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The Ultimate Criterion
by Robert J. Hustwit
(c) Copyright January 10,1988, Robert J. Hustwit
Have you ever wondered why children so often grow up having a
vastly different set of standards from their parents? Why "good"
parents often seem to produce "bad" kids? Why "bad" parents often seem
to produce "good" kids?
Have you wondered why there frequently seems to be little
connection between the values and standards of the parents and their
children? Between the citizens and the states which they create? The
nations and the world in which they exist?
The fundamental answer to any one of these questions is also the
answer to the others. The answer reveals a basic flaw in the way we
have been doing things. At first blush, this flaw seems too simple,
too vague to be the answer to all of those questions. I assure you it
is not. It turns out that this same flaw has caused the gradual
collapse of every civilization we know of. This same flaw is now
causing the (not so) gradual collapse of our current civilization.
This same flaw is responsible for pitting nation against nation, race
against race in local and global conflicts. It is astonishing to
contemplate, but this very same flaw is responsible for most of
today's personal inner confusion; for most of today's so-called
psychological problems; for most of today's personal insecurity,
destructive guilt, lack of will and moral decay.
As helpful as it might be to identify this malicious, pervasive
flaw, simple identification is not enough; we must also provide some
method, some procedure by which we can eliminate it. Our quest here
will be an attempt to do both. Because of the constraints of space and
the newness of the ideas, the reader will have to fill in many blanks,
answer many arguments, and explain many "What if?" questions for
him/herself. In future lectures, discourses and writings, I will
explain and amplify the Ultimate Criterion more, but for now, this
brief monograph serves to identify the flaw, and introduce the new
principle that can eliminate it.
First of all, we must describe some of the intellectual tools
used in our journey. There are four that especially merit our
Do not fear simplicity; instead, as Lao-tsu counseled over 2,500
years ago, embrace it. I claim that Simplicity is Truth's Litmus
Paper.*1 Einstein said, "One seeks the most general ideas of
operation which will bring together in simple, logical and unified
form the largest possible circle of formal relationships." I believe
that a true understanding of the nature of things always reveals
simple postulates; that complexity of ideas indicates either a basic
error in thinking or a fundamental misunderstanding. Therefore, I
always look for simplicity in basic premises as an indicator of truth.
Please note that an indicator merely points a possible path to
something, it does not necessarily define it. The point of all this is
that simplicity in a basic idea is at least one indicator that the
idea may be a true idea or principle--it may be profound.
I define rationality as the potential to recognize reality and
modify behavior accordingly so as to better survive.*2 Without going
into a lengthy explanation of this concept, let me caution you not to
be put off if my definition conflicts with your definition.
Definitions, after all, are merely the labels we put on concepts in
order to be able to communicate with each other. As long as you know
what I mean when I say "rationality," we can communicate.
The Principle of Human Divergence is a concept I developed
several years ago. Subsequently, I found that I was not alone in
identifying the importance of this phenomenon. It had already been
noted in other forms by others before me. People from Chopin to
Somerset Maugham, Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas had all commented on it.
After some trials, I finally arrived at the following version of the
Principle of Human Divergence: The least initial deviation from
rightness, if not quickly corrected, is multiplied later a
thousandfold.*3 We see this phenomenon when someone tells a lie. No
matter how small the lie, unless it is quickly corrected, another lie
is needed to support it, and another two to support them, and so on.
Ultimately, something has to give. The liar is found out, the system
of lies collapses. The same thing happens when a civilization is based
on a false premise, or a premise that is flawed, or, what is worse, no
premise at all. In these cases, no matter how lofty the goals, no
matter how large the culture, destruction and ruin are the only
possible end. You see, unless the system can quickly correct the
inevitable errors that we as humans make, the Principle of Human
Divergence tells us that those errors will expand and cause the
collapse of the civilization. If a single small uncorrectable error
can cause the collapse of an entire civilization, imagine what it can
do to our personal lives! In the section below, titled "The Flaw," we
will see just what it is that makes an error uncorrectable.
It is absolutely imperative that you understand what I mean by
cumulative selection, for without it, the solution I propose will seem
to have little value. In its simplest form, cumulative selection means
that "the end-product of one generation of selection is the starting
point for the next generation of selection, and so on for many
generations."*4 We see this gradual process at work in the physical
world as a species evolves, with the survivors' genes naturally
containing the "instructions" for survival. If the genes didn't, then
the species would not be able to adapt over time to changes in the
environment. The species would die. It is important to understand how
cumulative selection applies to our discussion here. Humans, as
rational beings, do not pass on their knowledge of survival through
genes as much as through rational communication. Because we are
rational, we can modify our behavior immediately, not waiting the
hundreds of thousands, or millions of years that physical evolution
would take to teach the same lesson (even if it could). Now here is
the key point: where we have been able to pass on useful knowledge,
where cumulative selection has been able to work through rational
communication, the tendency has been to produce spectacular results
over time. Think of the advances in science over the past 600 years.
Science, using the scientific method, has been able to pass on from
one individual to the next, from one generation to the next, from one
culture to the next, its knowledge and advances. Even though
scientists have often disagreed among themselves, even though they
have often been wrong, science has tended to progress steadily because
the scientific method has served as an objective, knowable criterion
for judging scientific actions. Up until now, there has been no such
standard in the field of human interaction, hence little opportunity
for cumulative selection to play a role in the social arena.
That completes our (agonizingly brief) discussion of the four
intellectual tools; if you have a reasonable understanding of them, we
can begin our journey.
The basic flaw that has caused almost every kind of societal and
personal problem we know of is simply that up until now, no
civilization, no government, no individual or group has had a
workable, cumulative method of determining right and wrong in human
interaction;*5 there has been no single, knowable criterion of right
and wrong subject to cumulative selection. Errors have been
uncorrectable because they cannot be properly (clearly) identified as
right or wrong, and according to the Principle of Human Divergence,
they grow to cause the collapse of the civilization. "Wait!" you say,
"What are you talking about? Of course we can tell right and wrong."
The next sentence varies depending on where in the world you are, and
to whom you are speaking, but here are some of the variations: "We
read the Bible (Torah, Koran, Bhagavad-Gita, etc.)," or "We use The
Golden Rule (Majority Rule, Republic Rule, Tao, etc.)," or, "We have
Capitalism (Communism, Socialism, etc.)." And so on. Since the
beginning of recorded history, every society, every civilization,
every philosophy, every creed, has had at its base some method of
determining right and wrong actions. Unfortunately, the criteria used
have been, for the most part, subjective personal preferences, all of
them shifting from time to time, person to person. All of them
relative to time and circumstances.
Let's take the Golden Rule as an example (N.B., This is only an
example. Similar points can be made about other rules or methods).
There are two versions extant: "Do unto others as you would have them
do unto you," a paraphrasing of Luke 6:31; and from Confucius, five
hundred years earlier, "Do not unto others what you would not they
should do unto you." These two versions of the same basic concept have
served many people as a guide for many years. The problem arises as
follows: Let's say that you have had much success in your life
applying the Golden (or some other) Rule. How do you pass your ability
to use it on to others? Your success has depended upon YOUR
perception, upon YOUR abilities, YOUR desires. They are unique to you.
To what common standard can you point as a criterion for your actions?
How can others duplicate your successes? Do you have an easily
understandable criterion that will become clearer and clearer to more
and more people over time? Don't say God's Word, because, of all of
the standards that might be used, God's Word is among the most subject
to dispute and personal interpretation.
Since we have had no single, knowable standard of right and wrong
that was subject to cumulative selection, social progress has not been
possible until now. You see, the problem is not that the above methods
don't work, because some of them, or parts of some of them, do work.
The problem is that none of them allow cumulative selection to work.
Because none have an objective criterion, the lessons learned cannot
be reliably passed on to someone else. At this point, even though
there is much, much more to be said, I will introduce
The Ultimate Criterion.
THE SOLUTION: THE ULTIMATE CRITERION;
To determine, on your own, what constitutes right and wrong action:
Ask the question, "If everyone on earth were to do this under
similar circumstances, over time would the species tend to survive or
If the answer is that the species would tend to survive, then the
thing being considered is right; if the species would tend not to
survive, the thing being considered is wrong. If it seems that there
would be no effect on the species one way or the other, then the basic
concepts of right and wrong do not apply, rather we have a matter of
personal preference or custom.
Based on the above criterion, we have a new definition of right
and wrong; a definition astonishingly simple and at the same time
almost inconceivably powerful. Right is defined as that which, if done
by every member of the species, would result in the continued survival
of the species; and wrong as that which would result in its death.
Almost paradoxically, this new and simple principle can benefit
from much explanation; because of its very simplicity, it connects
with more knowledge than a complicated principle. Since there is
little room left for explanation, I will instead give (for me) a
painfully abbreviated list of some of the things I feel are critical
to consider when using the Ultimate Criterion:
FIRST, you must consider what the results of applying the
Ultimate Criterion would cumulatively tend to be over time. The
importance of CUMULATIVE SELECTION cannot be overemphasized here. You
must constantly examine the cumulative tendency over time in order to
determine the value of the Criterion; always remembering that when we
use it, we tend to pass on our successes.
SECOND, you must never, never lose sight of the fact that the
Ultimate Criterion is based on individual action, not group or mob
action. The Ultimate Criterion gains its strength from linking
individual action to the survival of the species.
THIRD, The survival of the species is, in principle, a knowable
criterion. Over time it will tend to become clearer and clearer, more
and more objective. Again, the tendency over time to accumulate
successes plays a vital role in the power of the Ultimate Criterion.
FOURTH, the Ultimate Criterion answers a more fundamental
question than we might be used to. For example: "If all defective
babies were killed at birth, wouldn't that tend to help the species
survive?" is not the proper question; it is too superficial. Watch
what happens when we rephrase it into a more proper, more fundamental
question: "If everyone who believed that another person was defective
killed that person, would the species tend to survive or not?" I think
the obvious answer is that the species would not survive.
FIFTH, recognize that no one need abandon any beliefs or precepts
in order to use the Ultimate Criterion. It can simply be "tacked on"
to the end of whatever you currently use.
SIXTH, survival, for a rational being, is impossible without
progress, since the process of recognizing reality is a one-way,
cumulative process. Over time, if the species survives, survival gets
progressively more and more efficient, more and more enjoyable.
SEVENTH, consider the fact that most of the people, most of the
time (not all of the people, not all of the time), will do what they
believe to be right—if they can clearly identify it as such. The force
of Right, as opposed to wrong, slowly coalescing into a worldwide
movement, represents the most powerful agent for social change
EIGHTH, note that using the entire species as our criterion
excludes special consideration for any subgroup of the species: rich,
poor, white, black, big, little, all use the same criterion. For once,
the entire species gets special consideration from a social principle.
Finally, I must emphasize that societal change is gradual. The
Ultimate Criterion is not a new social order—but it CAN be the cradle
of one. In that vein, I close with the words of Winston Churchill:
". . . this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the
end. But it is perhaps the end of the beginning."
1. Developed further in my System Of Life Seminar.
2. The inspiration for the idea of rationality as a potential
came from Mortimer J. Adler's book, Ten Philosophical
Mistakes. [Chapter 8, part 3]
3. From Aristotle, On the Heavens [book I, ch. 5] comes the basic
version of this. He said, "The least initial deviation from
the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold." I needed to
change it very little. (For some years I called this principle
the "Human Parallax Effect".)
4. Richard Dawkins; The Blind Watchmaker, [Chapter 3:
Accumulating Small Change]. My interpretation of Dawkins'
views on evolution permeate this paper; I am much indebted
5. I am grateful to Andrew J. Galambos, who sensitized me to the
vast importance of having a valid method of determining right
(c) Copyright January 10, 1988, Robert J. Hustwit
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