SYSTEMS OF SURVIVAL: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics by Jane Jacobs

SYSTEMS OF SURVIVAL: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics

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Jacobs, who changed prevailing notions of urban planning and city life with The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), now looks at societal ethics and delineates two contradictory moral systems. The result is more provocative, original thinking--in her usual mix of observation, common sense, and erudition based on familiar, accessible sources. It's unfortunate that Jacobs invents a symposium and silly mouthpieces to express her ideas here, but her argument is well worth following anyway. All human work falls, she says, into two distinct categories: ""taking"" and ""trading,"" Taking encompasses benign practices (foraging); aggressive practices (hunting, conquering for pillage, tribute, or territorial expansion); and territorial administration. Virtues necessary to the realm of taking constitute ""The Guardian Moral Syndrome""; among these values are obedience, hierarchy, honor, the shunning of trade, and the dispensing of largesse. Trading, on the other hand, relies on the ""Commercial Moral Syndrome"" (e.g., industriousness, efficiency, thrift, the shunning of force, openness to strangers, inventiveness and dissent). Society's mingling of taking and trading values, Jacobs contends, leads to moral confusion and ""monstrous hybrids""--including the mafia, banking scandals, Nazi death-camps, even government interference in agriculture (because governments confuse agricultural trade with control of territory). Jacobs provides a historical overview of law and custom; reinterprets anthropologist Colin Tumbull on the collapse of human values when individual survival is threatened; continues her explorations of import-replacement economies (as in her Cities and the Wealth of Nations, 1984) and of the potential benefits of smaller sovereignties (as in The Question of Separatism, 1980). An annoying format--but a valuable theory against which to test decision-making aimed at avoiding unethical behavior and unforeseen negative outcomes.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1992
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Random House