9.9 Summary and Further Discussion

The state and the law are critical institutions in any society, and both are bound up in technology. Not only do new techniques demand new laws and new statecrafts, but they provide new methods for both.

The problem of respect for law has little likelihood of a solution based entirely on extensions of the present law or technology. Practical solutions must also incorporate new respect for ethical behaviour, whatever its basis. One method of adopting and promoting an ethical code for technical professions has been suggested here as a potential solution; in conjunction with the other remedies discussed, it could provide us with the kind of respect for electronically expressed intellectual property that is necessary for the information age to happen.

New types of crime have already come into existence because of new technologies, and so have new types of law enforcement, and new possible forms of government. There are collectivist and individualist trends in these areas as well as in the economy; there may be losses of some privacies and liberties, and corresponding gains in individual influence on government, especially local decisions.

There are both chaotic and unifying trends in law and statecraft, and the ethical consensus for both institutions is in a state of flux--necessary for a new society, but unnerving because the destination is unknown. A new stability requires a new ethical consensus, and this is possible, even if its basis changes.

Research and Discussion Questions

1. What is the basis for the existence of the state? Answer from both theoretical and practical points of view.

2. It was asserted several times in this chapter that law codifies an existing ethical consensus. Give some other possible foundations for law and then argue that these are either more or less important.

3. Examine and discuss the extent to which it would be correct to suggest that law in Western democracies is substantially based on Judeo-Christian principles of justice.

4. Research and report on the extent to which law is influenced by religion in Muslim, in Buddhist, as well as in largely irreligious societies.

5. Write a paper either supporting or attacking the idea that there exist universal absolutes of justice upon which global laws can be based. Be sure to consider the practical implications of your theoretical conclusions.

6. Suppose that statecraft does to some extent become globalized. What degree of power and authority ought to be transferred from the current national level to a global one? How can the details of universal involvement in decision making be worked out in a practical fashion?

7. On the other hand, what power and authority that is currently national in scope should become regional or local in scope, and why?

8. Argue that some power and authority ought to remain at the national level--say which, and why.

9. Some nations are either too small or too resource poor to be economically viable in the long run. How can they participate in the global economy most effectively? Should they give up their national identity and join other nations to achieve greater economic prosperity, or do they have some other reasonable course of action?

10. Free speech, even to the point of tolerating antidemocratic views, is a cornerstone of democracy. To what extent must even this liberty be regulated to protect minorities from attacks? Explore the question of whether some views are so dangerous to the public interest that their expression must be limited. Discuss specifically whether defamatory speech and writing can be permitted if (a) it is false or (b) it is true.

11. This chapter expresses optimism that the spirit of the information age is antithetical to that of tyranny. Argue for or against this view--is a global dictatorship likely or unlikely?

12, What is the difference between propaganda and advertising, and what are the legitimate limits to the use of both by the state?

13. Some suggestions are made in the chapter about individual involvement in statecraft. Are there any corresponding roles for individuals to play in the legal system? Why or why not?

14. The practice of courtroom law is very much an argument over precedent and content. Could this be mechanized and made automatic so that human lawyers and judges could be (at least partially) eliminated and the application of the law become more certain and uniform?

15. Argue for or against the suggestion that global war has already become impossible.

16. Argue for or against the suggestion that global nuclear disarmament is inevitable.

17. Argue for or against the continuance of some form of intellectual property rights. Should access to information be a universal right, or should it be restricted in some way?

18. Argue for or against the separation of legislative and judicial authority.

19. Look up and report on at least two existing codes of professional ethics in your own areas of interest. How would the code for your profession need to be modified in the information age?

20. What role can professional associations or guilds play in the next society, besides promulgating ethical codes? What social implications do guilds have? How do they fit in to the individualization and collectivization trends? How lasting an institution are they likely to be?

21. Authorities in some countries turn a blind eye to software piracy, arguing that their nation is so poor that it could never move into the information age by buying the technology and so stealing software is justified. Consider carefully both sides of this argument and attempt to come to a resolution of this issue.

22. Women's groups often argue for government sponsorship of child care centres in order to allow them equality of opportunity in the job marketplace. Critics argue that these programs constitute unfair trade subsidies, discriminate against traditional families, and undermine traditional moral views. Is this an appropriate activity for the state? Why or why not?

23. "The rugged individualism of Americans is likely to lead to a Lebanon-style fragmentation of their country." Argue for or against this view.

24. Research the profession of government lobbyist. Explain what they do and why. Also, outline the chief ethical difficulties common to this activity and propose ways to control it. Be sure to include recent examples of real or alleged ethical conflicts in these situations.

25. Research from the popular press recent incidents of alleged conflict of interest on the part of government officials. How serious was each, from an ethical and legal point of view? What steps could be taken to ensure that those particular problems do not arise again?

26. In 1988, the United States customs office announced a drug policy of "zero-tolerance," under which vehicles found to contain minute quantities of controlled substances or paraphernalia for using them would be seized. Proponents of such harsh actions argue that they are necessary to control drugs. Opponents counter that they impede civil liberties. What is the ethical response here? Research specific instances of these seizures from media of the day, and state whether each was justified.

27. In connection with robbery prevention, the author suggests banks employ scanning devices to detect people in abnormal emotional states and further scan them for weapons. Would this differ substantially from the practice of scanning for weapons at airports? What are other cases in which gains in security are traded off for losses in personal freedom? Are trade-offs in general a good thing?

28. The computing language Ada was originally developed by the Department of Defense of the United States. Suppose you are a pacifist. Ought you to refuse a contract that specifies software is to be written in this language? Why or why not?

29. In section 9.3 (Technology and War) Mara gives us a view of a society that is warlike, but has banned all but hand-wielded striking weapons such as swords. Is this situation possible? enforceable? stable?

30. Research a warrior culture such as that of Ireland or Japan and detail the idea of honour among and between warriors.

31. Argue that a feudal system is still a viable form of social organization--even in the information age.

32. Argue either that Marxism is a stable and viable form of government or that it is not.

33. The author (and some characters) suggest that a participatory democracy is the most viable in an information society. Either argue that this is the case, or refute it (Good debate topic).

34. In the Fall of 1965, the Undergraduate Debating Society of the University of Calgary held a debate on the topic "Resolved that this house shall mind its p's and q's." Prepare both a fifteen minute argument on the affirmative side and one of equal length on the negative side of this topic. Make sure that what you say is relevant to this chapter.

35. What are high technology ways to wage war in the information age without using conventional weapons?

36. Give a detailed explanation of how governments responded to the year 2000 problem, and how those responses differed from those of business and industry.

37. In view of your answer to question one, what services should the state provide, and which ones that it currently is involved in ought to be moved to the private sector?

38. Select a particular function or role of government and write a code of ethics for it. Defend your points, being sure to say what is the basis for each.

39. Old Testament law limited government to taxes of 10% of income, with another 10% due the priests. Today, most countries use a sliding scale, where the higher income earners pay not just more money, but a higher percentage of what they make. Find out what the income tax structure is in your country and province/state, and determine the marginal rate for an income equivalent to $50 000. What level of marginal rate is fair and just? What are the ethical issues here?

40. The existence of international trade and investment agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), transfers a measure of national sovereignty to non-elected trans-national tribunals, thereby globalizing both decision making and law enforcement. As these agreements are made by nations, they override the authority of state, provincial, and local governments, whose taxation, subsidy, and zoning bylaws could be voided by such bodies on behalf of a multinational corporation, even though they would still apply to local firms. While increased trade manifestly increases prosperity, the trade-off is the loss of control over affairs within national boundaries. Discuss these trade-offs and argue that the sovereignty of the nation-state is too important to risk such globalization, or argue that internationalism is not only necessary but good.

41. Research the anti-globalization protest movement. Examine its arguments and its tactics and comment on (a) their success, and (b) their validity within a specific moral framework.


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Lund, Erik; Phil, Mognes; and Slok, Johannes. A History of European Ideas. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1972.

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The Fourth Civilization Table of Contents
Copyright © 1988-2002 by Rick Sutcliffe
Published by Arjay Books division of Arjay Enterprises