Principles - Do They Work?
@22 June 1999


Human cultures are always drenched in "principles". These principles are often gathered together in manifestos that may parade under almost any kind of banner, from religion to patriotism to council bye-laws to workplace instructions.

The common experience of every adult is that the stated principles in a culture frequently fail to match the outcomes that they claim to promote, and indeed often seem to generate results that either contradict or block the realization of their intent. Why?

Stated principles are hot air. Underlying actual behaviour there are fairly constant drives, including hunger, sex, the need for social intercourse etc. There are also a host of created and derived "needs", understood by advertising agencies but spurned by ideologues.

In social and personal life, the power of any principle to gather psychological resources and focus behaviour can be directly related to the underlying incentives that it harnesses, or tries to restrain. Incentives, that is, which embody needs and drives. This is often a complex equation, especially with large systems of ideology like religions, and can lead to quite inconsistent outcomes. However, the major result of a mismatch of principle and underlying incentive is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is a felt daily need to lie to ourselves and to others.

If the hypocrisy index is a measure of ideological health, then many societies are in drastic need of reform.


All opinions expressed in Thor's Unwise Ideas and The Passionate Skeptic are entirely those of the author, who has no aim to influence, proselytize or persuade others to a point of view. He is pleased if his writing generates reflection in readers, either for or against the sentiment of the argument.

"Principles - Do They Work?" copyrighted to Thor May; all rights reserved 2000

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