Long term cycles of decreasing & increasing ethics and social discord


  1. (a) Immanuel Kant and his “Categorical Imperative”; (b) Robert Kane, Through the Moral Maze: Searching for Absolute Values in a Pluralistic World, Paragon House, 1994, ISBN 1-55778-601-1; (c) The Golden and Silver Rules
  2. (a) Peter Turchin, Ages of Discord; (b) Price’s equation (GR Price, (i) Selection and covariance, Nature, vol. 227, pp. 520-521, 1970, (ii) Extension of covariance selection mathematics, Annals of Human Genetics, vol. 35, pp. 485-490, 1972); (c) SIR epidemiological models (RM May and RM Anderson, Infectious Diseases of Humans: Dynamics and Control, Oxford University Press)




Treating People With Respect

  • Immanuel Kant‘s theory of morality, the categorical imperative, states that it is immoral to use another person merely as a means to an end, and that people must, under all circumstances, be treated as ends in themselves. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Means_to_an_end
  • “Treat every person in every situation as an end and never as a means (to your or someone else’s ends).” – Robert Kane, Through the Moral Maze, 1994, p. 21

If these are the specs, what is the implementation?

The Golden Rule (& the Silver Rule)!

Do these considerations apply to professional life? Personal life? Public service?


The US contains 2 popular attitudes:

(1) “Broadly cooperative,” and

(2) broadly hostile

  • Which generally leads people to treat others per the above?
  • Which generally leads people to violate the above?
  • Love vs. hate:

It is ethical to promote love and discourage hate

(according to Kant, the golden rule, and me)

A weak point in the argument:

ethics is about actions, not thoughts

attitudes are just thoughts

Thoughtcrime is not supposed to be a crime

(Term coined by Orwell in 1949)


Image credits: collage of portions of emychaoschildren.deviantart.com/art/1984-cover-290761330 and tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/NineteenEightyFour


Thoughtcrime is not a crime,

but pervasive attitudes do cause

societies to act ethically or not


What controls whether love or hate predominates?

  • Turchin’s answer  (ref.: Ages of Discord)

The US, the Roman Empire, medieval France, etc. –

cycle through

“integrative” and “disintegrative” phases

  • Integrative

The country is working

  • Disintegrative

Things are falling apart

  • Disintegrative phases are driven by:

1) Hardship among the general populace

No big surprise here

2) National financial crises

No big surprise here either

3) Political division among the power elite

This is the *most* important factor!

  • According to Turchin:

Peasant or worker uprisings alone don’t work

A unified elite can suppress them

A fragmented elite is a different story:

One fragment can use discord (e.g. uprisings)…

…as a tool to fight another fragment

Fiscal crisis weakens government…

…which then cannot control the disintegration

  • Turchin has a computer model

It predicts:

The US is now in a disintegrative phase

The low point lies a number of years ahead

The last low point was the civil war

Model does not predict how low the next low point will be

Disintegrative phases contain 25-year alternations

 While (disintegration=true){
         One generation is sympathetic to violence
         The next generation prefers peace
         T = T+(50 years)
  • Turchin’s model is complex

Let’s see a key equation of the integrative/disintegrative cycle

…and then a key algorithm of the 25-year violence-peace subcycle


The equation

dP/dT=Vs*Bs – mean(Vi)*Bi

  • P is the level of prevalence of people with

“broadly cooperative” attitudes

  • High P leads to compromises in governance
  • Low P leads to partisan intransigence
  • We could call P the “love vs. hate” level

High P – “love conquers all”

Low P – “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”

  • dP/dT  –  calling all calculus students:

What does that mean??

Comment: Turchin mistakenly calls it ΔP

So he’s not a huge calc fan either!

  • V –  “variance,” or cultural distance
  • s  –  societies, or countries
  • Vs  is the cultural difference  between competing countries

E.g., the US and another country or transnational culture

  • B  –  amount of competition
  • Bs  –  amount of competition between countries (“polities”)
  • Vs*Bs  –  the tendency for P to go *up*


What if cultural differences are high? Low?

What if competition is high? Low?

  • i  –  intra-society (subgroups of society, such as in the US)
  • Vi  –  cultural difference between the subgroups
  • mean(Vi)  –  Turchin’s patch because there are multiple subgroups
  • Bi  –  amount of competition among subgroups

Why no mean(Bi)?

Another error in the equation,

or worse,

in the computer model?

  • mean(Vi)*Bi  –  discord level within the country
  • mean(Vi)*Bi   –   the tendency for P to go *down*
  • dP/dT=Vs*Bs – mean(Vi)*Bi

The rate at which love is gaining/losing against hate

During integrative phases “love” increases, “hate” decreases

During disintegrative phases “hate” increases, “love” decreases


The 50-year subcycle

  • Think of desire for violence as a disease
  • Then apply epidemiological modeling
  • SIR

S is the susceptible population

I is the infectious population

R is the recovered population

  • Just as diseases come in waves…

…properly set up, the model predicts…

…violence levels swing up or down every 25 years


Why is a birds-eye view good to have?

  • When people argue for force, hate, and violence

You can step back and see it in context

  • When people argue for peace, love, and brotherhood

You can step back and see it in context

  • In your future profession and career

Favor love over hate

Helps keep your job stable and career going in the right direction!

It leads to ethical behavior (golden rule instead of FUism)!

  • And if Turchin is right…

There may be a bumpy ride

Hold on to your b##t seat!


5-min. presentations – sign up now!

In-class students: please email me or let me know in class when you can do your presentation. Any class day that is not already full is fine, or let me know if you are flexible and I will assign a day. Thanks.

Welcome back from Spring Break!

Finish strong and think about summer being almost here!

The three standard questions

Here they are.

(i) How can a rule-based (deontological) ethics approach apply to this case?

(ii) How can a consequences-based (consequentialist) approach apply to this case?

(iii) How can a character-based (virtue ethics) approach apply to this case?


Online students only: note on topic 3


    This week’s two lectures will involve running through an interactive video system about ethics. I don’t plan to record the lectures, therefore. What you would do as an online student is simply go through the interactive video system yourself (it should be fun, I hope). Do it in two 50-minute sessions, corresponding to the two classes we had on Tuesday and Thursday. For your notes posted to your blog, give two blog posts. See these examples of the the first and second posting: each is titled with the date of the corresponding lecture, just like for other lectures, and the content of each post is what choices you made during the interactive video (since it is interactive).
     Hope that makes sense, but let me know of any questions.

Ethics students: Welcome to Spring 2017!

This course is being taught in two sections, a traditional in-class section (numbered 01) and a webcast/in-class hybrid section (numbered 991). For the hybrid class, I am planning to webcast and record the lectures. So you must know how / figure out how / find out how to use Blackboard’s “Collaborate Ultra” capability in order to attend in real time or view the lectures later. Let me know of any issues. I will be unlikely to know the answer since I am learning the same system myself, however I may be able to point you to a resource where the answer can be obtained.

Very important for all students:

  • You will need to make your own blog for this course at livejournal.com.
  • You will need to let me know the URL of your blog at livejournal.com, so I can access it to see your assignments.
  • You do not need to use your real name in relation to your blog.
  • Other blogging systems are not accepted for purposes of this course. Examples include WordPress blogs, Tumblr blogs, blogger.com, Blackboard’s blogging system, blogs you are using for other courses, blogs you have for your personal use, etc. These are good to use for other purposes, just not for this course.


Orientation mini-HW


  • Note to instructor: For 2019, assign a small HW covering the web site and making a blog, esp. for online students. Too many in 2018 did not email in the blog early and had questions because they didn’t get the bold/non-bold approach in the syllabus.