Monday, July 7, 2014

Top Ten 'Good Countries'—But What is "Good"?

Mr. Anholt,
I was intrigued by your online TED lecture on the subject of “Which country does the most good for the world?  I will begin my response here by quoting from your intriguing lecture in which you challenged your audience to consider that a “good country” is not necessarily the richest or fastest growing country. Then, you concluded, “I want to live in a ‘good country, and I certainly hope that you do, too.” 

I’m sure you would join me in agreement that there are people all over the Earth who yearn for their country to be “good” or “better.”  We might also agree that this same yearning is strong in America, not just for economic recovery and more individual income, but that “goodness” would replace the current divisions and ranker that are all around us.  Like you, I believe that indices such as your “Good Country Index” (GCI) can stimulate more objective thinking about a subject that has many components. I also appreciated your emphasis that the greater value of the GCI is to serve as a framework to stimulate discussion rather than a product of a finished work.  In that spirit please permit me to share a few points for you to consider.

First, although one may draw upon an extensive database to develop a index as you have done, I believe indices are like computer models in general.  They are only as good as the presuppositions and inferences built into them.  In particular, you presuppose that “good” can be objectified in the GCI without an objective foundation for defining “good.”  Instead, you attempt to define “good” as “the opposite of selfish.”  But isn’t “selfishness” also subjective?   For example, a father can appear selfish by prohibiting his son from drinking his beer when in fact the father doesn’t want his son “drinking and driving” for safety reasons.  Or, consider that some would judge the USA as being a selfish warmonger for stationing defensive missiles in Europe and occupying Germany and Japan for decades after World War II.  But, others argue that American “policing presence” has deterred Russian aggression into Western Europe.  In support of my argument, in recent weeks we are witnessing Russian aggression on the rise in Crimea and Ukraine.  Many analysts believe the heightened aggression stems from the current administration's "please be 'good'" policy which has convinced Premier Putin that America is weak and has lost the will to oppose.

“Good” can also result in evil when “good intentions” are extended with limited knowledge.  Western attempts to teach primitive cultures in tropical regions to “wear clothes like us” have resulted in more fungal infections and other diseases new to these cultures.  Banning DDT has led to an upsurge in malaria.  The one-child policy in China and stringent human reproductive control in Russia and other Eastern European countries has led to sharp population declines and demographic challenges such as providing for the needs of the elderly.  Therefore, given the subjectivity and limited knowledge we constantly face, it would seem necessary to provide an objective foundation for defining “good.”

My second point follows upon the first. You have chosen not to include moral components in your Good Country Index because you believe there are plenty of other indices that address the moral component.  However, in my humble opinion, your exclusion of moral considerations seems unwise and shortsighted.  As you know, any consideration of "good" and "evil" has major moral and ethical considerations.  One might argue that “evil” doesn’t exist or that it is not a practical notion in our pursuit of “good” in the world today.  However, as an example, Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” speech and his subsequent effort to develop “peace through strength” with the Soviet Union was, to me, an important step in bringing more peaceful relations with the Soviets.  In telling Premier Gorbachev truthfully on objective moral grounds that he viewed the accumulation of nuclear stockpiles at the expense of humanitarian aid as “evil" policy, Reagan was also able to develop a relationship of trust with his Russian counterpart that led to an important defense treaty and reforms leading to the fall of the “iron curtain.”  I would argue that without such American presence and policy toward Europe and the Soviets during World War II and the “Cold War,” none of your “Top Ten Good Countries” would be “free," or perhaps even in existence today.

Instead of excluding morality from your index, why not make the Good Country Index more complete and comprehensive by including a “morality component?”  For example, such an inclusion might incorporate “human rights”, abortion rate, percentage of children living in a home with two parents, and whether or not the country is on the list of state sponsors of terror.  Each of these parameters is a major determiner of “moral good” in a country.  They might even determine whether you and I would want to live there.  But even beyond the parameters within the index, without an objective reference, who can define “good?” 

One objective standard of moral good is found within the Judeo-Christian Scriptures which teach that our freedom comes from God, not from government.  The Bible also provides standards for "good laws" and their enforcement by “good leaders."  These in turn depend upon strong families and communities of virtuous people that are “good” to the extent that their children are taught such timeless truths as, “Honor your father and your mother;” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  What person or country would reject either of these moral teachings if they truly desire to be “good?”

Thank you for considering my recommendations.  I look forward to your response.

John Silvius
Wooster, OH

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