LISTSERV "Bill Powers and Hal Pepinsky on the Golden Rule"

LISTSERV "Bill Powers and Hal Pepinsky on the Golden Rule"

                          NEW WORLD ORDER DIARY
                              Hal Pepinsky
                             August 17, 1993


I arrived at the Hotel FlorMar in Monteverde, Costa Rica, just in time for
supper. Marvin Rockwell and his wife Flory are pioneer settlers of
Monteverde and establishers of what has become the Cloud Forest Preserve
there. Marv was at supper, along with the only other guests there, off
season as we were, Illinois-Urbana social psychologist Gary Cziko and his
son, who were traveling among Costa Rica's natural wonders. There Gary
told me about the "revolutionary" group of social psychological research
scientists he works among--those building on the paradigm set by Bill
Powers in what Powers calls "perception control theory." As Gary
describes the group to me, they turn on its head the axiom that
perceptions are caused by external factors, instead presuppossing that
personal will (and group will in tandem) causes perceptions.

Gary has invited me to join a list on Perception Control Theory, but as I
told him it sounds far more active than I can bear to jump into right now
on my daily mail directory. You can contact Gary directly if you want to

Bless Gary's heart: given my inertia, he sent my Alternative Social
Control Systems syllabus to Bill Powers himself. Bill Powers has written
a lengthy response and short postscript by Rick Marken, another PCT
researcher, which Gary has just forwarded to me. I am most flattered by
the seriousness of the responses. In fact it is a sequel to a similar
serious discussion Gary and I had over several meals in Monteverde. One
of the continuing wonders to me both of how readily many of us travel by
plane et al. and of e-mail use is how rapidly and extensively
interdisciplinary discussion and experience can spread. Effectively, Gary
and Bill have given my syllabus instant, near universal consideration
before a field I hadn't known existed until June. Now, I can return the
favor, by exposing criminal justice and other readers to Bill Powers's
thinking. This NWOD entry concludes with my reply. We all ought to
become broader and in greater interdisciplinary touch for this dialogue.
Thanks, Gary and Bill, for getting the exchange rolling. I imagine a fair
number of NWOD readers will be in touch with you both.


Subj: Powers on Pepinsky


I shared your syllabus with the Control Systems Group Network (CSGnet),
it elicited this response from Bill Powers

If you would like to respond, you can do so either via CSGnet
<> or to me and I will pass it on.--Gary


From: PO1::"" "CZIKO Gary" 13-AUG-1993 16:35:35.16

[From Bill Powers (930813.1330)]

Gary Cziko (930811.2010 UTC) --

I'm sort of taking a vacation from the net while I dabble with
other things, but Hal Pepinsky's syllabus has been floating
around in the back of my head. It's a fascinating document, by a
person who is obviously trying to tackle a lot of moral dilemmas,
among them how any person can presume to teach another one
anything, especially about morals. Lots of people like to thunder
at the congregation from the pulpit, but not many try to do it
from a pew.

I think this whole exercise would go better if there were a
theory of human nature behind it. There probably is a theory, but
it never surfaces explicitly. The syllabus has given me to think
about the subject, which is probably the main thing that Pepinsky

The problem in dealing with wicked people from the standpoint of
PCT is that PCT tries to find explanations for wicked behavior
without calling on either built-in tendencies or a Big Daddy to
whom we can turn with our complaints about each other. Pepinsky
is really complaining to some unseen arbiter: why can't people
just be nice to each other? The problem is that nobody answers
but other people just like us, and they don't always agree with
us about our premises.

If anything is to be done about morals we have to do it
ourselves, bare-handed and without any authority to back us up
but what we can give ourselves and get others to agree to. If
somebody thinks the Golden Rule is wimpy, we have to try to
persuade this person otherwise (if that's what we're after)
through one-on-one discussion. The problem is, there are people
who aren't interested in that discussion, and who will cut it
short by proving that their way works, too, for them. Most of the
people in the world aren't in university faculties where
disagreement is polite and exclusively verbal. With a lot of
people, the only way you have have such a rational discussion is
in an interview room with a cop standing outside the door.

The Golden Rule, from the PCT standpoint, doesn't really work. If
you do unto others as you would have them do unto you, you're
assuming that their goals and perceptions are exactly like yours.
What pleases you doesn't necessarily please others. Often, in
trying to please others, you have to do things you would rather
not do, like listen to a bore for hours. By the Golden Rule, this
implies that the others have to listen to you, too, while you're
boring them for hours. Sometimes it's hard to tell the Golden
Rule from Tit for Tat. A lot depends on whether you are the doer
or the done-to.

This is even more a problem in dealings between men and women.
The only way to carry out the Golden Rule in sexual matters is to
be homosexual. Men and women are in an assymetrical relationship,
physically and probably in other ways, too, difficult to pin down
because of the problem of separating nature from nurture. I don't
think there's any simple rule that will solve that problem.

Sex aside, people are simply different. What makes me feel safe
enough to suit me leaves another feeling vulnerable and
terrified. Concepts of human interaction that I would be happy to
live with leave others feeling frustrated. My highest aspirations
are a big yawn for many people. Some people think of heaven as
being in a big cozy group of others all talking away like mad and
laughing and stroking each other. I can stand that for about four
days and then I have to seek some blessed solitude. How on earth
am I supposed to do unto others as I would have them do unto me,
at times when I just want to be alone and others are tenderly
trying to include me in the groupiness they assume everyone

The real problem here is in finding principles and system
concepts that will satisfy everyone. Slogans aren't going to
solve this problem. Maybe there isn't any solution except to
understand that people are different. Or maybe Hugh Gibbons told
us the only practical solution: respect for the will of others.
Respecting the will of others doesn't mean you will always get
along with them. You have your own will to consider, too. It just
means doing the best you can, knowing that you're always dealing
with autonomous beings, and preferring to remain one yourself.

A lot of the examples to which Pepinsky alludes are examples of
conflicts between autonomous systems, systems trying to control
each other to get what they want. Without some social system that
can simply say NO, there really isn't any way to prevent such
conflicts except to teach potential losers how to stay out of
situations where they are likely to occur. Here the difficulty is
that the losers don't entirely want to stay out of them; there's
fascination in danger, and ego trips to be had in managing the
situation. The losers, unfortunately, think they're dealing with
the people just like them, and they aren't. Sooner or later they
go too far, and can't manage the situation any more. Then the
delicious sense of competence in the face of danger turns into
pain, terror, and humiliation.

Maybe one secret of living is to arrive at an understanding that
into each life a little pain, terror, and humiliation is going to
fall. It isn't absolutely necessary that you get through life
unscathed. Human beings keep discovering, to their immense
surprise, that they are lots stronger than they had thought. They
find that experience, even bad experience, teaches them something
so they don't have to keep repeating things. It's only when you
start wishing for absolute safety that you start thinking in
terms of extreme social measures to preserve safety. And it's
only then that you start losing confidence in being able to come
out of a bad time intact.

I think that many people feel they have to prepare for every
eventuality, and believe that if they don't prepare only
irreparable disaster can ensue. A control theorist, on the other
hand, ought to understand how seldom this is really necessary. If
we maintain our competence, we can handle disturbances as they
come up. This isn't true of all things, but it's true more often
than a lot of people dare to admit. We need some social rules and
some means of enforcing them. For most situations, however, we
don't have to ward off the future. We can handle most of what
comes along when it happens, if we don't expect perfection. What
we can't entirely handle, we can recover from.

When it seems appropriate to apply the Golden Rule, apply it by
all means. Otherwise, think of something else equally reasonable,
in terms of your system concepts. And don't go around trying to
convice people that if they aren't treated as they want to be
treated, their worlds will end.


Bill P.

Subj: Marken on Crime & Punishment
[From Rick Marken (930814.1430)]

Gary Cziko (930813.2130 UTC) re Papinsky --

I find lots of it interesting, as well as Bill Power's reactions.
Obviously you didn't, but that's OK.

I found it quite interesting; but it was a long post and I wanted to see
if you could narrow it down a bit by suggesting what might be best to
focus on from a PCT perspective. But you just did narrow it down
by saying:

But since you have remarked a number of times on the net that you don't


tougher law enforcement and prison sentences as solutions to the crime
problem, maybe you will find the following of interest from Pepinsky and



Actually, I like tough law enforcement and prison sentences as much as
the next right wing reactionary. My suggested solution to crime is not
to eliminate prisons but to eliminate crime. This can be done by taking
non-crimes off the books: 90% of crime will be eliminated when drugs
and prostitution are legalized. I am enough of a government
to believe that activities like these should be regulated (through zoning,
for example) but, really, why have laws against "crimes" that hurt no one
but the perpetrator (if they hurt anyone)? It's a waste of good prison

The fact of the matter is that people will probably be willing to
prisons before they are willing to eliminate laws against non- crimes.
This is especially true in the US where the legislation of morality is a
way of life. So you can tell Papinsky that my cause is more hopeless than
his cause, so I must be right.


My view of human nature is simple: it is human nature to be violent, and
human nature to make peace. It is axiomatic to me that all of us humans
do both repeatedly. Like PCT, I question the assumption that we must
respond to violence or difference one way or the other. I'll send my Alt.
Soc. Control Systems syllabus to the PCT network (and not bother other
NWOD readers with it again) to show my central concern with the
importance, in Thomas Merton's terms, of "saying one's own yeses and one's
own noes." As an anarchist I too believe in letting one's heart, one's
competence, and the compassion of others get one through crises rather
than legislating or planning responses in advance. So Bill, I think we're
in essentially the same place on putting our will--our social control
choices--back in our own hands, rather than doing as others tell us we

Where we differ, I gather, is in feeling that any occasion demands violent
rather than Golden-Rule response. You apparently feel others' violence
may demand one's deviation from the Golden Rule. I certainly acknowledge
that I DO respond violently, that I do treat others with a disrespect I
would never seek for myself. But the question I keep asking--my research
question if you will--is what do we get for choosing one way or the other.
All research can do, I think, is offer us more information about what
happens when we try to make peace by subduing or respecting an antagonist.
So far, I don't find that violating the Golden Rule in fact leaves the
violators more secure with anyone, anywhere, than offering respect and
honor to an offender's good side--the side that in future chooses peace
rather than violence. That remains an empirical question. In addressing
the question I am not just imagining what happens in police interrogation;
I've been in them and found that heavy-duty interrogation produces false
confessions, false contrition and false promises of compliance. The
suspect confirms the interrogator's expectations because the interrogator
will not accept any other definition of the situation. I'm open to
reports otherwise, but this is what my experience--my empirical data--
tell(s) me.

Back in 1979 a criminological friend, Larry Tifft, wrote the anarchist's
answer to your paradox of giving what you get--it makes you homosexual.
Justice doesn't mean giving us both the same amount of coffee or water; if
you like coffee and I like water, giving you the coffee and me the water
connotes meeting my wants and needs as I would have others meet mine.
Reading some teachings of Amazonian shamans just now, I am drawn to think
of how those who make themselves at home where they are born as against
nomads including all us academics are inclined to view difference: If I
have nowhere else to live, to destroy anything in my home is to destroy
something of myself. The Golden Rule basically means respecting your
fears, limitations and capacity to be yourself as I would have mine
respected. In sex it means attending as much to what one's partner fears
and enjoys as one would have one's own fears and joy acknowledged. Your
joy and mine need not, and I presuppose cannot, be the same, but we can
try to arrange how you enjoy your way as I enjoy mine. That is the ground
one would seek with the Golden Rule as I pose it in the syllabus, or so I
mean to say. It presumes difference, and considers how to give it a valid
place in one's cosmos rather than making it into one's own image or anyone

You and others who have responded to my questions about exceptions to the
Golden Rule have brought to my attention that a key issue is differences
in how we interpret that rule. If we go so far as you, Rick, to
presuppose that some of us for purposes of action are essentially criminal
while others of us are by contrast essentially virtuous, then we define
this common ground out of existence. My study of law enforcement
indicates that since about the reign of John I in English common-law for
example, one pretext for public order enforcement--primarily against those
who have nowhere but streets to live--easily supplants another. Now that
pretext is drug use. "Eliminate" that pretext, and I take it good PCT
theory would suggest we can perceive just as many people to be our
criminals on other grounds as long as we continue to believe that wars on
crime bring us social security.

Presupposing moral responsibility for personal choice of how we perceive
(or in phenomenological terms, "apperceive") the world as we three do, I
do not see what I gain from condemning my offenders as whole people any
more than I would have them condemn me as a person. I see no security
that arises out of name-calling to begin with. Why ever decide whether
any whole person is one-sidedly criminal or qualified to pass judgment on
others' criminality? Time and time again prisoners have demonstrated to
me that they are as capable to coming through when I offer respect without
even asking about their crimes as when I act as though the violence or
criminality represents their entire character any more than mine, or is
any less the product of abuse than my own ample, recurrent violence.

The syllabus questions lay out an empirical test of my theory that only
the Golden Rule pays: Can you show me a situation in which people have
felt security any greater than a junkie after a fix by punishing or
disrespecting an offender as one not allow the offender to do in return?

We are part of a much larger dialogue, are we not? About the same time
that you were creating PCT, Bill, criminologists and politicians were
revolutionizing criminal justice by deciding, as James Q. Wilson put it,
that we ought to punish offenders because by compassion and understanding
their acts we denied their free-will capacity to choose against committing
crime. Positing free will, many of us held, required that we give
offenders their just deserts, rather than leaving that destiny to a higher
power. I'd say offenders always leave us as much choice of whether to
offend them back as they had as to whether to offend in the first place.
To me the proof of their capacity to behave better and show loving respect
is our capacity to behave better and show loving respect toward them. I
have for instance written of where that faith has been redeemed for me
with Bubba Perkins, the most "dangerous" (ex-)prisoner I have known.
There's a lot I've written about violence, peace and human nature myself
(as in THE GEOMETRY OF VIOLENCE AND DEMOCRACY), and as I've done so I've
become aware that we all speak in a universe of human discourse on what we
get for living by fear or by trust. As Herman Bianchi poses the Talmudic
question of justice, we are divided over whether to assess blame for
spilling milk or figuring out how to clean the mess up together. I'm
delighted to find you, Bill, Rick and Gary, extending that dialogue across
new boundaries for me. I always appreciate finding new ways and new
people with whom to discuss it. Thanks again for writing. What say you

One final thought: I have had ample indication that violence in the ivory
tower can be fully as vicious and destructive as outside. We may be
immune to noticing how routinely the lives and careers of colleagues and
students are damaged by our violence; we may expect better of ourselves;
but I'd say that academic politics is as fertile a ground for testing
whether violence pays and peace is possible as any. I have been
interrogated in the classroom much as I have seen others interrogated on
police territory. The only thing we academics may be sheltered from is
acknowledging that we are as much a part of the problem of living by the
Golden Rule as anyone else. The question remains for me, what do all of
us humans in our various settings get for making this choice? When do we
wind up actually feeling safer, more secure?


The stay of execution for Gary Graham in Texas indicates the power of one
conscience--that in this case of a Texas appellate judge--to undo all the
violence the system has invested in killing convicts. By helping extend
the outrage over execution of the apparently innocent, Herrera's execution
last May may become a force for abolition. It is never too late for
people to choose life, never time to give way to the inevitability of

Early last December I suggested policing Somalia would proliferate
violence in Somalia as surely as any war on crime. Look how mired Clinton
and co. are in turning peacekeeping in Somalia into a war on the criminal
warlord Aidid. Perhaps Bill Clinton will begin to notice that law'n'order
doesn't pay.

The USG held off on arming the Bosnians or bombing the Serbians, and
indeed it seems the parties are on the way to ceasing fire out of sheer
exhaustion. Peace comes as people lose regard for who deserves to win or
lose. Or as Roger Fisher and his colleagues put it, GETTING TO YES
happens as people give up defending the virtue of their positions.