4. Form a premise from each generalisation.
  5. Think each premise to its logical conclusion.

Issue – Bob burnt down Raji’s Tandoori.

So far this seems fairly clear cut in terms of who did the bad thing, but…

Bob – “I only burned down Raji’s Tandoori because Raji is evil”.

Now there are evidently two sides to this story, and most of the villagers could empathise with Bob to some degree, because if Raji was indeed evil, then perhaps Raji had it coming, right?

Issue – Bob burnt down Raji’s Tandoori because Raji is evil.

The villagers, each acting individually, applied the test for common good. They started by splitting it into a Bob component and a Raji component.

Bob Component – Bob burnt down Raji’s Tandoori.

Is this an objective fact? Yes, Bob was caught in the act and admitted it.

Generalisation – Someone burned down someone else’s property.

Premise – Arson is acceptable behaviour.

Taken to it’s logical Conclusion – Everyone must be at liberty to engage in arson.

Hmm… if we tolerate that, then the whole village would soon be in ruins. Clearly this is in conflict with the common good. If we condone Bob’s arson, then we’re setting a precedent that makes a rod for our own backs. Even if the second component also fails the test, two wrongs do not make a right. Bob is clearly in the wrong. End of.

Raji Component – Raji is evil.

Is this an objective fact? No! This is Bob’s subjective opinion, so let’s not venture down that particular rabbit hole. If Raji is evil, then that will surely become apparent to other people, independent of Bob’s stated experience.

The villagers exhibited solidarity by taking a stance against Bob. This isn’t the same thing as siding with Raji, instead this is purely a reaction to Bob’s behaviour.

Bob now counterd that Raji, not Bob, was the one who benefitted from the arson, since he acquired a new restaurant as a result of Bob’s actions. And anyway Bob didn’t mean any harm by starting the fire, he even checked that the building was empty beforehand. Bob feels that he, not Raji, is the real victim because everyone has turned against him.

The villagers explained to Bob that this was all immaterial. That regardless of the intent or the outcome, it’s still wrong to commit arson, and that if Bob was excused for this, then everyone else who engaged in arson would also have to be excused. They ask Bob to imagine living in a village of arsonists, where arson was the accepted norm, and everyone went around torching fuck out of one another’s property. Wouldn’t this be a living hell… even by Bob’s standards?

Without anyone taking his side, and concerned as to what fate may have in store for him, for the first time Bob felt compelled to step outside his own twisted narrative and reflect on the consequences of his behaviour. Suddenly it dawned on him that his actions had indeed been grossly damaging to the villages. Bob realised that collectively, we have the choice between a living hell where everyone does as they please, without taking responsibility for their actions, or a world predicated on mutual aid and respect for one another. Bob grasped the reality that everyone’s long-term interests, including his own, are ultimately best served by social cohesion.

Bob only arrived at this conclusion because peer pressure served to deprive his ego of its usual destructive wiggle room.

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The common good is a concern that permeates the entirety of society. This is not just something minor that we bump into on occasion; where there exist more than two people, the common good becomes a very real factor, and something that should ideally serve to govern everyone’s behaviour. Not just how they interact with one another, but also in terms of how people relate to the shared environment on which we are each individually dependent.

In the example of Rooin, the villagers adopted the short-termist approach, that their individual interests were best served by not offending Bob’s sensibilities. They each rationalised this internally on the basis that they “could see both sides”… without bothering to test the validity of that sentiment, or to explore its long-term implications. As things deteriorated they even enabled Bob to form a malignant hierarchy, in order that he may further his selfish agenda, on the false premise that this would afford the majority of them a degree of protection from the worst excesses of his power trip. The village effectively sacrificed its own future by pandering to Bob’s selfishness.

The village of Juztiss adopted a very different approach. Rather than let things get messy, the villagers each immediately tested Bob’s behaviour against the common good. To do this, they viewed Bob’s actions in isolation from the allegations Bob made in respect of Raji. Also, rather than getting bogged down in specifics, they applied a general view, and imagined what the impact upon their village would be if that were taken to it’s logical conclusion and applied universally. On this basis they were easily able to ascertain that Bob’s behaviour was a threat to the fabric of society, regardless of any extenuating circumstances. They then moved collectively the set Bob on the straight and narrow.

In a worker collective, it is imperative that the members focus their attention on the common good at all times. Hence every action (or lack thereof) is examined against this barometer, with members liable to become detached and clinical when it appears as though someone’s self interest is threatening collective cohesion. This is why any subsequent response is enacted with overwhelming solidarity, and until realisation dawns and restitution is forthcoming.

The only alternative approach is one of hierarchal rulership, typically by an arch-manipulator like Bob.

Don’t be like Bob.

Don’t support Bob.

Don’t enable Bob.

Put Bob in his fucking place, right at the outset!

To do anything else is to court disaster.

Express zero tolerance for breaches of the common good.

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