Publication date (electronic): 30 June 2005
Ethical implications of the laws of pattern abundance distribution
Scientific theories have often been used to justify social actions. In the 19th century, Darwinian concepts were used to vindicate both greed and racism, and statistical patterns served as a means of rationalizing human brutality and resource distributions. In more recent times, complexity theories have been used as moral justification of social inequities. We focus particularly on the discovery that many physical, biological, and social measures tend toward a power or lognormal function. In a social context, such a function describes a situation with a very small number of very wealthy people, a small number of people with medium wealth, and an overwhelming majority of people with virtually nothing. With the causative mechanisms of such distributions having been proposed, this subdiscipline of complexity has taken on the qualities of a scientific law, from which a range of practical applications have been derived - including social prescriptions. Arguing that unequal distribution of wealth follows a natural law, these prescriptions propose that we have no choice but to accept it. The purpose of our paper is three-fold: 1. to briefly describe the nature and prevalence of power and lognormal distributions as a case-study in complexity theory; 2. to explore the overt and subtle use of the naturalistic fallacy as a means by which scientists and policy makers derive moral principles from empirical foundations, and; 3. to examine the role of free-will in the context of natural law as a means of escaping a nihilistic determinism. We show that lognormal-like distributions are indeed widespread. However, we also show that: 1. there are many exceptions of systems that tend to a more egalitarian distribution, demonstrating that ‘escape’ from the inequality of extreme lognormal patterns is possible, and; 2. society therefore has a choice of dedicating energy to establish and maintain an egalitarian distribution of resources; there is no moral or scientific justification for accepting without argument a strongly unequal distribution.
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