I feel like I haven’t had a lot to say about open source or, in general, tech for a while. From another perspective, I have a whole lot of heady things to say about open source and technology and writing about it seems like a questionable use of time when I have so much other writing and reading and job hunting to do. I will briefly share the two ideas I am obsessed with at the moment, and then try to write more about them later.
The Defensible-Charitable-Beneficent Trichotamy
I will just jokingly ha ha no but seriously maybe jk suggest calling this the de Blanc-West Theory, considering it’s heavily based on ideas from Ben West.
Actions fall into one of the following categories:
Defensible: When an action is defensible, it is permissible, acceptable, or okay. We might not like it, but you can explain why you had to do it and we can’t really object. This could also be considered the “bare minimum.”
Charitable: A charitable action is “better” than a defensible action in that it produces more good, and it goes above and beyond the minimum.
Beneficent: This is a genuinely good action that produces good. It is admirable.
I love J.J. Thomson example of Henry Fonda for this. For a full explanation see section three at this web site. For a summary: imagine that you’re sick and the only thing that can cure you is Henry Fonda’s cool touch on your fevered brow. It is Defensible for Henry Fonda to do nothing — he doesn’t owe you anything in particular. It is Charitable for, say if Henry Fonda happened to be in the room, to walk across it and touch your forehead. It is Beneficent for Henry Fonda to re-corporealize back into this life and travel to your bedside to sooth your strange illness. P.S. Henry Fonda died in 1982.
I don’t think these ideas are particularly new, but it’s important to think about what we’re doing with technology and its design: are our decisions defensible, charitable, or beneficent? Which should they be? Why?
The Offsetting Harm-Ameliorating Harm-Doing Good Trichotamy
I’ve been doing some research and writing around carbon credits. I owe a lot of thanks to Philip Withnall and Adam Lerner for talking with me through these ideas. Extrapolating from action and policy recommendations, I suggest the following trichotamy:
Offsetting harm is attempting to look at the damage you’ve done and try to make up for it in some capacity. In the context of, e.g., air travel, this would be purchasing carbon credits.
Ameliorating harm is about addressing the particular harm you’ve done. Instead of carbon credits, you would be supporting carbon capture technologies or perhaps giving to or otherwise supporting groups and ecosystems that are being harmed by your air travel.
Doing Good is Doing Good. This would be like not traveling by air and choosing to still help the harm being caused by carbon emissions.
These ideas are also likely not particularly new, but thinking about technology in this context is also useful, especially as we consider technology in the context of climate change.