Any rational human life desires its own well-being.

Between any two individuals, between any group and its members, and between human groups there are both potential conflicts of interest and ideology and potential mutually beneficial and equitable relationships.

Conflicts can become violent or can be carried on in a non-violent institutional framework. Violence produces human suffering, not human well-being.

Human beings are highly creative compared to any other animals, but although we are social animals we are bundles of conflicting impulses, social and anti-social. Whichever we give expression to more frequently can easily become almost habitual and determine our character. Everyone wants to be free to do anything they happen to want to do, but everyone also wants to be free from harm by others. To be free from harm by others, everyone’s freedom to harm others must be given up.

This can support a non-violent social institutional framework.

Beyond that, many religions teach what is called the Golden Rule--to do unto others as we would have them to do unto us. There is no finer interpersonal ethic.

All that individuals can ask of society is something that society should try to provide for its members, that is fair and ample opportunities to develop their fine human potentialities. Fine includes many sorts of creativities that are social instead of anti-social.

We are however free to act however we choose in any situation, but we cannot determine the consequences of those actions. That is determined by the nature of reality, physical, biological, social and spiritual.

It therefore behooves us, if we are intelligent, to harmonize our creativities within ourselves, with those of others in inter-personal relationships, as members in groups, and to promote such harmonization between groups (including nations), so as to act wisely, try to prevent violent conflicts, and instead to try always to promote mutually beneficial and equitable relationships.

Most humans have enough concern for the well-being of relatives and friends to be fundamentally good persons in those relationships and enough human empathy to be disturbed by suffering anywhere, but our social selves are often not broad enough. There are no human saints but there is a lot of goodness in the world. Goodness is not news; news is natural disasters and human badness. Badness generally produces badness in others as a response, and is difficult to overcome, as goodness generally produces goodness in response.

There are often short-run gains for anti-social badness. That temptation is part of the human condition. When the social self is too narrow, the Golden Rule is not applied, and some others are exploited or otherwise harmed.

Indeed the opposite of the Golden Rule is increasingly dominant in some cultures now. I call it the “smart guy ethic”. It proclaims that the only rational behavior for anyone is to seek as much gain as possible while incurring as little cost as possible everywhere, so one maximizes one’s net gains in economic activity, according to economics, and indeed in life.

It is not recognized that this is the most subversive social doctrine imaginable, because it destroys every potentially mutually beneficial human social relationship. No friendship will last beyond the time when a person discovers the friend is simply trying to exploit them for personal gain at their expense. No potentially good marriage will work well, or maybe even last, if either party takes the smart guy attitude. If the work ethic is replaced by the smart guy ethic, labor productivity will plummet, and there will be no way to police the situation well. To the extent that the smart guy ethic prevails in government, the public interest is not served because each person is taking whatever they can get away with.

It is argued today that modern science, individualism and the free market have produced the greatest progress ever, and there is much to be said for that in contrast to earlier anti-scienctific tradition-bound societies, but the modern world has gained the power to destroy humanity in war and has not yet seen the final result of the rotten smart guy social ethic if it takes over completely.

The answer is not to go back to anti-science and fundamentalist religious traditions but to continue the promotion of more knowledge of the realities that govern consequences, then acting more rationally to promote the potentially mutually beneficial and equitable relationships among people and among nations, and use our fine human potentialities so as to increase human well-being in this way