United or Die: The Fair Society Model

The basic challenge that we all face, and the basic purpose of any organized society, is biological survival and reproduction. We are all participants in a “collective survival enterprise.”  Each of us has no less than fourteen “basic needs” -- absolute requisites for our survival and reproduction over time. These needs are discussed in detail in my 2011 book, The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice. They include a number of obvious categories like food, water, waste elimination, and physical safety, as well as some categories that are less obvious but equally important, like adequate sleep, thermoregulation, and healthy respiration.

Going forward, our global social contract must include a “basic needs guarantee” for everyone.  The case for this principle is grounded in four propositions: (1) Our basic needs are increasingly well understood and documented; (2) although our individual needs vary somewhat, they are shared by all of us; (3) we are dependent on many others for the satisfaction of these needs; (4) and severe harm may result if they are not satisfied. There is also much evidence that this has wide public support (see Corning, 2018, pp.213-216).

However, there are two other important fairness precepts. Our basic needs must take priority, but it is important to recognize the many differences in merit among us and to reward (or punish) them as appropriate. The principle of “just deserts” in our relationships is another way of viewing this.  In addition, there must be reciprocity, a proportionate commitment from everyone to support the “collective survival enterprise.”  We must all contribute a “fair share” to balance the scale of benefits and costs.

Karl Marx popularized some of this recipe with his slogan, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."  And the Communist firebrand, Vladimir Lenin, tried to impose this system by force in Russia during the 20th century. But this didn’t end well.

I believe my updated/improved recipe (equality, equity and reciprocity – I call it “The Fair Society” model), coupled with global governance and the rule of law – is the model that we need for our emerging global “superorganism.” (To be continued.)

Editor’s Note: To read all of Dr. Corning’s essays now, please go to Dr. Corning’s website: http://complexsystems.org



Peter Corning

Peter Corning is currently the Director of the Institute for the Study of Complex Systems in Seattle, Washington.  He was also a one-time science writer at Newsweek and a professor for many years in the Human Biology Program at Stanford University, along with holding a research appointment in Stanford’s Behavior Genetics Laboratory.  


Comments Join The Discussion